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Twenty-one

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Everyone in Smallville loves Homecoming. The annual football game is attended and celebrated by the whole community, or so Lex hears. Personally, he's never been to a Crows game, but he's been on the outskirts of town in the dark of night and seen something few Smallville residents have ever been privileged to witness: the flipside of Homecoming. The other side of the coin. Pain, punishment and exclusion, a tradition just as honored as the kids dressed up in red and yellow, playing at war underneath the football field's glaring floodlights.

But who is Lex to judge? He's a newcomer, here, and knows only a few Smallville traditions. Like sucking up to Luthors, or shunning them, or doing both at different times, in different company. Like the weekend farmers' market, where people meet to socialize and barter, where the community connects and social bonds are re-affirmed. Where certain things remain unsaid, certain stories are never told, and certain names lie unsaid on everyone's lips. Sean Kelvin. Tina and Rose Grier. Earl Jenkins.

And now he's parking his car in the Smallville High School parking lot and strolling towards the crowds milling on the track field, gathered for Smallville's Harvest Fair. It's held later in the year than Homecoming, for some odd illogical reason lost in antiquity. Taking advantage of the last few clement days of Indian summer, perhaps. But probably there's been no one for a generation or two who could've said for sure.

"Hi, Mr. Luthor!" A big, cheerful blonde greets him as he steps onto the field, passing her booth full of hand-carved curios. He remembers her faintly from the Level Three incident. Someone's mother. He smiles, and walks on.

Lex wasn't made for small-town life. He's a city boy. It's just something he understands about himself. Better than ever since coming to Smallville. In a small town, everyone you pass on the street seems to know you. To know your business, where you're going and where you've been, even if you're a Luthor.

"Afternoon, Mr. Luthor." Fordman's father, this time. Running the dunk tank. Lex waves, smiles, and moves on.

A city, on the other hand, provides anonymity. It's strange. As much as Lex resented his unique appearance in his youth, and as much as he's chafed against the restrictions that come from being his father's son, he never really realized that his need for anonymity ran so deep. Didn't realize how often he slipped into other clothes and found someplace where they just didn't know him. Didn't realize how necessary it was. In Smallville it's not just that he's a big fish in a small pond. He's a fish completely out of water.

He is always... just exactly who he is.

Lex makes one leisurely circuit of the booths that ring Smallville High School's track field, looking over the little amateur carnival games and homemade trinkets and fundraising tents. A percentage of everything sold goes to something school-related, of course, so he buys a Coke, and then, on a whim, a big doll-like angel made out of cornhusks and ribbon. It doesn't have a face, but it does have long curly hair made of some other kind of dried vegetation. Lex thinks he'll have it put on the front door of the mansion. For the next time his father stops by.

As he walks on, he gets a few more smiles from people who see him carrying the angel. Returning those smiles is easier. Gracious noblesse oblige, just Lex Luthor doing his part for the community. Nothing more or less than what's expected.

Past the arts-and-crafts booths lies the picnic area, where chattering families and groups of kids gather at tables or clump together on brightly colored blankets. Beyond that, a few men are setting up folding chairs in front of a small tent with a low stage inside. Lex raises a hand to block the pale November sun, and recognizes Jonathan Kent among them.

Circling around behind the last booth, he spots Clark, sitting at one of the picnic-table benches with his seemingly ever-present comrades, Chloe Sullivan and Pete Ross. This would be the upside to the stifling fishbowl quality of Smallville; when there's only so many places for a person to be, it makes that person so much easier to accidentally stumble across.

Or, not so accidentally. Details.

As Clark and his friends chatter, snippets of their conversation are carried to Lex on the breeze. Something about a hayride, something about a bonfire. Something about Lana Lang, and Lex smiles to himself. Go, Clark. Stay focused.

Then Chloe leans across to say something, and accidentally knocks a garish pink teddy bear off the end of the table. "Oh, Clark..."

He bends down agreeably, stretching to scoop it up with his long arms, and Chloe's nimble fingers are already dipping into her cup. She leans across the table again, hand darting out, and a dripping ice cube slips down the back of Clark's shirt.

Clark jerks his head up, bangs it on the side of the table with a clunk audible enough to make even Chloe and Pete wince. But Clark just makes a wounded face, howls "Chloe!" and twists around to flap the back of his sweater until the ice cube falls glimmering into the grass. Untangles his long legs from the bench and stands, hand pressed to his head. "That's not funny!"

Frantically murmuring inaudible apologies, Chloe reaches up tenderly and Clark steps back, rubbing at the injured spot. Lex hates to say Clark's pouting, but he really is.

"It's fine," he insists, loud enough to carry.

Chloe mutters something and pulls her hand back. Then Clark points quickly over her head, whispering something-- Chloe whips around, eyes narrowing. A born journalist, that one. Unfortunately for her, it seems she needs to work on acquiring more trustworthy sources. This becomes clear as Clark flashes a grin at Pete and takes one long stride to Chloe's side. Wrapping his arms around her waist, he drags her bodily one pace away from the table and lifts her easily off the ground, suddenly beginning to spin in a tight, quick circle. Her arms and legs fly akimbo, heavy boots swinging like maces as she kicks.

"No! Pete! Help!" she shrieks. Clark's head is tucked against his chest as he turns. Chloe clutches helplessly at his arms, screaming with laughter as if she's on a carnival ride. "I'm gonna puke, oh seriously gonna puke, Clark, noooooo!"

But Clark just grins and keeps on spinning, remarkably like a Tilt-a-Whirl, really. Except that Tilt-a-Whirls don't often trip over their own twisting feet and crash and burn, as Clark suddenly does. Lex winces in sympathy.

It takes an obvious effort for Clark to land on his back in the grass with Chloe on top, but somehow he manages it, red-faced and laughing despite the weight on his chest. Chloe's arms and legs tangle with Clark's, her body pressing against his. Lex would almost suspect him of tripping on purpose-- it's a good move, unsubtle but effective-- if he didn't know that Clark thinks of Chloe, well. The same way Lex thinks of Clark. Something protective. Fond. Tolerant. Warmer than 'platonic' would imply... less intellectual, more brotherly.

It's weird for Lex to think that he has anything like what these laughing children have. Innocent friendship free of alliance, lust, or any mutual advantage besides simple pleasure in each other's company. Maybe it's sort of fucked-up to be twenty-one years old and, on reflection, have acquired just one real friend in the course of those years, but what can Lex say, really? It's not something he ever felt the lack of, before.

The part that's definitely fucked-up, though (and this is Lex, there's always a part that's definitely fucked-up) has to do with who this friend actually is. Clark Kent. Proof positive that a person has to do nothing less than bring Lex Luthor back from the goddamned dead in order to get past his insanely effective defenses, less a series of stone walls than a thicket of thorns. Nothing he built. Just something that grew, organically, Lex thinks with an ironic twist to his mouth.

Just who he is.

Lots of people want to be Lex's friend. He can usually use that to get what he wants from them without having to engage on any sort of meaningful personal level. It's actually one of the few Luthor traditions he can see the sense in. Lex doesn't think his father has any friends, and it's never seemed to bother him...

Standing in the shadows behind the face-painting booth, he watches Clark and Chloe. Her hands slide up to his shoulders and her knees come up so she's half-straddling him as she braces herself to stand, but Clark's chest is shaking with pants of laughter and Chloe loses it, collapsing on top of him again, dizzy with giggles... and Lex is forced to revise his thoughts on innocent friendship.

Someone is taking advantage of an appealing situation here, but it's not Clark. The sparkle in Chloe's eyes is anything but dizzy. And when Lex glances up to check Pete's expression it's full of amusement, yes, but amusement tinted by a surprising amount of rue. So perhaps this seemingly new development is really only news to Lex. It's not much of a shock, though. What apple-cheeked, all-American girl wouldn't want to roll all over a pretty boy like Clark?

Lex's own sentimentality, proven wrong, amuses him. Of course there's no such thing as total innocence, even here in Smallville. No such thing as complete honesty, even between friends. He grimaces to himself. A couple of fresh-scrubbed faces, sunshine, laughter carried on the wind, and suddenly he's painting all these pretty pictures like a regular Norman fucking Rockwell... Jesus. Whitney Fordman is a pretty boy too, but that corn-fed golden boy and his buddies stripped Clark bare and tied him out in a cornfield little more than a month ago. Could have killed him, a little hometown homicide motivated by nothing more than petty spite and jealousy. Averted only by chance.

No such thing as fate, either.

And suddenly Clark freezes. First Lex thinks he's caught on to Chloe's little grope-fest, but there's... shame...? on his face, not indignation. Lex squints, then looks around, half-expecting to catch Lana Lang watching. Or maybe Chloe's father, giving a warning look to the boy manhandling his daughter. But strangely it's Jonathan Kent, leaning against a stack of folding chairs, that Clark is looking away from. Jonathan Kent, flannel sleeves rolled up to his elbows and arms crossed over his chest, whose stony gaze makes Clark flush further, scramble to his feet and help Chloe up with a sort of frantic gentleness. Ineffectively trying to brush bits of grass from her hair and clothes without actually touching her at all.

Lex blinks, trying to take in the dynamic. Clark's father just stands and watches, eyes hard and maybe a little sad. Pete has picked up on the tension and isn't laughing any more, staring away from whatever's going on between Clark and his father. Chloe hasn't noticed, still jerking with giggles as she bats at Clark's shaking hands.

She glances oddly at Clark, and then Pete has her arm, turning her, whispering in her ear. She snickers, trying to shape her pretty mouth into something like innocence, and pushes at him playfully.

Just past them, Clark hesitantly takes one step towards his father. Who doesn't move, doesn't change expression, just says, "You want to maybe tone it down a little, Clark?"

Lex knows that tone, intimately: you know better than that. Clark hunches in on himself in a way that makes Lex's gut tighten, and if he says anything in reply, Lex doesn't hear it.

Clark glances back at Chloe and Pete, lost in their own laughter. Just looks, making no move to get closer, rejoin the little group. And then he just turns, shoulders his way between a couple of other Fair attendees and disappears into the loosely milling crowd.

Moving casually, Lex strolls after him. It's ridiculously easy to keep Clark in sight. Even slouching, shoulders hunched forward, he's still head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. Skirting the colorful booths set up around the football field, Clark heads around the edge of the school, disappearing from sight.

Once he's also out of sight of the Fair, Lex breaks into a short jog to catch up. He stops, slightly surprised to find Clark right around the first corner he turns. So, not going anywhere in particular, then. Just away.

Clark's sitting on the blacktop between the wall of the school and a row of parked trucks, long legs pulled up to his chest. He looks up, wide-eyed but visibly trying to retreat into himself as Lex rounds the corner.

"Lex... Hi." he says. Lex acknowledges the greeting with a nod, and then Clark blinks, focusing. "Is that one of Trudy Anderson's cornhusk angels?"

Lex looks down at the angel, still in his hand, and waves it at Clark like a puppet. It crackles, slightly brittle. "Yeah. I like it."

Clark gives him a bemused smile, and when Lex comes over and sits down next to him on the warm, rough concrete, he only looks startled for the first second or two. Then he just nods, closing his eyes, and rests his chin on his arms again.

Lex sets his angel down safely on his other side, then stretches out his legs and crosses his ankles on the concrete divider in front of the muddy black truck that's hiding them from the rest of the world. He looks up into its dusty silver grille, listening to the wind rustle through the flags strung up around the parking lot.

He's only known Clark for a few months, though sometimes it seems like forever. Really, it's just been a short while. But somehow, lately, Clark looks sadder. Lonelier.

Or maybe he was always this lonely, and he's just letting Lex see it, now.

When they first met, Lex could hardly believe that there was a girl Clark wanted that he couldn't get. He still doesn't understand why Clark skirts the barely-tolerated fringe of Smallville's teenage society. Doesn't understand why Lex seems to be the only one outside Clark's immediate family to have noticed that there's something special about the boy. The few friends that Clark has treat him like a goony kid brother... well, no. Chloe, at least, seems to have noticed that he's not the klutzy boy next door any more.

But when Lex thinks of Clark as being special, he doesn't just mean Clark's looks. It's something else, something that Lex hasn't quite put a label on yet. Something hidden in those eyes that change like the twilight from day to day, that have grown colder and sadder as the Kansas winter begins to loom.

Lex seems to be the only one who's noticed that, too. "So. Your father doesn't like you rough-housing with Chloe."

"I wasn't being rough!" Clark bursts out, but it's okay, because he knows Clark isn't really talking to him. "I just..." Clark sighs, and then glances over, narrow-eyed, obviously wondering just how long Lex was watching him.

Lex shrugs, smiling. He supposes the 'I just happened to be in the neighborhood' excuse wouldn't have worked for much longer anyway. He's actually surprised that it worked for as long as it did. But, again, this is Smallville. There's not that many places to be.

So he just looks back at Clark, trying not to have any particular look on his face other than the one that might naturally be there if he were the type, like Clark, to display everything he's thinking. "You want to talk about it?"

He's not quite sure it comes across. He's good at faking sincerity, not actually being sincere. There's never been much call for it before.

But if anyone can read him, Lex thinks, Clark might be able to. Somehow Clark manages, every time, to slip through Lex's labyrinth of thorns without even being scratched. Like the storybook Prince Charming he so resembles, and Lex cuts off that analogy before it gets stupid. The point is, somehow Clark got close. Close enough to trust, and Lex has tried to make it worth his while. With material gifts, with everything he could do to smooth Clark's path without Clark ever knowing about it. With whatever personal wisdom he's gained over the years that could possibly apply to Clark's life. With a growing sense of frustration as Clark returns all the gifts he knows of, ignores Lex's advice... and yet still seems to like him, his puppyish earnestness impossible to disbelieve.

The least Lex can do, the absolute least, is return equal amounts of truth for truth. Just as long as Clark plays straight with him, Lex is willing to do the same.

Finally Clark's resentment, or suspicion, seems to fade, and he twitches his mouth self-consciously. "What's to talk about? It's just my dad. He's not going to change." Clark shrugs. "Neither am I," he adds, lowly, and looks up. "It's good to see you, Lex."

"You, too," Lex says, and Clark grins at his knees for a minute. Amused, Lex knocks Clark's side with his elbow. "You know, you're hardly taking advantage of your newfound freedom."

Clark glances up. "What do you mean?"

"You've been grounded for a month. I'd say it's time to spread your wings." He points in the general direction of wherever he parked the silver BMW. "Want to go for a drive?"

Clark thinks about it for a moment, then nods at Lex, forcing a small, grateful smile. "Okay."

Which isn't an ideal reaction, but it's acceptable. For now.

"We can be back by eight, right?" Clark says, shoving up the sleeve of his red sweater to check his watch as they stroll through the parking lot. "That's usually when they get the bonfire started."

"If you want." Lex clicks off the car alarm as they approach. Clark has to wait for him to get in and back the Beemer out of its space; there's a dinged Toyota Corolla parked just a bit too close on the passenger side.

"If I drove this car," Clark says as he slides in, "I'd take two parking spaces."

"Little things like that can be bad for a person's public image."

Clark looks startled. "There was room in the lot, Lex... and after what you did at the plant, I don't think anyone would mind you taking an extra space for your car. Especially a car this nice."

Is there no room for envy in Clark's world? Resentment? Lex sighs and shakes his head, stroking the steering wheel with a gloved hand. "You'd be surprised at how little things have changed in the month you've been locked away from the world, Clark. Besides, I don't really worry about it. I'd personally track down and avenge any injury to this car, and people know that."

"They do?" Clark raises his eyebrows.

"They expect it from a Luthor," Lex clarifies. He shakes his head again and concentrates on the road, the speed and power. His conversations with Clark always seems to get off-track, he's not always sure why. Sometimes it's because he takes pity on Clark and lets him change the subject. Sometimes it just happens that way. "It works out."


There's a fire, burning steadily, in his office. Lex buzzes the kitchen and arranges for Geraldine to fix some snacks, then tosses his long black coat over the back of the couch and settles down into one of the chairs by the hearth. Shrugging out of his own stiff sheepskin jacket, Clark looks down at Lex, that pained, secretive look on his face again. Then he drops his coat into the chair facing Lex's, and sinks down on the floor instead. Folds up his arms and legs like someone used to taking up too much space, and ends up settled between the chair and the fireplace grating. Almost like he was hidden between the car and the school, before. Does Clark even realize he's doing it, Lex wonders. Hiding...

"So. What have you been doing all month?"

"Homework. Chores." Clark makes a face. "Couple of extra jobs for my mom, to make up for the broken dishes. Reading a lot."

"Anything in particular?"

Clark smiles at the floor. Something wrong about that smile, but the angle is bad and Lex can't tell what. "I still like Ray Bradbury."

Still? But Lex finds himself oddly reluctant to pick at Clark's choice of words. Not today, not when they haven't seen each other for a month. "Oh really?"

"The Martian Chronicles used to be my favorites. Now I like the ones he wrote about small towns. You know, the Greentown stories. Have you...?"

"Some, when I was younger. I preferred Heinlein, though."

It's getting dark outside already, twilight filtering through the colored panes of glass behind Lex's desk. The firelight turns Clark's face orange and pink, colors saturated like a sunset against hair black as night. He grins a little. "'Cause he wrote sexy stuff?"

"Clark Kent." Lex grins back and Clark snickers, ducking his head charmingly. He really is a beautiful boy, and for the millionth time Lex feels a surge of annoyance with everyone not as perceptive as he is. "I'm shocked."

"I like 'The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress' the best, of his. I read that again this month-- well, half of it," Clark admits. "The ending is too sad. I have to stop reading before they even start fighting the war."

Lex blinks. "But they win."

"It's still sad." Clark frowns. "Actually, it's kind of ironic..." He breaks off as Eleanor knocks, coming in with an artfully arranged tray of finger-sandwiches and snacks and soda pop cans. She sets it down on the coffee table between the two chairs, but after she leaves it's easier for Lex to just take it, slide out of his own chair and set it down between them on the floor.

He leans back against his chair. It's warmer here, closer to the fire. Closer to Clark, too. Something as simple as seeing the room from a different angle shouldn't bring on such strange feelings, he thinks, half-formed memories of a childhood he'd prefer to remain blurry, but there it is. He thinks he doesn't quite mind, as long as he can sit here with Clark. He picks out a few of the red M&Ms and tosses them into his mouth. "You were saying?"

"Hm?" Clark toys with a can of root beer, rolling it between his large hands thoughtfully. "Oh, yeah... All my favorite writers are depressing. I kinda noticed that, this month, with nothing to do but read? Like Bradbury, uh, 'Death is a Lonely Business.' Kind of right there in the title. Brave New World is depressing, Frankenstein is sad, Flowers for Algernon... aaargh."

"You should read Douglass Adams."

Clark rolls his eyes. "Have you gotten to 'Mostly Harmless'?" he protests, and Lex concedes the point with a nod. "Orwell is dark, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is dark, Philip K. Dick is dark--"

"Wait a minute." Lex tries to look incredulous, rather than amused. He may in fact be a legal adult at the start of a career that will eventually turn him into something like a respected businessman. But he still watches more MTV than is probably healthy, and he is just immature enough to have to actually put some effort into trying not to smile at the fact that Clark just said 'dick.' "You've read Vonnegut?"

Clark fumbles with the pop-top of his root beer, cracks it open and drinks deeply, all too obviously avoiding Lex's gaze. "Just 'Player Piano.'"

Interesting. The fire crackles, and heat washes Lex's face as he scoots a little closer, under cover of reaching for a the potato chips. "Well. Is a story necessarily 'dark' if it's just an accurate description of basic human nature?"

Clark glances up, mouth twisted. "You tell me, Lex. Is the evening news dark?"

"There's something to be said for depressing fictional realities," Lex says. "When you're done with the book, you've still got your whole life, and no one gets to write the end but you."

"I've thought about being a writer." Clark confesses shyly.

"Really?"

He shrugs. "I think I need to get out and live a little first. I mean, if all I know is Smallville..."

Lex nods, and they sit in silence for a while, both foraging through the snacks occasionally. Lulled by the food, the company, the warmth, Lex amuses himself by thinking of literary analogies to his present situation. Shirley Jackson? Trite. No, just set the county down in Pennsylvania instead of Kansas and it's perfectly Lovecraft. Well, except for meteors instead of demonic unnamed Things, bringing chaos and madness to a sleepy little town...

He thinks of Clark's secret, and his own exile, and flashes perversely on Jane Eyre. Clark would be Mr. Rochester, who always frustrated Lex by being the worst secret-keeper in the known universe. Continually gazing just over Jane's left shoulder and muttering things like "God's laws and man's may forbid it, but will have her!" Subtle, Edward, very subtle.

But really, Lex should be the lord of the manor, and Clark the doe-eyed innocent. Warned away from him by all well-meaning folk. The mental image makes Lex chuckle aloud: the two of them posed melodramatically on the moors, their doomed friendship tempting an ominous lightning strike.

Clark looks up inquisitively at his laugh. But Lex just shakes his head, and Clark doesn't ask, and warm silence fills the room again.

"Thanks for inviting me over." Clark says eventually.

"I wanted to."

"Well, thanks anyway," Clark persists, and Lex looks up, smiling despite himself.

"Help me finish these," he says, pushing the bowl of M&Ms across the floor. "I think, despite the advertising, they may in fact melt eventually... although if you want to get back for the bonfire, we should probably head out soon."

"Huh?" Clark checks his watch. "Wow. It got late fast." He shrugs and scoops up a handful of candies, tipping his head back and emptying them into his mouth. "You know, I wasn't allowed to have processed sugar when I was a kid." he says, with his mouth full. "According to Mom, it made me... kinda hyperactive."

Lex regards him with mock suspicion. "Uh oh."

"Don't worry about it." Clark takes a long swallow of his root beer. "One of the many things I outgrew." His smile wavers and turns ugly again, forced, and Lex can't take it any more.

"Clark, is there anything I can do?"

"What?"

"Is there anything-- You just look sad. I don't want you to..." He stutters to a stop. Oh Christ. Pathetic. If this were a chemical formula, or a stockholders' meeting, or a blonde debutante with generous breasts, Lex would know exactly what to do, what to say. How to get what he wants. But Clark is more than a puzzle or a battle or a prize to be won. Everything and more, and just Clark, and despite Lex's half-formed suspicions as to how resilient the boy actually is, he can't suppress the urge to protect him.

Words desert him, so Lex reaches out and touches Clark's knee. "All you have to do is tell me. You know I'm your friend," he says earnestly, "and you know that if there's anything I can do-- and there's not much I can't do for you, Clark, you know that too--"

"I don't..." Clark swallows, raising a hand that stops Lex's words, thank God. Clark's hand wavers between them, and he pulls it back, scrambling up to his feet and walking away. The heat of the fire quickly leaves Lex's skin as he stands too, following Clark into the shadowy center of the room. And the chill of twilight creeps into his bones as he watches those broad shoulders hunch again. "I've had a lot of time to think," Clark says to nothing and no one. He turns back to Lex with something strange and terrible in his eyes.

A shudder of recognition runs through Lex. These are the eyes of the savior who bent over him on the riverbank, desperate and fiery and dark with fright.

"You can... I need this, just... this," Clark finally says, and the full measure of the sorrow in his eyes is clear to Lex now. And more than anything it's that stone-cold, inarguable loneliness (so familiar) that stills him, holds him locked in his tracks when Clark braces himself, then moves forward, purposefully, into Lex's personal space.

Clark reaches out, his large callused hand moving as precisely as a surgeon's, and brushes his knuckles lightly across Lex's cheekbone.

"Ah." He bites back Clark's name. Sucks in a shocked breath as Clark's rough knuckles paint heat across his cheek. When they slide down to brush the very corner of Lex's mouth, he gasps. "Clark."

Clark doesn't answer, but one hand comes up to cup Lex's shoulder through his thin dress shirt, fingers curving in so very gently. Lex closes his eyes as Clark's other hand leaves his face and brushes across his chest, slowly. As though Clark is, perhaps, studying him for the purpose of making some kind of topographical map, later.

Sharp pain spikes as Lex bites his lip, squeezing his eyes more tightly shut. No. Even in the dark he knows exactly what this is, and, well. It's not topography. He's terrified and too cold now, away from the fire, and his nipples are hard, and-- "What about the bonfire?"

"You know what people do at the bonfire, Lex?" Clark says, distantly, still touching him, both hands moving now. Not groping, not even trying to undress him, just ghosting tentatively over the surface of Lex's body in slow circles, rumpling the thin material of his crisp white shirt here and there.

It's strangely arousing. "I... what do they do?"

"Well, pretty much, they find someone they like, and then they go make out." Clark's hand brushes across his heart, pauses, and stays there, a warm shield. Something to lean into, just slightly. Just to keep Lex from falling, or floating away. "And when the fireworks start, everyone comes back with straw in their hair, and some people with their sweaters on inside out, and everyone pretends they don't notice."

"Oh," Lex says, eyes still closed. Strange how it takes a freshman farmboy from Smallville to make a been-there-done-that cosmopolite suddenly less jaded about sex. But the truth is, and here in the dark of his own head (in the dark with Clark,) it's suddenly not so hard to face it--

The truth is that Lex hasn't really been trying to insinuate himself into Clark's life just because Clark saved his.

He doesn't just appreciate the visual appeal of this beautiful boy on an entirely aesthetic level.

Doesn't think of Clark as a little brother.

"We have a fire here," Clark continues, roughly, and Lex opens his eyes, jerking back slightly at the sight of Clark's face, closer than he expected, dipping down for a kiss. Something rolls in his gut, not quite fear.

Clark's mouth on his is nervous, brief and wet. Sweet, of course, like root beer and melted chocolate.

Clark's mouth on his is-- like getting struck by fucking lightning, and Lex swallows, hard. No thought in his head except, hell, maybe he's Rochester after all.

He finds Clark's warm hand, catches it. Holds it in both his own hands, rubbing a thumb over Clark's pulse. Clark has farmers' hands already. Strong and faintly callused and big. Not like a woman's hands at all.

Or a boy's, for that matter.

Strange, strange. He looks up at Clark, bringing Clark's hand to his lips. Kisses the warm, dry palm. Clark's fingers tremble, outstretched against his face, and Lex lets go and touches Clark's jaw experimentally, wondering. Clark's eyelashes as they flutter closed are lovelier than any girl's, but the angled plane of his jaw is already rougher, darker than Lex's will ever be.

"Please, Lex." Clark catches his wrist as Lex leans in again, eyes half-closed, and Lex hisses, a wince escaping before he can stop it. A wake of air brushes across his face, and Clark is gone before he can blink, backed up almost to the double doors of the office.

Raw horror widens Clark's eyes, but there's no surprise in his expression, just sick knowledge, dread fulfilled. "Sorry, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have--"

"Clark, wait." Lex moves into action, unbuttoning his shirt-cuff as he strides forward. "Wait." Holding out his bare wrist, he shows Clark the bruise, right on the bone that juts beneath the base of his thumb. "I took a bad hit sparring with Heike yesterday. You just hit a sore spot, that's all."

Clark swallows, and Lex touches his face gently.

"You didn't hurt me." He smiles a little, stroking Clark's arm, almost disbelieving the warmth of the boy as Clark sways toward him.

He should've suspected there was nothing platonic about this. Lex always gets... focused... when he wants something.

Obsession is a term that gets tossed around so casually these days.

He hasn't exactly been casual with Clark.

Clark's lips are parted, and he's not pulling away from Lex's hand, but he won't look up, either. "I could, though. I..."

"You're strong," Lex says softly, and Clark cringes further, pulling away. "Clark. I already know." Lex cups his jaw firmly, brushing his thumb over Clark's tight mouth until it relaxes a little and Clark dares to meet his eyes. He pulls his hand back, smiling. "Adrenaline? Come on..."

Clark's eyes search Lex's intently, helplessly, his voice low and strangled. "You can't tell."

"I wouldn't. I won't." One of the answers slots into place in Lex's head, and the quick shot of triumph isn't so different from solving an equation after all. "You know that, or you wouldn't be here."

And he's right. He is. Because Clark smiles, all delight, and moves in to hold him, arms coming loosely around Lex's waist. He tilts his head to check Lex's expression, and then brushes the barest clumsy kiss against his lips.

"Hm." Lex lets him, then pulls back a little. "Let's not do this in my office," he says, and Clark blinks. Rabbit in the headlights, again.

"Lex, I haven't exactly, I mean..."

"It's all right," Lex reassures him. He doesn't think it would comfort Clark to know that they're both more or less inexperienced in this particular area, so he smiles and doesn't say anything. Lex is a Luthor, after all. He can fake it. And Clark's a virgin, so the odds are good he won't catch on. They'll just take it slow, that's all. "There's a fireplace in my room, too. We'll... pretend we're at the Fair."

Clark nods, nervous but trusting. His hands climb Lex's shoulders as Lex reaches past him for the door, and stroke down Lex's back again as he follows him down the hall, always so goddamned careful. As they climb the stairs, Lex thinks of the his Porsche, the top ripped off like tissue paper. Wonders if this is the smartest thing he's ever--

Clark's breath licks like fire over the back of his neck.

Lex stops thinking about it.

Clark's hair slides against his scalp, so soft, as Clark breathes on his ear. Lex inhales deeply and his mouth is dry and he's so hard. Harder than he's ever been in his life and maybe it wasn't just the novelty or the Ecstasy that one time in the men's room at Club Zero and Clark's nose rubs behind his temple and Lex stops thinking about it.

Clark collides with him when they reach the top of the stairs, not roughly. Just the slight pressure of his hip, shoulder, elbow and foot advancing against Lex's. Jostling him and retreating just as quickly. Lex stops, shooting a quick glance over his shoulder. Clark's eyes are heavy-lidded and he's leaning into Lex, but he doesn't look sleepy. He looks electric, like pure leashed power. A wicked little smile quirks the corners of his mouth, and the first few beams of moonlight from the window down the hall give a halo to his ruffled hair.

There's also an obvious, generous bulge in his jeans, only half-hidden by his long sweater, but Lex only has time for a glance before Clark's shaking hands rise to his throat. Clark's thumbs stroke up under his jaw, not urging, just exploring. Still, Lex tilts his head up automatically. As Clark leans down, Lex manages to muster up some surprise at his utterly flawless technique with the one brain cell in his head that's still functioning. Damn. If Clark is this good at everything--

Wet open-mouthed kiss, wet tongue and oh thank God and the Smallville social order, Clark's obviously never kissed anyone properly. Or been kissed. Properly.

Lex might've just run screaming.

Kiss so hungry, for all it lacks in subtlety, he still might.

But Luthors don't run and instead, Lex takes Clark's face in his hands. Takes control of the kiss, and takes it slowly. It would feel almost chaste, if it weren't for Clark's hard-on brushing against his belly. Lex sucks on Clark's lower lip a little. Parts his lips, just slightly, to explore Clark's mouth, wider and deeper than any girl's. Hotter than Clark's demeanor would give a man any reason to expect.

Licks Clark's upper palate and around his mouth, finding every sweet spot. And Clark is breathing like a horse now, his thighs trembling against Lex's. Making these little noises, hands moving almost frantically over Lex's back. Making his toes curl inside his shoes. Palms skating over Lex's shoulders, following the curve of his skull. "Please, Lex," he gasps, pulling at Lex's crisp shirt where it's tucked into his pants. "Can I touch you? Please."

Taking Clark's hand without another word or thought, Lex pulls him down the hall into his bedroom. He turns on the tall standing lamp next to the door, but doesn't bother with the overhead lights. Clark bumps him again as he turns, eyes almost closed now as he inhales next to Lex's scalp. Big hands jittering at his sides and Clark is just this close, obviously, to grabbing Lex and pushing him up against a wall and doing whatever it is shy gay farmboys with hidden depths do these days.

"What do you want, Clark?" Just enough real, honest-to-God risk in the implicit offer to make Lex's heart pound. To make him grin, and Clark's jaw works for a moment before he speaks.

"Let me. Let me take your clothes off."

Lex tries not to look too amused. Well. Yes. That's always a good first step, isn't it?

"Yeah," he says, "okay," and Clark starts tugging out his shirt in front where it's tucked in, fumbling at the buttons, his forehead brushing Lex's as he bends his head in concentration. Lex helps, his own hands moving just below Clark's, their hands brushing as Clark finishes with one button and moves on. One cufflink is already in Lex's pocket, and he tosses the other onto the dresser. Steps back from Clark and shucks his shirt off, letting it fall to the floor.

A wordless sound escapes Clark's throat and he moves in. Freezes, an inch away from Lex's hand, outstretched to stop him.

"You, too."

"Oh." Clark glances down at himself, then swallows and clutches the hem of his sweater in both hands. The fabric twists as his hands rise and then pause, in a nervous, inadvertent tease.

"If it helps, I have seen it before," Lex observes, then winces. He always gets a little impatient when he's hard, but this is not the time for Luthor wit. Not Clark's... Clark's first time.

He can't really think about it too much. Lex isn't sure he's ever had a virgin before. He certainly wasn't like this his first time: so open, so obvious. And now he's got the ultimate example of the breed in his bedroom, all wary and wanting and big, disbelieving eyes, like he never thought this would happen, ever. Anyone else might see that trepidation and think, pure virgin. But Clark is also pure heartland freak, and that's in his eyes as well.

Lex knows that feeling too. He never let it show, though, never let it flash in his eyes like a goddamn neon sign.

"Clark..." he murmurs, and Clark glances up, clear as crystal, just as perfect. Just as fragile, maybe. "You are the most beautiful thing I've seen since I came to Smallville," he says, and Clark smiles crookedly.

"Tell it to someone who thinks you like Smallville," he says, and then his eyes dart away in embarrassment. Lex smiles, stepping close, and grabs Clark's fisted hands in his own. Pushes them up as far as his arms will stretch, and Clark carries the motion from there, letting his sweater and T-shirt fall to the floor, shaking out his mussed hair. He doesn't even give Lex a chance to look before he's in close again, the heat making goosebumps rise on Lex's bare back. Clark's hands, fingers stiffly extended, float over Lex's skin, causing more shudders, and then Lex hooks his fingers into the belt-loops of Clark's jeans, jerking him close, making him cover those last few inches of ground.

"Oh, god," he groans, feeling Clark's hard-on pressing against him, Clark's inadvertent twitch and thrust against his body, just once before he stills.

"Lex--" It's almost a whine, and he has to let go as Clark sinks to his knees, pressing his face into Lex's soft belly, licking and nuzzling and growling into the hollow of his chest. Teasing again, though still not on purpose. Lex wonders if Clark's even coherent enough to realize what going down on his knees in front of another man implies.

Although Clark's still so damn tall, Lex observes wryly, that the most immediate inference isn't quite as obvious as it might otherwise be...

And apparently Clark's just trying to get to as much naked skin as he can. Mouth brushing across the lower curve of his biceps, hands on his waist and back, less exploring than just luxuriating, and Lex has to brace himself on Clark's bare shoulders to stay steady. Wonders when he's going to get the inevitable comment on how very bare his bare skin really is, when Clark gasps against his abs.

Lex looks down, catching Clark's eye, and Clark is smiling like a loon. Grinning like he does when he gets presents. "You have freckles."

"Get up. Get up," Lex grits through his teeth, grabbing Clark's arm, hauling him to his feet. Wide-eyed innocence stares back at him. "Get your shoes off." Lex backs up unsteadily to lean against the nightstand, toeing his own shoes off, and Clark nods, kneeling obediently to unlace his goddamn boots.

Lex snarls silent curses at the ceiling, reaching down to adjust his aching cock. Telling himself to settle the hell down. Clark said 'take your clothes off' but he stopped at Lex's shirt, so. For the first time in his fucking life, Lex is actually not going to push it. If all Clark wants is the realistic teenage experience, the equivalent of second base behind a hay bale at the Fair, well. Lex will just have to suffer.

Although it's whoever dry-cleans his pants that he supposes he should feel sorry for. He grits his teeth and presses the heel of his hand against his cock, hearing, as his hand makes contact, an almost hurt-sounding gasp from Clark. He looks down again as Clark rises to his feet like a conqueror, shoulders straight and eyes sure. He tumbles Lex down onto the bed with shocking ease, rolling over him with easy grace. Catches Lex's arm, pulling him over like a blanket, and ends up sprawled underneath him. Still smiling.

"Oh, God," Lex moans, feeling hapless and dizzy, like Chloe after her ride on the Clark Kent roller coaster. "Clark. I don't even know, I don't have the words. Fuck. You're incredible." One of Clark's legs is between his, and Lex settles in and drags his erection hard against one long denim-clad thigh. Tosses his head back at the sweet burn. Clark's hands fumble at his face, flutter at his shoulders. Not just brushing against him but gripping him now, occasionally. Just brief flexes of those fingers like steel, but still. Better. "Oh, yeah. Jesus. Clark, just like that... your hands, Christ that's good. Uh. By the way," Lex grinds out, eyes closed, "I tend to talk a lot. In bed. In the past, that's sometimes been considered a bit annoying--"

"Huh?" Clark gasps. "No. No. God, Lex, your voice..."

"Yeah. Yeah, Clark. You can do whatever you want, we can do anything you want--" Lex rocks against him, every rough clutch of Clark's like a goad. And, okay, now he is pushing. But just a little. But, hell, if Clark wanted someone passive, he'd be in bed with--

He wouldn't be in Lex's bed.

Jaw set, eyes just the least bit frantic, Clark nods. Plants a hand firmly in the sweating small of Lex's back and draws him closer. They can grind against each other now, and Lex could get off from just this, eventually-- hell yes he could. And then Clark scoots him up just a little bit more and starts licking sloppy kisses over Lex's mouth, his face and throat. He pants into Clark's hair as Clark mouths fondly over his neck and shoulders. "Oh, Lex," Clark breathes, licking at the faint freckles that spill across Lex's collarbone. "The way you taste..."

"Clark. Get your jeans open. I'm going to jerk you off."

Okay, so much for good intentions.

Well, what'd they ever do for Lex, anyway, he wonders as Clark seizes up beneath him, gasping unevenly for air. His jaw pops audibly as his mouth stretches in disbelief, and for a second Lex thinks he's losing it, right there, just at Lex's voice. But then Clark remembers how to exhale, and he's frantically wriggling under Lex, hands working desperately at the button of his jeans. He shoves his jeans and boxers down almost enough, then pauses, fixing Lex with that 'fair's fair' stare he still hasn't figured out how to brush off. "You too. You--"

Right. Lex's hands shake as he undoes his belt, yanks down the slim black zipper of his pants. Clark's hands meet his as he pushes down his boxer-briefs and then Clark has him. No hesitation, just that big fucking hot hand that feels so good. "Clark, oh god. Oh god you've got great hands."

Clark's grip, both strong and unsure. Clark's fingers, elegant and callused-- paradoxes driving Lex insane as Clark gasps, "Talk to me, Lex, talk, tell me what you-- oh. Oh."

"Let me show you," Lex husks. He's jerking Clark off now, fast and hard, just the way he likes to do it for himself. There is one jarring mirror-universe moment when his brain suddenly realizes that there's a dick in his hand and it's not, you know, his-- but then there's only fun in the way Clark squeaks like a kitten. Only a fierce grin spreading across Lex's face as Clark's eyes roll back in his head. "Like that, huh?" Lex whispers. "Like that?"

"Uh," Clark grunts, recovering just enough to follow Lex's movements, his lead, and then they're both wordless, just groaning, Clark's head thrown back and Lex panting through gritted teeth into his shoulder. Sweet clumsy strokes both strange and strangely familiar. With his free hand, Clark is tracing patterns over Lex's back, petting the curve of his skull. Sliding back down, his index finger dips into that one sweet hollow just at the base of Lex's skull, and Lex shudders and comes and comes.


Clark is dozing beside him, under the covers Lex pulled over them both after he wiped them down with the sheet. It feels strangely comfortable with Clark like this. Not strange, though Lex has never shared a bed with another man. It's just... Clark. Clark's long, hard thigh thrown over his, Clark's nose bumping his shoulder. His sweaty hand still plastered over Lex's heart.

And as his heartbeat finally slows to something like normal, as the low buzz of orgasm recedes like a tide, Lex is forced to re-examine some of his preconceived notions. He's kind of been making a habit of that, lately. Which is a pretty good spin on unflattering reality. Which is that twice in one day, Lex has had it shoved in his face that he's been a blind idiot.

Possibly willfully blind. About a lot of things.

He imagines some smarter part of his brain trying to alert him to this. Some part he's obviously really good at ignoring. Maybe it's next door to the part concerned with self-preservation. Lex smiles, imagining the sound of banging on some inner gate, some persistent voice-- hey, you know that shy, withdrawn kid, the one who always seems like he's hiding? The one who could be good with girls but just isn't, the one who gives you long, meaningful puppy dog looks? Well, surprise, he's gay.

Also, you're gay.

Well, maybe not entirely, but Christ, he still feels pretty damned stupid. He strokes Clark's wild hair, and rolls his eyes. 'Brotherly affection,' Lex's suddenly sexually ambiguous ass...

Working theory: he's bisexual by inclination, but spends too much time fighting a war inside his own fucking head to indulge in any amount of possibly incriminating self-examination. Working out every move twelve steps in advance while simultaneously hiding any damning secrets so fast and so deep that even Lex isn't sure where all the bodies are buried... doesn't leave a lot of time for navel-gazing.

Not to mention that no one can ever find out what even you don't know.

All things considered, Lex is willing to cut himself a little slack. Twenty-one's not such an embarrassing age to still be figuring things out. Although it does make an almost-sixteen-year-old with the same amount of self-knowledge look like something of a prodigy in comparison.

"Clark," he murmurs, and Clark shifts against him. Pretty, sleepy teenage boy, and if Lex thought he couldn't feel any more tender, any more raw, he was wrong. "Clark."

"Mm?" Clark doesn't look much like a hero from a storybook now. Just a fucked-out kid with wickedly messy hair and a far-too-pleased expression on his face.

"How long have you known?" Lex asks.

Clark tilts his head back, brushing his fingers just over Lex's left nipple. So... affectionate. "That you liked me?"

"Yeah," Lex says, slowly. "Yeah. Right. Because, see, I thought I was being... subtle."

"Maybe for Metropolis," Clark says slowly, and Lex turns his smile into the pillow. How sweet. The big butch farmboy is trying to be tactful with his new lover, the huge flamer. "But, uh, in Smallville you kind of. Stand out." Clark licks up the curve of rib under Lex's armpit, and Lex shudders. "But you knew that."

"Ah. Yeah." Lex says, and Clark keeps on just tasting him, slow sucks at his skin and broad ticklish swipes of tongue that Lex doesn't quite want to shift away from. "So... when did you know that you wanted this?"

"Mm." Clark stops giving him a soft hickey and smiles a little. "Well. Being grounded... I saw Chloe and Pete at school... and Lana. I just didn't see you."

"You missed me."

"I had. Um. I dreamed about you."

"Really." Lex moves to roll towards Clark, but Clark holds him down with the arm across his chest, burying his face in Lex's side. Agreeably, Lex subsides. "Nice dreams?"

"I, uh... not that kind." Clark protests. "Regular dreams. And it wasn't just that. I kind of knew before that." He turns over onto his stomach, scooting up next to Lex, and frowns at a bruise on Lex's bicep that's faded almost to yellow. Another gift from Heike. Bending his head, Clark kisses Lex there, so soft, so careful. "I worry about you, too, sometimes."

Lex cups the back of Clark's head in his hand, and blinks up at the ceiling. "Clark..."

His voice is horrifyingly hoarse, and suddenly Clark is over him, wild-eyed, propped up on his elbows and knees. Brushing more of those messy kisses on his throat and face and Lex closes his eyes, threads his fingers into Clark's hair and takes his mouth.

"Tell me what you dreamed about," he demands, when they're both breathless.

"It's embarrassing," Clark sighs, rubbing his nose against Lex's collarbone like a dog.

Lex snorts. "For god's sake, don't say things like that in bed. You sound like the ultimate virgin."

Clark bites him tenderly, the barest pressure of teeth against his throat, then kisses the offended spot. "Someone's being awfully snotty, for a guy who wants to hear about my sex dreams."

"Oh, much better. C'mere, you." Lex moves to pull Clark down on top of him, but Clark locks his arms, resisting.

"No, I'm too heavy, I'm-- oh," he gasps again as Lex's thigh brushes his cock. Lex blinks, glancing down between their bodies, then looks back up at Clark, questioningly.

"Wow," he says, despite himself, but it just makes Clark blush. "Already?"

"Shut up. It's been like fifteen minutes," Clark mutters, red-faced. "And then you started talking..."

"Shh. I'm flattered." Lex traces a finger over Clark's chest, stroking gently down over the well-developed muscles of his abdomen. "You really like my voice, huh?"

"I like it when you... when you say my name. Are you... Lex," he hisses as Lex brushes his knuckles over Clark's hard-on. "Don't tease."

"Sorry," Lex says immediately. "Clark. It's just." He shifts closer, stroking soothingly down Clark's thigh. "You're so pretty. Clark."

"I'm not," Clark whispers as Lex curls his fingers around his cock again. Lex tilts his head a little on the pillow, wondering if it'll be different without his own blaze of lust compelling him. But there's almost no residual weirdness now-- just heat and slick skin, Clark's pulse beating under his tightening fingers.

Lex has always been a quick study.

"Tell me what you dreamed," he whispers, working Clark slowly. With his right hand he jerks the blanket down Clark's back so it slips down, over his hips, pooling around their entangled lower legs. Clark gasps, exposed in the low light, but doesn't move away.

"I was... Lex. I..." He thrusts gently into Lex's hand, his hips working like a stripper's, and Lex has to bite his lower lip as he watches. "I was watching you sleep."

"Kinky."

Clark closes his eyes, reaching up with one hand to brace himself on the headboard, planting his other hand beside Lex's shoulder. "Not really."

"Mm." Lex murmurs, and scoots down a little for a better angle, which also allows him to lick one of Clark's nipples. "What else?"

"Jesus!" Clark's hand tightens, rumpling the sheet.

Lex slows his hand, though it almost hurts him to break Clark's rhythm. "What else happened in your dream, Clark?"

"I was watching... Just. You." Clark flinches, screwing up his face. "You opened your eyes, oh, God, you said, 'Look at me.'"

"Then what?" Lex asks, entranced by the glimmering of light over Clark's chest as fresh sweat breaks out on his body.

"I woke up. And I. Oh." A moan that would probably be 'fuck' from anyone but Clark. "Had to take a shower."

Lex bites his lip. "I thought you said it wasn't that kind of dream."

"I had to take a shower so I could jerk off, Lex," Clark grits out through his arousal and embarrassment. "Oh, god, I have to come, I have to--"

"Yeah." Lex responds instantly, his voice a low growl he almost doesn't recognize. "Come on, just let go, let it go. Clark, Clark..."

He waits until Clark opens his eyes.

"Look at me."

"Oh--" Clark's head falls to Lex's shoulder and he makes a short, choked noise as he comes. "Oh. God, Lex," he moans after a long, full-body shudder. "Don't do that."

"Why? You liked it." Lex smirks as Clark collapses against his side. His left hand is sticky. Consideringly, Lex brings it to his mouth and tastes. Salt and bitter. Clark drinks too much coffee.

"Don't want this to be a dream," Clark murmurs.

Mm. Lex stops licking his own hand just long enough to tell him, "It's not."


Round two knocked Clark out. He's draped diagonally across Lex's body, completely zonked and drooling a little on his chest. Lex's hand is buried in his hair, and he's thinking about the last person he shared his bed with. Keri. He can even pin down the exact date; it was a month and a day ago, because Keri came down the night of Clark's party, the night before the Level Three incident. It was nice enough. Keri's something more than an acquaintance and less than a friend from his Metropolis University days. He always liked her small perky breasts, and even the way she giggles semi-hysterically when she comes isn't too annoying. Usually it makes Lex laugh too, despite himself.

He's pretty sure no girl would ever fake such a ridiculous-sounding orgasm.

Lex frowns, stroking Clark's hair, thinking back on just how many of the sexual encounters and relationships in his life he's... doubted. Not just because he's a Luthor. Not just because he's a freak. But because if Lex had ulterior motives, well, why wouldn't the girls, too? And he's always had ulterior motives. Alliance, advantage or even more tawdry reasons. Dominic's sister. Someone else's daughter. Even Keri, at college. She was the one all the other boys wanted. The kind of girl Lex wanted to show the world he could get, right out of the gate.

He always enjoyed the sex, of course, but. Damn. Now that he thinks about it, there's always been some other reason besides lust. Some other practical reason, with the fact that he'd get to fuck a pretty girl becoming more like a perk, than the overwhelming motivation for a seduction.

So maybe he has always been just that deeply in denial.

Either that or he's just a cold-hearted bastard who's so practiced at channeling all his energies into getting what he wants that he may not even have a natural inclination any more.

He wants Clark, though. Lex moves his hand down to cup a broad shoulder, tracing a finger down the sweet dip in the middle of his muscled back. That's inarguable. He wants Clark like he's never wanted anyone before, body and soul. Just because he's... Clark.

He sighs, and Clark shifts against him.

"Clark?" he asks.

"Hmm?"

"God, those little noises you make are fucking sexy... ah." Lex shakes his head, amused at himself. "That's actually not what I was going to say."

"Mm mm?"

"Stop that." He pokes Clark in the ribs, and Clark snickers sleepily. "Listen. If I'm still here next summer, remind me to organize a LuthorCorp entrant for the Fourth of July parade."

"Okay."

Lex smiles. He can see the monthly budget now, or, more precisely, his father's expression when it crosses his desk back in Metropolis. Fertilizer Plant Number Three, miscellaneous expenses: ten pounds of mini-Tootsie Rolls, peppermints and butterscotch candy. "Clark?" he asks, frowning suddenly. "You're not just doing this to piss off your father, are you?"

Because that... that would be. Immature?

Well, hell, Lex, says Lex's own father's voice in his head. A little immaturity is just par for the course when you choose to fuck a fifteen-year-old, isn't it. Lex makes a face, and Clark sighs a little, actually seeming to think seriously about his question.

"No. I don't think-- Oh. Crap." Clark sits upright suddenly, and Lex blinks, startled into alertness, less by the dread on Clark's face than by that utterly heartfelt farmboy profanity. "What time is it?"

"Huh?" Lex still has his watch on. He twists and rolls to get it into the light. "It's almost ten, why?"

"Oh no." Clark half-slides half-falls off the bed and scrambles for his clothes, pulling crumpled jeans and boxers on at once, reaching for his white T-shirt and pulling it on over his head before he bothers to zip up his jeans. "I have to go. Now. Mom and Dad gave me a curfew--"

Curfew. Right. Lex has a lover with a ten-o'clock curfew. He has to laugh even as he slides out of bed and looks around for his own pants. One ticket straight to hell, please. "Wait, let me-- I'll drive you."

"No, no," Clark protests, voice muffled by the red sweater he's yanking over his head. Stepping into his pants, Lex pauses to appreciate the way Clark's T-shirt rides up, showing off rippling stomach muscles. Ah, well, if he's going to hell, at least he's going first class. "I'll just go."

Lex runs a hand over his head and shakes out of his daze-- car keys, where? In his coat, in his office, right. "At least part of the way, Clark, come on."

Clark's head emerges from his sweater, expression determined. He catches Lex's wrist as Lex reaches for his shirt, and this time he's so careful the bruise doesn't even twinge. "Lex, forget it. I can run faster than you can drive."

"What?"

He won't meet Lex's eyes, but he says it again, louder, "I can run faster than you can drive." He turns around in a panicky circle as Lex just stares. "Where are my shoes?"

"Wait, what?"

"My shoes, Lex! Unless you don't care if I'm grounded again, and I can't, I don't even have an excuse--"

"Fuck." Lex finds one boot jammed inexplicably between the mattress and the footboard, and the other underneath the bed. "Here! Here, go." He shoves them into Clark's arms and watches him stride to the door, fumbling to get a free hand to reach for the doorknob. "Clark!"

"What?"

"Your sweater's on inside-out."

"What?" Clark looks down, then makes a face of frustration at Lex. "You-- God, that's not funny, Lex. Damn it. I--"

"Go." Lex cuts him off. "We'll talk later. I promise."

"Yeah," Clark says, expectant and nervous both, and then he's just gone, in a blur that makes Lex doubt his eyesight for a moment.

Except, well.

He laughs, and falls back on the warm bed, remembering the look on Clark's face when he thought he'd gripped Lex's wrist too tightly, that first time. And the Porsche, yes, and he was never quite sure what knocked down the wall that hid the elevator to Level Three, but... Clark. Yes.

Strength, speed, inhuman resilience. Check, check, and check. Apparently Clark was first in line when God was handing out all the really good freakish mutations.

The kind, come to think of it, that Lex's father was probably trying to achieve down there in Level Three. Christ, if his father knew about Clark. Forget mutated corn.

Lex makes himself think about it for ten long seconds, staring up at the dark wood grain panels on the ceiling. What Clark can do. The things Clark could do for him. The opportunities, the advantages, the thousand lucrative possibilities.

Then he closes his eyes and sees Clark strapped down, peeled open like a dead frog, and the lurch of bile in his throat is almost welcome, thank you god yes. He's not his father.

Relieved, Lex stretches slightly, slides off the bed and heads for the en suite bathroom to wash up.

He glances into the mirror above the sink, runs his tongue over his teeth and raises his eyebrows a bit. Thinks he's beginning to understand those hound-dog eyes of Jonathan Kent's. Hell, beginning to understand the fucking stick up the man's ass. Just like every other poor bastard who has to raise a teenager, except that Clark is so incredibly, obviously desperate to crack out of his shell, to grow up, grow into... something strange, and unexpected.

Something dangerous. Lex rubs at his arms, where he may in fact have a few bruises tomorrow. Clark's a sweetheart, but power is always dangerous. Even to the powerful. Maybe especially to them, depending on what their issues are.

Lex runs ice-cold water into the sink, splashes it on his face and shudders as a few cold drops run down his chest. He has his own brand of strength. His own near-invulnerability. His last name is the source of his power, and he's not proud of all the things he's done, knowing he couldn't be hurt. That no consequences would ever be leveled against him.

Clark, though. Lex hit him with his car-- he thinks he can be reasonably sure of that now. Hit him with his car, and Clark didn't even know him, and saved him anyway.

Then, even more unbelievably, Clark got to know him and still thought his life was worth saving. Raising an eyebrow, Lex considers himself in the mirror. He has to squint a little against the bright lights that ring the mirror, and it turns his reflected image into a pale, unmarked shape, edges blurring into the cream-colored tile behind him. Doesn't matter though. Lex knows who he is.

Sexual identity issues notwithstanding. Right.

But, there he is. Fit as ever, bald as ever, and not bad-looking, if he does say so himself. Maybe a little short, but that can't be helped.

"Hey, faggot," he says to the freak in the mirror, but can't get even halfway through it without snickering. Oh, not even close. He looks down, making an effort to wipe the smile off his face, thinking maybe he'll try again. But when he looks up into his own eyes he just has to laugh.

As a kid Lex hated his own freakishness. He doesn't any more. He appreciates it, the way he appreciates a good adversary. Like his father. Lex has to be grateful for the presence of the things that formed him, because he's all the better for them, really. And of course by 'better' he means stronger.

"I like myself," Lex tells the mirror sincerely, and cracks himself up again.

Most of the time, though, Lex really does. He's just having trouble nailing down Clark's reasons for sharing that feeling. Lex could chalk it up to hero worship, admiration, label Clark a naive small-town kid dazzled by a big-city guy and his position, his power, his toys. He could shake his head and make regretful noises about how it's the dumbest thing a kid like Clark could ever do, falling for a Luthor.

But Clark's not such an idiot, is he? Because Clark doesn't give a shit about his name. Clark couldn't care less about his money. Lex's advantages are moot.

And also because, so far...

It's not as if he isn't getting everything he seems to want.