Back in the loft again. Lex wasn't even that surprised- so many major moments in their relationship had happened here, and it seemed fitting, somehow, that it always came back to this one place.
Clark turned and spotted him, just like he had a million other times. But instead of the sunny smile that Lex had once been used to, Clark turned back to face the window, presenting his back to Lex, just as he had the night before. God, this whole week had been such a fucking nightmare.
"Clark?" he said tentatively. He wasn't really sure of his welcome. He'd thought that they'd resolved things (again) last night, but now he wasn't sure. Clark looked so unhappy to see him…
Well, he has a hell of a lot of reason, doesn't he, Sherlock, an internal voice whispered to him. Have you done anything but fuck him over since the day you met him?
"Yeah," Clark said. He didn't turn around, didn't acknowledge Lex's presence with anything more than a short word and the tightening of the muscles in his back. Then he relented and turned, just a little, till he could see Lex out of the corner of his eye. "You want something?"
"Just wanted to stop by," Lex said cautiously. Clark was being even more hostile than he'd feared, and Lex wasn't sure what to do about that. Sometimes it felt like he had years of experience talking Clark out of being pissed at him, but there was something different here, tonight. Something he'd been noticing all week, in fact, and he didn't know what it was but he suspected that it had nothing to do with trust or Lionel or any of the things Clark had actually talked about the night before. "See how you were."
"I'm fine, Lex," Clark said, his voice curiously flat. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"Alright, so I was also stopping by to see if you were still pissed at me," Lex said sheepishly. Trying to be charming, trying to cajole Clark out of his mood, and failing miserably. Clark turned away from him again, so Lex couldn't read his expressions at all. "Apparently you are."
"Some," Clark said. "It doesn't matter."
What fucking bull. "Of course it matters," Lex said. "We're friends, or at least I thought we were. Now you won't even look at me. How can it not matter?"
Clark turned around to face him fully then, and Lex almost took a step back from the force of the anger that was aimed at him. He'd only seen Clark truly furious a couple times, and he'd forgotten how fucking scary Clark could be. "I'm looking at you now, Lex. Satisfied?"
No, not at all, not when you're looking at me like that. "Um." Lex was unaccountably at a loss for words, dropping his gaze to his feet because he couldn't meet Clark's fever-bright eyes. "No. I still don't know what's wrong."
Clark let out a crack of hoarse laughter at that, and Lex grimaced, lifting his gaze again. "Well, besides the obvious."
"Why would anything be wrong?" Clark said. His voice sounded a bit cracked, and his eyes still had that crazy-furious glint. But there was something else there… Something besides anger. Something driving his anger. It felt personal, but Lex had no clue.
"I don't know, but something obviously is," Lex said. "Is there something you're not telling me, Clark?"
"Oh, a whole lifetime of things," Clark said, and made a disdainful noise, turning away. Lex swallowed hard, caught unaccountably off-balance by Clark actually admitting that he was keeping secrets. "Though that wasn't what you were asking, was it?"
"No," Lex said. It was damned hard not to ask, though. So hard not to press his advantage, but, well, this was Clark. Finding out what was wrong was more important than long-held secrets. "No, I was asking about why you seem to be taking this whole mess personally, I guess."
Clark spun around at that, his eyes wide and shocked, and then ducked his head before Lex could really catch his gaze. Lex read all he needed to know there in that one moment, though.
"Clark…" he said, not even sure what he wanted to say, but Clark just laughed an ugly laugh.
"Guess you've found me out. Seems to be one of your talents."
Lex gulped. Clark's voice was so dark, so harsh… It didn't sound like Clark Kent at all. Not the one that Lex knew. Or thought he knew. Secrets aside, he'd never even guessed that Clark was hiding something like this.
Clark wasn't letting up, though, just caught Lex's gaze with his own and held it, his eyes burning with intensity and anger and something that was very probably heartbreak. "I just have one question, Lex."
When he didn't continue, Lex gathered up his courage enough to ask, "And what's that, Clark?"
"Why didn't I ever get a pair of diamond earrings?"
Lex was speechless, struck absolutely dumb, but Clark just continued, either oblivious or uncaring of Lex's shock. "Well, I suppose that earrings would have been a bit obvious, and I'm never going to pierce my ears anyway… Though there could have been a bracelet, or a necklace. Maybe even an expensive watch, at least. I think I earned that much." Clark's voice was musing, his rage all the more dangerous now for being hidden. "Or was it not good enough? Is that why you never bothered? I always did wonder what it all meant to you. I guess now I've got my answer."
Lex swallowed convulsively, but still couldn't force words out of his constricted throat. "I mean, if Shannon got earrings and you couldn't even remember her later, I guess that puts me even lower on the scale. Did you even remember that it happened, or did you just not care?"
"Clark, I didn't-"
"Yeah, that's been made pretty damned clear." Anger creeping back through Clark's scarily reasonable tone, and was it fucked up or just good sense to be relieved?
"I didn't mean to hurt you." Though he had. It had seemed like a good idea at the time- hurt Clark now, so he wouldn't further on down the line.
"Liar," Clark said softly, reading him like he always could. "It was deliberate. Did you really think I didn't notice? I'm not as stupid as everyone thinks I am, you know. I can pick up a clue or two."
"I don't think you're stupid," Lex protested. Quite the contrary- Clark was almost frighteningly intelligent sometimes, and he could read Lex like a book. Or used to. Lately, it seems like they've been getting all their wires crossed. "And I really didn't mean it like that."
"Of course you didn't," Clark snapped. "You just ran away for two months to Metropolis and returned with a slut-bomb wife because you thought it was the right thing to do." He turned away, ran his hands through his hair and pulled hard at the roots. "Jesus, Lex."
"I wasn't running away," Lex protested. "And Desiree wasn't exactly my fault. Besides, you didn't seem too upset about it when I got back." A bit of pettiness an unexpected confession that he hadn't meant to let slip, but it was too much to hope for that Clark had missed it.
"Of course I was upset," Clark said. "We were sleeping together for months. I thought it meant something. Then you dumped me cold and came back two months later and got married. Married, Lex. Were you really so fucking blind that you didn't realize that I wanted to kill her for having you?" He laughed bitterly. "You actually asked me to be your best man. Think about how fun that was."
Christ, he'd been an ass. But he really had thought that Clark had forgotten about him… He hadn't remembered that Clark, when he wanted to, was perfectly capable of lying with his eyes till Lex couldn't tell what he was thinking at all. He should have realized. "I'm sorry, Clark. I didn't know."
Clark stared at him hard for a long moment, then let out a crack of laughter. "No, you really didn't, did you? Jesus." Clark turned away and stared at the stars, and for a moment he was somewhere far beyond Lex had ever even imagined. And then his shoulders slumped, and he was just Clark again. Though Clark was beyond Lex's comprehension just as he was, and always had been, apparently.
"They all looked like me, you know."
Clark's quiet voice broke a long moment of uncomfortable silence, and Lex shot him a look that Clark couldn't see anyway, because his back was still to Lex. "Excuse me?"
"The women. All of them looked like me. Victoria. Then Desiree, Helen, even Shannon Drake and Eve Andrews. They all looked like me."
Lex's first instinct was to deny, and then he realized that Clark was right. They all did look like him. Not close enough for most people to notice, but something about the dark hair and eyes and basic facial structure. If Clark were a woman, he could look like any one of them.
Clark wasn't finished, of course. No, Lex's life couldn't be that easy. "I thought that maybe that meant something. I've held onto that for so long, and now I realize that it really doesn't. You didn't pick them because they looked like me; you picked me because I looked like them. Because I was your type. I guess I should just be grateful that you broke up with me in person, rather than ignoring my existence."
"You were my friend," Lex said quietly. "I never would have done that to you."
"You might as well have," Clark responded. "It probably couldn't have hurt much more if you had."
"You had a funny way of showing it," Lex said, a little angrily. "We broke up and you immediately went after Chloe. How was I supposed to know that you cared?"
"Cared?" Clark snapped. He actually turned around to face Lex again, still beautiful in his anger. "Christ. Lex, didn't you get it? I was in love with you. You didn't seem to be too sorry to end things, so I pretended everything was fine so that we could stay friends. And you kept giving me advice and telling me to go after Chloe or Lana and fixing my tie on Homecoming night and you were happy, so I had to be happy too, if I wanted to keep things normal. And then I realized that you'd set Nixon on me, and I figured that our whole relationship had been about you trying to get my secrets out of me." He shrugged, as if it was almost no big deal. "And for the record, we didn't 'break up.' You ended things. Not the other way around."
Lex couldn't even keep up with all the information, because his brain kept returning to the one sentence he'd actually taken in. "You were in love with me?"
"Yeah, I was," Clark said. He sounded bitter, and Lex supposed that he couldn't blame him. "Three years ago. I also used to believe in happy endings. It's funny what you get over when things go wrong."
Lex was slowly coming to terms with the realization that he did this. That the sunny, cheerful Clark he'd thought he'd known had, at some point, become nothing more than a cover for this bitter man, and it was pretty much all his fault. He'd tried to do one right thing in his life and spare Clark some pain, and even years later it never occurred to him that it might not have been the right thing after all.
Not until now, however, and Lex was just now having it driven home just how badly he'd fucked things up. Jesus. Out of all the bad shit he'd put Clark through, this one thing was probably the worst.
He'd spent so much time wondering why Clark wasn't able to save him from his own internal darkness that it had never occurred to him that Clark might have a little darkness of his own. He'd seen the signs, a year and a half ago when they'd both returned to Smallville from their "time away," but he'd dismissed them. Surely Clark couldn't be having problems like that.
God, he'd been so fucking stupid. And really, the worst part was-
"I thought I was doing the right thing."
Clark glared at him. "How the fuck was that doing the right thing? Did you even have a reason in your twisted up brain, or was it completely random?"
Lex winced. The last time he'd heard Clark use that particular curse word was the last time they'd had sex, and it had been because of something particularly creative that Lex had done with his tongue, not because of anything this bad. "I figured that I was sparing you some unhappiness down the line. Things with me always get fucked up, you know that."
"And so you just made that decision for me," Clark said, his voice flat with disbelief. "You didn't think that maybe I could have been different."
Wrong. So very, very wrong. Then again, this whole conversation was all wrong. "You were different," Lex protested. "That's why I cared. I didn't want it to get-"
"-like this?" Clark finished. "Too late."
"I know," Lex said quietly. "You know that I'd change things if I could, right?"
"That's the problem, Lex," Clark said. "You can't. Trust me, I know." His face tightened with a sorrow that predated anything that Lex had ever done to him, and Lex tried to ignore the insatiable urge to know why.
"I really thought that it was the right thing to do," Lex said quietly. "Stupid of me, I know, but it made sense at the time. I left because you seemed to be head over heels for Chloe, and I was jealous. And Desiree was because of her mutant powers, nothing else." He paused for a split second. "Well, maybe a little because she looked like you."
Clark stared at him for a full ten seconds. "Why are you telling me all this now?" He sounded almost panicked, which was worrisome even in the midst of this extremely worrisome conversation.
"It seemed like the right thing to do," Lex said, trying to soothe Clark with his voice. It had worked in the past, occasionally. "I can't change the past, so all I can do is give you the truth and hope we can move forward."
Clark surprised him a little by suddenly bursting into laughter. Even to Lex's ears it didn't sound entirely sane, and Lex realized that Clark was going through a combination of shock and hysteria at the very least. "I'm sorry," he said, and meant it. "I didn't meant to assume-"
Clark stopped laughing and then looked at Lex, eerily calm. "Why don't we start with what you were assuming and go from there, since you've apparently made a habit of getting everything completely wrong."
Okay, ouch. Lex was sure that he'd managed to keep his wince internal. Well, pretty sure. "I'd really like to see if we can get our friendship back, Clark. I've screwed up so much… I just want to be able to get it right, this time."
Clark actually seemed to be listening to him now, really listening, and his creepy false calm was slowly fading, leaving a still somewhat upset but otherwise sane person. Well, as sane as anyone ever got in this town. "I don't know if I can trust you," Clark said, and Lex knew that he hadn't controlled his reaction this time. "I don't mean that in a mean way, Lex."
"I'd like to know how else you could have meant it!" He didn't mean to let his voice get loud. Really, he didn't.
"I just meant that we aren't really friends anymore," Clark said. "We haven't been for a while. And the one mistake that you always made is to think that you can build trust on nothing, or use it like a bartering system, or even just demand it. It doesn't work that way. Trust develops, and it takes time, and I could be willing to take that time but at the moment, I pretty much don't know you well enough to trust you."
Well, that was the most painfully honest and mature speech Lex had heard in years from anyone, much less Clark. Then again, he was beginning to realize that he'd always underestimated Clark. "You do know me, Clark," Lex said. "You know me better than anyone."
"Which isn't saying much," Clark said. "And yes, I knew you once. Or I thought I did. I built castles in the air without even a cloud to rest them on, and I'm not doing that again. If we're going to do this again, we're going to do this right. Actually talk about things, and eventually we'll put all our cards on the table. All of them, and both of us. I'm not going to be risking everything only to find that you've been holding stuff back like you always do." Clark sounded a little fierce by the end of this.
Lex just nodded, feeling overwhelmed by the sheer force of fucking will that was Clark Kent. "That's fair," he said, a little hoarsely.
"Good," Clark said. The fierceness faded, and with it went the light that had shone so briefly in his eyes. The light that Lex hadn't seen for months now, that used to be there all the time, even when they were fighting. Lex hadn't realized he'd mourned that spark until he saw it again.
There was a long, awkward pause, where Lex tried to figure out what, if anything, to say or do. Shake hands? Hug? He mentally shook his head. No, it was best to just leave before things could go wrong again. Maybe he'd call Clark tomorrow, see if he wanted to come by and play a game of pool, get coffee at the Talon, something. It was worth a try.
So he just sort of shrugged, and gave an awkward smile and started walking across the loft floor. Clark didn't move, didn't call to say goodnight, just leaned against the wall, hands hanging loose at his sides, and watched him go. Lex could feel Clark's gaze on him, and it made him pause.
"Clark," he said, carefully. Clark tilted his head in tactic request for the rest. "You said you were in love with me."
"I said I used to be in love with you," Clark said, his expression changing not a bit. "It was a long time ago, Lex."
Not so long, Lex wanted to say. Two years isn't that long, is it? But he supposed it was. Beyond the fact that your teen years seemed to take eons, so much had happened between them that it was hard to believe that they were even the same people who had laughed and kissed and fucked and smiled at each other every chance they got. Maybe they weren't the same people, and Lex was just fooling himself. But he had to try.
Lex turned back and watched Clark for a long moment. Clark had turned away again, and was staring at the stars, apparently heedless of Lex's presence. The pale light from the half-moon cast shadows on his face, silvered his skin and dramatized his dark savior's eyes. He looked beautiful, untouchable, a thousand miles away. But somehow Lex knew that if he turned back, walked back across the room and laid his hand on Clark's shoulder, that Clark would turn into his touch and they'd go back to the people that they used to be.
Lex turned and walked away.