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Sweat prickled over his skin, clammy under his neck but too warm everywhere else. The watch his mother gave him felt tight on his wrist, fingers hot and swelling, and the crackling fire baked the soles of his calfskin Prada loafers.

Lex couldn't quite bring himself to care.

The enervating stupor brought on by an overconsumption of Lagavulin that was as old as Clark certainly aided him in the endeavor.

All his energy was currently being funneled into trying not to think.

Because thinking, Lex had decided, was bad.

As were telephoto lenses, false accusations against friends, and overconfidence whenever his father was involved in any situation.

On the bright side, Lex felt fairly certain his life now qualified for Jerry Springer, although he suspected Jerry might find his fencing matches with Lionel too tame for the studio audience. Lionel hadn't dared to draw blood in years.

His fingertips slid over the warm, dry glass, leaving a ghostly impression of his sweaty hand as he put the glass back down on the end table.

There was a distinct possibility that he was very drunk.

How terribly disappointing that his being very drunk never precluded his ability to brood.

Lionel would be appalled if he found Lex in this condition, and that notion currently pleased Lex beyond all measure. Considering the Kodak moments hidden inside the manila envelope resting on the end table, Lex figured Lionel had a little disappointment coming to him. And Lex would do some plotting against his father while the anger was fresh and righteous, but he was pretty sure that would require thinking.

Not to mention the fact that he definitely wouldn't enjoy his father's notion of quid pro quo.

Footsteps echoed in the hall, and Lex briefly thought about praying that it wasn't Nixon bearing more delightful news.

And about a nanosecond later, he discarded the thought as exceedingly ridiculous unless he wanted a lightning bolt to zotz out of the sky like a theological electric chair.


Lex tilted his head back, and decided he might need to rethink the whole prayer thing. He could probably use the help right now. "Clark. It's late."

It wasn't, really, only something after eight o'clock. Lex just didn't trust himself to be alone with Clark after dark right now.

Lex left unspoken Clark's uncanny habit of bypassing both the security gates and the castle's elaborate alarm system. Imagining Clark as a budding cat burglar hurt Lex's brain, and in the alternative lurked an elaborate construction of lies.

Subtlety, thy name was not Clark Kent. However, the thought of Clark dressed all in tight black held something of a lasting appeal.

And perhaps his staff had simply let Clark in, since Lex vaguely recalled that was one of the things he paid them to do for his visitors.

"Yeah, I guess," Clark said. Lex opened his eyes to find Clark moving closer. He stared at the fire, hands in his jean pockets. More sweat bloomed on Lex's upper lip, and he wondered how Clark could stand the temperature in his jacket and thick sweater. Of course, when it came to Clark disrobing, any claims Lex had to altruism evaporated like water poured over rocks in a sauna.

"Mm," Lex said. He liked Clark, and normally he liked looking at Clark, but right now Clark was interfering with Lex's not-thinking plan.

Not thinking was rather key at the moment.

"Is this a bad time?"

Yes, Lex thought.

"Of course not, Clark," he said instead. Rather expansively. Letting Clark in again.

Lex really needed to stop doing that.

Clark hunched his shoulders a little, and said, "Okay."

Lex took advantage of the ensuing silence to drink more scotch. The taste briefly numbed his tongue and tingled as it went down, like a lesson in gastrointestinal anatomy. "What can I do for you, Clark?"

Clark ducked his head, then slanted him a coy look that never failed to inspire inappropriate thoughts. "I kinda wanted to apologize. For earlier."

"No need," Lex said, and found he meant it. His anger and confusion had dissipated when Clark had allowed him to finish buttoning Clark's shirt at the hospital. Had allowed Lex close enough to smell antiseptic and sweat, and blood like old pennies. Close enough for his fingers to brush bruises and bandages.

He had been very worried about Clark. To the point of terror.

Like the terror of knowing he was going to hit the tall boy on the bridge all those months ago, only worse, because now he knew the tall boy's name, birth date, shoe size, how he took his coffee, and how he always borrowed his father's aftershave when he planned to see Lana.

"I was being a jerk, Lex. I'm sorry."

"Well, then," Lex said, as if it was as easy as that. "Apology accepted."

Clark stepped closer. Paused. Squinted at Lex as if he could look right through him, making Lex want to squirm, or conceal his face.

He did neither. Fidgeting was unbecoming of a Luthor.

"Are you okay?"

"Just peachy, Clark," Lex said, and immediately regretted his flippant tone.

"Right," Clark replied, sounding vastly unconvinced. He looked around the study as if he smelled a tuna salad sandwich that had been sitting forgotten on the bookcase for a two days. "Is Victoria still in Metropolis?"

"Yes, she is." Lex took another sip, and Clark sat down on the arm of his chair where Lex had been resting his drink. Strong, denim-clad thigh. Close enough to touch.

Every time Clark shifted, Lex caught the scent of wood smoke mingled with fabric softener.

Oh, for Christ's sake, Lex thought, lead me not unto temptation.

"When will she be back?"

Lex closed his eyes again. "Probably when the Goss Farm pigs sprout wings and fly."

But when Lex took Smallville into account, he thought he might need to qualify that statement with a 'never' and perhaps even an 'over my cold, dead body.'

"Oh," Clark said. It was a small sound, but not small enough to contain the satisfaction. "You two broke up?"

"We were never really together, Clark."

"Sure seemed like it to me," Clark muttered.

Lex found himself smiling. Victoria had never restricted her amorous overtures whenever Clark had dropped by the mansion. Just last week, Clark had walked into Lex's study, turned around, and immediately walked back out while chanting apologies when he realized Victoria had both her hands down Lex's pants.

"Appearances can be deceiving."

"Well, duh, Lex."

Lex cracked an eyelid and peered up at Clark. "Victoria regarded me as a means to an end. I simply played along until I could discover what it was she wanted." Unpleasant images of Victoria entwined with his father flashed across his imagination, and Lex swallowed harshly.

Not so drunk he needed to vomit, but the mental image was bringing up more bile than Lex had expected. He wanted to be inured to it, to be numb all the way through, but Lionel could always find the chinks in his armor.

Father always knows best.

Perhaps by tomorrow, he'd have enough distance to be mildly amused by the whole debacle. Or perhaps he'd still be too close and the only change would be the fact that he was suffering from a hangover of massive proportions, and in possession of a headache that was attempting to claw its way out of his skull like a baby bird.

"What did she want?" Clark asked.

Lex snorted. "Well, it certainly wasn't me."

Clark's hand closed around Lex's forearm and stopped him from taking another sip of scotch. Not that Lex needed it, but alcohol served as a welcome distraction from Clark's youthful intensity.

Such a pretty boy, all big hazel eyes, sharp cheekbones, and lips that were just as illegal as the rest of his body parts.

"Don't say that," Clark said.

Lex looked at Clark's hand, then tilted his head back to meet Clark's serious eyes. "Why not? It's only the truth." Lex smirked and cocked his head, suddenly eager to shift Clark's attention elsewhere. He rescued his glass with his free hand and swallowed more Lagavulin. "Shouldn't you be heading home, Clark?"

Clark glanced around the room, and then said, "I'm not stupid, you know."

"Pardon?" Lex asked, hand frozen halfway between the armrest and his mouth.

"You always try to send me home when something's wrong," Clark said. His fingers tightened on Lex's forearm. "I'm not leaving until you tell me, Lex."

Clark's words washed over Lex like a threat. "I just received some unpleasant news, Clark. Nothing earth-shattering. No mutants, no concussions, not even a serious death threat. Satisfied?"

Clark shook his head. "You're acting weird. There's got to be more to it."

Lex had to look away. The idea of confiding something so humiliating was foreign to him, even if he'd already told Clark things only Lionel knew for certain. Lex never did that, never let people in that far, and he wouldn't have this time, either, only Clark was already reaching for the manila envelope half under his thigh on the end table.

"Clark --" Lex warned, but it was too late.

"Oh, gross," Clark said. Glossy paper hissed as Clark paged through all the photographs.

Lex remained silent, not trusting his vocal cords after they had nearly betrayed him earlier with Nixon. Twenty-one years old, and his voice could still break.

He should have burned the damned pictures.

Because now he was corrupting a minor by showing him nude pictures of his ex-girlfriend and his father, and he was about one glass of scotch away from convincing himself that Clark wouldn't notice if Lex just leaned over and bit Clark's thigh. Or ran his tongue along the inseam of Clark's jeans, and it really all boiled down to avoidance, anger, and hormones he thought he'd learned to keep in check.

There was going to be a special room reserved for Lex in hell. Probably right next door to his father's.

Clark tapped the stack of photos to straighten them and returned them to the envelope. "Lex?"

"Yes?" he said, far too abruptly for comfort.

Drinking to excess also didn't become a Luthor, and right now, Lex didn't feel very becoming.

"I guess it's no secret that I didn't really like her, huh?" Clark said.

"No," Lex said. "Not exactly." Lex had wondered about that. Clark's face wasn't always readable, especially when he wore that infuriatingly blank expression while he lied, but he'd been radiating hostility at Victoria for weeks.

Lex knew that Clark wasn't exactly a sweet, even-tempered boy, but Lex had never seen him be so deliberately rude without sufficient provocation.

"It's just," Clark said, hands sliding down his thighs to grip his knee caps. "She was using you."

Lex's hand tightened around his glass until his tendons creaked. "I was aware of that fact."

He had expected Victoria's betrayal to be more of a challenge.

Her lack of business acumen had made her a disappointing adversary until Nixon had delivered her real coup de grâce, whether she had intended him to know of the affair or not.

Clark shrugged. "That still doesn't make it right, Lex."

Lex tried to smile, but failed, his face heavy and unresponsive from the alcohol. "You get used to it."

Clark's hand was back on Lex's forearm, squeezing so hard Lex knew it was going to bruise in clashing shades of purple, yellow and green. "Lex." Clark stared at him with an odd intensity, eyes wide, nostrils flaring. "It doesn't have to be like that."

Lex knew he was drunk and getting maudlin, and Clark was sitting too close and looking too earnest, which was probably why he said, "Clark, if I didn't know better, I'd say you were jealous."

Clark scowled. "Don't do that."

"Do what?" Lex said as innocently as he knew how, which wasn't very.

"Push me away," Clark said. "Get me mad."

"I'm not pushing you away, Clark," Lex said. "Simply making an observation."

"Sure, Lex," Clark said snidely, a brutal reminder that Clark was still a teenager no matter how adult he looked. The knowledge rubbed against the raw part of him that still wanted his mother's love, and Lex suddenly felt tired and vaguely ashamed.

There was nothing here he could allow himself to want.

"It was just another of my father's object lessons, Clark," Lex said finally. "I'll get over it."

"You shouldn't have to," Clark said.

Lex wanted to laugh, wanted to mock Clark's naïveté for thinking that life was, of all things, fair.

It was never about fairness; it was about winning.

"It doesn't matter," Lex said, tilting his glass and swirling the liquid inside it.

"Lex," Clark said. "Scootch over." And then Clark was moving, pushing Lex sideways on the seat and sliding off the armrest. Startled, Lex accidentally knocked his glass over, and it clunked to the floor, splattering expensive scotch over the floor boards.

Lex froze, taken aback by the warm sprawl of boy pressing against his shoulder and hip, a heavy thigh pinching his leg beneath it. Clark was hugging him, his arm wrapped around Lex's neck. Clark tucked his nose behind Lex's ear, breath hot against the side of his face.

Clark felt good, like a living electric blanket along his left side. Lex didn't have a clear memory of the last time he'd been touched this way, or even the last time someone had expected him to share a chair.

"Sorry," Clark said. "Can I?"

And Lex just had to bark out a laugh, because the answer had to be obvious. Had been obvious for a while, really, but Lex knew Clark was unskilled in the language of sex and transactions. It didn't matter, none of it, as long as Clark stayed right where he was for a little longer.

"I don't mind," Lex said. He turned slightly and Clark's hair tickled his nose, smelling of smoke and cheap shampoo.

"Yeah?" He could feel Clark grinning against his neck. Lex closed his eyes, and rested his forehead on Clark's shoulder. For a moment, he let himself pretend that he could have this.

That everything would be okay.

That he hadn't let Clark close enough to hurt him, even though that seemed inevitable.

Clark's breath was hot and moist in Lex's ear, and he thought he was imagining the soft feel of Clark's nose and lips slowly dragging down his jaw. But Clark's hands were moving, too, wrapping around the nape of his neck.

Clark brushed his mouth over Lex's lips with barely any pressure at all, and it made Lex's mouth itch for more. "Is this," Clark said, voice bordering on the edge of breathless, "Is this okay?"

Lex's brain ran through an intoxicated gamut of possible responses. 'Are meteor rocks green?' 'Is my scalp unusually smooth?' 'Does the Pope disapprove of cock rings?'

"Clark?" Lex said instead. "Is there something you'd like to tell me?"

"Don't want to talk about it right now," Clark said, his voice vibrating against Lex's skin. "Just -- does it bother you?"

"Oh, please," Lex said, threading his fingers through Clark's soft hair. "Does it look like I'm trying to get away?"

Clark sat back and grinned his giant, goofy grin, the one that should have made him look mentally deficient but never did, his face so close that Lex nearly went cross-eyed trying to take it all in. Lex didn't close his eyes when Clark tilted down his head and kissed him, because it was something he never expected to see.

Barely the beginning, and already Lex prepared to mourn the end. He regretted the fact that he'd never quite learned how to live completely in the moment.

Lex nudged Clark's mouth open with his lips and tongue, and Clark responded eagerly, sucking at Lex's mouth like Lex was his favorite candy. It wasn't at all sublime, the way Clark settled his weight more firmly against Lex's shoulder. The way Lex licked every millimeter of Clark's mouth, or the way Clark whimpered when Lex bit his full lower lip.

Nothing sublime ever made the backs of his knees sweat like this.

There was nothing sublime about wanting to fuck Clark raw. About wanting to be the first one to split Clark wide open, to make Clark beg and scream, and sweat through the sheets. About anticipating the expression on Clark's face when it started to feel good, really fucking good, or about addicting Clark to Lex's body so he would keep coming back for more.

No, not sublime. Base. Raw. Selfish.

Lex really didn't care.

Clark made a noise that Lex wanted to record for posterity and late night jack off sessions, then rolled his hips. His interest was unmistakable as he shifted against Lex's side, seeking friction that Lex gave with the heel of his palm.

One moment Clark was sucking on Lex's tongue, and the next he had pulled back, breathing hard, his eyes bright. "Um," Clark said, leaning close again, fingers flexing on Lex's scalp. "I didn't actually come over for this."

"Far be it from me to complain," Lex murmured. He tugged on Clark's hair and Clark unresistingly came back to his mouth.

A warm slide of tongue and teeth later, Clark said, "Um. Was gonna ask you something."

"What was it?" Lex asked, concentrating on Clark's neck. The slightly salty taste of his skin, the way Clark writhed when Lex sucked too hard, pushing Lex into the arm of the chair with his hips. The sweet pressure of Clark's hesitant hands as they moved over his body like he couldn't decide where he wanted to touch more.

Lex didn't care that his leg was starting to go numb from Clark's weight, and that Clark didn't seem to be wincing every time he moved like earlier today. That the cut on Clark's forehead was gone, and that until now, Clark seemed to have no sexual interest in people who weren't small and female.

Irrelevant things, really, when Clark's hands were scrabbling at Lex's waist, and sliding up the back of his dress shirt. Calluses and thick fingers dragging up his spine, a smooth tongue in his mouth.

Something he could dismiss. Ignore until Clark went away again.

He realized he was hoping Clark would never leave, because then he wouldn't have to think about Clark's lies, or whether Clark was going to blame this all on a misguided attempt at comfort when morning arrived.

"Chloe," Clark said, smoothing his hands over the skin of Lex's back. "She, uh, wants to interview you. For the Torch."

"When?" Lex asked, his hands restless, skimming Clark's body while it was still in reach. "And why?"

Clark laughed, his arm tightening around Lex's neck and shoulders. "Yeah, like there's anyone else around here that's half as interesting as you, Lex."

Lex knew that he was wrong, because Lex's obsession with Clark had clearly trespassed all boundaries of mere polite interest moments after he'd opened his eyes and found himself alive. He simply closed his teeth over the skin and stubble high on Clark's jaw in lieu of arguing, instead of telling Clark that he didn't do interviews. "That still doesn't answer when."

"Um," Clark said. "Next Tuesday? After school?"

Lex had to wonder at the timing, that Clark was half on top of him, asking for a favor.

How many favors was this? And did Lex really mind as long as Clark got what he wanted?

Clark was capable of lying, certainly, but Lex doubted he was capable of sexual manipulation. Not when he kissed like it was still a cool new toy.

"I'll, uh, I'll be there, too," Clark said, eyes heavy-lidded, leaning into Lex like he couldn't help himself. His soft mouth open, pink tongue curling behind his teeth.

He'd promised Clark the world the second time they'd met. Perhaps he'd known that seeing Clark flushed and hard would destroy him. Clark could leave him wrenched open and vulnerable, to be picked clean like carrion when Clark was through with him.

Dad always did say to keep the bourgeoisie at a safe distance. 'The better to rule them from, my son.'

"Sure, Clark," Lex said.

Take everything, Lex thought. Help yourself. I don't want to stop you.

It was good, he decided, that he was already drunk.

Clark just smiled, and lowered his head for another kiss.