The carolers had gone home, by now all tucked into their beds, dreaming of sugar plums, or the twenty first century equivalent. Last minute shoppers, their parcels and bags stuffed hastily into their cars, had scurried home to finish wrapping. The shop windows were all dark, save for the strings of sagging lights hanging from the awnings above the doors. The animated Santa Claus in the front window of the Talon was eerily still. Lana thought he was cute. Chloe declared him possessed by demons.
Downtown Smallville was blanketed in an early snow. Martha Kent had been moved to tears by the fact that they would have a white Christmas that year. It had been a long time since it had actually snowed in December. Jonathan Kent blamed global warming, and of course boiled it all the way down to the pollutants spewed out from the Luthor Corp. Plant. Clark gave up trying to support any alternative; instead he went for a walk.
It was cold, but he didn't feel it. He felt very little these days, now that the truth had been revealed. He felt as if finally knowing the truth had finally shut and locked the door to the prison walls he'd always felt surrounded him. Because of what he could do he'd always been told "don't touch, don't get close, someone could get hurt," but no one wondered at Clark's pain, Clark's hurt. He would never feel the special closeness two people could share, because he would never be anything but different. Any hope he'd ever held of outgrowing his abilities had been dashed to miniscule fragments that could never be reassembled.
Christmas lost its meaning; hard enough for a child to accept the non-existence of the Jolly Old Elf, and harder still for those pleasant childhood memories to be completely stripped of their value. There was no such thing as Santa Claus, but there were such things as aliens; the monsters who hid in the shadows and abducted people, or killed them. Santa Claus, the scion of good, was only a fleeting fancy. The otherworldly alien was real.
Clark woke up one morning to discover the monster hiding under the bed was staring back at him in the mirror. Maybe his parents thought the truth would make it better, so that he would understand what was happening to him. The truth only made everything worse. It created new questions, more questions, all with no answers. It told Clark once and for all: "you do not belong here." They didn't understand. They thought loving him would be enough, but it wasn't; like the truth, it made things worse.
He felt as if he'd ceased being able to feel anything at all. The doors had closed, cutting him off from the rest of the world. Isolated and alone, he'd clung to whatever he could to keep himself from losing it all. Fairy tales and dreams became life preservers upon which his fingers slipped as he tried desperately to - be - to exist within the fabric of the world in which he'd been placed. Like tears sought to banish a cinder from one's eye, the world sought to banish the foreign body that was Clark Kent.
Clark Kent. The name no longer had any meaning. He didn't belong.
He stopped walking.
The overcast sky was champagne blush. Snow spilled down from the heavens in swirls of sparkling white that seemed to flutter around the street-lamps like countless tiny moths drawn to the light and the warmth. The Christmas lights glittered on the awnings, on the lamp-posts, and on the trees of the town common. The world looked like a shaken snow-globe. Clark felt as if he were locked outside of the glass, and no alien strength could break through it.
He'd given both Lana and Chloe snow-globes for Christmas. Lana's played the Nutcracker Waltz. Chloe's played Jingle Bells. They'd both presented him with mittens and a scarf, at different times and different places.
"You always look cold," they said.
Clark smiled, and told each of them he'd wear them faithfully, before retreating to the loft where he could let the smile fade and the pain could be battered back down again. He didn't cry, he was so far beyond crying. He was too old, too strong, too inhuman.
He pulled the red mittens Lana had given him out of his coat pocket, turning them over and over in hands not the slightest bit affected by the weather. Sinking down onto a snow covered park bench, he held the soft wool to one cheek and closed his eyes. He'd known, the night in the graveyard, when he'd finally been able to talk one on one with the girl of his dreams, that the fairy tale would have no happy ending. There would be no Lana and Clark, nor more than there could be a Chloe and Clark, because he could no longer feel them.
Grasping at the fading remnants of an affection he'd once held, he tried to carry on, but it grew more and more difficult to maintain the illusion. His grasp was growing weaker, his isolation increased, and the conviction that he would always be alone grew stronger within his already aching heart. There would be no happily ever after, but rather, an after and after and after. Tangled in the web of destiny, and choices taken away by fickle fates who taunted him at every turn, Clark felt suffocated. His breath, his life, were driven from his body, along with any scrap of humanity he thought he'd possessed.
Clark opened his eyes, and brought the mittens away from his face. He sat on the bench listening to the quiet of the snow. He stared at the bright red mittens, trying to focus, but feeling as if he were growing more and more numb to the world around him. His footprints gradually filled until he sat still and alone in an unbroken sea of cold, white snow.
He had no idea how long he'd been sitting there before he heard the car. It struck him odd. No one in Smallville would be out and about at - he checked his watch - two a.m. Christmas Eve. Midnight Mass at St. Michael's was long over and the congregation gone home to their beds. He looked up and saw the sleek black silhouette enter the roundabout.
Its headlights easily broke through the swirling snow, its wipers beat a steady rhythm as it cut silently across the newly fallen layer of snow on the road. It was a big four by four, a Mercedes SUV. Only one person would be driving a Mercedes SUV in Smallville, Kansas. Only one person would have no qualms about venturing out in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve.
Only one? Clark asked himself. He was, after all, out in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve.
The truck stopped, No Parking signs unheeded, and Lex stepped out into the snow. Clad in a long, black, leather coat, gloves, boots beneath his ever stylish wool trousers, and a black muffler around his throat, he made his way across the virgin snow like an ink spot spilling across a sheet of blank paper. In the silence his footsteps made soft crunching sounds.
"You know," he said softly, as he neared. "If you don't get in bed, Santa won't show."
Clark smiled. "Yeah, I think we're both a little too old for Santa Claus, Lex."
"You're never too old for Santa Claus!" Lex feigned outrage, and sat down on the bench. "Besides, it doesn't matter if you don't believe, the kiddies in town do, and you're keeping the man from his appointed rounds."
There was a moment of non-speaking, a common occurrence between them, and it hung there as if awaiting something neither one of them felt comfortable saying. Sometimes Lex dared, but it was always quickly glossed over, as if his words had never been uttered, as if Clark hadn't heard the pain, and the longing, and the meaning in the them.
"What's the matter, Clark?"
"Nothing," he whispered, and refused to look at him, because Clark knew better than to be captured by Lex Luthor's eyes.
"Nothing my ass. It's the middle of the night, Christmas Eve, and you're sitting in the park in a snowstorm."
Clark didn't respond.
"You're supposed to wear the mittens, by the way." Lex said softly, and as if Clark were a child, he reached over and took Clark's hands, putting the mittens on them one by one. "There."
They looked ridiculous; the large hands of a man encased in bright red woolen mittens as if making some sorry attempt to cling to a childhood long gone.
Even with his abilities, Clark had been able to find some moments of childhood innocence. He remembered building snowmen and snow forts with his father, going sledding with his mother, or watching her bake cookies. He didn't need a pot-holder. He was in charge of taking the cookies out of the oven, and was always the first to sample them. He smiled wryly, because he still got to sample the first batch.
But Christmas cookies somehow didn't taste as sweet as they had when he was younger, before he was more than "different," before he was "other." Everything had become flavored by loneliness, and that taste was bitter.
He didn't realize that he had teared up until he felt the brush of Lex's fingertips against his cheek. The touch was warm, for Lex had taken his hand out of the leather glove in order to wipe the tear away. Desperate for any comfort, Clark found himself turning his cheek into that gentle touch, closing his eyes to prevent further disclosure of his unhappiness. Emotional suppression was so ingrained in him anymore; secrets and lies had become second nature. It was all a part of being in hiding from the world.
Lex pushed back the snow dampened tendrils of his hair, and when Clark felt the strength of those fingers beneath his chin, he obediently raised his head. His gaze opened upon Lex's eyes, which were like the dark depths of a frozen lake in the dull light of the street-lamps. They were dark blue, royal blue, like the color of the blood running through his veins, passed down by ancestors tracing back to medieval kings in faraway lands.
The expression in his eyes was one Clark had seen there before. It frightened him almost as much as it flattered him. This man, who could have anything or anyone in the world he wanted if he but speak of it, wanted him. The desire was so strong, perhaps, because Lex regarded Clark as unattainable. Clark wasn't sure on that point. It had been obvious to him what Lex wanted from the very beginning, and had Lex known Clark did entertain thoughts of a relationship beyond "friend", he might not have been so reticent during their encounters. Like everything else, Clark kept his true feelings hidden.
Tonight those feelings were close to the surface, driven there by the aching loneliness that had settled into his bones like the winters cold. If anyone could relate to Clark's feelings of exile, it would be Lex. He too had been abandoned by his parents. One was dead, her memory living on in Lex's heart, suppressing him with grief he could not seem to release. The other lived, but Lionel Luthor was very much dead inside, providing Lex with neither support nor comfort.
"You're freezing." Lex whispered softly. "Let me take you home."
"I'm okay." His voice was a croak. "Honest."
Lex smiled. "You're always honest, Clark."
Clark looked away, turning from the hand that still lingered in his hair. "Not always," he murmured.
There was a significant pause. "You don't want to tell me what's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. It's just - just a case of the holiday blues."
It was a lie, and so was the one about having the truck parked just around the corner. It hurt to lie. It hurt so much more when you were lying to someone who knew you were lying and despite that knowledge, still loved you. Clark had no qualms about defining it as love. He knew Lex Luthor's reputation. He knew more than Lex suspected, thanks to Sam Phalen and some confidential files. If Lex wanted anything less than an equal exchange of affections, he would have simply seduced Clark and taken what he wanted.
"Please go home, Clark." Lex said quietly, after digesting the lies and moving away from them. "This isn't like you." He spoke very carefully, as if wanting to make sure that Clark did not misunderstand his intentions. "If there is some kind of trouble going on at home, then come with me, the guest room is always made up."
Something in the tone made Clark have to look at him. Something in his expression made Clark realize that Lex was alone in the big Scottish mansion tonight. The servants were all with their families, God knew where Lionel was spending the holidays, and Lex had ventured out in the snowstorm because he could no longer stand being so alone. Had he driven by the farm, hoping to see a light on in the loft?
Clark wanted to give in to him and say yes. He wanted to curl up in between sheets warmed by a fire and sleep safe in the knowledge that behind those thick stone walls the cold could not enter. Home was a constant reminder of what was not truly his own; his parents, his humanity, his destiny. What Lex had to offer was love, and companionship, and safety from the storm. Clark had earned those things, they belonged to him by right. He wanted them.
The destiny that fate had forced upon him would not allow it, not even in the face of loneliness, nor on Christmas Eve.
There was no such thing as Santa Claus. Clark could not have his wishes come true.
"I'm okay. Thanks though," he said gruffly. "I'll go home," he stood up, and Lex stood with him.
He watched Lex pull on his glove.
They stood there staring at each other, one on the outside of the snow-globe, wanting nothing more than to get inside, while the other stood just inside, longing to escape the confining glass. Clark envisioned their fingertips raised together, touching but for the thin sheet of glass that would always be between them. He didn't have the strength to break it, and he didn't think he ever would.
Lex put one hand to Clark's chest, black clad fingertips standing out in stark relief against the bright red of his sweater. Without a word, he leaned in and brushed his lips against Clark's cheek. His breath was warm against the chill of Clark's skin. He smelled of leather.
Chaste, the kiss lasted only a second before Lex turned away into the swirling snow. He had said nothing. He didn't have to say anything.
Clark heard the SUV's engine roar, saw the lights break through the darkness. He watched the big vehicle disappear down the main road out of town and knew Lex was going home to the empty halls of his castle. Despite the fire in the hearth and the big modern furnace, Clark had a feeling he would be very cold tonight.
"And that would be my fault," he whispered, staring upwards into the sky. No meteors fell now, only snow. They had been his fault too.
Loneliness, or atonement?
He sighed, and started walking towards home. He did not feel like running, and he harbored the belief that somehow showing off his alien abilities on this night, would be akin to blasphemy. Clark's god, like his parents, had long ago abandoned him, and even though the gods of this world could no longer comfort him, he saw no reason to be disrespectful.
He trudged home. The fields stretched all around him in an unbroken blanket of glittering white, beautiful, but underscoring the loneliness he felt. Cutting across them towards the small, dark, spot that was home, he suddenly stopped and stood there upon a small hill looking out over the undulating sea of white snow.
It was beautiful; the glittering snow, the broad sweep of the dark sky above, and the delicate lace that still continued to fall. Closing his eyes on it, he looked back upon the day, and suddenly felt a faint glimmer of hope. He recalled Lana's bright smile, and the way her eyes sparkled as she laughed at the ridiculous Santa in the window. He remembered the warmth of Chloe's hug, and the softness of the scarf she wound around his neck.
Rising above it all came memories of wood-smoke and leather, and the brush of lips against his cheek, that infused him with a desperate longing. Fate and destiny might be saying no, but his heart - his heart - said yes. He wanted nothing more than to reach out a hand and take the affection he'd been offered so openly.
"I want it." he murmured. "I don't want to be alone anymore."
More than that, he realized, he did not want anyone else to share his fate. Would it hurt to at least make the attempt to save them both?
Opening his eyes, he sighed. His stride became more determined as he continued homeward, where the yard was dark and the house was silent. Martha and Jonathan had long ago gone to bed. Barely making a sound, he reached inside the kitchen door to pull the phone out of its cradle. Leaning against the side of the house, out of sight and earshot of anyone who just might still be awake, he dialed.
The call was answered immediately.
"Come to dinner tomorrow," he said softly, without preamble. Hesitation would have cost him.
There was a long pause.
"Are you sure?"
Another pause, then quietly:
"All right, I'll come."
Clark hesitated himself this time, unsure of himself, distrusting his ability to say what he felt. What did he feel? He couldn't define it.
"Lex?" he said finally.
He bit his lip.
"You're welcome." Lex replied gently, and hung up.
Clark held the phone in his hand, looking at it blankly for a long moment, before a faint smile crept over his face, and he turned to go into the house.
For the first time that day, he felt warm.