The first time Lex felt truly dirty he had been eight years old. It was on one of the many forced outings his father dragged him on, some business dealing or other that he wanted Lex to take a lesson from. To this day, the details remained rather fuzzy, in that child-way, because he had never fully understood what was going on in the first place.
What he did clearly recall was the cold. The way the ground crunched beneath his feet, and he could see his breath in the air, although he didn’t really feel the chill, snugged up warmly inside his new winter coat. He hadn’t known where they were going back then, and had not been able to figure it out since. All he could see in his mind’s eye was the winter sky like a giant gray smudge and a line of tumble-down houses as oppressively bleak as the weather. His father held his hand as they walked along, Lionel’s fingers iron-like and purposeful on his, even through the layers of leather glove and wool mitten.
They stopped at a house that was no different than any of the others. Lionel knocked, and a man came to the door. His eyes were hard, but his words quiet, a tone that Lex now recognized as subservient. Lex’s father, as usual, spoke like steel, and then the other man’s voice got jagged too and his eyes grew even harder.
There was only one part of the conversation that had stayed intact in Lex’s memory, and it was not something he was likely ever to forget.
“Where are we supposed to go?” the man asked, his hardness belied by the shaky note of panic in his voice.
Lionel’s lip curled back from his teeth. He had a profound disdain for other people’s messy reactions.
“That’s your problem,” he said, in a tone that Lex knew far too well, the one you never argued with.
Still, the man tried to say something, either not understanding his father’s finality, or simply too desperate not to beg. His father tightened his grip on Lex’s hand, and they were just about to go when something peeked around the man’s trouser leg. Lex stopped out of curiosity and saw that it was another little boy, unwashed, shabbily dressed.
“Dad?” the boy said.
“Go back inside,” the man told him, sternly.
But he touched the top of the boy’s head with light fingers, and for the first time, Lex saw softness in his eyes. The boy hesitated a moment, watching, the way children do, eager to know more. But there was something else in his gaze too, a mirror of his father’s fear, so much more jarring in a child’s eyes. Lex still didn’t understand what it meant, but it gave him the strangest feeling. Like even though the other boy’s face was streaked with black, he was the one who was grimy.
Lex’s father tugged impatiently at his hand, and they headed down the sidewalk. When Lex looked over his shoulder, the boy and his father had disappeared inside, but the dirty feeling, stubbornly, would not go away.
They walked back to where the limo was waiting for them, and Lex just wanted to run, to climb inside the car’s welcoming warmth, and hide there, behind the tinted windows that let you ignore what you didn’t want to see. But his father stopped him with a heavy hand on his shoulder.
“Do you know what you learned today, Lex?”
Lex blinked up at his father, who seemed dizzyingly far above him.
“Mind what I’m about to say, son. It’s very important. There is never any aspect of business too small to deserve personal attention. That’s how you make sure things get done right,” his father lectured. “And there can never be any room for weakness or emotion. Not under any circumstances. Do you understand?”
Lex nodded solemnly, as he had learned to do. He hoped they could go now. But his father got down on one knee and looked him hard in the eye.
“You could have been that other boy, you realize. If the accident of birth had sent you to those people instead of to your mother and me. How would you like that? To be grubby and hungry and thrown out into the cold, all because your father failed to make anything of himself.”
A vague feeling of terror constricted Lex’s chest.
His father smiled. “You should feel very fortunate to be a Luthor, very fortunate, indeed. And the way to show your appreciation is by carrying on your family’s legacy and becoming a great success. You do want that, don’t you, Lex? To be worthy of your name and all the privileges that go with it?”
He nodded, slowly. He knew it was the answer his father expected. And yet, he found himself thinking about the tenderness in that other man’s hand when he’d touched his little boy, and somehow Lex felt more stained than lucky.
His father narrowed his eyes, as if he could see into Lex’s thoughts. “Your family can make or break you, boy. See that you remember it.”
Even to an eight year old, it sounded like a threat.
Since then, there had been a great deal more dirt, and Lex had grown, if not exactly used to it, at least resigned to living with a sense of inner squalor. He had not thought there would be any remedy for it, not until that day at the bridge, when he started to hope again, as odd as that might have seemed.
He still felt sick whenever he remembered barreling toward the guardrail, toward Clark. He hadn’t even been scared for himself, just profoundly guilty that he was going to take this poor, beautiful boy with him. One last reason to feel dirty.
There was the violence of impact, the appalling crunch of metal, and the next thing he knew, he was in the river. Maybe it should have felt peaceful, like floating, like surrender. Wasn’t that what people said about drowning? But the water was thick with slime and something sharp like chemicals, courtesy no doubt of the LuthorCorp plant upstream. Even as he was blacking out, he couldn’t help thinking what a strangely fitting end this was for him, overcome by his own family’s filth.
For a while after that, he was just—lost. When he woke up again, the pale rainy-day light felt as white-hot in his eyes as the brightest sun, and there was a righteous burning in his lungs. For a few seconds, all he could do was cough up poisoned river water and struggle to breathe. When he was finally able to focus his eyes, he saw the boy from the bridge kneeling beside him, miraculously untouched. Lex licked his lips, a nervous habit, and tasted something so wholesome and sweet in his mouth that it might have been goodness itself. The boy locked eyes with him, clearly worried, and that look scalded him, not like desire, but in some deeply purifying way that defied explanation.
The boy helped him sit up, and Lex realized, with a start, that he felt clean.
It had been so comforting after that, to focus on the idea of Clark as he slogged through the mucky parts of his day. Lex would picture his warm, friendly smile whenever he had to push his already overtaxed workers to meet some insane new quota. And he’d think of Clark’s strong, honest hands moving surely as he performed his chores around the farm while he doctored up a set of books for the government auditors. When things got painfully mired, he would allow himself a brief, precious flash of the way Clark had looked that day on the riverbank, his eyes alight with relief and something else, something Lex could never begin to deserve.
That morning, when he’d received the call from his father’s office, letting him know that Lionel was on his way and wanted to personally address the workers at the plant, Lex had known he would need every possible thought of Clark to get him through it. Still, as he stood in the blustering wind high atop the dais, looking down into the defenseless faces of his employees, it was so much worse than he’d even feared.
“Due to management failures beyond your control, this plant will be closing, effective immediately,” his father intoned. “Good luck to you all.”
Lionel strode away from the platform, and Lex stumbled after him, half dazed, the way you might if you’d just been brained with a rather large rock. Images of that man and boy from long ago flooded his head, multiplied by thousands.
“You just fired everyone at this plant and blamed it on me,” he yelled at his father. “Those people have husbands and wives, children, mortgages! And you’re only shutting it down because I wouldn’t come work for you in Metropolis.”
“What have I told you about letting your emotions get in the way of business? This was only your training ground, Lex,” his father said, as he slid into the helicopter. “Your training is over now. It’s time to come home.”
And the helicopter swooped away.
Lex stayed at work, holed up in his office, for hours after that. He thought and plotted and made numerous phone calls. Finally, he gave up for the night and headed home. He hoped to God that his father had gone back to Metropolis and wasn’t planning some further ambush at the castle. The one at the plant had been more than enough.
At home, he put the Ferrari away in the garage and trudged into the house. He desperately needed a drink, and then he could start to think again. But in the doorway to his study, he stopped short, his heart frozen in shock.
There was no reason his father should have known what Clark meant to him. Of course, Lex had never spoken of it, not to anyone. Truthfully, he tried not to analyze it too much in his own mind. It was just easier that way. But somehow his father must have guessed. Because there he was standing by Lex’s desk. With Clark. Clark. On his knees in front of him.
Lex’s father had always had impeccable timing, something even Lex grudgingly admired about him. No one knew better than Lionel when to close in on a beleaguered adversary and steal his company right out from under him. No one could ride the ebbs and flows of the stock market with more instinctual accuracy. Certainly, nobody but his father could have orchestrated a nightmare like this with such split-second precision. Meeting Lex’s eyes triumphantly across the room as he tightened his fingers in Clark’s hair, shoved his hips viciously forward and came in Clark’s mouth.
When it was over, Clark pulled away, got to his feet and wiped his face with the back of his hand. Lex could never have guessed what that white smear on Clark’s cheek would do to him. But then, this wasn’t anything he’d ever imagined, not even in his darkest dreams.
His father smiled at him genially, the way any sociopath would. “Son. You’re home.”
Clark whipped his head around, his green eyes wide and guilty and stunned to see Lex standing there. He wiped his mouth again, more frantically, as if that could somehow erase what Lex had just witnessed. Lionel adjusted himself matter-of-factly, neatly smoothing away a wrinkle from his trousers, no sense of hurry, not even a hint of shame that he’d just been violating a fifteen-year-old’s mouth.
Lex stared coldly at Clark. “Get out.”
Clark recoiled as if he’d been slapped, but he didn’t argue or beg or try to explain. He didn’t say anything at all. He just hurried from the room, his face the definition of misery.
Lionel strolled over to the bar and poured himself a drink. “The helicopter’s refueling,” he said. “We can leave for Metropolis within the hour.”
“You too,” Lex told him.
Lionel turned, puzzled. “What?”
“Lex, Lex, my boy, don’t be petulant. You’ve had your flailing attempt at rebellion, and it’s over. Time to get serious again.”
“I mean it. Get out of my house.”
“There isn’t anything left for you in this backwater little hamlet. You know that as well as I do.”
And Lex realized, with a sick lurch, that he really should have seen this coming. Lionel protected what was his with an intensity that bordered on compulsion, and as far as he was concerned, that included his son. Of course, the ugly episode at the plant would only be the opening volley. Lionel always had a backup plan, and he was an old hand at getting rid of the people in Lex’s life.
It was why his expression was so smug right now, certain he could maneuver his son, confident he’d already won. And Lex understood, at last, what it truly meant to grow up.
For the briefest second, Lex could see his father’s disbelief, just the slightest chink in his armor.
“Think about what you’re doing. This is your future. What will you ever be without your family?”
Lex stared his father straight in the eye, adult to adult, for the first time. “Clean.”
It surprised Lex that the first thing he wanted to do with his newfound freedom was to see Clark. But then maybe it really shouldn’t have. He could not remember a time when “why” was not the most important question to him. With anyone else, he could easily have guessed. Money. Influence. The simple thrill of fucking one of the world’s most powerful men. But with Clark—he couldn’t imagine. And he wanted—no, needed—to know.
At the farm, he parked away from the house to avoid the Kents and found Clark in the loft, as expected. He was sitting on the couch, hunched over, holding his head in his hands. The steps creaked as usual as Lex climbed them. But Clark didn’t look up.
“I just want to be alone, okay, Mom?”
He started and jumped to his feet. Lex hesitated at the top of the stairs, watching him. Clark’s reactions were often oddly unreadable. But not today. Now everything he felt flashed plainly across his face—surprise and a wild leap of hope and then, most painfully, fear.
“Can I talk to you?” Lex asked.
Clark’s eyes widened. “I didn’t think you’d—” He wiped his hands nervously on his jeans. “Sure. Okay. Do you want to—”
He sat back down, and Lex joined him.
Lex rested his elbows on his knees and studied his own hands for a moment. There were so many ways he could begin. The one he finally chose surprised him a little, although perhaps, again, it shouldn’t have.
“Did he hurt you?”
It seemed to startle Clark, too. He shot Lex a sidelong glance and then shook his head. He meant not physically, of course. But then, that wasn’t how you would hurt Clark.
“How many times did it happen?” Lex’s voice was so calm it amazed even him.
But Clark huddled a little further into himself, not the effect he’d wanted to have.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“Why? I know you didn’t want it. I saw your face.”
“I didn’t think you would ever find out.”
“Clark.” His voice was sharper than he intended, but patience was simply too much to ask of him. “What the hell were you thinking?”
Clark stared at the floor. “He wanted to send you back to Metropolis. I wanted you to stay here.”
Lex sat perfectly still. He wasn’t even certain he’d heard it right.
“So he—so you—” Lex had no idea how to put it.
“We had a deal.”
“Jesus, Clark.” He suddenly wasn’t at all sure who was sitting beside him. “At least, tell me it was my father’s idea.”
Clark shot him an impatient look. “Of course, it was his idea. But we both got what we wanted.”
Lex shook his head. “There’s got to be more to it. What aren’t you telling me?”
“You expect me to accept that you—” Lex’s jaw clenched against the memory. “Just because you wanted me to stay in Smallville. This is not the time to fucking keep secrets. I want to know what my father had on you. What you were promised. And I want to know right now.”
Clark looked confused. “Just not to send you away. That’s all. I swear.”
Lex stared, incredulously. The whole way over to the farm, he had made himself half sick thinking of all the ways Clark could have betrayed him. It almost made him want to laugh now.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you, Lex.” His eyes were so bright and earnest and worried. “You weren’t ever supposed to know.”
“Why couldn’t you just ask me to stay?”
“Would you really have gone against him?”
Lex froze, and time seemed to spin away from him. It was as if Clark were reaching back to his eight-year-old self, who was still standing on that cold, grimy street corner.
He lowered his eyes. “I don’t know.”
“I couldn’t take that chance.”
“So what then? You were just going to service him until—when? You went off to college?”
A deep hurt flared in Clark’s eyes, and for a moment, Lex regretted his own nature.
But then Clark lifted his chin, stubbornly. “I had a plan. I was handling it. Today was the last time I was going to—”
“This is my father we’re talking about. He’s not someone you handle.”
“I was doing my best.”
“For God’s sake why?”
“I already told you,” Clark said.
“And I still don’t understand.”
“But it’s so simple.”
“How could blowing my father possibly be simple?” Clark flinched, but Lex wouldn’t let that to stop him. “How could you do something like that? For any reason. What could possibly be worth it?”
Clark’s eyes slid away. “I was worried about you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You need to stay in Smallville, Lex. This is your home. It’s where you belong. Everything’s better when you’re here. And—”
Lex’s throat hurt. And he couldn’t speak. Could barely breathe. This wasn’t anything he was prepared for.
“If you went away—you wouldn’t have anyone else. Just him. And—” Clark’s voice got very quiet. “I don’t want you to be like him.”
Lex shut his eyes tightly, and the after image was Clark kneeling beside him in the rain and pulling him back over the catwalk railing and all the other, many rescues.
“Did he—” Lex couldn’t bring himself to say the word. “Do anything else to you?”
Clark shook his head. “No.” And then more softly. “Just—my mouth.” He blushed fiercely. And then he just looked sad. “Do you hate me?”
He sounded so scared that Lex had to close his eyes against the sudden, tight feeling in his chest.
“No, Clark. God. I don’t hate you.”
“Thank you,” he whispered.
“I just wish—you could have come to me, you know.”
Clark shook his head.
“Yes, you could have,” Lex insisted.
“No.” Clark was adamant.
He met Lex’s eyes, bravely. And Lex realized that, no, he really couldn’t have. Because Clark did want to save him, but that wasn’t all there was to it. He had that look on his face again, the one Lex hadn’t seen since the day on the riverbank, the one that still made him shiver whenever he remembered it. This was a secret too, and Clark was just stubborn that way.
Lex wanted to say something, but couldn’t. Because Clark’s gaze didn’t waver, and the want practically radiated off him. When Clark started to lean in, Lex didn’t move, didn’t dare. Because he damn well didn’t want to be his father either, and this had to be Clark’s choice.
Clark’s lips, when they finally met his, were warm and soft, the kiss awkward and fumbling, so very young. And it made Lex hurt. Because Clark had been down on his knees, but he hadn’t been kissed nearly enough.
And there would be consequences, Lex promised himself. He’d settle the buyout of the plant. Then he’d choose the perfect moment and make his father pay. Dearly. After all, Lionel had always been so eager to instruct him, and Lex knew a thing or two about timing himself.
Clark’s mouth pressed more insistently against his, and Lex had just a moment’s dread before he let Clark in. He didn’t even know what he was afraid he might find. Corruption. Loss. Some way his father had spoiled Clark’s much-cherished sweetness. But there was none of that, just the clean, clean taste he remembered from the river. He pulled Clark closer and ran his fingers through the soft hair at the nape of his neck.
And it all became so clear, why his father had feared Clark enough to risk Jonathan Kent’s shotgun vengeance and moralizing Kansan justice and the PR nightmare if it ever got out he’d forced a blowjob from a teenaged boy. He’d chanced it all because Clark Kent was special in a way no one else ever would be. He was the one person even a Luthor could never make dirty.
Lex broke the kiss. “Not ever again. Promise me.”
Clark held on to him as if someone were trying to tear him away. “No, no, I won’t. I wouldn’t. And anyway I don’t have to. You’re going to stay. I know you are.”
He sounded so happy that Lex had to hug him, tightly, thankfully. He’d always been a quick study, and if it meant he could have Clark, he would learn those things his father had never deemed worthy to teach him, things like forgiveness, like love.
Clark pressed his face into Lex’s shoulder, his cheek hot against Lex’s neck. He was trembling, just a little. Lex stroked his back. He was kind of shaky himself. This day had been, by turns, harrowing and a revelation, and there were so many things to feel.
“We’re going to be all right,” he told Clark. “You’ll see. Everything’s going to be fine.”
Lex would gladly spend a lifetime, if that’s what it took, just to make sure it was the truth.