It was deceptively bright outside. The sun was a cheerful yellow in the clear blue sky, making the snow glitter and the icicles hanging from the eaves sparkle like cut glass. It spoke of warmth, but the plume of smoke issuing from the tall chimneys of the Castle revealed the truth behind the sunshine's deception. The bitter cold of January had settled over Smallville with the blanket of snow that covered her fields and farms.
The cold held everything in stasis. Trees glistened beneath a coat of ice, flowers slept dormant far beneath the bitter snow, the pond was frozen solid and still. Only the little birds, drawn by the feeder the gardener had placed along the drive were out and about. They filled the air with their song and their scolding as they competed for the seeds scattered over the icy white crust. Occasionally a cardinal swooped in, a shot of bright red among the dusty grey sparrows. Lex watched them when he passed by the window, and like the cardinal, scolded when the feeder was empty. The gardener learned to keep it filled.
The thick stone walls of the house offset the delicate look of the ice and the snow. It resembled blown glass, Chihuli's finest, or some wondrously sweet confection spun out of sugar. Lex remembered catching snowflakes on his tongue as a child, standing out in the snow with his mother, their arms outspread as they threw back their heads and opened their mouths to catch the thick white flakes falling from the sky. He remembered being disappointed that they did not taste like sugar. Lillian soothed him with the gift of a mint, one of the soft after dinner mints, that like snowflakes, would melt on one's tongue.
Mint reminded Lex of his mother, sugar in general made him think of Clark.
It was funny, Lex mused, how thoughts of sugar always led to thoughts of Clark, as if his inherent sweetness leeched out into the world around him. The last time Clark had visited he'd brought with him the scents of cinnamon and vanilla, ginger and chocolate. They clung to his clothing like a confectioner's cologne, wafting through Lex's office where no such scents had ever gone before.
"Mom's baking today," he'd explained, when Lex sniffed of his jacket and raised one eyebrow in query.
Thoughts of Clark and sweets made Lex want to taste him, just to find out if Clark himself was made of sugar, but then sugar was not nearly as indestructible as Clark. Sugar tended to melt. Lex wanted to see if he could make Clark melt.
Clark certainly made Lex melt, turning his stomach inside out and his muscles weak with just the flash of a wry grin. Lex knew Clark was more observant than his little friends realized. He knew that Clark could see through Lex's veneer of suave sophistication and status quo to where Lex cowered in fear of his own emotions and waited for someone to rescue him. Very few had been able to penetrate that barrier. None of the ones who had were still in Lex's life, save one, and Lionel was there only to make sure that Lex's walls remained in place. Any emotion was a weakness; fear was unacceptable, and love was the most dangerous of them all. Love could destroy a man. Make him melt.
Lex was tired of being cold.
He stood in the doorway leading into the kitchens. It was at the bottom of a set of recessed steps, with a woodpile at the top of the wall on the right hand side. At the top of the stairs, almost blending in with the blue sky above and beyond it, was parked the Kents' truck. The tailgate was down, revealing a bed full of hardwood, with which Clark was replenishing the Castle's depleted supply. He was whistling a tune Lex didn't recognize, probably some pop song that Lex should have recognized but didn't. Winter made him melancholy, and he tended to retreat to the comfort of jazz and classical when he was down. Not knowing Clark's tune made him realize he hadn't left the house in a while.
Clark worked oblivious to Lex's presence in the doorway, or if he were aware of his observer, he paid little attention. He loaded his arms with wood from the truck and carried it to the woodpile, stacking it as neatly as he would had he been building some sort of structure. It was tidy, level, and perfectly symmetrical, rising steadily with every trip. At one point he paused, judging the height of the stack, then began adding a second row. Lex smiled. He could almost hear Clark's thoughts regarding the height of the stack; he would not want it tumbling over into the stairwell, possibly crushing anyone coming in or out of the kitchen door. Clark was ever mindful of safety, particularly when it came to Lex.
Lex stood leaning in the open doorway, watching him, listening to his whistling and his breathy singing, the sound of his boots crunching on the salt the gardeners had spread all around the steps, and the "thunk, thunk" of the wood pile growing. Every motion was fluid, as if instead of working at stacking wood, Clark were dancing. Lex enjoyed watching him move. He found it sensual, envisioning the flow of muscle, tendon and bone beneath flawless skin, wondering if said skin would be glistening with sweat beneath Clark's layers of clothing, and wanting Clark to share that warmth with him. The desire to have Clark's sweat slickened skin against his was so strong it made Lex ache.
When Clark paused, and looked down at him, Lex wondered for one brief, panicked moment if he weren't psychic.
"My mother would have a bird to see you standing there wasting heat like that."
Grinning impishly, Lex moved out onto the first step, and pulled the door shut behind him.
"And that you're out in this weather without a coat." Clark added.
"There's no pleasing your mother, is there?"
Clark smiled himself. "Nope." And continued stacking wood, occasionally glancing down at Lex with the patented Lex-melting wry grin.
His cheeks were flushed, but from the weather, the exertion, or something else entirely, Lex could not ascertain. His eyes were bright. The sun and the tan jacket he wore brought out the gold in them, making Lex think of the flickering flames that would soon be devouring the wood he stacked. There was a fire that burned inside Clark, buried deep within his very soul, reserved for only a select few individuals worthy of its warmth. Lex wanted to be worthy, and have that fire warm him again. It would melt the ice around his heart that his father had instilled in him, beginning the day Lillian had died.
Idly, Lex wondered if Clark had ever caught snowflakes with his tongue.
"And virtue, though in rags, will keep me warm," he murmured.
Something else Lionel had given him, a quote for every occasion. A brief expression of disgust twisted his mouth into a scowl. He caught Clark looking, shifted the grimace into a wry smile of his own, and nodded toward the now empty bed of the truck.
"Yeah," Clark replied. He placed the last log on the woodpile with a satisfied sigh. "Done."
"I have cocoa, or tea."
Laughing, Clark dusted off his hands (bare, Lex noted), and started down the steps. "Cocoa, if you throw in a marshmallow or two."
Lex was not surprised by the choice of the sweeter beverage. "I think that might be do-able."
In retrospect Lex would question fate regarding what happened, and curse her. She was a fickle bitch. She liked to tease, and she teased with needles and pins, razors and knives.
As he turned back to the door his foot slipped, finding perhaps the only icy spot remaining under the onslaught of the gardener's de-icing of the stairs. He wasn't particularly alarmed, it would have been a short fall against the door, but he needn't have been at all concerned. Clark was there, as always, one big hand closing around Lex's upper arm to steady him, turning the potential fall into a simple misstep, preventing any injury or discomfort. Suddenly Clark filled the small space between the steps and the closed door, pressing Lex firmly between his body and the door. Lex heard his sharp intake of breath.
With his back against the door, hemmed in by Clark standing so close to him, Lex could not move. He had no desire to move. Clark's body heat chased away the chill of the air as effectively as a small furnace. The air gave testament to the fact that neither one of them exhaled for the first few seconds that they found themselves standing thus. Lex was shaking. There was no way for Clark not to feel it.
"Are you okay?" Clark whispered.
"It was just a misstep, Clark. There was a patch of ice."
Despite the reassurance, Clark did not let go of him. Lex found his own breath quickening in time to his heartbeat, coiling from his nose and mouth like feathery white tufts of eiderdown in the frigidly cold air. He was not cold, but warm, too warm, yet his body was shaking as if with chills. He didn't seem able to stop it.
Clark's free hand rose. His fingers tentative and light, he touched Lex's lips, his cheek, his jaw, tracing the hard ridge of Lex's collarbone, running across Lex's skin as if marking him. The golden eyes, now turned the color of pine in the shadows of the stairwell, studied Lex's face, reading his eyes. Lex wasn't sure what he would see. Neither one of them spoke, and neither one of them moved until Clark's fingers returned to tip Lex's chin upward. He leaned forward, pressing Lex back further against the door. He smelled of cedar.
"I'm cold." Lex said roughly, and opened the door, stepping back to allow Clark room to pass.
There was a moments hesitation before Clark nodded. His fingers slipped away from Lex's face, and his hand on Lex's arm released it's grip. He paused to stamp the snow from his boots before brushing past Lex into the kitchen, leaving only the cold air behind him.
Lex's hand tightened on the brass handle of the door. The metal bit into his flesh, and the cold of it seared his skin as he closed his eyes and let his breath out in a short burst of white vapor. His chest hurt. He sucked in the cold air and it hurt worse. The cold burned in his lungs as he fought for control again, squeezing his eyes tightly shut, fearing the shedding of tears that would freeze on his face.
His fall, to which he'd come so close, was more than just a slip on the ice. He had come so close to tasting the sugar, that he'd felt the need to force it away as would a diabetic. Once tasted, it could be addictive, and once addicted, he would fall.
Lionel had done this to him.
"I hate you." Lex hissed, and he thrust out his fist, striking the stone wall at his side. The force of the blow ran up his arm, numbing it temporarily, before the pain flared along the limb up into his shoulders.
The pain brought him back. He stood in the doorway trembling, until he heard Clark's chiding voice from inside:
"You're letting the cold in again."
The trembling stopped. He opened his eyes.
Lex chuckled. "Yes mother," he whispered, then turned to enter the kitchen.
Inside awaited him the warmth of a wood fire, the sweetness of chocolate, and the boy who smelled like cedar.