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by Lar and Kassie

Clark notices things, eye ever-tuned to the station of normal so he can make sure he fits in the boundaries. Habit, self-protection, call it what you will, he's been doing it since he was 8, and his freak-dar is a finely oiled machine. One side effect is that he notices nuances within the broadband spectrum of normalcy, and if Smallville High ever taught a class in Human Behavior - the REAL stuff - he'd have an "A" without cracking a book.

Lately, the last few months or so, he's picking up on a disturbing trend. He's getting these vibes, these very strong, intensely strange vibes from some people he's known his whole life. They make him feel -- well, uncomfortable is putting a nice coat of paint on it, but that'll do for the sake of his own internal consideration. And it's not as if he's dense. He knows what it's like, he's sensitive to the way people act, the way they look and stand and even talk when they want someone to be closer to them. The way Chloe is with him, the way Pete is with Chloe. The way he is with Lana, despite all his best attempts to be less obvious. It's different with them, though. There's not the single thread of sex in those feelings, although it's there for sure. It's more like a skein of wool, something his mom wouldn't ever buy because she'd call it tacky, something bright and shot through with metallic pieces. The wool, that's all the feelings that go with the liking of someone. The glitter, that's the sex.

Clark trudges past the flower shop with his head down, avoiding looking in, just in case. Because Lana's aunt Nell bleeps loudly. She's got the vibe big time whenever he's around, it's in the way she smiles at him, leans on the counter, laughs just a bit too loud. The way she touches her hair all the time, and he tries his best to not be near his mom when she decides she needs tulips or freesia or whatever might take her into the shop. Not the least of his discomfort comes from the fact that she does the same thing to his dad; Clark's seen her do it.

And she's not the only one, there's Miss Gambol, the English teacher, who made sure to stand near his desk when she lectured or read poetry. Who always had a smile for him or a quietly whispered, "That's such insightful work, Clark," even though they both knew he was never going to be a poet. Pete used to rag on him for getting better grades, and Clark will not let himself think that maybe he got those A's and B+'s because she likes the way he wears his jeans.

There're other hotspots in town, places he refuses to go into alone, like the bakery where Mrs. Penniwise always wants to give him a cookie, and he's pretty damn sure she's offering a whole helluva lot more. Most freaksome, however, was the class trip to the Smallville Firehouse and getting that same smile, that same silvery-bright vibe, from Fireman Henry. He clapped Clark on the shoulder and shook his hand just a trifle too long, told him he was growing into a fine young man. Freaksome because Mr. Henry, Mike, wasn't much older than Clark himself, 20 or so. He'd worked on the farm a few summers ago, so it was like they were friends, acquaintances. Until Mike pulled that "fine young man" line and made Clark feel just... slimy.

That was what it was, mostly, the wrongness of the vibe he was getting from them. The older ladies with their special smiles and long, cool fingers that seemed determined to touch the back of his hand, the cuff of his shirt. Married ladies, and his dad knew their husbands, and so did Clark for that matter. //All glitter, no wool// he thinks, dropping back into his own example, and that's what's so worrying about it. That, and the way he thinks about Lana's aunt on the rotation of fantasies when he jerks off in the shower, the way her cleavage just wants to roll out of those sweaters when she leans over and flips her hair. There's nothing but the shine, and he knows it should be more.

So deep in these ruminations, Clark doesn't even realize that Lex is pulling to a stop beside him until the tinted window on his Porsche rolls down, and he hears Lex call out to him.

"Clark, hey, wanna ride home?"

And maybe it's just because he's fixated on the sex vibe, could be that, sure, but it seems that Lex is very bright, very shiny in his car, the way he's leaning forward to peer through the window, the slickness of his smile in the dim car interior. He's glittering, and instead of the shudder of repulsion that follows those thoughts lately, Clark instead feels a pull in his stomach that is not entirely unpleasant.

He smiles, feels the heat flare in his cheeks and forces himself to stand still. "Uh, no, thanks, though. I'm cool to walk."

"You sure? It's not more out of my way than any other place in the county." Lex's smile never falters, although Clark knows that he's adding the refusal in with every other Smallville snub, just another sample of what being a Luthor will get you in these parts.

"No, really, I like walking. See ya 'round, Lex." Small wave of his hand and Clark starts walking again, because it's either walk away or stand there and play the word games he's so bad at, try to make the decline of the offer something less than Lex thinks it is. He waits until the car pulls past him, sees Lex toss him a wave out the window. As soon as it rounds the curve, Clark hits a field and runs.

Lex depresses the window button on the console and relaxes into his seat. It takes him about fifteen seconds to decide following Clark's progress along the sidewalk would be anything but smooth, shifts into first and almost peels out towards home. One of the few stoplights in town brings him up short, causing people in a two-block radius to crane their necks and start whispering at his newest antics. Off again, he dials the radio up loud enough to rattle the windows of a lesser-made vehicle and counts backwards from fifty to balance his mind.

If he thought Clark could formulate complex thought, he would pin avoidance on him. Another blow off, blushes and down-turned eyes, pent up and frustrated, Lex has seen that kind of confusion before, and pegs it for the serious trap it would be to get snared in. Clark's never anything but polite about it, but the move for distance is there. Apparently getting in Lex's car on Main Street in broad daylight is taboo, but who in Smallville knows what rough trade is? He follows those thoughts to more realistic scenario: Big Kent told him not to take any rides, something close to a gift, a favor, and Clark sees one like to another, just different sized offerings. Wouldn't be so brazen as to dispute his father's word in public, little boy still not ready to face down daddy. And Lex discovers resonance with Clark is odd.

Lex rounds the bend into the last stretch of road before his property. His father's property, really. Fathers and sons, the human condition, but Lex doesn't see much other similarity between he and Clark. And there's a burn there, a strange tickle. He's not sure he wants Clark to be anything like him, if he really wants familiarity, but the innocence is so compelling in its luster to be dimmed. Given time, Clark could become...what? That's the question. Bad would never settle on him, but tarnished? Grey around the edges? And he could be that now, and Lex just can't reach those places, doesn't know where to look for dirty secrets in someone who lives lips to ear with every person in town, well schooled in how to keep things hidden. There are no pay-offs for soiled reputations when there's nothing to talk about but who fucked whom and the price of grain.

He leaves the car in the drive. It's a lazy habit he's picked up living out here where theft is unheard of, and his auto policy covers 'acts of god', he checked that one out. Up the steps, and his thoughts veer to why Clark splits from the Beanery within fifteen minutes whenever Lex appears, the way he can't hold a conversation for more than three sentences, how he makes deliveries to the kitchen and doesn't stop by Lex's office anymore.

He senses the hovering presence of the help in the shadows just beyond the door.

"Christoph, if Clark Kent comes by, would you make sure you have him shown in to me in my office, or wherever I am?"

"Certainly, Mr. Luthor. Anything else?"

Lex doesn't answer, doesn't let the small exchange bring him far out of the compulsive thoughts he's savouring. Clark's issue could be guilt. He's too twisted up in apron strings and weighted down with his father's anger to be anything to Lex. To be friends. And if not friends, not anything else either. Small town boys don't normally get the whole sex for sex's sake, not ones like Clark, and could Lex even explain the finer points of just fucking to Clark? It would be worth the eternity in hell for a try. Simple, straightforward, just what these people love, shooting from the hip. Spin as a way of life, because it's not just about those long lashes framing the bluest eye or a remembered curve of a perfect hipbone, it's the intangible shift and blur under the surface of Clark Kent, obvious boy.

There have been other Clarks, pretty faces masking *something * that Lex needed to uncover. It always starts like this, as a drive to get to the mystery of who and what's hidden, but how many has it been now whose centers were just the same old bundle of insecurities and plain, boring human frailty? Not surprisingly, he truly believes this time is different, and the junkie lingo isn't lost on him.

Clark is a little rattled when the uptight and very proper man he's dubbed "the Butler" is waiting in the kitchen when he makes his delivery. Still not sure how his mom is getting around his dad when it comes to selling their produce to Lex, he just blinks at the man when he speaks.

"Mr. Luthor asked that you be shown into his office."

Figuring there has to be some mistake, he tries to clarify his status, maybe throw in a little Jedi mind trick with it, because the way things have been going for him lately, he can't be sure it won't work. "I'm just making a delivery."

Barely repressed sigh, and then "Yes, as I see. Mr Luthor was quite clear in this."

So much for the power to control men's minds. Clark shrugs. "Uh, ok then."

He follows the Butler through the house, past closed doors that gleam with oil and polish, over rugs that cost more than his family's farm will ever see in its entire existence. Finally the man stops, raps on the door to Lex's office and then opens it, stepping back to let Clark enter first. Clark shoves his hands in his pockets up to the wrists and steps tentatively inside.

Lex stands leaning against the front of his desk, his own posture the antithesis of Clark's tortured and tense stance. He's smiling, always smiling at Clark, and his voice is warm when he says, "Clark. More apples? I think I might need to start making applesauce. Do you know how to can?"

Taken aback at this tactic, Clark blinks for a second, goes with the conversational flow, the whole time thinking about silver-shot threads, and trying desperately to ignore the thrumming that seems to have taken up residence in the lower half of his body. "Yeah, I guess. I've seen my mom do it enough."

Lex nods, half-serious as always. "Think you could show me sometime?"

He can't hold back a grin at that, blushes at the way he's been acting, tugs his hands from his pockets and looks down at the floor before answering. "You're kidding, right? I think you can afford to buy the kind from the store in bulk."

"I keep hearing it doesn't taste the same as homemade, maybe I should find out for myself." Lex moves now, same casual grace about him, walking towards the little refrigerator at the side of his desk. Clark can hear the hum as the cooler element kicks over.

"If you say so, but maybe you could just buy some off Mrs. Bruce at the farmer's market." Watches Lex tilt his head, like he's hearing something off in the distance. Clark feels the emptiness of the house all of a sudden. Huge castle, fortress, it might as well be just him and Lex, and why does that thought bring back the heaviness in his gut, between his legs? He thinks that leaving is a very good idea.

"I'll remember that. Why don't you sit down?" Lex appears to be oblivious, but Clark really doubts that's the case. He pauses in the languid stroll and fixes Clark with a look.

Hands jammed back in his pockets, cheeks hot and red, Clark watches the floor. "I was just dropping this stuff off, really, I have a lot of homework."

"Clark, you're making me think you don't like to be around me anymore."

He doesn't look up, even though the tone of Lex's voice makes him want to say he's sorry, makes him feel guilty and adds more confusion to the massive snowy screen that is his normal-behavior radar right now. "Yeah, I know."

"Why don't you stay a while, tell me about it? Here, how about we have a beer and you can tell me what outfit Lana had on today." Thunk of the fridge door opening, jangle of glass on glass and Clark does look up now. Lex holds out a bottle towards him, so cold that there's already condensation on it from the heat of his hand, the room. Another sits on Lex's desk in front of him.

Immediately, instinctively, he shakes his head. Not just because he doesn't want to stay, but because something tells him that even the slightest softening of the lines he's drawn here would be a Very Bad Thing. "Um, I don't think I should. I don't drink, and I need to go."

And the look on Lex's face is less and less something Clark wants to be held accountable for. He looks... amused. As if this is a great play for his own entertainment, and he already knows where the ending comes in. "Clark, what's wrong? It's just a beer."

Easier this time to refuse, temper that's never given a free reign beginning to stir for some reason that he can't fathom. Frustration with Lex, and with himself giving him bizarre feelings that he channels into anger. "Really, I don't drink. Even a beer."

"A beer's not going to kill you. You can sit down if you want." Lex gestures to the massive, leather couch against the far wall.

"No, really, I need to go." He thinks he might go insane, right here, right now, his skin tingling and this welling sense of something big filling him up, like he's suspended in that moment when your feet leave the highdive, and you know you're going to fall. The thrill in your belly, the weakness in your legs, the desire to scream. He feels like he's been hung in that moment, and Lex will keep him there forever, arguing a 'yes' to every 'no' Clark offers him.

"You can't stay for five minutes?" Not the only one with a temper, he sees Lex letting his tightly held composure slip slightly. The threads in Clark's belly tug at him again.

"No, mom's expecting me, really." Accentuates it with a step towards the closed office door, stops at the sound of the second beer bottle hitting the desktop, watches the droplets slip down the brown glass and puddle on expensive veneer. Anything other than Lex's eyes.

"What's going on? Is this because of your dad?" Coming back around the desk this time, posture forced back into the casual leaning stance but his face isn't soft or open any longer, and Clark suspects those hands in his pockets are itching to be made into fists.

"My dad? No, Lex, it's not about that. It's just that I have to go, and I don't drink. I'm underage." Hates himself for saying that, sounds like he's even more of a freak than previously, but it's the truth, he's too wired to lie right now, his brain is on a single track with one destination: getting him out of there as soon as possible.

"Oh, and you don't do anything illegal, right? Or even a little wrong? Clark have you ever even lied?" Snort of disdainful laughter, the hands that Clark imagined tensed in anger now smoothly press into the expensive linen over Lex's thighs. He looks just as relaxed as he did when Clark first came in, but there's some odd texture to his voice. He's not relaxed, he's just comfortable in his anger.

"Of course I have, don't be mad. It's not personal..." Automatic attempt to soothe him, because Clark does like Lex, maybe like in the way he shouldn't too. He feels for him, being who he is in this town, believes that Lex's offers and gifts are made in a genuine bid for friendship. Lex just doesn't get the mechanics of friend, not servant, employee or lackey, and that is the worst part in Clark's mind, the not even knowing what a friend is. Goes against Clark's grain to hurt someone, and somehow he thinks that he's doing just that, hurting Lex. And Lex is responding in kind, deliberately.

"Because nothing's personal with us. You can play the hero all day, but any time I try to make nice with you, you suddenly remember my last name. Is that it?"

"What? Lex, no. Like I said, I want to be friends with you, but..."

//But, but, there's this vibe between us and it's freaking me out, because it should be wrong. Should be wrong but when I hit the shower last time it wasn't Lana's aunt, it wasn't Miss Gambol, it was you, and I don't feel bad about it, I don't feel-// Thoughts click off abruptly when he sees Lex come towards him, sauntering, rolling heel to toe, voice sharp though, and Clark has discovered tonight that the voice is the key.

"But then people might talk about you, and say it's wrong, and you couldn't ever do anything against the grain or wrong, could you?" Clark notices nothing moves on Lex's face but his lips, wonders if that hurts the muscles to stay so rigid. He's so weirded out and hyped up from Lex's strange behavior that he can't piece together what's happening here, why this conversation is happening this way.

Final desperate bid to stop this landslide before there was any more damage. "Lex, I thought we were friends, why are you saying this stuff?"

"We're not friends Clark. I thought we could be, but there's nothing there under the surface, is there? All you are is gleaming purity through and through, thoughts planted in your head by parents and teachers and the preacher, and not one of your own, is there?" Lex right in front of him now, shorter, but somehow he makes Clark feel like he's looming over him. His eyes are liquid bright, and he shows all his teeth as he smiles. "I've never seen someone with so little rebellion in them in my life."

That's it, even Clark has his limits, and being made to feel like even more of a shit than he already does is the last straw. Words out of his mouth without any censoring, completely bypassing the long established screen for acceptability. "Fuck off, you don't know anything about me."

Lex clucks his tongue. "Naughty language, Clark, better lower your voice before someone hears you." Smile still in place on his lips, eyes still cold.

Clark never looks back once he turns and nearly tears the door off the hinges in his haste to leave. He slams through the front door, not bothering to shut it behind him. Lex's black Porsche sits in the driveway, waiting for him, perfect and spotless and infuriatingly //shiny// representative of everything Clark hates right now. He stalks by, lets his hand drift out and catch on the side mirror, clutches it and continues towards the truck. The crunching sound of fiberglass breaking and glass shattering is satisfying, as is the earthy 'thunk' the demolished object makes when it hits the ground several yards away in what Clark assumes are the formal gardens.

His face still burns when he starts the truck and drives off, his heart thudding against his chest, the thickness pressed against his belly thrilling him and making him queasy at the same time.

Lex watches Clark storm out of his office, hears the odd, high-pitched screech of steel stretching slightly when the hinges couldn't take the stress of the power behind the slam open. Runs his steady hands over his face and wonders how he let this situation get so far past him. His own stupidity, again, and he was two heartbeats away from just taking what he wanted from Clark when the boy forced his dormant temper out of control.

He doesn't sigh, doesn't flinch, decides he's probably held himself in check, waiting, coaxing, falling heels over ears in the head long tumble into curiosity long enough. Clark is who he is, very young, very one dimensional, and Lex needs spice to offset his failure here. Failure at what, he's not so sure, but the bitter taste of defeat floods his mouth, and he's spent his whole life avoiding this drop.

"Christoph, I won't be back tonight." His steps through the hall are rapid; he needs to be as far away from this wasteland as possible, a warm body, maybe multiple bodies, pills or lines or just enough alcohol to make him forget Clark's eyes moving from pleading to hurt to furious.

On the bottom step of the outside landing, he wishes he'd picked up a jacket, the night air bites into skin flushed from anger and some flavor he doesn't want to name, regret, guilt, things Luthors don't indulge. He can smell the sweetness in the air from the hay bales still lingering in the fields and imagines it's close to how Clark would smell under sweat and fabric softener. So distracted with that last thought he doesn't notice the vandalism to his car until he pulls the keys out of his pocket.

Lex stands three feet to the side of his newest toy, and he wonders how the local ruffians got on the property, wonders why this is all they did, searches the ground for what's left of the mirror, finds nothing but broken glass and gravel flipped up onto the asphalt. Gravel Clark left when he hit the gas with all his pent up fury and drove right the hell on out of there, after, of course, showing Lex that he could be a bad boy after all. Lex pockets his keys and lets out a genuine, gut-clenching laugh.