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Conquer the Heart

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Conquer the Heart

by Artemis

http://www.livejournal.com/users/artemisraine/


Series: (Unrelated Stories) I Can't Believe It's Not Butter 3 Rating: NC-17
Disclaimers: I don't own the pretty boys or their friends in the Smallville universe. If I did, the CLex would be riftless and eternally in love. Neither money nor profits were made in the creation or posting of this story, and I have no money anyway. Spoilers: Season 1 -- Season 2. Completely AU from there. Lex was on the island; he came back and bought the farm. Clark went to Metropolis, but no Morgan Edge, even if he did live off ill-gotten ATM money, stolen goods, etc. Summary: Lex finally makes another friend, causing Clark to become jealous, to Clark's surprise and confusion. Clark ponders the past, present, and an uncertain future as he comes to a startling conclusion. Written for Lacey McBain's I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Challenge. Challenge: I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Butter Challenge. Must include the phrase, "I can't believe it's not butter" found at http://www3.sk.sympatico.ca/mendc/challenges.htm Warnings: Same Sex (MALE/MALE) relationship. If this turns you off or offends, go back now. Notes I: Third story for Lacey McBain's I Can't Believe It's Not Butter challenge. This is dedicated to Lacey, for coming up with such a crazy challenge. Check out her lj at http://www.livejournal.com/users/laceymcbain for some great writing and a link to her CLex fics. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. November 2004.


Conquer the Heart
By Artemis
November 2004


It should have made him happy.

He remembered the old days. When Lex had first crashed into his life, all splash and fury, bigger than life and more alive than anyone Clark had ever met, and every person Clark knew had warned him away.

"Those Luthor's can't be trusted."

"They're a sly lot, the Luthors. No good ever comes of them."

"Spoiled. Thinks he's a prince, and the stories...best you stay away from someone like him."

"He's a wild one. Not even his father can control him, and Lionel Luthor scares the very devil."

"Luthors care about money, their business, and making more money with their business. They don't care who gets hurt as long as they get what they want."

"Luthors are all the same."

"Bad seed, that Lex Luthor. Just as bad as his father."

"Man, Luthor's a freak. Why would he be friends with you? You better watch out Kent, if you know what's good for you."

"Maybe your father's right, honey. We don't know Lex that well, and it never hurts to take things slow. Perhaps you should stay home tonight. I made your favorite, Dutch Apple pie."

"He'll steal your land right out from under your family. Luthor's just using you to weasel his way into your family's good graces."

"He's got a reputation. You wouldn't believe some of the things they say about him, the crowd he ran with. He makes Paris Hilton seem tame."

"Lex Luthor is going to bring nothing but bad to this town."

"You're a good boy, Clark. Mind your parents and stay away from those Luthors."

"Daddy Luthor sent him here as a punishment, Kent. Freak's trouble, and only another freak would want to hang out with him."

"Can't trust a Luthor, son."

On and on it went. The customers along his delivery route, the community members that came to their booth at the Farmer's Market, the kids at school, his friends, even his parents. They all had nothing but negative things to say about Lex, or at the very least, suspicion on why someone so young and wealthy would want anything to do with some high school freshman nobody.

Not that they said that, exactly. Well, other than some of the jocks, but that had been a normal day in the high school life he'd left behind.

So, yes, back then, he'd have given anything if his family and friends had seen what he'd seen. Lex was...incredible. Amazing. It wasn't his fancy clothes or fancier cars or even the castle that he lived in. It was that Lex was...exotic. From the way he spoke, all big words and worldly views, to the way he walked, all slinky sensuality and hidden power, Clark had been hooked.

Lex saw things nobody else saw. He rarely judged anyone, having been judged his whole life by everyone who ever came in contact with him, and he looked out at the world as if he was merely an observer. Like Clark did. Because they were on the outside. He was different, alien in his own way, and he accepted this with a grace and dignity that Clark longed to emulate. Lex understood. Lex was like him.

Lex was strength. Power. Confidence. Things Clark had never had and wished he did. He knew he was shy, painfully so sometimes, and for a guy it meant social death. He didn't know the right things to say, or what to wear, or how to act. At school he felt invisible, and at home he felt isolated.

Yet, it was more than Lex being so strong. Lex was vulnerability. Needy. Yearning. Lex knew about loneliness, what it was to want something so badly with all of your being that it hurt something inside you with its absence. He was genuine underneath, wanting simple things like real friends. Real affection. Real love. Not the illusions that surrounded him, of a privileged and easy life, nor the petty games of the bored wealthy elite or the power hungry business sharks.

Lex wanted to be saved.

Lex wanted to be a hero.

To Clark, it was a perfect fit. He wanted to save Lex. And Lex was his hero. Lex had appeared that night in Reilly's Field when Clark had been so sure no one would ever come, hours of hanging in the cold air, shivering and feeling sick. Throwing up, growing tired, having a harder and harder time breathing. It had gotten so dark, late enough that the game had to have been long over, that the dance had to have started, and everyone knew that the football team always released the scarecrow after the game.

Only this year, they hadn't.

He was going to be left.

He was going to die.

Or so he'd felt at the time, hanging on that post, insides wanting to crawl out because of the rock around his neck. Out in the middle of nowhere, alone, scared, and a light had suddenly shone through the stalks of corn. Lex's voice carried on the wind, bringing an overwhelming sense of relief, before the older boy had broken through to the small clearing where he'd been left as that year's sacrifice.

To this day, Clark still didn't know how he could ever convey how much that one rescue, the first rescue, had meant to him. He'd been disorientated at the time, the sickness falling away as the necklace fell to the ground, strength coming back with a rush that had made his head spin. His thoughts swirling around Jeremy and his enigmatic threat, the need pulsing through him to save Lana and the other kids at the dance, he'd grabbed his clothes and ran.

He'd never thanked Lex. Not that night, and not since.

Maybe that was why Lex had moved on.

Lex had saved him so many times over the years. Sure, Clark knew that he'd saved Lex plenty of times, too. He tended more towards the showy physical rescues, where Lex tended more towards the flexing of economic or political influence. Not that Lex didn't do physical rescues, like at the plant with Earl. But Clark usually went to Lex with the hard stuff, like dying fathers, kidnapped psychic boys, escaped felons, much needed bail money, threatened caves, and movie theaters that meant one last connection for an orphaned girl to her dead parents.

Clark, being the clueless idiot he always was, had a horrible history of taking those around him for granted. Especially Lex. When was the last time he said thank you? When was the last time he told Lex how much he meant to him? How much their friendship defined just who Clark Kent was...who Clark Kent wanted to be.

Shoulders slumping, Clark looked into the formal dining room of Lex's penthouse. He had the strangest urge to creep away, find the darkest corner of the nearest room, and never come out. Maybe if he pretended he was blind, he could pretend he wasn't seeing what was before him.

Five years ago, he would have given anything if his dad or mom could have seen just how special Lex was. How much Lex needed to be accepted, to be loved, and how much he deserved both. The shotgun in his face, despite the influence of Desiree, along with two years of solid hostility, had pretty much raised Lex's walls permanently. Clark knew Lex cared about his parents, much in the same way he cherished a rare painting or a priceless sculpture. The Kents were a rarity, one of the few examples Lex had seen of parents who unconditionally loved their child, raised onto pedestals that Lex looked up to, always from a distance.

Look, but don't touch. Care, but only so far. The Kents had lost the ability to hurt Lex sometime that third year, when Lex had closed off the door he'd opened to his heart. He treated Jonathan and Martha warmly, was unceasingly polite to them, and would never disrespect either regardless of how he himself was treated. Yet, deep down, Lex held more love for his cars. After all, they never made him feel as if he wasn't good enough.

Five years ago, Clark would have given anything for his friends to have seen how loyal and true Lex could be. A good friend, one who would do anything for his friends, which he'd proven over and over in regards to Clark.

Instead, Chloe had kept her distance, seeing him as nothing more than the local business mogul, which was partially understandable since her father worked for him. Pete had gone to the castle to kill Lex, gun loaded and ready, and despite the very real sickness from the Nicodemus flower, Clark never forgot that Pete's deepest desire was to murder Lex Luthor. And Lana...was a fair weather friend at best. He was her business partner and they got along. Yet, when things were going bad, she pointed out that everyone said Lex couldn't be trusted. When things were going good, she was cordial friendliness and open smiles, as if she'd never doubted for an instant.

It didn't change that much throughout high school. Pete mumbled dire warnings, watching Lex suspiciously. Chloe went about her life, blissfully unaware of Lex unless he featured somehow in her latest investigation. Lana was the perfect business partner, until negative allegations were flying around town.

Clark had hoped everything would change in college. The entire gang was going to Met U, scholarships miraculously popping up for anyone who still needed their tuition covered. Even Lex finally made the move to Metropolis that his father had been pressuring him to take for years.

Lex had made inroads within the last year and a half. He didn't try anymore to be accepted by Clark's friends, but he did remain just as unfailingly pleasant as ever. Easy relations with Clark's friends meant his friendship was easier for Clark to bear, and Lex was forever thinking of how to make Clark Kent's life easier. Happier. Better.

It'd helped that Lex was always quietly in the background, generous and giving to a fault. Easing their way into Metropolis, he'd done what he could to make the transition easy for the country kids of the group. That first year, at least once a month he'd had to go to Smallville for the weekend "to settle some matters at the plant," and since he had to take the helicopter, "anyone who wanted to go home for a short visit was more than welcome to ride along," which helped to ease pangs of homesickness. He'd shown up for the first few Friday nights, offering to take them out on the town, showing them everything from the clubbing scene to popular hangouts like which coffee shops or bookstores the college kids tended to congregate in.

But it went further than distracting them from missing home or giving them transportation and a reason to return to Smallville. Some of the most popular kids at Met U had introduced themselves to at least one of them, with offers to join various clubs, fraternities, sororities, and study groups. The whole thing was a little weird, at least to Clark, who'd never been the type to attract others. After a little digging, he'd concluded that Lex had asked his city friends who still had siblings in college to pass on the word to extend the welcome mat to Clark Kent, Chloe Sullivan, Pete Ross, and Lana Lang.

Concert tickets. Passes to the local clubs. Invitations to galas and society events. Gift certificates to restaurants or coffee shops. Season passes to the local sporting events. Offering the use of his personal library, as well as help with papers or tutoring. Even stepping back to let them acclimate to college life, allow them to merge with the new campus culture and form new friendships. Lex was the picture of accommodation, taking the Greek tradition of being a good host and stretching it to Luthoresque proportions.

Lexian proportions.

Because Lex was forever pushing the envelope, making his own rules, and trying to prove he really was a good person. So it wasn't a huge surprise Lex inserted himself in small ways, or the occasional big way, into Clark's life, and by extension his friends. It also wasn't a surprise when Lex continued to look out for Clark, the perfect big brother, to the point that if they accepted concert tickets or club passes, Clark would notice a few familiar faces in the crowd.

It was pure Lex. He wouldn't take advantage of his own security division, nor would he buckle under the pressure from his father to hire personal bodyguards. Yet, if Clark and his friends accepted a night on the town via Lex, Lex made sure that they would have a few someones from Security looking out for them.

Yet, even in college and away from Smallvillian influence, he'd been disappointed that his friends hadn't seen just how much Lex went out of his way to help them. To make them feel wanted by Metropolis. They hadn't seen just how special Lex was. Sure, they all accepted Lex's presence in his life, his status as one of his best friends, even talked to him as easily as any other person on campus. However, they hadn't befriended him. They hadn't taken him into their hearts or treated him like he was one of them.

Until this semester.

Be careful what you ask for.

Clark hated that saying. Hated, hated, hated it. Because it was so horribly true. Until this semester, his friends had been utterly unaware of the incredible person that was Lex Luthor, easily within their reach but someone who didn't register on their radar, at least not in any way that mattered.

Then Chloe had taken Calculus so she could take some computer programming course next year, and it had all changed. Pete hadn't taken it in high school, so he couldn't be her study buddy. Clark had whined enough about Calculus in high school that Chloe hadn't even bothered to ask him for help, while Lana was busy stressing out over Chemistry.

In a move that had pleasantly shocked Clark at the time, she'd gone to Lex for help. Thus, every Tuesday and Thursday night, she began driving to Lex's penthouse and spending a few hours getting what amounted to private tutoring.

After two months, Clark had been so jealous he would've bled green, if anything were able to cut him.

Lex had never tutored him. Granted, he'd never asked, other than on a handful of History papers and one Physics test. It hadn't really occurred to him, especially when his photographic memory made half his classes cake. Memorization was child's play, so he only really had to work at understanding concepts or writing papers. Since he wasn't supposed to do that well in school, at least well to the point of drawing undue attention, he hadn't really cared what his grades were, as long as he got mostly A's and B's. Why go to Lex for help with homework, even if Lex mentioned it once or twice, when it really didn't matter?

Looking back, he'd missed a lot of opportunities to go to the castle and spend time with the other man, and he would've had the perfect excuse. His mom would have eaten up a reason that was school related, especially if it was about learning and stuff. He could've skipped at least half the fights he'd had with his dad about going over to the castle if he'd used his head.

If it had been just the tutoring, Clark would've been able to handle it. In fact, he might have taken a page out of Chloe's notebook and asked Lex to help him out with one of his classes next semester. But as one would logically presume, being tutored by Lex meant Chloe talked to Lex. About things school related and otherwise. And as with anyone who came into close contact with Lex Luthor for long periods of time, Chloe soon found herself being drawn towards the infamous Luthor charisma like a bee to honey.

These days, when Clark stopped in at the penthouse, there was a chance Chloe might already be there. He might find Chloe sitting in his spot in the living room or in his chair in the study. She moved around the kitchen now, with ease, knowing where the cook squirreled away all the good snacks and where the pop was hidden in the back of the refrigerator on the third shelf. She dropped by unannounced, wanting to hang out or simply watch TV. Shifting one of their study days to Sunday, Thursday nights had recently become 'Must See TV night' for Lex and Chloe, starting with Survivor, then CSI, and finishing off with E.R.

It used to be Lex and Clark. Now it was Lex and Chloe.

Yet it was more.

Chloe liked Lex. She thought Lex was clever, with a dry wit and sardonic sense of humor. She laughed at tales of his misspent youth and mentioned Lex's name as if it were a given that everyone knew they were friends. She knew where Lex hid his secret DVD collections, porn and animation alike, and she bragged to Pete that she could beat Lex at Crash Bandicoot, even if Lex was better at Grand Theft Auto.

She told Lex stories now, about things Lex told her or stuff they did together.

Only he was supposed to have Lex stories.

Clark would have killed for this to happen five years ago. Now he just wanted to kill.

Which only made him feel instantly guilty because those sentiments weren't completely true. He didn't want to kill Chloe. Just, maybe, stuff her into a dark closet for a few years until she didn't have any more ideas about horning in on his Lex.

Even worse, Lex liked Chloe.

Who wouldn't like Chloe? She was bright, vivacious, and full of spunky never-say-die attitude. Relentless and determined, she was the most loyal gal pal a guy could ask for. She was sparkling wit, ceaseless energy, and intimidating intuition. She could scent out a lie, saw a story in the blandest of events, and held a regard for the truth that proved she had the soul of a journalist.

Standing in the doorway of the dining room, Clark watched as Lex and Chloe laughed. Laughed! Lex's rolled out deep and rich, wrapping around Clark's spine like the softest mink fur. Chloe's laugh was bright and twinkling, like bells or maybe tinkling glass, dancing in his ear. The two sounds wound together, fitting in a way that was making Clark's stomach turn, acidic and bitter.

"This is just amazing!" Chloe exclaimed. She took another sip out of the spoon Lex was holding out to her. "I can't believe it's not butter!"

Lex chuckled, blue eyes crinkling in genuine amusement. He withdrew the spoon, dipping it back towards his own plate before tasting the dish himself. He agreed, nodding, "The sauce is incredible, creamy and smooth, the flavors exploding on your palate. But it's actually created with a blend of--" Cutting himself off, Lex unexpectedly lifted his head and looked straight at Clark.

Clark was going to be sick.

"Clark! Come in." Lex reached for something under the table. "I'll have the kitchen prepare another plate."

In the past, Lex would have known immediately that Clark was in the room. It was like he had some sort of Clark-radar inside him, and he always knew the instant Clark came within visual range. The moment he stepped through a door, Lex was looking at him. But now, he was so taken with Chloe, he didn't notice anymore.

"You've got to try this," Chloe gushed, gesturing at her plate. "This is the most incredible...something...I've ever had. It's French, I can't remember what exactly, but you know me and foreign languages."

Maybe he wasn't important enough to Lex.

Chloe gestured for Clark to sit next to her.

"Would you have a plate prepared for Mr. Kent," Lex asked the girl who appeared through the door nearest the kitchen. She seemed familiar. Her dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she was wearing the dark gray uniform all of Lex's people wore. She didn't look that much older than either he or Chloe.

Maybe a maid? Or some sort of server? Or an assistant to the cook? Clark was never sure about the servants, or whatever they were called nowadays. All he knew was that they were very good at being silent shadows. Though, they were probably paid oodles of money to do just that.

"Along with a glass of wine, have a glass of milk brought in as well."

Maybe he wasn't important at all. Trying hard not to let how horrible he was feeling show on his face, he took one step into the room.

"Don't be shy," Chloe cajoled, patting the chair seat.

"No, allow me," Lex said with a knowing smile. He picked up the linen napkin in his lap, standing up and placing it on the seat. He moved to the chair opposite Chloe and next to him, pulling it back. "While it isn't necessary for a host to do this for a male guest, I'll provide you with a visual so you can see it from another perspective."

Chloe raised her eyebrows, a small smirk falling across her lips. "And if you had a male date?"

Lex smiled slightly, tipping his head in acknowledgement. "I suppose it would depend on my date, and whether he was the type to take it as an insult to his masculinity."

"So you've done it before?"

"A time or two," Lex answered vaguely, turning towards at Clark with a questioning look.

Clark had no idea what they were talking about. There was a time when he always knew what Lex was talking about. Or when he didn't, at least he knew Lex was speaking in a way only meant for Clark, with layers of meaning he would understand eventually.

Seeing it all laid out before him in full Technicolor was painful, but what really hurt was how stupid he was. How blatant it should have been, where this was leading, only he hadn't known. Hadn't seen.

Clueless Clark. Ha, ha. Always a good laugh over how oblivious Clark Kent could be. How he could act so vacuous sometimes, as if thinking must actually hurt.

Klutzy, clueless Clark, who hadn't seen that his best friend was falling in love with his best girl bud.

Klutzy, clueless Clark Kent, who hadn't gotten it until this very minute that he was in love with his best friend.

How stupid can you be?

"Clark, are you all right?" Lex abandoned the chair he was holding out, walking towards Clark with concern shining from his eyes. His pretty, hypnotic blue eyes the same blue-grey color of the water Clark had pulled Lex out of.

They were so beautiful together, and they were obviously on a date. Chloe was dressed in a knockout black cocktail dress, looking completely grown up and sophisticated. Her blond hair was gleaming under the dining room chandelier, diamonds twinkling from her earlobes and from an unbelievable necklace that had to have been a gift from Lex.

Diamonds? Did that mean they were serious?

"Clark?" Lex tilted his head slightly, gaze devouring Clark, examining him closely.

Lex was so gorgeous it hurt. Dressed in a black tuxedo, the dark colors and close fit accentuated his slender build while highlighting his noble bearing. Lex didn't wear a tuxedo, the tuxedo wore Lex, acting as an accent to bring out all the elegance and class that was wrapped around Lex like a second skin.

A hand landed on his shirtsleeve, an old flannel that he'd gotten for Christmas years ago. He'd worn it because he'd thought he and Lex could have a comfortable evening in, watching a movie or talking like the old days, nestled in the gigantic couches in the entertainment room. Maybe that should've been a sign, something he should've seen earlier.

He was old flannel. Lex was silk. And Chloe, looking at her now, she was satin. Fitting in perfectly in Lex's world, just as shiny and bright. She'd dulled down her sophistication, her worldliness, in order to try to fit in at Smallville High. But it was clear now.

Chloe and Lex. Not Clark and Lex. Never Clark and Lex.

He didn't even realize his vision had gone blurry until Lex was cupping the right side of his face, his thumb butterfly soft as it wiped away a lone tear making its way down his cheek.

"Clark," Lex asked softly, the name pure concern, really asking 'What's wrong?'. Turning the teenager gently with his other hand, he used his body to block Chloe from seeing Clark clearly. He announced casually, "Chloe, please excuse us. We'll be back shortly; I have something I need to show Clark."

Lex led him out of the room, one hand at the small of his back, the human touch strong enough in its own way to steer him into the hall. Not saying a word as he guided Clark into the study, he turned on the lights before shutting the door behind them. Feeling numb inside, Clark allowed Lex to hustle him to the nearest couch, and he sank into the buttery-soft black leather without a sound. Staring at the hardwood floor three feet in front of him, he felt numb, as if he wasn't even really a part of the world around him.

Maybe that's what hurt. He never had been part of the world, but that had been okay because Lex hadn't either. Only, now Chloe was pulling Lex into the world with her, where Clark couldn't follow because freaks weren't allowed.

He was alone, and he always would be.

For the first time, he knew he'd always thought deep down, without even realizing it, he and Lex would always be together. Clark Kent and Lex Luthor. Friends forever, with a fated legendary friendship, the kind Lex talked about in his ancient tales and myths. The kind Lex had promised him from practically the first day.

Only it hadn't stopped there, had it? He was so stupid!

He felt the leather shifting around him as Lex took a seat next to him, not flinching as a hand landed on his shoulder, an unusual gesture. Lex didn't touch anyone, just as no one touched Lex.

Look, but don't touch.

"What's wrong? Did something happen?"

No, nothing happened. Just life, passing him by again. Because he wasn't human, and he was meant to be alone.

"Is it your parents? Did something happen to them?"

But did it have to be Chloe? One of his closest friends? The one he went to when he needed a huge dose of reality? Reliable and willing to smack him in the back of the head, she always told him when he was being an idiot. Did she have to be the one to take Lex away from him?

"Is it Pete?" The hand on his shoulder tightened, Lex's voice getting tight. "Lana?"

Maybe it was him. He'd done something to push Lex away. He knew he wasn't always the greatest friend. Sometimes he just disappeared, he forgot study dates and meeting times, and there were times he left without a word because someone needed help.

No one likes to be stood up.

"Tell me what's wrong?"

Chloe and Lana thought he was a pathological liar. Maybe Lex did, too. Maybe all his friends thought he was a horrible friend, but just felt sorry for him so they didn't dump him.

"You can tell me anything, Clark," Lex said quietly, talking almost directly into his ear. Clark could feel the heat of Lex pressing into him, he was that close. "Anything."

No, he couldn't. He'd waited too long. For everything. For telling the truth. For figuring out how much Lex's friendship meant. For realizing that the jealousy that had been consuming him didn't stop at mere friendship.

How Many Ways You Can Screw Up Your Life by Clark Kent. Sold at a store near you.

"You can trust me."

It had been said so many times over the years, but Clark had always dismissed it, as he had all the other declarations Lex made. It's what Lex did. Made huge, sweeping declarations about friendship, destiny, trust, and fate. If Lex hadn't been born a Luthor, Clark was pretty sure he would've been born for the stage.

Yet this time was different. That smooth, silky voice that slithered into people's psyche was cracked. Hurt. Which was what finally broke through to Clark. He turned around to see Lex leaning in so close that he could see the tiny specks of silver-grey in the endless blue of his eyes and the sweeping red-gold glints in his lashes. Swallowing hard, Clark gave into what he really needed.

A hug.

So he wound his arms around Lex, resting against him, holding on tight. Lex stiffened, back ramrod straight for several seconds, before awkwardly raising his own arms to pat at Clark's back uncomfortably. Despite knowing that his best friend was at a loss, possibly even anxious at the invasion of his personal space, Clark took what he needed.

Didn't he always?

He pushed the bitter, angry thought away, setting his cheek against the soft material of Lex's tuxedo jacket. Eyes dry, throat tight, he simply held on.


Chloe couldn't believe how amazing the food tasted. Damn, she wanted a personal chef if she could eat like this every night. Looking down at her hips, she rethought that last wish. Well, maybe she wouldn't eat like this every night, maybe just every other night.

On the other hand, if she could afford a personal chef, she could afford a personal trainer. A matching set so she wouldn't blow up like a balloon. Heck, she'd probably lose that extra ten pounds that hadn't gotten the memo about 'baby fat' disappearing after puberty. She wondered whether all dads gave their daughters the same pat story or if her dad was special.

Of course, she wouldn't have to wonder if she'd had her own personal trainer and chef growing up. Talk about the high life! With visions of the svelte Chloe she could be with a personal trainer, she went back to eating. It was just a passing thought, not really a wish, since simply thinking of all that exercise was making her tired.

She wasn't really sure if she should wait for Clark and Lex. Lex hadn't covered the etiquette of someone leaving the table. Especially if you were the only one left behind. However, she figured since she hadn't been told what to do, she'd satisfy her hunger and her curiosity with the second serving Marie had brought in.

Tracing one manicured fingernail along her wine glass, she admired how the crystal sparkled under the lights. The table looked absolutely fantastic. Like something out of a movie. Gleaming dark wood, an elaborate silver and candle centerpiece, china and crystal that was probably worth a king's ransom. The silverware alone looked like it was the kind you read about in stories, the kind thieves stole in the middle of the night!

It was a far cry from her single parent home in the suburbs of Smallville. Or that's how she always thought of the housing development they'd lived in, even if the old half of Smallville liked to pretend that the town was still a small farming community that hadn't doubled in size in less than a decade. It was unreal how half the town's population deluded themselves into believing Smallville wasn't one of the fastest growing communities in the state, easily one of its largest towns.

All right, Smallville was unreal in a lot of ways, but that wasn't what tonight was about.

Lex was such a cool guy. She'd just made one remark about how she was worried about whether or not she'd be able to work the society or political beats when she became a reporter because she didn't know what fork to use at dinner. Mostly meant as a joke, she'd secretly been concerned for a while that her middle class upbringing in the middle of a 'small farming community' might be detrimental to her career. Half the battle in becoming a top journalist seemed to be connections, and making those connections among the high and powerful included a whole different skill set. Her dad might be one of the VPs of LexCorp, but this was a recent development in their mostly humdrum lives.

The family gossip had really been freaking her out.

Her cousin schmoozed with the rich and powerful all the time, stories being passed among the family like cookies on how she wheedled her way into some high-and-mighty's confidence that week or rubbed elbows with some famous so-and-so at the latest society gala. Army brat upbringing a plus when your father was a general, plus she'd had a mom who'd come from high society. Lois knew how to dress in Dior or Chanel, which perfume to wear at what occasion, and how to eat at a table set for the Queen of England. The right shoes, the right clothes, even down to the right purse, her cousin looked, sounded, and acted like classy sophistication, fitting in with the power mongers she hunted, the perfect camouflage.

How well would she, country cousin Chloe, be able to schmooze with the rich and powerful when her shot at the big time came?

One week later, here she was with her own version of 'Miss Manners'.

She giggled, thinking of Lex's reaction to the title. But in a way, he was. Her very own personal etiquette coach. He'd taken her shopping for the dress and shoes, pointing out what worked for her and what didn't, insisting on buying everything, waving his hand negligibly in the air in that way he had as he proclaimed she'd need formal wear eventually. It had been a lot of fun, and not much of a newsflash that Lex had terrific taste. Personally, Chloe thought Clark was nuts for turning down stuff like this from Lex, when it was clear to her that he genuinely enjoyed buying, as well as giving, things to his friends.

A fantasy football game for Whitney and his dad. A coffeehouse for Lana. A red truck with white racing strips. It was all the same, just different currency. Yet, for some reason, it was the stuff you could touch and keep, like a truck or this dress, that had the Kents' hackles up as if they were being bribed to sell their only child to the gypsies.

All very odd.

Or maybe it was just accepting gifts in general. God knows the Kents didn't know how to accept help, especially Clark. The reminder caused Chloe to frown slightly, but she pushed the thought away.

She just understood Lex.

She came from a single parent household like he did, and like Lex, she hadn't had a mom for half her life. Maybe that's why Dad liked to give her things too, similar to Lex. For some people, it was the way they showed affection. Friendship. Love. Which she got, and Clark didn't. He saw it as an insult or even a slur against his family honor, which she'd never understand.

But it was more than just being raised by her dad that helped her understand Lex. They both grew up in Metropolis, even if Lex was later sent to boarding schools along the East Coast and afterward abroad. They were city mice, having been sent to live with the country mice of Smallville, and were now an uncomfortable mix of the two. They knew what it was like to be outsiders, to have men in flannel and women in sundresses stare at you like you were an alien. The kind that waved tentacles threateningly as it ate babies, all slimy green leathery skin and sharp teeth.

She liked that Lex flaunted his differences: his baldness, his intelligence, his Luthor-ness. Just like she used to flaunt her Metropolis-bought clothes and zany fashion sense at school. Why pretend to be like the masses when they'd scorn you either way. At least you could be true to yourself and be proud you didn't cave into the pressure to conform.

Plus, her dad worked for Lex. She understood late nights at the office, employees giving you headaches the size of Siberia, and how weekends disappeared more and more as the end of each quarter approached. Pete didn't bother to hide his contempt of businessmen, which was always interesting to see when Lana was within hearing range, and he held a surprising amount of distrust towards the rich. Very odd considering his family used to own the plant before the Luthors, and it wasn't like Lionel Luthor paid the Ross brothers pennies for their plant, which had helped send all his siblings to college to become lawyers, doctors, and the like. Where Pete couldn't understand how to separate the hardnosed businessman from the considerate twenty-something, Chloe had seen her dad categorize parts of himself enough to know how you acted in the boardroom wasn't how you acted in your living room.

She'd been surprised to see just how much she had in common with Lex when she'd started her study sessions with him, but she'd been even more blown by just how normal Lex was. Sure, he was richer than God, but he also liked to eat Frosted Flakes for breakfast. He had a secret addiction to comics, had a collection of Japanese anime on DVD that would make Pete wet his panties, and liked video games way too much for a CEO of a company growing at a rate so quick it would shame mold. It blew her mind that he liked to watch Cartoon Network "because I get enough of 'real life' at the office" and trolled E-bay "just in case" like any other E-bay addict she knew.

But it was more than Lex getting his geek on. He wore sweats late at night while watching bad TV, liked to read medical thrillers to relax, and if he was at home he ate Chinese takeout with his fingers "because it's faster". He ran five miles every day religiously, while bitching about crunches like any other sane human being. Heck, he even listened to Linkin Park just like any other twenty-six year old she knew. His not-so secret fascination for anything paranormal was something they shared, even if his enthrallment in all things science wasn't. Like any other male, he was a dictator with the remote and liked too much butter on his popcorn. Plus, he was smarter than the whippiest whip, breaking down Calculus until even she could understand it.

Anyone who could help her pass a math class was okay in her book.

Yet, there was that other side of Lex that completely blindsided you, reminding you he was from another universe. Like phone calls from Japan or Russia, which Lex spoke flawlessly without an accent. Or so he claimed. The e-mail last week from him, letting her and Clark know he'd be out for a few days to settle something in France. A visit from his father, power stalk in place, telling Lex to be prepared at the board meeting to push the latest billion dollar buyout of company X. His casual references of obscure facts from almost every discipline, a shot between the eyes prompting you to recall that he'd gone to best schools in the world and had been born smarter than she probably was as a college sophomore.

Then there were four-course dinners. Perfect manners. Arm movements that seemed more like ballet, making the act of eating into an art. Hold your spoon just so. Eat in small bites, and insert conversation at this point. Thank God Lex had offered to teach her about this stuff so she could wow the hoity-toity and hit the ground running when she finally got a job with the New York Times.

Or the Chicago Tribune. Or maybe the Los Angeles Times.

She was keeping an open mind.

There was always The Daily Planet, too, which would be cool, but meant having to work at the same paper as Lois. She snorted, nose wrinkling at the thought. Never work with family, or so her dad claimed. Plus, as fun as Lois could be, she was also a ruthless bitch, especially about her career.

Chloe smirked. Not that she planned to be any different, to a point. Sometimes she thought Lois would eat her own young if it meant a shot at winning a Pulitzer.

She fingered the necklace around her throat, smirk widening. Her cousin would have a stroke if she could see Chloe right now. This necklace alone made the blond feel like one of those actresses at the Oscars, talking about how they're wearing some loaner worth a few million like they'd just gone and borrowed a cup of sugar. The earrings weren't anything to sneeze at, either.

Truthfully, she'd nearly swallowed her tongue when Lex had brought the case out. She'd been afraid to touch it, experiencing a Pretty Woman moment, positive Lex was pulling her leg and about to snap the case closed on her fingers. He had the strangest sense of humor at times, especially when it came to pop culture. However, when he'd explained that it had belonged to his mother, his voice turning soft and wistful, she'd suddenly felt so honored that he trusted her with something like this, even for a few hours, that she'd almost given into the urge to jump him.

To give him a hug.

Because she wouldn't jump her best friend's best friend for nefarious purposes.

The seat next to and across from her were conspicuously empty. Still.

Worry gnawed at her gut. She hadn't noticed when Clark first appeared, just like she hadn't noticed the weird vibe he'd been giving off until he'd been leaving. Not that Clark wasn't weird as a rule, but he'd been acting weirder than usual lately.

He'd been a moody bitch, which, all right, was also pretty normal, but he'd been moodier than even his norm. Also quieter. He didn't talk as much, and he tended to zone out all the time. Lana had been complaining she rarely saw Clark anymore, and Pete had mentioned Clark was holing up in their room a lot, listening to crappy depressing music.

Another failed crush?

She hadn't noticed Clark scoping out anyone new.

But that was Clark. Bounding from crush to crush, burning hope for true love in his heart, crashing and burning within days into massive depression. He didn't just date someone, he created an epic saga of true love, which eventually sputtered out into flickers of barely like at the first sign of his intended other half being a mere human. There was that one girl Kyla back in high school. Alicia. Jessie. Lori. Even herself. Lana was the only girl Clark had even gone steady with for real, and even then it had been painful to watch the puppy love shining like a beacon from his eyes while Lana kept him around like a trusty old security blanket, steady and reliable.

Which was probably the biggest joke of all, because everyone knew Clark was anything but reliable.

Wincing, mentally chastising herself, she took a sip of her wine. That wasn't fair, and it wasn't completely accurate. Clark wasn't reliable on a good day, but when you really needed him, when the chips were down, he was there. Mostly. Usually. If he could.

Shaking her head, she began to play with the napkin in her lap, starting to feel restless.

Yes, there had been something off about Clark tonight. Something in his face, a blank look, almost as if he'd been in shock. Feeling a small niggle of worry, she twisted the linen fretfully. Hopefully Lex would get to the bottom of it, and if Clark needed help, Lex was the guy to go to. The guy would kill for Clark.

Metaphorically.

She thought.

Though, if Clark didn't feel like talking, he wouldn't. No one could clam up like a Smallville native and that went double for Clark Kent. He'd just pass off a really bad lie or try some lame attempt to change the topic. Sometimes she felt like shaking him silly until he got it through his thick boy-skull that he was a really bad liar.

But she never did. She liked to think she was quick on her feet, and she'd observed real fast that in Smallville you had to be careful about asking questions or pointing out observations. Half the population ignored you, might possibly pretend you didn't ask what you'd asked or you didn't see what you saw. Yet, the other half went ballistic, getting angry, possibly even becoming violent. They might insist you didn't see what you saw and if you didn't agree fast, well, there was definitely a dark side to the 'small farming community' that liked to portray a wholesome all-American face to outsiders.

Smallville, the Eerie, Indiana of real life.

Personally, she didn't get what the big deal was. So what if half the town was mutated? When she'd started the Wall of Weird, it had only taken a few years before she'd realized that most of the town had been affected. If you didn't have a family member that was mutated, you knew someone who was. Sort of like the new gay, except it was mutations in Smallville.

There was a lot of 'only in Smallville would this happen' during high school.

It was the reason why she might pursue the truth about the latest mutant crisis, but she'd drawn her own lines sometime during her sophomore year. Despite what some people thought, she did have some common sense when it came to her reporting instincts. She'd even made her online Torch articles about the weirdness that was Smallville High campy, like the kind of thing an X-File fangirl might create for fun. If the government was going to descend enmasse on some mutant hunt, beady little eyes glittering with greed and hands rubbing enthusiastically over potential super soldiers, it wasn't going to be because of her.

She might not be a fangirl, exactly, but she got the memo about government corruption, secret experimentation, and 'Trust No One'. Her generation might not have 'The Man', but they did have Mulder.

Which also went to prove just how cool she could be. So what if Clark was a mutant? Everyone at school had known it. You didn't survive that many mutant attacks without being one yourself, not when you took it upon yourself to be the town champion.

Still, she never pushed it. The Kents were one of those bizarre half-psycho families in town. They were the picture perfect ideal of the good neighbor, the nuclear family, the high school jockstrap made good--becoming a pillar of the community, starting a happy family--all that Stepford goodness made golden. Despite this image, though, they were the kind to get angry. Very, very angry. Ask the wrong question, point out something mysterious, mention the meteors in any way...and they turned on a dime.

The dark underbelly of Smallville, indeed.

Chloe didn't take it personally, chalking it up to them being Kents. Most of the original families--those that had lived there during the meteor strike--were like that.

So, being the brilliant woman she was, she let it drop. Clark was a mutant. Pete wasn't. Lex was. She definitely wasn't, which sometimes made her feel a small pang of regret. As for Lana, it was up in the air. Chloe was fairly sure Lana was, but if so, it was something so subtle she hadn't pinned it down yet. She would bet her VW Beetle that Lana wasn't even aware of it herself.

There was just that vibe around Lana, and Chloe had become pretty damn good at picking up that vibe, if she did say so herself.

Her current theory was Lana had some sort of love-protection vibe. Kind of like the sex vibe Miss Atkins gave off, only Lana's was more like the anti-sex vibe. Mostly, Chloe came to this conclusion because often those that were attracted to Lana's vibe didn't want sex. They wanted something more ethereal, more pure, more Lana. It wasn't exactly a virgin vibe or anything to do with virginity, though Chloe suspected that Lana was still holding out for true love, or at least a diamond ring, which in Lana's mind was the same thing.

No, it was how everyone around Lana was drawn to her, to protect her, to love her. Something about Lana drew people into her sphere, wanting to cherish her, keep her safe. That she was The One. After hearing Lana and Clark both talk about her relationship to Whitney, Chloe thought she'd worked it out.

Lana's parents had died, and she'd become an orphan--Nell notwithstanding--the kind that prompted so much empathy she was put on the cover of Time magazine. As long as she'd known Lana, the girl had wanted to feel loved and protected. Safe. Because she knew firsthand that the sky could fall, tearing away those you loved mercilessly without warning. She had a fear of those she loved leaving her, probably stemming from feelings of abandonment from losing her parents so young. Lana was also completely in love with the idea of being in love and wanted nothing more than for others to like her. To love her.

Mix in a little meteor rock magic and boom! You have a girl that gives off pure, innocent vibes that call out 'love me, protect me...I'm someone in need of a protector, a knight errant...a girl who you just want to love and keep safe...to love and protect forever.'

Or maybe not.

Chloe could admit that her old crush on Clark could be affecting her ability to reason it all out. After all, this neatly tied up why Clark had never really liked her, hadn't even looked her way. Not seriously. His ten-second crushes aside, it was Lana he'd followed after like a puppy sniffing after its mama. The Lana Whammy made it cleanly no one's fault, with it having nothing to do with Chloe's desirability factor. Or rather, lack of desirability.

Insecurities aside, it made sense. All those mutants that were drawn to her, almost obsessively. The stalkers. The endless numbers of boys proclaiming their love. The unceasing devotion. Even Tina, who'd started out wanting to single-white-female Lana, had eventually had a whiplash turnaround by wanting to love Lana.

Heck, even herself and her dad! Taking in Lana, after barely knowing her for a year, and letting her stay with them like she was Chloe's long lost sister. Nell just blithely allowing Lana to live with strangers, when Lana was the closest thing to a child she'd ever have. Simply because Lana wanted. Lana needed. Love me, protect me.

It also explained why Clark had never given Lex a second look.

Sadness drifted over her thoughts, as well as a small hint of pity she'd never show Lex. The poor guy. He had it bad for Clark. He'd had it bad, probably from the first moment they'd met.

It was actually more fairy tale than Clark and Lana. A tragic accident. Lex dying. Clark diving into a river, saving Lex, breathing him back to life. A friendship that defied convention, that defied an entire town, including the boy savior's parents. It even had a Prince and a farmboy, which couldn't get more fairy tale cliche than that.

Well, if it was a gay fairy tale.

Clark was clearly crazy. Insane. Certifiable. Or Lana Whammied. Because she'd kill to have Lex over the moon for her. She didn't need to read the Inquisitor or People to know Lex was the catch of the century. Rich. Generous. Kind. Compassionate. Smart. Sexy.

Chloe rolled her eyes. Sexy. Yeah, that was like saying Niagara Falls was wet. More like, Lex was sex. You just had to look at the guy to know that.

She looked up as she saw Marie come in with a cart. Obviously for Clark. She looked down at her watch, also a loaner--who pays $1500 for a watch?!?, Movado or not--and saw that twenty minutes had passed. No sign of either Lex or Clark.

She hoped everything was okay.


"Clark," Lex said gently, talking as if the twenty year old might shatter at any moment, "What is it? Tell me what happened." He continued to rub small circles into Clark's back, trial and error proving this seemed to soothe the best. "I'll fix it. Whatever it is, I'll do whatever I have to in order to make it better. But I have to know what's wrong."

Clark didn't say a word. Just as he hadn't said anything during the last five minutes. He just tightened his arms whenever Lex tried to lean away, attempting to look at Clark's face.

Damn it. It was frustrating as hell, feeling the distress pouring from Clark and not being able to do anything about it. After a few more minutes of simple hugging his friend close, he reached up with one hand and hesitatingly touched his hair softly.

"Please, Clark."

Something seemed to finally break through to the brunette; Clark shifted slightly, drawing back.

Finally.

His armful of warm farmboy straightened, and Lex felt a pang as he released him, even through his relief. It was the closest he'd ever been to Clark Kent, probably the closest he'd ever get. However, his desire to ease whatever hurt that had occurred far exceeded his desire for holding six foot four of beautiful brunette to his chest.

He waited patiently as the more bashful, reserved college student sorted himself out. The fidgeting and squirming was expected, as was the pretty blush that covered exquisitely formed cheeks. Clark was a demonstrative person, possible due to being Martha Kent's child or maybe from growing up in a close-knit community. Lex had seen over the years Clark and his group of friends often hugging one another, slapping or patting each other's backs, or using small touches on arms or legs to draw attention.

As for himself this was his fourth hug, easily the most drawn out, as well as the most distressed. Usually Clark hugged in moments of joy or times of happy relief. Not that he categorized Clark's actions or paid that much attention to the habits of boys five and half years his junior.

Face bland, a hint of concern displayed, he tried to present a consoling image. A trustworthy figure. Not that he knew exactly about such things firsthand, but he could wing it. One last fidget had Clark settling into the couch, eyes lowered to his lap where he began wringing his hands nervously.

Keeping his voice low, Lex tried to sound approachable. No pressure. No demands. Clark never reacted well to either. "Are you feeling better?"

A small shrug, which was more a twitch of broad shoulders, but at least it was communication. A primitive form, to be sure, but communication nonetheless.

"Did something happen?"

This earned him a head shake.

"Clark..." Lex paused, not sure what was needed. Clark didn't share unless he wanted to share, and pressuring him only made the brunette angry, just as cornering him made the boy lash out. For a non-Luthor, Clark lashed out in a very nastily cutting way. Admittedly, it was Lex's fault for letting Clark in so deep; naturally a cornered Clark knew the quickest, deepest way to inflict emotional wounds.

Caring was a double-edged sword. But he'd found over the years that caring about Clark Kent wasn't a choice, and he'd made the decision long ago that accepting his affections for the younger man was much easier and more rewarding than trying to fight them.

Hating Clark hurt him just as much as it hurt Clark, so in the end, it wasn't a viable option.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

Clark gave another one of those small shrugs, hands still held tight on his lap.

It was mystifying, as well as deeply alarming. Clark had been near tears earlier in the dining room, and Clark didn't cry. At least not in front of Lex, since he could hardly claim to know what the younger man did in the privacy of his own room. He hadn't sunk low enough to start spying on the boy, and he refused to let his...fascination...with Clark spin out of control to the point that he started planting bugs or cameras in the unsuspecting boy's dorm room or childhood home.

Even if the temptation was there.

In some ways, it would be so much easier. For instance, he'd know what had happened to drive an upset Clark to his door tonight. It had to be something big. The only time he'd ever seen Clark cry was when that boy Ryan had died.

But if Clark didn't want to talk about it...

"Did something happen to someone? Your parents? Pete? Lana?"

Clark slowly shook his head at each name, dark strands moving slightly with the motion. Raising his head until green eyes peeked out from beneath raven curls, his cheeks still flushed red, Clark faltered. Pausing for a moment, he seemed to come to a decision, speaking in a voice so low it was almost a whisper, "I'm fine. I- I-...it's nothing."

"You were upset earlier," Lex pointed out gently.

"I'm better now."

Better. Of course he was. "Do you feel up to dinner? Suzanne prepared a special menu for tonight. I'm sure you'll like it."

Curiously, the offer made the boy flinch. Cheeks flushing all over again, just as his embarrassment had died down, Clark stammered, "I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean to-to interrupt. You and Chloe..."

"I'm sure Chloe doesn't mind, and I know I don't. I wouldn't have offered otherwise. You're always welcome in my home and at my table."

That brought a faint smile to Clark's face, though it was a pale echo of his usual sunny disposition. "But you...and Chloe..."

Lex watched, baffled, as Clark waved his hands in the air. Trying to say something, but whatever it was, he was missing it.

Clark tried again, his voice strained. "I know you and Chloe...well, that you've become friends. Which is good. I'm glad." His eyes lowered again to stare at his hands. He repeated softly, "Glad. I just didn't realize..."

Lex waited, and when it became clear his friend wasn't going to continue, he prodded, "Realize?"

"That you were dating."

What?

"But that's good. Nice. Um, you know, great. That you like each other, and that you get along," Clark added nervously. Starting to babble, he continued, "I mean, why wouldn't you like her? And of course she'd like you. I mean, I've always wanted you guys to be friends, and now you are, and even more--"

"We're not," Lex cut in. Dating? What in the world?

"--it's just great..." Clark trailed off, his eyes finally coming back up to lock eyes with Lex in confusion. "You're not? What?"

He thought carefully over the earlier scene, what Clark had walked into, and everything fell into place. Of course. The candlelit dinner, the formal attire, the easy companionship, the intimate moment...

"It wasn't a date," he clarified. "We're not dating. You misunderstood the context. Chloe was feeling apprehensive about social mores within certain circles, so I arranged a practice run at what a society dinner might entail."

Not quite all of what the evening had encompassed, but it was the simplest explanation. It also hadn't been just a mentoring experience, as he genuinely enjoyed spending time with Chloe. She was charming, witty, and refreshingly perceptive. She also didn't take herself so seriously, which was admittedly sexy on Clark at times, but could also be tiring.

Possibly even disquieting.

No one should feel as if the very fate of the world relied on every decision he or she made. No wonder Clark hated being pressured. He applied enough pressure on himself that it was amazing he hadn't cracked yet.

A confused look had Lex reiterating, "Manners. Dress. Common topics of discussion. Eating etiquette. Menus. It wasn't anything beyond that."

The relief that flickered over Clark's face made Lex pause.

Clark had been upset, very upset. At the sight of himself and Chloe in a romantic entanglement, or so Clark had thought at the time. Incredulity mixed with a dull ache in his heart.

Clark had almost been moved to tears at the knowledge that Chloe was dating him.

Lex had known that Clark had experienced a few months of uncertainty during his sophomore year over his feelings over the blond girl. There'd been the one date at the spring dance, the night of the tornado that had started it all. But nothing more had ever come of it. He hadn't seen this coming at all.

Clark hadn't really dated anyone since Lana. In his personal opinion, the boy was too shy to approach girls he didn't know. The few dates he'd gone out on while in college had been with girls he'd met in class, and even then it had taken Lex almost an entire semester's worth of encouragement and ego bolstering before Clark felt brave enough to ask for something as simple as a movie date.

As far as Lex was concerned, it was a major drawback of growing up in a small town. As unbelievable as it was that someone as gorgeous as Clark could be overlooked by the vast majority of the population--Lex was half-convinced the boy had some 'wall flower' power--it was understandable that Clark had a hard time asking out girls he didn't know. He'd had a hard enough time asking out girls he'd grown up with, and he clearly had an intense fear of rejection. Which, considering Clark's social status in his high school hierarchy, made sense.

Smallville was composed of fuckwits.

Clark should have ruled his school. With his good looks and open heart, his peers should have been eating out of his hand. Smart. Athletic. Great sense of humor. Friendly disposition. Just being the son of Jonathan Kent should have raised his status automatically. Lex hadn't been in town two weeks before hearing about how Mr. Kent was not only a highly respected member of the community, but also a hotshot football player from the town's glory days of back-to-back high school state championships.

"You aren't?" Clark asked hesitatingly, interrupting Lex's thoughts. "Because if you're interested..."

Returning to the present situation, Lex recalled Clark's apparent crush on Chloe. Again. Which shouldn't be hurting as much as it was. He'd moved past childish ideals of romance and love. Clark must be crazy about her if he'd gotten so upset, which was a good thing. Moving beyond his infatuation with Lana was a step in the right direction, and if it was a journey with Chloe, all the better. She would handle his heart more gently than Lana Lang.

"No," Lex said firmly. "I'm definitely not interested. We're just friends."

Relief washed over Clark's pretty features, a smile starting to tilt his full lips up. However, it faltered, dying a slow death as his demeanor fell once more.

"Clark?"

Despondency hung over Clark like a shroud.

"Why don't you come to dinner?" Food always seemed to cheer the boy up. "I'm sure Chloe's excited to talk to you."

Silence hung in the study for several moments, Clark not moving. Finally, he shook his head and asked quietly, "I'm really tired. I...earlier I was just...if I could maybe crash here tonight? At least for a nap before I head back?"

"Of course." Whatever Clark wanted. "You know where the guest rooms are. Suzanne will put something aside for you, in case you're hungry later."

"Can I..." Clark bit his lower lip. The sight caused something to twist in Lex's gut, as well as a strange fluttering in his chest. "Can I use your bedroom? I...I really don't want to...you know, it feels kinda...lonely...in some generic guest room."

Shock hit him like a tsunami, crested by a rush of desire. Pushing both aside, Lex stood up and held out a hand to Clark. Waiting a few heartbeats, staring at the outstretched hand, Clark took it. Helping him up, Lex said evenly, "Mi casa es su casa."

Clark blinked charmingly.

The smile slipped onto his face more naturally this time. "My castle is your castle. My penthouse is your penthouse. Or in this case, my bed is your bed." If Clark only knew. "Whatever you need, Clark."

Whatever. Whenever. Whoever.

If he was willing to play matchmaker with Lana, the least he could do was to try to see Clark happy with Chloe.

He led Clark towards the master suite, opening the bedroom door. Clark slipped in, still and silent as a wraith. Something was off. Clark wasn't acting like himself, and he still seemed upset. Calling out to him, Lex added, "If you need to talk later, you can trust me. There isn't anything you could tell me, Clark, not anything, that would ever come between us. That I wouldn't forgive."

He didn't wait for a reaction. Sometimes avowals needed to sink in, and maybe if he told Clark enough times, the boy would finally come to believe that he could trust him. Shutting the door, Lex turned around. He still had a guest to entertain.


"Thank you," Chloe said sincerely.

Marie began to leave through the kitchen entrance as Lex stepped back into the room. The table had an extra setting, just as Lex had requested. Of course, his extra dinner guest was no longer coming to dinner.

"Marie, wait." Lex smiled apologetically. "Mr. Kent wasn't feeling well. Would you please take his plate back to the kitchen? Have Mrs. Hopkins set it aside for him. He may be hungry later."

"Yes, sir."

A few minutes later Marie left. Chloe immediately asked, "Clark's sick?"

"He had a hard day." Which was true enough. "He's lying down."

The concerned look on Chloe's face deepened.

"He's just tired," he assured her. "He'll be fine after he's rested."

She seemed to take him at his word, or at least for now. After all, with Clark asleep, she could hardly interrogate an unconscious body. "I hope it was okay that I continued eating. I wasn't sure what to do." She grinned cheekily. "Plus, I was starving. Just to warn you, I want to steal your cook. Do you think she'd live in the dorms?"

"For you, possibly." Sitting down, he placed the napkin back over his lap. "I apologize for the interruption. I'm glad--"

"It was Clark," Chloe broke in. "Not an interruption; of course it was okay. Are you sure something wasn't wrong? It seemed like it was more than him being sick."

"No." Not anything that he was aware of. He also wouldn't speculate about Clark's private affairs to anyone. "He didn't really feel like talking." An understatement to the nth degree. He added, "You know how stressful this semester has been. It's probably just a matter of sleep deprivation."

"Uh huh." Despite any misgivings, she let it drop. Changing the subject, she said, "I'm afraid your food's probably cold."

Lex just waved it off. He'd lost his appetite anyway. Nonetheless, he smoothly replied, "Dessert should more than make up for that."

He discreetly buzzed the kitchen, signaling for the last course.

They chatted pleasantly for the next hour. After dessert and a cappuccino, they sat in the living room and discussed a range of topics. Chloe wouldn't have any problems when she graduated, with her career or otherwise. He had no doubts that she was dying to know what had happened earlier with Clark, but she hid it well, focusing on socializing, staying within the parameters of the role-play.

She went into one of the guest bedrooms shortly afterward, changing out of her formal attire. After showing her out--and calling down for the pre-arranged someone from the building's security pool to discreetly follow her to her dorm room door--he dismissed the remaining staff for the night. Letting himself into his bedroom, he walked silently up to the bed.

It made his heart twist.

Clark was heartbreakingly lovely. He wasn't the most beautiful person Lex had ever known, but he was easily in the top fifteen. His dark coloring was a perfect complement to his sun-kissed, flawless skin, just as it was the perfect contrast to exquisite green eyes outlined by long sooty lashes that would be the envy of most women. Yet, despite his magnificent body and pretty appearance, Clark was lovely in ways that far exceeded the other beauties that Lex had known. His was the only one whose inner beauty far outshone his outer plumage.

The proverbial heart of gold.

Asleep, he looked vulnerable, which was a deception. Clark was the strongest person he knew. Not just physically, but inside, where it mattered the most. It made Lex want to stand here forever, drinking in the presence of someone so pure. So good. So real.

The sight of Clark with his hand tucked up under his cheek brought a hint of a smile to his lips, even as it made him ache for impossible things. Things he'd known from the start weren't meant for him. Clark Kent, town savior, who'd go on to do great things. He'd have a fairy tale marriage with some fairy tale princess, have fairy tale children, and have a fairy tale happily ever after. It's how things ended for people like Clark Kent.

Just look at his parents. Clark would emulate them, Jonathan and Martha providing a template for their son to find happiness. Who was Lex to begrudge him such a peaceful ideal?

Reaching for the green comforter that was pooled around Clark's waist--it had taken forever to find one that matched the exact shade of Clark's eyes--he pulled it up over his back, the younger man lying adorably on his stomach. The familiar worn flannel shirt was a comfort, a reminiscence of his four years in Smallville, perhaps the closest he'd ever come to innocence in his life. Giving into impulse, he reached out to lightly touch the soft material with his fingertips.

It only took a moment to decide. He'd let Clark sleep. Dinner would keep. Besides, this was probably the one time he'd ever have Clark Kent in his bed.


TWO WEEKS LATER...

Clark practically bounced into the study, excitement bubbling through his veins like champagne, wanting to explode in spontaneous happiness. He somehow managed to get reservations at Lex's favorite restaurant--usually you had to be on a waiting list for weeks, but someone had cancelled and for whatever reason, he'd been the one they'd called--and he couldn't wait to tell Lex. Oh, he knew Lex could probably get in easily just by picking up the phone, but he'd wanted to do this for Lex. All by himself, from him.

He came to a quick stop, his face falling abruptly. Heart dropping to his feet, he took in the sight of Chloe talking exuberantly to Lex, hands gesturing wildly to illustrate some point. Leaning forward with hands steepled, Lex listening avidly, amusement hovering on his lips that was usually reserved exclusively for Clark.

Balling his hands into fists, teeth clenching, every drop of joy inside of him soured.

Did Chloe have to be here all the time? Lex was his best friend, and she wouldn't have even given him a chance if he hadn't spent the last five and a half years trying to get her to see beyond the Luthor to the Lex. All he'd asked was for her to give him one chance. One chance! And even then, did she? No, not until she needed something from Lex.

She was just like everyone else. Why didn't Lex see that? No one ever saw Lex for himself, except for him. He cared about Lex. He knew Lex, knew him like no one else did. Didn't Lex see that?

"Hey, Clark!" Chloe called cheerfully, turning in her chair.

Fighting the urge to glare at her, he forced a smile on his face. It wasn't her fault she was a skanky ho.

"Clark," Lex greeted, tone all dark and sexy, causing Clark's heart to flip.

Or rather, Clark thought it was dark and sexy. He could be biased. Because for the past two weeks, he'd seen the world through entirely different eyes. I'm-in-love-with-Lex-Luthor eyes, and it was like everything was turned inside out. Only it turned out that everything was supposed to be turned inside out, so really, inside out was really right side out because suddenly everything made sense in a way it hadn't ever before. He'd just been all wrong before in how he saw things.

Like how Lex said his name. Now, it made his insides melt, like Lex's voice was caressing him in ways that would make his dad get out the shotgun. Before, Clark would have been sadly oblivious to the power of that voice. Clearly he must have been blind, deaf, and stupid not to have picked up on it sooner: the utter sex appeal of Lex Luthor and his own reaction to it.

Sometimes, he even thought that maybe Lex did it on purpose, that maybe Lex got actual pleasure from saying his name in that way.

Like it meant something to him.

"Hi, Lex," he greeted shyly, gaze darting up to see the twenty-six year old smirking, sitting in his chair with poised ease. Face heating up, he ducked his head as he blushed furiously, shifting in embarrassment as he fought the urge to take a step back.

Dear God. Lex was so gorgeous.

If he had one more dream like last night, he was going to go crazy. Absolutely stark-raving mad crazy. Pete had started to throw things at him, telling him to wake up and go hump a tree, as long as it was out of the room.

Yes, the last two weeks had definitely opened his eyes.

"How's it going?" Chloe sounded entirely too cheerful, as if she was on top of the world.

And why wouldn't she? Didn't she have the attention of Lex Luthor, one of the sexiest guys in the city? No, the state. No, the country. Free rein to come and go as she pleased. Lex's trust. Lex's friendship. Both highly sought commodities, and rarely given out.

Lex even liked her. Maybe even liked her liked her. Didn't Lex seem awfully smiley lately? Lex just wasn't the smiley sort, yet there he was, always smiling when Chloe was around. Clark noticed, looking for it every time he was around Lex.

Stupid Chloe.

She was going to make Lex cheerful, maybe even happy all the time, and then before you knew it Lionel would notice. Lionel, being Lionel, would see his son being happy, which would make the old fart unhappy because Lex wasn't allowed to be happy since it broke some sort of business rule or something, and then he'd start dropping in. Lionel Luthor pushing his way in, stupid hair flying all around, would start roaring and complaining. Putting Lex down, tell him what a bad son he was, what bad decisions he made, how Lex couldn't even breath right if his father wasn't there to tell him how to do it. He'd start outlining every failing imaginable in Lex, real or imagined. Which would make Lex unhappy.

No, not just unhappy. Cranky. Lex got cranky when his dad came around, as well as bitter, and angry, and definitely sad. Because deep down Lex wanted his dad to love him, so Lex would get really sad and start drinking, talking about Alexander the Great and other really old dead guys whose names Clark always forgot.

All because Chloe made Lex happy.

"Clark?"

Clark looked up, fake smile pasted back on. He wondered if it was really possible for your face to crack. Remembering her question, he replied, "Great. In fact, better than great."

She better not get any ideas about getting any friendlier with Lex. All the women who got friendly with Lex only ended up hurting him. Clark wasn't letting anyone hurt Lex again, not even Chloe, best bud or not.

"Oh, good," she said, white teeth gleaming as her hair flipped attractively, bringing attention to the pretty gold color.

Stupid flippy hair.

No. More like floppy hair. Dull, lank, unattractive floppy hair.

Standing up, she grabbed a bottle of Ty Nant from the mini fridge in the false cabinet. Clark felt like his face was too tight he was smiling so hard, as he took it from her.

Since when did she knew where the mini fridge was at?

"Thanks, Chloe." Yeah, thanks. Thanks a lot. Just make yourself at home in Lex's office.

At least she wasn't sitting in his chair.

"No prob," she said glibly, flicking her fingers in an offhand gesture. "I'm just a nice person."

"Extremely," Lex cut in dryly. "I wouldn't suppose you'd mind grabbing one for me?"

Rolling her eyes, Chloe huffed out a breath before sarcastically replying, "Yes, your highness." However, her smothered smile gave away her amusement as she grabbed another bottle.

"Thank you, milady," Lex said, inclining his head regally as he took the bottle from her.

The blond curtsied.

Clark sat down in his seat, annoyed.

Stupid flippy, floppy hair. His was much better.

"So, Clark," Lex said, the name rolling off his tongue in a way that made Clark's skin prickle. "How was Astronomy? Did your professor give you a hard time again?"

"It was good. I even made it on time this morning." He had to bite back a laugh when Lex gave him a look. "Honest. I can get up early, you know. And Professor Evans was actually laid back today. He announced a trip to an observatory at the end of the month, so everyone left class pretty excited."

"Really?" Chloe asked. "Man, I should have signed up for that class instead of calc. All those formulas are making my brain melt."

Clark shrugged at her, turning to look at Lex. If she'd taken it in high school like he did, she could have tested out of it, too. Regaining a little bit of his earlier excitement, though for a different reason, he grinned widely. Leaning forward, he added, "I think it was all a misunderstanding. He actually smiled at me today!"

"He's only human," Lex said, tone indulgent. "How could he not like you."

Clark froze, insides twisting. Trying in vain to maintain his wilting grin, he echoed faintly, "Yeah, only human."

Funny how the things you wanted most were the things you could never have.

Being normal.

Humanity.

Lex.

"Was your professor giving you a hard time? You know you can go to the Dean with things like that."

Clark shook his head. "It's nothing, Chloe. Besides, like I said, it was a misunderstanding. It's all good now."

A flash of concern passed over Lex's face. He must have sensed something from Clark, maybe hostility--Clark hoped not--because he cut in immediately. "What about your poli sci class? Did you get your paper back today?"

"No. Professor Leitch said we'd get them back next week. I'm hoping they're so good that its taking longer to grade."

"You did fine," Lex assured him. "Your research was flawless. Your suppositions on the greenhouse effect and international policies were well supported, and your presentation was not only interesting, but also passionate. I'd be surprised if you didn't get the top score in your class."

"Really?" Crap, he had it so bad. He hoped that hadn't come out as breathless as it sounded to his own ears. Except...Lex thought that highly of his paper? He'd been afraid it'd been too heavy with statistics and dry facts.

"Really."

"Well, I really liked the environmental angle," Clark said, squirming in his seat as he started to blush. Again. Because Lex thought his research had been flawless. And his writing interesting and passionate. "You were right about that. I think I might concentrate on environment laws or policies for the rest of my papers. And there's an environmental philosophy course offered next semester that I'm thinking of taking."

"You should." Lex gave him an encouraging nod. "You'll probably enjoy it. You liked the philosophy courses you've taken so far, and you've always shown particular interest in the earth sciences. Astronomy. Ecology. Geology. Environmental studies. Though, I seem to recall you especially enjoyed genetics, didn't you?"

"Yeah." Wow. Lex knew all that? Clark knew he'd talked to Lex a lot in high school about his classes, what subjects he liked, even complained about all the stuff he didn't care for. But he never really thought Lex paid that close attention. "It was pretty cool. I liked all the DNA stuff, and the labs were fun."

"So it sounds like a good mix. Plus, if it's a philosophy course, you'll be writing papers. Play to your strengths."

Clark started to beam at the unexpected compliment, until he caught Chloe smirking out of the corner of his eye. That just ruined everything, and he couldn't help wondering sourly why she was looking at him and Lex like that.

Was she laughing at him?

That felt like a boot to the head, hurt exploding inside. Chloe was his friend. One of his best friends. Like Lex was his friend.

Man, oh man. He was so messed up. There were so many issues weighing him down that Dr. Phil could do a whole season of "Clark Kent in Crisis" and he'd still be messed up.

Catching an odd look passing over Lex's face, Clark watched in bewilderment as his friend's face abruptly smoothed out. Lips tilted up, just a hint of a smile, features pleasant. It was Lex's game face, and Clark didn't like seeing it aimed at him.

"I didn't realize how late it was getting," Lex said, glancing down at his watch. "I need to make an overseas call. Perhaps you both could look at the new DVDs that came in this week? You can start on a movie, and I'll join you later."

"But--"

Lex cut Clark off. "It shouldn't take long. I'll have Suzanne bring in some popcorn, including that caramel popcorn you like so much, Clark."

"You don't have to--"

"I like it, too, even if it does rot your teeth," Lex teased, again cutting Clark off. Standing up, he ushered both college students towards the door. "Chloe, go ahead to the entertainment room. I need a moment with Clark."

That got Lex a look. Chloe's head came up like a hound catching a scent, while Clark's froze, not unlike a deer just before it took flight.

Sending Chloe a stern look back, Lex practically pushed the curious girl out the door. He pointedly watched until she was leaving the hall, and only then did he turn around to look at Clark, an amused half-twist to his mouth.

"Clark, I'm not going to eat you."

Oh. My. God.

If that didn't bring a thousand images to mind--naked, sweaty images--he didn't know what would. Did Lex just say what he thought Lex said? Was this an acknowledgement of some sort? Lex did so many kinds of subtle it was hard to tell.

Heat pooled in his stomach as his pants began to feel a little tight. Because Lex was offering...wasn't he? Or at least not offering, but the non-offering was like an offer of future offers. Wasn't it?

Ohpleaseohpleaseohplease.

"I also don't eat virgins for breakfast," Lex said with a small snort. "Regardless of what the rumors say."

Oh. Clark drooped a little, feeling really, really stupid. Because, really? If there was a Stupid Man of the Year, he was pretty sure he'd qualify now. Definitely in the running, probably even win the title. Because why would Lex want to...with him.

Great. Just great. He was starting to hear what he wanted to hear.

"Nor do I drink the blood of the innocent, or sacrifice disloyal employees on the night of the full moon as a tribute to my father." Lex's eyebrows did a wry twitch that said more than words ever could about his opinion on the matter, and it did it more eloquently than anything Clark could have written in a thousand years. "I sometimes wonder just who in the world comes up with those stories."

"Maybe bored housewives," Clark offered weakly, definitely not wincing in the slightest. Even as he could internally hear his mother berating him, he couldn't help feeling a surge of satisfaction at the laugh he managed to win from Lex.

Sorry, Mom. Housewives have to take one for the team if it meant seeing that smile on Lex. It wasn't like he didn't respect housewives. Professional moms. Whatever.

"Or farmers with a particularly vindictive vicious streak," Lex said dryly, with a hint of self-mockery. "No, no. I'm not saying anything about anyone in particular. Just that I suspect the farmers of Smallville were the original founders of the Anti-Luthor club."

"With 'Luthors are the Devil' as their slogan?" Despite his joking tone, Clark felt a pang as he pictured his father. He still loved the man beyond belief, but it was crushing to realize your dad was a hypocrite, unable to practice what he preached. Maybe it was a human frailty, to not be able to live up to the ideals you held in your heart, but shouldn't you at least try? Clark couldn't even say that his dad had honestly given Lex even one chance, his predetermined hatred of all things Luthor too deep for any attempts to give Lex a break to have been untainted, the outcome already certain in Jonathan Kent's mind.

Lex was a bad seed. Like the child in that movie, Jonathan saw a creepy, horrifying monster who wore a human face. Which made it all the more horrifying.

It also made it easier to treat Lex as if he wasn't a human being.

At least that's what Clark told himself on how his dad could treat Lex the way he did sometimes. When he would say things--hurtful things--that Jonathan Kent would never say within someone else's hearing, but he'd do it around Lex like it didn't matter. If Lex weren't human, incapable of feelings and emotions, then saying those type of things wouldn't matter.

The alternative was that his father was cruel. Unnecessarily cruel. To a twenty-something bald guy who was his son's best friend, but he did it anyway, regardless of even his son's feelings.

"Yes. As well as, 'Bad to the last drop' and 'The only good Luthor is a dead Luthor'," Lex added deprecatingly. Clark's face fell, the word game not even remotely funny anymore, which caused Lex to touch Clark's arm lightly. "Hey, I'm just kidding, Clark. If you can't laugh with them..."

Right. Just kidding. Ha, ha, ha. Everyone hates me. Because I had the unfortunate bad taste to be born with Lionel Luthor's DNA, and the even poorer taste to be raised by the man.

Sometimes Clark hated the world. Maybe his other dad, Jor-El, had the right idea. Not that Clark wanted to be an alien overlord, but there were times he thought humanity needed a swift kick in the pants. They were so violent, so full of hate and destruction: killing each other, causing mass extinction around the world, poisoning the atmosphere, destroying the very planet around them. All so unapologetically.

It was the 'they' in that thought that always stopped him short. Humans might be shortsighted, possibly savage or even the brutal barbarians that Jor-El kept talking about, but who was he to think the only answer was someone imposing their rule, their will, to force humanity to be otherwise. Whatever humanity was or wasn't, he didn't think he was fit to be anyone's judge and executioner. Especially to an entire species.

Crap. He was only twenty. He barely understood Kierkegaard without diagrams and a chart.

Not that Jor-El cared.

"That's not why I asked you to stay for a moment." Lex's fingers were burning an imprint into Clark's arm. Clark could feel it forming. All the Kryptonite in Smallville wouldn't be enough to get him to move. "I'm going to be a while. Possibly even the time it'll take for the movie to finish."

"What? I thought you only had to make a phone call."

This time the look Lex gave him was something along the line of 'get with the program, Kent'. "I'm sure you and Chloe could accomplish a lot in two hours."

Again. Huh?

Did Chloe need help with her math class again? Because he supposed he could help if Lex was asking him to, but it would have been nice if she'd asked herself. And it was really dumb to try to watch a movie while studying, though Chloe did like background noise when she did homework.

Feeling like he was missing the script to the confusion that was his life, Clark admitted tentatively, "I don't understand." Did he ever? Sometimes he wished Lex would just come right out with what he wanted to say. It would make things so much easier.

"Clark, you need to take the opportunities life hands you. Playing it close doesn't win you anything but missed chances. Believe me, the only prize for that is regret."

What in the heck?!? Could Lex be anymore enigmatic? A scowl was starting to form in the little lines between Clark's brows.

"What are you talking about?" Clark asked bluntly. He didn't ask, 'Are you insane?' He sort of assumed that was a given.

"Two hours alone with a beautiful girl," Lex prodded. Again, sending Clark a Look. "I'll make sure the staff doesn't interrupt."

"Are you insane?" Okay, he hadn't meant to ask that, but the sentiment was honest. Lex did like honesty. This was sounding less and less like a request to help with homework.

Oh no. Lex hadn't set him up on another blind date, did he?

"Clark," Lex said, the name dripping with faint disapproval. "I'm sure the clueless act wins you points for being adorable at home, but I'm not your mom. Go join Chloe and talk to her. Women are more receptive to the direct approach, believe me."

Oh crap! It was another blind date, and Chloe was supposed to talk him into it. Or break the news to him. Which is how Clark found himself herded out the door, walking towards the entertainment room, very conflicted.

Half of him felt elated. Lex thought he was adorable? Okay, a sexy beast who Lex wanted to chain to his bed would've been better, but Clark could work with adorable. Adorable could be upgraded to cute, and from cute you could eventually move into attractive, which was only a skip, hop, and a jump to hot.

Okay, maybe a really long jump and a whole lot of skips. But there were possibilities. It was workable, maybe into eventually something like sexy, or even fuckable.

Clark heated up at the thought, both in embarrassment at a word that would have his mom breaking out the soap and in a way that made walking a little bit harder. The Internet was very much his friend, and he'd had his eyes opened WIDE after hours and hours of research.

Lex was big on research.

Thankfully he wasn't at home anymore, so he didn't have to worry about his parents checking on his web activities. Even if Pete borrowed his computer for some reason, not that the likelihood of Pete's computer crashing was all that big, at least Pete would probably high five him for looking at porn sites. As long as Pete didn't look too closely at what kind of porn.

So, yes, half of him was feeling pretty good. Maybe it wasn't as hopeless as he thought. After all, the fact that Lex had only dated drop dead gorgeous women who could easily start careers as models didn't have to mean anything. Nor the two marriages. Or the two wives that went with them.

Besides, they'd been annulled anyway. It was like they'd never happened.

Sort of.

However, he wasn't all to the good. The other half of him was perplexed about the 'clueless act' part. He wasn't clueless. There had been no act. He also still had no idea what Lex was getting at, which was making him feel stupid. And he definitely wasn't.

While he may be in the running for Stupid Man of the Year, he wasn't an idiot. If someone--namely Lex--didn't tell him exactly what he was talking about, Clark couldn't be held accountable for the natural confusion that was induced by mysterious statements. He also resented the intrusion of yet another blind date, and he'd tell Chloe exactly that when she brought up the crazy scheme.

On top of that, as far as the clueless comment went, Clark was darn glad that Lex wasn't his mom. The whole idea made it decidedly easier to walk, in a very disappointing way, because that was just disgusting. Lex and his mom were kept in two very distinct and separate parts of his brain, and they weren't meant to mingle. In any way. And now he'd just grossed himself out, which was all Lex's fault.

There would be no mingling of any sort. Especially of his mom and Lex.

He was pretty sure he was going to be sick. Psychiatric care might be necessary, too.

"Hey," Chloe called, waving Clark over. She looked up from the DVDs in her hand. "Was it me, or did we get torpedoed out of that room?"

"No, I don't think it was you." Animosity had fallen by the wayside, along with jealousy. Partially because Lex wasn't in the room, smiling at Chloe or watching Chloe or doing all the other things he did with Chloe. Clark steadfastly refused to think of mingling and Chloe and Lex.

Stupid brain.

"Lex was acting really weird," Clark added. That wasn't the half of it.

What was all that talk about opportunity? Regrets? More advice about women? Why was Lex always giving him advice about women? If this was some hint that he was inept when it came to girls, he didn't appreciate the insult.

This better not be about Lana again.

Why wouldn't anyone believe that he still wasn't hung up on Lana? Sure, he loved her. He'd always love her. She had a special Lana-place in his heart, where he still felt warm and happy about s'mores, jumping on trampolines, and becoming a quarterback for the Sharks. But he wasn't obsessed with her. It wasn't like he couldn't move past her, and in the end, they'd both realized that they weren't meant for more than a high school romance.

Lana wanted something else. Someone who could give her things Clark couldn't. Clark knew this because he still hadn't figured out what Lana wanted, despite growing up with her.

Clark...well, Clark knew he wanted something else, too. Someone else, even though it took him long enough to catch the clue bus.

Which, considering he'd rarely caught the school bus in time, made a horrible kind of continuity.

If someone pointed out that Clark had lagged on dating anyone since starting college because he was secretly hoping Lana might change her mind, well, Clark wouldn't be talking to that someone anymore. It wasn't about wanting Lana. Necessarily. It's just, he'd had this huge love for her since he was five, so he felt a little sentimental. Maybe even nostalgic. Who could blame him for not wanting to move on right away?

Some people needed time.

Geesh.

Seeing Chloe in front of him, one of his best buds for what felt like forever, he couldn't help feeling guilty. He hadn't been thinking very nice thoughts about Chloe recently, and it wasn't her fault that he couldn't get a handle on his feelings. He still wasn't sure what to think beyond those feelings. Was he gay? Bi? Did those terms even apply to him since he wasn't human? Maybe being a Kryptonian put him beyond human labels.

Actually, he was pretty sure it did, but that made him all the more uncomfortable. He didn't want to think of himself as beyond humanity in any way. That way lay madness, and if Jor-El was to believed, world domination and subjugation of the human race.

In addition, Chloe's curious look also reminded Clark of how smart she was. She just picked up things most people passed by. Maybe she'd know what Lex was talking about. Lex did say to talk to her, which made his stomach drop, now that he remembered that fact. He really didn't want to deal with another matchmaking scheme by well-meaning friends. If he found a woman tucked in one of the closets or hidden behind the couch, he was going to yell very loudly at his supposed friends.

Or did the request mean Lex knew that he'd been a little upset with Chloe the past few days? Lex couldn't know. Could he? Because if he knew, then he'd have to know why. Right?

Could Kryptonians hyperventilate?

Oh, no. Lex was probably disgusted. Repulsed. Maybe even hated him. No wonder he didn't want to watch a movie with him; he was probably waiting for Clark to leave. The only good thing was that Lex didn't know about the alien thing. Because then he'd probably want to hurl. After all, aliens weren't sexy beasts, just beasts. Just look at the movies. Aliens, Independence Day, even X-Files. Gross, disgusting, alien monsters that wanted to take over the world, if not destroy it.

Which wasn't too funny, considering his biological father's preoccupation with talks of destiny and ultimatums on starting that little world domination project sooner rather than later.

If Lex actually knew, maybe he should go apologize? Explain that he couldn't help it, that he loved Lex. That he'd never force himself on him, or try to make Lex love him. It wasn't about Chloe so much, it was about him and how he was so blind. But he'd never--

His thoughts were interrupted by a tapping on his arm, followed quickly by a tap-tap against his forehead.

"Hello, space boy? Is your head back on this planetary body yet?"

"Huh?"

Brilliant.

Chloe obviously thought so, rolling her eyes as she smacked him on the chest.

"Ow!"

"All right, Spock. Now that you're back here with the rest of us on Earth, I'll repeat myself. Again." Chloe gave him a stern finger-shaking. "Pay attention because I won't attempt communication with your species again. What do you mean, Lex was acting weird?"

Spock? Did Chloe know something? Shooting her a wide-eyed look, he asked nonchalantly, "Spock? Don't I even rate a Captain Kirk?"

"No," Chloe said with an acidic glare. "You're lucky you got the Vulcan, considering he had better ears and was, like, a thousand times smarter."

His hands went up automatically, feeling his ears.

"You definitely don't get a suave Captain of the Enterprise. Not only did Kirk always get the girl, but he also actually Paid. Attention." Finger once more shaking with doom, she descended upon him. "Did Captain Kirk ever ignore Spock when he had something to say? Or McCoy? Or even Scottie?!? He even listened to Uhura, and everyone knows she was just one of the many eyecandy with boobs and a short skirt put on the show by the sexist patriarchal--"

"Um, Chloe," Clark interrupted timidly, waving his right hand weakly in front of her face.

Arms thrown up in the air, Chloe whipped around and started walking away from Clark. Still talking. "And I can NOT believe I'm even using Star Trek metaphors. It's like you and Pete infected me, and now I have a terminal case of Dorkdom."

"Hey!"

"Or maybe it's a case of Geek-Boyitis." Pivoting, she paced back towards him. "Again, Clark. In small words. Lex. Weird. Why."

Clark frowned, even as he thought furiously.

"Oh, no. Don't you dare try to edit what happened. Give me the good stuff, and don't leave anything out."

He hesitated, but it only took half a minute before he crumpled in the face of the Chloe Sullivan Look of Destruction. "I'm not sure why," he admitted. He quickly held up his hands, holding off the Look. "I'm not editing. I really don't know why. He was just talking a bunch of nonsense, gave me some advice about women, and then pushed me out the door."

That had Chloe blinking. Good. At least he wasn't the only one confused.

"That's...odd."

"That's what I thought."

"Did he say who he was going to call?"

"No."

He looked carefully into her face, trying to see if there was some hidden agenda peeking through the familiar features. It wasn't something that made him proud, but he had a list back at his dorm room on all the reasons why Chloe might have befriended Lex with ill intent in mind. Even knowing he wasn't giving either of his friends very much credit--Chloe for being capable of such a thing and Lex for falling for it so easily--a very small part of him was still hoping she just wanted to use Lex for a story or some unknown favor. Because at least when she got what she wanted, she'd leave, just like all the other women in Lex's life.

Sapphire blue eyes stared back at him, completely guileless. If anything, a hint of concern colored her features, and that concern was all directed at him.

He was such a terrible, terrible friend.

"Hmmm...he didn't say anything about a phone call earlier. Until you showed up."

"It wasn't me!" he denied automatically. "Unless..." Lex wanted to spend time alone with Chloe? "Maybe he was hoping I'd get bored and leave."

"Uh huh. Like that happens when you come here."

"It might." Shoulders hunching defensively, Clark scowled. "You're such good friends with him, why don't you tell me what he's thinking."

"Are you on crack?"

"What?"

"Well, I can't think of another reason you'd say something that stupid," Chloe snapped. "As well as bitchy. Jeez, what crawled up your butt?"

"I'm not stupid." Face flushed red with anger, Clark had to bite back the first words that came to mind. He could control his temper. It got him into too much trouble in high school, and he wasn't a kid anymore. He could control himself.

"No, just an idiot." Chloe glowered at him. "You've been like this for the last month, but it's been worse lately. If you have a problem with Lex, don't take it out on me."

"I don't have a problem with Lex."

"Right," she drawled skeptically. "Just like every other time you get like this, it isn't about Lex."

"Get like what?" Clark snapped, temper starting to fray.

Chloe just huffed out an exasperated breath. "And to think I thought you guys were being so cute before!"

That took a little wind out of his sail. Anger starting to mix with confusion, he asked, "What're you talking about now?"

The blond ignored him, stalking to the coffee table and setting down the DVDs she still held in her hand. Rubbing her forehead, she sat down with what Pete called her 'Thinking Face'.

Just when the silence was starting to feel awkward for Clark, she asked, "What did he say? Exactly."

"I don't see why that mat--"

"You don't find it strange that he all but shoved me out of the room, spent a few minutes giving you advice about women--in your own words--and then sent you in here to watch a movie with me while he's mysteriously tied up in his office with a phone call that just can't wait."

Well, when you put it that way...

"He must have said something to you."

Clark threw himself into a neighboring armchair. "I guess. I don't know."

"Details, Clark."

"Well..." He thought back to the conversation. "He made a couple of jokes about people hating Luthors." Clark waved Chloe off. "And no, it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Then he said he'd be busy for a few hours, before going into all this talk about opportunities and regrets. Then..." he trailed off, scratching the back of his head nervously. What had Lex said? Something about... "He said I had two hours alone with a beautiful woman. That's when he started giving me advice, telling me the direct approach worked best."

Chloe looked thoughtful through most of his rambling recollection, nodding at different points. However, the beautiful woman remark had her head jerking up, and she froze at his last sentence. Clark could practically hear the wheels spinning in her mind at the speed of light.

Laughing awkwardly, he smoothed down the hair he'd just rumpled behind his head. "I thought maybe he'd stuck another blind date in here. Or that maybe you were the one who was going to tell me about her. He said something about talking to you."

Clark watched, confusion starting to grow, as Chloe smacked her forehead. Staring at him as if he'd grown a second head, she gaped at him with her mouth hanging open. Fists clenched tight as he repressed the urge to make sure his hair wasn't sticking up or that a tentacle hadn't sprung from his forehead.

"Um, Chloe?"

"You're kidding me," she said, taking no notice of Clark's confused expression.

"Huh?"

She gave him a hard look before shaking her head. "Of course not. I really wonder about you sometimes, Clark Kent. Are you sure you're part of the human race?"

"Yeah," he answered back weakly, feeling sick as he tried to smile innocently.

"Uh huh," she said skeptically. Shaking her head again, she said in a tone so dry it reminded Clark immediately of Lex, "It didn't occur to you I might be the beautiful woman."

Clark blinked. "Huh?"

"That answers that."

"Chloe, what're you talking about?"

A look of pure horror suddenly appeared on Chloe's face. "You don't like me, do you Clark?"

"Like you?"

"Because that is such a bad idea."

"Bad idea? What are you--"

"I mean, you're definitely a hottie. Always have been. But you and me? Such a bad idea. You drive me crazy as it is. If we started dating, I'd be taking Prozac within a week."

"Hottie? Dating? I don't know what you're-, hey!"

Chloe snorted at Clark's affronted tone. "You know it's true. My investigations drive you batty, and your chronic lateness grates on my nerves. You hate the way I eat my hash browns, and watching you inhale sweets makes my glucose levels skyrocket. You have horrible fashion sense, listen to the crappiest music, and forget everything that isn't tattooed to your ass. Plus, your cologne makes me gag."

"Hey!" Clark said again, this time louder. "My dad bought that for me for Christmas. He said generations of Kents...never mind! And as for all that other stuff--"

"Please," Chloe said, starting to roll her eyes. She quickly stopped, sending him a dismayed look. "You really don't like me. Do you? Because I'm not saying you're a hopeless cause. Some lucky girl out there--"

It was Clark's turn to cut her off. He said irritably, "Whatever. And no, I don't like you. Right now I'm not even sure I want to talk to you. But thank you very much for that boost to my self-esteem."

"No problem," Chloe said dismissively. Clark made a disgusted sound, irritation ratcheting up a notch at the sudden cheery turn of her voice. "What are friends for, if not brutal honesty."

"I could use a little less brutal."

Chloe just laughed.

"And there's nothing wrong with my cologne."

Leaning over, she patted his hand condescendingly. "Of course there isn't."

"And you do eat your hash browns weird. Not to mention meatloaf. There's a reason Mom stopped inviting you over on meatloaf nights."

"Uh huh."

"And another thing. I wouldn't get so cocky about--"

"You do realize," Chloe said, talking right over him, "this puts a whole new spin on what's happening."

What?

"I should be insulted that it didn't even occur to you I might be the beautiful woman Lex mentioned."

"It's not like--"

"But I'm woman enough not to take it personally."

"Well, that's good, because I don't--"

Chloe plowed on. "It all makes sense now. I hadn't noticed anything before, even if today has to be the third time, which isn't like me. I mean, I'm usually on top of these things, and it's not like I'm the oblivious one. And Lex even gave me those tickets yesterday! I thought he was just being nice. I know how much you like Remy Zero, so I never suspected--"

"What are you talking about?" Clark broke in impatiently. He was tired of being ignored, and he hated when Chloe got on one of her kicks just after figuring something out.

"Oh, sorry." Chloe actually had the nerve to look a little startled to see Clark still in the room with her. Like she hadn't just been talking to him. "I was going to call you tonight. Lex scored two tickets to the Remy Zero concert, second row plus backstage passes. He completely snowed me!" she exclaimed, sounding impressed. "When he suggested I take you as a way to get your mind off of your econ exam, I thought it was a great idea. You think Lex could teach me to be that smooth?"

Clark sent her a withering look.

"Never mind," she muttered, answering her own question.

"Explain for the non-telepaths in the room."

"You remember last week when Lex had to leave for an emergency at the office? He suggested we stay for dinner since the food was already made and would just go to waste?"

Clark nearly hummed his agreement, his stomach definitely remembering. He'd mocked vegetable lasagna until he'd tasted Suzanne's, and she didn't make it that often. He'd eaten three helpings, plus taken the leftovers back to the dorm. He'd had to threaten dire death to Pete in order to get his roommate to leave them alone.

The mini fridge and microwave were the gods of dorm appliances.

"And Friday, when we were supposed to all go out for coffee?"

"Yeah. Lex got stuck in traffic." How could he forget? Lex complained about it for at least half an hour, threatening to call the head of KS Dot to discuss freeway expansion in Metropolis.

"While Lana had a paper suddenly assigned over the weekend and Pete's brother came to town for a surprise visit." Chloe tapped her chin pensively. "Do you suppose Lex would make a good criminal mastermind? I definitely see potential."

"Chloe."

"No, seriously. I'm willing to bet a certain someone pulled strings to make sure Pete and Lana were busy. Besides, when was the last time Lex ever stood you up? Bad traffic was a pretty lame excuse, now that I think about it."

Okay, so Lex had never stood him up. Not that Clark didn't more than make up for it, even if it wasn't his fault. Sometimes he had obligations because of his powers, and he couldn't just ignore a person in trouble.

It was also crazy to think Lex had anything to do with Lana's paper or Pete's brother. "Is this leading somewhere?" Clark asked grumpily. Did Chloe have to make a production out of everything?

"Elementary, my dear Watson," Chloe said in a campy English accent, drawing a reluctant grin out of Clark. "My initial deduction was: Lex is playing matchmaker between us because you'd declared undying love for yours truly."

Undying love?

"He thought you had the hots for me and tried to hook us up," Chloe translated with a huff, throwing her hands in the air.

"I know what you were saying," Clark sniped back. "I was just wondering if you were dropped on your head as a baby. Or else you're the one on crack. Undying love?"

Chloe sniffed, perky nose lifting into the air. "Upon realizing what an unlikely scenario that was," she continued, accent once more in place, "since a certain someone doesn't realize how ravishing another certain someone is..."

Clark groaned, dropping his head into his hands.

"...the only deduction left is that our dear Mr. Luthor is under the misconception that one of us is madly in love with the other." Chloe lifted one eyebrow. "And that would not be me."

"Well it's not me!"

"Though I do wonder where our dear Alexander ever got the idea," she mused. She smoothed out her shirt very primly. "I know I haven't given the impression of being taken with your person, so that only leaves one other logical deduction."

"Yeah," Clark replied sarcastically, lifting his head up to glare balefully at his friend. "He thought one of us should get laid, and since the other was such a slut..."

"Clark Jerome Kent!"

Clark ducked, scrunching down in preparation for the hit. Which never came. Peeking out from under his fingers hesitantly, he was greeted by the sight of a beaming Chloe.

"I didn't know you had it in you," she enthused, preening like a proud mama. "Such a vindictive bitch, even if you are a guy. Now if you could just turn that on Lana the next time she starts talking about art school. If I have to hear about France and European chic one more time..."

The couch called, so he slumped back down, well used to this complaint.

"...but this isn't the time," Chloe said hastily, noticing her flagging audience. "I'll even ignore the slut comment, though I wouldn't talk, booty boy. I seem to remember someone not handling his alcohol well and practically humping--"

"Chloe!"

She snickered evilly.

"That was just the one time."

"Don't forget the lap dance you got at Aquarius."

"That wasn't my fault! Pete paid someone to--"

"And those twins that tried to suck your tonsils out. I almost thought we had another mutant attack." Chloe giggled. "I think Pete swallowed his pretzel whole, and your face! I wish I'd had my camera."

Clark crossed his arms, huffing.

"Oh, don't be that way," Chloe said, slapping Clark's arm. "These are the type of things we go to college for."

"I thought that was for a degree, so we don't have to work at McDonalds for the rest of our lives."

"Well, that too." Chloe waved the comment away. Leaning back into the couch, she let out a sigh. "Seriously. Lex has to think one of us likes the other, and I know it's not me. That means you did something."

"Why is it my fault?"

Chloe just looked at him.

"It's not always me."

Her expression didn't change.

Fine. So maybe it was usually his fault, but not this time. There was no way he'd told Lex he liked Chloe. He'd remember something like that. Lex definitely hadn't said anything to him. If anything, he'd been the one to think Lex had a thing for Chloe.

None of this made sense.

"It's not because of something I said," Clark declared resolutely. "As for all the rest, you know that lap dance was a set up, and those twins thought I was someone else. The few dates I've had, the girls were either not interested or half-psychotic. It's like someone sprayed me with girl repellant."

"Cologne," Chloe sang under her breath.

"There's nothing wrong with how I smell!" Clark bellowed. Realizing how loud he'd been, he melted into a puddle of embarrassment as he tried to blend in with the massive cushions behind him.

"Of course not," Chloe said sweetly, patting his cheek. She laughed as Clark slapped her hand away. "Just ask Uncle Lex to take you shopping."

"I like my cologne," Clark said stubbornly.

"You have to admit, Lex smells divine," Chloe said, tone just a little too dreamy for Clark's taste.

However, he reluctantly nodded. "I guess."

Chloe settled down, causing Clark to feel an overwhelming sense of relief. Good gravy was she right. They wouldn't make a good couple because they would drive each other up the wall within a day. She liked to tease him way too much, nothing delighting her more than embarrassing either Clark or Pete. Other than completing a new investigation or writing a big article. Clark sometimes thought this might have been what having a sister would've been like, if he'd had one his own age.

He tried not to think of the little sister he'd lost over three years ago.

Chloe's contemplative silence grew uncomfortable when Clark realized he was being examined like a side of beef. He tried to be strong, to not cave, but eventually the power of The Stare broke him. He began squirming, inching away slowly from the crazy girl reporter next to him.

"Clark, have I ever told you about my cousin Billy?"

What in the heck?

"No," he said slowly, eyeing her warily. Experience had taught him that seemingly random comments or observations were things to be feared from Chloe.

"Great guy," she enthused. "One of my favorite cousins, though I don't see him that often."

"That's nice."

"He's dating the nicest guy, a computer programmer who works for Harley Davidson. Jared said he'd give me a tour sometime, if I'm ever out that way."

Oh, crap. Clark could feel the blood draining out of his face.

"Did I forget to mention, Billy's gay?" she said too brightly. "Or I suppose I should call him Bill. He's twenty-eight, after all..."

Clark hunched back into the couch.


Reaching up absently with the end of his pen to tap his cheek, Lex stared at the numbers in the brief. He'd gone over it twice, and it still wasn't working out. He was missing something, and it was driving him insane trying to figure it out.

Throwing his pen down, he rubbed at his eyes wearily. It was probably due to sleep deprivation. He hadn't been sleeping well and looking at reports all day, and now at home, wasn't helping. The words were starting to blur, his mind going numb, plus he'd been rereading sections two or three times over because he wasn't retaining any content.

In a rare fit of pique, he threw the report across his desk, not even wincing as papers fanned out to the edge of the desk and began drifting down to the floor.

Screw it. He could barely remember what he'd just read. What was the point in working further when he'd have to reread everything tomorrow? An utter waste of his time, and he had no one to blame but himself.

He went over to the sideboard, hand hesitating over the scotch. Swearing at himself, he picked up the decanter and poured himself a generous glass. Even as he took his first sip, he couldn't help feeling an automatic--and unwanted--sliver of guilt.

Clark had been giving him wounded looks for at least six months every time he drank. Like he was hurting the boy with each drink, like he was some sort of alcoholic. It was ridiculous. He'd been drinking since he was thirteen, and he could handle his liquor. Putting in ten-hour days as a rule, he was allowed to drink the occasional scotch or brandy. The boy was lucky he rarely popped pills anymore, not that Lex was stupid enough to confide in Clark about his occasional lapse into pharmaceutical bliss.

Kents had a fairly narrow view on acceptable behavior.

Telling himself this didn't stop the guilt needling at his conscious. Damn pretty green eyes. Now they were starting to haunt his days, too.

He lifted his glass again, pushing all thoughts of Clark out of his head. It worked for a full thirty seconds, until the effort was wasted by the sound of the study door opening. Lex didn't even have to turn around to know who it was.

The door clicked, closing softly. Footsteps crept across the floor, the sound of Clark's uncertainty loud and clear every time those steps halted, before they stopped just behind him. Lex remained silent. He'd gone through this for four years, and he had the program down pat. Clark would stand around awkwardly, shifting his feet like a recalcitrant schoolboy until he finally figured out how to say what he wanted. His face would reflect desperate yearning, his voice crackling with emotion. Sometimes melancholy, other times frustration, and almost always full of faith.

Perhaps his faith was well founded. Clark did win the fairy princess, even if he did need a bit of nudging and the occasional intervention. Not that Clark would ever admit he'd had help in winning Lana. He still believed that love flourished naturally, like if you were just good enough, you would be handed the love of your life. Lex didn't disabuse Clark of such notions, the harsh certainties of life better tempered into gentler ideals threaded with an edge of reality when dealing with the younger man.

Faith could only carry you so far, and the faint of heart really don't win the hand of fair ladies. Regardless of Clark's naive suppositions, love and warfare had more in common than not.

Conquering a heart was accomplished by an active campaign. It didn't happen slowly. A heart didn't fall quietly. It required action. Courting gifts. Sweet words. Softer touches. Anticipating the needs of your intended, and then providing those needs before being asked.

Lex had prepared himself mentally. An agenda was laid out on his computer. It had taken him two years to slowly maneuver the events and circumstances around Lana and Clark to subtly--and not so subtly--show Lana that Clark was the best choice for her. He planned to do the same with Chloe in a tenth of the time.

"Lex?"

Enter Clark. Who would hem and haw, possibly spending days or weeks doing so before admitting his crush on Chloe. Eventually, his admissions would escalate to love. No, not just love, but True Love.

Because people like Clark found True Love.

"Lex, are you all right?"

People like Lex...

A hand fell on Lex's wrist, touching him lightly. Lex allowed the glass to be pulled from his hand, and he couldn't help chuckling as he finally looked up to see Clark Kent's pretty, pretty face reflecting so much concern and warmth that it made something inside him twist until it hurt.

Fuck, did he hurt.

"It's a bit early, isn't it?" Lex's voice rolled out into the room, a lonely thing amid all the silence.

"What?" The high brow furrowed for a few seconds, before smoothing out into flawless golden skin. "Oh, the movie. We didn't watch one."

It was a dead giveaway. Not that Clark didn't let his secrets show in ways that would have made Lex prematurely white if he'd had hair, but that sun-kissed skin was like a sign announcing them. No one had skin like Clark's. Humans weren't that flawless. That perfect. Like the cover model of a magazine, only Clark didn't have an airbrush and a graphic artist to smooth out the imperfections.

Lex would never understand why no one else saw it. The uniqueness of Clark. The inhuman beauty. The special something that shone from him, surrounded him, like the shimmer of air above asphalt on a hot summer's day. Only it could all be his imagination for all that anyone else was aware of it.

Crazy Lex Luthor, Lord of Delusions.

A scornful noise emerged from Clark's throat; his voice was filled with disgust. "I've been trapped in that room with Chloe for the last hour. She told me the entire life history of her cousin Billy."

Lex absorbed this knowledge, just as he silently absorbed the touch of Clark's hand still on his wrist. He could feel the heat radiating from the large palm through the thin layer of his shirt. Pulling his mind from such mundane physical concerns, he concentrated on Clark's words. "You know cousin Billy?"

"No!" Clark exploded. His hold on Lex tightened unconsciously as his voice rose in agitation. "I've never met him. Never even heard of him until tonight. I have no idea why she even brought him up. Over. And over. And over!"

The chuckle that broke out of Lex startled even Lex. Shaking his head slightly, still chuckling, he easily slipped away from Clark. But not before claiming his drink, which Clark had foolishly left within reach. Sitting down on the couch, he lounged back, right arm thrown back and left hand drawing the glass to his lips. His lips twitched, wanting to smile, as he saw Clark walking towards him, consternation on his face.

Clark was adorable when he was trying to look stern, and the hint of displeasure was cute. Lex couldn't help berating himself for being so sentimental, yet the boy was undeniably cute when he was trying to get his way by silently broadcasting his disapproval. As if Clark Kent had any right to tell Lex Luthor what to do, and Clark Kent damn well expected Lex Luthor to do it fast.

It was cute, and Lex was definitely hopeless.

This acknowledgement deserved another drink. Possibly two or three.

The displeased look only deepened, but manners learned at apron strings firmly tied to Martha Kent held Clark's tongue. Casting Lex one last disgruntled look, he took a seat on the other end of the couch. It didn't do anything to Lex, other than cause some mild amusement, both at Clark and his own reaction. This must have showed on his face because Clark started to pout, arms crossing in front of his chest with righteous indignation.

So damn cute. It was mind boggling no one else saw this. Every time Lex did, he wanted to box the boy up and take him home. Only that worked quite well with stray kittens or puppies. Not so well on tame farm boys.

"You could show a little sympathy for my pain," Clark griped.

"So how is cousin Billy?"

"Hilarious. You're a real comedian." Clark made a face, and then said, irritated, "Fine. He's living a great life, absolutely fantastic. In fact, couldn't be better. He makes my life a black hole of despair in comparison."

"And Chloe?"

"Her life's just fine, too. I mean, it's only been an hour since you saw her!"

Lex just waited.

"Oh!" Sheepish was a good look on Clark. "She went back to the dorms. Something about quality time and blooming potential."

Lex merely cocked an eyebrow.

"How would I know?" Clark asked grumpily. "Maybe it was blossoming potential. It had something to do with flowers."

"You could probably still catch her," Lex prodded.

"What would I want to do that? I'm not crazy. I'd end up admitting I didn't understand what she was talking about, and then she'd just yell at me for not listening to her. Do you know what she did the last time that happened?"

Hopeless. Twenty years old, but still as hopeless with women as the day Lex had met him.

"No, you don't," Clark answered himself. "It wasn't pretty."

It was for Clark's own good that Lex intervened. A broad hint might be enough. "Don't you think she might appreciate company back to the dorms? It is late at night."

"It's only seven."

Once more, he'd underestimated Clark's ability to connect the dots. Lex looked at the open face staring at him without guile, huge moss green eyes blinking in confusion as a pink tongue darted out to lick nervously at primrose lips so full and pretty that they had to have been created just for sex. Preferably sex with Alexander Luthor.

Fuck.

There were times when Lex would bet his entire fortune that the boy next to him wielded his innocent facade and dumb farmboy-hick looks like a weapon. And then there were times like now, when Clark looked so breathtakingly bewildered, that he really didn't give a shit if Clark was playing him. The boy could wield away, and Lex would stand there like a hormone-ladled lummox as the sword arced towards his neck.

Ignoring his hardening cock, Lex tilted his head towards the door and tried again. "A pretty young girl. Going home alone, having to walk across campus in the dark? Enter you, the tall handsome young man, walking said pretty young girl to her door. Possibly even leaning down to kiss her cheek and wish her a good night."

Lex bit back a smile as Clark predictably blushed. Damn if it didn't make the brunette even lovelier, the proverbial 'pretty as a picture'. He could eat those blushes up like candy and still not get enough.

Now Clark would stammer, insist he didn't like Chloe that way, while casting pleading looks that begged for help on what to do next.

"You think I'm handsome?"

Or not.

Lex watched in amazement as his friend started to dart looks at him from the corner of his eyes, a heady mixture of bashfulness and shameless flirting. Or it would be flirting from anyone but Clark Kent, son of Jonathan Kent, native of Smallville, Kansas.

No. Clark was just embarrassed at the compliment. He'd never been able to take compliments well, never knowing what to say or how to act. Like Lex, he didn't get many thrown his way.

That was easily fixed. "Of course. You're an extremely attractive man. The woman who finally wins your heart will be very lucky." More like blessed. Very, very blessed. "In fact, I suspect Chloe's noticed just how appealing you are. She has since high school, and I'm sure just a few signs of reciprocation on your part will see her interest renewed. Assuming it ever stopped."

Clark blinked, dazedly, in that vacuous way he had. Like a stunned ferret. But sexy.

Clearly, specifics were called for. "I could call down, see if she's left the building. If she hasn't, you could catch a ride with her. And if she has left already, you should call her cell and meet somewhere for coffee." Waiting a beat, but with no response in sight, Lex plowed on in determination. "I'll have my driver drop you off. That way you can ride back with her. Walk her across campus like we discussed, as well as a kiss goodnight. Wars are won by winning one battle at a time. Love, much like war, is composed of small battles as well."

"Battles?"

Lex frowned, the dazed expression on Clark's face not dissipating at all. If anything, the boy seemed even more confused, possibly even a touch disappointed. "Yes, battles. It might seem overwhelming, telling her how you feel. Kissing her probably seems intimidating, and being more aggressive is understandably overwhelming. Rejection is a universal human fear. So start small. A peck on the cheek to show interest. Join her for meals on campus, making sure to sit next to her. Arrange to meet in the library for a few study dates, or set a time to watch her favorite TV show with her."

"Is that what you would do?"

Lex paused. It was such an atypical response from Clark. He usually nay-sayed Lex's ideas, spouting trite if impassioned ideals on how love just happens. Or he smiled widely, thanking Lex even as he politely declined whatever Lex offered.

Pursing his lips, he responded, "Yes, though tailored to the situation and individual."

"Seduction 101 by Lex Luthor?"

Frowning slightly, Lex stiffened. "You need to show her that you care about her enough to know her. Memorize her schedule so you can ask about her day, specifically about the class she'd attended or the professor she'd had. Find out who her friends are, what kind of impact they make on her life, and ask how they're doing. Become familiar with her likes and dislikes, so you can order her favorite coffee for her when you hang out at Grounds Around, or you could mention a sweater you saw in the store that she might like to check out because it's her favorite color. It's often the little things that win campaigns."

An odd look passed over Clark's face.

More uncertainly, Lex added lightly, "You could take it one step further. Maybe buy the sweater, though in my experience gifts aren't always acceptable depending on the honor code of the intended recipient."

Relief trickled through him as Clark let out a snort of laughter.

"Show interest, Clark. It's the way to conquer a heart, reluctant or otherwise." Completely genuine statement, and the simple honesty surprised Lex. He wasn't this straightforward as a rule.

"Is that what you do?" Clark asked quietly, expression intense.

"Only for the ones that really matter." Most didn't warrant such effort. As it was, being a Luthor meant little to no effort was necessary to attract willing bodies. Money more than made up for interest, but Clark didn't need to hear that.

That odd look flashed again, but the dawning smile had Lex casting his mind for more examples. "If you know what foods she likes, take her out someplace that will cater to her preferences."

Clark broke in unexpectedly, asking in a hopeful voice, "Like hamburgers? Going to burger joints or mom and pop places instead of going to the new Italian place on the corner?"

Taken aback at the peculiar reference, Lex paused. Thinking it over, he nodded slowly. "Well, yes. Though I'm not sure if she would actually prefer--"

"What else," Clark cut in breathlessly.

He shot a sharp, suspicious look at Clark, but the boy merely gave him a half-hopeful smile that had Lex caving immediately. He thought about what else might work in Clark's favor. "Her parents, or in this case Gabe. It helps if he likes you. Be unfailingly polite to him, always smile when you see him, and spend a few minutes talking to him if you visit her while she's home."

Not that Clark would have a problem. Most of the adults in Smallville thought Clark was a nice young man, and even if Gabe didn't live in Smallville anymore, it didn't change that impression. In fact, Gabe probably had years of hearing Chloe talk about what a great guy Clark was.

"It isn't imperative Gabe likes you, but it eases things if he does. You were spoiled with Lana; Nell moved before you started dating her. Living in the same town as Gabe means he might hear things about you, and you want to make sure those things are good. His sphere of influence with Chloe is greater due to immediate access, and you don't want him as your enemy."

"No, I don't," Clark said softly.

Lex missed the softening in Clark's features as he went on, nor did he see the sadness being directed at him. "Find out her hobbies, then share them with her. Not only will it flatter her if you put in the effort to learn how to do the things she enjoys, but it'll also gives you a commonality that you can talk about and an activity you can share. In addition, it allows you to spend more time with her."

"Like football," Clark said suddenly. "I could learn more about her favorite team. Maybe ask her to go to a game with me or offer to host a game night in my dorm room."

"Yes. Only I'm not sure Chloe's a great fan of football. You need to concentrate on her interests, even if your own become secondary."

Clark waved away Lex's concern, gesturing for him to continue.

He couldn't help but feel flattered. It wasn't that Clark didn't listen to him, but he rarely listened so avidly to Lex's advice. More often than not, the brunette asked more than a few probing questions, usually inferring to ideals clearly taught at the knee of Jonathan Kent, implying Lex's advice was tainted or morally questionable. Ego puffing up a little, Lex added in a pleased voice, "Find out what she really cares about--"

"Isn't that the same thing as interests?"

And some things never change. Lex clarified. "No, not necessarily. You want to discover what she holds dear. What's most important. Discover what she loves, what moves her, and then become involved. Help in those matters if you can. You know journalism--"

"Like her friends." Lex paused at the sudden assertion. Clark straightened in his seat, leaning in towards Lex, hands moving to highlight his point. "Her friends are really important to her. So I should show an interest in her friends. Help them if they need it. Make sure they're happy because that'll make her happy."

"That's true," Lex said reluctantly. "But your friends are her friends, so it isn't a concern. I'm sure getting involved at the paper, maybe offering to proofread her articles, would be more conducive."

He really needed talk to Clark, although he had yet to figure out how to approach this issue. The younger man had a savior complex a mile wide, and it was going to get him in trouble sooner or later.

Technically, it already had in the past, but Lex had bailed him out up to this point. Clark should have learned his lesson with Ryan Kelley; a kidnapping charge and court sentence tended to teach real fast about thinking before acting, only Lex had intervened. As much as Lex wanted to be able to save Clark from himself, there were limits to what he could do. Someday, Clark would push past those limits, and the brunette would have to pay a high price, probably higher than he could afford.

Furthermore, Lex might not be around the next time Clark got in over his head or did something reckless. Saving people was a noble endeavor, but who would save Clark from his own impulsiveness? His lack of long-term vision or ability to see the bigger picture?

Clark really needed to start thinking about himself first.

"Chloe really cares about you," Lex offered, ignoring the pang in his own chest. If Clark wouldn't put himself first, then he'd have to do it for him. "She'll make you happy. But you have to show her that you care about her. That you put her first, that she isn't a fill-in for Lana."

Not that Lex believed the likelihood of that. Clark Kent and Lana Lang, star-crossed lovers and the fairy tale waiting to happen. Even when they weren't seeing each other, the echo of Clark-and-Lana hung around each like an aura. Lana responded to separation by finding another big, buff, safe guy to date. Clark responded by not dating at all, wearing his loneliness like a hair shirt, his forlorn existence a testament to the trueness of his love.

Chloe was exactly what Clark needed.

"You have to make time for her." Something Clark wasn't good at doing for anyone. "When she wants to talk, drop everything. Listen to her. Whatever you're doing can be taken care of later. It's vital she knows her place in your life, and a woman needs to know she comes first."

Clark inched closer, clearly listening. Good. Maybe he'd do the same for Chloe. The brunette cleared his throat, and then asked, "I can do that. Maybe I haven't been too good at that in the past, but I'm starting to get the idea on how much I've been missing out."

Was Clark finally realizing how much he'd passed up by fixating on Lana? Not that Lex didn't understand Lana's appeal, especially to someone like Clark. Yet, he'd always favored Chloe as the better match for his friend, at the very least she'd bring some optimism into his life. Putting Lana and Clark together was similar to combining Tori Amos with Valium.

Practically suicidal.

"In fact, I'm listening right now." Clark reached out with his hand and touched Lex's arm lightly. "What else would you do?"

Blue eyes flickered to the hand on his arm, and then up at Clark. Sincerity beamed back at him. Lex wondered for a moment if he was being patronized, but decided Clark wouldn't do that. It just wasn't in his makeup.

Nevertheless, perhaps he was making this too complicated. Clark wasn't exactly the most munificent of individuals. Generous of heart, giving of physical aid, but beyond that? Lex knew his friend, and Clark would need to take gradual steps in learning to romance a soul. Of making another feel as if Clark's world revolved around her. Because in reality, Clark's world revolved around his secrets.

Even at his most cagey, Clark's secrets hung about him as unfailingly as mist clung to a moor. It had been one of the main draws of his curiosity. What could Clark Kent be so desperate to hide that the very act of hiding them became part of his identity? What could be so important that your secrets became the core of who you are? What would someone who could survive being hit by a car head-on at 60 mph, who could walk away without a scratch, have to fear?

Simple. Keep it simple. "You could start with a classic, and nothing's more classic than flowers and chocolate. But as I'm sure you've found in your own romantic escapades, women tend to take this as either a declaration or simple laziness, so it can backfire."

"Declaration?" Lips tilted up on a very slow, leisurely smirk.

The teasing tone caught Lex short, and he had to snap himself back to attention. Damn. That one was new. If Clark used that sexy smirk on Chloe, he wouldn't need to worry about flowers. "Declaration. Of intent, usually in an act of declaring or announcing one's interest in courting."

"You're so literal." Clark closed the remaining distance between them, warm thigh pressed against warm thigh, his hand still on Lex's forearm as he leaned up and pressed a kiss to a smooth cheek.

Shock hit Lex first. Then disbelief. The imprint of soft lips burning into his skin like a brand, he turned his head to find himself nose to nose with Clark.

"Isn't that what you said? A kiss on the cheek...to show interest?" The very limber twenty-year-old twisted around, swinging one leg over until he was kneeling into the couch, knees on both sides of Lex, just hovering over him. He pressed in close, this time kissing the other cheek. "Only I don't want to say good night."

"Clark?" Lex pushed back into the cushions behind him, his hands up on Clark's chest, holding him back. "I don't think--"

Clark shook his head, a faint flush starting to bloom in his cheeks. Swallowing hard, he whispered, "I'd rather say good morning."

Holy fuck. His eyes feeling like they had to be the size of saucers--at least--Lex openly gaped. His hands felt numb as the brunette wriggled in closer, practically in his lap. No, definitely in his lap, which felt warm and tingly as six feet four inches of gorgeous male pressed down and in.

Oh fuck, he was in so much trouble.

An erection pressed into his hip, letting him know just how earnest Clark's offer of 'good morning' was. Which, if Lex was completely honest with himself, was something he'd love to hear from Clark, preferably as he was fucking the brunette awake or as Clark was fucking him into consciousness. He was an adaptable guy, and he liked to think of himself as being open to options. However, this wasn't Clark.

Or rather, it was Clark, but not really. It wasn't like this would be the first time Clark started acting like a different person. Like some inverse version of himself, with some internal switch having been flipped. Clark. Not Clark. It didn't take a brain surgeon to figure out which he was dealing with right now.

"This isn't you," Lex said, valiantly trying to push Clark back. He wasn't surprised when he failed. Biting back a groan as Clark squirmed a little--his own growing erection wasn't helping matters--Lex tried to stop his friend before he did something he'd regret. Because Clark was his friend first and foremost. "As flattered as I am, I think we need to take a moment to figure out where this is coming from."

"I'm"--kiss--"making"--kiss--"a"--kiss--"declaration."

Lex mentally let loose every swear word he knew--in all nine languages--the internal dialogue a running loop as the rest of his brain started to panic. Because it also didn't take a brain surgeon to figure out which version of Clark was currently sitting in his lap, blushing like a virgin bride, peppering his face with soft, dry kisses. Hell. Just the hope shining from Clark's face, not naked lust or dark sensuality, clued Lex in as to who wasn't making an appearance.

Clark altered by red meteorite, he knew how to handle. Clark truly attempting to seduce him, a fair assumption of what was currently going on in his lap, was so far out of the range of probability that it was messing with his equilibrium.

Nothing messed with Lex Luthor's equilibrium.

"Oh God, Lex," Clark breathed out, grinding down eagerly into Lex's hip, moving on pure instinct. Head dropping down, nuzzling his cheek against Lex's shoulder, the soft material was a backdrop to his senses as he took a deep breath. "You smell so good."

Except Clark Kent.

Clark covered a large range of exceptions in his life. Usually, this served to disquiet him. At times, possibly even frighten him, if a Luthor could feel something as plebeian as fear. For the life of him, Lex couldn't seem to care all that much at the moment.

Right now, Lex felt like granting Clark anything the boy asked for.

Anything.


He was in heaven.

Chloe was right. God, Lex smelled soooo fantastic. Sexy, perfect, and so Lex it was making his insides feel all slow and heavy. In a good way, like even his body was slowing down so that each minute could stretch out into its own eternity.

Each eternity spent with Lex.

And the feel of him! Used to slight curves and plump softness, Lex was all hard planes and lean muscle. As much as the difference should be freaking him out, it wasn't. It was just the opposite. He was more excited, more turned on, than he'd ever been in his life.

No, even more. He'd never felt this way. Like very cell was alive, and each one was calling for the man in front of him.

His nervousness was starting to fade as he rocked into Lex, the answering hardness against him letting him know he was doing something right. That Lex wanted him, too. That he wasn't making a fool of himself.

A blessing, really. He'd never known how into him Lana had ever been when they'd messed around. There was no mistaking Lex's response.

"Ohhhh." The word was drawn out of him, slipping from his mouth like an ache. Only the good kind. He breathed in again, trying to imprint Lex's smell into himself, the scent of cologne, soap, sweat, and Lex all mixed together into a heady bouquet. He pressed a kiss to the shoulder under his mouth.

"Clark," Lex croaked out, voice cracking. "We need to talk."

"No talking," he responded immediately, pressing another kiss to the dark blue shirt, firm shoulder just as lean and toned as the rest of Lex. Talking was overrated. Clark was done with talking. After two weeks of desperate longing, of hopeless despair, of believing he'd never have the chance to be with the one he loved, he wanted to act.

"So good," he murmured. He slid his palms down Lex's arms, the feel of warm flesh soaking through, making his palms tingle. "You feel so good."

He'd been dismayed as Lex had begun giving him advice on Chloe, the blond's conclusion about Lex's motives proving true. Lex had thought Clark wanted Chloe for some reason, and in typical Lex fashion was determined to provide Clark what he wanted by whatever means possible.

Advice fell from Luthor lips quite easily, Clark long having realized the Luthors had strong opinions on just about everything, including romance. Yet, it had become clear with each word that Clark really was an idiot, and he really did deserve the title of Stupid Man of the Year, five years running.

Lex couldn't have declared his own feelings more clearly if he'd sent an entire hothouse full of flowers to Clark's dorm room. Importing all the chocolate in Switzerland couldn't have captured Clark's heart so completely as hearing one by one all the ways Lex had been showing his love over the years.

He didn't deserve Lex.

But that wouldn't stop him from keeping him.

"No," Lex said, pushing against Clark's chest with his hands, even as the rest of him fell back into the leather cushions, hips rocking up to meet Clark. "Fuck. Clark. Stop. We can't do this."

Clark raised his head, pressing kisses to the smooth line of jaw conveniently nearby. He whispered, "Why not?" and pressed another on the corner of Lex's mouth. "I love you."

"Fuck," Lex hissed, the tension in his body draining away until he lay limp. The palms on Clark's chest balled into fists, clutching at the flannel tightly. Head still tilted back, the long pale neck an open invitation for kissing, he closed his eyes. "This isn't happening."

"Yes it is," Clark argued. Frowning a little, he reached up to place a soft kiss against Lex's lips. "Lex, what's wrong? You do love me...don't you?"

He couldn't have gotten it wrong. Could he? Insecurity began to gnaw at him, and he grew still, the solid form below him painfully too good all of a sudden.

What if Lex didn't love him? What if he'd heard what he'd wanted to hear?

A shudder passed through Lex, catching Clark by surprise. Was something wrong? Was he doing something wrong? Maybe it was him. Maybe he wasn't doing it right.

Electric blue eyes, full of heat and promises, shot open. Threading his fingers in Clark's hair, Lex drew Clark closer, not quite yanking but not quite gentle either. His gaze locked onto Clark's, blue eyes searching for something, intent and precise as a laser. Clark shivered under the intensity of that gaze, even as it made heat pool in his stomach.

"Are you real?"

Confused, Clark nodded, at least as much as the hand holding him allowed.

"And this is real?"

Understanding broke through, and a smile crept onto his face. He knew about wanting something so bad, and then not believing when you really had it. "Uh huh."

"You love me?"

"Yeah." Clark's heart broke at little at the confusion in that beloved voice. It was amazing how Lex's pain gave him the courage to say again, "I love you."

"And you want me?" Lex asked, more demand than question. "You want this? Us?"

Clark pressed his erection into Lex, twisting into him as he leaned in, chest against chest. Oh yes, did he. Whatever 'this' was. Tucking his face into Lex's neck, swallowing hard, he nodded.

Lex tugged at his hair. "No. Look at me."

How could Clark not obey that 'don't fuck with me' voice? He lifted his head, cheeks on fire. Spontaneous combustion seemed a definite possibility. He'd never had to be so candid before in his entire life, laying everything out on the line, including his heart, open to stomping if he'd assumed wrong.

He'd never crawled into anyone's lap before either, throwing himself at them unabashedly.

It was a night for firsts.

Watching Clark carefully, Lex asked, "This isn't some experiment? Dipping your toe into untried waters, testing out the other side on a user-friendly model? Because I won't be used as some sort of experimental playmate."

"No!" He looked at Lex, horrified. He wouldn't do that to Lex.

Admittedly, he still wasn't sure what to call what he was doing. Maybe he'd freak out about it a little more later; in fact, he probably would. Maybe later he'd wonder if what he was doing was smart or not. Right or not. If it was all a mistake. Yet, he couldn't imagine how it could be. It felt so natural, so right, that he knew he couldn't turn away from what he felt for Lex.

He wouldn't turn away from this.

He wouldn't turn away from Lex.

"I wouldn't do that," Clark added, genuinely hurt. "I loved you as a friend first. I wouldn't use you that way."

Lex looked a little skeptical, but he didn't say anything.

"I wouldn't."

"This isn't some late adolescent rebellion? An attempt to make your father angry?"

"No!"

"Because nothing would tick your dad off more than you getting involved with me. Bad enough his son likes men, but to be lured away by Lionel Luthor's son...the son of his nemesis, the one person he hates most in the world...it would be validating every bad thing he's ever said about me and my intentions toward you. You couldn't stick it to him harder if you tried."

Clark felt as if a thousand pounds of kryptonite were pressing down on his chest. He hadn't thought about his dad. Or his mom. Or really about anyone, only how miserable and jealous he'd been feeling. It wasn't like Lex loved him back or anything, so why would he?

The fingers in his hair loosened, and they began to slowly comb through the locks. It felt so nice, Clark leaned into the caresses without thinking.

"Hey," Lex said softly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."

"Yeah, you did." Clark felt his shoulders falling. He leaned into Lex, arms slipping down around his waist, hugging him close. It was just as comforting as hugging his mom, only better because it was Lex. How could his heart feel like it was breaking at the same time that it felt like it was finally being filled with so much love? "He's going to hate me."

"No," Lex denied, fingers still brushing his hair. "He won't. Your dad would never hate you." A strong arm slipped around his back, rubbing it soothingly. "Now me, on the other hand, I'm fair game."

"That's not funny," Clark sniffed, rocking into Lex. He pressed his face to the crook of Lex's neck, the spot fast becoming his favorite. "Not funny at all."

"I wasn't joking," Lex retorted dryly. Which was probably true; Lex would be an easy target for blame. "No one could ever hate you, least of all your father."

"Ever?" Clark whispered against Lex's skin.

Lex's hand stilled in his hair, pausing for a moment before returning to caress him. "Not ever." His arm tightened around Clark. "Tell me this isn't some sort of game. Or some sort of set-up, a way to use my feelings to punish me for something. Or a way to manipulate me into getting what you want. Because all you have to do is ask, Clark. All you've ever had to do was ask."

"No! I swear!" Voice crumbling, he flinched as if he'd been hit. "I wouldn't ever..." He pushed away, taking refuge near the desk, his back to Lex. "Not to you. Not to anyone."

"Tell me, Clark."

Breath hitching, Clark turned to face Lex. Even if Lex was the one hurting him now. "This isn't a game. I'm not making this up, or pretending to love you. I'm not trying to punish you, or manipulate you, or anything horrible like how your dad treats you. I'm not him, Lex." Clark's voice lowered. "I'm me."

"Okay, Clark," Lex said, voice just as low. "I'm sorry. I had to know. This...you can't blame me. This isn't like you. You don't...feel...this. Or you didn't."

"I do."

"Lana for nearly your entire life," Lex pointed out reasonably. Clark wondered what he was really thinking. "There have been other girls, though granted, none that made more than a passing impression because of your consuming love for Lana Lang. It's always been about Lana. And now Chloe--"

"That's not true," Clark broke in. "I don't...not like that...for Chloe. She's just a friend."

"You told me..." Lex trailed off.

In that split second, Clark had a moment of clarity. It was like everything around him slowed down, froze, as if the cosmos was falling into alignment. Something just clicked inside of him, and it was as if for one tenth of a second he could see everything. Hear everything. Know everything. Like the universe just opened up for him, and he could feel the universe taking a breath...

He had a choice.

He could take everything back. Tell Lex he was confused, that he was feeling lonely, that he didn't mean it. He'd confused friendship with something more.

And Lex would let him.

Lex would draw back, pulling everything inside until he was as suave and cool as always. Lex would smile at him, maybe even clap him on the shoulder lightly to show there were no hard feelings, and he'd let Clark walk out the door. They'd never talk about it. Lex would pretend it never happened, and the next time Clark came to visit, he'd ask about his day and whether Professor Frohlich had talked him into majoring in philosophy yet, or what interesting lecture had Professor Leitch given.

Lex would never touch him again. Not in that way. He'd never say anything remotely untoward, and he'd never, ever say 'I love you'.

It would be like hitting the rewind button, and Lex would erase tonight as if it never happened.

Or...he could stay here. In Lex's arms. Possibly in Lex's bed.

Everything would change. His dad might hate him, regardless what Lex might think. Jonathan Kent was a forgiving man, a generous man, but he was Kansas born and bred. The son of a state so red it practically bled as you tilled the soil, he was a God-fearing Christian who was unapologetically Republican, as conservative as the day was long. Morals were the backbone of a good life, a Christian life, the kind of morals that were unbendable, and homosexuals weren't moral by any means.

Bi or gay, it wouldn't matter. In fact, being bi would probably be worse. It implied a choice, a decision to be 'unnatural'. To break God's law.

His dad didn't say much about homosexuality. His dad didn't say a lot about things he didn't approve of, other than the Luthors. He tended to concentrate on speaking on the things he did approve of.

In some ways, the fear of the unknown, of having no idea how his dad would react, was worse than knowing the end result would be hatred.

It wouldn't stop there.

Clark could care less about what society at large would think. He'd been an outcast all his life. People had been talking about him for years, whispering about the orphan, the adopted kid, the clumsy geek. But Chloe. Pete. Lana. His mom. His grandpa and grandma, and all the other family that came with them when Mom started talking to her family again. They'd be on the line.

Then there was Lex.

He could lose Lex. This could ruin the friendship. He was bad at relationships; he knew this. Lana had told him enough times, and he couldn't argue with her very valid points. He'd made her unhappy as often as he'd made her happy. Lex didn't have a great track record either. Could their friendship withstand a broken heart on either side?

Yet, he could gain Lex. His best friend, who could be his lover, his everything. They could share a closeness Clark knew in the deepest part of his heart that they both needed. No one else understood him like Lex. No one else cared about him like Lex. Lex, who killed a man for him, to save his father. Lex, who took back a truck, but in return took care of Clark's friends.

Lex, who somehow crept into his heart without Clark even noticing.

All this flashed through his mind in a moment, the knowing there before him, two separate futures stretched out in front of his mind's eye.

In the end, it wasn't a hard choice.

...and the universe exhaled. Time moved once again, the clarity blurring into fuzziness. For one last second, Clark almost felt like if he just looked, he'd see the secrets of the universe laid out before him, but it all slipped away like sand through his fingers. Super-sensitive awareness fell back to plain old alien-sensitive awareness, and he was left feeling content.

There was only one choice he could make. The choice he always made when it came to love.

Better to reach for it, to try. He might only touch air or he might grasp a gold ring, but either way at least he'd made the attempt. Not trying at all only left you with nothing.

Something inside of him wouldn't give up so easily on being loved and loving someone.

Clark looked up at Lex, and he explained gently, "I don't want her, Lex, and I don't want Lana. It's you. Maybe it was always supposed to be you, only I didn't figure it out until recently. I love you, and even if I have to say it a hundred times, I'll still love you. Doubting me, doubting yourself, won't change that."

"When did you get so confident?" Doubt still clung to Lex, not that Clark could blame him.

"Just now," he answered honestly. "I spent the last two weeks being miserable, hating Chloe, feeling petty and mean because I was so jealous."

Surprised flashed across Lex's face.

"And then I started listening to you, and I heard you for the first time. Really heard you." He moved to kneel down by Lex, touching his knee. "I know you love me, and now that I know, I'm never letting you go."

"Never is a long time."

"Then it's a good thing I like you so much."

Lex stared at Clark. When he finally reacted, it was to snort softly. Lips quirking into a half-smile, he said, "It isn't that easy."

"Nothing worth having in life is," Clark said, the pressure on his chest finally easing. Ironic that his dad often said that to Clark, but it was true. Lex had never been easy, even declaring his friendship for the Luthor heir had been an uphill battle. "I don't want easy. I want you, Lex."

"But--"

Clark leaned in, kissing Lex. When he drew back, he added, "We'll work through the rough parts. And the bad parts. And the really awful parts. If we want it bad enough, we'll work it out."

"You know this?"

"No." He didn't. He'd lived it. "Lana and I didn't want it bad enough. My parents did. I know you think I'm naive, but I understand that relationships are hard work. I'm not stupid."

"No, you're not," Lex agreed quietly. It was then that Clark knew that everything would be okay. Because Lex nodded his head, and for the first time that night, his smile reached his eyes.

His heart leapt as Lex pressed a chaste kiss against his lips, the first from Lex, the gesture tender and sweet. Smiling crookedly, Lex confessed, "I don't do long term relationships well. I have two annulled marriages with two incarcerated Luthor brides. The few relationships I've had in the past usually ended because my father slept with my lovers. The moral being that I can trust no one, of course."

Stomach turning, Clark felt his jaw drop.

"I guess I should warn you now," Lex added, noticing Clark's reaction. "There's a chance Dad will proposition you at some point."

Clark shuddered.

"I don't have a great track record with trust; betrayal has been--"

"I wouldn't--"

It was Lex's turn to shut Clark up with a kiss. Clark gasped as a tongue flickered on his lips, head angling as he opened his mouth to let Lex in. He felt a small flare of disappointment as Lex kept the kiss relatively tame, stroking inside for a few moments before leaving Clark wanting more.

"I'm not saying you will." For a moment, Lex looked so lost, Clark wanted to hold him tight and never let go. "But I...what I feel for you...Clark, I care about you. What I've felt for other people, as much as I cared...I've loved only a handful of people in my life, and you're...I can't do casual with you. No quick fucks in the dark. No walk on the wild side. No college experimentation to be put away when it's time to procreate and please your parents. If I...with you...I think it'd be more serious than any other relationship in my life."

Clark had been worried at first. Lex was seldom unable to express himself, and he'd never seen the older man at a loss for words. But as he'd spoken, Clark had felt hope bubbling up inside. Because he felt the same way.

"Oh, God," Clark breathed out, "Me, too." Thrilled that he and Lex were on the same page, that they both wanted the same things, he started to inch up his way up, leaning in towards Lex.

"Whoa, down boy," Lex said, sticking a hand in the middle of Clark's chest. "Declarations of mutual affection aside, don't you think you're moving a little fast?"

Clark just stared.

Fast? He wasn't stupid. All the women that came and went through the doors of the penthouse or the castle weren't around to play chess. Most rarely stayed longer than a weekend, and even more rarely made a second appearance.

Did Lex not want him?

Because Lex Luthor? He didn't do anything but fast. From thinking to a takeover to the women in his life. Even his cars! The only drawn out romance Lex had indulged in was Helen, and Clark was still convinced there was a lot more behind that relationship than he'd ever been aware of. The whole thing with Helen hadn't made sense at the time, and a cagey look still hovered behind Lex's eyes whenever the second former Mrs. Luthor was mentioned.

Lex might be one of his best friends, but Clark knew him all too well. He rarely did anything without an ulterior motive, and Lex's ulterior motives had ulterior motives.

The only exception was usually Clark.

Usually.

However, Clark had other considerations that were more important at the moment than Lex's unfortunate tendencies towards Machiavellian intrigues. Like how he was madly in love with Lex--even if this was a recent epiphany--and he might never have this chance again. Lex had been into it earlier. What if this was his one shot?

What if he only got once chance, one opportunity, and he let it slip by?

Even if Lex changed his mind in the morning, even if Clark ended up having only one night like so many of Lex's past lovers, at least he'd have had the one night.

Clark was sick and tired of regrets.

Swallowing all his courage, he crawled back up into Lex's lap, pressing himself into him and capturing his lips in a kiss before any more protests could fall out. Lex only struggled for a second or two--Clark very resolutely did NOT notice--before tangling his fingers into Clark' hair, kissing him back. Angling Clark's head to his satisfaction, Lex leaned up and kissed him harder.

It made something inside Clark shiver.

Clark wasn't sure if it was because Lex was under him, or Lex was being aggressive, or if it was simply because it was Lex. Tongue caressing him in the inside, stroking him boldly, it was all about wet and more and deeper. When Lex bit his lower lip, Clark gasped; when Lex licked behind his right ear, he shuddered hard. But it was okay, because Lex was there, hands petting him underneath his shirt.

It was glorious and terrifying and hotter than he could ever imagine. The feel of Lex's fingertips on his skin, tracing along his back. His fingers trembled as they fumbled to unbutton buttons that seemed insanely tiny. Scared that Lex might still change his mind, that it might all go wrong, he practically jumped when hands came down on his own. Long, graceful hands worked with him, helping him.

Sliding his hands in the open shirt, he sighed at the skin on skin sensation. Lex was smooth, which was a surprise, and pale, which wasn't. Eyes darting up, he caught a distant, blank look on Lex's face. It hit him, like the proverbial light bulb turning on, that Lex was bald and that maybe it didn't stop at just his head. That it didn't stop at his chest.

The thought was shocking. Even scandalous. Just thinking about it caused his eyes to pop wide open.

It made him angry the moment he realized that maybe that distant aloof look was a defense.

In the fifth grade, he'd been shunned by the entire class--other than Pete and Greg--when he'd shot up like a bean pole, teased relentlessly and given the 'freak look'. How much worse would it have been if he'd lost all his hair everywhere?

The ache of that thought had him immediately making eye contact with Lex. Pressing his palms against Lex's chest, he kept their gazes locked as he lowered his head. Breaking off only at the last moment, he softly kissed the center of Lex's chest. A soft gasp above him encouraged him to repeat the gesture again and again.

Skimming fingertips from abdomen to shoulders, he ghosted along in a light touch, lips moving over skin that was quickly becoming addictive. Curious if Lex would taste just as addictive, he tentatively flicked his tongue out. Encouraged by the hands that tightened on him, he licked his way down, excitement growing at every sound or twitch Lex made.

Somehow, he wasn't surprised when Lex decided to take back control. Hands glided up, under his shirt. Clark gasped, head jerking up, as nimble fingers tweaked his nipples. He nearly came in his pants at the dark, wicked smirk he received. Leaning in, Lex began nibbling and kissing along his neck, hands continuing to stroke and pinch. Pleasure swirled down his spine, heat pooling at his center, cock aching with a need for something.

Mind exploding with sensations, desire painting colors in his psyche that all read 'Lex', Clark found himself on his back, pressed into the cushions. A lick on his lower lip had him opening up to a kiss that was hotter and wilder than any fantasy. Teeth, lips, tongue, hands, a warm body rubbing against him, it was overwhelming and magnificent and so, so good.

He nearly jumped out of his skin as a hand wrapped around his cock, his hard length practically springing free from his underwear and into the open. A skilled swirl of a thumb touched the head, teasing the slit and spreading pre-come. Clark watched, mesmerized, as Lex lifted his free hand up and very deliberately licked his palm. Reaching down, Lex began touching and stroking him with both hands, which caused an embarrassing moan to rumble out of Clark.

This only seemed to please Lex, which made it a little less embarrassing, and Clark gave himself up to the experience. A fingernail scraping along the vein underneath had his breath hitching. A twisting grip sliding along his length had his spine melting. A finger slipping to that sensitive spot right behind his balls had fire racing through his veins. It wasn't long before he was coming with a gasp, trying desperately not to make any noise and still feeling self-conscious, before crumpling into the couch with a soft exhale of breath.

Limp and sated, he hummed without thinking as soft kisses were pressed to his jaw. When Lex reached his mouth, Clark's lips curved up into a dopey grin.

"Clark?"

The dopey grin remained, his heart overflowing with happiness at his name being whispered across his lips in that tone in that voice.

Lex's voice.

He opened his eyes, breath catching at the open expression on Lex's face. Adoration shone from blue-grey eyes so clearly, so deeply. Possibly even love was there, though Clark was afraid he might be seeing what he wanted to see.

The hardness being pressed into his thigh made him flush. God, he was so selfish. Moving his hand down to palm Lex through his slacks, he asked, "Um, do you want me to..."

Lex let out an amused huff, even as his lips tipped up in a wicked smile. "I 'want you to'...a lot, in multiple ways and positions. But I was thinking of saving that for the time being."

Clark felt the heat in his cheeks grow hotter.

He tried to wait patiently the next few minutes, Lex just watching him, determined to let Lex lead. However, he eventually couldn't take it anymore and began to squirm a little under that unrelenting gaze. It seemed to break whatever spell had ensnared Lex.

"Come to bed with me."

His heart caught in his throat, Clark stared. The open expression on Lex's face began to close, which caused Clark to panic, and jolting out of his shock, he yelped, "Yes."

Seeing Lex's face clear, Clark let out a breath of relief. Crap, he'd almost screwed that up, but he hadn't been expecting the invitation. He'd been half-afraid Lex might freak out.

"Yes," he repeated, telling himself not to mess this up. He had the feeling he'd regret it for the rest of his life if he did.


It was a little intimidating, being in Lex's bedroom.

Okay. It was a lot intimidating.

This wasn't like the other night, when he'd taken a nap in here. This was the big time. The For Real time.

This was the room Lex slept in. The room Lex had had other lovers in. It was the room where Lex had done stuff, probably a lot of stuff, with other people who'd probably been a thousand times more experienced. More attractive. More worldly. People who were older, who knew how to make Lex feel good, who knew what sounds to make, and what sounds not to make. How to move their bodies, to turn Lex on or just to look sexy.

Clark knew he was pretty much hopeless when it came to all that.

He wasn't even sure what Lex saw in him, and this sort of thinking was Not Good. He was psyching himself out, and he knew he was psyching himself out, yet he couldn't seem to stop.

Just like he couldn't stop staring at the bed.

"Clark?"

He jumped at the touch on his back.

"We don't have to do this..." The hand rubbed his back soothingly. "Or we can just go to sleep. No pressure."

"No..."

"You don't owe me anything."

Clark twisted around, face aghast.

"I enjoyed what we did earlier," Lex said, eyes shuttered, not giving anything away, a faint smile on his lips. "Anything I do with you is amazing, and we don't have to--"

"No!" Clark took a step closer, touching Lex's arm. "I want to."

Lex looked skeptical.

"Really," he insisted. "I was just...it's just that you're...I mean, well, I'm not really..."

"Seriously. My feelings for you won't change, and perhaps it's for the best if we take things slow--"

"No. I want you, Lex. I do. It's just..." Clark trailed off, not sure what to say.

How to do you tell your potential lover, the one you hope to keep, that you're afraid you'll suck in bed?

"You don't appear that certain, and I don't want you to do something you'll regret in the morning."

Grabbing his courage and giving it a good shake, Clark jumped in, fingers mentally crossed. "I won't. I'm afraid you will."

"I'm not sure I follow."

Clark was pretty sure Lex didn't, not if the confused look was anything to go by. At least the closed-off, shuttered look was gone. Wanting to hide in the nearest hole, instead he shuffled his feet nervously as he admitted, "I'm...I'm not very...experienced. What...what if I'm not any good? I don't want you to be...disappointed." He looked up, his face showing a hint of devastation. "You could have anyone. I...I don't want to...if I'm not...good..."

Biting his lower lip, he lowered his head, completely mortified. He couldn't believe he'd just said that, but it would be a million times worse if Lex thought he didn't want him. Or if Lex thought he'd changed his mind. And wasn't it better to get this out now, rather than find out in the morning that Lex felt cheated?

Clark Kent, Sex God. Not in this lifetime. Probably not in the next ten, either.

"Hey," Lex said softly, his tone tender. He stepped closer, stroking Clark's arm gently. A strange expression danced in his eyes, and his lips twitched with something that almost seemed like satisfaction. Not that that made any sense. "Just being with you is incredible. What we did earlier was amazing, I wasn't exaggerating about that." Lex placed a chaste kiss on Clark's lips. "Anything we do will be wonderful, even if all we do is just sleep. Clark...just being your friend is a blessing. Having more, being able to touch you, that's a miracle."

Oh, crap. Why did Lex have to be so mind-blowingly sweet? He felt himself blushing all over again, for what had to be the thousandth time that night.

"You're a miracle," Lex breathed out quietly. "Being with you is enough on its own."

"But I want you to enjoy--"

"Believe me," Lex said wryly, still smiling, "anything involving you is something I'm going to enjoy."

Clark just rolled his eyes, even if his cheeks and ears felt like they were on fire.

Stepping forward, Lex reached out and pulled Clark in the last few inches by his belt loops. Trailing his hands down Clark's sides, he began kissing him softly. Clark eagerly followed Lex's lead, anxiety overshadowed by stirring desire. Interspersed between toe-curling kisses, Lex helped Clark out of his clothes.

Feeling like he was all elbows and gangling limbs, Clark shucked out of his shirt, the feel of Lex's hands gliding over his skin making him shiver. He didn't have a chance to feel self-conscious, gasping as his throat was bitten, hands slipping into his unbuttoned jeans to caress his butt. "Ohhhhhh..."

His eyes nearly fell out of his head as Lex slinked down, pulling his jeans down with him, pressing kisses to his skin. Worshipping him, every move and gesture reverent, tender. Kneeling, face raised, Lex smirked sexily as he began pulling off Clark's boxers. A bold lick to his cock had Clark shuddering, knees feeling suspiciously weak.

Clark found himself pushed steadily backwards, stumbling as the back of his thighs hit something solid, and sprawling haphazardly on the bed. Scrambling to push up on his elbows, he held his breath as Lex knelt by the bed, palms ghosting along his legs. He felt as if his nerves were on fire, and it only got hotter when Lex slid one of his socks off, palms touching as much skin as possible in the movement. He had to fight not to close his eyes in pure pleasure when Lex leaned forward, fingers stroking his foot and ankle, taking his big toe in his mouth.

"Oh, God."

His first thought was, 'Gross'. The second was, 'What is he doing with his tongue?!'. It was quickly followed by, 'Toes. Hot. Guh.'.

Toes treated like pieces of candy, Clark found himself collapsed, back on the bed, staring up at the ceiling in a daze. First one foot, then the second. Biting nips at his ankles that had him shuddering. Finally, he felt his boxers pulled down, moving when he was nudged to move, attention narrowed to the lips and hands working their way up his body.

Somewhere, somewhen, Lex had stripped. Clark noticed this in a stupor as Lex crawled up his body, hovering over him. He felt torn on what to do: stare at Lex and all the available skin on display, or slide his eyes away, not wanting to get caught staring. Lex took the decision away from him.

"Clark."

His gaze shot to Lex's face.

"What do you want?"

Clark groaned, hiding his face behind his hands, mumbling, "Isn't it obvious?"

"Not really."

Lex sounded amused. Naturally. Because if someone didn't laugh at Clark, Clark didn't feel like his day was complete.

"Clark," Lex repeated, a verbal caress. He tugged on Clark's hands, and the brunette allowed Lex to pull them away. "What." He pressed a kiss to Clark's palm. "Do." He pressed another kiss to his knuckles. "You." He ran his free hand down Clark's right hip. "Want."

"You."

Lex drew back, stunned.

"Just you."

Shaking his head, Lex chuckled.

"I'm serious."

"You're gorgeous." Balance restored, he lowered himself back down, settling against Clark. Lining up their erections, he began to slowly rock as his hands explored. "Absolutely gorgeous."

Whimpering, Clark knew he was whimpering. Hands were everywhere, stroking his skin, making him feel like sunshine was bursting out of him, lighting everything up. Lips against his own, teasing him, a velvety tongue slipping in to tangle with his. The body pressed against his was hard, and soft, and everything in between...perfect, and so full of want.

For him.

It was unbelievable and magical. Lex was moving against him, each move getting more restless and needy. Desire rippled through Clark's body, more intense and devastating than anything he'd ever felt, even earlier in the study. He found himself running his hands desperately over Lex's body, clenching urgently to his back. He needed it faster, more intense, the feelings inside him clamoring for more. Now. Clark groaned as Lex slipped a hand between them and smoothed a slick palm over both their cocks.

Confused, he turned his head in time to see Lex toss a tube onto the bed. However, his attention was soon brought back to more immediate matters, like his body's peaking need for release. He found his hand being pulled between their bodies, opposite Lex's. A few adjustments had him catching on quickly, and he began thrusting frantically against Lex, into the channel their hands created. Rubbing against Lex. It felt so fantastic, so incredible, and he couldn't imagine anything better than this.

Lex seemed to know just how to move, how to touch, to make it better, though. He slipped a leg around Lex, needing him closer. Delicious heaviness seemed to press down on him everywhere, the feel of Lex above him too much of a fantasy that he almost couldn't believe it was happening. He tightened his arms, groaning as a moan slipped out of Lex, sending a bolt of excitement through him.

Control slipping more and more, it was a whispered command that pushed him over the edge. Something large and bright exploded in his chest and groin, his cock jerking as it spasmed. Feeling Lex coming against him, he could only moan as semen spilled between them, coating their hands and stomachs.

Clark felt a kiss land lightly on his lips, the bed shifting when Lex finally drew away. He half-heartedly lifted a hand, grasping at air in an attempt to reel him back in. Lex was already gone though. Before he could get upset, he heard the sound of water, and Lex came back with a towel.

Feeling as if everything were right in the world, body humming with the aftershocks of pleasure, cock still tingling from release, he slipped into sleep as a soft, plush towel brushed against his skin, wiping him clean.


Lex chuckled softly, movements slow and languid as he took his time cleaning Clark.

He wasn't sure if it was Clark or his age, but it was adorable to see the brunette snuggling into the bedding, hand tucked under his cheek. Lex was never much of a sleeper after sex, mostly because he'd found that it paid to stay awake. Women were particularly talkative after sex, and most were quite willing to share what they normally kept to themselves. Not that he bedded women just for business or information, but if he was honest, a large share of such liaisons had occurred principally for those reasons. The sex was just an added benefit, usually pleasurable enough to make the bitter reality of whoring himself out for the family name and company a little less repugnant.

For years, sex had been just that. An exchange for a purpose. Closing a business deal. Getting information. A payment for services rendered. A biological urge satisfied. A night to forget about the weakness the brunette before him instilled, the emotions Clark inspired too passionate and uncontrollable to allow release.

He couldn't help wondering at what point sex had become merely another business transaction.

Even more, he wondered what it meant that it hadn't been such with Clark.

Clark. Lex found himself using tender motions to clean the younger man's cock, the white towel a pretty contrast against dark curls. His smile faltered a little.

Clark. Who was only twenty. Mature well beyond his years in some ways, and so very young in others. Clark, who had to have the purest, most naive heart Lex had ever seen.

People like Clark shouldn't exist. The world consumed people like Clark, with vicious relish.

Even in this. Clark could be sleeping off the sex, but Lex suspected it had more to do with his age. His lack of experience. He still remembered those heady first years, when sex seemed shiny and new. How quickly he'd lapse into an exhaustive slumber, the warm afterglow something to hold close as it tugged him into dreams, usually of more sex.

He didn't want Clark to just be another transaction.

He wasn't sure if he remembered how to do it any other way.

Finished with cleaning himself and Clark, he made his way to the bathroom. Tossing the towel into the hamper in the corner, he got ready for bed, thoughts of Clark still plaguing him.

This whole evening had been a surprise, and it still baffled him on how he'd gotten here. Here, with Clark in his bed, after having had sex. With Clark.

It was bewildering.

As well as incredible. He'd meant it when he said anything with Clark was incredible, and this had proved to be true with sex as well. He was very glad he'd had the presence of mind to keep things simple. As hot as it had been, they'd really done little more than a hand job and some frottage. Should Clark prove to have second thoughts tomorrow, maybe show some virginal upset and regret, it should be a little more palatable to the younger man.

Of course, Lex knew he'd probably end up going out and wrecking a car over this one if that happened. Or maybe he'd go out clubbing and get smashed enough not to give a fuck who he went home with...or to remember who wouldn't be waiting in his bed.

If Clark was going to have some heterosexual panic, it wouldn't be nearly as bad as it could have been.

He wasn't going to let himself hope. Clark didn't do things like this. Except that he had. And Clark didn't like men. Only apparently he did. Too many known facts were colliding with opposing actions. He'd take it one day at a time.

Hell, he'd take it one hour at a time.

Lex could do this, whatever this was. He could be what Clark needed, as long as this wasn't some experiment or an attempt at fucking with his mind. For some mysterious, unknown reason, Clark seemed to want a relationship of some kind. He appeared to believe himself in love. With Lex Luthor.

Unreal. His life was so unreal, and he found himself utterly lost at this new direction it had taken. There were certain expectations in his life, and somehow, someway, Clark seemed to sweep every single one of them away.

Maybe this was actually the beginning of something. Something good.

Hand hovering over pajama bottoms, he experienced a moment of rare indecisiveness. He actually cared what Clark might go through in the morning. That in itself was a sobering, unique sensation. That he could and would care. If Clark did freak out--and the boy did have a history of such behavior--than waking up to find them both naked might be a bad idea. On the other hand, if Clark didn't freak, he might be hurt if he found Lex clothed.

It seemed either decision was fraught with a probability of a messy morning after. It was the idea of Clark feeling hurt that tipped the scales. Making his way back to the bed nude, he managed to wake Clark up enough to get the younger man under the covers. The brunette fell asleep immediately, most likely because he hadn't really been awake to begin with.

Again, Lex experienced a bizarre moment of uncertainty as he lifted the covers to slip in. Should he spoon? As a rule, he rarely did unless he wanted to draw tender feelings out of his bed partner, usually in an attempt to loosen someone's tongue. Mostly, he didn't like to give anyone the wrong idea.

Sex was sex.

Cuddling...spooning...well, those were other things that had nothing to do with sex.

So, should he sleep on his own side? Normally this wasn't a problem. The other person would just go home, or they'd slip out in the morning, quietly with no fuss. Sometimes morning sex was to be had, but the boundaries were understood.

Clark didn't know the meaning of the word boundary.

It disquieted Lex that he liked this about Clark, and as uncomfortable as it made him, he liked giving complete access to Clark.

A master at the art of negotiation, Lex got into bed. Staying on his own side, he slid in close enough that he could lay one hand on Clark's hip. He closed his eyes, body pleasantly heavy and abuzz with the aftermath of really good sex. Only he couldn't sleep. Mind restless, he found himself staring at the outline of Clark's head for over ten minutes.

He'd tried several positions. He'd turned over several times, trying to get comfortable. He'd scooted closer to Clark, and he'd slid further away. All he'd ended up doing was facing Clark's back, staring at the outline of the younger man in front of him. Unable to sleep.

Fuck, was he in trouble.

Giving into the impulse he'd been denying since he'd finished cleaning Clark up, he moved to press a kiss to the top of Clark's head. Pausing, heart clenching, he whispered, "I love you, too." It hurt, saying the words, knowing just how much he meant them. Laying one last kiss on the dark, soft strands, he settled back into bed, feeling something inside release. Fingers stroking the warm hip he found once more, Lex finally fell asleep.

Because he was facing Clark's back, he never saw the gleam of white as green eyes popped wide open in disbelief.

END


NOTE II: Surprisingly, butter stories are rather challenging to write! Originally coming up with four story ideas, I had a hard time writing anything due to my brain going on strike. Trying to bust through writer's block, this is my third attempt to come up with a viable storyline for Lacey's challenge. Lacey, I hope you like one of the three stories!