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Paradigm Shift

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Paradigm Shift

by Sally Bradstreet


Paradigm Shift

Summer in Smallville sucked.

OK, that was an unfair generalization. Usually summers in Smallville rocked, with him and Pete and Chloe being as Tom and Huck and Becky as a group of friends could be in the 21st Century, hanging out in town and hiking in the woods and sneaking into each other's bedrooms at 2:00 in the morning to blow air horns in each other's ears. But that was before, before Chloe's standing summer internship in Metropolis, before Pete's grandfather invited him to spend the summer at his horse ranch in Wyoming, before Tom was left Huck-and-Becky-less. Even Lex had abandoned him to participate in some bizarre businessmen's decathlon of meetings taking place in European cities he couldn't even pronounce. Ergo, ipso facto, and therefore, summer in Smallville sucked.

Clark sighed and pushed the accelerator a little harder. This was one benefit that had come from his spending his 17th summer alone-unparalleled access to the truck. He knew it was his folks' unspoken way of trying to make up for his lousy friend free (even Lana had the Talon to keep her busy), vacation free (he knew they couldn't spare him from the farm for even a weekend) summer, and he appreciated it, he really did, but that did not change the fact that summer in Smallville sucked.

He took the curve on the south side of town at a speed that would have done Lex proud but slowed down just as quickly when the blur he zoomed past resolved itself into a car with a raised hood parked at the edge of the irrigation ditch. Checking his mirror, Clark shifted the truck into the reverse and backed down the sun-baked asphalt. He braked, then rolled down his window, looking for the driver.

He heard him before he saw him. "Stupid piece of junk!" The clatter of someone kicking a fender. "'Trust me,' Uncle Rory says." A kick to a hubcap. "'It's reliable,' Uncle Rory says." Another kick to the fender. "Bite me, Uncle Rory!"

Grinning a little at the diatribe, Clark called, "Can I give you a hand?"

A head topped with wavy brown hair appeared over the hood. "Depends. Do you have a shotgun in there? 'Cause this puppy's ready to be put down."

He made a show of searching the cabin. "Sorry. Must have left it in my other truck."

"How about a fork?" he asked, walking around the front of the car. "I could stick it in the engine because it's done."

"No fork either. How about a lift into town?"

He flashed a smile. "It's not as satisfying as the shot gun, but it'll work. Hold on."

Clark watched as his current good deed rolled up the windows and locked the car. He was about his age, about his height. Shoving his keys in his pocket, he came around to the passenger's side and opened the door.

"Mind if I gripe while you drive?" He stepped up into the cabin and plopped down on the dusty seat.

"Feel free." Clark put the truck in gear and eased back onto the road before flooring it. "I do it all the time when our tractor breaks down."

"Cool." He raked his fingers through his hair a couple of times. "Stupid car. The air conditioning blew up 100 miles back, so I've got bugs in my hair from having the windows rolled down. Then the engine started making this totally weird clanking noise and smoke started trailing out of the tail pipe." He slouched down in the seat and stared blackly at the dashboard. "Oh, yeah. Uncle Rory and me are going to have a looooooong talk if I ever make it back home."

"Where's that?" He slowed down considerably in anticipation of the speed trap by Filer's Market.

"Southern Caly, the home of sun, surf, and me. I'm Xander Harris, by the way."

"Clark Kent." He cut through Mr. Parker's back field. "Aren't you a little out of your neighborhood? California's half a continent away from Smallville."

Xander snorted. "That was kind of the plan. You know, take the great American road trip to celebrate surviving high school graduation, see the sights, make my own way. Fine in theory, but sucks in real life when you're driving the rolling junkyard your uncle pawned off on you."

Lex had already offered to supply the car when he wanted to take that requisite road trip, and Clark was fairly certain that Triple A coverage came with it. "How many times has it broken down?"

"About twice per state. Piece of crap car."

The Smallville city limits hovered on the horizon. "Well, relax. Syd's a great mechanic. If anyone can make that hunk of junk run, he can."

Clark thought he might have to take that statement back when he saw the look on Syd's face as the tow truck's winch lowered the dead automobile to the pavement in front of the garage. Xander wasn't phased by the look, though, and said, holding out the keys, "Piece of crap. I know. Can you make it go?"

Syd took the keys, opened the door, popped the hood, and started poking and prodding the innards of the car with practiced fingers. At last he straightened and wiped his hands on his overalls. "I can have it running by tomorrow if you want to make it to the town limits. If you want it to go farther, it will take at least a week."

"That's cool." Xander pulled his wallet from his back pocket and assessed his financial situation. "I'll need at least that long to earn enough to pay you anyway. Unless you'll-"

"Let you work in trade?" Syd nodded. "No problem. You work for me for the week, and I'll only charge you for the parts."

Xander blinked at him, turned his head to blink at Clark, turned his head to blink at Syd again. "Wow. I didn't have to beg or cry or anything."

Clark grinned at the other boy's reaction. As his dad would say, welcome to the country, son. "The barter system is alive and well in Smallville. Syd gives our tractor a once over every year in return for 9 jars of Mom's apple butter."

"That reminds me," Syd said, slamming the hood shut. "Tell your mother that I'll give the truck an overhaul, too, if she makes it an even dozen."

"You got it. That rattle is driving her crazy." Clark nudged a still-stunned Xander. "Get your stuff."

He jumped and reached for the keys Syd held out. "Oh, right. Stuff." He rummaged around in the trunk and extracted a battered duffel bag. "Feel free to leave this menace on wheels out for the local car thieves." Xander tossed the keys toward the mechanic. "Not that they'd want it."

"A scrap yard wouldn't want this," Syd muttered.

"Tell me about it," Xander replied, chucking his duffel into the truck bed. "Thanks, Syd. I'll be here at 9:00."

Clark hopped into the truck. "Thanks, Syd."

The older man waved them down the street.

"So." Xander propped a sneakered foot on the dash. "Car, check. Next item-housing. Drop me off at the nearest seedy motel, and I'll be good to go."

"Sorry. No seedy motels here." Clark waved at Mrs. Scott as she crossed the street. "No motels at all, in fact."

He gave an exaggerated sigh. "Well, where do the shiftless drifters stay, then?"

Somehow he managed not to crack a smile. "Mrs. Bennison's bed and breakfast."

Xander hooted. "Yeah, right. Hello! I can't afford to get my car fixed. Some fancy-shmancy B&B is definitely out of my range. Isn't there an abandoned barn or something where I could crash? A haystack? Anything that isn't chinz covered?"

"Mrs. Bennison's isn't that bad." Clark turned down Oak Lane which, ironically, was lined with elm trees. "Besides, she's a great cook. And if you explain your situation, she'll probably let you work off some of the bill like Syd is."

"Is everyone in this town this nice? 'Cause where I'm from you don't make eye contact with strangers, let alone cut them deals." He shifted in his seat, adjusting something he was carrying in his back pocket.

"Most small town cliches are only cliches because they're true. People here are really nice, and most of the time they do want to help you." The flower beds lining Mrs. Bennison's driveway were meticulous as always, and Mrs. Bennison herself was sitting in a rocking chair on her front porch, a table with a pitcher of lemonade and a glass at her elbow.

Xander got out of the truck when Clark did but cautiously, like he half expected someone to jump out of the bushes and drag him off to the river in Deliverance. "What are you looking for?" Clark hissed as he waved at the elderly proprietor.

"Rod Serling," Xander hissed back, casting wary glances at the lilac bushes as he retrieved his duffel. "Or maybe Normal Rockwell on acid."

Resisting the urge to whap the back of his head, Clark climbed the steps. "Hello, Mrs. Bennison. How's your back today?"

"Oh, not bad, not bad, dearie." She lifted her wrinkled cheek toward him, and he obligingly dropped a kiss on it. "How is your mother? Still working for that horrible man?"

"She likes working for Lionel," he replied to avoid the inevitable Luthor=Evil discussion. "It keeps her busy."

"Well, she does need something to do, now that her little boy is all grown up." Thankfully her chair was too low to allow her to pinch his cheek. "And who is this, Clark?"

"This is Xander Harris." The other boy was standing on the top step, clearly keeping Clark between the old woman and himself. Rolling his eyes, he grabbed his arm and yanked him onto the porch. "His car broke down and he needs a place to stay for awhile."

"You poor boy!" Mrs. Bennison took a deep breath and hoisted herself to her feet. Clark reached out to steady her. "I have a lovely room that's just perfect for you." The screen door squeaked, and she held it open for her new guest. "Well, come along, Mr. Harris. We can get you settled before dinner."

"Thanks, Mrs. Bennison," Xander said, his tone polite though his eyes still held an inexplicable trace of suspicion. He punched Clark's arm as he passed. "Thanks to you, too."

"No problem."

"Can you come in for a minute, Clark?" she asked in her sweet old lady voice. "I just made a fresh batch of gingerbread."

"I can't." His stomach rumbled in protest. "Mom will be wondering where I am, and I have chores to do."

"I understand, dearie." She patted her arm. "Tell your parents I said hello."

"I will. Good-bye." He stuffed his hands in his pockets and watched as she swung the screen door shut with another squeak.

Well. That had been diverting for about 60 minutes. He turned back to the truck with a sigh. Too bad there were too many minutes left in this sucky summer to count.

Clark was washing the dinner dishes for the third time-Bored? Him? Never!-when the phone rang. Figuring it was just Lionel making the usual third call of the evening, he kept polishing glasses until his mom called, "Clark! Phone for you!"

OK, weird. Pete and Chloe never called in the middle of the week, and Lex was hardly the type to call up and chat even when he was in the same hemisphere. Puzzled, he wiped his hands off and picked up the kitchen extension. "Hello?"

"My room doesn't have cable."

The wheels in his mind spun until they came up with a context for that comment. "Xander?"

Disgust dripped from the phone. "That's because my room doesn't have a TV."

Clark grinned. At least he wasn't the only one having a bad night. "Well, Mrs. Bennison is kind of old fashioned."

He snorted. "Ya think?"

"She's like 60, so it's allowed." His mom passed through the kitchen and gave him a questioning look. He mouthed "It's the kid from earlier," and she smiled.

"She did invite me to watch TV with her in the sitting room."

The dishes clattered quietly as he put them away. "I take it you didn't join her."

"She was watching Lawrence Welk, Clark." Horror had replaced the disgust. "Lawrence. Welk. Please tell me there is something I can do tonight other than play connect the dots on the wallpaper."

"The feed store is open late tonight." It was much easier to keep a straight face on the phone.

There was a lengthy pause. "Please tell me you're joking."

He chuckled. "Kind of?"

"So there's no movie theater?"

"It's only open on the weekends."

"Arcade?"

"No."

"Bowing alley?"

"No."

"Video rental store?"

"What's the point? You don't even have a TV." He finished wiping down the counter and tossed the dish towel at the sink. Yeah, baby! Two points.

"So basically I've come all this way to die of boredom in America's heartland."

"Pretty much, yeah."

He could feel the glare through the phone. "You are no help."

"Well..." he began, enjoying the chance to taunt somebody other than the cows.

"Don't toy with me, truck boy."

Truck boy? That was a new one. "We do have a coffee shop that's pretty cool. A friend of mine runs it."

"And it's open? And there are people there and everything?"

The couch springs groaned when he dropped onto it. "People it has, but oddly there isn't any coffee."

"Do they have an open mike night, 'cause you're really funny."

He laughed again. "It's called the Talon. Mrs. Bennison can tell you how to get there."

"Cool. How long will it take you to get there?"

The question startled Clark out of his contemplation of the cracks in the ceiling. He really needed to do something about those. "Huh?"

"If I am going someplace to hang out, I need someone to hang out with. Are you game?"

"It's better than rearranging my sock drawer." He only wished he were kidding.

"Cool. See you there."

He hung up before Clark could say good-bye which was OK because he was already yelling, "Dad? Is it OK if I take the truck tonight?"

"Sure, son." His dad appeared in the doorway. "Are you going to the Talon?"

"Yeah. That guy I helped today is going to meet me there to hang out."

He nodded approvingly. "Good. You've spent too much time alone this summer." He patted his shoulder. "Have fun."

"Yeah, OK. Bye, Mom!" he hollered up the stairs. "I'll be back later, OK?"

"Say hello to Lana for us, sweetie," she called back.

And he was out the door.

Lex referred to the Talon's summer format as "Tapas for Teens", but whatever it was called it was a great deal: Pay a flat entry fee for all the snacks you can eat as long as you ordered at least two drinks. In addition to the snacks, Lana had also extended the business hours until 1:00 a.m., a combination that led to her making money hand over fist as bored teens from across the county flocked to her door.

The place was packed, as usual, and Clark sidled between close-pressed bodies toward the counter, being very carefully not to step on toes or bump drinking-holding arms. He didn't make it far before he heard, "Clark!" yelled from across the room. Clark changed directions and slipped along the front wall until he found Xander, who had managed to snag an empty table.

"Great place," Xander said as Clark pulled out a chair and plopped into it. "We've got something similar to this at home, but it's never busy like this during the summer."

"That's because you have the beach and movie theaters that are always open." He waved at some kids from his history class. "All we have during the week is cow tipping."

Xander sat up, a calculating look in his eye. "Really? I've always wondered about that. Can we-"

"No. My dad would kill me if he knew I had even mentioned it."

"Spoilsport."

"No, farmer who raises cows."

"Hey, Clark," Lana said from behind him.

Tamping firmly down on the feelings that hearing her voice still stirred, he twisted around, resting his arm on the back of his chair. "Hey, Lana. Great crowd tonight."

She gave him her self-deprecating smile, the one with the shy eye roll and mini shrug. "Yeah. The cover charge for snacks is working out really well." Her gaze shifted to Xander and her smile shifted to friendly. "This is a new face."

"Xander Harris." He held out his hand.

Lana took it. "Lana Lang. Nice to meet you."

Clark explained, "He's staying at Mrs. Bennison's until Syd can get his car running again."

"You mean that piece of junk that's parked in front of his garage?" Lana flushed at her rudeness. "Sorry, I just meant-"

"Don't knock it, princess." Xander waggled his eyebrows at her. "It's the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy."

Clark chuckled at her confused expression. Girls. They never watched the good movies.

"So, what would you recommend to the stranger in town?" Xander asked, holding out the olive branch. "I could eat."

Shaking off her discomfiture, Lana replied, "The hot wings are good tonight, and we've got a new chili dip."

"Hot wings and a Coke, then."

"The same for me," Clark said.

She busied herself with scribbling their orders onto her pad. "Right, guys. It'll be out shortly."

Out of long habit, Clark watched as she wove her way expertly back to the kitchen. She really was graceful. She always had been.

"I was in love with her once."

Clark turned to gape at Xander in shock. "With Lana?"

"With my school's equivalent of her, at least. You know what I mean-beautiful, smart, great body." Xander put an elbow on the table and propped his chin in his hand with a sigh. "Buffy is all that and more."

"So did you ever date her?" Maybe there was hope after all.

"Nope, no datage of the Buffster for me."

OK, that was a no on the hope.

"She did come on to me once though," Xander continued, "wearing nothing but a raincoat." His eyes unfocused. "And high heels." A moment of blank staring, then he shook his head. "But that ended in rats and badness."

"Rats?" Clark asked with the disgust bred from years on a farm.

"Uh, there were circumstances."

Like Nicodemus flower pollen. "There always are." Glancing around to make sure no one was in earshot, he leaned forward. "So, did she have the jerk-off boyfriend, too?"

Eyes narrowing, Xander growled, "If 'jerk-off' is Kansas talk for 'arrogant, sadistic, psycho serial killer', then yeah."

Clark blinked in disbelief at the anger in his gaze. "Serial killer?"

His lips twisted into a grimace. "They were really big circumstances."

Before Clark could follow up on this comment, Lana appeared at their table again, laden tray in hand. In the past, he would have rushed to help her distribute drinks, but it had been a long time since she had dumped anything in a customer's lap. With the hot wings and Cokes safely on the table, she tucked the tray under her arm. "Can I get you anything else?"

"I think we're good, Lana," Clark said, peeling his straw.

Xander followed suit. "I know I'm the new kid, but could I make a suggestion?"

The corners of her mouth flickered down then up. "OK."

"Those tables along the back wall are kind of hard to get around." He picked up a wing and gestured with it. "Have you considered putting in couches or bean bags instead?"

Lana studied said tables in a calculated fashion. "You know, that's a really good idea. Thanks, Xander."

He shrugged. "It's all part of the service."

A clatter from the kitchen cut off any further conversation. She pulled a worried face. "I'd better go take care of that."

The boys waved at her retreating back.

"So have you figured out how to look at her without wanting her yet?" Xander was studiously building a hot wing tower and not watching Clark watch Lana.

Clark choked on his own chicken. "What makes you think that I-"

"We both know that girls like that are put on Earth to torment regular guys like us with the stuff we can never have." He took a swig of Coke. "Ever."

Regular guys. That was a laugh. But he still slumped in his chair. "You have a point."

Xander's smile was sympathetic. "Besides, I only ask because I was hoping you could give me some tips on how to deal with Buffy when I get back home."

He snorted. "If I ever do figure it out, I'll write a book and send you a copy."

"Deal."

"That's enough of that." Clark firmly turned his back on his kitchen. "Did you drive through Las Vegas? I've always wanted to go there."

"Ah, Vegas." He sighed nostalgically. "The home of cheap prime rib and lots of half-dressed babes."

They went Taloning (California English, it seemed, was related to Kansas English only very distantly) every night that week, but by the time Xander finished up helping Mrs. Bennison ("Your sweet little old lady is taking advantage of me. I mean, come on. Cleaning out her attic?") on Saturday, the place was beyond full.

"Ah, man!" Xander's shoulders slumped as he stared at the teens packed like sardines in the coffee shop. "I guess it's back to the B&B for a stimulating evening of Lawrence Welk and Parcheesi." He shuddered. "That's just wrong, man."

Clark followed the other boy as he shuffled dejectedly down the sidewalk. "Well, there is one other place we can go."

Xander turned to glare at him. "I am not hanging out at the feed store with Sheriff Andy and Floyd the Barber."

"There are no barbers where we're going," Clark hooted. "We can go hang out at Lex's house."

"I thought you said he was out of town." He dodged a group of teens with delusions of getting into the Talon.

"He is, but I have his security code and an open invitation." He fished out his keys. "Come on."

They climbed into Clark's truck, and he steered down the shortest route to the castle.

This was the summer concession he never thought his parents would agree to. Before he left, Lex had offered him a business card with the security code written on the back in his precise handwriting, insisting that Clark use the pool table or swimming pool or theater any time he liked.

"It's not like the staff will be getting any use out of them," Lex persisted. "And if I find out they are..." He bared his teeth.

Clark rolled his eyes at the threat. "Yeah, yeah, off with their heads."

His expression softened. "I'm serious, Clark." He pushed the card into his hand and gave it a squeeze. "I know what it's like to be the one left alone."

Lex always made comments like that in an off-handed, nonchalant way that Clark knew hid pain that a Luthor would never acknowledge. Those comments made Clark wince, and one day he might actually work up the courage to ask his friend to tell him more about his past in an effort to exorcise some Lionel-shaped ghosts. Until that time came, though, he could accept what was offered with a smile. "You're the best, Lex."

He merely smiled, a flash of triumph in his eyes. "Just don't host any wild parties, all right?"

Clark snapped his fingers in exaggerated disappointment. "Now what do I have to look forward to?"

"Is that a castle?"

Xander's question pulled Clark back to the cab of the truck. He was a little rattled to realize that he had made it to the wide drive that led to the Luthor home without engaging his brain. "Yup. Our very own Scottish castle here in the heart of Kansas."

"Why is there a castle here, Clark?" He was leaning against the dashboard, trying to see to the top turret as he drove around to the back entrance. "Did a tornado drop it or something?"

"In a manner of speaking." The perfectly raked gravel crunched under the tires. "A lot people consider Lionel Luthor to be a force of nature." He turned off the ignition, opened the door, got out of the truck. "Then again, they also think he's Satan."

He was half way to the kitchen door when he realized Xander wasn't with him. He found him still sitting, staring up at the castle with a slack jaw and round eyes. "Lionel 'I have more money than most third world countries' Luthor?" he said in a strangled voice. "Wait. I'm putting two and two together and not coming up with twenty-two. Your good buddy Lex is Lex Luthor?" He whapped his arm. "You didn't think to mention this bit of intel?"

Spending as much time as he did with Lex, Clark tended to forget how the public at large reacted to the Luthor name. "Well, everyone around here knows him, and I just think of him as Lex."

Xander made a dismissive chuffing sound. "Naturally."

"Look, do you want to come in or not?"

"Oh, I'm in. I'm definitely in." He hopped out of the cab and slammed the door. "I just reserve the right to steal some towels or an ash tray or something as proof that I was actually here."

Clark punched in the security code and the door snicked open. "Lex doesn't smoke, but I can show you where the extra towels are kept."

Leaving Xander to wander the bottom floor alone, Clark used the kitchen intercom. He still felt uncomfortable talking to the staff and asking them to do stuff for him, but Lex had insisted. He pushed the general call button and waited.

"Is that you, Clark?"

Oh, good. It was Mrs. Stephens, the cook. She wasn't quite as intimidating as some of the others. "Yeah, Mrs. Stephens. I brought a friend with me to watch some DVD's or something. Is that OK?"

"You know it is, sweetie. Mr. Luthor wouldn't have given you the code otherwise. Would you like some snacks?"

"If it's not to much trouble."

"Of course not. I'll bring them to you in a while."

"Thank you." He clicked the intercom off. That was done. "Xander?"

He found him in Lex's office, expertly racking the balls. "So, I've decided that I want to be adopted by the Luthors. Do you think they'd go for it.?"

Clark took a couple of cues from the rack on the wall. "You really don't want that. Lionel's a prick."

"So's my dad," Xander replied with a shrug. "But he's not an obscenely rich one." He took the cue Clark offered. "Can I break?"

"Be my guest." Clark watched as he lined up his shot and sent the cue ball cracking into the others.

"Stripes," he said as he walked around the table. "Maybe Lex would adopt me. You said he's cool."

"I can't get him to adopt a dog from the pound." Clark took his place at the cue ball when Xander's shot went wide. "I'm pretty sure he'd say no to a person, too. Damn." His own shot bounced harmlessly off the side. It had been too long since he'd played, but it wasn't as fun without Lex's running commentary.

"Bummer." He sank the next three shots. "Let me know if he ever changes his mind."

They bantered over the pool table until Mrs. Stephens brought a tray laden with sandwiches, popcorn, and soda, at which point they retired to the theater on the second floor.

"What," Xander said as he stared at the huge flat plasma screen TV with surround sound speakers, "he couldn't afford the stadium seats?"

Clark put the tray on the scuffed coffee table, which, by the way, was all Lex's fault for not having a footstool in here, and told Xander, "Shut up and pick a movie."

The overwhelming size of the Luthor DVD library led to a 20 minute film debate before they finally settled on Tomb Raider.

"Lara Croft," Xander pronounced, gesturing toward the TV with his sandwich, as the erstwhile archaeologist kicked some bad guy ass, "is even sexier than Faith."

"Faith?" Clark thought he knew about Xander's whole circle of friends, but that was a new name. "Who's Faith?"

"The incredibly beautiful, incredibly scary girl who relieved me of my pesky virginity." The hormonal glaze in his eyes was immediately washed away by something that looked a lot like fear. "Among other things."

Eyebrows furrowed, Clark asked carefully, "She broke your heart?"

"More like strangled it." His trademark sarcasm was gone now. "Other than the initial sex having, she was...not good for me."

Oh, the questions that that comment raised, and Clark wondered, not for the first time in the week he'd known Xander, just what life in Sunnydale was like. However, it seemed that Lex's lectures on discretion being the better part of valor were finally beginning to take. Focusing his eyes back on the screen, he said, "Sounds like Isabella."

"And she was?" Xander's tone was relieved at the change in topic.

"The incredibly beautiful, incredible scary girl who relieved me of my pesky virginity. My heart's still intact, though." He ate a handful of popcorn and let it lie.

"How did you manage that?" Xander asked a scene or two later. "The intact heart part, I mean."

"She was a foreign exchange student from Italy," Clark replied. He could still remember when she walked into his math class, all dark hair and intriguing accent. "Our relationship started with an expiration date on it, so I didn't get too involved with her. Other than the sex, that is. And she's the one who started that." They had been on their first date at the Talon when she announced to all present that she wanted to have sex with him. Yeesh. "Women from Europe are really assertive."

More explosions and boob-bouncing running passed in silence before Xander said, "At least she knew her way around a mattress."

"Yeah?" He managed to sound curious but not pushy.

"Well, not that I've had much experience, and by much I mean none at all, to compare it to, but yeah, it was amazing at the time."

"Bella was amazing, too. Half of the stuff she did I'd never heard of, even in the Playboys we used to steal from Pete's brother." Like that thing she did with her tongue...

Xander snorted then looked thoughtful. "I bet Richie Rich here has a great porn collection. Do you know where that is?"

Clark shifted on the couch. "No. The one time I asked him about it he gave me lecture on the penalties associated with contributing to the delinquency of a minor." They mourned for a moment before he added, "I do know where he keeps all of his Warrior Angel comic books, though."

"Seriously?" Whatever had been haunting Xander was suddenly gone, and he bounced on the couch beside him. "Can I see them? Can I? I'll wash my hands and everything."

Ah, geez. He'd made friends with another one. "What about Lara Croft?"

He dismissed her with a wave of his hand. "She's an amateur. Let's find the good stuff."

"Fine." Clark gave a pained sigh as he stood. And the evening had started out so well.

Syd was as good as his word, and by the end of the week Xander's junker was purring like the proverbial cat. Xander had worked off his debt, but paying for the parts had all but cleaned out his cash reserve.

"The gods sneer at me," Xander lamented over the free coffee Lana gave him. "Sneer and stick out their tongues and say 'nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah'." He dropped his head on the table. "I'm stranded in Smallville forever."

"Welcome to my world," Clark said with slightly bitter sympathy. "Can't you call your parents and ask them to wire you some money?"

"Did you miss the part where my dad's a prick?" Xander dumped another sugar packet into the steaming liquid, bringing the total up to six. "He'd charge me rent for living at home if he could."

"That's harsh." He moved the sugar out of Xander's reach. "What about Willow or Buffy?"

"Oh, no. I told them I was being Jack Kerouac, and he would never ask friends for money." He snaked his hand across the table toward the sugar and Clark gave it a little smack.

"Well, this is farm country." He pushed an empty chair out with his foot so Lana, bearing cookies, could join them. "There are always people who need odd jobs done. I know for a fact that Mr. Peterson has a fence around his pasture that needs to be repaired."

"Mr. Sullivan wants to paint the dining room," Lana added, "but he knows if he waits for Chloe to come home he'll end up with weird 60's swirls in meteor rock green or something." She pulled a face. "We have to live there, too."

Clark managed to suppress the instinctive shudder the mention of meteor rocks always caused. "There you go. I'm sure we can scrounge up more jobs if you need them."

"This is a plan. Plans are of the good." He downed his hyper-sweetened coffee in two gulps. "Let's get to it."

Mr. Sullivan was so happy with his newly-taupe dining room (luckily Xander was able to fix the snafu with the purple paint before he got home from work) that he hired him to paint the rest of the house. Word-of-mouth advertising at the plant had led to three more painting jobs, and Xander's "get the hell out of Kansas" fund was well on its way.

After a long day of retouching the crown molding in the Hall house, Xander flopped onto the couch in Lex's theater. "I can't take it any more, Clark."

"What can't you take?" He was perusing the DVD's and found one that Lex would never admit to owning. Tremors. Heh.

"The fumes. Between the paint and the thinner, I'm losing brain cells by the bucket load, and as Cordelia would happily testify, I don't have many to spare." He lifted his head just enough to shove a pillow under it. "Must. Have. Fresh. Air."

"Well, I talked to Mr. Peterson today." He shoved Xander's feet onto the floor and plopped down himself. "He said he's ready for you to start as soon as you're finished with the Halls."

"Cool." He stretched his arm out and managed to grab a sandwich without knocking over the whole plate. "Anything I should know about the Petersons? You were so right about the Halls' cat. It is a demon, and I know from demons, um, pets."

Clark grabbed his own sandwich, one of Mrs. Stephens' cheese-laden creations. "If Mrs. Peterson offers you anything to eat, say no. She is the worst cook in the county."

"I find that hard to believe." He reached for a second sandwich. "I haven't eaten a bad meal here yet."

"You will if you stay for lunch at their house. Trust me on this."

"OK. I'll brown bag it." He shrugged as best he could while draped over the couch. "You're the local boy." He pointed at the TV and snickered. "Run, Kevin, run!"

It was easy to see where the mended portion of fence began-the posts were slightly tilted, the rails were slightly crooked-but it hadn't taken Xander long to get the hang of it. After the first couple of sections, the rails and posts he had set were as straight as the fences that formed the neat wooden boundaries on the geography of Clark's life.

He followed the fence line around the corner and up a small bluff, impressed by how much Xander had accomplished during the afternoon. He had finished his own chores quickly, figuring he could help Xander get things done before sunset, but maybe he wouldn't need him after all.

From the top of the bluff he could see the Peterson truck, the bed still holding a few rails and posts, and Xander. It was always furnace hot the first week of August and he had, understandably, taken off his shirt, revealing broad shoulders that tapered to a narrow waist, and Clark felt his breath catch.

His 8th grade health teacher had been really progressive. The first day of class, she set a box on her desk and told them that if they had any question about what they were discussing or what they were feeling or experiencing, they should write the question on a piece of paper, put it in the box, and she'd talk about it with the class anonymously. At first, no one had taken her seriously, and the first question she had pulled out asked, "What are cooties and why do boys have them?" After treating that with the seriousness it deserved-an eye roll accompanied by a jump shot to the garbage can-the questions had been more realistic and frequently very helpful.

The one that had caused the most stir was something Clark never would have had the guts to ask, even without putting his name on it: Is it normal to feel attraction to members of the same sex? Mrs. Johnson let them have a moment of nervous titters and giggles then explained that it was normal part of teenaged development that didn't necessarily mean anything. Some people, she said, were more aware of it than others, but it wasn't anything to be scared of or worried about. This answer had caused a lot of relieved sighs and led to Mrs. Johnson being asked to find another job the next year. Not everyone in Smallville was so progressive.

Clark thought about that lecture from time to time when he noticed that another boy had a nice butt or pretty eyes or really strong legs. Most of the time he acknowledged whatever it was that struck his fancy and just let it go.

But not today.

Today he watched as the muscles in Xander's arms bunch as he hefted the rail into place, as the muscles flexed in his back as he bent down to retrieve his hammer, as the sweat slid down the groove of his spine. He watched long enough that his dick began to take notice, and that was a problem.

Setting the cooler he carried in the brush beside the road, he zipped up to his truck and back a couple of times, knowing from experience that speeding usually made things settle down. Today was no exception, and by the time he had brushed the dust from his T-shirt and picked up the cooler again, he felt calm enough to talk to his friend. "Hey, Xander!"

Xander turned, wiping at his forehead with the back of one hand. "Clark! What are you doing here?"

"I thought you might need some help," Clark replied, studiously ignoring the way Xander's necklace fit along his collarbone, "but I guess I was wrong."

"This is my last rail." He looked back up the road with a satisfied smile. "I think it looks really good. Well, other than the first sections."

"You picked it up a lot faster than I did." He put the cooler next to the truck. "Dad wouldn't let me fix a fence alone for years, and I grew up doing it."

"Bonus points for the Xan-man!" He did a victory dance. "I now have a job future as a farm hand. Just call me Lefty. Or One-eyed Pete."

Clark snorted and looked around the truck bed for something to throw at him. What he found was a plate of chocolate chip cookies with one cookie missing a single bite resting on top. He picked up the plate and showed it to Xander. "I thought we talked about this."

"Why do people use chocolate for evil, Clark?" He turned again to the fence, pounding the nails into place with strong, efficient movements. "It's just wrong."

"I did warn you." He took the plate to the side of the road and dumped the treats into a shallow grave in the irrigation ditch. "Mrs. Peterson's cookies should come with a surgeon general's warning."

"Either that or a stomach pump." A final swing and he declared, "Done. I rule."

"You drool? Is that what you said?" Clark gave him his best innocent expression.

Xander rolled his eyes. "As if that look will work on me. Willow's puppy dog eyes put yours to shame." He gathered up hammer, nails, saw, and put them carefully in the truck bed. "How else do you think she gets me to give her my pudding every day at lunch?"

Clark put the plate back in the truck and found a grassy patch on which to plop. "Whatever." He pulled the cooler toward him and lifted the lid. "Coke?"

"Yeah!" Xander grabbed his wife beater (Where did Chloe pick up those terms, and why did she insist on sharing?) from the side of the truck and pulled it on before plopping down beside him. "I've been drinking lukewarm water for the last two hours." He opened the can, drained it in two swallows, and reached for another. "Much better."

After a swig of his own drink, Clark leaned back on his elbows, closed his eyes, and tilted his chin back. The late summer sun felt heavier than the sun did earlier in the year, and he rolled his head, enjoying the warm weight as it pressed against his face and neck.

"Huh."

He slitted an eye open to glance at Xander, who was studying him with an odd look on his face. "Huh what?"

"I'm just sitting here thinking that I'm really glad football players can't come back from the dead to say I told you so." He tossed his second empty can back into the cooler. "Though you never know."

"Oo-kay." His conversations with Xander were often on the surreal side, but this was weirder than usual.

"I'm also wondering what your attitude is toward friends who do unorthodox things." His gaze was steady, his hazel eyes serious.

"I think I'm fairly open-minded. After all, I was the one Chloe took to Metropolis to hold her hand while she got her belly button pierced." It was a good thing he was impervious. She'd have broken his fingers otherwise.

Xander was silent a moment before saying, "Good. That's good."

And then he leaned over and kissed him.

Firm lips against his, warm fingers on his jaw. The kiss was brief but not tentative, and Clark couldn't help a sigh of disappointment when Xander pulled away to stare at him again, eyes wary.

"Are you waiting for me to freak out?" Clark asked quietly.

"Yeah."

"Will it freak you out if I don't?"

Xander smiled, teeth white in a tanned face. "Not so much, no."

"Good." Shifting his weight to one arm, Clark reached for him, hooked his fingers behind his neck, and pulled him down again.

Xander's lips were strong, his tongue restless in his mouth, and Clark moaned as the attraction for his friend that he had earlier dismissed flared to life. He wound his fingers in Xander's hair and eased onto his back, bringing Xander with him.

Clark let his hands roam, tracing Xander's back through the worn cotton shirt, resting them briefly on the denim-covered curve of his ass. Xander gasped and shifted against him, nudging Clark's knees with one of his own until he could straddle his thigh. Then he began to rock.

With a hiss, Clark arched his back, pressing his pelvis tighter against him. Xander moaned in approval and rocked a little faster, increasing the friction, but just before things got really good, he tore himself away and rolled onto his back.

"What?" Clark asked, panting heavily. "Why did you stop?"

"We're in the middle of a field, farm boy," he replied, chest heaving, eyes focused on the bright summer sky. "And you might be used to getting nookie in the great outdoors, but I'm not." He glanced at him and ran his tongue over reddened lips. "I bet now you're wishing Smallville had that seedy hotel. I am so not doing this at Mrs. B's."

"Not a problem." Clark got onto all fours and crawled toward him in what he hoped was a sexy way. "I've got the key to Lex's guest house." He moved up his body, trapping him between strong arms and legs. "He said every kid needed a place to go to get away from it all." He nosed the necklace away from Xander's collarbone, let his tongue flick out to taste the salt-sweet of his sweat.

Xander ran his hands under Clark's T-shirt over the sweep of his ribs and the bumps of his vertebrae. "Somehow I doubt he had this in mind when he said that."

"He gave it to me after the first time he met Bella." He found Xander's earlobe and bit gently.

"OK, that's exactly what he had in mind." He bucked upwards when Clark's tongue traced his jaw line. "So what are we still doing here?"

"Burning daylight." With a final kiss, OK, three or four kisses, Clark forced himself to stand up and held out a hand. Xander took it and didn't resist when Clark hoisted him to his feet. Clark tugged a little harder than necessary, hoping Xander would end up in his arms, but the other boy resisted.

"I'll take the truck back, get my cash, and meet you at the castle." He was already climbing into the cab.

"I'll be there." He waited until the truck cleared the top of the bluff before speeding to his own truck.

"Wow."

"Yeah."

"Wow."

"You said that already."

"Brain gone. Other words later."

Clark laughed and rolled onto his side to look at his companion. Xander's eyes were closed, his hair messed up, his skin damp with sweat. He was a temptation not be resisted, and Clark wasn't inclined to try. He put his mouth on his shoulder, flickering his tongue over the warm flesh before kissing it.

"Mmm." Xander hunched his shoulder encouragingly. "Like that."

"Me, too." He progressed from shoulder to collarbone, mapping the golden skin with his tongue.

Xander purred passively under his mouth for a few minutes before rolling them over and pinning Clark's shoulders to the bed. His expression turned predatory. "My turn."

He tilted his head as Xander kissed down the side of his neck and across his throat. "Why didn't we think of this sooner?"

"Because," an agile mouth muttered against his chest, "the brochure said 'Come out to Kansas', not 'Come out in Kansas'."

Clark ran his fingers through Xander's hair and down his back, tracing and molding the muscles there again and again. He didn't know what kind of exercise facilities they had in Sunnydale, but whatever Xander was doing to get a back like this was a good thing. "I don't think we've come out."

Xander briefly lifted his head and glanced over his shoulder before resuming his oral examination of Clark's torso. "There's a trail of clothes from the door to the bed that might disagree with you."

He slid his hands to Xander's ass, gave it a squeeze. "Among other things. What I meant," he said, continuing over Xander's snort, "is that we both obviously like girls, so we didn't really come out. We just found out we like to plow both sides of the field."

Xander pushed against the mattress until he could stare down at him in open-mouthed shock, and then he began to laugh. The laughs turned to guffaws, and he collapsed onto the bed, holding his sides.

"What?" Clark jabbed him in the ribs, trying to get his attention back. "What's so funny?"

"A farming metaphor?" Xander choked, wiping at the hysterical tears on his cheeks. "You used a farming metaphor for sex?"

"In case you missed it, I am a farmer." He tried to look stern, but the corners of his lips kept turning up in response to Xander's laughing smile.

"I had picked up on that, yes." He struggled to school his features into as innocent an expression as he could manage while laying naked on fine cotton sheets. "The hayseed you're always chewing on is a big give away."

"Oh, you're dead now!" Clark pounced and began to tickle him, only cheating a little bit with his speed to avoid Xander's flailing arms and to cop a feel while he was at it.

They tussled across the bed, tickling, kissing, groping, each trying to gain the upper hand, until Xander finally hollered, "Uncle!" They flopped onto the bed in a snickering heap, bare shoulders brushing against each other as they tried to catch their breath.

"Oh, man," Xander panted. "That's the first tickle fight I've ever lost. I hang my head in shame."

Clark grinned. Winner and still champion. "I'm sure we can think of something to make you feel better about your defeat."

Xander curled onto his side, tucking his arm under his head and watching Clark with darkening eyes. His voice was low and inviting. "Oh, yeah?"

Clark's grin melted away, and he licked his lips. He caught Xander's necklace with the tip of a finger and tugged him closer, eyes focused on his mouth. "Yeah."

They were both feeling better by the time they went home.

Xander stayed another week under the guise of his quest for gas money, and he did still do odd jobs here and there, but what he mostly did was Clark. The doing was mutual, of course, and filled the long, hazy afternoons with a sensual abandon Clark hadn't experienced since Bella went back to Italy. Now, as then, he was glad that the staff at the castle was so well trained. The sheets were always clean in the guest house, and no one ever seemed to be around when he and Xander half walked, half fell through the door every day.

Now, though, their idyllic week of laughter and sex was over. Clark really had to finish his summer reading list (Crime and Punishment? His teacher was a sadist.), and Xander needed to start his search for his first post-high school job.

"You sure you don't want to come back with me?" Xander asked as he toyed with Clark's hair. "You'd be a great souvenir."

Clark smiled lazily, enjoying the rise and fall of his breathing Xander-pillow. "If it weren't for that darn senior year..."

And now here they were, both parked on the side of the road just outside the town limits in the pink light of early morning.

Xander slammed the trunk on his miraculously healed vehicle and turned to give Clark a quirky smile. "Isn't this a little girly? Saying good-bye where we met?"

Clark shrugged. "Maybe. But I sure as hell couldn't do this in Mrs. Bennison's driveway." He pinned Xander against the car and proceeded to kiss him senseless. It was like the first time, slow and hot, and they were both moaning when Clark finally pulled himself away.

With eyes that were slightly unfocused, Xander looked down at his crotch. "And I'm supposed to drive like this?"

Clark was in no better condition, and he determinedly ignored the ache in his groin. "It will help you keep awake."

"Yeah. Right," Xander snorted. "You're just a tease and a bastard."

He laughed. "I can honestly say that you are the first person to call me either of those things."

Xander swept clear hazel eyes over Clark from shoes to hair. "Then people haven't been paying enough attention to you."

His voice was all low and inviting again, and Clark sternly told himself that he absolutely could not drag Xander into the irrigation ditch and give him a real going away present. "I'll keep that in mind."

A moment's hesitation, then Xander opened his door and climbed behind the wheel. "It's been an experience."

"And a half." He closed the door and leaned down to talk through the open window. "Send me a postcard?"

"You betcha." He turned the ignition over and looked startled. "It still wigs me out that it starts the first time."

"I told you Syd's the best."

The silence between them almost stretched too long. Before things could get really girly, though, Xander put the car in gear. "See you around, Clark."

"Drive safe."

"Will do." And then with a grin and a squeal of tires, Xander was gone.

Clark stood on the shoulder and watched his car disappear into the fields. Xander was right. It had been an experience, and an educational one at that.

With a gusty sigh, he climbed into his truck and tried not to think about how many minutes of boredom once again stood between him and school.

Ace of hearts. Queen of spades. Two of clubs. Jack of diamonds. He flicked the cards listlessly, not even trying to get them into the empty garbage can he had placed on the floor. He wasn't even sure how long he had been at it, sending the rectangles of laminated cardboard across the room. Not that it mattered. There wasn't anything else to do in the house. Or on the farm. Or in the town. Or in the county.

The phone rang, and it took him several rings to work up enough gumption to answer it. "Hello?"

"I told you the boredom wouldn't actually kill you."

Suddenly the lethargy he had been fighting all week vanished, and he grinned. "Lex! When did you get back?"

"Last Tuesday. This is the first day I've felt even slightly in sync with Smallville time."

"That's what you get for spending six weeks in Europe and leaving me here to rot." He hopped up from the armchair and gathered up the scattered playing cards. He wasn't going to be totally pathetic and invite himself over to Lex's house, really he wasn't, but it didn't hurt to make sure the living room was tidy before he left.

Lex's sigh was exaggerated. "I suppose it would make you feel better to talk about it, wouldn't it?"

"It might." He scribbled a note-I'm at Lex's. Home in time for chores.-on the kitchen pad and reached for the truck keys.

"You'd better come over then. What kind of a friend would I be if I ignored your pain?"

"I'll be there in a few minutes." He hung up the phone, locked the door behind him and dashed to the truck. Jumping inside and throwing the truck into gear, he sped along the back road that was the quickest route to Lex.

He was in the study, laptop open, desk littered with files, phone against his ear. Clark rolled his eyes at this evidence that the work never ended for the young entrepreneur, even after the business trip from hell, but he grinned all the same when Lex greeted him with a familiar nod and ushered him into the room.

As he dropped onto the couch, he knew he was smiling in a really goofy way, but he couldn't help it. He'd been anxious for Lex to get back ever since Xander left, and now he was here, sitting on the edge of his desk and smiling back at him as he continued his conversation with whichever of his minions needed his immediate aid.

Clark took advantage of the moment and studied his friend, searching for signs that he was still the same after six weeks on another continent. There were faint shadows under his eyes, marks of his lingering jetlag, but other than that he looked good. He was still lean and graceful as a cat, his skin still pale and perfect like white marble. He turned, searching for something on his desk, and the sun streaming in through the stained glass windows illuminated the clean lines of his nose and cheeks and-

He could almost hear the click as it fell into place, the explanation for why, of all his friends who were away this summer, it was Lex he thought about most. As he watched Lex's long, manicured fingers flipping through files and papers, he realized that what he had thought was powerful friendship was actually attraction, attraction that had resided deep in his belly almost from the moment they had met. He leaned back against the rich leather of the couch and let the feeling curl through him as Lex's voice, sounding like what he imagined scotch tasted like, washed over him.

"Clark."

Lex's lips curled around his name, making it sexy for the first time ever.

"Clark."

With a start, Clark looked up at Lex, who was now standing in front of him, one eyebrow quirked in mild annoyance. "Huh?"

"I asked if you wanted something to drink. Twice."

He felt his cheeks redden. Damn. He hadn't blushed like that in months. "Um, no. I'm good, thanks."

Lex gave him one of his appraising stares then moved to the bar. "I thought you came over so we could talk." He bent over to take a water from the fridge, the motion pulling his black slacks tight across his butt, and Clark forgot to breathe. Lex turned, twisting the lid open. "So? Are you going to tell me how pathetic your summer was?"

"Could I ask you a question first?" Clark held up a warning finger. "And if you tell me I just did, I will hurt you."

Lex smirked at him over the rim of the bottle. "Ask."

He pushed himself up from the couch and strode slowly across the room, glad that the first clothes he had laid his hands on this morning were a T-shirt that was on the verge of too small and his most faded and frayed jeans. "What's your attitude toward friends who do unorthodox things?"

"Well," Lex replied, putting down his bottle and leaning against the bar, "as I have done just about everything that's considered unorthodox by society at large, I'd say I am as opened minded as you can get." He cocked his head to the side as Clark closed the distance between them, appraising again. "Why?"

He bent his head and kissed him.

Clark wanted to grab Lex, to lose himself in firm lips and soft skin for the next year or so, but he knew the choice had to be Lex's. Exercising every bit of his self-control, he lifted his head and waited.

Lex's eyes were wide and stunned, and he swallowed hard before he spoke. "It seems your summer wasn't as bad as you led me to believe."

"It had its high points." He forced his hands to stay at his sides.

Lex did not. He lifted his hand and wrapped it around Clark's neck, curling his fingers into his hair. "Tell me all about it."

Clark didn't have time to smile before Lex guided his mouth back down to catch it in a slow, hungry kiss.

Lips. Tongue. A hint of teeth. Lex was proving that he was as good at kissing as he was at everything else, and Clark pressed fully against him. Lex arched into him, slipping his free hand under the waistband of his battered jeans and pulling Clark even closer.

"Clark," he purred, trailing his mouth from lips to jaw to ear, "do you know how long I've wanted you?"

"I'm starting to figure it out." He put his arms around Lex's waist and grabbed a handful of shirt, one of those long sleeved ones he liked so much and that probably cost more than Clark's whole wardrobe. Tugging on the fabric, he freed it from his pants and slid his palm up the smooth skin covering his spine. Lex moaned as he traced the contours of his muscles again and again, and Clark began to suspect that he had a thing for really nice backs.

When Lex fastened his teeth on the side of his neck at the same time he gave his ass a rough squeeze, Clark gasped. Suddenly, it wasn't enough. He needed skin and he needed it now. Pushing Lex away, he yanked his T-shirt over his head, tossed it on the floor, reached for Lex's shirt and repeated the process. Then he stopped. And stared. And probably drooled.

Lex was perfect, like one of those Greek statues he had studied in Humanities last year. Defined muscles, flawless skin, ideal proportions. He wanted to touch and touch, but before he could, Lex's hand closed around his wrist.

"Don't," he said, his voice a rough echo of itself. "Not yet. I'm not done looking."

Clark struggled to hold still as Lex circled him. He never liked being the center of attention, and the way Lex was eyeing him like artwork he was considering purchasing bordered on weird. He revised that assessment, though, when Lex pressed his bare chest against his back, his hard dick against his ass. "Clark." His arms snaked around him, his lips exploring his vertebrae. "My beautiful boy."

"Lex." He let his head drop back onto Lex's shoulder, grinding slowly against him. "Please."

"Not here." His hand belied his words as it toyed with the buttons at Clark's fly. "We need to go upstairs."

"Why?" Clark squirmed around in his hold until they were face to face again. He'd never seen Lex like this before, eyes bright, cheeks flushed, and he had to kiss him fiercely to congratulate him on his new look. "There are lots of flat surfaces down here."

Lex groaned. "If I see you naked in my office, Clark, I'll never be able to work in here again."

"I'm failing to see the bad." Clark dropped his gaze and reached for Lex's belt. "I like the idea that thinking of me would make it impossible for you to focus on work."

Long fingers curled around his chin and brought his head back up. Lex's expression was open, tender, and he whispered, "It already does."

A surge of joy he hadn't expected rushed through him. "Oh."

Lex caressed his face with gentle fingertips. "Upstairs?"

Clark turned to press a kiss into his palm. "Upstairs."

A sleeping Lex was sprawled on his stomach on the bed, his head resting on the pillow that up until five minutes ago he had been sharing with Clark. Clark eyed the pillow, the bed, and Lex with increasing levels of regret as he perched on the edge of the mattress to pull on his sneakers.

"Lex."

A sleepy sound.

"Lex."

He cracked one eye open for a microsecond. "Whyre pantson?"

Clark grinned. It seemed Lex wasn't always articulate after all. "I have to go. Irrigation lines to check, cows to feed."

Lex buried his face in the pillow and muttered something that sounded suspiciously like "let them order take-out".

As much as he hated to disturb him, there was no way Clark was going to leave Lex to wake up to an empty bed. He put his hand on a pale shoulder and gave him a gentle shake. "Lex."

He opened his eyes completely this time, and his lips curled into a contented smile. "Hey."

He knew he was doing that goofy smile thing again. "Hey. I need to get home. Chores."

Lex rolled onto his back, smirking and stretching like a cat to display long limbs and smooth skin. "OK."

Clark's mouth went dry at the sight of tight abs. "OK," he parroted faintly.

Laughing, Lex pushed him off the bed. "Go. Feed cows. Tell your mom I invited you for dinner and movies later."

"Right." He swooped down for a quick, sloppy kiss. "Be back soon."

Lex's voice stopped him at the door. "To whom should I address my thank you note?"

"His name's Xander," Clark answered with a fond smile.

"So noted."

"Bye." Clark slipped into the hall and resisted the urge to simply speed home.

Summers in Smallville ruled.

The End