The snow was melting, revealing islands of dark, frost burnt grass scattered across the broad expanse of the mansion's lawn. In the gardens and around the walkways and retaining walls, small green shoots broke through the black and white pattern of snow and muddy ground. The sight made Clark smile, because it reminded him of a Holstein cow spattered with green paint as if Bossy had engaged in a losing paint-ball battle.
"Moo," he whispered, and laughed to himself.
In another few weeks the little green nubs sticking up through the mud would erupt into a blaze of color; bright golden daffodils, red, yellow and purple tulips, and almost-white crocus. The lawn would be a bright green carpet, tended to perfection by a myriad of gardeners and horticultural experts. In the air would be a sweet perfume, exuded from the flowering bushes and trees. The little birds that had visited Lex's bird feeder over the winter would seek out places to do their wooing high among the pink and white blossoms.
Clark stopped before his finger found the bell, frozen in place upon the stoop. He could hear his own heart pounding in his temples and the soft rasp of his breath past his lips. Both had quickened the moment he'd heard Lex's voice on the telephone.
"Come over." Lex had said.
And Clark came, immediately, not bothering with the truck which was limited to no more than sixty miles per hour, not caring if Lex were suspicious as to how he'd arrived so quickly. Careless? Maybe. Clark didn't care anymore, not when he knew Lex understood. It was in his eyes every time he looked at Clark these days; knowledge. The details eluded him still, but he knew. When he'd stopped asking was when Clark realized it for certain.
Yet he still called. He didn't care, and when the burdens became too much, it was to him that Clark ran. One moment in Lex's presence and the world outside the castle walls became inconsequential. Clark was captive to blue eyes and a quiet smile, held hostage by the low purr of Lex's voice. More than once Clark had been ready to confess, tell Lex everything, offer himself up as a rare collectible needing to be kept and coddled; one of a kind, extraterrestrial.
Yours. Take me.
"No Bambi, you're not twitter-pated." Clark giggled, felt stupid, and shook his head at himself. "Idiot."
"What are you grinning about?"
Clark snatched his finger away from the bell, and almost backed off the stoop. The voice mutated into a low chuckle issuing from a nearly invisible speaker set into the wall beside the door. He looked at it suspiciously, then raised his eyes to the top of the door where a security camera looked down at him.
"I - uh..."
"Just come in Clark, I'm in my office."
Obeying, Clark stepped back towards the door, pausing to wipe his boots on the braided grass mat that lay before it. One would expect the door to an ancient medieval castle to creak, but none of the doors on the Luthor mansion creaked. They were too well tended, like everything else. Clark adored the mansion. It seemed almost part of the natural world around it, with its stone walls, oak paneling, and marble sills. Even the big stained glass windows seemed alive, sparkling with the dark red and purple/blue indicative of the royal blood and bloodlines to which the Luthors could trace their heritage.
Clark admired that ability, and would have traded any of his own for it. As far as he knew, his heritage began and ended with himself. There was nothing left of what came before, and likely, there would be nothing after.
He paused just in the foyer. It was habit with him anymore. He stood in the patchwork of colored light streaming through one of the big windows, drinking in the sunlight as he admired the way the colored glass tinted his skin. Flickering a hand, it went from pale gold flesh to pinkish red, then blue, and back again as if he were spinning inside a kaleidoscope. The sun warmed the furnishings where it touched them. Clark inhaled the warm leather smell, but caught the faintest wisp of woodsmoke too, scents that always reminded him of Lex. Smiling, he turned down the corridor toward Lex's office. His boots thudded dully on the stone floor.
Inside, Lex was sitting at his desk with his feet up, and the transition of Clark's footsteps from the stone to the creaking parquet floor, drew his attention away from the computer. Clark struggled not to slip into a silly grin.
God, what is it about him that does this to me?
It was starting to go beyond admiration, way beyond infatuation, and even past the realm of whatever it was Clark felt for Lana. Lana turned his head. Lex turned his mind, and his heart, and his soul, drawing him in as if he had his own gravitational pull. Clark's strength was useless. He could not break away.
He wasn't sure he wanted to either.
Settling into a chair, he watched as Lex swung his legs down from the top of the desk. The motion was fluid and graceful, almost lethargic. Lex did everything slowly. He never seemed rushed or impatient, but quietly contained in both his voice and his body, much like Clark himself. Clark had to contain himself, or he'd hurt someone. He wondered if Lex felt the same way about himself. He was, after all, a Luthor. What went on behind his eyes?
Let me in.
Lex leaned over his desk, lacing his hands together and giving Clark a wry smile. He seemed relaxed, and thoroughly at ease. "I understand you have a birthday next week."
Clark shrugged. "Technically, no. My birthday is the twenty-ninth and it's not a leap year."
"So..." Lex raised an eyebrow. "You're only eight? Is this some sort of 'dog years' equation?"
Ducking his head, Clark smiled. "No."
Lex's chair creaked as he stood. He beckoned Clark to follow him over to the hearth, where a fire burned brightly. It was still cold enough outside to make a fire comfortable, especially within the stone walls of the castle. Neither heat nor cold bothered Clark much. His body adjusted quickly to whatever temperature he encountered, making him wonder if he didn't have some sort of reptilian ancestry. The idea was as funny as it was unnerving.
On the other hand, Lex found the castle unpleasantly cold, and confided to Clark he would rather have moved into one of the condominiums on the other side of town. They were fully equipped with the latest in modern heating methods and reminded him of his penthouse apartment in Metropolis.
"Only closer to the ground," he'd joked.
"Didn't Vicky keep you warm?" Clark had asked softly as he'd leaned on a pool cue waiting for Lex to take his shot.
A fire had been burning that day too, and it's light had flickered in Lex's eyes as he looked up at Clark. Clark had tried to keep his tone light, joking, and wondered, when he saw Lex's bemused expression, whether or not he had failed. He didn't know what Lex saw when he looked up at him standing in front of the fire, leaning casually on the cue-stick, but whatever it was changed something. Their eyes had met as Lex straightened.
"Vicky made my bed colder."
Clark hadn't been quite sure how to interpret that statement. "Why did you sleep with her then?"
Lex bent to make his shot. "Because she was there." He uttered a breathy curse as his ball banked off the far side of the table, missing its intended hole by millimeters.
"Do you know how that sounds?"
With a sight, Lex had straightened again, and he'd regarded Clark with a gentle expression. "Yes."
"Do you care?"
"Clark, sometimes things just fall into place the way we want them, and sometimes they don't." Lex's voice had been soft, not condescending, as his words would have implied, but almost wistful. "Sometimes we do things to help ease the pain of disappointment." -
Clark's fingers tightened around the pool cue - he'd stopped just short of breaking it. "Have I disappointed you?"
There was a beat, during which the fire popped, very nearly causing Clark to snap the cue in half as he started.
"No, Clark." Lex had replied quietly. "You haven't."
The fire was the same as it had been during that conversation, and so was the room, but instead of playing pool, they were standing before the fire with nothing between them. Clark felt having the pool table, or Lex's desk between them was somehow "safer." In himself it precluded the need to stand too close. Clark liked standing close to Lex, where he could feel his body heat and smell his cologne. It felt good, comfortable, but awakened feelings in him best left unexpressed.
Lex reached for the mantle, and withdrew a square package wrapped in plain blue paper. "It's not a truck," he said. "And I don't think your father will object."
"Lex you didn't..."
"Shut up and take the gift, Clark." Lex said quietly.
Clark did. His fingers slipped beneath the seam, ripping the paper away to reveal a hardcover copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, and a DVD of the film version. He laughed, shaking his head.
"Yeah." He turned the DVD over in his hands, reading the back. "Maybe I should have Dad watch this with me."
"So he won't make that face whenever he sees me?"
Looking up, Clark frowned. "What face?"
Lex smiled, but there was very little humor in it. "The one where he looks as if he'd just eaten a lemon." He held up a hand. "And don't tell me it's really my father he dislikes, I won't believe you."
"Lex, he's just overprotective."
"He doesn't need to protect you from me."
The words were barely audible, and he seemed almost surprised he'd said them aloud. Clark wondered if he dared push the envelope. He wondered if he could. He fought for the words with effort, gaining more time by pausing to tuck his gift into his coat pocket. He seemed to suddenly feel the heat of the fire, or was it something else?
"He thinks you're wanting more from me than friendship."
With a slow intake of breath, Lex turned his head away, biting his lower lip. For a moment something shattered in his face and the masks he wore fell away layer after layer to reveal the inner core. There was the vulnerable, fearful, boy Lionel had felt the need to bully into manhood. There was the gentle young man who had tried to hide behind the cloak of rebellion, but who's true desires lay within the pages of a comic book. He existed only a heartbeat, before being buried once more.
Clark realized he was not known for his powers of observation, but there were times when he could be astoundingly empathetic, leading him to wonder if he had some other alien abilities, like psychic abilities. If he did have them, they were completely unreliable. He was in trouble for being obtuse more often than not, especially with the girls. Lex seemed different. In the breath of time when Lex's composure had waned, Clark had felt the longing like a blow to his gut.
Lex hesitated. His voice roughened. "Maybe you'd better go."
"Maybe I should." Clark whispered.
He could feel the color rising in his cheeks, and a prickle of unease down his spine. Here was a threshold they were both afraid to cross, always turning away at the last moment to avoid stepping over into territory from which there could be no return. Clark wanted to reach out, but didn't know how. He was, the upcoming birthday aside, still just a kid, and he looked to Lex for guidance. Lex seemed bent on disproving Jonathan Kent's theories, and was suffocating himself to do it, dragging Clark down with him.
Clark wondered if the ache of longing he'd felt had been Lex's or his own. It held him there, standing before the fire, waiting for the confirmation from Lex that, yes, Clark should leave. He should leave before everything fell apart. The situation, and the fire, reminded Clark of the story of the Phoenix. What bright bird would rise from the ashes of their friendship if they succumbed to the flames?
The flames couldn't hurt Clark. He was already burdened with secrets. What was one more, and one he could share?
"Maybe I don't want to."
Lex raised his eyes, and only his eyes, regarding Clark with a gentle, appraising look. Clark wasn't sure what he saw, but whatever it was caused him to move. He closed the distance between them, raising his head to continue his appraisal. There was a slight flare to his nostrils as if he were taking in Clark's scent. It was a subtle, but somehow exceptionally erotic gesture. Clark's face grew warmer still.
"Do you understand..."
Clark interrupted him. "I'm not blind, nor stupid," he said brusquely, and added, much more softly: "Lex."
"Wise beyond your years?"
Shrugging, Clark met his gaze. Lex searched his eyes, and apparently found what confirmation he needed. Clark felt a gentle breath against his mouth and closed his eyes as their lips met. Exchanged in the kiss was warmth, passion, and a desire so strong Clark felt a surge of fear. Yet for him, it was over much too quickly. He opened his eyes slowly. He felt as if he were lost somewhere between sleep and consciousness, buried beneath a nearly suffocating blanket.
Lex's blue eyes, a dark storm colored blue in the subdued lighting of the den, hovered close before his own. Lex's lips moved just millimeters from his lips; he felt them as a moist warmth, tasted them as a faint wisp of mint. Clark wanted to feel more than words, but he was to be denied.
"You'd better go, Clark." Lex whispered. "For now."
Clark swallowed hard. His tongue flickered across the dampness of his mouth. "Okay."
Lex's voice hovered on the verge of breaking. "For now," he repeated.
Clark could only nod. His heart was thudding fiercely against the walls of his chest as if it wanted to break free of its confines. Clark wanted to let it free.
He raised his hands and gestured feebly with the gift he still held as he slowly backed towards the doors. "Thanks."
The wry grin Lex favored him with, made him smile, blush, and hasten quickly down the hallway.
He'd have to find an excuse to drop by again very soon.