Speak of the Devil
Just another afternoon at the Kent farm, and Oliver found himself sitting on those loft stairs with a photo album in his lap. Clark leaned against a post, a glass of lemonade in his hand, shirt off and sweating. The morning chores, even with Oliver's awkward assistance, were barely done. Unseasonable heat for a Kansas October, a drawn out Indian Summer.
"How old were you again?" Oliver said, glancing at a family photo, the Kents on the porch, Lex there but leaning to the side.
"When I met Lex? Fourteen. He kind of ran into me. With his car." Clark paused, took a long sip.
Oliver flipped the page to find another picture of Lex and Clark at the farmer's market. Lex with an apple in his hand, eyes on Clark, smiling, but Clark distracted, looking off into the distance.
"Who took this one?" he said.
Clark came over, sat beside him. "Huh. I'm not sure. Mom? This still would have been freshman year. Had to be because there's Lana and Whitney in the next one."
"Whitney?" Oliver had a hard time keeping all the names straight.
"Lana's boyfriend. He died the next year." Clark shook his head slightly and sighed.
"I'm sorry. Were you friends?"
"No, not really. You know how it is." Clark stood back up, glass empty. He went over to the pitcher and refilled it. "Did you want some more?"
"No, I'm good." His glass still half-full, Oliver took a sip, listened to the ice sigh and crack in the glass. "But you and Lex were."
Clark's bare shoulders tensed and didn't let go. Oliver couldn't see his face, but he guessed that was just as tense too. "Yeah. Used to be. Like best friends. Close, you know? Closer than Pete or Chloe." He paused. "Even Lana, sometimes."
Oliver flipped through some more pages: family, friends, holidays, even some at Lex's ludicrous castle. Clark in some of them, tall, early development, only a hint of gangliness, a larger than life but somehow ethereal beauty that spoke of a man. Maybe that's how Lex rationalized it. The pictures flowed one into the other, forming a larger one.
"Clark, don't take this the wrong way, but what kind of man has a fourteen-year old boy for a best friend?"
Clark turned around, sharp. "Don't say it like that. It wasn't like that. God, you sound just like..."
"Just like what?"
"Like my dad," Clark finished softly. "Look, Ollie, you don't know how he was. He used to be different." He slid slowly down the post, sat on the barn floor. "Things just got weird. I mean, I couldn't tell him about me. I couldn't even tell Lana. You just can't keep any kind of relationship going like that. You know, 'Hey, you didn't just see that,' or 'Wow, am I pumped on adrenaline or what?' They both got sick of all the hand-waving."
Clark looked so tired, forlorn, and Oliver just got pissed. Not at him, but for him. "So Lex just took up where you left off with Lana? Fuck, and don't excuse my French, but real friends don't do that. He's not a nice man, Clark. If he knew, about you and what you can do, you'd be tucked away in his lab and you know it."
Clark merely raised an eyebrow, swirled his glass. "You tell Lois yet?"
He sighed, "Not yet. Maybe. Eventually. Her being a reporter makes it a little difficult to keep it off the record." Oliver raised his glass. "Nice deflection."
Clark raised his in return and smiled. "Anytime."
He could have just let it go, but Clark clearly wasn't. Changing the subject wasn't letting it go, just burying it deeper. So Oliver put the album aside, stood, and walked over to Clark, knelt beside him. "Hey," he said as he felt the need to brush those damp bangs aside and so he did. "I've known him a lot longer than you. When you're raised the way we were, you just don't turn out nice. Everything is about positioning, advantage." He paused, lifted up that chin. "Neither one of us is nice. But Clark, I'm trying."
Clark looked up at him, green-eyed. "I know that, Ollie. You're a good man."
Oliver felt a trickle of sweat roll down his back. Horse flies buzzed in the shaft of light by the stalls. Yes, it was all about choices and he didn't always make the best ones. He took the glass out of Clark's hand, took a sip, and set it on the hay strewn floor. "No, Clark, I'm not," he said as he felt himself descending and Clark, eyes open and searching, not pulling away.
And above the beatskip rhythm of inevitability in his ears, Oliver heard footsteps. Turning his head to the side, aware that his hands still gripped Clark's shoulders, he found that those footsteps belonged to Lex Luthor, silhouetted in the open barn door. He grinned, kept that intimate distance. "Well, speak of the devil and he appears."
Lex merely stood there, face unreadable but eyes narrowed. "Perhaps I came at a bad time."
"I wasn't aware you were allowed to come here at all, Lex," Oliver said, rising slowly.
Clark scrambled up off the floor. "Lex, what are you doing here? Haven't you heard of a phone?" Worry creased his face. "Is it Lana? Is she okay?"
"Lana's fine, Clark. I just came by to apologize." Lex paused, his gaze shifting from Clark's bare torso to Oliver's tank top. "I wasn't aware that you were entertaining."
Clark's eyes hardened, "Apologize for what, Lex? I thought we were past that point."
Lex tilted his head to the side, gazing only at Clark. "You took the time to visit me in the hospital and I was unnecessarily harsh." He glanced over at Oliver and back at Clark. "I'm sorry for that, Clark."
Oliver crossed his arms and snorted. "Good one, Lex."
Lex smiled, one sly turn. "Was I speaking to you?"
"Oh, please, by all means, fumble away. Don't let me stop you." Oliver laughed, walked back to the stairs and retrieved his drink. "Mmmmm, your mother makes the best lemonade in Kansas, Clark. Seriously, she could make a fortune in distribution."
"I wasn't aware that Queen Industries had expanded into food services. I look forward to reading your next company report," Lex said as he walked over to the pitcher. "Is there an extra glass, Clark?"
Clark just looked between Lex and Oliver. "Fine. I don't have time for this." He picked up a sledgehammer from the tool table. "I've got a few more posts to put in." Looking pointedly at Lex, he said, "You'll be gone when I get back." And then he left.
"Well, Lex, it appears that he wants me to stay. But I'm sure I can find another glass for you in the meantime," Oliver said. "Really, to drive all this way, it's the least I can do." Oliver picked up Clark's glass, turned it over so the last of the ice ratcheted on the floor. "It's his. I hope you don't mind."
Lex smiled, took the glass, poured himself a drink. "Playing host already, Oliver? My, the two of you have become fast friends." Lex took a long sip, closed his eyes and let out a contented sigh.
"From what I hear, people take to him quite quickly." Oliver took a sip, looked at Lex. "He's a good kid."
"You've only just met, I'm sure he'll surprise you," Lex replied as he turned and made his way up the loft stairs.
Oliver followed and found him tracing his fingers along Clark's desk, proprietary, as if Oliver were the intruder and forgotten.
"You know, my guess is that glass is the closest his spit has ever come to your mouth," Oliver said from the top of the stairs.
Lex turned, for a moment startled, but then he smiled, raised his glass. "Drink of this and remember me." And eyes never leaving Oliver's, he drank, letting his tongue trace the lip of the glass.
"Fourteen? Jesus, Lex, that's illegal almost everywhere. Even Elvis had to wait and he barely got away with it. And last time I looked, Priscilla had tits."
"Really, Oliver, you've always been sordid. Not everyone is," Lex said, hand still caressing the desk. "No wonder you and Lois get on so well. She'll always be crass no matter what designer dress you pour her into."
"I appreciate directness in a woman. I find it refreshing." Oliver sat down on the couch, put his feet up on the coffee table.
Lex moved over to the telescope, turned as if he'd just remembered something. "Oliver, you have bits of straw on your knees. You might want to do something about that before you make your trip over to the Talon."
Oliver didn't bother to shift, brush his jeans. "Did you ever get dirt under your nails here, Lex? I think you wanted to." He put his glass down, stood behind Lex, put both his hands on his shoulders. "Even with a good woman waiting for you at home, you still can't stop yourself from getting in your car and taking that trip down memory lane, can you?" He felt Lex's muscles bridle underneath the silk shirt, now showing slight beads of sweat.
Clark, in the near field and knowing Lex could be watching, pounded a fence post in with the sledgehammer, a marvelous arc, broad chest glistening.
"Look at him, he's magnificent. You can't bring yourself to look away, Lex." Oliver breathed lightly on Lex's neck. "How many times have you driven by in the past month? Once? Twice? Five?"
Lex straightened slightly, but made no other movement. "I happen to have property nearby."
"Of course you do," Oliver said while resting his chin on Lex's shoulder. "But this time, you happened to see my car in the driveway. Did you think you were going to catch us fucking in the barn?"
"A few minutes later, I would have." The knuckles of Lex's free hand were white and taut against the sill, the other hand cultured and relaxed against the sweating glass.
"Here, give me that." And Oliver took the lemonade and put it on the sill.
"Careful, it might break. Clark might not appreciate that. The set came from his grandmother."
"I think he'd forgive me. I hear he forgives people a lot of things, Lex. Always expects the best even if it's nowhere to be found." Oliver's tongue licked a thin stripe, almost to Lex's ear. "You may have kept it in your pants, Lex, but you screwed him in every other way. And then you come here with some fabricated apology because you can't stand to think that he could have another...friend."
Lex closed his eyes, let out a small laugh. "Just like you were my friend once?"
Oliver felt that tickle of shame in his palms but didn't release his grip, just softened it. Remembering that boy who followed him into the Excelsior fields, the same hands that once gripped his as they grappled in the grass, he said, "I'm not that boy anymore."
"Yes, but you're that kind of man." Lex turned, faced him, nothing but bemusement in his blue eyes. "Aren't you, Oliver?"
He let his hands fall back to his side, but didn't step back. "We were both kids, Lex. People change."
Lex leaned in, predatory, his hands now gripping Oliver's shoulders. "Yes, I believe they do as well." His face just inches away, he whispered. "I don't need that kind of friend anymore."
Oliver smiled, brushed his hand over Lex's hard crotch. "Then this is for Clark? I don't think he needs that kind of friend either, Lex."
Lex hissed, pushed into his hand. "As much as I would appreciate a free hand job, I really should be going." He backed away but managed to look menacing while doing it. "You should get that glass before it falls," he said as his hand swung back, sending the glass out and down, the faint sound of shattering following. "I'm not that boy anymore either, Oliver."
He only shook his head and retrieved his own glass, whole and unscathed. Lex had deadly aim; he just picked the wrong targets. "Yes, Lex, but you're that kind of man."
They regarded each other for a moment, the silence lengthening until Oliver said, "Such odd weather for October. So warm, don't you think?"
Lex tilted his head slightly. "I don't engage in pointless small talk," he said and headed for the stairs.
"Has the EPA been by the LuthorCorp plant lately?" Oliver asked as he followed Lex down.
Lex, not bothering to turn, said, "We adhere to all federal regulations. It's a matter of public record." But turn he did, appearing amused. "And Oliver, if you're going to blame me for global warming, I'd look into the factory emissions of your Malaysian subsidiaries first."
"So you're still here," Clark said as he came in, sledgehammer over his shoulder. "And why is there a pile of glass outside?" he asked only Lex.
"My apologies, Clark. Oliver and I got caught up in a little chat. I'll leave him to explain the glass."
Clark looked over at Oliver on the stairs, and then back at Lex. "I'm sure it's quite a story." Clark crossed one arm, hammer still over his shoulder, looking like a Workers Unite fantasy. Oliver heard the faintest hitch of breath from Lex, but Clark only glared, implacable. "That he'll tell after you leave."
And Oliver's jaw came near to dropping when he heard Lex offer, with just a hint of vulnerability, "Perhaps I should clean it up."
Clark's mouth remained hard, but the eyes softened. "Just leave it, Lex. It wouldn't be the first mess of yours that I had to pick up."
"Whatever you say, Clark," Lex said.
And Oliver watched Lex, almost motionless yet thrumming, and he could see Clark start to respond to it as he set the hammer gently down. Fourteen, fifteen, and forever with Lex apparently.
"Fine," Oliver said as he went over to the tool table, picked up an old whisk broom and dustpan. "I'll do it."
Clark broke away from Lex's gaze, grinned and faced him. "Hey, that's nice of you, Ollie. Thanks."
"My pleasure," he replied while looking at Lex, whose face had returned to the boardroom mask. "What are friends for?"
"I should go," Lex said and turned.
Clark stood there for a moment, increasingly uncertain. "Hey, Lex, wait a minute. I'll walk you out." And he followed. One, two long strides until he caught up with him at the door.
Oliver followed them as far as that door, watched as they spoke for a minute and then more by Lex's Porsche parked behind his yellow Roadster. Lex, eyes never leaving Clark's face, placed one hand on his arm, almost a caress. Then he nodded and walked over to the driver's side. He spared one glance over at Oliver, a glinting hard smile, as he got inside and then peeled out of the driveway.
"Well, that was lovely," Oliver said as Clark came back inside. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, really," Clark said as he started sorting out tools, putting them away. He picked up his crumpled up shirt from the table and wiped his face. "We're meeting up for coffee later at the Talon."
The dustpan and whisk broom felt loose in his hands. "Coffee? You're kidding me."
Clark came over, put his hand on Oliver's shoulder, looked him in the eye, steady. "It's not like that. Not like how you guys talked about."
"You heard us?" He could say things about private conversations, but after all, it was Clark's barn and they were talking about him. Maybe it was better for Clark to know that he wasn't a nice man rather than just to tell him.
"Some of it. And if you and Lex did...stuff...before, I'm okay with that. No explanations about who did what to who. Unless you want to." He squeezed Oliver's shoulder, looked at him almost imploringly. "Okay?"
Oliver just nodded, felt the gravity of him, could understand why Clark had so many people in orbit around him.
"I don't need you to protect me, Ollie. I know what he is." Clark paused. "But thanks." He went back to sorting tools, laughed to himself. "You know, he once told me that it's best to keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. I think I can handle coffee."
"I'd better go clean that glass up before I forget about it," he said as he walked out the door, found the spray of glass in the dust, already sticky with bees.
And as he swept each shard up, the bees dancing dangerously close to his hands, Oliver thought it ironic that Lex taught that quote to Clark. Lex didn't know the difference between friend and enemy. They were the same, interchangeable. Clark would soon find that out.
Oliver could only hope to be there when he did.