Lex felt like a vampire waiting for the door to be opened and the invitation voiced allowing him admittance. Despite the truce he and Jonathan Kent seemed to have reached he expected to be turned away cold, told to keep out of the Kents' business, and escorted off the property with a rifle in his back. The two of them stood there with only the screen door between them and looked into each others' eyes.
He realized Jonathan had given up hope. Lex saw it in his bloodshot blue eyes, the pinched look of his face, and the slump in the once proud shoulders. Here was a man with very little left to lose. He could no longer keep up with the forces battering down his defenses. They had gotten inside, and taken his wife and his child.
Wordlessly, Jonathan opened the screen door to let Lex enter, stepping aside as he passed.
"Where?" Lex asked softly.
"In the living room." Jonathan rubbed at his face, and went outside without looking at Lex again. "I have to check on the stock," he murmured.
Anything to keep his mind off things, Lex thought. He was burying himself in the familiar routine of the farm work, which still needed to be done.
Lex sighed as he went into the living room. He tread softly, arcing wide around the sofa to where a chair had been pulled up beside it. He imagined Jonathan's vigil, split between the Smallville Medical Center, and the stillness of his own living room. Somehow it didn't surprise Lex that Clark was here instead of the hospital, although he had no explanation other than the fact the doctors were failing to save Martha. Why should Clark be subjugated to torture in the name of medicine only to die just the same?
Was he dying?
Pulling the chair closer to the sofa, Lex sat down, regarding Clark's unconscious form analytically. He was as pale as death. The dark circles of worry and fatigue beneath his eyes looked like bruises against white skin glistening with a thin sheen of sweat. Someone merely sleeping would not lay so still. Had it not been for the quiet wheezing of Clark's labored breath, Lex would have thought him dead.
He reached out a hand and brushed Clark's hair away from his face, feeling the fever radiating out from the pale skin. With soft, gentle touches Lex's fingers traced the line of Clark's cheekbone and the sharp curve of his jaw, coming back around to flit across his hot, dry lips. They parted in a small sigh.
Lex had once had him too, back when loneliness turned to despair, close proximity turned to touching, and friendship turned to some mixed up emotion not quite definable as love. Their afternoons of "pool and bull" as Lex had dubbed them, moved from the study to the den, where they abandoned the pool table and the "bull" dissolved into speechless, breathless, kissing.
There had been passion there, and needing. Tactile exploration of each others' bodies brought them close to the next stage, but before reaching it one or both of them would pull back away from the edge. They were both afraid of what it would mean should they step over that line, especially Clark, who despite everything still loved the young girl with the dark hair and green eyes. Lex couldn't compete with Lana, yet he sometimes saw the same longing in Clark's eyes when they were together. Curled up in the corner of Lex's big leather sofa, fingers intertwined and mouths pressed together, he could feel the desire in Clark's body radiating into his own...
Like the warmth of a fever.
It all changed suddenly, and Lex wasn't sure exactly where trust turned to suspicion. Clark pulled away from him. Make-out sessions in the den returned to pool in the study and Clark was careful not to get too close, lest the temptation pull him under like a rip-tide. They never talked about what they'd done, or what it meant. The passion died and they both moved on; Clark became closer to Lana, and Lex met Helen. Lex never could let it go entirely, however, and sometimes when he lay dozing in a post-coital haze, he would imagine the body pressed closed to his wasn't Helen's.
Eyelids fluttered and opened. Fever glazed eyes slowly focused as if it took a monumental feat of strength to do so. The pattern of Clark's breathing changed, and with consciousness, grew a bit stronger and less wheezy. His lips parted. A small attempt at a smile was made.
"Hey," he whispered. "What are you doing here?"
"That's the stupidest question I've ever heard." Lex replied quietly. "I was at the hospital looking for Helen. They told me she'd come here and why."
Clark shifted his weight, making a half hearted attempt to sit up, but Lex stopped him with a hand upon his chest. "No."
He settled again, but the worry line above his nose remained. "Dr. Bryce was here?"
Lex leaned his elbows on his knees, moving closer. "Your father was concerned."
Something akin to fear flickered across Clark's features. Lex found it difficult to pinpoint the source of that fear, whether it was fear of his illness, or the fact he'd actually been examined by a doctor. What, if anything, Helen found Lex didn't know, but again he thought it odd she hadn't had Clark hauled into the hospital. From what Lex understood regarding Martha Kent's condition, the toxin she and Clark had inhaled was fatal. Jonathan might not want his son tortured by modern medicine if modern medicine could do nothing for him, but Lex knew Helen, and Helen never backed down from a fight, even if she knew she would ultimately lose the battle. She took her oaths as a physician very seriously.
"He should be concerned for Mom, not me." His eyes closed. Lex watched him swallow heavily. "I'll be okay."
It took a minute before he opened his eyes again, and in that span of time Lex thought he'd fallen asleep once more.
"What time is it?"
"Just after ten."
"He should go back to the hospital." Clark said firmly. "Be with Mom."
"I just need to rest a little, that's all." His voice grew somewhat fainter. "That's all."
Lex slowly sat back in his chair. He bit his lip and looked away, hating the fact he was here again, at someone's bedside, poised between grief and anger. How dare they leave him alone again?
"I was coming over anyway," he said finally. "Because I wanted to talk to you."
"Yeah? What about?"
He sighed, inhaling deeply and letting the air out in a long slow exhale. "I've decided to ask Helen to move in with me."
Clark looked somewhat startled. "Really?"
Lex nodded. "We've become pretty close. I think it might work out for us." He looked down at his hands. "I wanted to know what you think."
"My opinion matters?"
Looking up, Lex caught his gaze. "Yes, your opinion matters a great deal," he said softly.
Clark's breath hitched a little, most likely because of the sickness, possibly because he understood what Lex meant, or possibly both. "Why?"
"I think you know why."
Their eyes met, and Clark smiled a little, finally turning his head away. "If you love her..."
"I don't know." Lex stood abruptly, moving to pace behind the chair. "I'm just - tired. I'm tired of being alone."
"Some people are meant to be alone." Clark whispered.
There was a pause. Lex clenched the back of the chair in his hands as he leaned against it. "I don't necessarily want it to be me, and if I can't have what I want..."
"You'll take what you can get?"
Pursing his lips, Lex sighed. "Yes."
Clark's next words were barely audible. "So what do you want?"
He flung the answer down onto the table. "I want it to be you." Lex raised his eyes. "It never will be, will it?"
"Well, considering everyone thinks I'm dying, probably not." Clark said wryly.
The two of them stared at each other in silence, until Clark glanced away. "If I weren't sick you wouldn't be telling me this would you?"
Lex lowered his head and laughed slightly. "No," he admitted. "Probably not. It's one of those things best left unsaid."
Clark didn't answer.
"This is where you tell me you aren't dying." Lex said softly. "But as always, you're choosing silence over the truth, aren't you? How very noble, Clark." Raising his head, he looked up at the ceiling. There was a small crack in the plaster, and Lex found himself wondering if Jonathan would bother to fix it if he lost his wife and son. He squeezed his eyes shut. "I have valued our friendship, even when we've had our disagreements. You might not believe me, but I do."
"I believe you."
Lex looked down at him again, studying the green-gold eyes for any sign of deception, and saw nothing but himself reflected back. "If you say the word, Clark, I'll have...."
"All the best doctors in Metropolis flown in." Clark finished with a quiet chuckle. "I know." He pulled the blanket up around his shoulders, as if he were cold. "I know."
"If you have to save anyone, Lex. Save my mother."
Lex wanted to rage at him: But I'm not in love with your mother! Why can't you understand?</i>
There was another lengthy silence, during which Clark closed his eyes and seemed to fall to sleep again. Lex eased forward in his chair and brushed the damp tendrils of his hair away from his face. In repose he actually looked his age; young, vulnerable, innocent. Clark was all of those things, and yet more than those things, drawing from a well of inner strength buried deep within him. He was stubborn too. Lex had no doubt he'd hang onto to life tooth and nail and go out kicking and screaming.
He sat listening to the rasp of Clark's breathing for several minutes before standing up to go on his way. As soon as his hand left Clark's shoulder, however, Clark's eyes opened and focused blearily on him.
"Don't go," he breathed. "Stay with me. I'll sleep better."
Sinking back into the chair, Lex's hand slipped beneath the blanket, and found Clark's. He felt the fingers closer around his, and was surprised at how very weak the grip.
"I want it to be okay between us again, Clark."
Lex didn't know if Clark heard him. His eyes seemed vague, and the lids heavy. As Lex watched, they slowly fluttered closed. "Stay with me." Clark repeated. "Stay."
He drifted off, but Lex remained at his side until Jonathan came inside from the barn. Clark's father paused just inside the living room, his eyes filled with sorrow as he looked at his son's sleeping form. Lex released Clark's hand and withdrew his own from beneath the blanket, sitting back in his chair to regard Jonathan Kent with a neutral expression. He dared the man to say a word to him. As it was, neither of them spoke for some time, until Lex finally broke the silence.
"What did Helen say?"
Jonathan inhaled deeply, and let the breath out in a quivering sigh. "She said," he replied quietly. "That Clark's showing a stronger resistance to the toxin, but he'll eventually..." He struggled to control his voice, to keep it from breaking in front of the young man he'd always considered the enemy. "He'll - it causes respiratory failure."
Basically, Lex thought, he'll suffocate.
"You need to be with your wife."
"Isn't going to die in the next few hours." Lex said bluntly. "Martha may." He paused a beat. "I'll stay here."
Damnit, just trust me this once you backwoods son-of-a bitch! What, do you think I'm going to haul him off somewhere and have him dissected? Put a stake through his heart?
Lex felt as if someone had put a stake through his heart.
"It will only be an hour or so." Jonathan replied finally, reaching for his coat hanging on a peg by the door. "I'll be back as soon as I can. If he..."
"He'll be fine, Mr. Kent. I promise."
Jonathan paused again, but then nodded, and eased out the door.
Clark cracked his eyes open. "He's left me alone in your hands? Has Hell frozen over?" he whispered.
"How can you joke?"
"Because I'm the one who's sick." Despite Lex's protests he struggled into a sitting position, swinging his legs off the couch and leaning back against the headrest. Just that little effort left him breathless. "I'm allowed."
Lex moved from the chair to the sofa, and Clark eased over next to him, resting his head on Lex's shoulder. Lex pulled the blanket more firmly around him and placed his chin against Clark's soft, dark hair. Now more than ever he could feel the fever burning in Clark's body. It warmed him immediately, but Clark was shivering despite the raging heat. Lex removed his coat, and added it over the blanket clad shoulders.
"I'm never cold."
"It's the fever, Clark. You're sick."
"Never sick." Clark muttered. He cuddled closer.
With a sigh, Lex stroked his hair gently, curling a curving lock around one finger. "I usually get anything and everything I desire, but you've somehow managed to escape. I don't know whether that makes me hate you, or love you more."
He felt Clark's body stiffen next to him.
Lex smoothed his hair, snorted softly. "Surprised?"
"Hmm." Clark relaxed again, settling against Lex's side as if it were a perfectly natural place for him to be, and he fit there nicely. Lex could feel his breath against his collar bone. "You aren't usually so - verbal - about what you're feeling."
"I don't have anything to lose, Clark. Or, rather, I'm losing everything. If you die, it won't matter how I feel about you. If you live, things aren't going to change. I'll still be with Helen, and you'll still pursue Lana. We're already growing apart and it'll only get worse."
Because I still need to know what you're hiding.
Clark's ability to know what Lex was thinking surprised him sometimes. "Lex, I swear I don't want to deceive you," he whispered softly. "You have to understand that."
I can't, Clark. I can't, and because I can't leave it alone, you'll wind up hating me. I'm almost relieved you are dying, because it will spare me the pain of watching you learn to despise the very sight of me.
Lex wished he had the power to make everything go away; their families, their secrets, Clark's illness, his own self-destructive obsessiveness. If all the things standing between them were gone, the moment they were now sharing could last forever and Lex would finally feel as if he were free. He hated feeling helpless, as he had when his mother died, and when Clark kept secrets from him, or now when it seemed like nothing could be done to save either Clark or Martha. Lex despised inaction. He despised stalemates. He wanted to move forward but lately, always seemed to hit detours and roadblocks.
He'd been quiet too long. Clark shifted against him and raised his head. Lex looked down into his face and leaned in to capture his lips. He didn't force the issue, but gently toyed with Clark's mouth with feather-light kisses, and the softest touch of his tongue across fever-warm lips. It took only a moment before Clark reciprocated. Lex resisted a chuckle. If Jonathan came back and saw Lex making out with his very ill son, Lex might wind up with a chest full of buckshot.
But Jonathan likely wouldn't be home for some time.
Lex slipped one hand behind Clark's neck. The other burrowed beneath the blanket and glided across one cotton clad thigh. Clark was wearing sweats beneath the blanket, and Lex gently rubbed his hand across the soft cloth, feeling the muscles of Clark's thigh contract beneath it. That was as far as he went, it was as far as they'd ever gone really, limiting their touching to only "safe" places upon body and limbs. Clark pulled away, and their lips parted with a soft "snick." Something in his expression made Lex start.
"You're sick," he murmured.
"I don't care." Clark replied softly. "Like you, I really have nothing to lose."
"I doubt it'll make much difference." His hand found Lex's under the shroud of his blanket, and drew it up over his thigh, pressing the fingers into the juncture between his legs.
It was Lex's turn to stiffen, as his hand was guided over the hard jut of Clark's sex. He felt a tightening in his gut as his own body responded. Clark was kissing him again, but his breath wheezed in his throat with his increasing desire, and it made Lex pull back.
"I can't, Clark. You're sick and I..."
Clark nuzzled his neck. "In the medicine cupboard, upstairs, there is a little bottle of massage oil," he whispered. "Go get it."
"I don't want to think anymore, Lex. I'm scared. Make me forget." He nipped Lex's earlobe, tongued it, and drawing it into his mouth, sucked gently. When he let go, his breath was hot and moist against the thin skin of Lex's throat. "I want to feel you from the inside."
"Ah, God." Lex withdrew his hand, and disengaged himself from the couch and Clark's body. His legs feel weak as he climbed the stairs to the small bathroom at the top.
What am I doing?
It's the fever, he decided. Clark isn't in his right mind. He would never go this far if he were thinking clearly. It was up to Lex to stop it. It was up to Lex to do the right thing. There was the danger. Lex sometimes didn't want to do the right thing, and sometimes he succumbed to his desires despite knowing what he wanted was wrong. Oh, and he wanted this so very badly.
The floorboards creaked beneath his weight as he reached the top of the stairs. From his brief stint as the Kents' houseguest he knew where the light switch was in the bathroom. He flipped it on and the first thing he saw was his own reflection staring back at him from the medicine cupboard mirror. The stark light washed all the color from his face, and his eyes looked very blue. Like Clark in repose, he looked younger, and somewhat frail.
Lex wasn't fond of mirrors. Mirrors broke through his acceptance of what damage the meteor shower had inflicted on him, shoving his baldness, his unusual appearance, in his face and forcing him to look at it. Mirrors made him look at himself through an outsiders eyes, and he hated the feelings that invoked. Almost angrily, he jerked open the medicine cupboard. The vision was shattered.
His eyes scanned the contents inside the cabinet. He found a small ornate bottle half hidden behind a plastic tub of cold cream. The cut glass was cool against his skin as he pulled it free. There was no label, but removing the stopper, he ran a fingertip over the top, and felt the slickness of oil. The scent of lavender rose from inside.
He palmed the bottle, and descended the stairs once more.
No, no, no - don't....
His conscience screamed at him, begging him not to take advantage. Would this be an expression of love, or the shattering of a soul lost within a haze of fever and pain. Would it be comfort, or rape? Lex's heart thudded hard within his chest as he stepped down from the last stair tread, and turned the corner into the living room once more. His decision was still not made. His body tingled with excitement and fear.
Just inside the threshold he stopped, looked towards the sofa, and his chest tightened in an ache he couldn't define as relief or disappointment.
Clark was asleep. He had slumped over once again, falling into his pillow, curled on his side beneath both the blanket and Lex's black wool coat. The dark blue of the pillow, and the darkness of Lex's coat, highlighted his pale and clammy skin. It made him look small and weak. He was shivering.
Lex looked at him, fingers tightening around the bottle in his hand. Silently he crossed the room, slipping the oil into his pants pocket, and took a seat on the chair. He ran his hand over Clark's forehead, frowning at the heat beneath his fingertips. The boy's breathing was slow and steady, but with a disturbing rasp.
If I didn't love you, I would make you mine despite it all.
He sighed, and settled back in his chair. Maintaining a silent, lonely vigil, he watched Clark sleep, waiting for Jonathan to come home again.
In the morning, he would give Helen Bryce the small box sitting on his bedside table at home, which contained a key to the mansion. Helen - friend, lover, physician - would have to be the one to heal him.
If it weren't already too late.