Lex stood there, blinking.
What...? Lex thought weakly, staring at Clark as he stood there with his arms crossed and looked both a little uncomfortable and vaguely apologetic.
He tried not to be too distracted by the fact that Clark was wearing an honest-to-god business suit, all professional-like, looking as if he'd just walked out of an interview.
"Why not?" Lex asked.
Clark shifted from side to side and somehow managed to look even more apologetic. He turned his head and glanced back over his shoulder into his beat up old truck.
Lex followed his gaze and saw a dog.
"Ok..." Lex didn't really get it.
"So, yeah," Clark ended.
"You can't sleep over at the mansion with me because... your dog..."
"Shelby," Clark supplied.
"...is in your truck?"
Clark gave Lex a look that he had a little trouble interpreting. It was as though Clark thought Lex was being obtuse on purpose.
"It just wouldn't work out," Clark added.
Lex couldn't help but frown. "You--"
Then Lex looked back at Clark's dog and his brain finally kicked back into gear.
"You went back to the farm," Lex stated flatly. Fuck. That-- Goddamnit, he went back there, and talked with Lana, and they were probably fucking laughing at me behind my back, and she's got her claws in him again and probably talked him into having him try to play me somehow, the sick b--
"What?" Clark yelped. "No, I--" his eyes went wide. "No, look, I just -- I couldn't leave Shelby there, ok? I didn't go anywhere near the house," he said, frowning up a storm. "I drove down the road and stopped out by the fields and picked him up there."
Lex was reminded of the fact that Clark really wasn't that good of a liar, and that Lana was the one who was a flawless actress.
She's making me as paranoid as-- Lex pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to calm down. No, between her and Lionel, who could blame me for jumping to certain perfectly logical conclusions?
"Clark, what exactly does your dog have to do with not staying at the mansion?" Lex asked as patiently as he could.
"Well, I can't just leave him in the truck all night."
"Okay..." Lex said. So, how was this a problem? Couldn't he just let the dog out of the truck?
There was a long pause.
He got the distinct impression that Clark was waiting for something.
Possibly for this to magically start making sense to me.
"So, I'm, uh, gonna head back to my apartment, now," Clark said finally, reaching for the door handle.
--Wait, what? "You have an apartment?" Lex echoed.
Are there apartments in Smallville? Besides the one in the Talon? --No, wait, Clark wouldn't say that that was his apartment, which meant-- "In Metropolis?"
And no, that wasn't Lex's voice going up two registers, thank you.
Clark nodded again.
"You have an apartment in Metropolis," Lex repeated, a little shell-shocked.
"Uh, yeah," Clark reconfirmed, out loud this time.
"When did that happen?" Crap. He hadn't meant to say that out loud.
"That was fast." Oh boy, was it ever. "Where are you staying?"
...Why did Clark suddenly look almost twitchy?
"It's... not really ready for guests yet," Clark said.
It did not escape Lex's notice that Clark had dodged his question.
He also suddenly realized that he was back on recognizeable ground. Clark's being worryingly polite. I invited him to sleep over at my place anytime, but he can't offer the same. That's fine, I'll just--
"Exactly how 'not ready' is this apartment of yours for anyone to sleep within?" Lex asked suspiciously.
When Clark looked caught out, Lex repeated, "Where is this place?"
"Suicide Slums," Clark said.
"Hell, no," Lex said immediately.
"It's fine, really," Clark started, wincing.
"It is not--"
"Lex!" Clark cut him off desperately.
"Do you know how dangerous it is there?!" Lex exclaimed.
"What, you think the street muggers here in the 'big, bad city' are more dangerous than the meteor freaks in Smallville?" Clark shot back with damnably unassailable logic. "I know how to take care of myself, Lex," he said in a dangerous tone.
"Against someone with a gun?" Lex demanded.
"You know any street muggers better at self-defense than you are?" Clark shot back.
Lex grimaced, because he remembered the barn, remembered trying to 'steal' Lana back during Clark's... episode... and-- "No, but they're probably better with a knife than I am with an awl!" he said without thinking.
Oh, goddamnit! He hadn't meant to bring up any of that. Fuck!
"What awl," Clark asked quietly, as if he didn't know.
Lex had dug himself in deep, he might as well see it through, keep digging and hope he made it out the other side relatively intact.
"The one I grabbed and tried to stab you with when you were half-choking me," he gritted out. "Lana had it in the drawer of her nightstand for a time. I can't imagine why." Actually, I can imagine her keeping it. I used to have a full room of things that always seemed to lead back to you. What I can't imagine is why she kept it there of all places. It was hardly secure at all -- anyone could have seen and taken it like I did!
But all the memories of the secrets and lies threatened to overwhelm him all over again, and his anger grew in the interminable silence between them. ...And then it mixed with concern which made it all just burn because it wasn't as though he wanted Clark dead--
"It isn't safe there!" Lex said, finally breaking the silence.
"I'll be fine!" Clark insisted.
"It is really such a horrifying idea for you, to stay with me, that you would rather stay someplace unlivable?" Lex spat out.
Clark looked unbelievably frustrated by this point. "No, it's-- I'm moving off of the farm, Lex! Not--!" Clark suddenly got a blank look, then quietly said, "ohmygod, are we actually having a fight about this?" He paused for a moment, looking down at Lex full-on, and got an almost horrified look. "Oh god, we are." He rubbed his face with both palms and looked pained. "Lex--"
Lex glared up at him.
"--It is not..." Clark sighed. He started over, calmly. "I am not rejecting... your offer, ok?"
Lex very much doubted that, since Clark had already said 'no', and was now just repeating it all over again, in a new and different way.
"I found an apartment in the city that's cheap, and it's really not that bad," he said, in a low, almost insistent tone. "It just needs some work done --which is why it's cheap," he continued before Lex could cut him off again. "And it's gonna stay cheap as long as I'm paying the rent there. I signed the paperwork this afternoon. I don't even have to pay for the building materials to--"
"You'd damn well better not have been expected to," Lex muttered.
Clark gave him an exasperated look. "--fix the place up, so long as I clear the purchases with the landlady first, and because I'm going to be acting as sort of a part-time super--"
Lex muttered to himself under his breath about free labor and being taking advantage of.
"--she's letting me let Shelby run around on the roof for the time being, where a lot of the air-conditioning units and other stuff are."
" 'For the time being'?" Lex repeated, wondering if Clark was smart enough to have gotten all this down in writing.
Clark's lips thinned and he didn't look too happy. "Shelby's a big dog. I can't possibly afford anyplace in Metropolis that's really big enough for him to be happy. He's used to running around the farm," Clark explained. "I'm going to try to find him a new owner, maybe someplace out in the country, who he'll be happy with, but that takes time and--"
Lex stared at him. "You're giving up your dog?"
"I can't live in Metropolis and keep him," Clark said, grimacing.
"Why do you need to live in Metropolis?" Lex asked, feeling dumb. It isn't as though Lana might necessarily stay in Smallville. She certainly has more than enough money to live wherever she wants in whatever lifestyle pleases her, which had been why he'd been hoping to convince Clark to live in the Penthouse with him. It was one of those few places he knew she would never dare go.
"Well, I can't stay in Smallville!" Clark said, sounding frustrated. "The drive's too much! I can't afford to drive here and back every day on my salary, it's too much gas money!"
Lex swore he must have blanked out for a few seconds as he stood there dumbly.
"So... Clark..." he started slowly. "You're saying that you don't want to stay at the mansion in Smallville with me because... the drive is too costly."
"And because you offered to let me stay over, not me and my dog," Clark ended, letting out a breath heavily at the end.
Lex blinked at him, and everything suddenly settled into place as he finally understood.
"I mean, I know you don't really like pets or anything, so I wasn't about to--"
"I don't have a problem with pets," Lex said brazenly.
"Pets have a problem with me," Lex ended, his gaze flicking over to Clark's dog, who had growled at him the once before when they'd first 'met', making its displeasure known from the start.
Clark frowned at him uncertainly for a moment, and rubbed a hand at the back of his neck.
"If you can be reasonably certain that your dog won't attempt to tear my throat out, I see no reason why you both can't just stay in the Penthouse with me," Lex added.
"Hey, Shelby's a good dog, he wouldn't--" Clark defended, before the rest of it sank in.
"The Penthouse?" Clark echoed.
"The--" Clark looked stunned. "In LuthorCorp Towers?"
"I would have suggested it earlier," Lex smoothly continued, feeling only a little overmuch glee at having turned the tables in the conversation so that now Clark was the one off-balance and having to catch up, "But I had thought that you might have preferred staying at the mansion in Smallville to anywhere in Metropolis." He paused. "It's actually quite a bit more convenient for me to stay over in the Penthouse, instead."
"You--" Clark looked literally floored. Lex took this as a good sign. "You would do that?" Then he seemed to shake himself. "I mean, you wouldn't... mind?"
Lex nearly laughed. "Clark, your presence is hardly an impostion," he said. "I want you to stay with me, remember?" He glanced at the dog in the cab of the truck again. "You, and your dog. There's plenty of space."
Clark's stunned look was slowly being replaced by the beginnings of a small smile. "...Really?"
"Really," Lex confirmed.
"I--" Clark's shoulders started to drop, ever so slightly, and his arms came uncrossed. Lex hadn't realized how tense he was. "Lex, I--" he said softly... and then he looked down at the ground and grimaced.
"I... I can't..."
Lex started to twitch.
"It's just..." Clark sighed. "I can't just... give up the other apartment. I signed on for responsibilities that I..." he shook his head and glanced back up at Lex. "I think I really need to keep the other place, and do all the upkeep stuff on it. Ok?" he searched Lex's face.
Luckily, by that point Lex had calmed down considerably during Clark's stuttering speech, once he'd realized halfway through that it wasn't a 'no'.
"I understand, Clark," he said, trying to remain calm, because he needed to be careful not to blow this. "But I don't think that you... or your dog... should have to attempt to live in an apartment that isn't ready for human habitation." Seeing that Clark wasn't immediately turned off at the idea, he pushed his luck and added, "You could always work on it during the weekends, while continuing to stay at the Penthouse."
It might be horribly wasteful for someone in Clark's fiscal position, given that he would still be paying rent on a place where he wasn't living, but Lex had the feeling that Clark would strongly object to having his autonomy curtailed if Lex tried to step in and get him out of his lease.
...Those Akrada people weren't ones to mess with lightly, either. They'd bitchslapped his father before when he'd tried to throw around his influence, and not backed down in the least even after Lionel had begun waging an open street war against the community.
"I ought to be staying at the apartment at least part of the time to help with the super duties, Lex. There are a bunch of minor repairs already backlogged and waiting," Clark chided, while Lex gave a mental curse or two. "Besides, I don't want to take too much advantage of your hospitality, or anything. I'm sure there'll be times when you won't want me around," he added.
"Clark--" Lex objected.
"No -- look, Lex," Clark cut him off. "We've fought before. A lot. Over a lot of things. And we're going to again. Sometimes, you aren't gonna want me around, and sometimes I'm not gonna want to be around you. We're going to need space, and I don't want to have to worry about... about feeling all panicky if you-- if you kick me out, or might threaten to, or something."
"I wouldn't do that," Lex said thickly. Did Clark really think so little of him, that he would be that manipulative of him during his stay? (Lex didn't count the whole breaking-physical-boundaries thing, because that was just going to be fun and Clark obviously enjoyed that.) Not that he couldn't just head on back to Smallville and the farm, he realized, and shouldn't Clark realize this, too? Imminent homelessness would hardly be a threat.
"No, maybe not; not unless I really, really upset you," Clark agreed. "But I'm not going to want to be around if you bring somebody home, either--"
Lex felt a wave of disgust. "I'm not going to-- while you're there!" The Penthouse was big, but not that big! And with Clark there... No. Just, no.
"--Ok, but that's kind of my point right there!" Clark jumped in. "If you feel like you can't do stuff when I'm around that you could do and would want to, if only I wasn't there, or if you feel like you can't tell me to leave--! That's like I'm taking advantage -- that's not good, either!"
Lex took a breath to argue, and then paused for a moment, letting what Clark said sink in. Because... this was concern -- not unwelcome, exactly -- but it was a different sort of concern than Clark had ever expressed before, somehow. Very different. What is he trying to say? Lex wondered, because he didn't really understand what Clark was getting at.
In his silence, Clark continued. "I just think that, well, there need to be ground rules, or something. I mean, I won't feel comfortable staying there with you if we don't talk things out first so we both know what to expect, is all."
"We can't figure it out as we go along?" Lex asked, wondering why the hell not.
"Lex, that's kind of a bad idea, especially when we'd probably be doing that right in the middle of an angry argument, otherwise," Clark warned. "I mean, we fight a lot lately--"
"--we didn't last night or this morning--" Lex pointed out.
"Lex, we're practically having an argument right now."
Lex blinked at him.
"Just because I wasn't storming into the parking garage yelling at you doesn't mean we're not having an argument! Or a disagreement!" Clark looked almost stunned that Lex wasn't feeling the same way about how their current discussion had been going.
And here Lex had thought it had been going rather well.
"I think it'd be rather difficult for anyoneto storm into a parking garage, Clark," Lex said rebelliously, rocking back on his heels. Standing in said garage under the Daily Planet building, having managed to raise Clark on his cellphone and then been able to catch up with him in the city after work, had been a surprise. Pleasant, but a surprise. (Odd, because he generally did not like surprises... except on rare occasions which had generally involved Clark, so maybe not so odd after all.)
"Trust me, it's possible. I've seen Lois do it," Clark said, rolling his eyes.
"Look, Clark--" Lex glanced around and sighed -- he'd been lucky so far that none of the reporters usually hard at work above had made their way down below yet and accosted them -- "Couldn't we discuss this further in the Penthouse? There's no need for us to thresh out absolutely everything right here and now, is there?"
Clark glanced around, following Lex's gaze, and then bit his lip and nodded.
Lex gave a small sigh of relief. "All right, then. Why don't you drive your truck over and we'll--"
"I can't leave it parked here and walk?"
Lex eyed the parking space. "Isn't that paid visitor parking?"
Clark flushed. "I don't get a parking tag until next week."
Ah, so he did get a job at the paper already, then! Lex was thrilled. However, familiar with the payroll system and knowing when paychecks were usually mailed out... "Then I see no reason why you shouldn't park your truck under the Towers in the Penthouse suite parking area in the interim to avoid breaking your budget," Lex replied reasonably.
Clark sighed. "Ok..."
He finally opened the truck door and climbed in. He was about to pull the door shut when he glanced up at Lex and stopped.
"Um, aren't you gonna get in?" Clark asked him.
Lex frowned and eyed Clark's dog. He'd planned on walking. It was, after all, quite literally right across the street.
Clark followed his gaze and then just rolled his eyes. "C'mon, Lex -- if Shelby's gonna be staying at the Penthouse, too, then you might as well get acquainted now, instead of later."
"Can't I just section off some of the rooms for him and lock the doors inbetween?" Lex asked, and no, he was not whining -- he just didn't see why he'd have to share his entire living space with a ravenous beast that would probably maul him as soon as look at him.
Clark sighed gustily, like he was being so put upon by Lex's behavior, and shoved open his driver's side door again. He slid back down onto the concrete, the soles of his dress shoes hitting with a soft 'thud' and then said, "Shelby, down."
The large golden-haired mutt bounded out of the truck, and came to a landing right at Clark's side.
"Shelby!" Clark scolded, immediately crouching down next to him and grabbing his collar. "Stop that."
The dog stopped growling, but its lips were still slightly curled up even if teeth were no longer showing, and it looked no happier to meet his acquaintance for the second time 'round.
"Shelby, sit." The dog did as it was told, but Clark was still frowning thunderously, until he glanced up at Lex and nearly did a double-take, at which point his frown cleared into concern.
"Lex, animals can sense fear--"
"I'm not afraid," Lex said with all the scorn he could muster.
"--and aggression, which I know y-- most people tend to do a lot of when they feel fear," Clark continued. Then he turned back to Shelby and said in low tones, "And you're not helping, boy. Just relax."
Shelby swiveled his head between Clark and Lex, and his hackles slowly went down as he settled. Tense, but no longer at the ready to immediately spring at him.
Lex relaxed little by little, still wary, watching Clark and the dog like a hawk. He wondered for a moment if dogs could smell vengeful intent, too, then reminded himself that he wasn't after screwing with Clark anymore (he'd gotten enough of that this morning, thank you) -- he was after Lana, instead (and shouldn't the beast be able to differentiate between a threat to its human master and a threat to someone else?).
"Lex, come over here," Clark said. "Slow movements; don't freak him out," he added.
Lex approached slowly, and at Clark's direction uneasily squatted down in front of them both, about an armslength away.
"Hand out so he can sniff it and get your scent."
Lex did so.
Shelby stretched his neck forward and sniffed at him cautiously, then looked up at him calmly.
Lex bit his lip absently. This was... weird.
"Ok, go ahead and pet him."
Lex tentatively reached out a little further and lightly patted the dog on the head.
Pretty soon he was ruffling Shelby's head between both hands, while avoiding a face-licking, and biting down on a smile -- why had he been so worried, again?
After awhile, Clark said with a grin, "Ok, we should probably get going; you can spoil him more once we're at the Penthouse." Clark straightened. "Shelby; in."
Shelby's head shot up and around at his name like a bob on a string. He twisted in place and lept into the truck cab in the space of a second.
It was only after witnessing those quick actions -- too fast for Lex to respond to with much more than a full-body flinch -- that Lex realized that when Clark had been speaking earlier about 'slow movements,' he'd been speaking in low tones to the dog.
He also suddenly realized that Clark had actually let go of Shelby's collar some time ago, and wouldn't have been able to immediately pull the dog back if it had suddenly sprung at him.
'Freak me out' nothing, Lex grumbled mentally as he stood up and made his way around to the passenger's side door. I'm not afraid of that dog. He's a big softie. All growl, no bite.
His hand only paused briefly on the door handle, before he wrenched it open and climbed up inside to sit on the seat next to Clark, the dog inbetween them.