When Lex was eight, he found a stray cat outside.
He had never had a cat, or a dog, or anything like that. His mother said he couldn't, because of his asthma. She said he could have fish, if he wanted. Fish were boring, and Lex was unimpressed.
The cat looked sort of thin, all dark-striped fur except for white feet that looked a little bit like socks. The cat butted its head against Lex's knee and meowed piteously. Lex decided it was probably hungry.
Fortunately, Lex had read Calvin and Hobbes. He knew just what tigers, who were really just big cats after all, liked to eat.
After a small conversation with the befuddled cook, Lex returned outside with a tuna fish sandwich. He crouched down and offered it to the cat. It sniffed the tuna cautiously, before a curious pink tongue darted out to taste. Lex giggled and sank to his knees, carefully pulling apart the pieces of bread and putting them on the ground, tuna side up for his new friend to eat.
The cat ate with concentration and dedication, like it was afraid Lex would take the sandwich away. Lex petted the cat while it ate, keeping his fingers away from the cat's sharp teeth as it devoured the snack. "Maybe you can be my Hobbes," he said quietly. "We'll need a wagon, and a sled, and snowman things. You can sleep in my bed and we'll be safe from the monsters."
The cat proceeded to wash its face, and Lex watched it, fascinated.
"I'll be Dictator-for-Life Lex, and you can be my First Tiger." Lex stopped to consider. "I don't know anyone who can be Susie, but we don't need girls anyway. Just you and me."
The cat licked Lex's fingers and nosed around for more, and when none was to be found, it wandered away.
Lex was disappointed. Clearly, if they were ever going to start their very own Get Rid Of Slimy Girls (G.R.O.S.S.) club, more tuna was called for.
Lex managed to procure more tuna for the newly christened Hobbes the cat for three nights running, before Mrs. Kirkpatrick caught him.
"Lex, if you feed stray cats, they'll keep coming back. They're not pets - they belong outdoors," she said, looking disapproving.
"But Hobbes was hungry!" Lex protested. "And he's not my pet. He's my friend."
Mrs. Kirkpatrick's face softened. "Lex, honey, stray cats don't make good friends. All they want is food. If you stopped feeding him, he wouldn't come back."
Lex blinked back tears. "But we never even got to ride in a wagon together," he whispered.
Mrs. Kirkpatrick clucked gently, and ushered Lex inside. "You know cat dander isn't good for your asthma, Lex. Why don't we talk to your mother and see about getting a nice aquarium, hmm? You can pick out which fish you want. Doesn't that sound like fun?"
Lex thought it sounded like it sucked. He cast one mournful glance over his shoulder at Hobbes, but the tuna was gone and his First Tiger was nowhere to be seen.
Lex was twenty-one, and shifted uncertainly from foot to foot on the Kents' porch before knocking firmly on the door.
Clark's eyes lit up when he saw him. "Lex! Hi! Wanna help decorate cookies?"
Lex didn't have much chance to say yes or no before Clark practically pulled him inside. "I hope you don't mind my dropping by - " he started to say.
"Lex, you know you're always welcome," Martha Kent said warmly. She had an apron sprinkled with flour around her waist, and the air smelled like nutmeg. Actually, Lex had known nothing of the sort. Because frankly, Lex usually wasn't welcome anywhere. He wasn't quite sure what to make of it, so he gamely let Clark lead him around to the kitchen table, where dough was rolled out in flat amorphous sheets.
There was a plastic box full of cookie cutters. Lex picked up one that he thought might be a Santa. A really demented Santa. "Christmas cookies?"
"For the holiday bake sale tomorrow," Martha explained. "This last batch is just for the family, though - everything else is already boxed up." She tapped Clark on the head with a wooden spoon. "I trust I can leave this to you while I get cleaned up?"
"Moooom," Clark said, rolling his eyes. "I'm a big boy, I can operate an oven on my own."
"So glad to hear it," Martha said sweetly. "You boys have fun."
Clark fished a star-shaped cookie cutter out of the box and pressed it firmly into the dough, lifting it up and poking out the star-shape out onto a cookie sheet. "Waiting for an invitation, Lex?" he asked after a moment.
Lex eyed his bizarre Santa cutter with distrust, and carefully repeated Clark's movements. It didn't quite work. Santa came out rather mangled.
Clark made a sound that sounded suspiciously like laughter. "Lex, I think Santa mutilation is a crime in most countries."
Lex straightened, feeling somewhat defensive. "It's not my fault. This cookie cutter is obviously an agent of Satan." Clark snickered, and Lex picked out a snowman. "Hey, Clark, did you ever build weird snowmen outside like in Calvin and Hobbes?"
Their eyes met, twin smiles appearing simultaneously. Had the cookie dough been sentient and possessing any sense of self-preservation, it would have quaked in fear. As it was, twenty minutes later they were pulling two trays of the most disturbing snowmen cookies on the face of the planet out of the oven.
Clark eyed one. "The decapitated ones came out well, don't you think?"
Lex leaned over the trays with Clark, their shoulders touching. "The ones with nooses aren't too bad either. I'm not sure that our plans for the ones with apocalyptic signs are going to pan out, though. You think the gel will let us write small enough?"
Clark nodded confidently, and they got down to the serious work of decorating.
Lex was ushered to the door later that evening with a plate of cookies in his hands. Several protesting snowmen bore signs reading, "Repent now!" and "Lex for Prez."
"This was fun," Lex told Clark, and meant it. He offered Clark a shy, genuine smile.
Clark grinned back, his lips shaping into a happy smile with the ease of long practice. "Yeah, it was. Um...do you want to, you know, do something tomorrow?"
Lex's eyes widened a bit in surprise - Clark usually hung out at the mansion after dropping off produce, and Lex dropped by the farm on one pretext or another, but this was the first time Clark had actually tendered an invitation. "Name it."
Clark got fidgety, picking at the hem of his shirt. "I didn't really have anything specific in mind. I just thought we could maybe play some video games or something."
Lex found himself nodding. "That'd be great, Clark. You want to come over to the mansion, then?"
Clark's hand had mysteriously found its way to Lex's shoulder as Clark opened the door. "I can be over at ten," he said.
"Okay," Lex agreed, and Clark gave him another blinding smile in reward.
Standing on the Kents' porch, demented snowmen in hand, Lex recalled that he was usually still sleeping at ten on Saturday mornings. Still, he supposed he could make an exception. After all, it wasn't like he could really come up with a legitimate reason for Clark to let him back inside so they could spend more time together.
Lex drove off, and wondered if this was what being a stray felt like. The difference, of course, was that Clark could stop feeding him smiles and Lex would still come back to see him, just the same.
When Lex was nine, he became intimate friends with insomnia.
He would lie awake, staring at the ceiling. The monsters that used to be underneath his bed were as nothing compared to the terrible stillness of the house. He couldn't chase away the memories of being alone in the hospital, visiting hours over and nothing to do but listen to the humming of machines.
The house didn't have machines humming. But it didn't have the sound of his parents talking and laughing either. Because his mother was sick, and his father was away, and Lex knew that everything had changed after the accident.
He crept out of bed, easing his bedroom door open. His breath was easy and quiet - the asthma had fled along with his hair, and he no longer had to carry his inhaler with him everywhere he went.
The hallways were quiet and dark, but Lex knew the way. Because he did this almost every night now, creeping out after bedtime and wandering the halls.
He paused in front of his mother's bedroom door. After she had come home from the doctor's, his father had made her a special bedroom, with a special bed that Lex wasn't supposed to sit on.
He slipped inside. His mother was asleep on her special bed, her red hair spilling over the pillow. He reached out and touched it carefully, not wanting to wake her up. His mother was very sick, and he'd been told that she wasn't going to get better.
Her eyes opened. They were blue, just like Lex's. "Lex, honey, what are you doing out of bed?" she whispered.
"I can't sleep."
She sighed and Lex clambered up beside her, trying to be as careful as he could. His mother couldn't help him up anymore - Lex had to do it all by himself. Which he could, of course, because he wasn't a baby.
"Neither can I," his mother confessed quietly. She sounded the same as ever, and sometimes it was hard for Lex to believe that she was sick. Sometimes he thought he'd just wake up one morning and she'd be all better, smiling and happy. "You know, your father wants to send you to boarding school. What do you think of that, Lex?"
Lex snuggled closer against her side. "I think it sucks."
That surprised a laugh out of his mother. "Lex! Language," she reprimanded, trying to sound stern but failing. She was smiling now, and nobody had a smile quite like his mother's.
"I don't want to go away. Daddy's always away. I don't think it makes him very happy either."
His mother hugged him. "We'll see, honey. And you'd better go back to your room - your father won't be pleased to find you out of your bed."
Lex pressed his face against her shoulder and was quiet for a moment. "Mom, what's going to happen to us?"
Her fingers trailed over his bare scalp. "I don't know, honey. I don't know."
"Lex, I'm still not convinced you actually know where your kitchen is. What are you going to do with a cookie press?"
Lex's eyes were glued to the infomercial. "Live a little, Clark. Maybe we could mass-produce our snowman cookies."
"And send the world into years of therapy. Fantastic."
"Isn't it, though."
Clark shifted slightly next to him on the couch. "Do you do this often?"
"Formulate plots to terrorize the world? Yes."
"No. I mean the whole watching-informercials-at-3am thing." Clark sounded hesitant, like he wasn't sure this was a question he was allowed to ask.
"Depends. Sometimes it's preferable to happy little green pills that knock me on my ass for twelve hours. I mean, it does guarantee me an uninterrupted night of sleep, but I try to save it as a last resort." Clark was quiet, and Lex continued flippantly, "So sometimes I'm just watching infomercials at 3 am, and forget what I've ordered until it shows up three days later and my cook looks at me like I've just insulted his manhood."
Clark was warm and heavy against his side. Lex wondered idly if he should point out that straight men usually don't curl up together like this.
"Well, if you gave me a cookie press, I'd probably feel insulted too."
"That's because you're a Kent, and you have bizarre philosophical objections to gifts."
Clark elbowed him half-heartedly. "That was so my dad's fault, not mine. And they let me stay over tonight - I think they're warming up to you. I mean, my mom already likes you, but my dad's coming around, I think."
"You make it sound like we're dating," Lex observed slyly.
Strangely, no sputtering came from Clark. No vehement assertions of heterosexuality. Not even an, "Ewww."
"Um, Clark?" Lex ventured after the silence became too heavy.
Lex's eyes snapped open. "Excuse me?"
Clark's voice was quiet and matter-of-fact. "You take me out to dinner, to movies, to concerts, on drives, and maybe it escaped your notice, Lex, but straight guys don't exactly cuddle this way."
Lex had entered the Twilight Zone, he was sure of it. His mouth was working, but sound wasn't coming out too well. "You're gay?"
Clark actually rolled his eyes. "Um, Lex - duh."
Oh. Well then. "Then I suppose the answer is yes, we are dating. Provided that's okay with you," Lex said carefully.
Clark seemed to take that as license to cuddle closer, throwing one leg over Lex's. "It's perfect, Lex."
Lex turned off the TV. "Ready to go to sleep?"
Clark yawned. "Yeah. Think you can now?"
Lex pried himself from the couch and reached out a hand to Clark. "I think I can manage with you."
Lex was thirteen when he concluded that boarding school, as predicted, sucked.
Wandering the halls at night was out of the question - there were just too many chances to get caught. So he stayed in bed, practically mummified in his blankets, the watch his mother had given him clasped tightly in one clammy hand.
At night, the dormitory was fraught with many little sounds. The soft snores of sleeping boys, and the muffled sobs that no one ever, ever mentioned. There were new sounds, too - stifled gasps and the quiet, rhythmic creaking of bedsprings.
No one talked about those, either.
Lex became aware for the first time there was no seeming end to his freakishness. He was bald, American, new money - and as of yet, had not experienced any sizeable growth spurt.
He was alone. Well and truly alone. Others received care packages and phone calls from their parents (or their parents' personal assistants), but it seemed that Lex's father had got Lex out from underfoot, and was content to leave him in this frighteningly exclusive English boarding school until the next time Lionel Luthor needed to show off his son.
His mother said that Lex shouldn't think so ill of his father. But as his father apparently considered business more important than his mother, he thought that was a strange thing to say.
Because Lex did think ill of him. His mother had been slipping away, slowly but surely - and everyone could see it. The newspapers regularly included pieces on his mother's health and sickening speculations about Lionel's affairs. And still his father had not returned. Some days, Lex thought his mother only opened her eyes to check to see if Lionel had come back.
Finally, she closed her eyes for the last time, and Lex didn't think he would ever stop crying.
He had woken from exhausted sleep hours later to the sensation of fingertips brushing the nape of his neck. He opened his eyes cautiously and saw his father sitting next to him on the sofa.
"Lex," his father said, his voice gravelly and muted.
Lex slowly sat up, and realized his father was weeping. Lex wanted to ask, "Why weren't you here?" Wanted to tell him, "She was waiting for you, and you never came."
"I should have been here," his father said hoarsely, implacable lion brought low by grief.
Yes, you should have, Lex wanted to say.
Don't think so ill of your father.
Lex carefully climbed into his father's lap for the first time in years, and wrapped his arms around his father's neck.
Lionel Luthor hesitated for a moment, before clutching his strange, outcast son to him, his chest shaking underneath Lex's tear-stained face.
The problem with beginning to date at an ambiguous time, Lex reflected, was the lack of a concrete anniversary.
He was aware that many might consider this a bonus. Lack of a date meant that forgetting wasn't a relationship faux pas, capable of being punctuated by airborne pottery. But lack of a date also meant he was deprived of a prime gift-giving opportunity, during which not even a Kent, surely, could refuse representations of his affection. It was like kicking a puppy, wasn't it? Illegal in most places and morally reprehensible everywhere else.
Lex really wanted an anniversary to celebrate. It wasn't as though he hadn't dated before, but let's face it - nothing really lasted beyond three months, because he seemed unable to pick up a woman who was not either psychotic, a professional escort, or - Lex shuddered - sleeping with his father. Women he dated also had the pesky habit of trying to steal information from him or blackmail him. This was not to say Lex always had the moral high ground - he'd gone in many times with an ulterior motive, and come out the better for it.
And as for the men he'd dated - well, dated was probably too formal a word for what he did at some of the more exclusive Metropolis clubs.
Clark was lying on his stomach on the sofa in Lex's office, staring at his chemistry book. He was worrying at his lower lip with his teeth, which was absolute hell on Lex's composure. He carefully punched numbers into Lex's beloved graphing calculator (which, truthfully, was probably complete overkill for Clark's needs in the same way that a Biblical flood is unnecessary to put out a wastebasket fire), and scribbled something down on his page.
"Cross-multiplication is your friend. Check your units."
Clark squinted down at the page, his pencil dangling from between his lips. "Darn," he muttered to himself, hurriedly erasing whatever it was that he had done completely wrong. Lex had patiently explained the concept of setting up balanced chemical equations, stressing that a little bit of set-up and planning saved one many headaches.
Of course, sometimes the subtleties of a well thought-out plan escaped Clark. Sometimes he just wanted to jump in, to hell with instructions and common sense and sage advice.
Lex knew from experience that this was not a good idea as far as chemistry problems were concerned, in roughly the way that lighting matches around methane bubbles was not a tremendously sound idea, unless you were already bald and had nothing to lose, including all the wooden cabinets in your teacher's lab.
Suddenly, he had it. "Clark, what do you think of October the twenty-third?"
Clark looked up, pencil end in his mouth again. "What about it?"
"It appeals to the nerd in me. You know, ten to the twenty-third power."
"It's nice enough, I suppose."
Lex smiled dreamily. "I'm quite taken with it, actually. Besides which, I really think we did start dating sometime in October, so it's not unreasonable."
There was a sharp snap from Clark's direction, and the pencil fell to the floor and rolled away. Correction - half the pencil. Clark spat out the eraser.
Lex raised an eyebrow. "You know, there are other solutions for fiber deficiency."
Clark blushed in a wholly adorable manner. "Um. Yeah."
Lex smiled - Clark wasn't lying to him anymore, which Lex found to be a satisfactory arrangement. He didn't need to know everything, as he was trying to keep his stalker-like activities to a decent minimum, but he had resented Clark insulting Lex's intelligence.
Clark closed his book. "Can we play video games now?"
Lex resolutely turned back to his computer, where he was surreptitiously playing Final Fantasy III. "Didn't you tell your mom you were going to finish your homework before you engaged in senseless electronic violence?"
Sounds of Clark fidgeting. Lex had him.
"Claaaark," he mimicked.
Somehow Clark had crept up behind him. "Cheater," Clark said without any real heat.
"I'm not cheating. I'm beating the crap out of this deranged octopus thingy all on my own, thank you very much."
Clark's hands settled on Lex's shoulders, one thumb tracing down the side of Lex's neck. Whoops. The octopus thing killed him. Go figure.
"So if we started dating on October the twenty-third, that would make tomorrow our five-month anniversary, right?" Clark asked in his most reasonable tone.
Lex was suspicious of that tone. "Right."
Clark turned Lex's chair around so that they were facing each other. "Don't you think..."
"Don't I think what?" Lex prompted.
"Don't you think that people who've been dating for five months should have at least kissed once?"
Lex got to think about that for all of two seconds before Clark's lips met his own. Somewhere in the course of the sweetest kiss of his entire life, he concluded that they shouldn't have kissed at least once prior to their anniversary. They should have kissed so many times that it didn't bear counting, like Avogadro's number. And even then, ten to the twenty-third kisses might not be enough if every one from Clark was just as perfect as this.
Lex tried to explain this to Clark after they pulled apart for air. It came out sort of mangled, though, because Lex tried to explain while peppering Clark's face with little kisses. Clark already had a documented ability to utterly distract Lex through the simple act of breathing - Lex's higher brain functions were just no match for Clark's skin.
Clark seemed to appreciate the sentiment, though. He laughed softly and straddled Lex's laugh. "Avogadro's number? You romantic nerd, you."
Lex was fifteen when he knew he could no longer trust his father.
There was uneasiness there, distance always. It was in the way his father had looked at him with barely disguised horror and disgust after the accident. It was in the way his father looked wretched when Lex's eyes (so like his mother's) caught the light just right.
But most of all, it was in way that Lionel pushed his son into a mold not made for the boy, determined to cram him in with all the tools at his disposal.
His father tossed the folder across the desk. "Tell me, Lex - aren't the petty arrests for drug possession enough? Must you really tarnish the Luthor name with this as well?"
Lex lifted the corner of the folder warily. And felt the blood drain from his face.
Eight by eleven glossy color photographs. Of himself, with Sydney. In graphic detail.
Lex felt bile rising in his throat. "H-how..."
His father leaned back, the picture of calm. "You've been kicked out of two boarding schools in as many months, Lex. Since you're clearly more focused on extracurricular activities, I wanted to find out what else, besides the drugs, was taking your attention away from acting like a proper heir."
God, no. Sydney. They'd been so careful, so unbelievably careful. Lex had whispered to Sydney on so many nights, in sweaty, cherished embraces: No one can know. Nobody makes me feel the way you do...no one can know.
Because Lex was many things, but he wasn't stupid. Lionel had looked upon Lex's various experiments with women with a sort of fond boys-will-be-boys attitude, but Lex knew there was no room in Lionel's plans for his son for certain-boys-only-want-to-be-with-boys.
But even so - how could his father actually have pictures taken of him? What gave him the right to invade his privacy like that?
"This ends now, Lex."
Lex swallowed and took a deep, shuddering breath.
"There's no room in your future for this, Lex."
"I'm - "
"You're not. Aren't you enough of a pariah as it is, Lex? Do you really want to add 'fag' to your name? To the Luthor name?" His father didn't appear to be actually looking at him, but Lex knew that he was.
"I'm not a fag," Lex bit out, shaking.
"So happy to hear it," Lionel said, smiling coolly. "Because a queer man doesn't get far in the business world, son. There are women to use and heirs to produce, and improper conduct with your male associates won't further your business aspirations."
Lex kept his lips pressed tightly together, silence his only defense.
His father made his way to the doorway, and paused. "Oh, and Lex?"
"Yes, Dad?" Lex responded quietly.
"You might want to brush up on your Greek history. If memory serves me correctly, Hephaestion submitted to Alexander, not the other way around. How, I wonder, do you expect to retain power when you give it up so freely?"
His father walked out, leaving Lex alone with his grief, the photographs, and his shattered trust.
"So you really think that getting this deal would make your dad angry?" Clark asked, from somewhere in the vicinity of Lex's navel.
Lex drew his fingers through Clark's hair thoughtfully. "Nah. Let me tell you what would make my dad angry. I'm picturing a nice big float in the Metropolis Labor Day Parade. I'm picturing dozens of beautiful men in purple thongs, and women in gauzy dresses feeding each other grapes. With their mouths."
Clark snickered. It tickled.
"We could pass out rainbow buttons by the thousands, and plaster the float with Gay Pride signs. And in the dead center, you and I could make out, to the cheering and universal approval of the denizens of the city."
Clark looked up. "So, I take it you haven't thought over it much."
Lex rolled his eyes. "Listen, sometimes I'm really bored in board meetings. I can only play on my Palm Pilot so much before people get suspicious."
Clark was quiet for a while, his fingers tracing restless trails over Lex's ribs. "Have you ever thought about it?"
"Finding a way to get Diablo on my Palm? Every day, Clark, every day."
Clark crawled up Lex's reclining body so they were face-to-face. "I'm serious, Lex."
Lex wanted to look away. He wanted to be across the room for this conversation. "The world isn't very forgiving of people who are different, Clark. You ought to know that."
"But it doesn't have to be bad, Lex. Telling the truth and making some people angry has to be better than just lying all the time, doesn't it?"
Lex finally did turn his head away. "Not everyone has the luxury of the warm reception you got, Clark. For starters, your parents actually like you. Second of all, your social world is confined to school. My situation isn't exactly parallel."
Clark turned Lex's head back and pressed a small kiss to his lips. "You have LexCorp now. If your dad disinherited you, would you be in trouble?"
Lex sighed. "Yes. Probably. I don't know."
Clark's eyes held his own. "What are you so afraid of, Lex?"
Fear made Lex mute. Made him close his eyes to block out the painfully earnest expression on Clark's face.
Clark's lips brushed his ear. "I think if anyone can pull it off, it's you. Trust me, Lex. There's nothing I want more than to be with you on the middle of that float."
Lex slid his arms around Clark, hugged him tight, and made a concentrated effort to breathe normally. "I'm thinking it's missing something, though. The float needs a gay icon, don't you think?"
Clark's smile was all in his voice. "Cher?"
"Erasure?!" Clark repeated incredulously.
Lex raised an eyebrow at him. "Come on, Clark. The lack of gender-specific pronouns in their songs should have been your first clue. And just their songs in general. Do I have to sing for you?"
"I was nonexistent for most of the eighties," Clark said defensively.
"Oh, sure, a likely excuse. Be my lover, I don't want another / My angel from heaven!" Lex sang breathily, doing his level best to undress Clark with his eyes.
Clark smothered his laughter against Lex's shoulder. "Oh my god. You really are gay. How, exactly, did you manage to hide it from the world for so long?"
"I don't know as I was exactly hiding it. You might have noticed the predominant color of my wardrobe."
"You were serious about the purple thongs, weren't you?"
"Don't forget the lesbian ladies in translucent gowns."
"Lex, wouldn't it be easier to just say, 'I'm gay'?"
"Possibly. But there's a good chance my dad will have apoplexy if we do it my way."
When Lex was eighteen, he made a decision.
His birthday present was his sealed juvenile file, his father had told him. Today's the day, Lex. Today you join me, you work, you learn. Today you are the legal Luthor heir, and you're going to discover precisely what that entails.
Lex felt sick to his stomach, his hand pressed against the plate glass, Metropolis spread out in front of him. He was eighty-two stories up, and he still hated heights. But he didn't think that was the source of his anxiety.
His father said the words "apprentice" and "heir" and "duty" - but the truth was, those were still in the future. Because a Luthor can't be uneducated, and Lex must go to college. His father wanted Lex to attend Metropolis University so that he could groom him for LuthorCorp at the same time.
Lex clutched the letter that had come in the mail today. His hands had shaken horribly as he opened it, all the while thinking, It's not paper thin, it can't be a rejection, please don't be a rejection...
If he stopped trying, if he tamely surrendered to the yoke his father had cast for him, made of duty and sealed history, he would never make his own destiny.
He walked into his father's study, and Lionel paused briefly to catch his eye, before going back to writing. "What is it, son?" he said, sounding a bit distracted.
Lex forced his legs to move, putting one foot in front of the other. He held out the letter to his father, and pleaded with his hand not to shake in the process. "This came in the mail today."
Lionel made a discontented noise. "Well, what is it? Blackmail? I thought you were done being indiscreet, Lex." He shook the letter open, and read aloud. "To Alexander J. Luthor, dear sir: we are pleased to inform you of your acceptance to the school of Chemical Engineering at..." Lionel stopped. Looked quietly at the letter for a few moments.
Lex tried to swallow quietly, tried to hide his nervousness. Genuine rebellion was a nerve-wracking business.
"Princeton," his father said meditatively. "When did you apply?"
"Three months ago," Lex told him truthfully. They both knew what that was - his mother's birthday was marked by a silent visit to her grave, one they always made together.
His mother had been no mere society wife. His mother had studied ancient history and the classics at Princeton, had studied Latin and Greek and even Akkadian. She had whispered bedtime stories to Lex of the deep, true friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, of the bickering of the gods at Troy.
Had Lex applied any place else without his father's permission and knowledge, he would have been brought to heel and chained to Metropolis without any further consideration.
"Princeton is a very fine school," Lionel said slowly, without emotion.
Lex waited and said nothing.
His father tapped one finger on his desk as he read through the letter again. And because pride was an emotion that his father rarely had in regard to Lex, and because it was something that Lionel rarely tried to repress in any case, he handed the letter back to Lex with a smile.
"You have four years, Lex. Four years to do as you will, and I will not bail you out. Fail and you will go to Metropolis University. Succeed, and you may stay. But in four years, you will come back, and you will accept your duties as the Luthor heir. Do I make myself clear?"
Lex nodded carefully, trying not to betray his own excitement.
Princeton was freedom - freedom to study what he wanted, and freedom to start writing a little bit of his own destiny.
Lex had spent his adolescence in one pointless rebellion after another, and on his mother's birthday, he came to a conclusion. He was not an ideal son, he knew, but he could make a decision, a very important one.
He could try to be a son his mother would be proud of.
Lex was twenty-six, and Clark was finishing up his last year of college.
Right now, Clark was sprawled on the sofa in the study, books and papers everywhere, and a laptop sitting on his thighs. His glasses were perched on the end of his nose (deceitful, as Clark Kent would never need glasses or a forklift or anything, and no one knew except Lex and Clark's parents, and Lex intended to keep it that way), and he looked adorably frustrated.
Lex took a moment to look at him, really look at him, as he's been doing often of late.
Clark Kent can take a sterile penthouse that Lex has lived in for years, and transform it into a home with his mere presence. Lex thought that this ability was probably transferable - if Clark could do it in one place, couldn't he do it in another?
So Lex made a decision, and took a deep breath. "Clark, would you like to move in with me?"
Clark made a vague sound, and marked something in a book.
"Clark?" Lex tried again.
"Hmmm? Did you say something?"
Lex pursed his lips in mild frustration. "I just asked you if you wanted to shack up together. Move in with me."
Clark carefully took off his glasses. "Yes to the first, but no to the second."
Lex blinked, momentarily confused. What exactly had Clark just agreed to? "You want to live with me, but you don't want to move in with me?"
"That's right," Clark said calmly, getting up from the couch and stretching in a most distracting fashion.
Lex was still confused. "Then how do you propose we live together, if you won't move in with me?"
Clark smiled, and little warning bells went off in Lex's head. That smile meant trouble. It meant absolutely no good. It meant Clark Kent was about to fuck with his worldview in new, interesting, and probably painful ways.
"We're going to go house-hunting," Clark announced.
Which, as Lex discovered, was its own little version of Hell.
Except that Clark really seemed to enjoy it, so Lex was inclined to think better of it for that reason alone. At first, Lex had wanted just to buy a plot of land and hire an architect, but Clark had pouted and looked utterly cheated, and so Lex sighed and let him go back to housing guides and obnoxious highlighter pens.
Which is how Lex came to be here. He was in love. Completely, head-over-heels in love, brimming with a grand passion unsurpassed throughout the ages.
It was the walk-in closet of his dreams.
"What no?" Lex demanded, refusing to even turn his head from the sheer beauty within.
"Lex, there's no counterspace in the kitchen. Let's go."
Lex turned briefly to glare at Clark. "Clark, kitchens are decorative. Closets, on the other hand, are a necessity."
Clark took him firmly by the arm. "Mrs. Delling would desert us if we bought a house with a kitchen like that. Do you really want to hire a new housekeeper just for a closet?"
Well. When Clark put it that way. Lex didn't think he could live without her tea cookies.
Lex was learning about square footage and lighting schemes and many other things that had previously mystified him or had been of no concern. He began to secretly watch Trading Spaces - he really liked it when the people hated what had been done to their house, and had to pretend that they like it.
When Lex thought about it, he was pretty equally attracted to the swooping modernity of Metropolis and the relaxed warmth of the Kent farmhouse. And so it was something of a surprise when he and Clark went out house-hunting one morning and found exactly what they had both been looking for, in a respectable if not entirely fashionable quarter of the city.
They signed the papers that afternoon, and moved in that weekend. The Luthor name was occasionally a blessing, especially in regard to making other people do things immediately.
Lex was happily setting up his computers in his new office, preferring to do the job himself. He could hear Clark directing the movers and the staff, and it made Lex smile to think that a farmer's son and a society wife had something in common, after all - the ability to run a household with authority.
Lex crawled under the desk to connect some cords, and hit his head underneath when green eyes blinked at him.
"Clark," he hollered. "You're letting wildlife in the house!"
Clark's shoes appeared in the doorway. "It's a cat, Lex, not a possum. Here, I'll put it outside."
"No, wait!" Lex extricated himself from his computers, and Clark watched him curiously. "I think it's pregnant."
Clark picked the cat up carefully. "You're right. You want me to have it taken to a shelter or something?"
The cat was mangy, and had a strange face, with masking that was reminiscent of a monkey. It was, frankly, the ugliest cat Lex had ever seen. "I want to keep her."
"You want to keep her," Clark repeated, looking a little stunned.
"If that's okay with you," Lex amended quickly. He was still working on this whole sharing thing.
Clark smiled brilliantly at him. "It's wonderful."
They kissed slowly for a few moments, before a loud thump and the sound of shattering glass broke them apart.
Clark took Lex's hand, and led him toward the doorway. "Come on, you can help me boss everyone around."
"Have I ever told you how much I love you?" Lex said lightly.
Clark smiled at him, seriously and softly. "I think so." They surveyed the chaos in the hallway silently for a few moments, before Clark leaned in to whisper in his ear.
"We're home, Lex."