He was going to die here. Lex Luthor was going to die tied to a cross out in the middle of a Kansas cornfield. Truthfully, Lex probably deserved it after what he had done to Duncan. His best friend, his only friend, and Lex had... So yes, there was little doubt that Lex deserved this.
Unfortunately, acknowledging the karmic rightness of his impending demise was very different than facing the actual reality of it, and Lex had spent the last couple hours trying not to cry. It had been easy enough to come up with reasons not to, thoughts of what the jocks would say if they saw when they came back to let him down, thoughts of what his father would say if he ever found out, a desire to keep what little dignity he had left, the utter futility of crying…
But Lex was going to die out here, and suddenly all of that was starting to seem a lot less important than the fact that it was so freezing out his arms and legs were starting to go numb, and everywhere that wasn’t numb hurt with the stinging cold and aches from where the football players had beat him up, and nobody cared about him enough to even realize he was missing, and he was going to die, and maybe crying wouldn’t help, but it might make him feel a little better.
Lex’s soft sobs masked the rustling in of the corn, a more purposeful sound than the wind could make on its own, so Lex didn’t realize someone was approaching until he heard a voice call out. “Hello? Is somebody there?”
“Help me,” Lex said. Or tried to say anyway, but it came out as more of a moan.
“Hold on, just a second…” The corn parted and for a moment Lex thought he really had died, because the man in front of him, with midnight-dark hair and golden skin and crystal green eyes and features that looked as though they were carved from marble, seemed like he must be an angel. But it was only for a moment; somehow Lex doubted the angel of death would come to collect Lex’s soul wearing jeans and plaid flannel.
“Jesus,” the guy breathed upon catching sight of Lex and Lex found himself biting back a shocked giggle. The universe sure was being heavy-handed with her metaphors tonight. Though, given who Lex’s father was, ‘anti-Christ’ might be more appropriate. “Darn it! I should have been here earlier. My fault for thinking they might have actually learned something from what went down with Jeremy Creek last year,” the guy said as he was untying Lex, though it wasn’t entirely clear whether he was apologizing to Lex for his late arrival or castigating himself over it.
“W-who are you?” Lex said, words actually comprehensible this time, even if they were weak sounding.
“Clark Kent,” the guy responded. “I’m a student over at A&M, but in my spare time I dabble in unofficial local heroics.” The grin was audible in his voice.
At that point, the ropes holding Lex up came undone. Lex slid downwards, and when his feet hit the ground his knees buckled under him. He would have gone sprawling across the dirt, but out of nowhere Clark was standing in front of him, catching Lex up in his arms. “Christ, you’re cold! God, and if I can tell… Here, luckily those bullies left your clothes.” Clark spit out the word ‘bullies’ like the filthiest of curses and if Lex’s face hadn’t been numb, then he’d probably be smiling. Forget the Christian pantheon, between the life saving and the well-defined physique and the clean-cut swearing, Clark actually reminded Lex of Warrior Angel.
Clark began helping Lex to put his clothes back on, guiding numb and strangely heavy seeming limbs through the cloth. Normally Lex would have protested, but between the half-nakedness, and the bruises all over his body, and the tear tracks on his cheeks, and the being hung up on a cross and left to die of exposure, he didn’t have really any dignity left to lose. Besides, protesting that Lex could dress himself would be somewhat ridiculous when he, in all honesty, probably couldn’t at the moment. Clark got Lex back in his pants, socks, shoes, and got arms into his shirt sleeves, but then, rather than helping to button Lex’s shirt up, Clark began to unbutton his own flannel. Lex assumed he was going to offer to let Lex wear it – likely Lex should refuse for politeness sake, but flannel was supposed to be really warm, wasn’t it? – but Lex wished Clark would have done Lex’s shirt up first; there was no way that Lex’s fingers could manage all those little buttons, and his chest was cold.
Surprisingly, Clark did not pull his over-shirt off, or even untuck it from his pants. Instead, once he had unfastened it as far down as he could, he pulled either side of the shirt apart so it gapped open to reveal the white cotton shirt underneath. “Here,” Clark said, “stick your arms in there and you can leech off my body heat to warm up.”
Lex hesitated for half a second – this seemed like kind of a weird thing to do with a stranger – but did as Clark suggested without complaint. It really was the quickest and most practical way to get Lex’s body temperature back up to normal. Plus Clark looked warm.
He was warm, really warm, and pretty soon Lex had more or less plastered himself against Clark chest. Clark didn’t seem to mind, wrapping his arms around Lex and enfolding him in a cocoon of heat. It felt like being inside of an oven, in the best possible way. Pretty soon feeling started to creep back into Lex’s hands and arms in sharp pinpricks of pain. Involuntarily Lex let out a little a little whimper.
“Hurts, doesn’t it?” Clark said sympathetically, one of his hands taking up rubbing up and down Lex’s back quickly, trying to create heat through friction. “I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do about that; you’ll just have to work through it.”
“I’ll be fine,” Lex told him. Yes it hurt, but it was a good kind of hurt, the kind that reminded Lex that he was alive, and was going to stay that way.
“I’ll bet,” Clark said. “You’re pretty strong. I mean, they roughed you up and then left you out here for hours; most people would be a little puddle of nervous wreck right now. But you’re as cool as a cucumber.” Clark winced. “Uh… bad phrasing, but you know what I mean.”
“Yeah,” Lex agreed. That was nice; very, very nice. No one had ever called Lex strong before. His dad and most of the kids at Excelsior, especially Oliver and his cronies, had always made a point of telling Lex how weak he was. Even his mom would just hug him and tell him that it was okay to be weak sometimes.
“Good,” Clark said. “I’ll try not to put my foot in my mouth again. No promises though.”
“I need to thank you,” Lex said after a few seconds. Clark had saved his life, and called Lex strong, which meant more than Clark realized, even if Lex didn’t necessarily believe it. Lex definitely owed him. “What would you like?”
“For you to make it through this without losing any appendages to frostbite?” Clark jokingly suggested. Lex wrinkled his nose; that was not a thank you gift, especially since Lex had every intention of doing that anyway. “Really, I don’t need any sort of reward for helping.”
“I have to do something to thank you. If you won’t ask then I’m just going to stick around until I figure out what to get you for myself,” Lex said, gripping Clark a little tighter. Clark was solid and comforting and smelled like hay and the wind. If Clark were to come up with what he wanted right now, Lex would still find another excuse to stick around anyway.
“But think what that would do to my reputation,” Clark said, and Lex stiffened. Of course Clark knew who he was, and it was silly of Lex to assume that Clark saving Lex’s life would mean that Clark would being willing to spend time with Lex afterwards. Everyone in this stupid town hated Luthor’s, never mind that Lex had been three when his father bought the plant, or that the plant was the only thing keeping the majority of the town employed. “That Clark Kent,” Clark continued, seemingly unaware of Lex’s increased tension, “running around with a fourteen year old boy inside his shirt.”
Oh. Clark was just joking. But he was bound to find out who Lex was eventually, and then he’d probably chase Lex off again, and mean it this time.
“I’m fifteen. My mom started me in school late,” Lex replied, for lack of anything better to say.
“Well, in that case,” Clark said and then he laughed. It was a low and rich sound, full of mirth and without the mocking edge that Lex was accustomed to. It made Lex wish, just a little bit, that he could stay right here forever. Impossible, he knew, but he buried his face in Clark’s chest and pretended for a while anyway.
“So the bad news is,” Clark said after a few minutes of quiet, “I don’t have my car or my phone on me, so we’re going to have to walk back into town. From there Nell will probably give us a ride if she hasn’t headed back home yet; otherwise I’m sure the people at the Beanery will let us use their phone.”
“I have my cell phone with me,” Lex volunteered, extracting his arm from inside Clark’s shirt so he could pull the aforementioned item from his pants’ pocket. “I can call the house and they’ll send a car down to pick us up.”
“Send a car down?” Clark repeated, amusement dancing in the fringes of his voice. “Who exactly have I rescued here, huh?”
Lex felt his body want to tense up again, but he fought the reaction down. If he only had a few seconds left of this he was going to enjoy it. “I’m Lex Luthor.”
As predicted, Clark pulled back at this pronouncement, but when Lex went to step back too, and maybe apologize for taking up Clark’s time, he found Clark’s arms were wrapped around him like a vice, holding Lex just far away enough that Clark could inspect Lex’s appearance. One of Clark’s hands came up and slowly stroked down the side of Lex’s face, causing Lex to shudder with a sudden and intense surge of sense memory. Then Clark smiled, his whole countenance brightening by immeasurable degrees. “It is you,” he said, pulling Lex close again in what was unmistakably a hug this time. “It’s been so long I didn’t recognize you. I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Have we met?” Lex asked, voice tinged with doubt. Clark certainly made it sound like they had, but Lex was almost sure he would have remembered Clark if that was the case. Clark was definitely not the kind of person you forget easily.
“You were only three at the time, and unconscious for the most part; it’s not surprising that you wouldn’t remember,” Clark explained. “My parents and I were the ones that drove you and your dad to the hospital after the meteor shower. I tried to visit you later, but you had already been transferred to Met Gen.”
“Oh,” Lex said. He had never known that someone had helped them back then. Not that it was surprising that his father wouldn’t have mentioned it; needing help was undoubtedly a weakness and therefore non-Luthorian. “Thank you.”
“I didn’t really do much,” Clark said, “but you’re welcome anyway. Hey, speaking of your dad, you should probably call him; I’m sure he’s worried that you didn’t come home from school.”
Lex managed not to scoff outright at that ludicrous suggestion. “Dad isn’t living in the castle with me; he’s got too much to do in Metropolis. I doubt he even knows I’m missing.”
“You’re living in that great big castle all alone?” Clark asked, disapproval ringing in his tone. “Let me see your phone.” For one wild moment Lex was sure Clark was going to call Lionel up and lecture him on proper child-rearing behavior; it seemed like the kind of thing that Clark would do. When Clark took the phone, though, he dialed in a clearly memorized number manually, and Lex heaved an internal sigh of relief. As much as Lex wished someone would tell his father off, he didn’t want Clark anywhere near Lionel.
“Hey Dad, it’s me,” Clark said into the phone. “My, uhhh – walk earlier actually ended up taking me out by Riley field. It turns out they football players are still doing the Scarecrow thing… Yeah, that’s probably a good idea. And Lana mentioned her boyfriend was the quarterback, so I’ll give Whitney a talking to about keeping a better eye on his guys next time I see him… That’s actually what I wanted to ask you about. See his dad is sort of, out of town right now, and I really didn’t think he should be alone tonight, so I was wondering if he could stay the night at our place.” Clark said the last of this while looking at Lex, as though he just realized that maybe he should make certain Lex wanted to stay at his place first. Lex, wide-eyed, nodded. He hated rambling about in the castle’s empty and drafty corridors. Well, technically there was a staff there too, but their consistently polite and distant behavior only made it lonelier somehow.
Clark smiled down at Lex as he listened to his father’s reply, rubbing soothing circles in Lex’s back. “Great!” he said. “So do you think you could come pick us up? Oh, and ask mom to heat up some leftovers too; I’m sure he hasn’t eaten since lunch. Okay, see you soon. Bye.” Clark hung up the phone and handed it back over to Lex.
“Now I’m really going to have to get you an impressive thank you gift,” Lex said, only half-joking.
Clark laughed again and Lex firmly resolved to continue to endeavor to make that happen as often as possible. “I honestly don’t need anything,” Clark assured him. “Though I admit to being a little bit curious as to what you’d come up with.” Oh yes, Lex was definitely getting him something amazing. “And now I’m afraid you’re going to have to let me go; we need to walk over to the side of the road so my dad will see us when he comes to pick us up.”
“But I’m still cold,” Lex protested. It was true, though Lex was pretty certain that hugging Clark wasn’t going to do much to warm up his toes.
“Can’t have that,” Clark said. “Ah, I’ve got it.” Clark untucked his flannel from his jeans, forcing Lex to back off out of necessity, and shrugged it off. “Here, put that on.”
Lex took the shirt hesitantly, politeness getting the better of him now that frostbite didn’t feel like an imminent concern. “But don’t you need it?”
“Nah, I don’t really get cold. Now put it on, and then climb up,” Clark said, turning around and crouching down a bit. “This way I can walk us to the road and you can keep being my little heat leech.” One look at the broad expanse of Clark’s back and Lex hardly needed to be asked twice. He slipped his arms in the sleeves of the flannel before hooking them around Clark’s neck. Clark picked Lex up without any apparent effort and took off toward the road.
“Clark,” Lex said, wanting to bring up something that had been bothering him since Clark’s phone call, “about Whitney-“
“I’m going to talk to him,” Clark said firmly. “He’s the team’s leader; he needs to make sure they aren’t pulling stunts that could get people killed.”
“No, it’s just… he’s the one who decided to put me up there. He thought I was flirting with his girlfriend.”
“Oh, really?” Clark asked, his voice so full of salacious implication that for a moment it was hard for Lex to breathe. “I wouldn’t blame you if you were; Lana is very pretty and one of the nicer people I’ve ever met, even if she can be a bit self-centered at times. In fact, I could put in a good word for you if you like, since her current boyfriend apparently isn’t good enough for her.”
“I don’t like her like that,” Lex clarified, “I’d just met her a couple of times before because her aunt and my father used to know each other and she was being nice to me. Do you like her?” Lex asked, something unpleasant coiled in his gut at the thought.
“Me and Lana?” Clark said incredulously. “Absolutely no. I was Nell’s go-to babysitter for a few years; it’d be like dating my little sister. Besides,” he continued, his voice gone firm, though who he was being firm with, himself or Lex, wasn’t entirely clear. “Fifteen is a little young for me.”
“I’m going to turn sixteen in five months,” Lex said out of nowhere. He wasn’t sure why he said it – he couldn’t possibly have meant to imply what he thought he just implied – but it really seemed like something that he needed to tell Clark all of the sudden.
Clark looked back over his shoulder, giving Lex a look like he had just said something full of meaning and insight, rather than completely inane. “Good to know,” he said after a few moments. “But for now I think I’ll just be glad that I have no such age limits on my friendships.”
Oh. After… what happened, Lex had thought he wouldn’t be able to have friends ever again, but Clark was obviously strong, much stronger than Duncan had ever been. Maybe it would be okay. “Do you think we could be friends?” Lex asked.
“Of course we’re friends, Lex,” Clark said. “Just you wait; you and I are going to be the stuff of legends.”