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The Middle of Nowhere | The Road Home

Chapter Text

A mist hung low over the flat waters of the lake. Silent, still night --
rare for Kansas. Its wide, unbroken plains usually nurtured even the
slightest breeze into a gale. It was bothersome -- it was progress
without destination, energy spent toward no useful goal. It made him feel
perpetually as if something immense were about to happen, and every second
that passed unchanged from the second before ate away at his patience.

Still, there was Clark. Lex skipped a stone across the surface of the
lake, shattering the quiet and disturbing the water and the mist. Five
skips, one for each week he'd known Clark Kent. It meant something.
Since he'd met Clark, everything seemed to have meaning. Most things
seemed to have more than one.

Every star in the universe was clearly visible above him. It made the
night silver blue instead of the black he liked best. In Metropolis you
never got true darkness, but there were no city lights to reflect sodium
orange off the sky above Smallville. No neon signs, no legions of
expensive cars prowling the streets with headlights blazing. He'd
expected to hate Smallville, and he'd actually managed to work up a very
healthy contempt for it, but he had to admit, the darkest country nights
had something special. The stars, beautiful as they were, kind of spoiled
that.

"Lex?"

He smiled before he had time to think about it. "Perfect timing, Clark.
I was just starting to get maudlin."

"Yeah?"

"The stars, the lake, the quiet... If you hadn't shown, I might have
written a poem."

Clark raised his eyebrows. "That would be something to see."

"I'm hurt. You think I have no poetry in my soul?"

"I didn't say that." Clark came closer, stood shoulder to shoulder with
Lex, and looked up. He was smiling, barely, just at the corners of his
mouth. "I just doubt you have any good poetry in your soul."

That surprised a laugh out of Lex. It had been a long time since anybody
had made fun of him -- longer still since anyone had done it like that, so
they could both laugh. So it didn't cut. "I don't know how much Luther
Corp. is paying you to be my friend, but whatever the amount, that crack
just got you docked."

"I couldn't take money for that. It would be like getting paid for
breathing. Too easy."

A minute passed before Lex could think of anything to say. He didn't
think well around Clark, and strange things happened. Like smiles without
motives, like speechlessness, like the sensation of pressure in his chest
that made him want to do... something. Be something. He caught his
breath and laughed again.

"Lex?"

"That's why I run a business, and you run tractors. If anyone ever offers
you money for breathing, Clark? I advise you to take it."

"Whatever."

Irritation had replaced amusement in Clark's voice. Lex tried to remember
that quick, dismissive note from past conversations, but this was a first.
"Clark?"

Clark shrugged. He looked at Lex for a second, and then at the lake.
"Nothing."

"It's clearly not nothing."

"You called me out here in the middle of the night, Lex. I had to tell my
mother you were having a produce emergency."

Lex grinned. "I wasn't going to mention it, but I do think those organic
apples taste kind of weird."

"I also had to tell her you were Chloe."

"That's going to be a little harder to fix. Still, I feel outrage and
suspect Lionel Luthor of unsavory business practices. I think Smallville
is strange and want to get to the bottom of it." He looked carefully at
Clark, with just enough humor to register. "I like you. Close enough?"

Clark was smiling again, laughing at him. It made Clark seem suddenly less
complicated, made Lex feel good and a little bored at the same time.
Clark's laughter didn't pose the same kind of challenge his irritation
did. It was odd to know that, and to like hearing it anyway.

"You still haven't told me what I'm here for." Clark stuck his hands in
his back pockets and raised his eyebrows. "Somehow I don't believe it's
just about communing with nature."

"Unfortunately, you're right. I'm actually in need of some advice."

"You," -- Clark smiled like he didn't believe it -- "need advice from
me."

"It's personal. It's actually kind of a...people thing. Let's sit for
this, Clark."

"What, on your car?" His eyes widened and his eyebrows shot up. "What if
I ding it?"

Lex laughed. "I was actually thinking in my car, but I like your
idea better. Go on -- you're ten feet tall, but I don't think you weigh
enough to do any serious damage."

Clark rolled his eyes and gave Lex a little shove on his way around to the
hood. He tested the give with a hand like he was testing the firmness of
a mattress. Lex looked up at the sky and prayed to no one in particular
for patience. Shaking his head, he hopped up onto the hood, leaned back
on his elbows, and crossed his legs at the ankle. His heels banged
against the metal. "See? No harm, no foul."

Carefully, Clark pulled his feet up and sat cross-legged, elbows on his
knees. "Okay. I'm ready to offer you sage advice."

"You could at least pretend to take this seriously."

Clark shrugged. "I'm sorry. It's just a little strange. I don't think
anyone's ever asked me for advice before."

"Not even your friends? Pete? Chloe?"

"Pete asks Chloe. And Chloe thinks I need help getting my shoes tied and
my hair combed every morning."

"I didn't bring you here to tie my shoes, and I haven't needed my hair
combed since I was nine."

Clark grinned. "Then I'm your guy."

Lex leaned back against the windshield and crossed his arms behind his
head. Now that everything was in place, he was reluctant to actually
begin. Part of him hadn't really expected Clark to come. "Nice night."

"Lex--"

"I'm actually being sincere. I don't think I knew what night really
looked like until I came to Smallville. Too much ambient light. It's
oppressive. I like this kind of night." Lex looked at Clark. He
couldn't see anything in Clark's eyes, no shadows, no lies. And yet there
had to be more to him. There was more to him. He was a hook. Something
in Clark demanded examination. Maybe he was just oblivious. "What about
you?"

"You said you had something important to ask me."

"Of course, I wouldn't even be here to see it, if not for you. I haven't
really had a chance to thank you for that. I keep trying, but you keep
returning my gifts."

"You keep trying to give me the crown jewels. I'm afraid one day I'll
find the Hope Diamond in my mailbox."

Lex shrugged with one shoulder and smiled. "It's no more than you
deserve. You gave me my life."

"If there were anything you could give me of equal value, I'd take it.
But since I don't actually think you can put a price tag on a human
life--"

"I've met someone. Someone I like."

Clark blinked. His eyebrows drew together. "Okay, new topic."

Liking somebody. That was new. It felt like affection, or like he had
always imagined affection might feel, but he didn't have anything to
compare it to. First he felt grateful to Clark, and then when that wore
off there was something left, something that didn't fade when he stopped
paying attention to it. He liked Clark. A part of him was almost
ashamed. The rest...

The rest was almost having fun.

"Lex, if this is going to come out one sentence per hour--"

Lex nodded. "Sorry. This is difficult for me. You might not believe
this, Clark, but my experience of the world has been very narrow.
Business, I know. Getting people to do what I want them to do, I know.
Getting people to like me... I've never even wanted to do that. I don't
know where to start."

"Is this somebody you like...or somebody you, you know, like?"

"Does it matter?"

Clark raised his eyebrows. "I guess the strategy is the same for the
first few yards."

"So, what's my first step, Coach Kent? How do I convince this new
acquaintance that the friendship of Lex Luthor is not without value?"

"Well, to start with, you could stop treating the friendship of Lex Luthor
like it's something you can trade on the New York Stock Exchange."

"There's an IPO on Thursday."

"A what?"

Lex smiled. "What else?"

"Tell me about this person. Is it a guy, or a girl? Likes, dislikes?"

"Definitely a guy. Young. Younger than me, anyway. I don't know him very
well yet. As far as I can tell, his turn-ons are farm animals, big
trucks, and emerald-eyed freshmen girls. Hobbies include football,
solving crimes, and thwarting the process of natural selection."

He couldn't see Clark's blush, but he knew it was there. It was in the
way Clark dipped his head, and then looked back up and smiled with his
whole face. "So. Can you help me?"

"I...may have some ideas."

"Hand them over."

"Well, he probably doesn't need to be tricked into hanging out with you.
Instead of making up a lame story about needing advice from a teenager,
you could try calling him and saying, 'Hey, I'm bored, want to come over?'
He'd probably come. Have you considered the possibility that this guy
likes you already?"

"Oh, I doubt it. He's read all my bad press. His parents think I'm a bad
influence. His friends think I'm shallow. Practically his entire
hometown thinks I eat babies for breakfast and pick my teeth with the
bones."

"Maybe he has a mind of his own. Maybe he sees something in you they
don't."

"Maybe they see something he doesn't. Or maybe there's nothing to see."

Clark frowned, and leaned closer. "Lex, maybe you've been reading
too
much of your bad press."

"And maybe you just don't want to think the life you saved could be a bad
one."

"I'm not that naive."

Lex sat up and faced Clark. He took both of Clark's hands in his. "You
pulled me out of the water with these. You had no idea who I was. If you
had known, maybe you wouldn't have moved so quickly. If you knew now...
maybe you'd regret it."

"I wouldn't."

"You might."

Clark jerked back his hands. "Then tell me! If you're so horrible, Lex,
tell me what it is that you've done that I'm supposed to hate you for,
that's supposed to make me want you dead. Because all you've ever been is
generous and kind to me from the moment we met."

"We met when I plowed my car into you, Clark. That was neither generous
nor kind."

"It wasn't on purpose, either. And besides, you missed me."

Lex closed his eyes. Thinking, thinking was the key here. Thinking was
clean and reliable. Right now he was just...emoting, pressing point after
point, hoping to push Clark past some inner limit, for no rational
purpose. It wasn't smart. Clark was young, but he also wasn't. He might
not have a limit.

It was out of control. He had to think.

"I don't want to think I'm the first person in your life who ever liked
you," Clark said quietly. "But if I am, that's okay. You're not your
father, and if you think you are, well, you don't have to be. You can be
my friend, instead."

Words like knives. Lex tried to shake them off, and couldn't. They
penetrated. It was the night, and the stars, and that damned wind. The
setting was built for just this kind of sentimental nonsense. He'd go
home, he'd slide between silk sheets, and in the morning he would be
himself again. The fit would pass.

He opened his eyes, opened his mouth to thank Clark politely and
perfunctorily for taking part in this ill-conceived charade. But Clark
was still looking at him, earnest and concerned and young and beautiful
and kind. Worried, for him. When had anyone ever looked at Lex like
that?

"I could do things for you." He looked up at Clark and felt helpless,
completely adrift. "I don't know if the rumors have made it out to Kent
Farm, but people say I'm very rich. I could give you things."

"I know that," Clark said. "But don't. That's how you make business
deals. It's not how you show you care about somebody."

Lex laughed. The sound was oddly muffled by the wind. "It's how Luthors
show it."

"Yeah, well, Luthors don't know everything."

"How do Kents show it?"

Clark grinned. "We lie to our parents, show up on deserted roads in the
middle of the night without knowing why, and give lectures."

"The lecture, that's mandatory? You couldn't just...give me a tractor, or
something?"

"We only have the one."

Lex cleared his throat. The wind was getting colder. "If those are my
options...I'll take the maniac farm boy behind door number two."

"Good."

And that appeared to be it. Clark with his chin propped up on one hand,
expressionless, satisfaction blazing out of him. He couldn't hide an
emotion to save his own life, that kid. It was all there on his face, no
barriers. No fear. It made Lex angry, and a little jealous. It made his
chest tight.

It made him want to look that way himself, but he didn't know how, and he
didn't think his face could conform to that much ease. Clark's face
relaxed into kindness. Lex didn't know what his own face would relax
into, so he just looked at Clark and tried to put his thoughts in order.

"I'll let you give me a ride home..." Clark offered, smiling slightly.
"If you absolutely have to give me something."

Lex slid off one side of the car, and Clark slid off the other. "How did
you get here, anyway?"

"Walked."

"Three miles? In the middle of the night? Through muddy fields?" Lex
tilted his head, and frowned. "And then put your feet on my car?"

"This guy you like? You should never get mad at him for getting your car
dirty."

Lex cut a glance over the roof at Clark. "Is that some
kind of mortal insult to farm boys?"

"They think of sharing dirt as kind of a bonding thing," Clark said
earnestly.

Lex narrowed his eyes. "A bonding thing."

"Absolutely."

His first real act of friendship would be teaching Clark how to lie
properly. The wide eyes and the sincere nodding were good, but he was way
overselling it. Lex sighed and opened his door. "I'll take you home, but
the shoes are not coming with you."

"I can't just leave them here--"

"I'll buy you new ones." Lex held up a hand. "I do know one thing about
friendship, Clark. It's a two-way street. Sometimes we do things your
way, and sometimes--"

"--I get new shoes."

"Exactly."

"You could just have your car detailed or something."

Lex started the car and revved the engine. He felt like driving really
fast. He felt a little like he already was driving really fast, on a very
twisty road, with no headlights. "I could hire you to detail my car," he
said, smiling as Clark climbed into the passenger seat. He hit the gas
again, and the engine roared. "You would find me a very generous
employer."

"I'm not allowed to work for the bad element until after I turn eighteen."

Lex flicked on the headlights, and shook his head. "I knew I'd hate the
country."