Lex Luthor got out of his car and approached the yellow farmhouse with casual negligence. No one watching would guess that he was nervous, wondering if and when he'd be denied the simple hospitality that the Kents offered to everyone because he wasn't everyone; he was a Luthor. No one watching the billionaire's son stroll as if he owned the world would see that behind the mirrored shades were eyes that longed for a natural smile when he appeared, not some polite thinning of the lips that held back what they really wanted to say about him. No one watching would know anything--but what Lex wanted them to know. Which meant they'd never know that their opinion of him mattered because--because a certain young Kent's opinion mattered to him.
Hmm. A Luthor letting a Kent dictate his actions. His father would be turning over in his grave--if the bastard would have the grace to drop dead already.
Not a charitable thought, Lex. Patricide is not the way to get on the Kents' good side. Then again, considering Jonathan Kent's hatred….
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Kent," he said when the redhead answered his polite knock. The shades quickly folded into the pocket of his leather jacket. "Happy Valentine's Day."
Martha Kent smiled. He gave her points for being nearly genuine. Apparently her husband had cut down on the daily rants against the Luthors.
She wiped her hands on the dishtowel thrown over her shoulder. "The same to you, Lex. Are you here looking for Clark?"
"I'm sorry. He and his father are out picking out a Valentine's gift for me. Sort of a tradition they started when Clark was just a little boy."
Damn. Back to the office for a few hours. "I'm all for tradition. Would you tell him I stopped by just to say hi?"
Martha opened the screen door. "Why don't you come in and wait? It shouldn't take too long."
"I don't want to be in your way."
She made a dismissing gesture with her hand. "I'm just baking some cookies for my boys. You're welcome to sit in the living room or keep me company in the kitchen."
"The kitchen, if you don't mind?"
She smiled and he followed her into the cozy room. He wondered what she would think of the castle's steel and marble monstrosity. "The cookies smell heavenly."
"Thank you. Here, have one fresh from the oven."
He bit into the warm confection and looked at her in surprise. "Brandy?"
She flushed in much the same way as her son would have. "Just a smidgen. It's my grandmother's recipe."
"Very good, but--"
"Something's wrong with them?"
"No," he explained hastily. "It's just--I'll be back in one second."
Martha stared at the doorway, then took a bite of cookie. It tasted perfectly all right to her. Why had Lex.... She sniffed the bottle of brandy and poured a little into a glass. Maybe the alcohol had gone bad or something. It was mainly only used for cooking and had probably been around for a while.
"Try this instead."
She looked up to see Lex handing her a bottle. Of brandy. Which--thanks to her Metropolis upbringing--she knew probably cost more than the farm itself. "Oh, Lex, I can't cook with that."
"Sure you can. Here, just taste it. I want you to imagine how much flavor will be in the cookie."
She took down another glass and poured just a dash out of the bottle.
"That's not a proper taste," Lex said and tipped the bottle a little more. "Now smell it. Doesn't it smell smooth?"
Martha nodded and cautiously took a sip. Wow. So that's what the expensive stuff tasted like. She drank the rest of it slowly to make a lasting memory. "That's very nice, but I don't think I could use it to make cookies."
"Come on, Mrs. Kent. Just one batch to see if I'm right."
Martha took one look at the pale face, the gray-blue eyes shining with eagerness, and she knew why Jonathan wanted Clark to stay away from Lex. And she also knew why there was no way in hell Clark was going to obey.
With a sigh, she reached up in the cabinet for more flour and sugar.
"Mom's gonna think we got lost," Clark said from the passenger side of the truck as the Kent men drove home.
"Well, actually we did," Jonathan said, laughing. "I know they call it a Wal-Mart Super Center, but that was ridiculous. Felt like I was walking the back eighty of the farm."
"Think Mom'll like her gift?"
"It's almost exactly like the bread-maker they were selling on that cable shopping show she watches. She's going to love it."
Clark eyed the package dubiously, but his dad had a lot more experience in such matters than he did. Which was why… "Dad?"
"I know when someone doesn't like me the way I like them--"
Jonathan reached out and patted Clark's leg. "You and Lana are both young, Clark."
Clark rolled his eyes at the sympathy. "But how do you know when someone does like you--like that? Especially if the someone is older."
"Older? Got your eye on one of the upperclassmen, son?" Jonathan asked with a sly wink.
"Something like that. But I'm not sure if their eye is on me."
"Well, before I answer that, let me give you a little warning: sometimes girls are just as bad as boys."
"You remember why you didn't want Chloe going out with Sean? That he was just looking to score?"
"I remember, Dad." Just like he remembered Sean's blue face, and the way it felt to have all the heat sucked out of his body.
"Sometimes older girls like to play games like that, too. They cruise the freshman class looking for--uh--"
"Obvious virgins?" There was no bitterness in his voice. Not one ounce of it. No. None.
"Yeah, so just be careful. Some people like using other people. For some people it's in their blood."
Clark sighed. "Is this another lecture against Lex, Dad?"
"Er--you wanted to know how you could tell if someone liked you, right? Remember what I always told you, son, the eyes are the windows to the soul. Watch how she watches you. Does she lean in close when you talk? Does she go out of her way to speak to you? Does she smile when she sees you?"
Clark relaxed on his side of the truck. He'd thought as much, but he just needed a second opinion. The eyes watched him. Their bodies were close when they talked. And, God knows, the Beanery was out of the way. Then, there was that smile. A beautiful smile that he thought--he hoped--only appeared when their eyes met. He fingered the small package in his pocket and smiled.
The smile only got bigger when their house came into view. The sleek sports car stood out like the beacon of light in a Thomas Kinkade painting; Mrs. Ross had nearly the whole Kinkade collection. "That's Lex's car!"
"What's he doing here?" Jonathan muttered as he turned into the drive.
"He's my friend, Dad. Mom probably told him he could wait for me. She likes him, you know."
"Your mom has a heart as big as the sky. It's natural for her to want to help a damaged soul." The truck stopped near the barn.
"He's not damaged! And he's not his father," Clark added as he grabbed the bread-maker, careful not to crush the beautiful bow sitting atop it.
"We could have saved that money and wrapped it ourselves."
"It was just four dollars, Dad, and it went to charity. Besides, it was my money."
"Just four dollars? Are you sure you aren't hanging around Luthor too much?"
"Geez, if I can't spend my money on the people I love, then why bother to have it at all?"
"It's just that--" Jonathan stopped, his face taking on a peculiar look.
Clark stopped, too. Music was coming from the house. Loud music.
"What the heck?" Jonathan said, hurrying toward the kitchen door. Clark hurried too, forcing himself not to leave his father behind.
They opened the door and saw--
"I feel good, nana nana nana na," Lex and Martha sang with James Brown as they slid across the floor on their socks. Both held wooden spoons like they were microphones. "I knew that I would now. I feeeeel good. I know that I would now. So good--"
Martha pirouetted away from Lex.
She spun back toward him and into his arms.
"I got you!"
And then Lex.
"What the heck is going on here!"
Jonathan startled the two so badly that only Clark's super speed saved Martha from hitting the floor.
Her feet safely beneath her again, Martha smiled. "Look, Lex, the boys are home."
"Hi, boys," Lex said without his customary smirk, but with a genuine smile. "Wanna cookie?"
Clark let go of his mother and stepped back, wondering where the green rock was. Lex and his mom were dancing in a kitchen decorated with filled cookie sheets, dripping mixing bowls, pieces of waxed paper with balls of cookie dough, and funny shaped brown, green, and clear glass bottles. And he was studiously not seeing the test tubes, petri dishes, and small scale.
Had to be the green rock.
Jonathan frowned. "Martha, honey, you're drunk."
She grinned. "With success, Jonnie. Me and Lex, we're in business together. MarLex Gourmet Delisties-Deliklies--Delicacies. Coming soon to an exclusive store near you!" she added brightly.
"Wanna cookie?" Lex asked again, grabbing one of the metal sheets. "These are rum raisin, but we didn't have any raisins. The rum is good though."
"They're both drunk," Jonathan observed, glaring at Lex.
Lex continued as if Jonathan hadn't spoken--or glared. "And we have brandied ones and cordial ones and whiskeyed ones and--"
"Where did all this alcohol come from?" Jonathan demanded.
"My car?" Lex answered uncertainly. He took a few wobbly steps to the window and looked out. "Hey, someone stole my car!"
"It's out front, Lex," Clark said patiently, now that he was sure there weren't any glowing rocks nearby. Just a glowing Mom and Lex.
"Oh." Lex turned and frowned. "I still don't see it."
"That's because you need to be on the other side of the house."
"Oh." Large eyes widened with delight. "Hi, Clark!"
"Hi, Lex." Clark smiled back, then saw his father cross his arms sternly. Oops. Time to hit the road. "Ready to go home now?" He moved a chair out of the way to grab Lex's shoes from beneath the table.
"Can't find my car. Look, Martha, it's Clark!"
"Hey, honey. Hey, Jonnie, wanna cookie?" Martha purred.
Clark's eyes widened. Jonathan turned bright red.
Clark figured that maybe it was time to leave his parents alone. He urged Lex to step into the leather loafers. "I know where your car is Lex. Let me drive you home."
Lex put down his pan of cookies. "My Clark. Always taking care of me. I have to go home now, Martha. Clark is taking me home."
"'Kay. Bye, Lex. Heeey, Jonnie."
Clark snatched Lex's jacket from the back of a chair, and with a gentle tug of his arm, led him out toward the front. "I'm going to take Lex home and get him settled, Dad. It'll probably be a couple of hours," he called, his back firmly toward the kitchen.
"Okay, son. Martha--Martha, wait until--mmph!"
"Whoa! Head rush!"
Clark realized he'd just dashed from the house with Lex in tow. "Sorry, man. Let's get you settled in the car. But first, I need the keys. Where are they?"
Lex laughed and threw his arms wide. If it wasn't for Clark's hold on him, he would have fallen. "Search me!"
"You don't know where your keys are?" Not in the kitchen. Please don't let them be in the kitchen.
"Search me," Lex called again, and Clark finally realized he meant the term literally.
He figured a pat down, like the cops did, would be the quickest way. Actually, the quickest way would be to use his X-ray vision, but he didn't quite have a handle on that yet. Seeing Lex's internal organs wasn't exactly the picture he wanted to take away from this experience.
"Sorry. If you'd just tell me where the keys are."
"I like tickles. You like tickles, Clark?"
Clark found the keys in Lex's front pants pocket. Thank God the man was wearing loose, pleated slacks. He stuck his hand in the pocket, refusing to notice how warm it was in there or how close he was to--Lex moved and Clark almost dropped the keys as he jerked his hand out of the pocket.
He pressed the button on the key ring. The car chirped and the interior lights came on. He guided Lex into the car and reached over him to grab the seatbelt, pausing suddenly when he felt hands in his hair.
"Martha was right. Better than silk."
Clark took a deep breath and finished connecting the seatbelt. "You and Mom have a good conversation?"
Lex nodded and talked while Clark walked around the car to the driver's side. Only his powers allowed him to hear Lex's rambling. "We know a lot of the same people in Metropolis. Well, she knew them when they were young and I know them now that they're rich and/or powerful. Rich and/or powerful. Which one am I, Clark?"
"Both." Clark shifted the seat back and cranked up the car. What an engine.
"Do you like that? Do you like rich and/or powerful?"
"I don't know. I just know that I like you, Lex. In fact, I like you so much that I got you something." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a tiny heart-shaped box of chocolates. He'd felt stupid five minutes after buying it and had almost decided to keep it for himself. But now that Lex was drunk….
"For me?" Lex cried, rubbing the embossed box with a long, tapered finger. "You got these for me?"
"Uh, yeah. I know that you've probably had way bigger boxes--"
"No one's ever given me a box of chocolates," Lex whispered.
"Not even your parents?" Clark asked, remembering the small boxes that appeared at his table setting each Valentine morning. The latest one was laying on his bed where he'd tossed it before going to school.
Lex shook his head. "You got me a box of chocolates," he said, his voice full of wonder. "I didn't get you anything."
"That's okay, Lex."
"No, it's not. I--" He started struggling with the seatbelt.
"Whoa, Lex. It's okay."
"No, I have--I have--" He gave up trying to loosen the restraint and contorted his body toward the backseat. Two grunts later-- "Here."
Clark took his eyes off the road for a minute and saw a single red rose being handed to him.
"I gave them out at the plant today. Happy workers are productive workers, you know."
"And you're a closet romantic," Clark murmured, sniffing the rose and actually finding a scent. Definitely not the run-of-the-mill hothouse variety.
"Next year I'll get one 'specially for you, Clark. No more leftovers, okay?"
Next year. That sounded--nice. "Okay, Lex." A flick of a button and the gate opened. "Just about home now, Lex."
Lex nodded. "Wanna come in for a nightcap?"
"Think you've had enough 'caps for one night," Clark pointed out. "But, uh, about the test tubes and other stuff...?" Too much cable, he realized. He shouldn't know anything about drug labs. He shouldn't be suddenly concerned about some of the hints his mother had dropped about her teenage years. His mom was his mom, and Lex--rumors of Club Zero aside--even if Lex could corrupt his mom, he wouldn't. Right?
"Oh, Martha doesn't measure. How can you have a recipe if you don't measure? So she made cookies and I measured what she threw in the bowl."
Clark refused to accept the relief he felt. "And you both measured the liquid contents, right? You keep a full bar in the trunk? And lab equipment?" The only test tubes at the farm were in the chemistry set he'd gotten when he was ten. In answer he received a look that said, "Of course, you silly boy." Maybe his dad was right about rich people.
"Good evening, Mr. Luthor, Mr. Kent."
Clark looked up at the butler/assistant who'd smoothly opened the door. It was one he didn't recognize. How did the dark-suited man know his name? "Um, hi."
"Benjamin, Clark gave me chocolates!" Lex gushed, holding out the box for the butler/assistant to see.
"Will you need liquid refreshment with those?"
"No!" Clark nearly shouted. "Um, Mr. Luthor has had enough liquids for one evening, Mr., uh, Benjamin. I'm just going to take him up to bed--I mean, I'm going to put him to be--" He looked at Lex, who was leisurely smirking. In for a penny, in for a pound. "Mr. Luthor and I are retiring to his quarters for the evening, Benjamin. Make sure we aren't disturbed."
He thought he'd done a good job, until he heard Lex snickering.
"Very good, Mr. Kent. Good night, gentlemen."
"Good night, Benjamin," Lex said, giving the butler/assistant a jaunty wave. He threw his arm around Clark's shoulder. "How masterful you are becoming, Mr. Kent," he teased.
"I wouldn't be talking if I were you."
The gray eyes tried to look puzzled, but only succeeded in being unfocused. "What did I do?"
"Oh, how about spending the evening getting wasted with a Smallville housewife?"
Lex's hand flew to his mouth. "I didn't," he drawled sadly.
"I'm afraid you did."
"But it wasn't intentional. I just wanted to see my bestest friend and then there were the cookies and--you didn't happen to bring any of the cookies with you, did you?"
"You've had enough cookies and enough liquid to down them with."
"One batch was a little dry," Lex admitted. "But don't tell Martha. I made an adjustment in the measurement and they're fine now."
Clark smiled. The evil Lex Luthor trying to protect his mom's feelings. Oh, yeah, he's the big bad, Dad. "My lips are sealed, Lex."
Lex stared at him. "No, they're not, silly. You're talking and I can see your teeth. And there's your tongue all wiggly and pink."
Clark took a step back, casually adjusting parts of his body that were truly excited that Lex was watching his tongue. "So you and Mom are going into the cookie business, huh?"
"Yes, yes, yes," Lex said happily. "There's this darling little bakery--" Clark filed the fact that Lex had called something "darling" into the back of his head for later reflection, or blackmail-- "that's just ripe for takeover. It'll be churning out MarLex products any day now. Isn't that wonderful? Martha says it'll be her old age nest egg. How much life insurance does your dad have anyway?"
Partnerships and takeovers. Surely he and his father weren't at the Wal-Mart that long, were they? Okay, it was true that he'd had to literally drag his dad away from the hardware section--and the automotive section, not to mention the John Deere display and the potato chip aisle… Darn, with all that playing time, it was a wonder Lex hadn't taken over more than just a small bakery. Hmm. Maybe he'd check the business section of the paper in the morning just to make sure.
Lex swayed next to him. "C'mon, Mr. Captain of Industry. Let's get you into bed."
Lex stepped back. "I'm not that kind of man," he said, drawing himself up primly. Then he just fell forward and Clark instinctively caught him. Lex laughed. "Yes, I am. Take me, Clark, and have your wicked way with me."
"Drama queen is a very good look for you, Lex."
"You like me. You really like me," Lex said, his breath warm against Clark's neck.
"Come on, Sally, it's time for your close-up--with your pillow." Good thing his mom was such a movie freak. He urged Lex up the stairs.
"Gonna get me on the casting couch, Mr. DeMille? Ravish me, and own my soul?"
Clark shrugged. "Why not? You already own mine."
Lex stiffened and pulled away. He looked at the candy box in his hand and sat down heavily on one of the stairs. "I wish I had a soul to give you, Clark. If…if Lionel hadn't taken mine, I would give it to you. You know that, don't you?"
Clark rubbed his hand across the bald pate. "You have a soul, Lex."
Lex hugged the red box to his chest. "How do you know?"
"Because I've seen it." Their gazes met and held.
"Oh," Lex murmured.
Clark joined him on the stair, and they sat there for a while, a comfortable silence falling between them. Clark liked that the two of them didn't have to indulge in small talk when they were together. If one of them wanted to talk, he talked. If they just wanted a chance to be with each other, then that's what they did. No stumbling over his tongue like when he was with Lana. No constant search for answers like when he was with Chloe. No mindless chatter like when he was with Pete. Just quiet and a sense of "I'm not alone anymore."
Lex's head drifted to his shoulder. "I'm tired, Clark."
"I know. That's why you're going to bed."
"Okay. Can I take my candy with me?"
"Sure. Give me your hand."
Lex obeyed and Clark led him up to the spacious suite. Pliantly, Lex allowed Clark to remove his jacket, then he fell back across the bed and didn't move. Clark patiently slipped off Lex's shoes and pulled a blanket up over him. Then he leaned over and kissed the half-parted lips. "Goodnight, Lex."
Heavy eyes opened partially. "You're not staying?"
Clark shook his head and caressed the pale cheek of the man who would eventually become his lover--when they were both stone-cold sober. "Not tonight, Lex, but soon."
"Soon," Lex whispered as consciousness fled.
Clark let himself out of the house and started walking towards home. He'd make it a lengthy trip, just in case his mom hadn't "settled" as quickly as Lex. His mom and Lex--drinking buddies. He grinned. Now that was something worthy of Chloe's Wall of Weird. Guess his dad was just plain outnumbered now. Which was good, because Lex was about to become a regular fixture around the farm. Even if he had to feed him…cookies.
Halfway down the drive, Clark turned and went back to the car. He retrieved the red rose, forgotten as he helped Lex out. Sniffing it appreciatively, he continued his journey home, wondering if Valentine's Day could get any better than this.