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Here To Be...

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Here To Be...
by Maygra

Maybe it was too early.

He couldn't hear anyone moving inside, didn't see anything that would indicate anyone was up yet. Not that he had tried very hard. Not to see anyway.

Well, there had been the gardeners. Six that he had counted, carefully digging up the beds along the curved driveway and changing out not yet faded fall blooms for hardier pansies and stocks. Kind of like his Mom, except she'd need a couple of hundred baskets to find places to plant the racks and racks of flowers he'd seen on the landscaping trucks.

Personally, Clark thought maybe planting a lot of grass would make more sense. It would all disappear under the first snow anyway, so...why landscape a driveway that hardly anyone ever used anyway? Somehow, he doubted the idea of stopping to admire the pansies ever crossed Lex's mind when he came home.

Maybe he was wrong though. Honestly, he didn't know the guy very well. Didn't really know much about him except what little Lex had said, a few comments from his father which weren't exactly hearsay but not exactly first-hand knowledge either.

At least his father had finally been able to say -- out loud -- that Lex was a friend of Clark's. And do it without sarcasm or irony. His mother had winked at him behind his father's back. His Dad wasn't unreasonable, just...stubborn in his opinions sometimes. Some day maybe he'd hear the rest of why his father didn't like Lionel Luthor -- and it wasn't just because his Dad thought Luthor had swindled Mr. Guy and Mr. Bell out of their farms. Not that that wouldn't have been enough, but Clark was pretty sure there was more to the story he hadn't heard. His Dad really was trying to be fair minded concerning Lex.

Not that he had, oh, jumped for joy at the idea of Clark taking Lex up on his offer for a trip to Metropolis. Nope. That one was still on the "Maybe. We'll see," list. Which meant that Jonathan was kind of hoping Clark might forget to ask again so he wouldn't have to say "no" right out. And then explain why "no".

Which he would. Sometimes Clark wondered if his father actually thought through this stuff at all before saying no...or if he just went with his hunches. Which were fine for knowing if a cow was about to drop a calf, or if the weather was going to clear in time to get a field planted. Or if Clark would ever learn to control any of the weird things that kept shaking apart the sense of normalcy that his Dad and he wanted in equal measure.

Actually, he knew his Dad did think those things through. He just didn't always share why he thought what he did without a lot of prodding from either Clark or his mother.

Once upon a time it was enough to think his father had an answer for everything, knew everything. He always seemed to. Always seemed to want Clark to understand the why of things.

Now he didn't have all the answers, and as much as his father had tried to make a joke of it, Clark was pretty sure that upset his father more than he was willing to let on. He'd kept a level head about it all: the strength, the speed, the weird vision thing -- all of it. He'd expect Clark to keep a cool head about it too.

It helped to know, though, that his father was a little freaked about all this. Not enough to stop wanting to help or stop offering his opinion. If anything, he was trying harder.

It helped.

It did not, however, help him get that trip to Metropolis under his belt. Not yet anyway. But he had a pretty good idea that his Mom was helping out his cause. She was from the city. She said she didn't miss it, but sometimes Clark wondered.

And then he wondered if all women were as entirely undecipherable as his mother and Lana and even Chloe. He'd never figure them out, and trying wasn't always exactly easy.

Then again, he was finding Lex pretty undecipherable too. Not in quite the same way, but it was still a little weird at times. Okay, so he'd saved the guy's life. Yeah, that was pretty big -- at least from the outside, but Clark had to wonder if maybe, just maybe, Lex might not have been able to recover control of his car if he hadn't been totally freaked out by the idea that he was about to run Clark over.

Clark had seen his face as clearly as he saw his own in the mirror every morning. Lex had frozen. He'd been so intent and scared and then it was like he just froze on seeing Clark. A fraction of a second.

That's all it took. It's what they said in his driver's ed class. And Clark had frozen, too. He could have gotten out of the way if he'd had a second more to think about it. Maybe could even have stopped the car from going over at all. Kept Lex from that few moments of death.

He closed his eyes, willing away his own memories. A few seconds, a few moments and he wouldn't be standing on the broad porch of Lex's castle wondering if he'd forgotten about the riding. He wouldn't have known him at all except as the guy who'd died because Clark, for all his strength and speed, had been too freaked out to move a little faster.

His father was right. Lex Luthor didn't owe him a damn thing.

Except he seemed to think he did, and Clark was reluctant to let go of that seemingly fragile link. Just as he was now. Because other than that, really, what did he and Lex have in common?

Nothing he could pin down really, except he felt more comfortable with Lex than he did with almost anyone else. Most of the time.

Oh, he was okay with Pete and Chloe, getting more comfortable with Lana, although not in the way he'd like to be getting comfortable, but it was like with Lex, there weren't any expectations and maybe even better -- no history.

It felt like taking advantage, though. Standing here on this porch, with all the signs of wealth around him, power, all those things that Clark really thought were only a big deal in the movies. Did Lex think that everyone, anyone who came near him really wanted a part of all this?

Well, they probably did and he was probably as much a freak for not wanting it as he was a freak in all other ways. And maybe that was it after all. Smallville's freak club. It seemed to be gaining a lot of new members lately.

But honestly, and he could be honest with himself out here on this broad porch, in this surreal castle-like house, feeling like a transplant into King Arthur's court -- here he could look and see he really didn't think Lex was a freak at all. He was intense, he was fascinating -- cynical and funny and discerning and surprisingly cautious for all that. Not a freak. Not like anyone Clark had ever known. And he didn't treat Clark like a kid. Big plus in the not a freak but weird category.

He took a deep breath and reached out to ring the bell. If he really decided this was a bad idea he could be out of here so fast. But Lex had really seemed to want him to come over, to go riding, spend time together -- do something and Clark didn't get it at all.

But he liked it.

And yes, Lex was a freak for wanting this weird friendship with Clark.

He fidgeted, then made himself be still as the door swung open. Not Lex, and Clark had no idea who the man was, but the starched shirt and suit jacket, looking Sunday best at eight in the morning on a Saturday pretty much made his position clear.

"May I help you you, sir?"

Clark quelled the urge to look around and see if his father was standing behind him. "Uh...Clark Kent. I'm here to see Lex?" he said and stuck his hand out, feeling the slow burn in his cheeks as Lex's butler looked at his hand then his face. Nevertheless, he extended his hand, taking Clark's firmly, if briefly.

"A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Kent." He held the door open wider, gesturing. "I'll see if Mr. Luthor is prepared to receive visitors."

Clark slipped inside, taking a minute to once more squash the jittery, uncertain feeling in his brain and stomach.

"If you'd like to wait in the salon?" the butler said, once more ushering Clark, leading him across the great hall to what was supposed to be a cozy little sitting room -- save it was pretty much the size of the Kent's entire house. But there was a fire and the furniture didn't look too much like museum pieces for Clark to be afraid to sit on the very edge of a tapestried chair.

He declined the offer of 'refreshment' which almost made him laugh, and kept his jacket. Somehow, he didn't think Lex's butler had quite come to grips that he was in Kansas and not in some manorial estate in England.

It took long enough for Clark to get antsy. It was too early. Lex might have forgotten. It might be a bad time? Maybe it had been a joke? Maybe...he was putting too much faith in his impression that Lex actually did want to spend more time with him because he found spending time with Lex to be both disconcerting and exciting?

Pushing himself to his feet he paced a little, staring at the room, the richness of the furnishings -- the fact that not a single mote of dust could be seen. It had seemed easier and more normal when Lex had come by the farm. He didn't care that Lex was rich -- but he couldn't ignore it either, not here. He was afraid to touch anything and wondered if he should check his boots. There hadn't been a doormat outside.

"Mr. Kent?"

It startled him, guilt running through him even though he hadn't done anything.

"Mr. Luthor is getting dressed, if you'd like to join him..."

Clark almost said he'd wait -- outside. There was nothing familiar about this house. He hadn't felt this way before, coming in to say hi, to drop off produce. Lex's presence had been enough to make it all feel like there wasn't such a huge gulf between the world Clark knew and the one Lex lived in.
But he followed, climbing the stairs and wondering if Lex had ever had the urge to ride the banister from top to bottom. At the top, his escort directed him to the door at the end of the hall, walking alongside him between Clark and the wall as if afraid Clark might accidentally knock something off the wall. It was a little annoying, especially since Clark was afraid he really *might* knock something off the wall. He felt awkward and too tall and out of place.

And it all dropped away when he heard Lex's "Come in," from beyond the door. Which was truly freaky but he was pretty happy about it anyway.

Not quite Lex's bedroom, he guessed as his escort opened the door then left him. Oh, he supposed there was a bedroom somewhere, but this seemed to be only a smaller version of the salon he'd been in before.

"You get up entirely too early," Lex said, emerging from one of the doors leading off from the main room. He was shrugging into a dark green shirt, Clark getting only a glimpse of a pale chest and firm stomach. Lex pulled the shirt down, tucking it into the black jeans he wore over low western style boots.

"I was thinking that," Clark admitted, looking around. The room really didn't seem to have anything of Lex in it -- carefully decorated and comfortable on a grand kind of scale. Although Clark had to admit, he wasn't sure he would know what kinds of thing would imprint Lex's personality on a room. He wasn't entirely sure it could be contained by *things*. "We didn't set a time so I came over after my chores."

Lex didn't look put out though. He flashed a quick grin at Clark. "I should have guessed you would be up at four. I was actually awake. Just not dressed," he said and helped himself to a glass of juice from a tray of juice and coffee and fruit set on a low table near the door. "Help yourself. Loren is making sure the stables have the horses saddled."

"We could have done that," Clark said, helping himself to a slice of cut up apple. Slight tang to it -- lemon juice, like his mother did. "Loren is your...he's the butler?"

"No, he's the housekeeper," Lex said, watching Clark as he chewed on the apple bit and sipped his juice. Clark felt like there was a joke there he wasn't getting and he looked down and away, feeling stupid and disconcerted again. He waited, not sure what to say. Lex moved up beside him, setting his glass down --half full, Clark noted. He couldn't help but look at Lex, right there, to see some confusion on Lex's face. "He is, Clark. He oversees the house staff but he isn't a butler."

"Oh. I thought...it was a joke," Clark said, knowing his face was reddening. Not the best trait he could have inherited from his parents.

"At your expense?" Lex asked him and the heat in his face got more intense. "I thought you knew I think better of you than that, Clark."

The disappointment in Lex's voice was so thick Clark seriously considered just sinking to the floor in embarrassment. "It's not that ...that you would make fun of me, only..."

"I do know how that goes. So, I won't, ever, Clark. Make a joke at your expense. Unless, of course, you seriously deserve it," he added. Looking at him, Clark could see Lex's mouth twitching in a small smile, see the humorous glint in the blue eyes.

"Deal," Clark said, grinning at him, feelings settling back into normal. "Because sometimes...you know. I do deserve it."

"Me too," Lex said and gripped his shoulder briefly. "Shall we ride? Take the tour?"

"Yeah. But you know, I only brought these clothes so if it's going to take a couple of days..." Clark left it, cutting his eyes at Lex to make sure the teasing was fitting in with their new agreement.

"I'm sure we can find something for you to wear," Lex said dryly and led him out.

They didn't slide down the banister, although Clark almost asked, but instead asked more about the house and got Lex's full, if dry, rendition of the transportation of the castle and trying to fit it all in without absolutely clearing the land.

They left by the rear of the house, across another huge porch and to the side of a well landscaped lake. A cinder track path led them along the lake, and Clark tried to take it all in without slowing their progress.

"It's kind of like a resort, isn't it?" Lex looked up at him, smiling a little before letting his eyes drift. He tugged at the long sleeves of his shirt, pulling them up, exposing more pale skin, smooth and unblemished, not even a freckle. It wasn't so much that they were an unearthly white, just that they were so uniformly pale, it was almost as if Lex's skin were a suit he put on.

"Sort of. Really nice summer camp," Clark said tearing his eyes away from Lex's arms before he could be accused of staring.

That got a laugh out of Lex. "My father would have a stroke. I should look into that -- lease the place out for a summer camp. Hundreds of small children running around, picking flowers and yelling. The chaos alone would give him a nervous breakdown."

Clark didn't know whether to laugh with him or not, not sure, again, how much of it were Lex's somewhat odd sense of humor and how much of it was sourced from his uneasy relationship with his father. "Not much for chaos?"

"Oh, he has his moments," Lex said. "But my father is all about being in control. Being the one to direct his own destiny."

"And sometimes yours?"

Lex gave him a half smile and thrust his hands in the back pockets of his jeans. "We get started off talking about our fathers and the day will get old soon."

"I guess I thought maybe it should be different," Clark said. "Wondered what it would be like -- if it would be different if I were with my..." he stopped, too aware that Lex was watching him again, waiting, even as they walked. And he'd told Lex he didn't want to know about his biological parents. "My Dad's okay."

Lex nodded. "No doubt. But...he isn't very fond of me and I'm not always terribly fond of my father and since you don't know my father...trust me, Clark. The weather would be more interesting. "

Clark let it drop, but he was curious. He almost pointed out that the one thing Lex had in common with Jonathan Kent was their dislike of Lionel Luthor -- except he wasn't sure that was exactly right, no matter what Lex said. They didn't get along -- which was sometimes true of Clark and his father but rarely for lengthy periods of time. Jonathan wouldn't let an argument go past sunset if he could help it. Lex's feelings about his father seemed to be on a slow burn all the time though.

"So..." Clark didn't like the silences that kept falling between them. "Why the horses? Do you compete like Lana?"

"Once upon a time. But I played polo and..." Lex shrugged slightly, pulling his hands free of the denim. "I like to ride. I do usually prefer my horsepower compressed and with a leather interior, but it's nice to be able to have contrasts, don't you think?"

The path split: cinders giving way to gravel. "I don't know. I kind of like it when things don't change so much," Clark said. He could hear the horses, smell the barn-scent on the air. "I mean I wonder about the rest of the world, but half the time I don't think I really have a handle on what I have going now, you know?" He dared to look at Lex, wondering if he sounded as naive as he thought he did.

"No rushing headlong into things, huh?" Lex asked. "Somehow Clark, I really don't see you as the kind to hold back. Not for something you really wanted to know or to do." He had paused, gaze lingering on Clark's face; a serious look, lips slightly compressed. Then the expression was gone and Lex smiled easily, banishing the moment or whatever he had been thinking. "The trick is to know what you want and *then* worry about how to get it, " he said, lips curving and his eyes widening a bit when he smiled, like Clark had just said something very clever when he hadn't said anything at all.

But Clark couldn't help but return the smile, feeling a little puzzled, but not as if Lex were trying to baffle him. If anything, he felt like they'd discovered something together that Lex had half suspected and was only waiting for Clark to fully realize. Surprise parties, or Easter egg hunts -- it sounded so stupid but he was looking forward to it.

Someone spotted them as they approached, and two horses led out, already saddled and loaded with saddle bags. One of the grooms held a leather jacket with a fleece lining for Lex, who took it to secure across his mount's rump. Clark's own jacket was lighter but he pulled it off anyway, tucking under the straps of the saddle bags. The morning was chilly but not cold enough for Clark to worry and the skies were clear enough to indicate the day would warm up before the temperatures plunged again when the sun set.

The horses were beautiful -- sturdy Arabian stock with clean lines and barely suppressed energy. Clark was no expert on horses, but he doubted they were anything but pure bloods. "Romeo and Mercutio," Lex said, grinning at Clark. "Same sire. They have longer names but I think these will do." The groom passed Mercutio's reins to Clark and Clark thanked him, moving up to let the animal scent him and check the straps. He let the stirrups out a bit. The western saddles looked worn and well used.

"Had them long?"

"Since the first of the year. Watch him, he likes to show off," Lex said with a smile and swung himself up easily into the saddle.

Clark envied that. He mounted easily enough but it wasn't with Lex's assurance. He could ride and ride pretty well, but he wasn't quite ready for either a competition or a rodeo. Still, Mercutio settled after dancing a bit, tossing his head to see how much give he could get from the bit, which was pretty generous.

Lex was watching him, Romeo dancing a little as well, but only in a hurry to get going. Clark gave his own mount a few feet of walking space, making sure he would respond to a gentle guide from the bit rather than something more strenuous. But he nodded when Lex asked him if he were ready.

"Lead on. These guys will come looking for us if we get lost, right?"

Lex gave a snort of laughter. "Only after three days. Think we can hold out that long?"

"Oh, sure," Clark responded nudging his horse up beside Lex as the horses stepped up to a light trot along the fenced road that opened into the fields and forest beyond. "You know, we could live off the land. Start fires with two sticks...flag down a truck on the highway. How much land..." he asked looking out.

"Here? About six thousand acres," Lex said. "This used to be the Bell farm."

"I know," Clark said, meeting the direct gaze. "And Mr. Guy's. I know, Lex."

Lex made a face lower jaw tightening a bit. "I'm sure you do."

"I thought we weren't going to talk about our Dads?" Clark watched him, wondering whether it was at all possible that Lex even cared about Clark's opinion on the land deals Lionel Luthor had made over a decade ago. He knew his own father based a lot of his anger on those transactions, but in his own mind, without knowing the details, Mr. Bell and Mr. Guy hadn't been kids.

And Lex wasn't his father.

"You're right," Lex said but nudged Romeo a little, picking up the pace and reaching the end of the fenced area. "Want to let them stretch their legs a bit?" he asked, grinning again and Clark was glad the tension seemed to have dissipated again. Before them lay a broad field, mowed perfectly, and not pasture. Not quite a golf course either but marked.

"Tell me that's not..."

"A polo field," Lex said with a challenging grin. "First one to the far end wins," he said and gave Clark two seconds to catch on before he was off.

Mercutio didn't need Clark's urgings -- apparently competition was as much a part of his blood as it was Lex's. Clark had a few startled moments where he had to just hang on, but the animal was smooth and sure and the speed was enough to slap the cold air across his face. Lex glanced back once, grinning like a madman and Clark had to laugh, bending low to give Mercutio a little less resistance. He was so going to end up on his ass but it was worth it to hear Lex laughing from the sheer thrill of it all.

He lost, but it was close, Lex reining in and walking the horse down a bit. "Too bad you never did compete. You're a natural, Clark," he said, the compliment easy from the lips of the victor.

Clark laughed anyway. "We'll see how you do in a tractor race."

"Oh, no. Those things are dangerous." Lex urged his horse past the fields and onward, Clark and his mount falling easily into step. "So, you've seen the polo fields."

"And the barn..." He glanced back to see a stable that would rival those at the Kentucky Derby. "Big barn."

Lex chuckled. "Mostly unused. We keep a half dozen horses for guests. So, you want the whole thing or just the highlights?"

Clark shrugged. "I'm good for whatever. I think I've cut across the farthest part of your land and never seen any of this."

"Well, we've got the lake and the quarry. There's a mine around here somewhere. But mostly...it's just land."

There was nothing on Lex's face to clue Clark into whether or not "land" meant anything more to him than something to own. "I knew there was a quarry but it hasn't been mined in awhile, right?"

"Long before either of us were born. Stopped in the 20's, I think. Used to have a lot more water, but my father had it drained." He pointed to where the land rose a bit, a proliferation of tree and rocks ahead of them about a half mile away. "That rise is left over from the limestone removed from the quarry. The lake is to the other side. It's actually a pretty nice area if you're in the mood to commune with nature."

"Not sure about communing," Clark said with a grin. "But I'd like to see it. Kind of cool to have all this in the middle of farmland -- like an oasis," he said nudging his horse to a trot.

Lex caught up, shaking his head, a bemused grin on his face. "You're easily impressed."

Clark glanced over. "Is that what you think?" he asked, and wanted to know, no teasing. He got none. Lex looked a little startled by his question.

"Easily impressed doesn't necessarily mean easily influenced, " he said thoughtfully.

"You always do that?" Clark asked. He had Mercutio pointed in the right direction and both horses seemed content to make their way toward the heavier foliage, or maybe they smelled water.

"Do what?" Lex asked and Clark actually felt a little smug at his ability to apparently keep Lex off guard a little. Not quite as much as Lex did with him, but for once, Lex didn't really seem to be thinking two steps ahead of him or trying to be charmingly clever.

Charmingly. He shook his head at himself. His mother would love the fact that being around Lex seemed to improve his vocabulary. "Sometimes," he said carefully, "I ask you something and you don't really answer the question I asked. Is that a business thing or a Luthor thing?"

A few moments of silence passed before Lex looked up again, expression serious and thoughtful and showing a little wariness -- or maybe it was respect. Clark couldn't be sure. "A little of both, maybe. And no -- I don't think you are easily impressed. Not by what impresses most people. Money. Power. Social status...but," the smile came back, a little. More like Lex were laughing at himself. "You liked the truck."

Clark grinned. "I definitely liked the truck. And I was impressed."

"I'll take what I can get," Lex said, still smiling, but it was different smile and Clark's breath caught. The way Lex's gaze lingered on his face, then shifted just a little, making Clark more aware of that gaze even without Lex's eyes meeting his own -- until they did. Blue eyes regarded him directly, something Clark was afraid to identify reflelcted in them. Lex opened his mouth to say something then closed it again and this smile changed a gain as he turned his gaze back to the land ahead of them.

There it was, that little distance -- not sadness that Clark could identify, but as if Lex were taking a step away. It made him want to reach out and touch Lex, make sure the man knew he was still here and even as he thought it he felt the heat in his cheeks again. Half the time he thought he knew what Lex wanted. The rest of the time, he had no clue -- which gave his imagination a lot of room to play.

Lex was slightly ahead of him, shoulders back under the dark shirt, moving easily with his horse. Graceful wasn't an adjective Clark very often applied to guys, but it was there. And strong, fast. He'd been fascinated by watching Lex fence when he'd returned the truck. It had almost been worth it just for that -- and then he'd spent a bewildering time walking home wondering why he'd been so enthralled by the way Lex moved. Fast, quick moves when he was talking or making a point and all other times he was like he was now, relaxed, easy in his own skin in a way Clark could only envy. He sincerely hoped he was done growing or he'd never catch up to himself.

Or Lex, he realized. Mercutio had slowed and Clark nudged him to catch up.

"Ground's more even there," Lex pointed, reins in hand, to where the land dipped low between the big chunks of rock left over from the excavation nearly a century before. There was a path of sorts, barely a track, but Clark wondered if Lex rode out here often.

The horses had to pick their way a bit, but much of the scrap rock hand been covered by dirt and plant life. Less overgrown and it would have been a scar on the earth, but as it was, it was kind of like riding into some kind of magic place -- cooler and darker, with trees shading the path. There were still sharp uprisings of stone that were only softened by lichen, and there were patches of barren earth as well.

The quarry basin itself was nearly dry and stark to some extent: wild grasses and vines encroaching on the shallow pool of water and pale stone. Water still trickled in and then drained off, the dark line of it disappearing under more growth. The foliage along the sides of the quarry was almost black it was so dark green, roots and sucker vines finding footholds in the sheer stone, breaking off limestone shards into huge, sharp looking fragments that seemed to hang in mid-air where the vine growth was thick. It gave the impression that the limestone was floating or being lifted up and carried away for some purpose only the plants knew. At the quarry bed, shale and dirt littered the ground, the darker color giving the illusion that the earth was rising up to reclaim the empty space

"This is kind of...surreal," Clark said, his voice automatically dropping at both the beauty and the eerieness of the place. There were some insect sounds, a few birds or small creatures rustling in the leaves but otherwise the only sound was the steady drip of water from the recent rain run off. He was drawn to the edge of the quarry, looking down, the whole area looking not unlike a bleached carcass of bone and shadows. It was both creepy and starkly beautiful but even so, Clark felt a little queasy at the hundred foot drop below them.

"It is, isn't it?" Lex said, looking down. "I remember seeing it when I was a kid...the water came up to about there," he said, leaning across Clark's horse to point at where the limestone carried a mossy green-gray tint. Their thighs brushed and the horses shifted a little to adjust to the closeness. "The water was almost black -- reflected everything perfectly -- the sky, the trees, although there weren't as many and they weren't as big. It was like a huge mirror. At night -- you could see every constellation overhead without looking up. I felt like I was going to fall into space -- into the stars. But it was fascinating. I kind of lost my fear of heights here."

Clark could see it in his mind but what he saw was less illusory and slightly disconcerting. He pulled Mercutio back from the edge. "I didn't know you were afraid of heights."

Lex shrugged. "Not quite as bad as when I was a kid, but if I'm going to be high up, I'd just as soon have about six inches of glass and steel between me and the drop. This is a little..." he pulled his mount back as well. "About my limit," he said with a quick smile.

"What happened to the water?" Clark asked and Lex's eyes lit up, widening with that smile that seemed both warm and teasing.

"I'll show you," he said, guiding Romeo along the edge of the quarry but back a few feet. The ground dropped away a gradually as larger chunks of rock gave way to smaller and the quarry itself opened out a bit to where the trucks had once come in to haul away the limestone. "When my father decide to move the house over, we had to do a lot of excavation and most of the debris ended up here -- he didn't actually plan to grow a forest in the middle of farmland. Then he started trying out some of the fertilizer developments here -- hence big trees in not much time, but it gave him some ideas for reforestation for lumber. He needed more rain or irrigation or something...but there was all this water in the quarry, so he had them cut a channel to let the water move toward the crater."

He was picking his way along the edge of the ridge, Clark close behind as the trail dropped. Already he could see the edge of the lake, water still and dark but reflecting the sky above as they started down toward the lake edge. The ground was softer, not as much rock, making his horse's gait uneven and either that or the grade of the steep trail was making Clark feel a little uneasy and it was all he could do to concentrate on not letting Mercutio take the slope a little faster.

"But the crater wasn't really that deep, so he ended up having to dredge it. Another few years and you'll never know the lake hasn't been here all along," Lex said, and stopped, dismounting.

Clark stopped as well but clung to the saddle, blinking a little and wondering why such a short ride made him feel like he was going to fall over. He'd barely heard what Lex said, but on stopping he looked and tried to focus. The lake covered maybe an acre, the shoreline rough and uneven and more of the dark green vine and small trees and shrubs were edging the water. "It's nice," he managed. "He dug it out?"

"Dredged it after he diverted the water," Lex said turning to look at Clark. "Had to blast what was left of the meteor that made the crater or he'd have lost--" he stopped and it took Clark a moment for him to realize Lex had stopped talking and was staring at him. Clark thought he was anyway. "Clark? Are you --" Lex came up to him resting a hand on Clark's leg. "Jeez...you look like ...what is it?"

"Dunno," Clark said, blinking. "Just started -- I feel kind of ...sick to my stomach. I don't know what's wrong."

Lex was strong enough to steady him. "Get down before you fall over," he said, urgency and alarm in his voice, in his face. Clark unwrapped his hands from the reins, and pulled his foot from the right stirrup, leaning forward to try and dismount but along with the queasiness came a kind of weakness that felt familiar but he was too nauseated to really place it.

Mercutio didn't take the signal very well and danced forward, then more as Lex tried for the reins and Clark tried to reassure the animal. The horse shied away from Lex, not knowing if it should respond to him or to the tug on the reins that Clark gave to keep himself from falling.

Clark knew he was falling before Lex called out, before Mercutio finished his pirouette, the movement making the sky and earth twist sickeningly together. His fingers couldn't hold to the reins -- strength or no, he couldn't even feel the leather straps. Impact was less painful than surprising and then more than painful as a sharp fire lanced through his back and sides, eased only slightly by dampness -- the ground saturated from rain and run off. He caught a brief glimpse of Lex trying to keep the horses from trampling Clark where he lay on the ground.

It was a moot point. He was too close to the slope and while trying to get to his hands and knees, his arms gave out, the sickness in his flesh and stomach and brain making him want to vomit without leaving him the strength to do so. The loose dirt gave way, bits of rock and shale sliding along the slope and carrying Clark with it in a mini landslide that sent him tumbling toward the lake.

He heard Lex yell, tried to grab onto anything: rock, shrubs, roots, but the ground was too loose to hold up to his weight and momentum. He got a mouth full of dirt and felt the rip of a low shrub against his palm and arm as he tried to stop his fall, but none of his muscles seemed to work the way they were supposed too.

He never hit the water. The slope eased out and he stopped sliding, unsuccessfully protecting his face and head from the shale and dirt that had come with him. He got another mouthful of dirt and choked, spitting it out and feeling the nausea rise again. He knew he wasn't moving but it felt as though he were, or was still sliding, his skin crawling and his chest feeling as though it wouldn't expand enough to get a deep breath.

He tried to push up, hearing Lex yell his name -- coming closer, more small rocks falling as Lex made his way down the slope with a lot more control than Clark had managed. His fingers dug into the dirt and he stopped breathing for a moment, crystalline green glowing amid the rubble, fractionary bits, chips of green stone littered among the shale and dirt and rocks. The back of his hand seemed to pulse with blood that was fighting its way through his veins. He sucked air as Lex came to sliding stop beside him, almost falling again when Lex gripped his arm, pulling him away from the mesmerizing and frighteningly massive quantities of green flecks all around him.

Whatever careful control he thought Lex usually exercised on his expression was wiped away -- his friend's skin paler than usual, eyes wide with alarm and fear...

Fear? For him? And not so misplaced, Clark realized, because he was in trouble. He could barely focus: Lex's blue eyes the single point of reality in a world that was otherwise heaving and shaking.

Only it wasn't the world. It was him. He tried to throw up again, gut muscles clenching tightly, his throat dry and hot, his skin cold but he could see the sweat on his arms, feel it trickling down his back between his shoulders. There was a smear of red across his left arm and Clark blinked, startled at the sight of his own blood.

"Clark!" Lex's voice snapped his attention back. "Are you hurt?"

"I...I'm...the rocks..." Clark tried because he was going to have to tell Lex, tell him what he barely knew, clawing for the fragments of what Lex had said. The meteor...in the lake and it had been blasted. There would be fragments of the odd mineral everywhere, and Clark may as well have bathed in the stuff -- practically had. There was dirt and mud, little bits of the green stuff clinging to his clothes and his skin, in his mouth...and he was bleeding. Some part of him knew the scratch was minor but he couldn't recall ever having seen his own blood before. "The rocks...meteor...makes me...sick," he said and then he was.

Lex held him up, kept him from pitching face forward in his own vomit, held him tightly until he could drag in another breath. "Come on, Clark," Lex said, hands firm under his shoulder around his back and waist, trying to get him to his feet. It was almost enough. Lex wasn't a weakling but Clark outweighed him by a few pounds, had a few inches on him and could not get his legs to bear his weight.

"There's too much of it," Clark gasped, trying to grip Lex's arm but only getting a handful of shirt.

"Too much of the meteorite?" Lex demanded, looking around and brushing it off Clark's shirt but the mud only smeared. He wasn't panicking and Clark was glad of it because he was close to it. Would already have passed panic and dived right into hysteria if he could think straight or wasn't so afraid he would pass out.

He could die here. He could die and it had never occurred to him. The accident with Lex had been too fast and he had been so startled at finding himself alive, he didn't even recall the split second of facing death except for seeing it on Lex's face.

"Christ, Clark. It's all over you," Lex said, voice low and urgent, eyes narrowing as he searched the area. "We have to get this cleaned off."

He pulled again, almost dragging Clark away from the loose dirt and rocks, away from the slope, the detritus fading to dull green. Clark tried to help, making it as far as his knees, trying to convince himself that the influence of the meteorite was less as the dirt fell from his clothes. Loose earth beneath his knees gave way to something hard, Lex's hand almost a blur as he brushed away loose rock from a low slab of limestone. Then Lex was tugging at his flannel shirt, peeling it off him, away from his shoulders. Clark shivered in his T-shirt but drew what felt like the first deep breath he'd taken in forever, holding onto consciousness with nothing but fear and will as Lex used his shirt to clear the limestone.

It was better. It was. He could breathe, but he was still cold. His stomach protested, his skin continued fluttering with the sense of things under his skin. He tried to make himself as small as possible on the slim outcrop of rock but he could still see the bits and fragments of meteor all around him, like tiny landmines waiting to make his senses explode and his body fail.

"Clark. Clark!" Lex was in front of him, hands resting on the outside of Clark's raised knees. Clark lifted his head, concentrating on Lex's face. Lex studied him for a moment, gaze shifting from hard and worried to something else and he reached up and spread his fingers through Clark's hair, loosening dirt and bits of green, brushing them away. Lex did the same thing along his jeans and his arms, shaking out Clark's shirt to use it to brush as much of the stuff away as he could. "Better?" he asked, watching Clark intently.

"Better." Clark wanted to lay down and just rest. Everything was a battle. His heart was beating so fast and so hard it hurt, felt like it might explode, even as the other symptoms eased a little.

"Okay," Lex said and gripped his upper arms. "I'm going to get the horses. Get you out of here. What makes it better or worse, Clark?"

"Too...too much. It's everywhere," Clark said, looking around, frighteningly aware of the waver in his voice.

"I know. Jesus, Clark. It's wonder you can move in this town."

"Have to be ...close," Clark said, wondering what his father would think, that he would tell this to Lex. But he wouldn't be able to walk out of here, climb the slope. "I've never been in a place like this...except the foundry. It's all over the place there, too." His gaze shifted to his arm, to the line of red still crawling across his arm. "I'm bleeding."

"You're lucky you didn't break your neck. It's not bad," Lex said, looking at the cut, then holding onto Clark's arm, eyes getting wide again. "Good God...shit," he said softly, watching the skin pulse, tracing the green tinge to Clark's flesh where the veins rose. Just as fast he was touching Clark's face, lifting his chin, brushing a thumb across his cheek. It stung and Lex's thumb came away with a smear of red. "Still feel sick?"

Clark nodded -- a mistake, but Lex didn't let him fall over. "Not as bad, but yeah...it's like I'm allergic to it or something."

"Or something," Lex murmured and rocked back on his heels, still steadying Clark., then making sure he could sit before stripping off his shirt. "Will you be okay for a minute?"

Clark checked. He felt sick and weak and his face stung, his arm. "I think..."

"I'll be right back, Clark. Do not pass out on me, okay?"

"I'll try not to," Clark said and then Lex was up and moving toward the lake. He balled up his own shirt and dipped it in the water, returning to wipe at Clark's face and at his arms, the flecks of green washed away and going dull as Lex shook them off the wet cloth. Lex kept at it, washing Clark's face and arms, his hands, and was shivering himself in the cool air without a shirt. But his skin was warm and his hands steady.

He sat back again, after brushing at Clark's jeans. "I think I've gotten most of it off. I'm going to get the horses and get you out of here. All you have to do is hold on, okay?"

"I can do that. Get my jacket, Lex. You'll freeze."

Lex gave him a small smile. "Yes, mother," he said softly, then leaned in before Clark even realized it, hesitating for just a moment before pressing warm lips to Clark's forehead. "I'll be right back."

He ran, Clark watching him. If he sat very still, he only felt nauseated. Lex took the slope easily enough and caught up the reins of the horses, leading them down and not until he returned did he pull his coat and Clark's from the backs of the saddles. He put on Clark's, zipping up the cotton windbreaker, then came to wrap his jacket around Clark.

"You're shivering," Lex said, the worried gaze back in his eyes, anxiety tingeing his voice.

"It's November in Kansas..." Clark tried for a joke and got a smile but he felt like he was made of ice, even with the fleece of Lex's jacket around him.

"I'm thinking it could be eighty and you'd still be shaking. Can you get up? If I bring Mercutio onto the rock? I'm not sure I can get you in the saddle without you helping," Lex said, pulling the coat more tightly around Clark's shoulders, his hand coming to rest over Clark's where his fingers gripped the open front of the leather.

Clark found himself gripping Lex's hand, part of him glad he was so weak or he was pretty sure he'd be breaking bones by now. But Lex returned the grip, firmly, waiting for Clark to answer. Their only other choice would be for Lex to go for help. Clark had enough of his mental capacity back to know that wouldn't be a very good idea, but the idea of moving made him dry mouthed and scared. It would all pass, he knew. Away from the bits of meteorite and it would all go away as if it had never been. He nodded, gripping Lex's hand more tightly.

"On one," Lex said, bracing himself. "Three, two...one," he pulled and Clark rose, the jelly that had replaced the muscles in his legs rushing toward his feet and every bit of oxygen in his brain following it. He was going to pass out and he tried to warn Lex but then there was a horse in front of him and Lex wrapped his hands around the saddle pommel and guided his foot to the stirrup. "Take a breath, Clark," Lex said, close to his ear, body and arms keeping him from sliding to the ground again. Then Lex's fingers wrapped around his belt and his shoulder pressed under Clark's thigh and hip. He did breathe and concentrated on pulling himself up, Lex giving him enough leverage to get up and get his leg over Mercutio's rump. His spine jarred as he settled, Lex still close, keeping the horse from moving too much, steadying Clark not only with his hands but his voice. "All you have to do is hang on, Clark. I'll lead him. Can you do that?"

"I feel like I'm going to pass out," Clark said, looking down at Lex's face where he stood next to Mercutio's shoulder.

"Don't," Lex hissed at him, fingers digging into Clark's thigh. "It won't take long to get out of here, get back to the house and get the rest of this...shit...off of you but you have got to stay with me. Come on, Clark. I know you inherited some of that stubbornness from your Dad whether you've got his blood in your veins or not. "

"He doesn't think he's stubborn," Clark managed and Lex grinned.

"Well, he'd be really wrong about that. Don't you be." A tight squeeze on his thigh and then Lex was gone from view, Clark feeling adrift and struggling to hold onto both Lex's admonition and the saddle when the horse took a step forward, Lex leading it and Clark away from the lake.

He didn't try to go back up the slope, a choice Clark was incredibly grateful for. He'd have thanked Lex if he could have, but the sense of displacement and nausea grew as they moved past the water, large chunks of rock piled to one side and he closed his eyes as he passed close enough to see the pulsing greenish glow within the stone.

But then they were free of it, back on grass and flat land, the deep ruts from the trucks that had dumped the debris overgrown, but still uneven. The feeling receded, only a twinge of queasiness remaining and Clark took the first deep breath he had in what felt like days.

"Lex," he said and his friend turned around quickly, the resolute expression briefly replaced by fear or alarm but his expression altered, the tension easing as Clark was able to sit up.

"Wow. That's a pretty drastic recovery," Lex said, letting Clark nudge the horse abreast of him. "You still look a little...green though."

"I still feel a little queasy, but it's better. *Much* better," Clark said.

Lex nodded and when Clark pulled lightly, released his hold on Mercutio's reins. "It has to be whatever is left in your clothes. We'll get you back to the house, let you shower and I'll get those washed. You feel like you can make that or you want me to go get a faster ride?"

"No," Clark said reaching out to grip the edge of his jacket where it covered Lex's arm before he could move away. Even feeling markedly better, the idea of dealing with the residuals on his own was terrifying. He felt his cheeks flush, wondering if Lex would think he was being childish. "I can ride...just..." he let his hand drop.

"I won't leave," Lex promised, seeming to sense some of Clark's panic at the thought. "You set the pace. Let me know if it starts up again."

Clark nodded and they moved, Lex staying close, casting worried glances Clark's way but relaxing a little when Clark seemed to get no worse. Not that Clark felt any better riding with the queasy rolling in his stomach, but it was simple discomfort rather than the nausea likely to produce sudden barfage.

They didn't talk much; Clark didn't know what to say, or whether he should apologize, and Lex now looked more thoughtful than concerned. Clark found the shift both reassuring and worrying. Reassuring in that Lex didn't seem as anxious, and worrying because he did seem to be intensely curious, just not at a point of asking questions - questions Clark wasn't sure he was in any shape to answer. Even if he had answers.

They didn't make it up to the house. Lex took him to the stables and sent someone to the house for clothes. He let the grooms handle the horses, only remarking that Clark had fallen, before leading him to the small attached changing room at the end of the stable. "There's a shower here," Lex said, pushing the door open to reveal what looked like a kind of efficiency apartment. One side held a chair and a neatly made up cot. A desk stood along the other wall with a shelf of feed and equipment catalogs above it, with a large metal locker to one side. There was a small counter area with a coffee pot and small refrigerator and one other door. Lex escorted him to the other door, showing him the bathroom with its stall and sink and toilet and pulling towels down from the shelf. "I won't be far. Just drop your clothes and I'll get them cleared away. You need anything-- something to drink?"

Even the thought of swallowing water made Clark a little leery and he shook his head. "No. I'm okay, Lex. I will be. I'm..." He sat on the toilet seat, setting the towels on the edge of the sink before tugging at the laces of his boots. There was dirt and debris buried under the laces and leather and Clark was back to feeling seriously ill before Lex batted his hands away, taking one of the towels to spread under his feet before helping him get the boots off, letting the dirt fall onto the towel. "I'm sorry," he managed after Lex had wrapped up towels and boots and set them outside with orders to the grooms to hose Clark's boots down. "I didn't expect. This..."

"Oh, really? I thought you planned it all, Clark," Lex said with a hint of smile and then brushed Clark's hair back off his face. "Shower, Kent. I'll let you make it up to me when you aren't quite so likely to barf on my shoes, okay?" He leaned over to start the water while Clark set aside Lex's coat and peeled off his T-shirt and socks. Lex waited to collect all his clothes, face showing nothing but concern as Clark stripped down. He felt awkward, but every peeled off piece of clothing brought him closer to feeling better, until he reached the point where he could have been naked in front of a dozen people and not have cared, the physical relief was so acute. Clark was barely aware of Lex leaving as he stepped under the water.

A few moments later and his recovery really was dramatic. He felt stable enough to take a mouthful of warm water and spit it out, hissing a little as specks of green washed down the drain. He didn't even want to think about what would have happened to him if he'd managed to accidentally swallow any of it.

The scratch on his arm was just that, barely creasing the skin at this point for all that it had seemed to be bleeding pretty heavily. The small, round shaving mirror hanging from the shower head showed an equally inconsequential scrape along his cheek, barely an abrasion, and Clark swallowed, tearing his eyes away from it, fingering the scratch on his arm. He couldn't remember even having so much as a skinned knee, ever. But he had, right? Surely he had as a kid, sometime. At least his blood was red and not the weird green he'd see pulsing through his veins when too close to the meteorite...blood red like any other person's.

He got the shakes for just a minute, leaning against the shower wall reminding himself that it was over, he was fine. Clean hair and clean skin and the queasiness finally stopped entirely. Clark spent long moments just letting the water beat down on his shoulders and back. Sickness wasn't something he'd a lot of experience with until recently: one or two vague memories of feeling nauseated as a child, stomach viruses or something, nothing out of the ordinary for a kid. But this -- cause and effect -- was enough to shake him down to his nerve endings after just starting to get used to the idea that he couldn't be hurt.

It hadn't even been this bad when he'd been locked in the sauna by coach Arnold. Scary then and never so glad to see his father as he had been in that moment, but then there had been the coach to deal with and the firemen and it had all faded in the confusion that followed.

There was nothing to distract him here. No one he needed to save and he hadn't been able to save himself. Lex had done that. It didn't matter that he probably would never have gone to the quarry or the lake if not for Lex -- Lex hadn't known. It had only been a matter of time before he accidentally tripped over some pocket of stone with the tons of the meteorite spread over Smallville and Lowell county.

Would it kill him? He didn't know...didn't want to know. Could have done without this sudden flash of his own mortality. That Lex had managed to figure it out enough to get him out of there...he knew, without a doubt, how Lex felt at being pulled from his car. Right now, Lex was like a talisman against the worst things he could think of happening to him.

"Clark? You all right?" Lex was just on the other side of the frosted glass door, Clark could see his shadow, the outline of his body, his head lifted and cocked as if listening for something. Quickly, Clark shut the water off and pulled the door open.

"Yeah....I am...just...Thank you," he said, feeling lame, the words inadequate, taking the towel Lex offered him. A hundred pickup trucks wouldn't be enough.

"You sure?" Lex asked, gaze fixed on Clark's face then dropping a bit as Clark started to dry off. "You still look a little shaky. Maybe I should call a doctor." He sounded as if it were merely an option, not protesting when Clark shook his head.

"No. I'm okay. I was just thinking -- I could have died out there..." he said in a rush and Lex's gaze snapped back to his face, brows coming together a bit for a moment and Lex nodded, reaching to the sink and offering Clark a T-shirt and a pair of sweat pants.

"Best I could do on short notice. I'm having your clothes washed -- about an hour." Lex had changed as well, Clark realized: black turtleneck and blue jeans, even his boots exchanged for a pair of low loafers.

"Lex," Clark tried again, feeling awkward with his towel and the clothes and Lex really not looking at him. "You saved my--"

"No." Lex said abruptly, something dark flashing in his eyes but Clark didn't know if it was anger or disgust -- or who the expression was aimed at. "Get dressed, Clark and then you can rest until your clothes are ready."

He was gone that fast, closing the door behind him and Clark stared at the door in confusion. What had he said? Or done? Was Lex angry or was he just finally reacting to the stress of it? He didn't know and neither the closed door nor the steamed up mirror was likely to tell him. He dried off and dressed. The sweatpants were about an inch too short and the T-shirt a size too small but he was warm and dressed, if shoeless.

The outer room was warm too, from a small electric space heater in the corner, and Lex had either had food and drinks brought down from the house or the stable had an amazingly well stocked kitchen for a barn. Lex was half sitting on the desk, legs stuck out in front of him and crossed at the ankles, a glass in hand and looking only slightly less pissed off than he had a few moments ago. Approaching cautiously, Clark could smell the alcohol, sharp and sweet, the scent of it being drawn out by the forced heat in the room.

"That's what happened to you in the cornfield, isn't it? Lana's necklace," Lex said, only glancing at him. It was like an accusation and Clark stopped: Lex's tone and his stance were like an impenetrable wall. Clark changed direction, moving across the room to sit on the edge of the cot instead.

"Yeah. I didn't know ...that's what it was. Not until you gave it back to me," Clark said, letting his hands drop between his knees only to bring them up again and push his damp hair off his face. He glanced up to find Lex staring at him, drink still in hand, his expression unreadable. "I didn't know any of it...the meteorite...that it was what made me sick when I was a kid. I didn't know, Lex. I didn't mean to scare you...make you angry," he said, feeling that he needed to apologize.

"Angry? Jeez..." Lex stared at him, his expression changing again as he finished his drink and set the glass down, pushing off the desk to approach Clark and drop to a crouch in front of him. The remote look was gone, the stone set of his features easing into something gentler and clearly worried. "I wasn't...I'm not angry at you, Clark. I'm pissed off at myself because I didn't put it together sooner."

It was Clark's turn to stare. "Put what together? I didn't know it until week or so ago, Lex!" he dropped his head into his hands. "You just saved my life, Lex. Or close enough to count in my book."

He didn't pull away when Lex drew his hands away from his face. "Maybe...but I put you in danger too. Because I didn't think. When I gave you the necklace back, you flinched, Clark. You backed away until I put it in the box. When you were strung up like last year's garlic, that damn stone was glowing -- just like it was out at the lake. Until you lost it. Dull as a fake emerald afterward. I knew there was something weird about it -- about you and it. Just like I knew that the lake and quarry were covered in the damn stuff," he added tightly. "I didn't save your life, Clark. I may have come close to costing you it. Too damn close." He didn't apologize, but it was there, hanging between them sharp and bright and ready to fall and shatter like one of the shards of limestone caught in the vines at the quarry.

"You didn't," Clark said finally, firmly. "You aren't a genius, Lex," Clark began and after a moment one of Lex's eyebrows rose. Clark couldn't help it; he grinned. "Okay. Maybe you are, but you aren't psychic..." the eyebrow stayed where it was and Clark eyed Lex. "Are you?"

"Not that I've really noticed," Lex said, small smile of his own escaping, but it didn't linger long.

Before it could disappear entirely it was Clark's turn to grip Lex's hand. "Can we just say we're even? I mean, just be friends without the...I save your life, you save mine thing becoming, like, a habit?"

Lex's gaze dropped to their hands and he shifted, one knee pressed to the floor. "That can work...but this thing...Clark? Do your folks know about this?"

"Yeah...I mean we figured it out and ..."

"They should have shipped you out of here," Lex said, pulling away. "The whole county is--"

Clark pulled him back. "Here is my home, Lex. I just need to be more careful. Everyone I care about is here and right now this is where I want to be."

Lex didn't move, only stared at him for a long moment, eyes flickering over his face, to their hands and back again to meet Clark's gaze. Clark found himself holding his breath, mouth going dry again in expectation but not sure what he expected, except he had the same kind of tight, coiled anticipation in his gut that he got just as he started down the first drop of the rollercoaster at the county fair. He was afraid to blink for fear he'd miss something in Lex's gaze, or to speak, because no matter what he said it would come out sounding cornier than what he just had. Even it was true.

Lex's hand tightened perceptibly on Clark's, his mouth open as if to say something, do something, and Clark found himself willing Lex to believe him, to know that here was where he wanted to be...to understand that much about him. Maybe help Clark understand what he was feeling a little better.

"You have nothing to compare it to," Lex said finally. "Or what you want. You're too..." abruptly he pulled away and back, getting to his feet.

"Too what?" Clark asked, bewildered and wondering if he had misread Lex or if Lex had misread him. "Too inexperienced? Too ...naive?" he asked, and the anger came unbidden, partly from fear, partly because he was confused. Maybe he was, but Lex only knew that part of him -- the awkwardness, the confusion. He knew what was right ...but he was no longer sure he knew what was in his own heart. "Too young?"

"Yes," Lex hissed at him, putting distance between them. "And too damn young to be thinking about dying."

"Well, it kind of makes you think about what is important, doesn't it, Lex?" Clark said and saw the jab hit home. He didn't take a lot of pleasure in it. "You've been thinking about it a lot, haven't you?"

"What do you want from me, Clark?" Lex asked, expression tightly controlled again, body tense. "I'd give you just about anything...but you don't really want what I have to offer."

"I have what I want," Clark said. "If I have it. Just your friendship...your...I don't know, Lex. I like spending time with you. You aren't like any one else I know."

"Well, we have that much in common," Lex said dryly. "God, if you were a little older I'd..."

"What?" Clark asked when Lex fell silent again, dropping his gaze and shaking his head. When he spoke, the tight, tense expression was gone and Lex looked more tired than anything. If he were older he'd be what to Lex? Companion? Friend? Something else? Clark knew he wasn't very worldly wise but he wasn't an idiot -- or *that* naive. "What do you want, Lex?"

"I'd show you the world, Clark. If I could." He said it softly, not like an offer, but more like a defeat.

Not answering the question again, except Clark thought maybe he had. If he was wrong he was going to be incredibly embarrassed and end up hiding in the barn for the rest of his life. But if he were right...God, even thinking about it made the flush build in his face and elsewhere. And he had thought about it. Not actively -- not even consciously, maybe, the way he thought of Lana. Being with Lana made him tingle to his toes, made him want to see her laugh or smile. Being with Lana made him feel like he was on top of the world.

Being with Lex made him forget to breathe. Nothing made sense and everything was perfectly clear. Some part of him knew he needed to sort out gratitude from everything else he was feeling. "Lex ---." He closed that distance, knowing he would stop if Lex pulled back, his heart beating as fast as it had on the rocks, a different feeling in his gut that had nothing to do with nausea and everything with plunging over a cliff...or a bridge.

Lex had to look up at him, his own confusion plain -- for once.

*Don't let me be wrong...or be stupid...,* Clark thought just before reaching out to take Lex's face in his hands, not closing his eyes to the startled expression in the blues eyes before covering Lex's mouth with his own.

He was in totally uncharted territory. He'd hardly ever kissed a girl much less a guy, but mouths were mouths and Lex's opened under his, warm and wet, sweet and tasting of bourbon. Clark decided he wasn't wrong -- but possibly stupid, as he felt brains cells die under the welcome assault on his senses. He was getting dumber by the moment, because while he'd never kissed anyone, Lex certainly had -- or it was a natural talent. Smooth, warm skin slid under his fingertips then he stopped, holding on instead of touching while his brain cells decided that falling off a cliff was a pretty okay thing to do. Lex held him tightly, hands digging into his shoulder and into his hair, Lex all but sucking the breath from him, exploring his mouth with aggressive thoroughness. Challenging Clark to join the dance of tongues and lips and teeth: daring him to pull away and making it impossible for him to do so. Which was okay. It felt exactly the way he thought it should.

And then it was done, Lex the one pulling back, his breathing as ragged as Clark's, tongue coming out to moisten lips that were already wet.

So, sometimes he needed to breathe when he was around Lex, but it was almost worth the several thousand lost brain cells to be absolutely certain he hadn't been wrong. If anything he'd fallen short of the mark.

Lex's hands didn't move, his eyes searching Clark's face while he got his breathing under control. Finally, his grip eased, and he took a deeper breath. "If this is how you treat all your friends, Clark -- it's a wonder you aren't the most popular guy at school."

Clark closed his eyes briefly, let his fingers wander over the back of Lex's skull to his neck. "I'm kind of picky about my friends..." he said opening his eyes to see Lex smiling at him, a little mockingly, which was okay, too. Clark was pretty sure it wasn't directed at him.

"This is such a bad idea," Lex said softly and eased his hands down to rub at Clark's upper arms. "You are too...young. And this is not the State to be...indulging," he said with a twist of his lips that was almost a sneer. "And your parents..."

"I can do the math, Lex," Clark said to shut him up more than anything. "I'm just..." he dropped his gaze, then raised it again quickly, confronted with just how badly Lex did want him. Miraculously he didn't feel the usual rise of heat to his cheeks and he emulated Lex's gesture, letting his hands slide along Lex's arms, feeling the muscle there, a different kind of tension in Lex's body. "I wasn't sure though and I'm...Everything I want is here, Lex," he said quietly, daring to meet the blue eyed gaze again. "But I'm not really sure everything you want is."

Lex's smile faded but he didn't pull away. "Neither am I, Clark. A month ago I would have sworn there was nothing here I wanted...now..." he gave Clark a small tight smile. "Amazing how fast things can change." His grip shifted, his hands riding up Clark's arms to his neck, and Clark didn't resist, letting Lex pull them closer together, bending his head and opening his mouth to something less startling, less unsure, but no less thorough. Drowning was the closest he could get to the feeling, but there was no sense of suffocation, only of kind of floating and at the same time having an electrical current run through his blood and bones and nerves and muscles. There was more building inside him: desire and hunger and heat -- which he didn't associate with Lana at all unless he was blushing. But here, with Lex's arms around him, unable to taste or smell or feel anything other than Lex, he couldn't have said if it were lust or love or hormones.

And he really didn't care.

He had the disconcerting feeling that his bones were melting again while certain parts of him were getting harder by the moment and he had to pull back and gasp when he felt Lex press against him, a similar hardness scattering what few thoughts he could still lay claim to.

And once more Lex pushed him way, holding him at arm's length, breathing shallow and labored, his skin flushed. "Christ, Clark," he said and dropped his hands stepping back and raising his hand to keep Clark from closing the distance again. One finger pointed at Clark's face, Lex's hand shaking slightly. "I'm good for about one act of self-restraint a day and this is it. And it has nothing to do with you being... too young or any other math problems. It does have to do with the fact that this door isn't locked, there are no curtains on the windows and the last thing either of us need is for the local rag to get a hold of a headline reading, 'Lex Luthor Seduces Local Farmboy'."

Clark had been ready to protest that he didn't care about self-restraint but he found himself flinching at the 'Farmboy'. "Is that what you think...that I don't know what this is?"

"Do you?" Lex said and he was closer but not touching. "Clark, it doesn't matter what it is or what it could be. It does matter that you are...fifteen, underage, and in a state that doesn't think too terribly well of two guys doing the hot and heavy thing in the privacy of their own bedrooms much less the changing room of a stable in front of half the grounds staff."

"Sixteen. And I'll be seventeen in few months," Clark said, trying to hold on to the sense of Lex's words without the feeling of rejection that accompanied them. Trying to find the arguments that would help him win whatever prize was rapidly dancing out of his reach.

Lex stared at him. "You're a freshman in high school."

"I got held back and started late," he said quietly, turning away to sit on the cot again. "I told you they didn't know exactly how old I was when I was adopted. But they put me in preschool while I was learning to talk. I had to be five to get in so that's what it says. But they waited a year more before getting me enrolled in first grade because I wasn't...up to speed," he said. "I don't know how old I am Lex. Not to the minute. But I'm old enough for this. For you."

Lex kept staring for a long moment then rubbed one hand over his face, taking a breath, and when he looked at Clark again, his face was hard, his lips set in an unsmiling line, but his eyes: his eyes were anything but hard or cold. Clark wasn't sure he'd ever believed that longing and hunger could be expressed by a look -- except in a book. But there it was and once more he had to admit that he really didn't need to breathe around Lex.

"I'm going to check on your clothes," Lex said calmly and went for the door.

Clark didn't try to stop him, only lay back on the cot after a moment and tried not to think at all, but it wasn't that easy. God, if his father could see Lex at this moment, he'd know that Lex was someone who could be trusted, who did understand responsibility -- only too well. That would be right before he decked Lex and possibly thrashed him to within an inch of his life, because no matter what spin Clark put on it, his father would not be pleased. Not that his Dad had anything against homosexuals - at least he didn't think so; the topic didn't come up much - but because it was Lex. And yeah...Lex would end up catching the brunt of it -- even if there weren't any legal ramifications to think about.

Which didn't change the way Clark felt at all except causing Lex more trouble than he had wasn't exactly something he wanted to do to prove he was sincere. Without Lex right here in front of him, looking as he did, feeling like he did, smelling and tasting as he did, Clark was back wandering around in uncertainty.

It was more than gratitude or curiosity. He hadn't been sure of it until they had kissed -- hadn't been really certain of much of anything and part of him had just wanted to know.

Which he did and now was more confused than ever. Hiding in the barn for the rest of his life was starting to look like a surprisingly good idea. Either that or finding a place where the doors could lock, the curtains could be drawn and Lex could tell the staff to take the day off. He almost groaned aloud at where those thoughts led him. He had to own up to the fact that he hadn't actually traveled those paths of sensation and resolution when thinking of Lana -- and still couldn't. But with Lex...he only had a half an idea of what they could do or what could be done and he was pretty sure he was going to have to start washing his own sheets.

He got up and washed his face, cold water a sensation that didn't remind him of Lex and signaled his body that whatever it might want -- it was going to have to wait. For a little while at least. He checked the window, seeing Lex talking to the grooms, standing in the cold in his shirt rather than talking to Clark. Lex didn't even look over at the window until someone else came up and Lex caught Clark watching him. A servant handed him a bundle, which Lex took and then finished saying whatever he'd needed to the groom. As he approached the door, he looked totally in control and Clark was struck by the fear that this could all be over before it really started.

He took up Lex's previous position on the desk, arms across his chest as he struggled with what words he could use to convince Lex to at least give it a chance. Lana and even Chloe told him he always seemed to know what to say -- not that he believed them entirely but it was nice to hear. Only right now, all his arguments seemed selfish and shallow, given that Lex had the most to lose.

Lex came in, closing the door behind him to keep the chill out then set Clark's boots on the desk next to him. He held out the carefully folded clothes, meeting Clark's gaze with polite distance. "Your boots will be a little damp still, but I think they'll be okay."

Clark took the clothes, but didn't get up -- his position putting them on the same level. He'd never realized how completely Lex could shut off showing what he felt, but there was nothing there: the last half hour might never have happened. "Thanks," Clark said, smoothing the flannel on top of the bundle. Not a trace of queasiness -- at least not that kind, but he had the wrenching sense of loss.

"I'm having Loren send the car down to give you a ride home," Lex said

He was being dismissed and Clark didn't know if Lex were entirely resigned to this parting or if the fact that both hands were clenched in tight fists in his jean pockets meant something else. What could he say? He struggled for it and then remembered. He didn't need to find the words -- Lex had already given them to him. "You said the trick was knowing what you wanted then figuring out how to get it."

Lex pursed his lips and nodded. "So I did. The back side of that being, of course, knowing what you don't want and making sure you avoid it at all costs," he said flatly and Clark looked up sharply. "And I'd like *not* to be arrested or to have my ass kicked half way across the county by your father, the press, or my own father."

Lex wasn't going to make this easy, but Clark took the words to heart and stepped up to at least try for what he wanted. He set the clothes aside, separating the shirts from his jeans and pulling off the borrowed tee, catching the fact that Lex's gaze lingered on his upper body when he thought Clark wasn't looking. "Okay. So we make sure that doesn't happen. What about what you do want, Lex?"

Blue eyes met his challengingly. Lex smiled a little and it was mocking. "I can get a good fuck anytime I want, Clark. Without the threat of jail or ass kicking." He was being deliberately harsh, even cruel.

Clark didn't flinch and he moved closer, forcing Lex to look up. "Yeah, but are they going to want you or just your money?" He had a hard time believing he'd said that, finding it a little difficult to believe anyone wouldn't want Lex and still knowing that he'd hit the mark.

"Oh, nice shot, Clark," Lex said. "I think you're father is right. I'm a bad influence."

The obvious thing to say was on the tip of Clark's tongue but he bit it back, and broke their locked gaze, turning to grab up his clothes. He tugged off the sweats, pulling his underwear and jeans on as quickly as he could without turning around. "I don't think you are. And I don't think you believe that either, but..." He picked up his own T-shirt, clean and warm and no kind of armor at all as he shrugged it on over his head and pulled the flannel on over that before sitting down to pull on his socks and boots, not bothering to lace them. "I could probably figure out how to get you...get fucked," he said, the word feeling unfamiliar and strangely bitter on his tongue. "But that's not what I want...or it is, maybe, but I wanted more, I want more. And I think you do too." He dared to look then, but Lex's expression had changed very little.

"Maybe you think too much, Kent."

Clark swallowed and nodded, grabbing up his flannel shirt to slip it on. "Probably. " And talked too much too, he realized. He glanced out the window and saw no one and then checked again to make sure there really wasn't anyone close by. It made his head ache a little but that was the least of his pains. "I don't need the car, Lex. I'll walk," he said, and reached for the doorknob, Lex having to shift a little to get out of his way.

It was only a twitch in Lex's jaw, the flex of the muscles in his arms as he tightened his hidden fists further -- it was enough. Not enough speed to be a blur but enough to catch Lex off guard, startled once more when Clark caught the back of his head and kissed him again, hard and deep, Lex's open-mouthed protest almost an invitation in itself.

It became permission when Lex's hands came free of his pockets, not to push Clark away but to grip the loose flannel tightly, then push it away, hands raking along Clark's rib cage, fingers flexing, ready to pull him close.

Lex needed to do more thinking, although it was all Clark could do to get that thought out there and act on it by pulling away from Lex's embrace and the taste of his mouth. His own mouth felt bruised, his face hot and a now familiar throb ached through him.

Clark said nothing at first, only jerked back, pulling away from the one thing he wanted most and feeling like an idiot for risking so much. Lex looked shaken and some part of Clark was glad of it, in a totally malicious way that made him feel instantly ashamed, but he swallowed it down. He didn't try to hide the reaction of his own body from Lex, didn't ignore or fail to see Lex's reaction. "Thanks for the ride, Lex," he said softly. "Let me know if you want to do it again." It sounded profoundly cheap and that was all Clark could take -- or give. He pulled the door open, walking quickly out and along the gravel until he felt like he might fall down, his gut was tied up in such knots of pain and denial. Then there wasn't anything to do but run.

He didn't know what he was running toward...only that he was going in the wrong direction.

~end~

 

11/17/2001

Reference links:
<a href="http://www.kgs.ukans.edu/General/Geology/Chase/pt2_subs.html">Chase County Geohydrology reference site</a>