"I can't believe you did that!"
"It was a simple mistake. The wrong forms are filed, a misspelling or two. It's too easy with the number of souls we process on a daily basis."
"You don't understand. (S)He promised that they'd be together for all eternity, and then you send one of them back to Earth for another tour of duty. (S)He is not happy, and you know what that means."
"So, the other one has to wait a lifetime. Big deal."
"You don't understand. Look at this."
"You've got to be kidding. I've never seen a lifeline this long."
"Okay, there has to be some sort of exception process we can invoke. This can't be the first time.... Come on, I'm not the only one who makes mistakes around here."
"This one is pretty damned unique. I'd say one in infinity."
"What am I going to do?"
"Well, (S)He promised eternity, but (S)He didn't specify where."
"But the lifeline?"
"You are so lucky that I love you. I did a little digging, talked to the Fates, and they came up with a possibility. Here."
"Thanks! You just saved me a lot of penance. I'll make the arrangements right away. I'd better hurry; the little guy's already three years old."
"There's one more thing I should mention. It's part of that whole exception process."
"They have to meet and fall in love by the end of his twenty-first year, or they're doomed to spend the remainder of their years on Earth as mortal enemies."
"That's a lot of years."
"You'd better hurry."
. . .
"Are you trying to drive me insane?"
"I was getting ready for one of those high-volume arrivals, and I ran across this. You did it again. You put down the wrong destination. Look."
"Metropolis, Kansas. That's the right one."
"The abbreviation for Kansas is 'KS' not 'KR,' you dimwit!"
"Krypton! But that's an entirely different star system!"
"The light finally dawns."
"I'm doomed! How are they possibly going to get together now?"
"Once again, you owe me. I managed a Hail Mary pass and an escape pod is headed for Earth. I calculate they should at least be on the same planet by the time he's nine."
"You don't suppose that (S)He had anything to do with all this, do you?"
"Listen, (S)He may be all-knowing and all-seeing, but I seriously doubt (S)He arranged the destruction of an entire planet just to keep a promise to those two. Oh, by the way, did you change her to a him on purpose?"
"This is a nightmare. I'm going to wake up and it'll all be a very bad dream."
"I'll take that as a 'no.' Well, at least there's a possibility they can overcome gender stereotypes and societal expectations in this time period. They'd have been pretty much doomed a few hundred years ago. You cut it pretty fine, there's only a four-year difference in their ages otherwise you'd be dealing with underage legal issues, too."
"That makes me feel so much better."
. . .
"What is it now?"
"Look at that! They were right there, together, they even touched and then...I can't win!"
"Hey, at least they met. Look on the bright side. You still have another twelve years to get right."
Lex still hadn't figured out exactly why he was wandering around the Smallville cemetery in the traditional dead of night. He supposed that it might have been due to his recent near-death experience, although it was actually a dead-and-back-again experience. Morbid thoughts had driven him from the ancient, history-laden halls of his latest residence and out to explore. He'd soon found that a town aptly named Smallville had little to recommend for late-night entertainment, most businesses closing down by eight. High school students overran the solitary coffeehouse, and a quick glance through the front window had not revealed the tall, dark, and handsome figure that might have lured Lex inside.
Business hours did not seem to apply to the small cemetery at the outskirts of town. Open wrought iron gates beckoned to Lex, suggesting a dark peace waiting within. Parking just outside of them and shutting off the engine, Lex located a flashlight in the glove compartment and exited the temporary replacement for his ill-used Porsche, ready to commune with the past.
Shuffling along the tidy rows of carved memorials, Lex would halt now and then to read names and dates, calculating years of existence and contemplating his own mortality. He thought of his mother's final resting place, marked by graven marble unable to tell the full story of a life, and wondered if his would join hers one day. He shook his head at his dark musings when the previous day could have been his last, if not for the timely intervention of an angel.
Lex was convinced that Clark Kent was a genuine representative of Heaven sent to Earth. He'd witnessed Clark's halo, a nimbus of radiant light sparkling in the sun that had glistened on the dark, dripping curls suspended above Lex. Indeed, he was certain that someone with eyes so beautiful, which changed color with every nuance of light or emotion, had to be a seraph in exile. Lex could only regret that he'd been unable to spend more time with his angelic rescuer before his indignant father had dragged Clark away from the evil Luthor scion.
A frown marred Lex's pale face when he thought of his father and how easily he'd managed to destroy Lex's chances for happiness and success by his past presence in Smallville. It wasn't the first time Lionel's cutthroat reputation had preceded Lex, making it almost impossible for him to overcome prejudice and expectations. In fact, Lex had been battling against his fate for so long that he'd given up for a time, and embraced the evil that so many believed was his destiny. It was surprisingly easy to do after an ill-fated attempt to save a friend from making a mistake ended up ruining her life. He'd retreated into an alcoholic, pharmaceutical and sexually perverted self-destructive lifestyle that only ceased with his father's forceful intervention.
Exiled, he had one more chance to prove himself worthy of the Luthor name. Lex wasn't sure that name, and associated power and wealth, was worth the effort. He'd felt as if something vital had been absent from his life for as long as he could remember and, somehow, he didn't think he'd find whatever it was in the bucolic splendor of Smallville or the boardrooms of Metropolis. Going on without that missing piece seemed an exercise in futility, but perhaps he'd reward the angel's heroics, and somehow find the strength to try for a little while longer. He suspected that a true angel might appreciate that effort more than the truck Lex had sent to the Kent farm on an impulse.
The muffled sound of hoof beats penetrated Lex's introspection and he quickly doused the flashlight to avoid detection. He watched as a ghostly horse and rider emerged from the shadows and approached a matched set of gravestones. The slight figure of a young woman dismounted and, knotting the reins on the pommel of her saddle, she let her horse graze as she carried a small bouquet of flowers towards the markers, her head lowered in respect.
Reluctant to disturb her, Lex began to back away when, as if thinking about his angel had been enough to summon him, Lex detected a movement just ahead. His eyes widened as a tall shadow detached itself from the monument sheltering it, leaving sculpted marble wings behind.
The startled young woman's exclamation masked Lex's gasp of surprise. "Clark Kent? What on earth are you doing creeping around out here?"
"I honestly don't think you'd believe me if I told you, Lana. I...was just...I didn't mean to scare you. I'm sorry."
Lex saw the dark head duck sheepishly, a gesture he remembered seeing the day before on the banks of the river, shortly after Clark had breathed life back into him. Sitting close together, wrapped up in fire-engine red blankets supplied by the rescue squad, Lex and Clark had been exchanging their names, and a few minor pleasantries, when Clark's father had blustered up to them. Clark's head had lowered and his shoulders hunched inward as he'd quietly explained that he'd jumped into the river and saved Lex from drowning after his Porsche had crashed through the railing of the bridge.
It had surprised Lex at how small someone Clark's size could shrink as his father berated him for being careless and then turned his wrath on Lex. For just a moment, Lex saw something flash in Clark's eyes and he'd straightened as he'd defended Lex against his father's unrelenting tirade. He'd then turned conciliatory and led his father away, as if he recognized that it was the only way that he could spare Lex any further insults. Lex had watched in envy as the elder Kent had tended to his brawny son as if he were something precious, instead of a commodity, and Lex's mouth had twisted in envy.
"Hey, don't go. I was just a little startled. I wasn't expecting anyone else out here." Lana had placed her small hand on Clark's arm to reassure him that she wasn't upset. "Are you okay? You seem a little...distressed."
Clark's chuckle was darkly ironic and Lex's mouth curved up involuntarily at the sound. "I'm hanging out in a graveyard on a school night, so I'd guess that it's safe to say I'm not feeling very normal right now."
Lana's head cocked to the side and her tinkling laugh brightened the gloomy night. "You're not exactly the only one here, are you?" She leaned forward and stage-whispered, "Can you keep a secret?"
Shrugging, Clark assured her, "I'm safer than Fort Knox when it comes to secrets."
"Well, I come out here to talk to my parents." Taking his hand, Lana led Clark over to the graves she'd been visiting. "They died when I was three. We were visiting from Metropolis when the meteors fell."
Clark's flinch was noticeable, even to Lex standing in the shadows. "I'm...sorry."
Dropping Clark's hand, Lana bent over and arranged the flowers she'd brought. "Hey, it's not your fault, Clark. Anyway, I like to tell them about my day and sometimes I even ask them questions." Straightening up, she laid her hand on one of the gravestones. "Mom, Dad, I'd like you to meet Clark Kent." She waved Clark closer. "Say 'hi.'"
Hesitantly, Clark played along. "Uh...hello, Mr. and Mrs. Lang. Pleased...to meet you."
"What was that, Mom?" Lana looked up from the tombstone at Clark, who was fidgeting quietly in place. "She wants to know if you're upset about a girl."
Clark shook his head vehemently. "No! Nothing...like that!"
With a giggle, Lana teased, 'Dad wants to know if you're thinking about a guy."
Lex was intrigued when Clark froze for a moment before he answered quietly, "No...I mean, not exactly. It's...complicated."
Reaching out, Lana patted Clark's arm. "It's okay, Clark. I didn't mean to pry. It's really none of my business. But, if you ever want someone to talk to...."
Sighing, Clark briefly covered Lana's hand with his. "Thanks. I...Lana, did you ever feel like you're missing something, that your life should have been different?"
Drawing closer, she nodded. "I sometimes dream that my parents pick me up from school and we all drive back to Metropolis where we used to live. Right before I wake up, I'm so happy...I'm not alone anymore. Oh, I know I have my Aunt Nell, but it's not the same. I guess I'll always miss them."
Stepping around Lana, Clark touched the top of the gravestone. "What's that, Mrs. Lang? Oh, of course I will." Turning back to Lana, Clark brushed a lock of hair back over her shoulders. "She said that she wants you to know that you're never alone, that she's always watching over you."
Lana's head dipped and she was silent. Lex suspected she had a sizable lump in her throat that matched the one in his at Clark's gentle words. She giggled when Clark continued, "Your dad thinks there's no contest for Homecoming Queen. You'll be wearing a tiara before the end of the dance."
Backing up a little, Lana turned to release her patient horse's reins from the knot. "So, they said all that, did they?"
Offering Lana a leg up, Clark waited until she was in the saddle before he assured her, "Oh yes, once you get them started, they're quite friendly." Taking hold of the horse's bridle, he began to lead it out of the cemetery, still chatting quietly with Lana. "I'll walk you home. Your dad insisted."
Lex waited until they were out of sight before he walked over to the two gravestones. He stood looking at the names for a moment before he made his way back to his car, murmuring under his breath, "So, he also protects the innocent. Lana Lang. I'll have to remember that."
"It wasn't enough that he was doing an entirely too good a job trying to kill himself, you had to help?"
"That wasn't exactly how I'd set it up, but it worked, didn't it? They've met again, and this time they even know each other's names."
"You are so lucky they both didn't end up in that cemetery."
"We do have a slight advantage there. You know Clark can't be hurt and Lex...."
"A long lifeline is not a guarantee. You need to be more careful."
"You're not telling me anything I don't know about guarantees. I've almost lost him a couple of times already. Unfortunately, I don't have time to be careful. It's coming down to months, now. I'm running out of options here. Do you know what I had to do just to get Lex close enough to meet Clark again? I'm beginning to think that someone has been working against me all along."
"You might have something there. Lex's timeline and intelligence set against Clark's abilities, as lifelong enemies, would be quite an accomplishment for the other side. Think of it in terms of apocalyptic-level mayhem and destruction. Even simply leaving one alive without the other would subject the entire planet to grave danger from the unbalanced survivor. I'd thought this whole fiasco was just between you and me, but I suppose there could have been a leak of some sort, or someone noticed our special interest in these two."
"Great, that's just what I needed. So what I have to do now is to keep throwing them together and get them romantically interested in each other, all the while trying to stave off an unknown saboteur?"
"Sounds like a piece of cake for someone as talented as you, doesn't it?"
"Sure it is, if you're into something disgusting like peanut butter-pistachio-Black Forest tortes."
"I'll go order forty of them, just in case."
"You know, you're not being terribly helpful."
"Maybe you'll fill out the forms correctly the next time."
Clark stared at the foil quivering in the wall next to his head and swallowed hard. He hadn't expected that he'd need to be careful with his secrets just walking into a room. Convincing Lex that he hadn't hit Clark with his car on the bridge had been tough enough. Clark wasn't too sure he would be able to do the same with a weapon that crumpled against his skin. He was rethinking his impulse to ignore the locks on the heavy iron gates. Letting Lex know he was coming probably would have been the safer choice, but he'd been impatient after fidgeting all day at school, the truck keys burning a hole in his pocket.
It had been a rough couple of days for Clark. His father's reluctant explanation for Clark's survival at the bridge had been precipitated by Lex's expensive thank you followed by an invulnerable arm thrust into a wood chipper after one too many times of hearing the word normal. Clark hadn't decided yet whether he should be thanking or cursing Lex for that long-delayed truth, the knowledge that he wasn't a mutated human, but instead something else that had landed with the meteors twelve years earlier. Clark had somehow known that he needed to see Lex again before he could choose between the two.
"Clark? Hey, I'm sorry but I didn't see you there." Casually pulling off his fencing mask, Lex was approaching him, breathing hard from his strenuous battle across the gleaming wooden floor. His only audience before Clark's arrival had been the ghostly forms of furniture shrouded in dust covers, but he still seemed embarrassed by his loss as he offhandedly apologized.
Ducking his head to avoid the stormy blue eyes, which seemed able to detect every secret he held deep inside of him, Clark mumbled, "No one answered the buzzer, so I sort of squeezed between the bars." He failed to mention that he'd bent the inch-thick bars so that he could manage to squeeze past them. "I didn't mean to interrupt you...." Shrugging, Clark turned to leave, stopping when he felt Lex's hand on his arm.
"No, please, stay. I've been humiliated enough for one day." Lex nodded to his waiting opponent in dismissal, tossing her his mask and glove to put away. "Heike'll get another chance tomorrow." Yanking the errant foil free from the wall, he smirked at Clark, admitting wryly, "I think I've wrought enough mayhem with my bad sportsmanship today, don't you? Good thing this wasn't a few more inches to the left. Come on, I need to get changed." He handed the foil to Heike with a grimace and then led Clark out of the room and down the hall.
Clark took the opportunity to glance into rooms as he followed Lex, as well as to study surreptitiously the slim, sleek body and pale, naked skull of the older man ahead of him. Clark had never met anyone so confident in his bearing, moving as if he owned everything in sight and knew it. The attitude attracted, and then dragged him into Lex's orbit, and he didn't want to break free. Ever since he'd seen those incredibly blue eyes look up into his, wide with wonder, Clark had been captivated. As he'd chatted with Lex on the riverbank, Clark had stopped short whenever a frisson of horror ran through him, remembering how close he'd come to never meeting the other man...alive.
Realizing that he'd been caught staring, Clark blurted out, "This place is really something...I mean, it's great. Roomy."
Pausing on the stair landing above him, Lex snorted, "The ghosts would probably agree. I think it's overdone, to be honest. Shipping this over stone by stone from Scotland because it's supposedly the Luthor ancestral home?" Lex shook his head in disgust and continued up the stairs.
Sliding his hand along the smooth wooden railing as he followed, Clark ventured, "I watched the trucks rumble through town for weeks carrying all this. It was weird not to have anyone move in after it was put together."
Ducking his head back out through the doorway he'd just entered, Lex huffed, "Oh, my father never meant to live here. It was just something he'd decided he wanted to do. It turned out convenient for him when he needed a place to stash his wayward heir." He retreated into the room as Clark approached. "You are standing in the center of a romance novel just waiting to happen, Clark. It has all the necessary elements, a brooding lord of the manor, a fair damsel or two, who should soon be in distress...and bodice-ripping. Take my word for it, you must never pass up a chance at ripping any available bodice, or even shirts since I'm all for equal opportunity plundering." Amused by his own flippancy, Lex turned away with a light-hearted laugh.
Flushing at the thought of damsels and ripped bodices and shirts, Clark choked as he caught sight of Lex removing the padded fencing jacket, revealing a lean, muscled torso beneath a black, body-hugging, long-sleeved tee shirt. His mouth became as arid as a desert when Lex picked up a long-necked blue bottle of water and gulped it down, the curve of his elegant throat a sensual tease. As his body tightened in unexpected arousal, Clark was glad he'd chosen one of his long, loose shirts to wear that day. He suspected that if he were going to spend any amount of time with Lex in the future, that style, along with looser jeans, would become a fashion staple.
Offering a bottle of water that Clark politely refused, Lex suddenly grinned, "How's the truck?"
The innocent question acted like a bucket of ice water on Clark's libido. Avoiding Lex's eyes, Clark mumbled in embarrassment, "Um...I...well...I'm sorry, Lex. I can't keep it." A quick glance at Lex's face left Clark wishing he'd never looked. Lex quickly disguised the pain with a sardonic twist of his lips, but not fast enough to fool Clark. He would have given anything to be able to take back the words his father had forced him to say.
"But, you saved my life, Clark. I...." Lex's objection died on his lips, and he turned away to look at himself in a nearby antique mirror, his bright eyes occasionally connecting with Clark's. "I understand. Your father really doesn't like me, right?" His careless shrug tugged hard at something deep inside Clark. "I'm not really surprised." Passing his hand over a head completely devoid of hair, he smirked at his reflection. "I've been dealing with people making up their minds about me without the facts for years."
"But it's not fair!" Words of protest ripped free, and Clark couldn't help reaching out to the other man, who carried his loneliness and rejection like a shield. His voice dropped as his hand cupped Lex's shoulder, the warmth of his body bleeding through the soft material of his shirt. "He has something against your father. He shouldn't be taking it out on you. He doesn't know you."
In the mirror, a sad smile gratefully acknowledged Clark's words. "It's okay, Clark. He just figures the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." His slim hand slid over Clark's and squeezed once before he gently disengaged himself from Clark's grasp, stepping away and then turning around to face Clark. "How about you, Clark? Did you fall far from the tree?"
Clark shook his head with a darkly ironic laugh. "My tree's not from around here, so I really couldn't tell you. I'm not sure that I could even be considered an apple." When Lex frowned quizzically at him, Clark ducked his head again and fumbled in his back pocket. "Listen, I should probably go. Here." He held out the keys to the new Ford pickup delivered to the farm the day before, along with the personalized note that had arrived with it.
When Lex reluctantly picked up the keys, Clark held onto the paper with a quick smile and shake of his head. "No, I'm keeping that. My dad can't stop me from accepting a thank you note, even if it is signed by A maniac in a Porsche. He glanced down and stroked the deep purple vellum with a fingertip. "I wish...." He finished the sentence silently.
I wish I had the courage to take a chance, to talk to you, because I can't with Lana or anyone else. Because there is something about you that just feels right.
Sighing, he tucked the note away safely before turning towards the door. "Goodbye, Lex."
Clark thought he could feel Lex's eyes burning between his shoulder blades, and he barely contained the surge of joy that coursed through him when Lex spoke. "Please. Wait." He pivoted on his heel and faced Lex again, head still lowered, peering shyly at the fascinating man through his dark, thick lashes. Stepping closer, Lex confided, "Clark, do you believe a man can fly?"
Not wanting to appear dismissive, Clark considered the question carefully before replying, "In an airplane or balloon, something man-made...sure, I do."
"I'm talking about soaring through the air with nothing beneath you." When Clark raised his head in wonder at the fervent words, Lex pinned him with his bright gaze. "I did it, Clark. There on the riverbank, when my heart stopped, I was actually flying." Wheeling away, he began to pace, as if he had to choose between that and exploding from sheer exhilaration. "It was...the most intense two minutes of my life. There I was, flying over Smallville and I felt as if anything was possible if I just tried." Lex halted right in front of Clark and his smile was so brilliant that Clark forgot to breathe. "It was you, Clark. You gave me a second chance."
Clark's head rose slowly, and he was captured by blue eyes that held the color of the sky where Lex had ascended. His mouth curved upward in pleasure at Lex's extravagant declaration. "I've seen our future, Clark. I understand about the truck and your father's concerns, but there's nothing and no one that can keep us from being friends, except us. That's a promise." He thrust out his hand. "Friends?"
Lex's pale hand disappeared inside Clark's tanned grasp. "Friends."
"Well, it looks like there's hope yet. I have to say I'm surprised at Clark, actually defying his father that much. He's always worked so hard at being physically normal that he completely bypassed the normal rebellious teenager phase. It's a huge step for him."
"Let's just hope it's forward instead of back."
"I'm not letting you rain on my parade. I need something positive to keep me going besides two whole days without a near-death experience."
"So the whole 'flinging a sword at Clark's face' doesn't count?"
"We've had this discussion before. Clark can't be hurt...and it was a foil, not a sword."
"I'm not playing with semantics here. You're avoiding the issue."
"No, I'm not. I'm working on smoothing out my alpha waves."
"Have you come up with any leads on the agent provocateur?"
"And...there go the alpha waves. No, nothing yet. I don't think there's been any direct intervention, just well-timed suggestions. You know how it goes. A little whisper here, and a rumor there...the same thing I do, but with a negative spin."
"Just keep spinning positively. They need all the help they can get."
Lex spat curses as he felt the tires slide and then finally catch in the gravel of the school parking lot. Slamming to a stop, he jumped out and searched frantically for any sign of Clark. He could hear the bass thump of music from the gym where the Homecoming Dance was being held, but little else in the still night air. Frustrated, Lex tried to calculate how long it would take Clark to run through the cornfields to get to the school, taking into consideration, of course, that he'd been hanging on a cross and looking close to death just a few minutes earlier. "Fuck! Where is he? Shortcut, my ass."
A sizzle and crackle caught his attention and he turned in time to see a sharp flash around the far corner of the school building. He took off at a run, shouting, "Clark! Are you all right? Clark!" His slick leather-soled shoes slid on the concrete as he rounded the corner, and he stopped dead at the sight of water pouring out of a crater in the outer wall. The vehicle sticking halfway out of the jagged hole explained the destruction and Lex's worry was at least partially relieved by the sound of two voices inside. "Clark!"
The head of dark, damp curls that appeared in response was a welcome sight. "Lex?" Glancing around, Clark held up his hand when Lex jogged closer. "Stop, just...don't step in the water, okay? I'm not sure...." Clark disappeared back inside the hole and Lex heard voices murmuring again. A minute later, Clark reappeared, carefully supporting a dazed-looking man. Maneuvering him over to a dry area, Clark let the other man slump bonelessly to the ground before addressing Lex. "We should get him to the hospital."
"Don't you think we should call the police and fire department first? It doesn't exactly look safe around here, especially with all those students in the school." Without waiting for an answer, Lex pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911. "I'd like to report a vehicle accident at the school. No one is badly hurt, but there's been some structural and electrical damage, so the fire department might want to check it out."
Lex caught sight of Clark's face losing all color and hung up abruptly, hurrying to his side. Grabbing him around the waist as he swayed, Lex eased him down next to the man he'd rescued. "Whoa, there. Just take it easy for a minute, okay?" Kneeling next to him, he pressed Clark's head down between his knees, holding it there until he could feel the strength returning to Clark's muscles. "Better?"
Clark nodded and straightened up a little. "Sorry. I don't usually...."
"Usually get crucified and then have to run a less-than-four-minute mile to pull a man out of the side of a building while taking a chance you'll get electrocuted? Yeah, I'm guessing that doesn't happen to you very often, at least I hope not." Lex gave into an impulse and rubbed Clark's shoulders, grimacing at his cold, damp clothes. "They better get here soon or we'll have to add pneumonia to the list."
A moan reminded them of the other man lying next to them. Clark leaned over and gently touched his cheek. "Jeremy? How are you feeling?"
Rolling his head restlessly, Jeremy muttered, "Tired. I want to go home."
The sound of sirens brought Lex to his feet and he hurried to flag the emergency vehicles down, leaving Clark behind to assure Jeremy that everything was going to be all right.
. . .
Lex almost lost sight of Clark in the milling crowd of students that had emerged from the gym at the sound of sirens. Fortunately, he stood a head taller than most, so Lex finally located him at the edge of the parking lot, looking ready to bolt again. Hurrying over, Lex grabbed hold of a still damp sleeve. "Hey, you all right?"
Eyes a little frantic, Clark nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. I...I...."
"Have you talked to the police?"
The nod was short and Clark began to edge away. Lex gripped a little firmer and began to lead Clark towards his car. "Then, why don't I take you home? Unless you'd rather call your parents?"
"No!" Clark's objection exploded between them and Lex hesitated, puzzled at Clark's unexpected reaction.
"All right. We won't call them, okay? Let's just get in the car. You must be freezing." He was finally able to get Clark walking again and then helped him into the passenger seat when they reached the car. "You'll have to give me directions to your house." Clark sat silent, eyes staring at something only he could see. Beginning to be concerned, Lex reached out to touch his cheek, surprised at the heat under his fingertips. "Clark? Can you hear me?"
A low unintelligible murmur was his only answer and Lex leaned in until he could hear the words that Clark was repeating. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. I couldn't let him hurt them. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. I couldn't let him hurt them."
A thrum of panic ran through Lex at the thought that Clark had been seriously hurt without Lex realizing it. "Clark, should I get one of the EMTs? Maybe you hit your head or something." Reaching for the handle, he started to open the car door. "Wait here, I'll..." Clark's hand shot out at blinding speed and stopped Lex from moving. "...or not. What do you want to do, Clark? Anything you want. Just tell me."
A hoarse whisper. "Drive."
Lex nodded and turned on the car, moving cautiously with Clark's hand clamped to his wrist. "Drive. I can do that. Any place special that you'd like to go?"
"Not here. Not home."
"That narrows it down a little. Do you have a friend's house that I can take you to, maybe?"
The hitch in Clark's voice was painful for Lex to hear. "I thought you were my friend."
Shifting in his seat to face Clark, Lex put everything he had into his words, praying that Clark would hear his sincerity. "Of course we're friends, Clark. Nothing's changed that. Nothing's going to keep us apart." Feeling Clark's grip loosen, Lex lifted his hand to Clark's face and touched his jaw, gently urging Clark to face him. His heart clenched at the look of devastation in Clark's eyes, tears shimmering, but not falling. "There's not much I haven't seen or done before, Clark. Whatever it is, I can handle it. Let me help you."
Clark's eyes closed and he took a deep shuddering breath. "I...want to go with you, to the castle and...tell you." He shook his head slowly. "I can't...not...now. My parents...." His shoulders slumped as his eyes opened, pleading for Lex's understanding. "The police will call them...and I don't want you...want them to...." Turning away, he stared out the window, his voice devoid of all emotion. "Please take me home. It's a right out of the parking lot."
Lex decided not to push Clark any further that night. Putting the car into gear, he followed Clark's directions, letting him out of the car at the end of the Kent's driveway so that Clark wouldn't be forced to explain why Lex had brought him home. Obtaining a promise from Clark that he'd come to the castle the next day to talk, Lex watched him stumble down the rutted dirt driveway and cursed his parents' unreasoning hatred of all things Luthor that had prevented him from seeing Clark safely inside.
Leaving there, frustrated, remembering the sight of Clark struggling for breath in the middle of a cornfield, stripped down to his boxers and tied to a cross, Lex vowed to find the people responsible and take whatever actions were necessary to make sure it never happened again. Clark had been lucky that Lex had impulsively decided to follow Jeremy into the corn when Lex saw him in his headlights. Considering the fact that the last time Lex had gone into a cornfield the sky had rained fire and he'd lost all his hair, Lex was surprised that he'd actually done so. He was glad that he had.
Halfway back to the castle, Lex made a U-turn and headed back to the cornfield. He'd suddenly remembered something that might help his investigation. Pushing his way back through the tall stalks, he located the cross again and, shining his flashlight around the base, he searched until a gleam revealed what he'd been looking for. He picked up the necklace he'd seen hanging around Clark's neck, an acid green glow against pale, sweating skin. Clark had torn it off and dropped it to the ground before grabbing his clothes and running towards the school, a quick thanks and apology thrown over his shoulder to Lex. Lex had immediately followed, ignoring the necklace in his concern for Clark, but at least he'd remembered it later.
Placing his find in his pocket, Lex looked at the cross once more and suddenly found himself kicking and twisting it, trying to uproot it from the ground. In his fury, he ignored the pain of bruised feet and hands until the wooden instrument of torture no longer stood in silent testimony to Clark's agony.
He wished it could be that easy to erase it from his and Clark's memories.
"So much for 'nothing can hurt Clark.'"
"How was I supposed to know that pieces of the planet he was born on were dangerous? I'm not omniscient. That's reserved for (Her)Him. At least it explains why he always used to feel sick around that girl.
"Anything else you missed?"
"If I knew, then I wouldn't have missed it."
"Good point. It's about time you had one."
Catching sight of Lex lingering at the end of the produce stands left Clark torn between delight and dread. He fully intended to keep his promise and visit Lex later that day, after his chores at the farmers' market were finished, in fact, he'd been looking forward to it. Just thinking about his new friend seemed to help keep him calm and focused. That probably explained why he'd dreamed about flying over to the castle last night and hovering over Lex, contentedly watching him sleep. Waking up three feet above his own bed had been unexpected. He still wasn't sure the peace he'd found in the dream had been worth the unpleasant reality of breaking his bed frame when gravity took over.
When Clark heard his father's voice behind him, his anxiety increased. He hadn't planned to share his plans with his parents, and he was afraid that Lex would stop by their stand and inadvertently mention something that would cause trouble. Hearing Whitney answer his father left Clark convinced that someone had managed to stick a cosmic 'Kick Me' sign on his back...and had used super glue.
Dropping the crate of peaches on the table, Clark headed back to the truck for another load, keeping his head down so that he could try to pretend he hadn't seen Lana and Whitney in front of the stand. He'd already suffered Whitney's wrath once already for daring to talk to Lana, he didn't want to end up decorating another cornfield any time soon. It was one of the times when not being able to use his strength or speed to protect himself had really made his life difficult. His current attempt at invisibility failed, and Whitney fell in step beside him, calling out to his father that he'd help Clark carry the rest of the boxes over from the truck.
Standing at the tailgate with Clark, Whitney's voice was low and insistent. "I need that necklace back, Kent. It's Lana's, and she's going to get upset with me if it's lost."
Clark backed away and shook his head in disbelief, blurting out, "Listen, I don't have it! Can't you just go look in the field and leave me alone?"
Fists clenched, Whitney took one step toward Clark, freezing when a clear, smooth voice interrupted. "Is there anything I can do to help you out, Clark?"
Spinning around, Clark felt a grin take over his face. "Lex! I...." Remembering his father was in hearing distance, Clark tamped down his exuberance before continuing. "No, that's okay. There are just a couple more boxes. I can handle it. Thanks!"
Behind Clark's back, Whitney spat, "I'll deal with you later, Kent," and then retreated, heading for the front of the stand and Lana.
Closing his eyes for a moment of relief at the postponement, Clark sighed, and then he opened them back up to Lex's concerned face. Lex was visibly restraining himself from asking questions and Clark smiled his gratitude. He'd just picked up a box when his father approached. "What's taking you so long, Clark?"
"Sorry, Dad. I'm coming."
"Mr. Kent, good to see you again." Lex held out his hand and after a moment's pause, Clark's father took it for a quick handshake. "I'm sorry, but I'm afraid it's my fault. I didn't mean to delay Clark. I was just asking about your organic produce, and whether I could arrange weekly deliveries to the castle."
"Sure, Mr. Luthor. I'll just take you over to meet my wife. She handles all the orders and schedules."
Lex nodded and followed Clark's father, turning at the last moment to wink at Clark and call out, "Thanks for your help, Clark! I hope to see you again, soon."
"Sure, Lex. Anytime." Ducking his head, Clark worked hard to repress his grin, and then began calculating the minutes until he could run over to the castle.
. . .
Following the butler's precise directions, Clark was able to find the room where Lex was waiting for him without too much difficulty. Leaning in through the open door, he watched Lex for few seconds before he teased, "Aren't you a little old to be playing with dolls?"
Straightening up, Lex dropped his toy soldier carelessly onto the miniature battlefield and grinned at Clark. "You're here! I was afraid that you wouldn't be able to make it over today. From what my housekeeper told me, you've been busy being quite the hero, again." Taking a few steps towards Clark, he reached out and tugged on his sleeve. "Come on in. If you ask me nicely, I'll share my strategy tools with you."
Raising his eyebrows at Lex's choice of words, Clark followed Lex into the room, repeating quizzically, "Strategy tools?"
"Oh, my father took all my toys away by the time I was nine. Luthors didn't waste their time playing, they were much too busy preparing to conquer the world. Business is just a slightly more polite version of war, after all. Very slightly, if you're a Luthor." Leaning over the model, Lex picked up a wooden horse and held it out to Clark. "Take this model, for example. The Battle of Troy was over one woman that two men wanted. Sort of like you and that football player, Whitney. That was his name, wasn't it? His opening volley was to string you up on a cross. What are you planning for a counter action?"
Clark frowned and turned away from the table, walking over to look out the window. "There is no battle between us, Lex. It takes at least two people to fight, and I'm not going to be one of them."
Setting the horse down, Lex followed Clark and stood next to him, looking out over the gardens with him. "What about Lana?"
Clark shrugged. "What about her? She's a friend, or at least I think she could be, if Whitney would back off a little. It's her choice. I'm not going to push my way in where I'm not wanted."
"Just a friend."
Turning to look down at Lex, Clark sighed. "Yes, Lex. Just...a...friend. It's not as if I have so many friends that I'll refuse a chance to make a new one. She's...nice. That's all, nothing more."
Looking up at Clark, Lex studied his face for a moment, and then nodded. "Well, maybe by saving Whitney's life, you've changed his attitude. That's a good strategy, by the way, placing someone in your debt."
Clark frowned and took a step back. "That's not why I did it, Lex. He was in trouble and I could help, that's all there was to it." He looked away, his body tense. "That's not why I saved you, either," he whispered, his voice catching. "I...I should go."
Before Clark could take more than one step towards the door, Lex had grabbed his hand and held it tightly. Clark could hear the regret in his voice as he apologized. "I'm sorry, Clark. I didn't mean that. Of course, I don't think that." Stepping in front of Clark, he placed his other hand in the center of his chest as if to hold him back. "Please stay. I don't want to lose my new friend because I said something without thinking." Clark looked into his sad blue eyes and couldn't resist his plea. "Give me another chance?"
With a forgiving smile, Clark nodded. "Of course. I don't want to lose you, either." He squeezed Lex's hand gently and released it. "You know, we're even. You rescued me last night."
Lex nodded and then slowly pulled away. "Yeah, about that. Are you ready to tell me what was going on?" He walked over to a sideboard and picked up a small metal box. "I went back last night to the cornfield, and I found this. Is this what Whitney wanted today?" Carrying the box back to Clark, he opened it as he drew closer and reached inside, pulling out a necklace with a green gemstone pendant.
Waves of sickness rolled over Clark, and he staggered back, choking. "L...Lex. Please...don't...."
"Clark! What's wrong?" Dropping the box in his concern, Lex stretched out his hands to try to ease Clark to the floor. The hand holding the necklace clutched Clark's wrist and the pendant fell against the back of Clark's hand. When he cried out in pain and dropped to his knees, Lex flinched and pulled away. "What is it? Should I call your parents?"
Clark shook his head, groaning. "Necklace. Hurts."
Staring down at his hand in horror, Lex yanked it back from Clark, and then ran out into the hallway. Clark watched Lex throw the necklace as hard as he could down the hall and then hurry back inside the room. As Lex approached him tentatively, Clark smiled up at him. "It's okay, I feel better already."
Helping Clark up, Lex apologized for the mistake. "I'm so sorry. I didn't know...what is that, Clark? What happened?"
Nudging the fallen box with his foot, Clark looked at it and then into Lex's face. "I just found out a day or two ago that Lana's necklace was made from the meteorite that killed her parents." He nodded at Lex's grimace. "Creepy, I know. Well, it also turns out that was why I always felt sick around her. I don't understand why I didn't feel it while it was inside that box, though."
Bending down, Lex retrieved the box and held it out to Clark to examine. "I think it's probably because it's made from lead. My mother brought it back from a trip to Morocco. Supposedly, it's from the armor of St. George. It's a nice thought, but not terribly believable in this day and age." Closing the box, he frowned. "However, lead does shield radiation, so it makes sense, although I don't like the idea that Smallville has that many sources of radiation scattered around it." He began walking towards the door. "Stay here until I get the necklace back inside the box, then we're going to fix this mess."
Puzzled at the undercurrent of anger he could hear in Lex's voice, Clark stopped him with a hand on his arm. "I don't understand, Lex. What's wrong? Why are you so upset?"
Taking a deep breath, Lex turned back to Clark, his blue eyes intense. "I just hurt you by accident, Clark. Whitney hurt you on purpose last night. Every time you walk outside in Smallville, you're taking a chance you'll get sick or injured by pieces of rock that have been here for twelve fucking years...and no one has done anything about cleaning them up!"
"You need to understand one thing, Clark. I'll do anything and everything necessary to help a friend."
Clark studied Lex's face, seeing the absolute truth of his words written in his eyes and in every line of his tense body. He nodded, accepting Lex's pledge. "I do understand, Lex, and I believe you." He grasped Lex's shoulder and squeezed it. "I believe in you."
Gratitude blazed from Lex's eyes at Clark's acceptance. "Thank you."
"He's going tell Lex, isn't he?"
"I think he has to, if this is ever going to work out. Keeping something like that a secret can kill a relationship."
"Can Clark trust him this soon? Lex has gone through some rough patches."
"Except for that one time, he's never gone out of his way to hurt someone. He can be careless and selfish, but underneath he's still the same one that (S)He promised would spend eternity with Clark."
"I just don't want it to be an eternity of hatred. Be careful."
"I know. Believe me, I know."
Lex was beginning to think he was going to have to put the lead box into his safe just so that he could concentrate on work. Every time he slowed down or paused for a moment, his eyes went to the corner of the desk where it waited, heavy with portent and the weight of Lana's necklace. He still hadn't decided what he was going to do with to do with the dangerous keepsake. Giving it back to Lana because it was her possession meant that Clark would be exposed to it every time he approached Lana.
The relief he felt at the realization that Clark wouldn't be getting any closer to Lana while she was wearing the necklace took him by surprise and left him feeling guilty.
He'd already ordered a cleanup on the meteorites, beginning with the perimeter of the Kent farm and fanning outward. Clark had assured him that his parents had been diligent in removing every meteorite found on their property to a ravine close to Crater Lake so that Clark could work safely on the farm. Using a county survey map, he'd also had Clark point out the places he'd felt sick while out playing with his friends or delivering produce for the farm. The EPA was going to send out a team as well. Lex could only hope that the government didn't determine that his father's plant was actually responsible for the anomalies Clark's friend, Chloe, claimed were caused by the meteorites.
Giving up on accomplishing anything work-related for the day, Lex abandoned his office and headed for the garage. He'd had the Porsche delivered there after its retrieval from a watery grave, and he wanted to take a closer look. Lex suspected that Clark hadn't told him everything yet, especially when it came to the oddly-altered students Clark had encountered the last week or so, and he wanted to see if he could pick up any additional clues from the car. In a hurry the day the car had arrived, he'd noticed something odd about it, but dismissed it as simple damage from the accident. He'd decided that it was time for him to take a closer look to make certain that was the case.
Pulling a tarp off the remains of the abused vehicle, Lex paced slowly around it, observing every detail. Whatever he'd noticed before wasn't as apparent on his second examination, and he thudded his fist gently against a crumpled fender as he sighed in frustration.
"You'll never get those dents out like that. It usually takes a good-sized rubber mallet."
Lex spun around at the teasing words, grinning back at Clark, who was standing in the garage doorway, the sunlight behind him outlining his tall figure, leaving his face in shadow. "Maybe you could do it for me. It might make up for the Clark-sized dent in the hood." Lex immediately regretted his choice of words when Clark flinched, his shoulders hunching inward as if expecting a blow.
"I...brought you...some vegetables." A quick jerk of Clark's arm pointed in the direction of the castle. "Your butler said...anyway, I guess I should...." The laughter had disappeared from Clark's voice, and Lex discovered that he was willing to do anything to bring it back.
"Hey, you want to shoot some pool? I'm done for the day and I could use some company. You don't have more deliveries to make, do you?" Throwing the tarp back over the car, Lex hurried to where Clark stood poised for flight, one boot scuffing nervously against the concrete, a hand twisting the hem of his tan jacket.
Looking over his shoulder, Clark shrugged and then nodded. "I...do. Want to play some pool, I mean, but, yeah, I have two more deliveries to make. Sorry."
On an impulse, Lex offered, "I could go with you, then when you're done, maybe we could get a cup of coffee, something to eat in town. A tour guide would come in handy. I'm still learning my way around." Standing just a few feet from Clark, Lex could finally make out his features through the halo of sunlight. The answering grin caused Lex to send a silent thank you upwards to whoever was watching over him, and his wayward mouth, that day.
. . .
"I told you there wasn't much to Smallville." Clark stopped on the farthest corner of Main Street and waved his hand at the three short blocks of storefronts. "Five minutes and you've seen it all."
Lex looked where Clark was pointing and nodded agreeably. "Well, then I guess we'll just grab that coffee and head back to my place. Why don't you stay for dinner? My cook always makes too much food for me to eat, and I'm putting on weight." He patted his slim stomach and laughed at Clark's expression of disbelief. "Well, I would be...if I wasn't working out every day."
Holding the door to the coffee shop open for Lex, Clark teased, "If you need some high-rep weight training some morning, come on over and help me feed the cows. Better yet, we're going to be haying this weekend. That'll put some real muscle on you." The tan jacket was on the front seat of the truck, and glancing over his shoulder, Lex was treated to the sight of an impressive set of biceps and pecs under Clark's blue tee shirt as he followed Lex inside.
"I like my nice air-conditioned gym, heated pool, and the sauna, thank you very much." Lex sniffed snootily before breaking down and laughing aloud at Clark's feigned shock. "You need acting lessons, Kent. You'll never be able to fool anyone with a face that honest. Luthors, on the other hand, we're trained to lie convincingly from birth. My father even claims it's genetic."
Lex had turned away from Clark to place their order, so it was only by chance that he caught Clark's expression in the mirror behind the counter. His hazel eyes looked haunted, and the broad shoulders had hunched inward again as if Clark somehow believed he could make himself less noticeable that way. Lex dropped his head before Clark could see him watching, and cursed himself for yet another careless remark. Paying for the two coffees, Lex handed one to Clark, casually adding, "Of course, my mother never agreed with my father's philosophy. She taught me that most reasonable people accept being told that you don't want to talk about something much more easily than being lied to, especially if they are very poorly constructed lies."
Looking down at the hot liquid, Clark flicked his eyes up to Lex's face and then nodded shortly before heading for the exit. When they emerged outside and walked towards the truck in the waning sunlight, Clark broke his silence, murmuring, "It's...a good idea...your mom's, I mean...not your dad's."
Opening the passenger door and climbing in, Lex nodded. "It's one I subscribe to myself." Waiting until Clark had backed the truck out of the parking space and pointed it toward the road to the castle, Lex nonchalantly began, "So, Clark, I wanted to ask you something about that day that I hit you on the bridge...."
Picking up his coffee from the cup holder, Clark took a sip before he glanced at Lex and smiled tentatively. "I don't want to talk about it, Lex."
Lex chuckled before drinking his own lukewarm, bitter brew. "Then we won't. So, what do you think the Crows' chances are this year in the state championship?"
He warmed himself on Clark's blazing grin all the way back to the castle.
"Well, that actually went well. Our young man's got a good head on his shoulders."
"I told you that Clark could trust him."
"So why hasn't Clark told him the rest yet?
"Lex still hasn't completely earned that trust, although it's clear that Clark wants very badly to share what's going on. They both need a little more time and patience."
"Are they going to survive long enough? Those people who have been changed seem to be focused on the two of them and not in a healthy fashion. Was there ever a good reason to send the only thing that can hurt the boy down there with him?"
"(S)He works in mysterious ways. Besides, those rocks aren't the only thing that can hurt Clark."
"And that's exactly why we're here, isn't it?"
Dismantling his bed frame, in order to set the mattress and box spring directly on the floor, may not have pleased his parents, but it saved Clark from repairs whenever he came crashing down from another floating dream. Recently, the frequency of those dreams had increased from once every week or so, to entirely too often for his peace of mind. He wished that he could say that he didn't know what the dreams were about, but that would just be another lie. He'd gotten out of the habit of lying, even to himself, since that day in the truck with Lex.
It had made his life a lot easier; not having to see the look in someone's eyes when they knew you'd lied...again. He'd been able to look through walls to find evidence against a shape-shifting murderer, watch a man burn himself to death in a locker room, stop a fellow student from freezing your friends and family to death...and tell no lies. It was as if he and Lex were playing a game...and the stakes were friendship. Lex would ask for an explanation, Clark would tell him that he didn't want to talk about what had happened, and then Lex would smile and change the subject. He'd certainly accepted Clark's refusals more easily than Chloe and Pete, who had been his friends for years.
Sometimes though, Clark would look up and catch Lex watching him with an enigmatic expression, and he wondered how much longer Lex would want to keep playing a game that he never won.
Thankfully, he didn't see that look very often in his dreams. Those spilled over with laughing, blue eyes and scarred lips, creamy-smooth skin, and hands that would touch Clark until he ached...and craving still more. The latest one had had left him gasping, damp warmth spreading...just before he met the mattress with a thump and a muffled yelp. Rolling over, he grimaced toward the ceiling, not happy about needing to run another load of laundry through the washer before he left for school.
. . .
"Now, I understand why you decided on the nursing home for your community service project." Pete nudged Clark hard in the ribs, forcing Clark to pretend that it hurt. "Lana was at the front desk when I walked in."
Walking a little ahead of his friend, Clark rolled his eyes. He'd been unable to convince Pete and Chloe that he was uninterested in the perky cheerleader beyond friendship. "Actually, Pete, I really like being here. The residents are really interesting, you know, especially Mrs. Carver. She tells great stories about growing up in Smallville."
"Cassandra Carver? Is it true she can tell your future?"
Raising one brow in disbelief, Clark looked at his friend askance. "I have no idea what you are talking about, Pete."
Stopping outside Cassandra Carver's room, Clark gave Pete a little shove, aiming him down the hall. A quavering voice stopped their good-natured wrestling. "Clark, is that you? Bring your friend in, if you like. I'm blind, not deaf."
Giving in, Clark waved Pete into the room, following him with a sigh. He winced when he heard Pete ask, "Can you really tell the future?" as Pete handed her the book she'd dropped.
Mrs. Carver's dry chuckle greeted the impertinent question. "Young man, I suggest you visit the carnival if you want your fortune told. However, you'd probably find that easier to do if you had your car keys."
Patting his pockets, Pete flashed a panicked look at Clark. "Oh man, I think I locked them in the car!"
Shaking his head as Pete ran from the room, Clark turned back to his favorite senior. "Ready for some more, To Kill A Mockingbird?"
"That would be lovely, dear. Could you please hand me a glass of water, first?"
As Clark's hand grazed the woman's withered fingers, he felt an electric shock and she gasped, "Oh, my dear boy. Someone close to you is going to die, very soon."
. . .
The stars didn't hold their usual fascination for Clark after the latest series of rescues and revelations. He abandoned the telescope to stand looking out over the fields in the direction of the castle, wondering if Lex was still distressed over Cassandra Carver's death. It had to have been difficult for Lex to be there when her heart gave out. Clark had seen so much death lately and it still unsettled him, even left him despairing when he believed it was at least partially his fault due to the meteors.
Racing to save the lives that he'd seen endangered in the vision shared with Mrs. Carver helped in a small part to make up for the horror of seeing himself surrounded by the gravestones of his friends and family. The pain still lingered, the knowledge that he would be left alone someday festering deep inside. Bowing his head, he stared at hands strong enough to take lives, as well as save them, and wondered which would be his fate, his destiny.
Cassandra Carver had believed his destiny was to protect people. He supposed that it was fitting that his first impulse on hearing that someone close to him was going to die was to search out the most important people in his life immediately, and warn them to take care, make sure they were safe. The people he didn't think he could survive without...his parents and...Lex.
Strong hands trembled, and then gripped the sill of the loft window, anchoring Clark in the present. He needed to remember to live his life in the now, the same time that held Lex, even if not as closely as in his dreams. He had to watch and listen and be ready to do whatever was needed...to protect.
Maybe then, he could be sure that the circle of gravestones that had been missing one for Lex Luthor...would never have one added.
. . .
"Was that the right choice? Should anyone be forced to know their future?"
"Despite the constant repetition of the words, ignorance is not always bliss. In this case, there was also a need for balance. In order to show Clark his future lies with Lex, there was a requirement that the balance of his future be displayed. He needed that knowledge to help counter the darker influences in his life."
"And Lex? What about Cassandra's vision of the world's death and destruction by his hand?"
"That was the vision of the future if we fail."
Watching the skin writhe around the minute fragments of meteorite imbedded in Clark's back was making Lex nauseated, but he kept going, knowing that each moment he delayed prolonged Clark's pain. His hands shook at a smothered moan, and then they steadied, the tweezers clamping onto another chunk and drawing it free. Each piece went into the lead box and Lex jotted a mental note to have more boxes made up and placed around the castle, along with fully equipped medical kits, for the future. Having Hamilton researching the meteorite effects to determine how to reduce or eliminate them just wasn't enough.
Cursing under his breath, Lex wiped a bead of sweat from his brow before it could drip into Clark's wounds. Knowing that the pain of the salt splashing the raw skin would be nothing, compared to the agony Clark was currently in, made no difference to Lex. Any pain Clark suffered was too much. Needing to make sure that Clark remained conscious, Lex began to ask questions about the other students involved in that night's incident. "You're sure that Pete wasn't hurt? Were they going to check him at the hospital where they took Jody?"
"He...yeah, they thought he might have a concussion. His parents were there when I left."
Trying to distract himself, Lex calculated that Clark had been walking around with his burned and tattered shirt concealed under his jacket for over two hours before Lex had spotted him from the balcony of the upstairs ballroom, recognizing his tall form lingering in the shadows of the garden. Puzzled as to why Clark hadn't joined the rest of the guests at Lana's birthday party, Lex had hurried down to the first floor and outside, searching for his friend.
Clark had been shivering in the gazebo, sitting bent over with his head propped on his hands. He'd nearly fallen off the bench when Lex had grasped his shoulder, a sick groan forcing Lex to crouch in front of Clark, desperate to find out what had happened. A few minutes later, Lex had been helping Clark through back passages to his room, hurriedly stripping the bloody jacket and shirt from Clark before urging him to lie down on Lex's bed. After a quick detour to let Lana know that he was ill, but she and her guests were still welcome to remain as long as they liked, Lex had returned to the bedroom carrying what he needed.
The last fragment removed and safely stowed away, Lex gently began to bathe away the blood along with the soot from the explosion at Jody's greenhouse. Taking a deep breath, Lex asked the one question that had been plaguing him since he'd first seen Clark that night. "Not that I have a problem with you asking for my help, Clark, but what about your parents?"
Clark shrugged, hissing when the movement stretched tender skin, and then stammering, "I...they...I wanted...I needed it to be you, Lex. I'm sorry." When Clark tried to slide off the bed, Lex placed a firm hand on his unmarked lower back and held him in place.
"I told you I'm okay with this, Clark. In fact, I'm very glad that you trusted me to take care of you and that you could tell me what happened." Rhythmically stroking the golden skin that was healing almost miraculously beneath his fingertips, Lex was reluctant to disturb their fragile accord with any more questions. It was enough that Clark had chosen Lex.
"I'm sorry that I missed the party, Lex."
"I'd say you had a pretty good reason. Don't worry about it, Clark. Just rest for while."
"Any time, day or night, Clark. Whatever you need, whatever I can do to help is yours."
Lex felt a hum of contentment under his hand and smiled.
. . .
Although the fireworks lit the night sky up beautifully, Lex thought that the look on Clark's face couldn't be any grimmer. "Clark, listen, don't worry about the police, I took care of it. I just wanted to make sure your party was a hit."
Dismissing the glitter and sparkle above his head, Clark glared at Lex's date when she moved a little closer, hanging off Lex's arm with a giggle. "It's not that, Lex. It's just...it wasn't supposed to happen like this...." His voice trailed off and Lex was left wondering if it had been a growl that he'd heard when his date kissed the corner of his jaw.
"Hey, I heard you're going to be touring the plant tomorrow."
Distracted by shouts on the front porch, Clark nodded without looking at Lex. "Yeah, it's a field trip." The complaints were finally loud enough that the words 'bathroom' and 'overflow' could be heard. Clark's shoulders slumped. "I am so dead." He took off in the direction of the house at a run.
Pulling out his cell phone, Lex made a quick call, his short phrases only fully audible to the person on the other end of the line. Disconnecting, he tucked the phone away and went back to watching the fireworks.
"It's too bad you weren't around for Clark's seventeenth birthday party. It could have used some help."
Lex glanced down to see Chloe, Clark's blonde reporter friend standing next to him. "Oh? When was it?"
A look of disbelief overlaid her normally perky demeanor. "You expect me to believe you don't know? I figure you must have every fact and rumor ever collected on Clark, by now."
Feeling the temperature of the atmosphere drop a few degrees next to him, Lex calmly corrected her assumption. "I don't keep dossiers on my friends, Ms. Sullivan, just on business investments. Why don't you tell me the date, so that I can make sure it's memorable next year?" Waiting for her to answer, something that she'd said struck him. "Did you say he's seventeen? I thought he was a freshman."
She shook her head with a laugh. "Clark? No, just because he hangs around with Pete and me doesn't mean we're in the same classes. We're just the ones who can put up with him."
Coming up next to Chloe, Pete frowned and nudged her with an elbow. "C'mon, Chloe that's not fair. Just because Clark didn't make the last Torch deadline...."
Lex ignored the byplay in favor of getting more information on Clark's age. "I don't understand."
Chloe paid Pete back with an even bonier elbow. "Let's just say...Clark's always been different. His parents kept him back so that when he started school he was older and bigger than everyone else in his class. The school counselor finally convinced the Kents to let him skip a few grades when tests showed he's like one of those...idiot savants. You know the ones that are really good in some things and totally useless in others."
Frowning at the resentment that he could hear bleeding through Chloe's words, Lex tried to change the subject before Clark re-joined them. "So, I still didn't get that date."
"Hey, now you're asking Chloe out on a date?" Clark's face hid none of his dismay.
Lex rushed to reassure him. "Your next birthday, Clark. The subject came up and I took the opportunity to find out when you were born."
Clark's relief shone from his eyes. "Oh. My parents picked September first, since they didn't know when it really was. Hazards of being found wandering in a field, I guess." Clark shrugged it off. "Hey, with all this talk about birthdays, when's yours, Lex?"
"Oh, it's not for a couple more months, Clark. You've got plenty of time to get something for your boyfriend." Chloe snarked.
Clark's blush was visible even in the dim light. "Chloe! Lex...I...."
Deciding to relieve Clark's embarrassment, Lex ignored the bitterness of Chloe's remark. "May I ask how you happen to know when my birthday is, Ms. Sullivan?"
Flipping her head, she began to walk away, throwing back over her shoulder, "Oh, the internet is a data miner's dream, and I do keep dossiers on my friends...and their friends."
"Now we need to worry about her, too?"
"Hell hath no fury..."
"...like a woman scorned. Yes, I'm quite aware of that. I'm not sure it's that so much as Clark has finally found another friend, one that doesn't take him quite so much for granted."
"I think it'll work out, even if she does try to show Clark what she's found. Did you see how Clark reacted to the woman?"
"Green eyes. Very green eyes, indeed."
"What took you so long, Clark?"
The bitter words stung even though Clark was fairly certain that he wasn't the direct cause of Lex's frustration and anger. It had already been a long day for both of them and, gauging the height of the golden liquid in the glass Lex was holding, it threatened to become even longer. Clark sighed and reminded himself of his resolution.
Suspended three stories above the ground, trying desperately to lift over four hundred pounds with one arm while his blood boiled from meteorite contamination, had not been the time Clark would have expected to discover that he loved Lex Luthor.
In agony, sure that his shoulder was about to dislocate, Clark had suddenly known the truth...and that he'd die himself before he'd let Lex fall.
Somehow, somewhere, he'd found the strength he'd needed, hauled Earl Jenkins back up to the catwalk, and then saved Lex. Then Lex had turned around and saved him. The catwalk had been collapsing beneath them from Earl's meteorite-triggered tremors, and Clark had been unable to move. Lex had managed to pick Clark up and support him to the elevator, just before the metal structure broke away.
Afterward, watching Lex argue with his unrepentant father, Clark had wanted to run over and push him way between them, to rescue Lex from the undeserved contempt and vitriol the elder Luthor spilled over him. Reluctantly, long after the other hostages had left the scene of the crime, Clark had finally gone home with his parents.
He hadn't stayed there very long.
Clark's stirring description of Lex's bravery in entering the plant to confront the gun-wielding madman, even going so far as to remove his bullet-proof vest to prove his good faith, had convinced his parents to let Clark visit his friend to make sure that he hadn't been badly hurt. Thankfully, Lex's social life-saving call to his staff, instructing them to clean up after Clark's disastrous party, had meant that Clark hadn't needed to talk his way out of being grounded.
Dropping out of his run as he approached the gates, Clark had scanned the castle to see if he could find Lex. As Clark had expected, a familiar skeleton was in the study, standing next to the bar. Punching in the security code, Clark had hurried inside, hoping to catch Lex before he'd imbibed too much. He had been worried that alcohol on top of a possible concussion was a bad combination.
He had also been afraid that it would make it harder to deal with Lex's growing discontent with deferred answers to reasonable questions. Striding down the cold stone hall, Clark had come to an important decision. If he truly loved Lex, then it was time for Clark to stop playing the coward and to tell Lex what he deserved to know.
"I had to convince my parents that it was a good idea for me to come over and make sure you were okay. You are, right?" Clark took a few more steps, closing the distance between them...physically, if not mentally.
"I'm fine, Clark. Never better. My father lied to me and put my friend's class...and my friend...in jeopardy. Even better, I've been pistol-whipped, and left dangling three stories in the air without any hope of surviving the fall. A last-minute reprieve, no, make that a miracle, and then I get to listen to my supposed best friend lie to me about adrenaline after I'd thought we'd gotten past all that bullshit."
Reaching out to tug the glass from Lex's hand, Clark insisted, "That's just it, Lex, it was adrenaline. There's no other way I could have pulled you and Earl up when he had all that meteorite in his system. You know how sick that makes me." Setting the glass down on the bar, Clark took another step closer to his angry friend. "If there hadn't been any meteorite involved, then no adrenaline would have been required. I'm strong enough that I could have pulled you both up in less than a second."
Stricken silent by Clark's admission, Lex blinked up at him like an owl and Clark was hard-pressed not to laugh. A hand on Lex's shoulder nudged him to turn around and Clark hissed in sympathy when Earl's handiwork came into view. "That's a nasty bruise, Lex. Have you put any ice on it?" Expecting the negative answer, Clark was already scooping up a handful of ice cubes from the ice bucket on the bar and wrapping them in a towel. Holding it gently against the purpled flesh, he used his x-ray vision to check for more damage.
He found it. In addition to a cracked rib and bloody scrape along his spine, the fingerprints marring the pale skin of Lex's wrist and arm looked all too familiar. "Is there anyplace on you that doesn't hurt, Lex?"
Obviously tired of Clark talking to the back of his head, Lex took over the chore of holding the icepack and turned back around with a wince under his pitiful attempt at a smile. "I think that maybe my left little toe is feeling just fine, but I can't be sure in these shoes."
Taking a deep breath, Clark rushed ahead with his next revelation. "Did the EMTs say anything about a concussion? I can see the cracked rib, but I'm not exactly sure what to look for in your head." Somewhat prepared for Lex's shock, Clark caught the icepack before it hit the floor and set it on the bar.
"You...can see through things?"
When Clark simply nodded in confirmation, he could see some of the tension draining from Lex's muscles and the resultant droop of exhaustion. "Listen, why don't we go sit down on the couch and talk?"
Walking in a daze, Lex stumbled over the edge of the rug. Clark was right behind and caught Lex before he could fall, easing him down carefully to the leather cushions. A flash of speed and he was back with a blue bottle of water, which Lex accepted gratefully.
After drinking half the bottle in a few desperate swallows, Lex sat silently, watching the blue glass he was rolling between the palms of his hands. Finally, his voice a little ragged, he looked up and admitted, "I was beginning to think that you'd never trust me, especially after Chloe's remark about looking me up on the internet. I have to admit that I'm not proud of some of the things I've done in the past."
Lex's pained shrug had Clark zipping to get the icepack and trading it for the bottle. Blinking in surprise, Lex took the cold towel and re-applied it to his head with a shaky laugh. "That's going to take some time to get used to seeing, Clark."
Sitting down next to him, Clark ducked his head shyly and plucked nervously at a frayed seam near his knee. "It doesn't freak you out too much?"
Stilling Clark's fidgeting hand with his, Lex reassured him. "Not at all, Clark. I think you're incredible..." A chuckle escaped Lex before he could continue. "...and I think I may just explode from sheer joy that you finally decided that I was good enough...."
Clark's hand at Lex's lips prevented him from finishing. Twisting to face Lex, Clark shook his head in denial at Lex's assumption. "No, that's not it at all, Lex! It wasn't even that I didn't trust you because I did...I do, I mean. It's me. I'm the problem. It's hard to get by a lifetime of being told to never show or tell anyone what I can do. No one, Lex. Not even the kids I grew up with." Removing his hand slowly, Clark stammered, "I...I just couldn't stand seeing you look at me...like that anymore, like you were just one step away from...hating me, so I took a chance."
Grabbing Clark's hand before he could withdraw it completely, Lex squeezed it gently before releasing it. "Hey, I could never hate you, Clark. Sure, I'm angry sometimes...but you're too important to me to stay that way for very long. I'm sorry that I worried you."
"You're important to me, too, Lex. I think that...you're probably the most important person in the world to me...and I don't care about what happened in the past." Clark dropped his eyes to the purple shirt Lex wore, the same one that had pulled free from Lex's pants between their struggle with Earl and a collapsing catwalk. A button, half undone, drew his fingers like a magnet. With a tug, Clark freed the button and left Lex's shirt gaping open.
"Remember when you told me to never pass up a chance at bodice...shirt-ripping?" Another button fell victim to Clark's fingers. "You also said you were all for equal opportunity." Clark peeked up through his lashes and was heartened by the undisguised want in Lex's face. Grasping the shirt in both hands where it gaped wide, tantalizing him with glimpses of creamy skin, Clark tugged hard enough to tear the remaining buttons free with a satisfying sound of ripped fabric. Folding the edges back, Clark ran his hands down the exposed flesh, stopping just short of the waistband of Lex's pants.
"Fuck, Clark. Are you...sure about this?" Lex sounded as if his childhood asthma had returned, but when Clark looked up, all he could see were passion-blown pupils and lips that had been bitten until they were red and inviting. When Clark nodded with a grin, the icepack went flying and Lex yanked him close, their teeth clacking together in a frantic, awkward kiss. In between attempting to crawl into Clark's lap and covering his face with kisses, Clark heard Lex muttering about underage boys who weren't and waiting forever.
Catching Lex's face gently in his hands, Clark held him still, waiting for the older man to calm down enough to listen. "Slow down, Lex, please. You're going to hurt yourself." He wiped a drop of blood from the corner of Lex's mouth with his thumb, frowning at the bruise that had started to form there. "We've got time, okay?"
Lex closed his eyes and nodded in agreement, his voice raw with regret. "I'm sorry, Clark. That was...."
"Wonderful...and I want to do it again, very soon. Just not while you're hurt and upset, all right? I should have thought of that before I ruined your shirt."
Sighing, Lex tipped his head forward until it clunked lightly against Clark's forehead. "When did you become the adult...and me the teenager who only thinks with his dick?"
Chuckling, Clark lifted Lex off his lap and stood up, holding Lex steady until he was sure he could walk unassisted. He virtuously ignored the shirt that hung open, tantalizing him, tempting his hands to explore further. "Why don't I help you upstairs so that you can get some rest?"
Lex shook his head, grimacing at the pain. "Not if that means you're going to leave. I'd rather stay down here and talk." He teased Clark gently. "I'll even let you pick the subject."
Glancing around the room for inspiration, Clark spotted Lex's cell phone on the desk. "Why don't I call my folks and tell them I'm going to stay tonight because you have a concussion and you shouldn't be left alone?" He walked over and picked it up, weighing it in his hand. "You'll get into bed and I'll sit and talk with until you fall asleep. I can always come back down and sleep on the couch...it's long enough."
Rolling his eyes at Clark's impracticality, Lex reminded him, "There are over thirty guest bedrooms in the castle. I think we could probably find a real bed for you to sleep in."
"That's a 'yes' then?"
"If that's your best offer, and it's a damned good one, then it's a 'yes.'"
"We're getting so close that I can almost taste success."
"Just don't forget pride goeth before a fall."
"Very apropos considering how close he came this time before I could help. If I were able to have a heart attack, it would have happened then. It took years off my life."
"The infinite one? Quite an accomplishment."
"You know what I mean. At least, he's shared some of the truth and Lex took it extremely well. It has to happen any day now."
"Then that means extra vigilance, because the others hate to lose."
"Lex, look, I'll be all right. It's just a couple of bruises."
Lex looked up from his scotch and winced at the purple blotches that marred Clark's tanned chest under the unbuttoned shirt. He slammed the glass down on the bar knowing that a single sip would have him vomiting up the fear and anguish that twisted inside him. "If you weren't you, Clark, you'd be dead...and I would have been the one that killed you."
"It wasn't you, Lex. It was what Rickman did...and you fought it, I could see it in your eyes. You managed it better than Rickman. He ended up killing himself, and you know that wasn't something he wanted to do." Lex watched Clark approach him warily as if he feared Lex would bolt. "Look. There are only three bruises. You had a full clip in that gun, and you only hit me three times. Even I'm not fast enough to be able to dodge that many bullets...and you're not that bad a shot." Clark caught one of Lex's hands and flattened in on his chest, covering the largest bruise. "I'll heal."
"Fuck, Clark. How can you even bear to let me touch you?" Lex choked out, his hand trembling as it grazed over heated flesh. "Aren't you afraid I'll hurt you again?"
"Hey, I wouldn't let some gorgeous English woman from your wicked past move in on you during the gala at the museum, and she almost scared me to death. What are a few random bullets from the man you love?" Clark dismissed Lex's worry with a grin. "Don't think I'm going to let you use this as an excuse not to take me upstairs and have your wicked way with me. I've been patient long enough, and look..." Clark slipped his shirt off and let it drop to the study floor. "...we're already past the shirt-ripping portion of the evening. Well, mine is, anyway."
Unable to resist Clark's teasing any longer, Lex threw his arms wide and offered himself up with a smirk. "Please, don't let me deprive you of your fun. My shirt awaits its fate. Why should my boyfriend be any different from the other mutant denizens of Smallville...all of whom seem to have designs on my body and my clothing?" There was a swift intake of breath at his words and Lex's grin faded with Clark's. "What is it, Clark?"
Taking a few steps back, Clark dropped his eyes to his hands, which were twisting about each other nervously. "I've been trying to think how to tell you this for days...and you need to know before we go any further...so...here goes." He raised his eyes and his smile flickered nervously as he explained, "That first day at the castle...when I told you I wasn't even sure I was an apple...well...I had just found out I wasn't...human."
Lex wanted to rush forward to reassure Clark, but he sensed that the younger man wasn't done, and he held back to give Clark time to finish. "You found out you were a mutant."
"No, I found out that...I landed the same time the meteorites did...my ship did...with me inside."
"Ship." Lex had heard everything Clark had said, but only one word had made it past his shocked lips. He knew that he needed to say something else, but nothing useful came to mind.
"Yeah. Lex, are you all right?" A shadow crossed Clark's face at Lex's reaction, and he bent down to retrieve his shirt. Straightening back up, he crushed it in his fist. "I guess I should go. I...."
Shaking free from his daze, Lex lunged forward and wrapped his arms around Clark's waist, preventing him from leaving. "Stay! I...needed a few seconds. Okay? I...it's not everyday that you find out that the man you love can forgive you for shooting him because he loves you, but he isn't a mutant even though he's more than human and he's an alien. Maybe one requires the other...I'm babbling, aren't I?" Lex looked up into Clark's eyes. "You did say you loved me, right?"
A grin teased at the corner of Clark's mouth. "Yeah, right before I told you I was an alien. You didn't seem to notice at the time." The shirt dropped to the floor again, unnoticed.
"I did. I was waiting for the shirt-ripping to commence to tell you that I loved you, too." Lex felt a little sheepish explaining that lust had taken over at that point. "Then the conversation entered a completely new...dimension and I got a little distracted. Forgive me?" He kissed Clark's and then waited.
"Well, if I've got this straight..." Clark nudged Lex with his hips and received a chuckle in return. "...I love you and you love me, so I think we're doing okay so far. How about the fact that I'm an entirely different fruit...? Oh, God...that one was a complete accident." Clark leaned his forehead against Lex's and snickered.
Lex groaned obligingly. "I can handle an alien boyfriend. Too many bad puns, however...."
Clark sighed and lifted his head, still looking into Lex's eyes. "I think that's it for secrets. Think we can rewind to where we were thinking about you and me and sex?"
Lex widened his eyes and then batted his eyelashes. "Why, Mr. Alien, sir!" One hand slipped down to slide over Clark's zipper as he drawled, "Are you offering to show me your tentacle?"
A smothered laugh from Clark, and Lex found himself swept up in his arms and on the way upstairs to his bedroom. Realizing that he was unable to free himself, Lex decided to relax. "I'll take that as a 'Yes.' I guess I'll wait to see what color and how it tastes...."
Clark looked down at Lex and shook his head ruefully as he continued to climb the stairs. "You have me a little worried, Lex. I'm afraid I'm going to end up disappointing you with how normal I can be." Reaching the top of the stairs, he carried Lex down the hallway and into his room. "This is Smallville, after all. You never know from day-to-day whether you'll end up changed or not. What if I woke up one morning and had no powers? I'd just be an ordinary man...and then what?" Clark set Lex down carefully and waited.
Lex reached up, sank his hands into Clark's hair, and pulled his head down so Lex could kiss him softly. Pulling back a little, Lex smiled into Clark's eyes.
"Trust me, Clark. You could never be ordinary...and our love is going to be the stuff of legends."
"I'm afraid to look."
"It's safe. Go ahead and look. You did it. You really managed to get them together against all odds."
"But, it is forever? They're still so young."
"Check their lifelines."
"Love, success, health...long....hey...right down to the second! I did it!"
"(S)He's very pleased that his promise has been kept. There's another project that (S)He wants you to pick up, now that this one is finished successfully."
"What is it?"
"Well, it's a total mess, to be honest. You see, there are these two brothers...."