Clark wakes suddenly in the middle of the night. Dark everywhere, and he's covered in something wet and sticky. He fumbles for the lamp next to his bed.
It takes a moment for his eyes to adjust to the light.
Blood. Blood everywhere. All over his clothes, his sheets, his skin.
He climbs out of bed quickly, gulping as he tries not to retch, but that makes it worse; it's all he can taste, all he can smell, and god, he must have been swallowing it, lying on his back.
He strips off his clothes and walks to the bathroom. As the water in the shower warms up, he stands before the mirror and stares at himself. He reaches out to touch his face, and his finger comes away with a thick drop. It falls into the sink, dark red against the porcelain, and he shudders.
"Did you sleep well, Clark?" his mother asks when he enters the kitchen in the morning.
"I got another nose bleed during the night," he says, reaching into the refrigerator for the milk.
"You all right, son?" his father rumbles from the table. His voice is concerned and affectionate.
"Yeah, I'm okay. My pajamas and sheets got a little messed up, though."
He catches the bus, falls into the seat next to Chloe. She's talking excitedly, presumably about something important and inexplicably weird, but he can't bring himself to pay attention to her. Instead, he concentrates on his arm. He cut it yesterday, scraped it against a branch, maybe, and the scratch is still there. A thin, raised red line, and he can't stop touching it. He pinches it between his fingernails, feeling the rough, sharp crust. He wants to lick it, to taste, and that's really disturbing, but not as much as it should be.
Chloe's voice has stopped, he realizes, and when he looks up, she's watching him with narrowed eyes. "What's wrong with you today?" she asks, and the emphasis is almost on the last word.
They reach school then, though, and he can avoid answering as they get off.
During the day, it's like his vision has changed completely, too, because all he can when he looks at people are their marks. They're everywhere. Scars and bruises and scabs and blemishes and all these countless imperfections that Clark never noticed before. Never had to notice before.
At home, he begins to go through his chores automatically, and he's somehow still surprised when he can't. It's boring and slow, and he's exhausted by the time he finishes.
He goes up to his bedroom. The sheets have been replaced, and his stained clothes are gone, too. His mother must have taken care of them while he was at school.
There's a pair of scissors on his desk. He picks them up and just turns them over and over in his hands as he walks to the bed and sits on the edge. They gleam in the afternoon sunlight.
Scissors, and his finger right there, and gently, he stabs. Not deeply, but just enough to see the pearl of blood rise to the surface.
Like the fairy tale, with the princess and the spinning wheel, he thinks, and he's missing something here, isn't he?
How long had it been since he'd seen his own blood? Years, at least. He'd been small; it was back when he'd still get hurt, scrape his knee or bruise himself falling out of a tree. Another one of those things that had disappeared slowly with his childhood, without any of them really noticing. All his experiences have been secondary since then -- the burst capillaries under his skin when Lex shot him; the flush of his face when he blushes; the pool in his dick when he's hard.
He raises the injured finger to his mouth and begins to suck carefully. It doesn't taste good -- metallic, like a penny, and subtly not right -- and he wonders if whether it would have tasted different before, if it tastes different with other people. It looks the same, as far as he can tell from his observations, but that doesn't mean anything. He always looked the same.
He drags the finger from his mouth. It's bleeding still, and after staring at it for a few seconds more, he goes to find a Band-Aid.
When his mother asks about it at dinner, he just tells her he cut himself that afternoon after school. He hates it when she frowns like that.
While they eat, there's a question on the tip of his tongue, but he can't quite form it to ask them.
He's different now. Like everybody else, and he wonders how far that goes. Is he human? The thought is overwhelming, almost frightening.
After dinner he has more chores. By the time Lex comes by, he's more tired, achier, than he's ever been in his life.
Lex there, Lex who's scarred inside and out, Lex always covered with bruises, and he's talking about the accident again. "You don't have to hide anything from me," he says, and Clark feels like he's going to explode.
Fuck you, Lex, he thinks as he walks away.
He sleeps through the night, and when he wakes up, he can't remember what he dreamed. He's glad.
At school, Chloe and Pete can't stop talking about Superboy. He's being snitty and childish, and he knows it, but he doesn't really care. It isn't fair, in a basic, deep-down way.
He plays basketball with Pete and Whitney and one of Whitney's jock friends. He's not good at it -- he's never played, really -- and to keep up, he has to concentrate on this and nothing else.
Pete's a good player, but they lose badly anyway. Clark doesn't care: he's happy. He's weak, sweaty, tired, limited, and it's great. This is being human. Being alive.
After school, he stops at the theater and talks to Lana. He can't stop smiling. He may be playing at being normal, still, but it feels natural.
As he heads back to the school, he thinks: I can do this.
Except maybe he can't, because it's not normal to run up to Eric, interfere with the maniac and almost get yourself killed. But it's not like he has any choice, right?
His ribs hurt. A lot.
The sight of Lex ignites his pissiness slightly. He's in pain, and he's not used to that at all; he's trying to figure out how to do all this, be all this, and all Lex can do is remind him of his freakishness.
But instead, Lex is apologizing. And that's --
He can't think about that now; there's too much else going on.
On the way home from the hospital, he sits between his parents in the truck. It hurts every time he takes a deep breath. He stares out the window and tries to think; his parents leave him alone.
His parents. There's symbolism. Blood is family, right? But his blood and his mother's and father's were never the same. He doesn't share his with anybody else, nobody, and where does that leave him?
He doesn't even stop and think when he hears about Eric. Doesn't stop and think when he goes to Lana for the necklace, talks to the Summers, reaches the dam and confronts him.
His father says all the right things afterwards, and Clark just goes along with him.
Back in his room, he takes off his shirt and unwraps the bandages. He pokes himself, hard; a few hours earlier, he would have been wincing in pain, but there's nothing. The cut on his arm is gone, without even a faint line to show where it had been. He picks the scissors back off of his desk, but they can't penetrate his skin. When he pushes harder, they splinter on his floor.
He's out of the house before he even knows what he's doing. He doesn't realize where he's going till he stops at the mansion's front gates. He uses his x-ray vision to find Lex -- sitting in his study, it looks like -- and he just follows the trail there.
It's the middle of the night, and he's just broken into the house, and he's half-naked still, standing in Lex's doorway, and Lex doesn't even blink. "What are you doing here?" he asks, but it's a friendly question.
"I --" he starts, and stops abruptly. He looks at Lex, sitting in his armchair, clothes rumpled, drink beside him. "Is this a bad time?"
Lex smiles at him. "As good a time as any. You're always welcome. Sit down."
Instead, he walks towards Lex, till he's almost standing between his legs.
He reaches out his thumb and touches the scar on Lex's mouth. He's so weak, he thinks, and "You're so strong," he says, and he means them both.
"What are you doing?" Lex asks, but he sounds like he already knows the answer.
He leans over and licks Lex's lip. "This is going to sound so stupid," he says, and he sighs.
"Try me," says Lex, breathing heavily. "What do you want, Clark?"
"Can I see you? Touch you?"
Lex's skin is so pale. Everything shows on it. There are dark bruises on his back, and Clark remembers the garage, throwing him across the room. There are other bruises, too, fading and yellowing, all over. He'd never realized how often Lex was hurt; he never shows it.
He has a scar over his chest, almost invisible, but Clark can feel it. He runs his fingers along it over and over, and Lex shivers. He examines the one on Lex's upper thigh, almost his hip, and he gets the same reaction.
Lex's hands look like they should be soft, but they're not. Not rough and weathered like the farmers Clark knows, but not smooth, either. They're calloused -- from fencing, maybe, and he doesn't know what else; he has no real idea what Lex does all day at his job -- and it's obvious that they've been used, been made to work. He brings his mouth to the uneven flesh between Lex's thumb and forefinger.
He has a tattoo on his back, below his right shoulder blade. Small black letters, in a language Clark doesn't recognize. "What is it?"
"It's Greek. My name. Alexander."
He traces the ink slowly. "Did it hurt?"
"Yeah. It hurt a lot."
He walks back around to face Lex, who's just been standing there, watching Clark and letting him explore. Now he asks, "Are you done cataloguing my flaws?"
"They're not flaws," Clark says, and raises his hand to Lex's face. "They're perfect."
He remembers Lex hanging from the edge of the ramp in Level Three, remembers him tied up and bound on the floor, imagines him as a little kid in the cornfield as the meteors fell. Lex bleeds. He's fragile, breakable, except he's not broken.
"Can I..." Stupid to flush, to be this embarrassed, when they're standing so close, next to naked, when he's just examined Lex so closely.
Lex laughs. Clark takes a deep breath, and strokes Lex's face lightly, barely touching, all warm and smooth beneath his fingers.
"How do you do it?"
How do you live like this? Clark wants to say. How do you walk around every day, do all the things you do, with nothing protecting you? How are you this vulnerable? Can you even see it?
"All of it," he says hesitantly. "Doesn't it hurt too much?"
Lex grabs Clark's hand and tears it away from his cheek. He smiles slightly (is that sadness? bitterness? knowledge?) between kisses to the fingertips. "There isn't really any other choice, is there?"
And Clark nods slowly, and thinks that maybe that's the best answer he's going to get, maybe the only one he'd understand. Live like this, weak and defenseless, because that's the way things are, and that's what you have to do. There's no other choice, and that doesn't make it any less shockingly brave.
Clark takes his hand back and presses his palm to Lex's chest again. He closes his eyes and leans forward blindly till his lips brush Lex's. Beneath his hand, Lex's heart is beating, contracting and expanding, and he can feel his own pulse quickening. It's the same for both of them.
Blood. Their blood is racing, but he's holding Lex to him, keeping him safe, protecting him, or Lex is doing that for him, or maybe they're doing it for each other.
When they reach Lex's bed, it's not a bubble, and it's not a shelter, Clark doesn't think, because they're not hiding. Just because you're brave doesn't mean you don't need comfort.
Afterwards, Clark rests his head on Lex's chest, and follows the veins in his arm, blue and prominent against his skin. The other arm is wrapped around him, and Lex strokes his hair till he falls asleep.
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