Thanks to Basingstoke and Te for audiencing, and the whole gang of wonderfully picky pre-readers: Te, LaT, Justine, Laura JV, Spike and Sarah T. (Sorry, Sarah, it's still mostly catharsis.) If it's still unclear, it's not their fault.
Eep. Forgot to put this in the author's notes the first time through, and it's important: I was utterly inspired by Justine's fabulous "Sanguinarium," and also Destina's "Prophet of Eden." "Ascension" was written for the x-title challenge at http://www.debchan.com/livia/smallville/xtitle.html
He can see his own breath, and not much else. Hours before dawn, Lex stands in the road next to a ditch on the far edge of the Kents' property. It can't be more than forty degrees out. Lex's ears ache, his scalp is alternately prickly and numb. Only a lifetime of conditioning keeps his gloved hands in the lined pockets of his long black coat.
He grits his teeth and breathes in, cold air like a wedge of ice splitting him open. Blows out a breath like a dragon, waiting. His breath mists and fades, and Clark is there in front of him. He's the same as always, worn jeans and a long sweater, tousled hair feathering oddly around his head. But he looks odd and dreamlike in the near-dark. Midnight eyes gleaming with-- probably just moonlight, nothing more.
"Clark," Lex begins. He stops, disconcerted, as Clark turns his back to him.
Clark takes a step away from Lex, further into the misty field, then glances over his shoulder, perfectly moonlit profile in the dark. "I have something to show you," he says. Something about his voice sounds off. Hollow. That could be the night air, too, but Lex doesn't think so. "Come on."
Lex squints, judges the distance and hops the ditch, jogging a few steps to catch up. "What could you possibly have to show me at three in the morning?" he asks, but he's not really complaining. "Clark. Where are we going?"
"That's kind of up to you," Clark says. Lex looks at him, cursing the darkness despite the platitude to the contrary. Clark looks away all too quickly-- he can't seem to maintain the facade of wide-eyed innocence as well as he usually does.
It's the mist, Lex decides. Clark had better have some idea of where they're going. Lex knows his way around the Kent farm pretty well, for someone who's never exactly had an engraved invitation. But the mist has him all turned around, and he doesn't have any idea where the hell Clark is leading him now.
Something entirely too dreamlike about this whole encounter. Clark's phone call, the night drive to the Kent farm, familiar and strange at once. Dead straw crunches under his shoes and Clark's boots as they walk, and Lex allows himself to bend his neck and chafe the feeling back into his ears. He startles a little when Clark stops and catches his arm.
Just in front of them, there's a heavy wooden door set into the earth. Somewhere in the near distance, there's a shape that might be a building, but Lex can't tell if it's the barn or a silo or just one of the woodsheds scattered around the Kent holdings.
"Have a seat," Clark says tersely, gesturing to the raised sill of the door. Lex sits down, and clamps down tight, trying not to shiver.
"I'm not sure how to put this," Clark murmurs. Black moonlit eyes making Lex's gut tighten just that tiny bit more. Finally Clark shrugs. "I lied. You were right. That study you commissioned, it was right too. You hit me with your car. I'm the one who stopped Sean Kelvin and Tina Grier. Phelan knew-- he was threatening Dad to get at me. Trying to make me do things for him."
"Clark," Lex doesn't know what he's going to say, but can't hear any more of this. Stupid. Letting himself-- believe. He swallows, and it feels so mechanical, like he's a machine. Antifreeze for blood. Plastic, unfeeling skin. He should be standing for this, but he can't make his body work. Can't move.
"When Rickman had you under his control, you shot me." Clark tilts his head, a funny little smile playing at the corners of his mouth. "A lot. It kind of hurt, as I recall."
"Why are you telling me now?" His voice sounds dead, even to him.
Clark's smile widens. "Right to the point... that's so you, Lex."
"I told you I stopped investigating." Lex shakes his head, trying to hang onto a few last shreds of denial. He didn't know he had it in him.
"I know." Clark gestures, and suddenly Lex's knees unlock and he can stand, glancing automatically behind him. But Clark's just reaching for the heavy, double-barred doors to the storm cellar. He opens them as easily as Lex might lift the lid of a sugar bowl, and Lex watches. He can't even laugh. This is the truth, and he should be glad of it. But he just feels sick. All the lies. Since the day they met. Lies seem to be all he's ever going to get, from anyone he lets himself love.
Clark glances down into the dark pit of the storm cellar. "You first."
Fuck you, Clark, is the fitting response. But Clark just looks at him, and in some weird twist of dream logic, Lex can't find a reason to argue. What the hell. Why not. Lex goes down, into the dark.
He hears Clark follow after, the quiet tread of his boots on the creaky wooden stairs. He reaches past Lex and pulls at a hanging string. A bare bulb pops to life, radiating almost palpable heat. Lex blinks away the sting and glare of it, ignoring everything blurring at the edges of his vision. Clark doesn't say anything, just stands there and lets Lex focus. See it for himself.
He can't breathe, and as it hits him, he feels his heart stutter. Drifts forward, not feeling the ground under his feet. Moves past the lightbulp, shifting so that his shadow doesn't block any of the... thing. Pod. Ship.
It can't be real. Lex hates himself for being stupid enough to believe it, even for a second, and then he's on his knees in the dirt in front of it, touching it, and it is real. "Fuck..."
Clark's shadow shifts as Clark moves closer, kneeling behind him. His body heat warms Lex's back, even through his coat. "This is where they found me, Lex. It's where I come from. What I am."
"Jesus, Clark." His voice almost breaks, and he leans back as much as he can without taking his hands off the chill. Metal. Something.
"I said you could be anyone you wanted to be. You remember that, right?" Clark asks. Silence stretches, dead as the grave, between the two of them. "Well, now it's true."
Lex half-turns his head, startled, but Clark's too close to get a good look at, and his attention is dragged inexorably back to the ship. It's like he can't stop touching it, running his hands over its frictionless curves, brushing his fingertips over the curlicues of metal along its slim lines.
"You could do anything with this. Be anything." Clark says, next to his ear, so quietly he might as well be another one of the voices in Lex's head. "Greater than the Caesars, greater than your father's wildest dreams of power."
Lex starts to laugh, then, starts to stand up, but suddenly Clark's big hard hand settles over his, gently, keeping it pressed to the ship. "It never even crossed my dad's mind, you know," Clark tells him, putting his other hand on Lex's shoulder to steady him. "Not when I was five and throwing temper tantrums that knocked holes in every wall in the house, not when he had to take out loans on top of loans and almost lost the farm. Not when I woke up floating three feet above the bed. It never got too strange, too big, too much. He was never even tempted to take advantage of this."
Lex's throat is tight. "That sounds like him."
"You have more money than God. You've never gone without, not for a day in your whole life," Clark says in his ear, almost fondly. "And you're tempted. Right now."
Lex shakes his head. "I'm--"
"You're thinking about it."
"Clark. You can trust me," Lex says roughly. "I told you that. I told you..."
"You say that now, Lex, but you haven't really thought it through." Clark is pressing too hard, pinning Lex's hand against the ship. His hand on Lex's shoulder tightens almost to the point of pain, but his voice is so very calm. "You wouldn't even have to use the ship. Just take it out of here, one night. Keep it somewhere I can't find it. Someplace lead-lined-- just trust me on that part. And then. Then you have me. I'm faster than bullets, Lex. Stronger. I can bend steel bars with my hands. I haven't figured out the floating thing yet, but that'll come. In time."
"I... I wouldn't..." Lex tries to smile, twisting his neck to look at Clark. "Clark. How could I make you do anything you didn't want to do?"
Clark grins at him. "Easy, Lex. Okay, it didn't work for Phelan, but you're smarter than him. You know you are. And you know me," he says, not pausing for Lex's startled, brittle laughter. He leans closer, his breath hot, prickling against Lex's ear. "You know exactly how. Don't threaten Mom and Dad. Threaten Lana, threaten Chloe and Pete. Or some stranger. You've seen me risk my life for strangers. You know I would."
"God, Clark. You're being-- Just stop it already." Lex tries to tug his hand away but Clark's grip is like iron.
"And how could I even warn them? They'd never believe me..."
"Clark, stop it," Lex repeats, shaking his head.
"Think of what I could do for you, Lex." Clark smiles against his ear. "I could make you great..."
"Damn it, stop--" Lex twists around, his arm protesting. To stare into the glittering eyes of a stranger. "Oh God. Who are you?"
"You know who I am." says the stranger. "You know me better than anyone." He lets go of Lex, shifting back. His parody of Clark's smile makes Lex's skin crawl. "I'm Clark."
"No." Lex stands, his legs cramping from the long crouch. Staggers back, away from the mindbending alien pod. Hits the hard-packed dirt wall of the storm cellar hard enough to knock half the breath out of him. Stares down at the lying bastard still kneeling next to it, at the edge of the haloed circle of light cast by the single lightbulb.
"You're right. Maybe it won't be like that," says the man that looks like Clark. He doesn't look up at Lex, just watches his hand, running lightly over the ship. "Maybe... you leave the ship here. We're still friends. And it starts small. I watch someone for you, I deliver a package. You wouldn't need to threaten me. It could all be implied. A word, a tone... gee, if you just had my help with this one little thing, everything would be better, for everyone." The strange man smiles, standing and brushing the dirt from his knees, and Lex shakes his head, leaning against the wall to keep himself upright. Not Clark. This isn't Clark.
"You could tell yourself I misunderstood," he continues, hands stuck in the pockets of his jeans. Glances up at Lex from under his bangs, a familiar, tentative look on his face. "That you would never threaten me... I must not trust you, I must still be afraid. I must still be a liar. And that makes me okay to use, right? Like Victoria. Nixon. Hamilton--"
Lex sucks in air, desperately. The stairs are barely a step away, the night open above him, an escape from this claustrophobic little personal hell, but where would he go? He doesn't know the way. "Who the fuck are you?!"
"I'm your future." And Clark has Lex's wrist locked in his hand and he's pulling Lex up the stairs. Something wrong about the movement, the sound, and Lex stumbles and jams his knee against a step when he realizes he's only hearing one set of footsteps as they ascend.
He gasps, but Clark's pull is steady and Lex can't quite focus through his stinging eyes. Somehow he manages to stumble up to the top, and when they emerge into the moonlight Clark is smiling at him. There are lines around his eyes. Lex can see them, now that he's looking. See that little worried notch between his brows, the lines around his mouth-- Still, his laughter clutches at Lex's heart, his gut, everything, because. If he's right, if this demon stranger is right, if Clark really were an alien, then. Then how could Lex not?
The things they could-- no. The things Lex could do. Would. Do.
Clark licks his lips, glancing up into the sky. "They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression." His grin widens. "You're going to. Well. You're going to hate this," he says, somewhat apologetically, and he pulls at Lex's wrist and something shifts, static electricity rippling across the surface of Lex's body. Feels like a molecule-thick layer air around him is polarizing and they're rising and oh god flying.
Lex's arm should be screaming, pulled out of the socket, but he's rising alongside Clark, caught up in the field, his aura, whatever the fuck-- up above the mist and the dark and the farm and "oh shit," Lex says, calmly. Somewhere in the back of his mind he gives himself a couple of bonus points for not shrieking his throat sore, and a few more for not pissing himself. He stares up at the sky they're rising towards, cold wind ripping tears from his eyes. They stream down his cheeks and he closes his eyes, closes his mouth so the chill wind won't choke him, but he can still feel it.
This is happening. It's really happening, and after the first couple of heartstopping seconds, Lex has room to be more shocked than afraid. The man... Clark... has a warm, solid grip on his wrist and the wind is even colder up here and the stars are clearer and he's not going to look down. He's not. He squeezes his wet eyes shut tighter.
"Open your eyes, Lex."
"Open your eyes," Clark repeats earnestly. "Don't be afraid. I've got you. Look."
Lex shakes his head. "I can't."
Clark sighs. His thumb rubs reassuringly over Lex's wrist, and Lex gasps at the feel of his grip loosening even that much. He reaches out desperately, eyes still closed, clawing for something solid. Clark pulls him close, Lex's back against Clark's chest, his arms locked around Lex's waist and chest. Lex hangs on, his head tipped back on Clark's shoulder. Feels like they're not rising any more, just hanging in the air over Smallville, and he starts to laugh, feeling the scratch of Clark's sweater against his scalp and neck.
He's never allowed himself to be this close to Clark before. Look, don't touch, always. Setting limitations for himself. Yes. He thought he was such a good boy... "Why are you here? What the hell is this, Clark, some kind of Smallville Dickens remake? You gonna show me my last happy Christmas? Good fucking luck finding one--"
"I'm not the Ghost of Christmas Past, Lex," Clark says. His voice still that flat, dead calm, and Lex's throat is dry. "More like... the guy who's going to take you up to a high place, and show you all the kingdoms of the world."
Lex opens his mouth to place the reference-- New Testament, Luke, the last temptation. Or one of them, anyway. It's Lex's experience that your personal devils never really leave, for long. "All the kingdoms of the world, their authority and splendor? I've been there, done that, Clark--"
"You're stalling." Clark's voice is still affectionate. Still fond. A dizzying twinge of nostalgia to it. It makes Lex almost nauseous, more so than the flying, even. This Clark... because it is Clark, he can't deny that, no matter how strange this is. It's Clark. Just-- older. Colder. That smile, just before he pulled Lex up into the air... Christ, he's enjoying this.
"When," Lex says, hoarsely. "When are you from. How are you here? What happens? I--"
"I told you why I'm here. I... I thought I did. I don't know." A short laugh, and something that feels suspiciously like a nuzzle against the side of his head. "It's been so long since I've talked to anyone..." Clark shakes his head. "I didn't want to come too early. Too early and you wouldn't have known what you were capable of. Too late, well." Lex can feel Clark's chest hitch against his back, feel the short, sarcastic breath against his ear. "I live in 'too late,' Lex, and it's nothing to write home about."
"Tell me," Lex says, tensing at the building anger in Clark's tone. He went back to Cassandra, after all. He wanted to know. Even now...
"Look down, Lex. Look!" It's a command, almost a roar, and Lex clutches at his iron grip, fingers digging into the sweater, into the skin underneath. He doesn't have to worry about hurting Clark... he never did.
He tilts his head forward. Clark won't let him fall. Opens his eyes. Clark won't let him...
It's still nighttime. It's still a moonlit night. But they're not over Smallville any more. It's a city, lying beneath them, shattered. That's the only word Lex can find. Every pane of glass in the skyscrapers that rise to either side of them, cracked, blown out, empty. Another building, forty stories or more. Just a shell, its insides half-crumbled away. Raw brick fades to pale bone-color in the moonlight.
"This is the world we made," Clark says, his voice hushed as though he's speaking in a graveyard.
No. No. It's not just the moonlight. It's... ash, everywhere, turning everything gray. Ash and dust, and why couldn't he smell it before and-- oh god it's Metropolis, this is Metropolis destroyed and dead.
"Why don't you just kill me?" Lex says, and he sounds hysterical, even to himself, but he's not. "Jesus, just drop me. Let go. This never happens, Clark gets to live his life..." His ship, hidden in the earth like the stone in a cherry. Invisible, always. Safe.
"If it was that easy," Clark says in his ear, his arms tightening, "you'd never have been a problem, Lex."
They're descending slowly, Clark holding Lex in his arms, and Lex shakes his head, struggling despite instinct. Can't breathe, Clark's arms are too tight around him, he can't breathe-- they can't touch down, Lex is afraid of it like he's never been afraid of anything in his life. That dust on his shoes, on his hands. He'd never get it off. Never get clean. "You never learned to compromise?" And this mix of emotions is almost prosaic, it's so familiar: raw terror, terrible love and grief, the deadly steel of a philosophical debate. "What about the greater good?"
"What about them?"
"This..." He can see the ship, still. The tiny shape of it spins in the center of his skull like a video-game avatar. Sprouting ideas even now, even here, plans and angles, and. Yeah. His own brain is really just making Clark's argument for him. "If what I do... what I become is so terrible, then even your morality-- Clark, at some point there has to be--"
"Morality?" Clark laughs, pulls him even closer.
Breathes hot against his ear.
"That's not why, Lex."
Licks him, hot rough tongue dragging across that particular spot just behind and above his ear... it makes Lex hard, it's always made Lex hard, and it's Clark.
"I loved you," Clark says softly, Lex's coat flapping in the breeze as they drift through the dead city. Hot breath on his ear, unnatural warmth at his back. "And it wasn't all your fault, Lex, it never was. I lied, and I lied-- I said I didn't love you any more..." One arm stays locked firm as a steel bar across his chest, and the other hand... strays. Drifts down over his shirt. "I said I hated you," Clark says, choked, "but I never-- I didn't, how could I stop loving you, Lex? I never..."
Firm hand against Lex's belly, fingers rubbing gently, stroking down. Lex closes his eyes and inhales, shuddering, as Clark's fingers brush at his belt, and then Clark breathes harshly against him, locks both arms back back into place. Pushes them both up through the air. Lex thinks he would be able to feel him doing it, somehow, even if it weren't for the wind. Clark swallows hard, Lex can hear his throat work, and when he speaks again he's talking to Lex. "I'm sorry. God, I'm sorry, it's just been so long. So long..." And his laughter is rattling, edgy, it echoes off the dead buildings, makes Lex shudder. "All our best intentions-- all your plans and all my gifts and this is what we did. I don't accept it, Lex." His voice is steel. "I can't."
"Take me back." Lex whispers.
"I should let you go," Clark muses, and Lex's mouth stretches open in a silent gasp as Clark's arms loosen ever so slightly. "I should, except it's not... you haven't done it yet. It's just a matter of time, though--"
"Fuck you!" Lex explodes, struggling against the arms like iron around him. "Fuck this shit! Kill me or take me back, now! I've seen enough--" and the wave of hysteria that's been building since he first saw Clark crests, and Lex is laughing now, howling with it, choking in Clark's arms. Drowning.
He snaps out of it when his feet touch the ground, and he pushes away from Clark, panicked, staggering away-- but the brittle grass snaps under his feet, they're not in that dead Metropolis. No more scent of dust and death, just the Smallville night and the cloaking mist. Lex falls, digging his hands into the tangled grass and down. Raw earth under his knees, dirt under his nails, bile in the back of his throat, and he hasn't thrown up in years, but...
He hangs on, and breathes, and breathes, and if Clark weren't here, he might be sobbing. Might be, but isn't.
But when he looks up again, Clark is gone.
Gone like he was never there and... and... it's too much. The ship the flying dead Metropolis and...
It's just fucked enough to be all true.
Just exactly fucked enough to be Lex's life.
So quiet out here, but not the dead quiet of... that other place. The mist muffles most sound, but he can hear crickets, and the wind in the trees, something like the ocean. The clicking of the windmill by the Kents' front gate, and his own harsh, panting breaths.
Always... he's always alone when it really comes down to it. It's been that way for so long and this is no different. Clark is an alien, an angel, a liar, and Lex has to make this decision for both of them.
So fucked that he can even consider it. Think of it as a decision yet to be made. But there's always more than one solution to any given problem. More shades in the world than black and white. Maybe now that he knows, it could all be different. There are ways Clark could help him, ways Clark could fit into his plans without Lex... taking advantage. Necessarily. And--
Fuck, Lex thinks, and laughs more. Isn't he supposed to be seeing the error of his ways right now? Isn't he supposed to be reformed, and send the biggest turkey in Christendom to the orphanage, and somewhere a bell rings and Clark gets his-- gets his wings-- Lex's giggles turn hysterical and he bites his bottom lip hard, relishing the pain as he staggers to his feet.
No more laughing. Lex isn't sure his heart could take it. He tugs his coat around himself, disliking the scent of fear that rises from his skin. He needs to get home... He looks around to orient himself, exhaling softly as he sees the doors to the storm cellar. Still open, and somewhere down there, the faint glow of the lightbulb. Still on.
Lex descends the steps slowly, alone this time. Kneels in front of the spaceship, and rests his hands against the smooth shell of its upper surface. Leans forward, resting his forehead against the smooth skin of the pod. He has to... laugh, cry, scream. This is all so incredibly fucked-- Lex is never going to be able to look at Clark again without seeing, without knowing. Little alien child in a pod in a cornfield. Dead city, Clark above it like a ghost...
God, and Lex thinks he's alone.
Metropolis... Was it just Metropolis? How far did the destruction extend? What had Cassandra seen? "Maybe I'll see your friend Clark..." Is that what Lex, in all his greatness, ends up creating? Something only Clark could survive?
A world with no one left for Clark to save.
No, it won't happen. Lex stopped asking questions once before. He can do it again. Close the book. Walk away. Just be there for Clark, a friend that he can talk to when he's feeling lonely, scared of his gifts, oh fuck alienated...
And maybe someday have Clark, the way he's wanted him for months now. Because Clark wants him. Loves him. Lex had hoped for that. And now he knows. Lex can have Clark, if he wants him. Have Clark's friendship and his trust. His hands and his mouth...
And his lies.
Because Clark's just going to keep lying. And that's going to be hard to take, Lex thinks. He can taste it already, reminiscent of the bile still curdling in his throat. All those lies from Clark's sweet mouth; harsh medicine not even faintly disguised by a spoonful of sugar. Lex stands up, eyeing the bare lightbulb. Blinking away the purple spots that dance before his eyes.
Smart move, Lex thinks harshly. Let him know he's being lied to, so it'll kill him every time Clark calls him 'friend,' says 'I trust you.' Are a million little cuts better than one fatal wound? Is the end result really any different?
Lex reaches up and tugs on the little metal chain, clicking the lightbulb off with a snap. Climbs the steps again, wearily.
He could accept his father's offer, he thinks, climbing. Back to Metropolis. Fuck his life and Daddy's money away, do the drugs and the girls and the boys and the games. Renounce his dreams of greatness for the greater good, confine himself to luxury and mindless pleasure...
Lex Luthor, martyr. It has a certain ring to it.
Except when Lex thinks of that life, a life where he never has Clark... He can't quite make himself smile.
It's lighter outside than it was before. Maybe an hour till dawn, Lex guesses, though he's no farmer, of course. He sighs and looks across the field at his car, a barely visible shape in the mist. Home. Hot shower. He'd like to sleep till noon, but he has to put in a full day at the plant, and maybe the drugged pace of Smallville paper-pushing will remind him that his life, at times, can approach something like normality.
Parts of his life, anyway. He steps up into the gray light, rubs his hands on his coat, and reaches down to heave the thick wooden door shut. It's a hell of a lot heavier than Clark made it look, and Lex grunts and strains to shut it without pulling a muscle or crushing any of his fingers. Close the latch-- was it closed before? Must have been.
He closes it, and straightens up again. And looks directly into the wide eyes of Jonathan Kent, bundled up in thick jacket and gloves, just about to head into the barn across the yard.
Lex almost sinks back to his knees again, laughing, but shit, this is par for the course, isn't it? He closes his eyes, inhales, then locks his knees and stands tall.
Jonathan heads for him, implacable as a charging bull. Eyes narrow and hard as granite and yes, terrified. The expression on his face, clearer as he gets closer, makes it even more real. All too real, and Lex's stomach rolls as he realizes what he could do. What it would mean to this man and his family.
The look in Mr. Kent's eyes is incredible. Rage and pure terror and helplessness, twelve years of worry exploding in this one moment. All stamped down and masked better than a Luthor could do it, and then Jonathan has him by the collar, shaking Lex so hard his teeth click. "You lying son of a bitch--"
Just when he thought they'd achieved some kind of fragile detente-- but there's no excuse for this, none. No way to regain trust after this, but Lex can at least try. He takes a breath.
"Mr. Kent--" And he can't control his voice, quite yet, and oh christ, he must really look like he's been hysterical, but who cares, because Jonathan backs off a bit. Fists still tangled in his jacket, but the rage in his eyes has been downgraded from 'murderous' to 'maybe just maim you a little.' "I just... I..."
"Fucking try to explain this, Luthor!"
"I called him," Clark's voice breaks across the yard. Stammering and unsure, and oh, Clark, you pretty liar. Lex closes his eyes. It wasn't Clark's voice on the phone, inviting him over in the wee hours of the morning. Lex knows that now. Not his Clark.
"I told him," Clark whispers, and Lex wonders if Clark will ever stop saving him. Jonathan doesn't turn to look at his son, just closes his eyes. Leaning on Lex, unconsciously. Lex watches, fascinated, as realization sweeps across the older man's features.
Realization and resignation.
He knows, then. More than he's let on.
"Lex, you saw..." Clark says breathlessly, and Lex tears his gaze away from Jonathan. Yes. Really Clark, now. Wide eyes and a white T-shirt, barefoot in the field, the ankles of his jeans wet with dew.
Me, Clark mouths, touching his chest, and Lex nods slowly. So. Clark saw something mysterious tonight too, then. He wonders briefly what Clark's visitation was like.
"I saw the ship, Clark," Lex says, looking calmly at him. "I know... what you are, now." Jonathan lets him go, his hands in their work gloves dropping heavily to his side again.
"Clark." Jonathan says without turning. "Why?"
"I'm sorry." Clark says, hands opening and closing helplessly. "Dad, I'm sorry, I just... I'm tired of all the lying."
"Clark, don't." Lex shakes his head. "It's not his fault, Mr. Kent. I... I've been pushing this." He takes a breath as Jonathan's sharp gaze swings to his eyes again. He can't let Clark take the fall for this, even if that other Clark meant him to. It's Lex's fault, that future. That Clark. "I knew something, I just didn't know exactly..."
"Lex, I wanted to tell you," Clark says, talking over him. "I just couldn't. I couldn't think of a way," and Lex shakes his head, running his hand back over his scalp and smiling.
"I nearly f-- I nearly fainted." He gestures back at the storm cellar. "Is that a spaceship?"
"It's not an Easter egg," Clark shoots back. It's getting lighter and lighter out, and the cows in the barn are lowing restlessly, shuffling in their stalls. Lex laughs, and Clark grins, foolishly pleased with himself. The way he always grins when he makes Lex laugh. "Dad, we can trust him," Clark says earnestly, coming closer. "He didn't do anything to Ryan."
"Oh?" Jonathan's gaze focuses intently on Lex, and Lex's ears begin to burn.
"He was just a kid, Clark," he mutters.
"But he could..." Clark pauses uncertainly.
"Read minds? Yeah, I figured that." Lex stares down at his shoes, then moves a little closer to Clark. Jonathan doesn't move out of his way, but he doesn't block him, either.
"But you didn't do anything to him," Clark says, staring into his eyes. More direct than Clark's ever been with him, maybe, and Lex can't help but let out a tense breath, and keep on smiling. "You didn't try to use him or anything."
Lex looks him up and down, just steadily enough to reassure himself that this really is Clark. Messy bedhead and sleepy kid eyes. Toes curling in the grass, as he can't quite keep from rocking back and forth on his heels.
"I can't say the thought didn't cross my mind." Lex sticks his hands in his pockets. "He might've picked up on that. I think I creeped him out a little."
"Okay, so you thought about it." Clark says indulgently. Smiling in a way that says he knows Lex. "But you didn't do anything."
"No." Lex presses his lips together. Steps closer. "And I won't do anything to you, Clark. I'm not... I won't take advantage of you or your secret." He gestures back at the storm cellar. It's on the tip of his tongue to offer a safer hiding place, but he bites it back. Jonathan would never go for it, and perhaps it's better that the ship stays here, out of his reach.
"You have to stop the meteor rock research," Clark tells him, low and serious, and Lex can feel Jonathan Kent's glare on the back of his scalp.
"You can't... they're dangerous..."
"I know, Clark," Lex says, and Clark looks down, blinking. Just as frightened as Lex is, Lex supposes. Reaching out, he touches Clark's arm with his gloved hand. Pulls Clark's hand up, settles it around his neck. Clark's eyes meet his, wide and frightened.
"You know," Lex says quietly, Clark's warm hand like a collar around his throat. "All you have to do is squeeze."
"Jesus Christ, Lex!" Clark jerks his hand away, then winces, avoiding his father's eyes, his cheeks flushing. "I trust you, all right?" He fixes Lex with a steady gaze again. "I do."
"You know you always have options," Lex begins. But Clark just shakes his head, obviously freaked out by the very thought. This Clark isn't that cold, not yet. Not pushed to that edge.
And maybe if Lex plays the game right he won't ever be. There, hanging in the air and laughing like a ghost...
"Come up to the house," Clark says gently. Lex breathes in, startled, as Clark's hand fastens around his wrist. Familiar touch, but softer hands. "We can talk inside-- all of us. God, Lex," he says, startled, thumb rubbing over Lex's skin, above the glove. He lifts his hand to touch Lex's face, briefly. Meets Lex's eyes, understanding shining from them. "You're freezing."
"You go on ahead, Clark." Jonathan says. "Wake your mother. Put some coffee on."
"Go on, Clark," Jonathan says with finality. "Lex and I need to talk."
"It's okay, Clark," Lex murmurs. He turns to face the sunrise so he doesn't have to watch Clark go, staring out over the fields as the mist clears. Just a field, and a farmhouse, and a barn, and a storm cellar. Green and blue and apple-blossom pink, just another perfectly normal day in Smallville. Sticking his his hands in his pockets, he smiles. "I guess this is the part where you ask what my intentions are towards your son."
"You think this is funny?" Jonathan's voice is calm, maybe calmer than Lex has ever heard it. Well, the worst has already happened, he supposes. Not a lot to worry about now.
"Are you kidding?" Lex shrugs, smiling wider. "It's hysterical. For months I've wondered why the hell he kept lying and lying, when he knew we were just alike."
"How do you mean?"
"The meteor rocks," Lex says casually, looking over his shoulder at Jonathan. He passes a hand over his head, meaningfully. "I'm just another Smallville mutant, Mr. Kent. Once you get to know me, it actually explains a lot."
"I'll bet." And Jonathan's clearly a long, long way away from being amused by Lex's charm. But Lex can see it from here.
"You were never even tempted, were you," he asks, turning to face Jonathan. He glances at the storm cellar. "Never, not once in all this time, to... take advantage of the things that Clark can do."
"He's my son." Jonathan says, and Lex nods.
"He's my friend... and I will be tempted." Lex chews on his sore bottom lip. He's going to have aerospace technology patents haunting his dreams for the rest of his life. Unless maybe, in ten years or so, he can convince Clark to maybe, maybe... Dammit. No. He sighs and looks at Jonathan ruefully in the rising glow of sunrise. "I already am. He's... he's my friend and I need him. I know I can be strong enough to--" He closes his eyes, dizzy for a moment. "No, that's a lie. I don't... I'm not sure I know anything any more. I know this must scare the hell out of you. It scares the hell out of me, too. And maybe if you were smart you'd bury my body under that ship. But I..." He looks up again, staring straight into Clark's father's eyes, desperate. "I'm my father's son, but I don't have to be just like him. For Clark, I can be something different. Or I can try. I'm going to try."
Jonathan sighs, staring off over Lex's shoulder, his mouth thin and hard. Lex is pretty sure he's going to get a helpful platitude of the sort often reported to him second-hand, by Clark... something about how blood will tell. Or maybe something about how if a man's no good on his own, he can't be made good by anyone else's influence.
"I met Martha at Metropolis University," Jonathan says finally, and Lex breathes again. "She came up to me to borrow my notes..." He smiles crookedly. "I know what it's like, to want to be something different, something better."
"But you didn't change."
They both look over as the farmhouse door swings shut, clatter of screen door against the frame. Clark and Martha stand on the porch steps, Martha in a red bathrobe, pushing her hair out of her face.
"Oh, I have. For her." Jonathan brushes his work-glove over his forehead, and sighs. "You're lucky if you can find that person. The one who lets you be who you want to be."
Lex has no words, so he just stares at Jonathan and nods. Trying to convey with everything he can that he understands. He does.
He stands tall as Jonathan's eyes flicker over him, appraisingly. The decision's been made, then. Just like that. Lex feels weirdly light. He's not exactly sure what this all will mean to his life, his projects, the game with his own father. But for right now, all it seems to mean is that he's breathing easier than he has in months. Years. Like the aftermath of the meteor shower all over again, Lex thinks. He's freaked beyond belief, doesn't know what the hell's going on, he doesn't know where he'll go from here, but... He feels strong. He can breathe.
Clark did that, he thinks suddenly. The meteors, the ship-- it all fits. Fuck. The guilt in his eyes when he'd said he was sorry... oh, god. Clark.
"Who do you think Clark wants to be?" Jonathan asks, staring off at the house.
Lex curls his hands into fists, inside his pockets where Jonathan can't see. What Mr. Kent means is... what will Lex help Clark become. Which is the question of the day, now isn't it? "I think he wants... He wants to be liked despite his gifts. Not because of them."
Jonathan nods, slowly. "You've been a good friend to him so far, Lex."
"I'll try not to screw it up."
"You do that." Jonathan's hand lands heavy on his shoulder as they start to walk back to the house. Morning is breaking across the yard, and they cast long shadows as they walk. "You do that, Lex... You hurt him, I will kill you," Jonathan adds. His tone is agreeable, but deadly serious, and Lex hopes to God it's not a bluff.
Maybe he's weak, to need this crutch, but he prays that Clark's father is sincere. "Please do."
And when the certainty in his voice makes Jonathan double-take, and stumble, Lex is right there to catch his arm.