Thanks to Rae for brainstorming help, Elyn for putting up with tremendous title angst, & LaT, Sarah T. and Merry for reading it over.

by Livia

It's a clear, sunny morning, warmer than it's been in weeks. Almost unseasonably warm for February, though Clark never notices stuff like that unless people mention it. He takes a step, and joins Lex in the patch of sunlight streaming in through the open loft window.

Clark's never wondered before, what it would be like if his parents had found... not just him. If he'd had a brother or sister or even a cousin, someone who could understand, really understand. Clark's parents love him, he knows that. They accept him, and he tells them as much as he can. Tries to let them know what he's going through. And it helps. But even his parents can't ever completely understand what it's like for Clark to look through stone, or run so fast he's invisible.

What it's like to feel bullets slamming into his body. Flattening on impact with his skin.

"I wonder where Kyle is now..." Lex muses.

"I don't know." Clark looks out over the fields. Kyle can take care of himself; Clark's not really worried. What he's wondering about is what Kyle was like twelve years ago. Both of them, really, Kyle and Bob Rickman, maybe not much older than Lex is now. They'd been partners, and best friends... friends with a shared secret, after the meteor shower. If Clark had someone he could share that with... he'd never give it up. He honestly doesn't understand how Rickman and Tippet could just go their separate ways like they did. No matter what choices either of them made. "It's still strange to think that he and Rickman were once best friends." Frowning a little, he glances at Lex, whose head is tilted back, allowing the sunlight to fall over his face. "Think we'll ever end up like that?"

"Trust me, Clark." In the sun, Lex's eyes are oddly pale, like glass with a light behind it. "Our friendship is going to be the stuff of legend."

Clark feels almost lazy with contentment. Quiet happiness inside him, like the sun against his skin. He smiles, and looks back out at the farm. The Kent farm again, and that's just... the way things should be. He told Chloe he couldn't see himself being a farmer. But lying awake at night thinking of his father's signature on that contract just made Clark feel awful. Sick and dizzy. Worse than meteor rocks, worse than getting shot, even. Freakish as that is.

Of course, it's mostly because of Lex that the farm is theirs again. Lex is a good friend, even if he doesn't think he is. Maybe you don't have to believe in friendship to be a good friend. And maybe Clark can be the one to show Lex what it's like to have a friend, for real. "David and Jonathan, Achilles and Patroclus, Lex and Clark?" he says, and glances over to see startled pleasure on Lex's face. "Hey, just 'cause I haven't read To Kill A Mockingbird..."

"Which reminds me." Lex shifts, reaching into an inner pocket in his long black jacket, and pulls out a faded pink paperback with worn corners. "An essential for the small-town idealist," he says, handing it to Clark. "Two ninety-five at the used bookstore in town. Think your father will let you keep it?"

Clark runs his thumbs over the cover of the book in quiet appreciation. "I think these days my dad's a little more open-minded about accepting favors from you."

"I'd like to think so," Lex says. Clark frowns, thinking of the things Lex said when he wasn't himself. Or, still himself, just not in control. He doesn't really like to think about some of what Lex said. But maybe he understands Lex a little better now, and that's... that can only be a good thing.

He looks up from the book, catching Lex's gaze. "Thanks," he says, and Lex shrugs. "No, I mean it, Lex. Not just for the book. For everything."

"Just glad I could help." Lex reaches out, and time seems to slow down a little as his hand comes up. Clark knows what's going to happen but he can't move, and Lex's friendly touch lands solidly on the bullet-bruise right over the bone in his shoulder.

He can't suppress a grimace and a hiss of pain. It's been so long. Even with all the fights he's gotten into lately. The aches, the cuts, the bruises-- they just go away, like writing on water. Clark was beginning to think nothing would ever hurt him again. He actually feels kind of grateful to Lex, in a weird sort of way. He can't even remember the last time he scraped his knees or pulled a muscle or even got a paper cut. The bruises, they feel. Normal. Human. For as long as they last, Clark can pretend.

Still. Clark flinches, then tries to smile as fast as he can. He can't read Lex's expression all of a sudden, and that always freaks him out. "Lex..."

"You are hurt." Lex is pale, and then his eyes go a little sad. Not as angry as Clark would have expected, given that he's just caught Clark in a lie. He doesn't look all that surprised, either... but that's the part Clark doesn't like to think about.

"It's really nothing," he tries.

"Clark," Lex shakes his head, looking away into the empty, shadowy spaces of the barn.

Clark doesn't rub at his arm, even though it aches. Instead he turns away, walking over to his bookshelf and trying to find a place for his new book. "Honest, Lex," he says lightly, sliding it into place between some of his old Spiderman comic books and Mom's paperback Carl Sandburg. "Like I said-- Owww!" A flinch turns into a full-body recoil as Lex's hand closes around his bicep and squeezes hard. "Oww, c'mon, Lex! Cut it out!"

He pulls away from Lex and crosses his arms over his chest. Lex steps close again, and Clark retreats back against the railing. He knows he's probably pouting, but he doesn't care.

"Let me see, Clark."

Clark sets his jaw, then lets out a frustrated sigh. He already lied; he can't reasonably expect Lex to believe him now.

"Clark. Please." Lex reaches out again, and Clark winces in anticipation. But this time Lex's fingers are gentle, barely brushing Clark's flannel shirt. Clark frowns guiltily, looking up at him from under his eyelashes. Lex's eyes are searching and weary, like he hasn't been sleeping so well lately either.

"I was getting into bare-knuckle brawls with guys twice my size when you were still in junior high," Lex says softly. "I know I fight dirty, Clark. I... I need to see what I did." Impatience sharpens his tone when Clark looks away. "You know if you don't show me, I'm just going to imagine the worst and feel like more of an asshole than I already do."

"All right!" Clark moves away from Lex, crossing into the middle of the loft, and reaches for the top button of his flannel. He can do this. No big deal. It's not like Lex is going to... touch him, or anything. They're just friends, and friends worry. Clark can understand that. It's not like he hasn't checked Lex over for bruises. It's just that Lex didn't know about it at the time. After Level Three, Lex didn't want the paramedics to look at him, and Clark practically had to see for himself. He did it again when Jeff attacked Lex at the castle. Checking out Lex's ribs when he coughed, scanning the fragile curve of his skull when he rubbed at the back of his neck. So yeah, Clark knows exactly what that feels like. Needing to know.

And maybe he should have acted a little more surprised when that doctor friend of Lex's started talking about knife wounds and stitches. But thanks to the wonders of x-ray vision and Lex's tendency to get the stuffing beaten out of him on a frighteningly regular basis, Clark was already familiar with the jagged, ugly scar on Lex's thigh. Add the things Phelan had said, or implied... well, he'd kinda put two and two together before Toby ever said anything about it.

The top button slips between Clark's fingers and all of a sudden his collar feels like it's choking him. Note to self. Slightly questionable use of special gifts, the sleek muscles of Lex's legs... probably not the best stuff to be thinking about right now. When Lex is looking at him. Watching him. Watching Clark take off his clothes.

Circling around in front of him. The expression on his face is avid. Wary. Vaguely hungry, but that's just the way Lex always looks.

He works a couple more of the buttons open, and his shirt falls apart just enough to reveal the fist-size bruise right in the middle of his chest. Lex's mouth tightens, and he squints a little, like it hurts him to see.

Clark stops, because it hurts him too when Lex looks like that. He sees it too much, is the cause of it far too often. Lex just presses his lips together, though, and reaches out, taking over where Clark left off. Three more buttons. All the way down, and open. Lex's fingers brush against the waist of his jeans, and Clark jerks a little. Bites his tongue.

Still frowning, Lex reaches up and pushes Clark's shirt back. It slips off over his shoulders and Clark lowers his head, busying himself by stripping the shirt the rest of the way off, pulling the sleeves off over his wrists. He balls up the inside-out shirt in his hands and clutches it in front of him. He's embarrassed to be half-naked, but glad to have something to hold in front of his crotch. Just in case.

"Christ," Lex whispers, circling Clark slowly. He laughs breathlessly when he gets around far enough to search Clark's eyes again. "What'd I do, try to beat you to death? What... what made these marks, my shoes?"


Lex is staring down at his hands in horror, not listening. "A fucking baseball bat? A rock?"

"I knew it wasn't you, Lex!" He grabs Lex's arm, waiting till Lex meets his eyes again, then gives him a pleading look. It feels... familiar. Awful. Clark tries to make Lex believe a lot of things. At least this time it's the truth. He sighs. Some of the truth, anyway. "You said I wasn't really your friend."

"I'm... I'm sorry." Lex's eyes dart away from Clark's body.

"Lex." Clark feels a smile edging out. "That's how I knew it wasn't you."

"Ah." Lex laughs again, short and sharp. "That and the part where I knocked you down and beat the living shit out of you, right?"

"Well, yeah, that too." Clark rolls his eyes. "Come on, Lex, meet me halfway, okay? It's just a couple bruises, and I heal fast. No big deal."

Lex narrows his eyes skeptically, and pokes the bruise on his breastbone.

"Owww!" Clark winces and steps back. "Okay, it's gonna be a big deal if you keep doing that." He shakes out his shirt, scowling at the inside-out sleeves. He does heal fast, and he's not going to let Lex torture himself over bruises that'll probably be gone tomorrow. "Look, you said you were sorry and I forgive you already. So unless you want to kiss 'em all better, I'm just going to put my shirt back on and--"

"What?" Lex laughs. And then stops laughing. Clark freezes. Oh god. He doesn't raise his head, he can't, just looks up at Lex from under his bangs. God, he's blushing, he can feel it, feel the hot prickle creeping up the back of his neck. Kiss them all better? How dorky can he possibly be?

"I didn't mean that, I meant..." Clark stops, shocked silent by the raw pain in Lex's eyes as he inhales, then moves in close like he can't bear not to. He smells of leather, and metal, and some very faint, very subtly sharp cologne Clark can't identify.

He studies the flawless curve of Lex's skull as Lex brushes his mouth across the bruise on Clark's left shoulder. Soft and dry and barely a kiss at all, really, and Clark closes his eyes, trying to breathe without panting. His flannel shirt drags across the floor as he lowers his hand, and he lets go of it without another thought.

He's never felt more naked. Every inch of skin feels alive, from his prickling scalp to his toes, curling inside his boots. All he can do is stand still and listen to Lex's shoes scuffing against the floorboards. He's circling Clark a little more slowly this time. A little more... deliberately. Standing behind Clark, he puts his hands on Clark's waist. Touching denim, not skin, but it still sends a shudder through Clark's body.

Clark can hear Lex breathing like it's the only sound in the world. Can almost feel Lex's breath against the back of his neck. Lex's hands shift a little on his waist as he leans in to brush his lips against Clark's left shoulder blade. There are eight bruises on his back. They all ache.

Lex begins to kiss them, slowly and carefully, one by one. And it kind of stings and it kind of tingles and Clark hasn't been bruised in years, hasn't been touched like this ever and maybe that's why it feels so strange. So good. Lex's mouth is light and cool against the hot bruises, brushing over Clark's right shoulder blade, and then under it. Down his spine, one, two, three. Just above his kidneys, the back of his shoulder, and Clark thinks about scrabbling for his shirt before Lex gets around to his front again, but that would just make things way too obvious, and then Lex... purrs against the last bruise and it's way too late.

"Mm." His voice is like a physical caress, like a whole different kind of kiss. Clark squeezes his eyes shut tight against the full-body prickle that sweeps from head to toe as Lex speaks against his skin. "What's that taste?"

Sunlight spills over Clark's face as he turns his head towards Lex's voice. The world is brilliant red through his shuttered eyelids, brighter than fire. "Witch hazel. It's... my mom uses it for antiseptic. Ah," he stutters, eyes opening wide as Lex opens his mouth, breathes hot and then licks gently across the aching skin. "It's, it's also poisonous."

"...what?" The sound of Lex, honestly thrown, is so rare that Clark has to laugh. He turns to see Lex grimacing, licking his own hand, trying to get the taste off his tongue. He glances up at Clark over his hand, eyes amused. Clark smirks.

"I think so, anyway." He grins, and after a second, Lex smiles back, looking Clark up and down. His eyes linger on Clark's arousal, obvious without an untucked flannel shirt to hide it. And Lex is grinning when he meets Clark's eyes again.

"Better?" he asks. Clark can only nod, and try not to gape too much as Lex moves in, wrapping his arms around Clark's neck and smiling up at him. Smiling like he means it, now. "So is that all?"


"The bruises... is that all of them?" Lex smirks a little, and Clark relaxes, sliding his hands under Lex's coat and around his waist. Bends his head a little to inhale next to Lex's scalp. "You don't need to be kissed anywhere else?"

"Uh. No. I mean, I don't know if you really need to." Clark's eyes go wide as Lex kisses his jaw, hard. Pressure, warmth, and a hint of teeth, in shocking contrast to every other touch so far.

"Your parents probably dislike me more than ever now, don't they," Lex murmurs against his skin, and then laughs ruefully at Clark's puzzled look. Traces around the bruise on Clark's shoulder with one finger. "Me, I'd want to kill anyone who did something like this to you."

"They understand it really wasn't you, Lex," Clark insists, softly. "Just like Dad selling the farm. It wasn't really him." He pulls Lex in closer, and Lex sighs against his neck. It's scary to even think it, like losing the farm all over again-- but right here, right now, Clark doesn't give a damn what his parents might say. Lex... Lex is everything he's ever wanted. Lex is a freak like Clark, and Lex wants him, and Clark can't imagine ever giving this up. He winces as one of the buttons on Lex's coat presses into the bruise in the middle of his chest. "Ow."

"Sorry." Lex says into his neck.

"S'okay. You could... you could take this off," Clark mumbles daringly, snaking a hand between them to tug at the lapel of Lex's coat.

"I could." Lex laughs. "Or, you could get dressed." Clark blinks as Lex scoops up his shirt, shakes off the dust, then pushes it into his hands. "Clark." Lex says softly, taking Clark's hand as their knuckles brush together. "Forget the bruises. Your parents really would hate me for this."

Clark opens his mouth, but he can't really argue with that. Lex smiles crookedly and puts a hand on his face, the tips of his fingers barely sliding into Clark's hair. "And... there's Victoria."

"Oh." Of course there's Victoria. God, Lex is letting him down easy, isn't he? That's what this is. Christ, Clark's stupid. How could he ever compete with someone as gorgeous as her? He clutches his shirt in both hands, feeling cold and clumsy and stupid, and Lex's thumb strokes over his cheekbone.

"I don't care about her, Clark. And she's never cared enough about anyone to be the jealous type," Lex says, meeting Clark's eyes. "But when I'm with you... I don't want to have to think about Victoria. I don't want to be thinking about anything but you."

Clark swallows. "You... you want to be with me, Lex?"

"I want you. Yes." Lex watches his face. "Is that what you want?"

He turns his face into Lex's hand and brushes his mouth against Lex's wrist. Nods once, unable to speak, and Lex's mouth curves into a smile.

"Then it's settled. Can you give me time?"

"How much time?" Clark asks doubtfully, and Lex tilts his head.

"Two weeks should do it." He meets Clark's eyes again. "Let me take care of business... let the bruises fade. Then come by the castle, and tell me what you think of Atticus Finch."

It's not exactly like his dreams, but it's close enough. Clark feels like he should say something meaningful, something smooth, and he wishes he could be as suave as Lex for just one second. But he can't think of anything better than just, "Okay."

Lex nods once, and turns to go. Slowly, Clark pulls on his flannel, watching Lex descend the stairs out of the corner of his eye. A thought strikes, and he leaves it unbuttoned and jogs down the stairs after Lex, catching him as he reaches the barn door.

"Lex?" He bites his lip, and Lex studies him curiously, one hand resting on the latch of the door. It may be stupid, but Clark has to ask. He knows why he needs Lex. But. "Why do you want to be with me?"

Lex smiles placidly, unreadable as ever. "We could do great things together, Clark."

Clark hesitates, lips slightly parted. Strange. Kyle Tippet said that too, just last night. He said Clark should use his gifts to do great things. Of course, Kyle was standing over a dead body at the time... The memory fades as Lex reaches over and slips his hand into Clark's open shirt, sliding his fingertips casually over Clark's bare skin. Clark shivers, tossing his head back a little.

"You make me forget." Lex says, his head bent, sounding almost lost in thought. "About the world, this town, my father. There's just you. And the way you see me... it's different. Better than I am."

"You aren't..." Clark frowns again. Impossible to know how much of what Lex said last night was true, and how much was Rickman's influence, but... "My parents really don't hate you, Lex."

"Yeah, well." Lex says softly, his fingers tracing the curve of Clark's ribs. "Give it time."


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