A Memory of Waking

by jenn

Summary: On a bridge, in the night, down a country road, beside an old house. He doesn't have to know what he's seeing to know what he's feeling.

Author Notes: Blackfall, Koi, Caro, Nifra and Bethy, who encouraged, inspired, and also, pushed.

It's late.

Night's like pitch with no moon, headlights cutting through with thick swathes of white, illuminating asphalt and the dead fields of high summer. Two hundred seventeen miles outside Metropolis, farther than he's chosen to drive in years.

Urban sprawl is far from here. Just night and thickness and an endless heat the air conditioner can't begin to penetrate, sweat popping up beneath the suit, slicking silk against him like a second skin.

The country's always been like this--you could drive forever and never see the end, lose yourself in back country roads that twist and wind in on themselves like a riddle that doesn't have a solution, and he can remember driving them for hours in his youth. When Lex was just Lex and he loved his cars and he loved his freedom.

A stutter on the gas pedal, a second taken out of time....

*"I could have sworn I hit you."*

And the car slows, Lex isn't sure why his foot shifts to the brake, sliding him onto a bridge that's never existed anywhere but in his mind for more years than he can count. The sputter of the engine drags his attention briefly to the fuel meter, long enough to register empty, not quite enough to care.

Getting out, his feet encounter the dusty asphalt of the drought-stricken rural district, and he remembers the reports on his desk, stacked one foot high with dry numbers and suggestions of sale. Office interpersonal fighting and the day-to-day drudgery of corporate politics--somehow, the slow death of Kansas' breadbasket hadn't penetrated the haze of endless work.

Different in the hot, dry air. He thinks of the cool of his penthouse and the soft silk of his sheets, the warm body of his wife, the woman who's shared his bed and his ambitions but never touched his life.

He's never wanted her to, and now, he's not sure that he remembers why.

A few dusty steps before his feet encounter steel-reinforced beams beneath wood, the metal handrails of a bridge that he can draw from memory. It decorates the edges of notebooks beneath squiggled lines of code, snatches of Greek tragedy and Walt Whitman that he entertains himself with during board meetings and long negotiations with endless corporate giants.

It needs work, he thinks, gloved hand closing over the rail, fingers circling curiously, feeling the settle of warm metal through the leather. Cracks in plaster and concrete, and the bolt's rusty and worn. He pulls experimentally and feels the sway, lets his body echo it when he closes his eyes.

Lets himself feel it, just this moment, this second, with nothing but the wind whistling over the fields and the quiet of water moving sluggishly beneath. A trickle, not a stream, not a river.

"I want--" he hears himself whisper, and the whole world seems to stop when he says it, wind dying to nothing, the fall of dirt back to the earth; wondering if he can finally answer this question to himself. No words follow, and the world picks up again like it never left off.

Child's folly, to think the sun rises and sets on his whim. He's years from being the kid who believed he could do anything.

*"If you had, I'd be dead."*

He dreams of water, though. Like this.

A bridge, a car, and water, surrounding him. Thick and cold and dark, steering wheel against his chest, and no air. Clawing toward light and something--with warm, soft dirt beneath him, a warm, living body above him, and God, so much want it's an ache that will never go--

This. Sharp metal and earthy, green-brown color-taste that slicks his tongue, and the chase of sweetness behind like an afterthought. His palm flattens on the rail, measured steps with closed eyes, listening to the water move beneath and capturing it even as it disappears into the recesses of memory.

Turning to rest his elbows on the rail, he stares into the muddy water far below. Insanity starts with so much less, but he remembers this dream like he remembers so little of reality. His wife's name has never been this close.

The sharp cut of headlights makes him wince, and he turns to watch as an old truck comes to a slow stop, lumbering behemoth beside the slim Porsche. Lex doesn't move--he's not sure he can, and if ever a vehicle could hesitate, this one did, tires restless and inertia pulling them away.

When the engine cuts off, Lex breathes again and straightens, blinking as the truck door opens. A thousand worst-case scenarios come and go, he's one of the richest men in America and he's alone on a country road, vulnerable, he left everything behind and even the gun pressed against his thigh doesn't seem the protection it should be.

Strangely, he doesn't reach for it.

The figure's tall, broad, typical country hick, and Lex can trace the lines of flannel and denim long before he sees the face. Strange, how his fingers think they know the feel of that shirt even when they don't, leather thumb rasping against his palm.

"Car problems?" It's a low voice, rich undercurrents of Kansas and summer nights, and his mind takes off in a thousand tangents at the catch of vowels, wondering what his name would sound like on that mouth. He doesn't even realize he's holding the railing too hard until it snaps, fucking hand and its strength, balance shot to hell, and when the green eyes materialize in a face he's never seen, he...forgets.

Forgets the bridge and the water and the heights he hates, forgets to smile and speak, forgets his name and his place, and the too-fast arm around his waist is like the ground, stable and unbending and solid. A turn of his head shows he's inches from his own death, and he thinks that perhaps he should care.

*"You saved my life."*

Thinks this man shouldn't, but the grip's personal and holds him effortlessly, warm and strong through silk and cotton.

"Whoa." It's an afterthought, breathed into the air like a breeze, and Lex only nods, letting himself be set back on his feet while the man steps back. Feet between them when there were only inches, and Lex clenches his hands to keep from reaching out. "I--sorry. You looked like you were going to fall."

I was. I have. Before. Lex bites the words away. "My car seems to be having problems."

The dark head tilts. Even in this kind of light, Lex should be recognizable if the man's ever been to Metropolis, and he's waiting for the hitched breath and widened eyes, the stumbling words that greet him wherever his father's name falls. Nothing. "Sorry to hear it. Do you need a ride?"

Lex takes a breath and a step at the same time. Like walking a tightrope a thousand miles above the ground. He's not sure what he's doing or why. "I could use a phone."

The dark head nods slowly, and Lex watches the headlights fill the green eyes with light before a big hand slips out. "Clark Kent. I live nearby, if you don't mind leaving your car."

Hard palm, strong, wrapping around Lex's hand in endless gentleness. "Alexander Thorul. Thank you.."

He remembers a farmhouse.

Little sun-yellow cliche, set back in beds of summer flowers before a burnt yellow-brown lawn. An ancient swing rocks lazily in the hot breeze that ruffles the man's hair--Clark's hair. Old, worn stone marks the path to the whitewashed porch. Behind it, Lex can see the silent fields that once boasted crops, burned down to bare dirt beneath the merciless drought. Clark's big and bracing as the proximity lights come on--jarring technology surrounded by nostalgia. There are ancient chintz curtains fluttering in the windows and the kitchen light is on. Lex wonders who is waiting for Clark within.

The porch groans beneath their weight, and Lex finds himself walking softly, as if the boards will reject him on principle, and he only looks away at the loud clatter of the screen door, worn netting showing the holes of time and use. Clark throws him a grin as bright as the warm yellow light pooling at Lex's feet.

There's a momentary hesitation--only a second, and Lex watches Clark slip off big, dusty workboots, leaving them on the porch outside the door. A glance over a checkered shoulder. "She hated it when I tracked dirt into the house."


Lex nods and his body stops where Clark's did, dusty black leather matched beside worn brown, padding on thinly socked feet into the kitchen. No cooler than outside, but the slow buzz of an electric fan sends air across Lex's face, and he closes his eyes as the sweat dries away.

"Can I get you something to drink?" Lex opens his eyes on Clark, leaning into an old-fashioned, latched refrigerator. Inside are containers of various sizes and uses, and Clark picks up one, raising it to his mouth. Milk, thick and white, the kind that's fresh and delivered directly from farms.

Strange visions of fields of cows, dipping into the ground like artifacts of a completely different world. Lex nods and takes another step into the kitchen, letting the door rattle closed behind him.

"Water will be fine."

Clark grins back at him, a white mustache across his upper lip that he licks away. Lex watches the soft pink tongue track golden skin. Not so much the bucolic farmer, even surrounded in country-chic, and younger than he thought. Reaching into the refrigerator with one long arm, Clark pulls out a gallon jug and then opens the freezer. Lacking anything better to do, Lex leans into the counter by the door, looking down at the well-worn vinyl beneath his socks. Vivid contrast of black silk, perhaps like his appearance in this kitchen.

"I'm sorry if I'm disturbing your night," Lex says, eyes fixing on the golden band circling Clark's fourth finger. "Or your wife."

The faintest stiffness of a broad back. Flannel seems to freeze, stone-still, and there's the unmistakable sound of fumbling plastic before the tray falls to the floor. Another too-fast movement, and Lex is faced with a forced smile stretching lips paled to white.

"You're--not. She died a few years ago."

"I'm sorry."

Clark nods and takes the tray to the sink, dumping it with the clatter of breaking ice cubes on porcelain, returning for another one. It's all written in the tight knot of his shoulders beneath the flannel, the unmistakable trembling of broad hands as he pours Lex's glass and adds the ice, but when he turns around, nothing except pleasant affability shows on his face.

Peasant, his father might say, but Lex tunes the voice away from habit and takes the glass Clark extends. A brush of fingers against his, accidental and meaningless, but Lex feels the burn as he pulls away, taking a slow drink. "The phone's by the refrigerator," Clark says slowly, and Lex thinks he understands the message. He'll leave now, before he touches another wound.

If there's one thing he does well, it's causing hurt.

Discreetly, Clark excuses himself upstairs, and Lex watches him leave before padding to the phone, lifting up the receiver. Scratch of a dial tone on the backs of his ears; bad phone lines. He closes his eyes as he dials the number from memory.

No surprise, the voice on the answering machine is his own, cool and impersonal. His wife is out for the night, at the dinner party he'd left hours before. Smoothing over his departure with graceful words and fluttering smiles, wounded eyes watching the door for him to return. He'll see those eyes when he gets home, asking questions she'll never voice.

An endlessly disappointing husband for an endlessly disappointed wife. He shouldn't be surprised. He's good at that, too.

Leaving the message, Lex hangs up the phone. He could call any number of people and demand a ride, but all the numbers seem to vanish from his head and the dayplanner is in the glove compartment where he left it.

"Wasn't home?" Clark's too close--Lex should have felt him approach but didn't, and he turns to find him a breath away. Flannel stripped away, the t-shirt beneath fresh from the drawer. Overgrown dark hair brushed neatly back. The big hand that touches the wall near his head is damp, and Lex thinks of Clark upstairs, cleaning up quickly to greet his unexpected guest.

He makes it easy to tell the truth. "It looks like it. Do you know a towing service around here--"

Clark grins. "Nope. This is Smallville--the world rolls up at eight."

Lex feels himself begin to smile. "When did I leave civilization?" He picks up the forgotten water, taking a sip, needing to do something with his hands. The fresh smell of soap from Clark's skin is addictive and too close. And Clark draws away too soon.

"Probably wherever you got your car. Did you leave the number here--" Clark stops, shaking his head. "And I left without telling you."

"She should be home in a few hours." Morning at the earliest. A shoulder pressed to a soft beige wall, Lex feels Clark's gaze on him, curious and questioning. "Surely there's a hotel--"

"There's a guest bedroom with clean sheets," Clark answers firmly, a teasing smile lighting up his face. "I was raised better than that."

Of course. Lex imagines a flash of red hair and a smile that had never been turned on him before Clark turns away, and the echoes of memory fade even as Clark opens the refrigerator door again. "Is there anything you need out of your car?"

Nothing he thinks he'll miss. "No." Left alone on a bridge in the dark, it will be lucky to survive the night. Lex curiously finds himself not caring. Pulling off his gloves, he slips them into his pockets and crosses to the small table.

"Sorry, I don't have much--" Muffled before Clark turns back around. "I don't do much shopping." He returns with pre-made sandwiches under plastic wrap. "Ms Potter sends them when she thinks I'm about to starve."

"Not a good cook?" Lex is. He learned in college.

Clark grins as he sits down across from Lex at the worn kitchen table, a glass of milk at his elbow. "Never learned. I--Lana used to love to do it. She and my mother--" Clark stops, shaking his head like he's clearing invisible cobwebs. "Sorry."

"No. Lana was your wife?" Clark left him an opening the size of a jet plane. He reaches into it because that's what he does. Curiosity he rarely lets himself feel is slipping its tether, and Lex watches green eyes darken with remembered pain.

"Fifteen years last week." Clark blinks, looking down at the plate before peeling away the cellophane with big, steady fingers. Relaxing in some nearly imperceptible way when he looks into Lex's eyes, shy and sweet. "She and I--sort of high school sweethearts."

Lex nods, letting the platitudes slide away from his conscious mind. "That's very romantic." Still a cliche, but at least he thinks he's navigating the conversation better. A sandwich gives his hands something to do, his mouth an occupation. He's never liked small talk that doesn't involve ancient history or corporate takeovers.


Me? That's a question. He explores it, trying the edges of possible responses that don't sound crude in this bright, warm room. I don't know. I don't know her, and I don't know that I ever wanted to. She married me for money and I married her for ambition. She dances well and can play the piano. We dated for two years before we were married. I still don't remember her middle name. Sometimes, I don't even remember what she looks like. "We've been married for fourteen years." He's not sure when their anniversary is.

There was a cake and presents, he remembers, piled high on a graceful antique table that had belonged to his mother. He'd kept looking out the door of the Church. When he'd asked when his best man would arrive, his father had looked quizzical and disgusted at once. Stupid Lex, he's right behind you.

Eternal minutes before he recognized Bruce in his Armani suit, watching him from behind dark, unreadable eyes.

"She and I--there was never anyone else." Clark's eyes are fixed on the plate with a shy blush. A blush, for Christ's sake, rippling color over high cheekbones, and Lex can see the reflection of a thousand happy memories in the clear green.

"I know the feeling." Lex looks at the crust of bread that remains in one hand. "Smallville." He tastes the word on his tongue, feeling the roll of vowels over his lips. It's recognition and strange all at once.

"Ghost town," Clark answers without bitterness, picking up another sandwich. Lifting it up, he looks at Lex over the top of smooth homemade bread. "After the plant shut down, everyone--started drifting away."


"LuthorCorp, went down a few years ago." Clark shrugs and Lex closes his eyes to hide the expression in them, picking up a sandwich to hide the trembling in his hands. "I mean, it was bound to happen, after all the accidents." Yes, the accidents. Lex takes a bite and can't taste the home-cured ham. "So we're back to the soil again."

"You're a farmer?"

"Raised by the best." Clark smiles wistfully. "Organic. My dad like his dad--you get the idea."

Fathers always have such hopes for their kids, planning their futures like signposts are needed to get it right. Lex wonders when he started falling short. Maybe at birth "This their farm?"

Clark nods. "Yeah."

The silence isn't uncomfortable, and Lex lets it stretch, broken only by the furtive crinkle of cellophane, the soft sounds of glasses being raised and lowered. He's used to imported water and a gourmet cook, but food's never been his passion.

He's beyond wondering what his passion was supposed to be.

The television's familiar, at least, and Lex sits on the opposite side of the couch from Clark, pretty images of reality dancing across his vision briefly before the evening news again. Clark gives him a beer, long necked and cold, and he drinks without thinking, rough burn on the back of his mouth, unaccustomed to alcohol not sold by the thousand dollar. The cushions are lumpy beneath the lovingly crocheted afghan, and Lex wonders if Lana was the one who had made it.

"So--what do you do?" Clark asks over the newscaster's solemn predictions of future drought over the third beer, and Lex takes a drink from the bottle. What does he do? He's his father's glorified assistant and henchman, at the best of times. At the worst, the scapegoat of every failure. Lex closes his eyes as he takes a slow, careful drink. "Acquisitions and mergers. Mostly telecommunications."

"Oh." It's clear that Clark doesn't know what that means, and Lex thinks he probably doesn't either. Another drink to explain the silence, and then Lex lets the deceptive comfort loosen his tongue. Unforgivable, his father might say, but he hears his father in stereo all the time and doesn't need him here as well. It'll be soon enough before the real thing.

"Paper-pusher." He gives Clark a calculated grin to relax him and gets the same back, free and clear. Jesus, those smiles. Like a light turned on inside, and Lex thinks he's never seen anything like it. "Boring, really. Years ago, I almost had to--" Come out to a place like this. No. That's too much. "Had a different career track. But I think this suits me better."

Clark nods over his bottle as if in agreement. "I--well. I went to MetU for a while. But something always called me back here." Unconsciously, one hand touches his ring, fingers stroking over the gold as if it's the most precious thing on earth. "My dad--he wasn't so sure, but--I like the land."

Lex nods along with him, feeling like an idiot for doing it, and realizes his bottle is empty. Clark gets up with the kind of effortless grace he's only seen in dancers, plucking the bottle from his hand and going into the kitchen, returning with two more. When he sits down, he seems to be closer.

It could be Lex's imagination.

"Did you always want to be a farmer?" The question slips out, natural, and Clark shakes his head with another one of those grins.

"Nope." Twisting the top off effortlessly, Clark takes a long swallow, long golden throat stretched, and Lex's eyes linger on the pulse point, the skin just visible at the juncture of neck and shoulder. "For a while, I wanted--this'll sound stupid."

"I wanted to be president," Lex counters, and four and a half beers can't be enough for a buzz, but tonight, none of the rules apply. "Beat that."

"A writer." Clark flushes, but his body turns toward Lex. Cherry-red cheeks and brilliant eyes. What is he doing in Smallville, whatever the hell this place is? "Journalist, maybe. I--worked on the high school paper, at the university paper too. It was great. It just--turned out it wasn't what I wanted to do with my life."

Lex doesn't glance at the wedding band, doesn't need to see unconscious fingers rubbing it again, as if for luck. Some kind of special morse code.

"Yeah." Lex breathes out slowly, thinking of being eighteen and thinking he'd one day run the world by thirty. "I had a few times like that. Were you any good?"

Clark shakes his head. "Not really. A girl I went to school with--Chloe Sullivan. You may have heard of her."

Lex nods slowly, building the visual. Short blonde hair. Too many questions for LuthorCorp executives and PR. Relentless. She's always left him alone. She has an unerring nose for finding the real power and knowing the right questions to ask. "Yes."

"She was great. She used to--God, you wouldn't believe some of the stuff she--thought up." Almost as if he'd betrayed something, Clark takes another drink, sinking into the sofa. "She visits sometimes. Tries to convince me to come to Metropolis."

Clark in Metropolis. All that wide-eyed--God, what was the word? Innocence isn't quite right, but Lex can't find the right one.

"I like it here." Clark's voice is quiet. "Smallville is home."

There's no answer to that, so Lex only nods and drinks again. Definitely buzzed, a soft golden cover on this quaint reality of a shabby country living room, drinking with a man he met only hours before. Surreal doesn't begin to describe it. "Any kids?" Maybe he's better at small talk than he thought.

Clark shakes his head, the light dimming as suddenly as a quenched candle, and Lex bits his lip before he looks away. "No."

"Me either." She'd been tested. He'd been tested. God, and he'd spent more time studying the latest in technology stocks than the analyses from the doctors. Reading lab reports isn't his forte--he's not sure anymore if he'd even understand the terminology, despite the degree that's hung on the wall behind his desk. Pushing the thought aside, Lex takes a thoughtful drink. "I suppose it's for the best."

Clark nods along with him, eyes turned down, tight around his mouth. "Lana--wanted children. We talked about adoption, but--" His voice stops. "Too complicated."

Too complicated, bringing a child into his world. Lex thought of the home pregnancy tests he found in their bathroom, stuffed in the bottom of a trash can. They appear less and less as time goes on. "Yeah."

They're both drinking to keep from talking, and it almost makes Lex smile. Something about being able to confide in strangers what he'd never say to intimates, to friends, to acquaintances at those country club dinners and golf games. Clark's become a sprawl against the opposite corner of the couch, staring at his bottle as if it has all the secrets in the world buried in the liquid.

"I--" Clark stops, looking up from beneath a fall of unruly bangs. The efforts at grooming were wasted, but Lex likes the rumpled prettiness more. A kid looked back at him, making him feel suddenly younger than forty, more reckless, more--something. He'd driven the Porsche at sixty miles an hour on deserted roads. A decade ago, he'd have broke a hundred and never noticed.

"I've never been drunk on beer," Lex says thoughtfully, and Clark blinks at him. A sleepily tilt of his head that makes him seem even younger, one denim leg pulled up beneath him. Lex notices his socks are a spotless white. He changed socks while upstairs. It's endearing, in a way that he's never going to try and work out.

"What's your usual?" Clark's head is sinking into his arm, braced on the back of the sofa. "From the car--what, million dollar whiskey?"

"Please." Five hundred dollar brandy. At least. Lex almost says it, but the teasing lift of Clark's lips drives the thought away. "Tell me about your wife." He knows a man who wants to talk when he sees one.

Clark lifts his beer, glaring at the contents. "I'm not that drunk."

Lex snickers softly. He is. "One more beer do it?"

That brings a laugh, low and rippling, and Lex thinks he'd sell his stock to hear that again. "That should do it."

Keeping the clear green eyes locked on his, Lex finishes his bottle. "Get us another one."

"...I used to try and write her poetry." Clark's a marvel of uncoordinated delight, grinning up at the ceiling, loose sprawl of limbs on the couch, head only inches from Lex's knee. "It was so bad. Pete would laugh himself sick when he saw it."

"Your bad poetry did the trick?" There are bottles on the floor, and Lex has stopped trying to count them.

"Not really. I think she felt sorry for me in the end." Clark's grin fades, but the light doesn't. Lex could bask in this--he's never seen anything like it, felt it. Almost indecent, to watch this, let himself be pulled into Clark's simple, happy memories. "We--after a while, it just happened. And--" Clark sighs softly, eyes far, far away, seeing something Lex doesn't. "We--I think I knew the first time I saw her. Everything was easy after that, when we--" A blush. He must have them stored somewhere, but Lex can't imagine where or how. Bright, hot color that Lex wants to feel, find out if it can possibly be that warm, that real. "She made everything so easy."

"How?" He takes another drink, splashing some on his sleeve. Somewhere along the line, his coat disappeared along with his cufflinks. Loose silk caresses his arm with every movement. Curled into the couch's corner, it doesn't seem that strange.

"Staying here." A soft, dreamy lightness. Clark is very drunk. Very, very drunk. "It--she loved Smallville. She didn't want to leave. Hated Metropolis all the time we were there."

"Ah." Lex tries to imagine caring for someone enough to leave a dream behind. Like imagining a green sky and his father being benevolent. Impossible. Lex takes another drink, washing the bitterness of the thoughts away.

"She loved being here. When--when she came here, after we were married--it was so perfect. She loved the farm. She raised horses, did I tell you that?" Yes, once. Lex smiles, one hand sliding absently down his thigh, resting too close to soft-looking hair. "We used to race over the fields at night, when no one was around. It made her uncomfortable sometimes, but that was okay. She loved that." Clark's voice trails off into a sigh. "Not the other stuff, but that was okay."

"Other stuff?"

Something comes aware in the clear green, and for a second, Lex thinks he sees--something. Flash of clarity breaking the alcohol-induced haze, the first stiffening of Clerk's body, and he doesn't want that. Questions are trying to push their way into the forefront of his mind, but he gets rid of them quickly, shaking his head to thicken the fog. Better. Much better. "She must have been good."

"On a horse? Yeah." Clark's smile returns in degrees, expression fading again into memory. "We'd go to this place outside town and dance. She loved doing that." A soft sigh. "She thought money would be a problem, but--I could take care of her. I wanted to. I always wanted to."

"My wife rides." It falls out by accident--Clark twists his neck to look up at Lex, and he could be a sweet sixteen, red lips and curious smile. "Dressage. That's how we met."

"Really?" Clark looks interested, but Lex shakes his head.

"It's not very interesting. We met at a riding competition in Metropolis. I liked how she sat on a horse. She liked my prospects." That sounds--bad. Lex bites his tongue too late, but Clark is turning, a puppy-roll onto his stomach, coming up on shaky elbows with a curious expression. "It's--different."

"You--you've been married a long time."

Yes, a long time. Lex remembers taking her to clubs and fucking her against the wall between hits--God, to be twenty-one and stupid. Back in Metropolis for a year before his father freed him again, having come to heel like a good boy, barely missing exile to the boondocks of--God, had it been Smallville? It's been too long. It could have been any tiny town anywhere in America, but he likes to think it was here. Imagining meeting this boy.

A discordant jangle of keys, and they feel cold in his hand.

*"I can't keep it, Lex."*

When he looks, there's nothing in his palm. Sticky as cobwebs, something trails soft and sweet across his mind, leaving the impression of wide green eyes in a younger face. Yes, that's what Clark would have looked like then. High school, maybe. Awkward with too-long limbs, but dressed like this. We have a destiny together.

*"We have a destiny, Clark."*

The warm touch of a palm draws him back, golden haze of alcohol slipping around him, sweeping the memories away as neatly as a broom. Lex blinks, looking down to see Clark's thoughtful eyes.

"A long time," Lex says softly, turning his gaze away. It's hard to look at Clark--this kid he doesn't know keeps looking back and he doesn't know why.

"Maybe you should call and leave her the number where you are," Clark says, almost soberly if you could forgive the angle of his head, endearingly sincere. "She'll be worried if you don't come home."

"No, she won't." She'll think I'm fucking my secretary, and she'd be right any other night. Or the new executive VP who gets all her career moves from her bedroom moves, and God, she'll be getting another promotion soon if I put in that recommendation based on her mouth and what she can do on it.

Clark doesn't answer. Lex doesn't want to look and see--anything in Clark's face. Disgust or surprise, or even wide-eyed shock, wondering what he could mean, maybe telling him he's wrong when he knows he's not. The stillness draws his eyes, though, and Clark isn't looking at him at all.

"She hated it when I left her alone." There's a low, quiet intensity that hasn't been there before, and Lex is frozen, listening. "She--she'd cry herself to sleep at night when I was gone, even if I called."

Inexpressibly fragile, and Lex loses the battle, reaching out to touch. Just his hair, nothing too wrong with that, and he's drunk and has all the excuse in the world.

"She must have loved you very much."

"I--she did." Clark's gaze lifts, as if something is being torn free inside him with every word. He doesn't seem to notice Lex's fingers, brushing slow strokes through fine, tangling strands. As soft as it looks. "She made me promise, finally, never to leave her again. It was the only thing--the only thing she really needed from me, for me to be here for her. I couldn't deny her that, not--not for anything. I'm glad I did. It made her happy and she--lost so much. She didn't deserve that, too."

Lena had asked for everything. Did he love her like that? Lex can't remember. He remembers the first time they fucked, but then, he'd almost thought it was different. How she twined around him and breathed into him and told him she loved him and that she would save him from himself, that together they could do anything, be anything. Fall of chocolate dark hair over his body and he'd believed her, believed everything she said.

Not quite the man she expected to marry now, certainly not the one who promised her anything she wanted if she'd only stay, wanting every second he could have from her, every touch, every look, every breath.

He'd loved her, then. This bright flare of brilliant light that somehow, never lasted. His obsessions never did. He should have known that.

"You were very lucky."

Clark pauses, like something Lex said didn't quite make sense in his head. "Yeah. I suppose I was."

"Like a fairy tale," Lex hears himself say, maudlin, Dad murmurs, but beer chases him away and Lex takes another drink just to keep him back. Like a myth of true love. Who believes in that, and God, who would, anywhere but here?

"..the stuff of legends," Lex says softly, taking another drink. The phrase rolls through his head. It would be the stuff of legends.

Clark smiles then, a lift to the corners of his mouth that's so familiar Lex begins to smile back. "The friendship?"

*"You think we'll end up like that, Lex?"*

Green eyes and a fall of dark hair and a full mooned night. Lex's breath catches in his throat and he doesn't know why. He's not sure he even cares.


Clark stares back. Alcohol is washed away, or maybe it just makes it stronger, and he curls his fingers in the dark hair and pulls, just a little, just enough, wants to see into the pools of green. Huge and asking questions he can't understand enough to answer.

Close enough to breathe in beer and cheap laundry detergent and a night spent outside. Clean skin and shampoo and--. "Trust me, Clark."

*"Trust me, Clark. Our friendship will be the stuff of legends."*

The taste is sour and bitter and so good Lex forgets to breathe. Clark doesn't even try to draw away, this open and curious boy who read in a quiet loft and smiled when he came up the stairs. I don't understand, Lex would have said, but he doesn't have to know what he's seeing to know what he's feeling.

Doesn't understand why the pretty boy kisses him back, hesitant, all first-time unsure with a warm, soft tongue and wide, glazed eyes. Too young to know to close your eyes because it makes it easier to pretend, and Lex doesn't look away. His heart's pounding and stomach clenching like he might throw up, and he doesn't. Even. Care.


Lex isn't sure which one of them breaks it off, which one of them speaks. His hand falls, loose and open on the couch, palm flattening on the afghan. Alcohol is a thousand miles away. He's never been so sober in his life.

Clark draws back, and the shaking of his hands he tries to hide in a tight grip on the cushion. "I--guess I had more to drink than I thought."

No. They both knew how much they were drinking. It's like waking from a dream. "Yeah."

"I'd--better show you where you're sleeping before we're--both too drunk to walk." Clark's weak smile is more than Lex would have expected, far less than he wants. He wants that brilliant smile that Clark used when he said Lana's name, wants that low, clear voice.

Wants that mouth and those hands that he felt skim his face, rough and hard, and he's silent, nodding along like an idiot when Clark stands up unsteadily. Follows him, kicking beer bottles aside and the stairs are an eternity of winding, narrow darkness, but Clark's close enough to touch if he chose.

He grabs the rail instead and holds on as tight as he dares.

At the doorway of the room, Clark turns another smile on him, wider, more natural. Whatever happened shoved to the edges of his mind and it's a choice, it always is, to forget. Lex has done it before. Clark's doing it now.

"Here you go. Goodnight, Lex."

Clark's a lousy pool player--something in the way he doesn't quite line up his shots, never puts enough strength behind it, and it's strange, that he seems that scared to unleash his full strength.

Another thing to add to the file that's growing in Lex's head by the hour.

"We got it wrong." Clark pulls back from the shot without taking it, surveying the table. Lex frowns, glancing down to see the eight ball in prime position to sink. Clark should beat him, but he never does. Always pulling back that little bit and giving away his edge. Lex doesn't understand it.

Like he's scared to just go for it.

"The game's fine."

Clark shakes his head impatiently. "Not that. This--you'll always beat me and I'll always be nervous because when you watch me play, I know what you're watching for."

That ass moving in those jeans? And to think he'd thought he was being subtle. When he looks up, Clark grins like he knows what Lex is thinking.

"If I take this shot and I win, you'd be really surprised. I know. It's our pattern."

"In a game of pool?"

Clark laughs, a lean hip pressed against the edge of the table. He must have discarded the flannel, because he's wearing nothing but a white t-shirt, stretched tight over a beautiful body. God, men weren't meant to have temptation dealt to them like this. "We have patterns, Lex. Take it like this. I can miss this shot a thousand times in a thousand different ways, and every one of them, you say something different. If I miss it on the left--" Clark lines up the shot, and it looks perfect to the casual eye, but it'll barely brush the edges of the ball. "You'll take the next one and win, then offer me a bottle of water and ask me about Lana."

"How is that going, anyway?"

"Focus." Clark leans over, bringing the cue into a different position. "This time, I was too nervous and made a mistake and hit it too hard--the ball went off the table. You went to pick it up and I made up an excuse to go home." Clark frowns. "You'd be surprised how many variations there are. There were a million from this one game, but some of them turn out the same anyway." Clark stares at the eight ball, lining up a flawless shot. It's an easy in, but he frowns. "Once, though, I should have hit the shot dead on. Just once."


"I--don't know. It never happened."

Clark laughs at the look on his face.

"You--Lex." Almost a caress, that voice, he's wanted to hear that forever, thinks men have sold their souls for less.

"Did we always play like this?"

Clark shakes his head, stepping back from the table.

"No. Once?" Clark drops the stick with a clatter, looking up at him with sober eyes. "Once, we never played this game at all."


The floor is summer warm beneath his bare feet. His belt's a slim discard over a cushioned armchair with throw pillows that might have been brilliant colors, but washed to pale grey in the moonlight. He fell asleep in his clothes--familiar in that but in nothing else. Sweat-dampened silk clings to his back and the sleeves are loose, a ghost of touch over his forearms. He winces from the cramps made by lumps in the ancient mattress, looking around him.

Bare painted walls with cheap prints from a local store. A woman's elegant touch to make a very personal room impersonal again.

This silence, huge and deafening, leads him out the door, across the hall, stopping at the doorway. Eyes adjusting to the dark effortlessly, and he steps into a wide master bedroom that has no memories.

"There were posters on the walls." Of your room. Of that room I woke up in. I remember that narrow bed and the way the frame was repaired and the excuse you made. I still don't know why.

Clark's open eyes touch on his. The same bewilderment stares back. "I remember."

It's hard to walk in here--some kind of wrongness he can't quite put his finger on. A big-voiced man who murmurs something about the name Luthor, but he can't focus enough to quite make it out. He sits on the edge of the mattress, helpless, strangely adrift. "I don't understand."

"I--know." Clark's almost motionless beneath the blanket. Worn from generations of Kents, Lex thinks. His hands skid over the surface of the blanket like he's looking for something lost "Did I always lose at pool, Lex?"

*"Once, we never played this game at all."*

"Every game."

Big fingers trace a pattern across the cover, coming dangerously close to Lex's thigh, blank dark eyes locked on Lex's knees. "TyNant. Fencing. A--a watch." He pauses, lips turning up in the memory of a smile. "Napoleon?"

Yes. "I used to be afraid of water."

Clark looks up, sharp and bright. "You weren't afraid. You were never afraid of anything."

That pull again. Achingly deep, and he's trapped in water, closing around him, stealing breath and thought, but his body knows. Thick and slow, almost awkward, like the kid he's never been, and Clark's so warm. That mouth, clean, only toothpaste and sleep, sweet, like he imagines it should have been.

Clark, he thinks he might whisper, but his tongue's too busy, finding hidden corners that make Clark twitch. Big hand on the back of his head, gently stroking, the other pressed into his back, hot through the thin silk of his shirt. Slow, open-mouthed, deep, reaching somewhere inside him that's never been touched before now, something that's been forgotten, old and bitter and breaking open too late. Shattering and gasping for air, Clark, Jesus, you--

"Clark." The long column of his throat, so soft, he can't get enough of the taste. Twining his fingers in silky hair, neck arching for him, just for him. He knows this, the soft sounds Clark makes, the way he twists under Lex's hands, the sweet, awkward shudders of someone who's never been touched. Never thought they would be. So surprised, so amazed, hands opening and closing on his shoulders helplessly and breathy gasps when Lex sucks his collar.

"I would have lied," Clark whispers into the dark, and Lex reaches down, finding soft cotton beneath his hands. He wants skin. "I would have lied and lied and you never would have forgiven me."

Clark sits up when pulled, the cotton stripped away. Perfect. Almost too much to imagine touching, except he has, he will, he should have, he--fuck. Clark. Straddling long thighs, he grinds down without meaning to, light sparking behind his eyes in a thousand colors, like fireworks on a late autumn night, bright and high above, and Clark's trying to disapprove.

Trying to say he doesn't need gifts, and Lex had never understood that.

Clark's fingers unbutton his shirt--tearing at the tiny buttons when they slip from his grasp, lost in swathes of silk until it's open, and Clark stares at him like a gift. Reverent in slow, stroking touches that make him hard, harder, breath a whine caught tight in his throat, Luthors don't--

Luthors never--

"I do." He does, he knows, he has to. Eyes closed at the tentative brush of Clark's mouth on his shoulder, stripping away the silk to touch more, hands spreading as gently as if he's crystal that will break with too hard a touch. "Don't be afraid."

Clark looks up at him, mouth wet and red and swollen. Lex can't help the touch, thumb skimming his lower lip, so soft. "I don't want to be."

Lex almost answers--almost, so close, but the words trickle away at the mouth on his throat, the slow grind of Clark into him. Big hands on his hips, settling them together, a gasp against wet skin when Clark finds the rhythm, lost in a sucking kiss that makes Lex arch. Reaching for anything, broad shoulders and soft hair and high cheekbones as sharp as razors he can trace with his thumbs, eyes open and wide, staring into the ceiling.

A trick of light that makes him see a dappled ceiling in daylight, exposed beams of a barn roof. A car speeding down a road and the carefree laugh of a kid on summer break. On his back, suddenly, shockingly, Clark's hands are on his wrists, pressing him down, a sharp burn when their eyes meet, a first time that he's never had, never could have.

Biting Clark's lip when he comes too close, and his mouth's clean of blood. Lex sucks in a breath. "I would have betrayed you."

Clark kisses him, slow and soft, and Lex loses his train of thought, bucking into the body above him, kneeling between his thighs. His breath's too fast and he sees too damn much.

Sees Clark, flushed and panting, sweat standing out on his skin, but his voice is a bare whisper. "I would have forgiven you."

The feel of muscles stretched too tight beneath fragile skin, trying to get more, now, God, yes, that body, that face, that mouth, that voice. Clark lets go, hands moving between them, rough jerk of expensive pants and silk boxers down Lex's legs, his own ripped off almost an afterthought. Staring down at him, and Lex wants to look away and can't.

Hard hands on his thighs and wide open eyes. "This wouldn't have happened."

Lex reaches up, drawing him down--pressure, skin, warmth, Clark, a taste of a honeysweet tongue and eyes to lose himself in. Clinging like he's drowning and he wouldn't mind, not here, not now, not with him.

"Now it is."

It's forever, maybe, a taffy-stretch of endless time, the slick slide of their bodies, pressing Lex deep into the bed. Perfect, like nothing's ever been, ever could be, Clark's low moans against his throat and his cock rocking against his stomach, hips lining them up and pushing, hard, once, twice--Jesus--Clark--


Orgasm is a slow fall from a bridge, eyes wide open, seeing nothing, gasping for air. Falling mindless and weightless and sated and holding on so tight he can't imagine letting go.

He will, though. He has to.

At dawn, he thinks, eyes closing heavy and dark, Clark's weight pinning him to the bed. He'll slip away, like a thousand other nights with a thousand other people.

*"For what it's worth, I hope you stay."*

Turning his head, Lex rubs his lips in dark hair and wishes that he was the man who could.

the end

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