by Nifra Idril
Title: A Pale Distance 1/1
Author: Nifra Idril
Rating: Call it a G
Summary: It's easiest for Clark to see in the moonlight.
Disclaimer: If they were mine, there'd be more naked.
Thanks: Lyra rocks the hiz-ouse, yo. Seriously, beta-mine, there's no way anything would get written without you. You're amazing. Extreme.
A Pale Distance
This is Clark's first memory, and it's soft around the edges with time:
There's a reflection of the moon in burnished silver. It's round, and pale, and looks like it would be cold to touch. Warm arms hold him, fingers push back the hair on his forehead and there's a dry brush of lips against his temple. He hears the mumble of voices; indistinct, with long low vowel sounds melding into one another. Long fingers splay across his midsection, and he can see the spray of light freckles, the clear, oval nails. Someone kisses him again, and it's dark outside. Clark feels loved, and he wants to believe that if he looks up, he'll see eyes like his, dark curls, something he'll recognize.
He doesn't look up. Instead, he looks out -- past the burnished chrome, over the slope of the consul. It's dark, but he knows the moon must be full.
When Clark was young, his mother would sometimes leave to visit family in Metropolis and he and his dad would be alone on the farm.
Instead of having a sit-down dinner, they'd make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sit outside if the weather was nice enough. Wind would whip through the corn, making a hushing sound and Clark would lean against his dad, an ear to his father's chest. He would listen to the soft pumping of his father's heart, and the rumbling of his voice as he spoke. His dad would drape a casual arm on his shoulder, and lean back against the porch, looking up at the night.
Sometimes, Jonathan would tell him stories, and sometimes they'd talk about things that meant something.
When Clark was six, he'd bitten his lip and looked down at the dirt. "Dad," he'd asked, "didn't they...didn't they...want me?"
His father hadn't pretended to be confused. He'd taken a deep breath, and turned Clark's face up toward his. "Son, they didn't know you. I'm sure they were doing what they thought was best for you, because they loved you, and wanted you to have a chance. But if they'd known you...if they'd known you, Clark, they'd never have traded a minute with you for anything in the whole wide world. No one could know you and not love you, do you understand?"
Clark still remembers how hoarse his father had been, and how light had caught on the moisture in his eyes. He'd swallowed hard, and hugged Clark tightly, and run a big clumsy hand over Clark's curls. "No one who knew you wouldn't love you, Clark," he'd repeated. "No one."
"I love you," Clark had said, sniffling. "I'm glad that you're my Dad."
His father hadn't said anything, only hugged him tighter and kissed his forehead and they'd sat outside for a long time, listening to the breeze and the corn swaying and the crickets singing up at the moon.
It's late night, and Clark's standing by the side of the pond, looking out at the smooth, slick surface.
He can remember the first time he was jealous...really jealous, of Chloe and Pete.
They were playing Marco Polo and Pete was `it'. Chloe hated not being able to feel the sand under toes, and so they stayed in the shallows. Pete was reaching out toward them, fingers curling, grasping, and Chloe slipped out of the way. Clark could have moved, too, could have gotten out of the way so fast that neither Chloe nor Pete would have been able to see it, and he wanted to - he wanted to so badly - but...his mother sat on the shore, watching him. He could see her eyes were dark with worry, and he couldn't. So he let Pete's fingers graze over the skin of his collarbone, and tried not to scream when they laughed and told him to close his eyes.
It seems so silly now, but he'd wanted to cry he'd been so angry. Clark has lots of memories like that, and he hates all of them.
He pulls off his t-shirt, and shucks his jeans before diving into the water. It runs over his skin, smooth on his back, his sides, and Clark swims underwater for long minutes. Anyone else would have been blind in the dark, but he sees the gray moss collecting on rocks, the sluggish twirl of vines around the end of pilings, sees the bed of the pond, eerie and calm in the night.
The water parts over his head without a sound as he surfaces, and he watches the ripples around him spread outward until the disturbances collide. He closes his eyes, and floats on his back, looking up at the stars.
Cool light touches his chest, and Clark smiles, tranquil. "Marco," he whispers into the night, feeling something begin to heal, slowly. He stays there for hours - wondering which of the stars that twinkle out in the night sky is his, and he loves all of them. As the night wears on and he leaves the water behind, he thinks briefly that the stars and the moon flung far across the dark sky seem to love him back.
It's still dark out, and he's watching his mother make breakfast. Clark hasn't really noticed before the way her hands seem smaller now than when he was a boy, or the thin strands of silver that are twining through the red of her hair. There are creases by the corners of her eyes - small, but visible.
My mother is getting older, he thinks, and the realization sits hard in his chest, like a stone. She flips a pancake onto a plate, and slips her foot out of her slipper to scratch the back of her leg. Her toes are painted red, and the polish is chipped. It reminds Clark of Chloe, and he thinks that his mother's feet don't look any older than they did when he was a boy. He can remember long games of tag outside. Long blades of grass tickled at his calves and his laughter was shrill, excited. His mother would run barefoot after him with chipped red paint on her toenails and smile on her lips. The memory makes him feel better, and he smiles up at her when she brings him his food.
"Eat up," she orders playfully, a hand squeezing his shoulder. "Although, I can't remember a day I've had to say that to you twice."
Clark says something in response, something about growing boys needing all the food they can get, and tucks into the pancakes. He watches his mother from under his lashes as he eats.
She settles into the chair across from him, sipping at her coffee, and looks out the window. There's an expression of soft happiness on her face, and Clark can tell by her eyes that she's far, far away. Before the sun comes up all the way, she's always like this - floating on some current of time that draws her back further than Clark can follow.
There are days he wonders what she would do with her mornings if he weren't there. He wonders if she'd still drink her coffee like this, staring out the window at the past, and smiling at it as though it were an old friend. Clark wonders where all the love she's poured into him would have gone. Martha Kent was born to be a mother, born to hold someone and kiss away their hurts, and brush tears away from round cheeks and play elaborate games of make-believe like she means it.
Someday her hair will be white, and her hands will shake with the years she's lived through. He isn't sure that any of these things will ever happen to him. There are so few things that can hurt him and nothing that can change him, and Clark's starting to worry that he might end up living forever. Every child knows that they may have to see their parents die, but now, Clark considers his mother, and the possibility is somehow more real to him. He'll have to watch his mother get older, helpless, and frail. Her eyes will cloud over, and she won't be able to squeeze his shoulder so forcefully, but Clark knows that there will never be a day when his mother won't love him and that, he realizes abruptly, is an amazing thing.
Clark thinks he's lucky to have her, and he loves her for her chipped toenail polish and sweet buttermilk pancakes, but even so, he wonders about his other mother sometimes. He wonders if she would have loved him, if she would have been proud of him. He wonders what features of his would be on her face, and whether or not she'd blush like he does. He wonders if his other mother would have sung to him, or slept beside him when he had nightmares. He feels guilty, and wonders if he should.
"Clark." Martha's voice startles him, and he looks up. He can't see any of the signs of age that had so worried him earlier. Her eyes are snapping with life, and she looks like she always has. "Clark, look!" She points out to the sky, which is starting to show the first hints of a rose-tinted dawn. "You can still see the moon - just a thumbnail. Isn't it beautiful?"
"Yeah, Mom," Clark breathes, looking at the tiny luminous crescent. "It's great."
She closes a hand over his, and the two look out the window, entranced. Clark forgets to be guilty, forgets to be worried, and just stares, happy.
Clark's eyes wander in physics. They travel restlessly over Chloe taking notes, and Pete trying not to sleep, finally landing on Lana, doodling. She's drawing small, pointed stars in a cluster at the corner of her paper. Her lower lip is drawn between her teeth in concentration and the long dark fall of her hair is pulled back in a bun. He can't see her eyes, but he knows that they're the same lovely, tragic, green as always. The bared curve of her neck is fragile, and beautiful - the pale skin unmarked and perfect like any great work of art. Like Chloe's graceful hands, or Kyla's curved shoulders.
Lana's pretty, but that's not what draws him to her. Lana Lang is the most breathtakingly normal person Clark's ever known, and God he wants to be that. He'd be closer to human if he knew that she could care about him, wouldn't he? Then again, maybe he'd be closer to human if he could care about her like that, but Lana...she's so many things that Clark can't understand, and all he can seem to make himself feel about her is like, lust, admiration. And shouldn't all of those together be love? Maybe they could be, except...
She won't ever be able to know Clark. Even if he could understand her, even if he could ever really know what's behind the soft shell of her smile, the mantle of her kindness, Lana wouldn't be able to pry loose the bits of Clark he holds tightest. Not his secrets, his strangeness, but him. She would stop short of doing that - waiting for Clark to give himself to her. That's not something he wants to do. Not for Lana. And Clark would never break her down until he held the fundaments of her soul in his hands; he would fear splitting her apart. There would always be too much caution between them, and that...could never work.
Because Clark is tired of caution. He's tired of watching himself every minute of every day, and he needs someone he can love without worry about his sharp edges, without wondering if he'll shatter them into pieces. He needs someone who will hold his head in their lap and listen to him as he says the words out loud. "I'm scared of what I can do."
And he is. Clark's afraid of himself, and he wishes that he could bleed, or bruise, or hurt himself badly enough that it shows on the outside. He's tired of the lying, hates it, and wants to be able to say, honestly, that he doesn't know what's right or what's wrong. He doesn't want to have to know, or to have to protect. Lana, he would have to protect, without fail. He wants someone who would want to protect him - someone who would let Clark take care of them, and would take care of Clark in turn, and maybe that's asking too much, but he doesn't think so.
The teacher drones on, and Lana turns, catching his gaze. Clark blushes, and looks away, but not before seeing Chloe, watching him. He would give anything to erase the shadow in her eyes, but he can't. He doesn't love her either, and the reasons for that are...both simpler and more complicated than not loving Lana.
Someday, maybe he would have loved her. He could have grown up into Chloe until she fit him perfectly, and they could have been happy. If there were no Lex. Because Lex knows him now, really knows him.
Chloe and Pete wouldn't understand because both of them are so achingly ordinary, so wonderfully, blissfully regular, that sometimes Clark hates them almost as much as he loves them. But, Lex knows. He knows what it's like to hold a life in his hands, and decide to keep it or throw it away. He's had that power before, and he'd understand what Clark means if he said that he's afraid, though Lex would never admit to fear.
Once, Chloe told Clark that Lex reminded her of an ice statue - perfectly precise and chilling. Lex's eyes are pale, like light trailing along the edge of frost, but Clark has never felt cold when he's caught in that gaze. He's felt a lot of things when Lex has looked at him, but cold isn't one of them. Sometimes it's like a trailing of fingertips across his skin, like Lex is touching him somehow and it's never quite...comforting...but it makes Clark want to sigh, and settle further into whatever it is that Lex pulls around him.
And sometimes he wonders if that's strange, but most of the time, he doesn't give it any thought. He just smiles, and lets Lex look at him, and he looks back at Lex. Clark knows that it can't be strange, not when it feels so much like Lex could love him. Not when he loves Lex.
The bell rings, startles Clark. He stands, moving slowly as Lana and Pete and Chloe hurry out. A scrap of paper falls to floor and Clark bends to pick it up, holding the piece of paper in the palm of his hands. It's covered in stars.
Clark can still feel his hair settling back into place after his run through the cornfield as he makes his way to the office, looking for Lex. When Clark finds him, the way Lex is standing is supposed to be a warning. Clark takes in the tense line of his shoulders, the arrogant smile, the challenging tilt of his chin, and knows the warning isn't for him. Lex just doesn't know how to turn it off.
"Hello, Clark," Lex says pleasantly, looking back over his shoulder. "What's up?"
Clark doesn't answer, just puts his backpack down, and crosses to stand beside Lex at the window. "Sunny," he mutters, squinting.
"Yeah, looks pretty hot out. I haven't left the office much today." Lex doesn't say anything more, but Clark knows there's a question in his eyes without even turning.
"There are planets out there that don't see the light of the sun for even an hour," Clark says after a long pause. "What would that be like?"
Lex shrugs, and his arm brushes against Clark's. "I really don't know. Probably dark, and cold, and uninhabitable, which is why there isn't life on those planets."
Clark laughs, and ducks his head. He turns, and notices flecks of grey floating in the blue of Lex's eyes, sees the small upward quirk of the corner of Lex's lips and gets pissed off at himself when Lex smiles fully, thinking he gets the joke. "Would you like to sit, Clark?" he asks, waving his long fingered hand toward a chair in a beautiful gesture.
"Nah, I'm good standing," Clark responds, still studying Lex, watching as the white fingertips flutter distractedly against the hardwood desk. "You busy today?"
Lex nods, not saying anything, and Clark looks back out the window. "It'd be kinda nice, you know, if they had a lot of moons or something. Maybe you'd be able to see the stars better." He tries to picture it; the slow, quiet spell of night undisturbed, unbroken. In his mind, the landscape's always tinted pewter, like Lex's eyes. Beautiful, he thinks, but lonely.
"You'd be able to see stars that aren't visible here," Lex corrects him, "systems that our strongest telescopes couldn't even begin to pick up. They'd be far off in the distance, but, you'd be able to see them."
Clark touches the glass. It's cold against his fingers, and fogging in front of his face from the warmth of his breath. He wants to tell Lex so badly in this moment that it's choking him. Instead, he stares out the window, and listens to Lex lecture him about astronomy.
He wonders about Lex's secrets, and what it would be like to kiss him. Clark thinks Lex's skin would be cool to the touch, and that he'd taste like rain.
That night he can't sleep. He runs to the ocean. It takes an hour or so, and he's out of breath afterwards, but it's worth it. He sifts sand through his fingers, and watches waves cresting and falling against the shore.
There are sand dollars along the beach, and they're so white that they almost look naked against the darker backdrop of sand and water. They make him think of Lex.
He spends a night walking across the dunes, collecting sand dollars. They're rougher against his skin than he'd expected, but fragile, too. One breaks in his hand, and he wonders if he held it too tightly, fingers closing tighter than they should have. It hurts more than it should that he can't even do this like anyone else, and he casts the sand dollars back down onto the beach. Waves lap at his toes, and he looks up at the sky.
Thinks that maybe he wouldn't have ever seen the North Star if he hadn't been sent to Earth for whatever reason, and he wonders what he would have used to navigate. He hears murmuring waves behind him, and he feels hollow.
Light spatters down on him, shining in his hair, the water around his toes. It lands against his skin like a caress, and he's comforted. It's probably as close to his birth mother as he'll ever get, he thinks, staring out at the water. He worries about his parents at home, worries about the baby coming and tries very hard not to resent it.
Every moment of that baby's life will be accounted for, and it won't have to worry about watching its speed, its strength, its sight every moment of every day. That baby will be free to do what it wants, without having to be the defacto savior of an entire town's worth of innocent bystanders. And Clark has to remind himself that `that' baby is going to be his little brother or sister and that he's going to have to love it, even though when he's not strong enough to stop himself, he hates it. And fears it. Mom and Dad will finally have a child all their own, and what do they need an alien stray for anyway? He knows that's unfair, knows he doesn't mean it, not really, and knows it's wrong, too. His parents love him. But he just wishes he was a Kent, wishes it more than anything and in the light of day he knows that he is. But at night, Clark's just confused, in love, and lonely.
He sits, and draws his knees up to his chest, wonders if Lex would like him so much if he were completely honest. He isn't sure. Thinks Lex wouldn't know what to do. Thinks Lex would be uncomfortable, and hates that.
No, he thinks, that's not quite right. Lex would have been uncomfortable when they first met if Clark had been too trustworthy, but now...now every time Clark lies, Lex can see it, and Clark can see the effort that goes in keeping Lex from flinching. Every time. Every damned betrayal of trust that Lex hoards like gold, and it hurts Clark, too. More when he can see Lex begin to slide behind the blue of his eyes, the gleam of his smile, and knows he's losing Lex's confidence.
Clark wants Lex happy, wants to make him happy, and thinks maybe he could manage to make both of them happy in the process. Lex wants him, he's known this for a long time, and Lex needs him. That's not something Lex knows yet, but it's true. But Lex only needs him if he's going to be honest, and Clark's finally ready to let go of his secrets. He wants to watch them burn, but it's hard to light the intangible on fire, and he wonders if it's too late anyway. Wonders, if maybe, he's hurt Lex one too many times.
Clark thinks about Lex silhouetted against the window, smile soft and easy, for once, and he decides that he has to try.
Lex is awake when Clark gets there. He lies, still, on the cool sheets of his bed, looking up, his brow creased with concern when Clark steps out of the shadows, into the circle of pale light.
"Clark, are you all right?" He sits up, chest bare, pale and lean. Clark's mouth dries little, and he nods.
"Lex, did you...did you ever wonder? That there might be life on other planets?"
He frowns, blue eyes shining with worry through the dark. "Yes, yes I have. We talked about this yesterday...are you sure you're all right, Clark?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," Clark manages, crawling onto the bed next to Lex. He lies down and brushes his fingertips over the smooth skin of Lex's cheek. "There is, you know. Or was."
"Was what?" Lex asks, a little breathless as Clark's fingers wander over the curve of his ear, gentle and cautious.
Clark nods again, his other hand cupping Lex's cheek. He brushes a thumb across Lex's lower lip, and smiles at the intensity of Lex's gaze. This is right, he knows. He'll pour his love, and yes, his secrets, into Lex until he's filled all the hollow spaces in them both. "Life. On another planet. It was destroyed, but I'm still here. Lex, I...want to kiss you. Can I?"
Lex is fast, kissing Clark so quickly that he needs a few seconds to realize what's going on and then he's touching Lex, learning how to love Lex with his body, and the light that filters through dense Kansas night, though the slick surface of the window, plays across their skins.
Later, before Lex sleeps, he will whisper against Clark's skin. He'll tell Clark that he loves him, he'll tell him that there's no way he couldn't, and maybe even later, when the sun comes up, Clark will remember to worry that Lex is fragile, and human. But first, he'll fall asleep beside Lex, fitful in his dreams. He'll feel Lex's hand on his brow, and his eyes will slit open just enough to see the moon. He'll know it's full, and he'll feel Lex press a kiss to his forehead and Clark will feel safe. He'll feel better than average, ordinary, normal, human. He'll feel loved.
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