A Separate Peace

by jenn



Spoilers: Insurgence, Suspect

Summary: Don't ever tell.

Author Notes: Livia made h/c noises. I don't think this is what she had in mind, though.

Archiving: Yes.


Wake up.

Clark's aware of the chilly night with the pull of the blanket from his shoulder, and he jerks at it sleepily, wondering if it could possibly be morning, and is he whining at his mother like a little kid? It can't have been that long yet. He'd left his parents early in the evening to their own private celebration, retreating to the loft in silence to hide under some blankets and start forgetting.

It's a must for Smallville. His fingers scrabble at the blanket, but somehow it pulls free when he forgets to use all his strength, pooling around his waist. The t-shirt's too thin--he doesn't get cold, per se, but there's discomfort in icy air sliding against sleep-warmed skin.

Opening his eyes, Clark gets a glimpse of the rafters hung with shadows above him before his gaze is drawn down by a single smooth, cool touch to his cheek.

Lex is crouching by the edge of the couch, leather-coated hand already withdrawing..

"Lex?" The beginnings of surprise are drowned out by the look on Lex's face. "Lex, is something--did something happen?" He thinks he can smell alcohol, not the brandy that he's become accustomed to, something sharper. Lex is as immaculate as always, though, dark suit and carelessly elegant even in what should be the height of inelegance in pose. The blue eyes shift over him, oddly focused. "I--what?"

The silence stretches briefly, tellingly, before Lex's head tilts. The thinking look, like right before he lies. "I'm sorry, Clark. I thought you'd still be awake."

At midnight? A quick glance shows the green neon numbers of the clock in the corner, marking the hour. Dad had relented and let him move it up here weeks ago, tacitly giving him permission to sleep in the loft when he chose to, trust that he would never abuse the privilege.

This--this was definitely an abuse of the privilege, no question.

"No--no problem." It's too real for disconnection--Clark's aware of the lumps of the couch beneath his back, the bare springs pushing up beneath. His toes are peeking out from beneath the blanket and a normal person might notice that they are very, very cold. "Is--did something happen with your dad at the hospital?" No other reason can penetrate. There are times when Clark feels like some bizarre cross of Lex's confessor and Lex's ideal--an uncomfortable position at the best of times, plain terrifying when days like the last have happened. He looks for worry, resentment, or anger, finding nothing but cool, unblinking regard, like Lex isn't completely here at all. "Are you--have you been drinking?"

"For years." The smile's slow and strange. One of those conversations, then, where Clark's not entirely sure Lex is talking to him at all. Getting an arm back, Clark sits up, scooting back enough to lean into the armrest, drawing his legs up. Unmannerly to leave guests crouching on the floor, though God knows, his mother's lessons in good manners hadn't gotten around to covering this. "I--my father--" Lex frowns, like he's trying to remember. Alcohol? "He's--"

"He'll be fine," Clark says with absolutely no idea if it's true. He's not used to having to draw Lex out--it's a on or off sort of thing. Either Lex tells of his free will or doesn't tell at all. Clark's still working out how to get around that. It's the stuff Lex doesn't tell that Clark's beginning to think is the stuff he needs to know. "I mean--you said the doctor said that he'd recover okay. That he wasn't--shot anywhere really--" Important? Jesus. Sliding a hand through his hair, Clark gropes for something to say. "Um. Sit down. Here." He draws his legs up further, trying to make the invitation obvious.

"Oh." Lex moves, almost liquid, that Clark's never seen before, nothing like anyone drunk could manage, surely. Seated just inches from his feet when there's enough space for him to be farther away, and Clark's toes feel the brush of cashmere, soft wool, and silk as Lex settles back. "Thank you."

"Sure." Clark waits--it's got to be confession, but Clark can't imagine for what. He's not even sure he wants to know what, with Lex turning that intensity back on him. Something big, then, and Clark remembers Lex in the barn and the tornado, that need to tell that scraped across Clark's every nerve. He's felt like that too many times not to recognize it, has been denied too many times not to resent it. "Um. Is everything okay?"

"Better," Lex says slowly, almost tasting the words. "Much better, I--my father is fine, I suppose." He doesn't sound worried, but that doesn't make Clark relax any. "I wanted to see--how you were." There's not a question, but Clark almost feels like it wants to be one.

"Dad's okay. He's just glad to be out of jail." Clark breathes out, shutting his eyes for a second. Confession would be so cool. He'd like that option one day. He'd like someone who would sit down and listen while he told everything--and he does mean everything. Like, my dad was in jail and when I heard he had a fight with Mr. Luthor and he got drunk at the bar? I wondered if he did it. Pete hadn't believed for a second, and neither did Chloe, but hey, I did. Tell me how great a son I am now. And don't thank me, Dad, please. You have no idea what you're thanking me for.

Wow, that's something else he's not telling, and he adds it to the list in his head and waits for Lex to tell him something. Something about himself, drown out some inner voices and cool himself down.

"Did you think I did it?" Lex asks, and there's a strange quality in his voice. Not even curious like it should maybe be, and pretty damn direct, for Lex.

This is why Clark avoids conversation about himself. His toes dig into the couch, his mind already offering ten thousand ways around that question, and it should shame him, but Lex is scraping way too close to raw nerves. "I was worried about my dad."

"I forgot," Lex says, and Clark's eyes jerk up. Lex is smiling at him, affectionate and amused and still so damned distant Clark feels the familiar urge to shake him. "How you do that. All I wanted was a yes or a no." Lex shrugs. "Never mind."

"I'm glad you helped me clear Dad's name," Clark offers, because it feels like he should say something. Yes, Lex, I suspected you, because on this one? I would have suspected Lana if I could. And don't think I didn't try. "Um. Dad was--"

"I'm sure he's glad to be home."

Where is this going, anyway? Clark wraps his arms around his knees, resigned to a night of sitting and listening to conversation that doesn't make sense. Sleep was hard to get to anyway--fitful and disturbed, with half-dreams of his dad yelling at his mom and his dad with a gun. The bizarrely comforting thought of Lex with one, making the double shot that took out the person who is responsible for most of the stress in Clark's life. The enabler of his life, for that matter. Damn. Forehead pressed to his knees, Clark wonders if there's a way to get Lex to leave short of pissing him off badly and bringing a whole new level of complex to his life. Lex forgives, Clark counts on that, but he sometimes thinks Lex is never entirely sure what he's forgiving Clark for.

Clark does that a lot, though--he's forgiven Lex things that he'll never know about. He wants to keep it that way, in some part of his head. Suspicions are one thing. Concrete knowledge is entirely different.

"What would you have done? If it had been me?" Lex asks, like it's an important question, but it brings Clark upright. Alcohol, late night, and Lex is going to hate them both for this conversation in the morning. He's showing too much.

"I--don't know." He'd like to say outright rejection's the first reaction, but the trade off of a family that's not scared to death of Lionel doesn't sound too bad, no matter what kind of morals he's been taught. There's ethics and then there's practicality. Clark's learning. "I didn't--seriously think you set up my dad." Ordered someone else take the fall, though? Clark can see that. Maybe. "You thought my dad did it. What would you have done?" If it'd been as true in life as it was so briefly in Clark's head. Dad up for murder, Mom falling apart, and he can't think like this. Goes nowhere.

Lex had thought Jonathan had done it, even if only for a little while, and that rankles still. Lex had thought so, Clark had maybe thought so, and Clark had seen the flash in his mother's eyes, pure shock, and for about five seconds, he'd hated her for putting all this into motion. And for that shock, because dammit, he'd needed someone to tell him it wasn't true, and no one did. He's sixteen. Faith in his family should be a given, not an option.

"Prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Lex answers easily. "Probably destroyed your family, while I was at it. You'd do the same, right, Clark?"

There's a coolness to the words that defies simple retaliation--and hadn't Lex said that they were okay? Right, maybe he forgot the memo. Shifting up, Clark looks over his knees, watching Lex's face warily. Lex is so rarely retaliatory--just Desiree in memory. That cold moment in the hall of the hospital.

"Yeah." His voice shakes a little, but he can't control that.

"It must be hard," Lex muses softly, almost to himself. "For you during this. I didn't think of that."

Right back square in Clark emotional landscape, but there's an uncomfortable kind of sympathy in his eyes.

"I--yeah." This feels wrong. Clark shivers, pushing into the couch with his heels. A desperate glance at the clock. "Um, Lex, it's late--"

"When no one believed you," Lex goes on, and Clark's mouth clamps shut over the words. "You were the only one who knew, and you had to find a way to prove it. Your dad's reputation being dragged through the mud right in front of you."

Right, Dad's rep for hating Luthors more than anything. Such a great, great way to start an impromptu investigation. Frowning, Clark stares at his knees.

"It was frustrating, wasn't it?" Lex's voice makes it less question than certainty, doesn't require Clark to respond. Letting Clark get away with saying nothing, lie or truth. "When they didn't believe you?"

"Yeah." It comes out mostly by accident, but Lex looks sympathetic. Like he understands. And God knows, he should, with his dad. With his own reputation.

"I know." A hand rests almost incidentally on his knee, and it's so rare Lex uses physical displays that Clark lets it stay. It's comforting, somehow. "Reputations are a killer, fair or no. They should know him, shouldn't they, Clark?"

They do know him, though. Clark fixes his gaze on his lap. He can remember the bartender's words, his mother's face. Tell me this isn't true, Mom, but he hadn't said the words, because he couldn't break the illusion that everything was okay, some huge conspiracy that he'd figure out because that's what he does. "Yeah."

"It wasn't fair, Clark. Leaving you to fix their mistakes."

Fix Dad's mistakes, maybe. Too many years of too-vocal protests, too much hostility, and Clark can't seriously blame Lex for believing the worst, not when Dad had been acting like that for so long.

"I should have had more faith in your dad, Clark." Lex sound disturbingly regretful. "I--wasn't thinking clearly. But even with that evidence, I know the Kent family honor."

Clark looks up sharply, mouth working. "I--" The words catch in lump in his throat. "I was mad, but--your dad was in surgery. And--and what Ethan said--" Lying bastard. His dad's friend, who betrayed them, all because of Lionel. Who got off scot-free, and how f--fucked up is that?

Clark feels himself blushing just thinking the word.

"Ethan just made it up to save his ass," Lex says, gently rubbing Clark's knee, and Clark looks up in gratitude. "None of it was true, and I should have known it."

If just someone had believed--just for a minute. Believed what Clark had to, that his dad would never, ever-- "You were upset," Clark hears himself whisper. "Ethan--he tricked everyone. He--he used Dad's reputation against him."

Lex nods, still rubbing, slow and soothing. Clark shifts enough to give Lex a little more access. "Your father isn't a violent person, Clark. Not like that."

Leave out Phelan and Nixon and that time everyone was acting crazy, and a few other minor incidents, but like Mom said, it's Dad. Dad in his uncertain, temperamental glory, shooting off and leaving a mess behind. Clark tries to ignore the shudder of anger that ripples beneath his skin.

"T--Ethan said there was a restraining order.". Lex must have heard about that. Put with everything else--God, that looked so bad. But Lex just rubs his knee absently and nods, like it doesn't mean anything. "My dad wouldn't do anything like that, Lex. He just--wouldn't. No matter how angry he got."

"I know." A hard squeeze, and Lex nods, but Clark feels his back stiffen, all unwitting. "He's never shot anyone. And--I have."

Clark doesn't think about the Nicodemus flower thing often. Not really. It was all accident--the gun had gone off without Dad meaning it at all, it was the flower, his dad would never hurt anyone, especially him. Dad had been--so out of control, like he'd been mainlining grain alcohol for hours. One hand touches his chest without even meaning to, remembering the shock of the bullet, the hand-sized bruise he'd stared at in the mirror for hours afterward.

He strokes over the skin, slow and easy, remembered snap of too-brief pain, almost drowned by the shock.

"Yeah," Clark whispers. "He'd never shoot your father, Lex. You know him. He--he gets angry, but he doesn't hurt people. Even--even if he'd been drinking." That thing with the flower was the anomaly. "He's a good man." It's scaring him that he keeps saying that. Lex has to believe. He has to.

"A very good man," Lex agrees softly with another squeeze, then his hand relaxes, just sitting on Clark's knee like Lex has forgotten it's there at all. "I saw how much stress you were under, Clark. I was angry, not blind." A pat Clark can barely feel through the twin barriers of blanket and denim. "Your dad must have been proud of you, for everything you managed."

Clark's mouth goes dry. "Yeah." Glad to be out, glad his son had found a way, and he and Mom had spent all of dinner staring at each other like the other might vanish. Like after-Phelan all over again. Biting his lip, Clark looks down.

"Clark?" Lex's voice is all gentle worry, and the hand on his knee tightens. "Clark, are you okay?"

Of course he's okay. He takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "Just--everything's catching up, I guess."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Lex shifts close enough that the soft material of his coat covers Clark's feet, cashmere and wonderful, and he can't help wiggling his toes in it a little. Lex won't know. Probably wouldn't care if he did.

"I--" God, it would be a relief, but Clark can't even begin to form the words. I doubted my father, Lex. I doubted you but you're my friend. He's my dad. "I'm just tired."

"It's okay, you know," Lex says softly, and the soothing hand tightens again. Clark forces himself to look up. "Doubt's okay, Clark. It--it has nothing to do with you. It's the person you doubted that's at fault."

Is it? Clark shivers, nothing about the cold. "I--" Clark stops hard, biting his lip.

The touch on his face is a surprise, thumb pressing against his lower lip until he lets it go. "Don't do that. It's not your fault, Clark."

How can he say that? "Lex--"

"You had reasons for your doubt."

"He's my dad!"

It's even uglier when it's put into words, dirty, something no son should believe of his father. It hangs between them, so real, this huge accusation that can't be taken back, and Clark shuts his eyes tight, hands clenching into fists in the blanket. No. He's not--that kind of person.

"It's not your fault, Clark." The hand strokes so gently, and it's almost like the forgiveness that he can't give himself. "You can't blame yourself for circumstances that were beyond your control."

"He's my dad," Clark whispers, and he hears the break in his voice, the way he won't cry, even when he wants to. That bartender and his story of alcohol. Blackouts. Just like the flower. No memory.

God, no.

"It was his actions, Clark, not yours. And you believed enough to help him, try to clear him--"

"I had to know," Clark hears himself say, and Lex makes it all right, the steady stroking that he can't help leaning into, and Clark lets Lex press his knees away, shifting, so close that soft cashmere brushes his bare hands, locked together in his lap. "I--I had to know. God, Lex, I--I was--I--" He's never stuttered before. It's almost enough to break him.

"Shhh." Warm leather settles on the back of his neck, rubbing in slow, smooth circles. "It's okay, Clark."

"I--I--he fought with Lionel, he lied to us and he didn't tell us everything and he's my dad. If my dad--if my dad--" Clark hears his voice break completely, and he sounds, God, ten maybe. "He lied to us. He lied to me."

"That's not your fault."

"I didn't want to--I didn't want to believe he--that he could do that, but he lied. He lied to the police and he lied to me and he lied to Mom, and he hates your Dad, Lex, and--and he was so mad, and God, it could have, I--"

Lex tilts his head up, and Clark's shocked when slim fingers trace his cheek, the leather coming away shiny and wet. He's--crying. He's crying in front of Lex.

"Tell me, Clark."

Clark swallows the lump away. It's impossible not to, now. "I saw him shoot somebody, too."

"Oh, Clark." He doesn't know how, but he's pulled, so gently, and his head's against Lex's shoulder, and Lex is holding him, like he's the one that's been hurt. This is so new, so strange, so wanted. Like he's a little kid, and Clark wishes desperately he didn't need it, that he could pull away. Be grown up and strong and--but-- "Clark. Stop blaming yourself."

"The--that time? When everyone was acting so weird? With the flower? He--acted like he was drunk, and he was so mad, and he took his gun and left. And I--I followed him because, because I didn't want him to--I didn't--" Clark shudders, hand on his chest again. He thinks he'll feel that shot until the day he dies. "He--"

His mind's screaming about secrets and wrong and don't tell, the words he knew every meaning of before he could even spell them. Never tell. Keep apart. No one that close. Even Pete, who's too close sometimes, making Clark feel suffocated, every instinct tense and shocky every time he thinks about it.

"He--I thought.... He's--he's so scared of losing Mom, losing everything. He's--so angry, he hates your dad and he--" Clark can barely believe he's saying it, but it feels too true, and it's impossible to stop. Impossible to take back, and he turns his head into warm cashmere, wondering if he could burrow down into that fabric and never come out again. He's going to hate himself tomorrow.

God, he hates himself now.

"He wouldn't. He didn't."

Clark swallows. "You--Lex, I thought he might. Have."

It's this eternal stretch of time that Lex just holds him, and Clark's too exhausted to even think, even try to trace every mistake he's made tonight. Lex, though--Lex isn't angry or horrified or disgusted, just holding him, and Lex doesn't touch anyone, anytime. Stroking his hair now, soothing and weirdly sweet, telling him without words that it's okay.

"It's okay to be angry," Lex whispers, so gently, it slips over Clark like a blanket. "It's okay, Clark. You don't have to keep it in."

"He's my dad."

"That doesn't make him always right and you always wrong." Fingertips graze his forehead, pushing his hair back, and Clark's vaguely aware he's clutching soft cashmere in both hands. Lex is warm and hard underneath. "It's an impossible standard, Clark. You can't hold yourself to that."

"My-my mom." It's the worst thing, the worst part, and he's shivering constantly. He's never been cold before now. "I--I saw it. When she looked at him. She thought he--thought he maybe--" She remembers the bullet holes in his shirt, too.

"That had to have been hard to see," Lex says, and there's another graze of fingertips against his skin, lingering, gentle. Threading through his hair, almost hypnotic. "But Clark--"

"I'm his son," Clark whispers brokenly. "She's his wife. If--if we could even think, if we--"

"Clark--"

"I thought he was--he was what I was supposed to be! I wanted to be like him when I grew up!" It's like a train crash, no way to bring it to a halt, hit pause, draw back. "I don't--I don't--" He's his dad. Clark wonders if every teenager gets a moment like this, shocky and wide-eyed and terrified. His parents are people. His dad--his dad could have been a murderer two nights ago, if that bartender hadn't been--hadn't been a f-fucking liar. "I--every time I look at him, I know he sees it. I know--I know he thinks--that he thinks--"

"That can't be true."

Clark closes his eyes and noses cashmere softly. "He saw it in me, Lex. How can--how can he--"

"That's not your fault either."

Clark hears himself laugh. "Everything's my fault, Lex."

The stroking pauses, and fingers slide under his chin, tilting his face up. Clark doesn't want to, but the gentleness is more relentless than his strength could ever be. "You're not responsible for everything that goes wrong." The stroking starts again--vaguely hypnotic, and so little Lex, touching him, touching anyone, he doesn't even do this for Helen, but it's too good to think about. "Shh. You didn't do anything wrong. You never do."

Clark wants to laugh at that, but he's pretty sure it won't sound right.

"He brought it on himself with his temper, Clark. You didn't cause any of it, I promise. Let it go. Just--accept it and move on. You can do it, Clark."

Do people get over things like this? Clark wants to protest, but God, he's tired, and Lex shifts over, urging him without words to just stretch out, and Lex is better than a pillow, warm and soft, too, the material of his pants comforting against Clark's cheek.

"It's not your fault," Lex whispers gently, soothingly, in rhythm with those slow strokes of his hair, and Clark remembers Kyla touching him like that, but it's lost under a wave of something very close to exhaustion.

"I'm sorry, Lex," Clark whispers. He's not even sure what he's apologizing for anymore, but here, in the dark, he has to. Lex knows everything else. He can know this, too. "I'm so sorry."

"I know," Lex murmurs soothingly, and his hand slips accidentally against Clark's cheek, stroking briefly. Eyes closing, Clark thinks a little vaguely that he likes it. "I forgive you."



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