Lex hadn't left the mansion much since his return to Smallville. He stayed at home, avoiding his employees and curious townspeople, concentrating on healing and planning his revenge. It was all he needed, and he found he'd developed a taste for being alone. The madman in the mansion, he found himself thinking one late night over a glass of brandy, and even though the epithet made him smirk, he liked it more than he thought he should.
His birthday came late in the fall. His skin was still peeling from the last of his sunburns, but the doctors had proclaimed him otherwise healthy again. He sat by the window in the library and watched the orange and yellow leaves fall. He thought about all the days over the summer when he'd been sure he'd never see a Kansas autumn again. He didn't realize how deep in thought he'd been until the butler announced that Clark Kent was at the door, and insisting that he needed to see him. Lex hadn't even seen him come up the drive.
Clark had been different when Lex returned to town: he didn't want to talk about what he'd done while Lex was away, and there was a darkness behind his eyes that Lex hadn't seen there before. Lex had told him that he needed some time to himself, and Clark had for once just nodded and gone away. Lex hadn't seen him for a month, maybe more.
Now Clark was at the library door. He looked more like the happy boy Lex remembered: his fall jacket was the same one he'd always worn, and the smile was almost as wide as it had once been. He had his backpack slung over one shoulder, and he shifted his weight from side to side as he stood there, waiting for Lex to invite him all the way in.
"What's up, Clark?"
"Hey, Lex." Clark fell into the wingback chair adjacent to Lex's own. Lex looked out the window again.
"What can I do for you, Clark?"
"For me? It's your birthday, Lex."
"You don't seem very excited about it."
Lex shrugged. "23. It's a prime number."
"It's also the smallest prime for which the sum of the squares of its digits is an odd prime as well. And both 2 and 3 are primes themselves."
Clark didn't have anything to say to that, so they sat together in silence for a moment before Clark cleared his throat and spoke again. "Well, I thought you might... Anyhow, I brought you something."
"You did?" Lex's birthday gifts this year had been mostly from his father, and he'd sent them directly to Cadmus Labs for testing before they went to a Goodwill. "You didn't have to."
Clark fumbled in his jacket pocket. "I wanted to." The box he pulled out was small, and badly wrapped in blue paper with silver stars. "Here."
"Thank you." Lex took the box and unwrapped it slowly. Inside, he found a keyring. It was simple: bright stainless steel with a thick circular metal fob at its end. From the center of the fob, a familiar profile stared blankly across at him.
"It's a copy," Clark said hastily. "Pretty obviously, I guess, huh?"
Lex held up the keychain. The reproduction of the ancient coin was surprisingly good, for what he figured Clark could have paid for it; he could even read the Greek on the reverse.
"It's Alexander the Great. But you knew that. Right? You probably know everything about him."
"Not everything," Lex said. "This was a nice gift. Thank you, Clark."
"You can put your house keys on it," Clark said, and his voice sounded oddly strained. "And Alexander, he never lost a battle."
"No," Lex said. "He didn't."
"He'll make sure you get home safe from now on."
Lex had lost his faith in alien superheroes and mythic conquerors somewhere around the middle of his stay on the island, when it had become clear that he had only himself to rely on. But his manners were deeply ingrained, so he smiled and said thank you and promised to start using the keychain immediately.
"Are you doing OK, Lex?"
"I'm fine," Lex said. "I've been busy."
"Well, if you want to hang out..."
"Maybe some other time, Clark."
"OK," Clark said resignedly. "Oh, hey, before I go, there's another part to your present."
Lex raised his eyebrows and waited. Clark pulled a round tin out of his backpack.
"Mom made them. She let me help." He smiled again. "She said to make sure you eat them all."
Lex opened the lid, and the sweet smell of Martha Kent's oatmeal raisin cookies filled the room. "My favorites."
Lex bit into one of the cookies. It was sweet and nutty and simple. He could imagine mother and son working together in the small yellow farmhouse, and he thought he could almost taste the effort they'd put into them. "Thank your mother for me," he said after he'd swallowed it down.
"I will. And, Lex?"
"When you run out of cookies, you can always come by for more. Any time."
Lex looked up again and saw the caring and concern on Clark's face. That felt like a gift too. "I will," he said, and he could almost smile back. "I promise."
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