by Nifra Idril
It's a Tuesday afternoon in September and the weather isn't great. There's rain coming in over the cornfields, slow and weightless, and when the drops fall, they land with small splats on the driveway. The whole day's been gray and thick, like a sweater, with the last of summer heat still hanging heavy in the air.
Clark runs a hand over the back of his neck, and leans against a post and waits. He's eighteen years old and he's not even sure what he's waiting for, but he's sure it's coming.
Rain falls on him listlessly, and his mother calls from the porch for him to get inside. Water rolls off the side of the barn and falls down his spine in a cascade. His mother calls again and he comes in, shooting the horizon a last, restless glance.
In his mailbox, there are shiny leaflets from tens of schools Clark's never heard of before, and a few he has. He turns them over in his hands, looks at the laughing students on the covers, and even reads a couple of them, but he already knows he'll never go. The bottom line, he knows, is that his family would bankrupt themselves to send him wherever he wanted to go, but Clark would never ask that, and he can get a full ride at Metropolis.
Sometimes at night he can still hear the rushing of the city - the way it seemed to hiss quietly all throughout the day, and burst into a cheerful roar as night crept in. Clark tries hard not to think about that summer, and most times, even when he does it's just a quick rush of guilt through him like a fever, or a full body shudder. But there are nights when he remembers the way rain made the pavement look softer, and how, in the dark, all the edges of the buildings that loomed over him seemed clean and sharp.
Metropolis held him when he was lost and ever since, Smallville has seemed soft and complacent - as trusting as the people who live here and close their eyes so they don't have to see the endless parade of strangeness. Clark can't accept that any more. There are so many questions that are never asked in Smallville; they litter the sidewalks like pieces of brightly colored paper, fill the rooms invisibly until Clark feels with every breath, he's drowning.
He doesn't want silence. He wants the bass beat, the pulse line, the cool cacophony of the city living all around him. He wants to draw a fresh breath, and ask his own questions.
He wants to leave Smallville. He's got a year to go, and sometimes, it feels so much longer than that.
Weeks pass like pages falling out of a very old book - they drift by, stale, yellowed, quivering through still air. Chloe gets kidnapped. Lana gets sick. Clark saves them both, and does a very good job of imitating interest as he makes his way through the days.
Pete's still playing football. Every Friday night finds Clark on the metal bleachers between Chloe, who mutters at the textbooks in her lap like they'll tell her the answers if she just asks forcefully enough, and Lana, who smiles and waves at Pete whenever she gets the chance. When he isn't looking, she predicts the coming plays with surprising accuracy, but then, Pete isn't the first football player Lana's dated.
Clark looks at the floodlights, and wonders about how things might have been so very unlike they are right now. There are so many little decisions he could have made differently, and maybe if he had, he wouldn't feel so incomplete, lacking. It's his senior year, and Clark thinks now it's too late for him to try and fit in, to correct his mistakes.
A breeze ruffles his hair, and his bangs tickle the bridge of his nose. The air smells sour and musty, like old leather and regrets.
Pete makes a break up the center of the field, catching the pass easily. He evades tackles and triumphantly spikes the ball in the end zone, and Lana whistles shrilly, clapping, laughing, and stomping loudly on the bleachers.
Chloe hoots happily, giggling. She looks over and pokes him. "Come on Clark, make some noise. Pete just made play of the week."
He finds a grin and joins in the clapping, and when Pete does a handstand, he laughs along with the others. Lana starts talking about an after-party at the Talon, and he agrees to help clean up afterward and Chloe says she'll play chauffeur for Pete and Clark. At moments like this, it's almost as though everything between them has always been this easy.
At moments like this, Clark wishes everything was this easy.
Lunch at Smallville High hasn't changed in four years - despite the millions of things that have. The trays are still flimsy brown plastic, usually lukewarm from a recent washing. The thin windows let in just enough natural light so that when Clark leans his arm against the tabletop, it's warm from the sun.
Lana slides onto the bench next to him, and smiles in greeting. "I think that after the pre-calc test I just took my brain has become mush."
"Join the club. Thanks to history, I'm officially incapable of thought," he says, with a grin, nodding to Pete and Chloe as they approach the table.
Chloe waves, and sits, while Pete puts an arm around Lana and brushes a kiss across her cheek. "You look tired, babe," he tells her, pushing a fall of hair behind her ear. "Stay up all night stressing about math?"
"Yes," Chloe answers for Lana, rolling her eyes. "I could hear you pacing next door. It was like a stampede of neurotic antelopes from one side of the room to the other."
"I'm a whole stampede?" Lana asks, laughing.
"Well, maybe half a stampede," Chloe concedes, grinning as she points across the cafeteria at her boyfriend. "Oh, look, there's Kevin." She waves, and he returns the smile, coming over to sit beside her.
Clark sits back in his seat, and watches as Chloe and Kevin kiss gently, and Pete and Lana talk to one another in undertones, and he feels as though there's a line he can't cross, a circle the four of them belong to that he doesn't, and Clark hates it.
Once, it would have been his shoulder that Lana leaned her head against. He would have teased her about her obsession with her grades, and she would have ducked her head to hide her self-deprecating smile. Her hand would have been soft in his, and her lips would have been softer when he kissed her.
Or, he could have been across the table, teasing Chloe into an indignant yelp, and laughing as she smacked him with her napkin. He could have spent long nights at the Torch, keeping her from flying off the handle as she ran in pursuit of stories by wrapping his arms around her. Chloe, he knows, is full of fire, and he could have been the one to make it spark in her eyes, and heat her cheeks.
But, Clark also knows the truth, and the truth is this: those are fantasies. The reality would have been Clark and Chloe screaming at each other, and Lana, silent and miserable. While Clark wants to have someone to hold, someone whose cheeks he can press tender kisses against, he doesn't want just anyone.
What Clark wants is for Lex to walk up to the table, sit down next to him, and ask him how his day has been. He wants Lex to lean in and press a quick, friendly kiss against his lips and tell Clark how he slept the night before. He wants to know what Lex's face looks like flushed, in the dark, and how Lex would smile after Clark made love to him.
What Clark wants is to be able to tell Lex that he loves him, and he wants Lex to say it back. Sometimes he thinks it's possible, but most of the time he knows better.
"`Caddy smelled like trees'," Lex quotes, pointing at the book in Clark's hand as he approaches. His voice curls around Clark like a wisp of smoke, or a ribbon. "But that's from The Sound and the Fury, not As I Lay Dying. That homework or are you a budding Faulkner fan?"
The smile Clark gives Lex is genuine, and so is the one he gets in return, and by now Clark has seen enough to know how rare that is. Lex is too thin, and the skin over his cheekbones is pulled too tightly - it makes him look harsher than he is. Or, Clark forces himself to amend, harsher than he is to Clark.
"It's not for school," he says. "I mean, it kind of is, but not really. A teacher recommended it. I like it so far. Have you read it?"
Lex sits, stretches his legs out and crosses them at the ankle. "Yes, I have. It's all about point of view. Interesting, don't you think, how two people can see the same event so differently?"
Clark turns the thought over in his mind, getting the shape of it, feeling for a way in, a way to understand what Lex means, before he speaks.
"It's about what you bring to the event, I guess. Or, that's the way Faulkner makes it seem," he says slowly. His eyes wander over the crowd, disinterested, before being pulled back to Lex's, and he loses his train of thought for a minute as he tries to decide what color Lex's eyes are.
They're bluer than gray, and more silver than blue - they remind Clark of ice and rivers and how some mornings the moon is still visible to the naked eye.
"What's up?" Clark asks, shaking himself gently back into the moment. "I haven't seen you in a while. Where'd you go?"
"London," Lex says, nodding a greeting to someone across the room. "Which was very damp, as always. I got back two days ago. So, how goes the college search?"
"It's not a search, Lex. I already know where I want to go." It's something he says almost every time they talk lately, but Lex still shakes his head like he doesn't get it.
"Metropolis University? With your grades, you could do better," Lex insists. "Don't you want more than that?"
"I want a lot of things, Lex," Clark says simply, making himself look up, into Lex's face. He thinks about regret, and mistakes that are too late to correct, and wonders about a time when Lex wouldn't have let a statement like that slide without innuendo.
The pause goes on too long, and he shrugs, looks away. Lana is laughing at something Pete's telling her as she cleans the counter top. Clark envies them, especially when he turns back to find Lex watching him intently - as though he's measuring each line of Clark's expression for meaning.
"I guess it's like the book," Clark says to fill the silence. "It's about what you bring to it. I mean, everything is, isn't it? MetU has a good journalism department, and it's close to home. The rest is up to me."
"That's true," Lex replies noncommittally. His eyes drop, and he frowns a little, and Clark thinks he'll say something more, but he doesn't. Instead he orders a coffee and changes the subject and Clark waits for Lex to say something that matters but the conversation ends quickly.
Lex doesn't look back as he leaves the Talon, and Clark frowns into his cappuccino and wonders what would happen if he did something like scream, or run after Lex. He sighs, and it feels like the room gets smaller.
Clark dreams when he sleeps. He dreams about finding Lex on a beach at the end of the night, and walking with him underneath palm trees that sway with the breeze, whispering things that Clark can't quite hear over the murmuring waves that break on the shore. They don't talk, and don't even look at each other that often, but Clark can hear Lex breathing, and finds it comforting. They stop when they reach a circle of scorched sand, and Lex steps away, sinking into the dunes.
"I wish you'd been here," Lex says, and is gone. There are silver coins scattered over the ground were he stood, and when Clark picks them up they're cold.
The bleating of his alarm wakes him, and Clark blinks tiredly as he swings his legs off the bed. He brushes his teeth, gets dressed, does his chores, and eats the breakfast his mother makes him. It's Saturday, and he has nothing to do.
His loft is quiet and dark, and Clark lies down on the couch, staring up at the rafters, and thinks about how four years can pass so quickly and how time can shape people. He thinks about the Lex in his dream and the Lex he first met, and it strikes Clark how much sharper Lex is now. Physically, too, as though he's been pared down to corners, angles - all edges that cut.
Clark remembers the soft, slack look of Lex's lips when they first met, the round of his cheeks, and how there was something wistful around his eyes. Now, there's more gloss and less longing. Clark can see how tightly Lex holds himself together, and it makes him ache because he wants to wrap around Lex, and hold him still until he feels warmed, comforted.
When Clark was in Metropolis, he could see Lex there. He could see Lex in the packed clubs, and the pristine dining rooms - in the parks lined with trees and in the narrow streets. Even underneath the burn of the red kryptonite, he missed Lex. Clark remembers Lex's funeral, and the first time he heard that Lex was dead, and he's glad that he wasn't himself at the time because it still hurt to think that Lex was gone for good - it hurt more than Clark could handle.
The first time he saw Lex after that summer, they were both still a little wild, and a little broken, but Clark hadn't been able to stop himself from hugging Lex, tightly. Lex stiffened, but let him, and Clark reminded himself that Lex was alive by just feeling the solid weight of him. He pulled back, but his hand strayed to Lex's hip, and Lex's hand held Clark's shoulder.
Lex's breath was warm against Clark's lips, his forehead cool against Clark's. Clark wants to know what his life would be like if he'd just given in, closed his eyes, and leaned in for a kiss.
It'd been the first time he so much as admitted to himself that was what he wanted from Lex, so he'd stepped away and said he was glad to have Lex back. The understatement still rankles.
Lex doesn't talk about the island, just like Clark doesn't talk about Metropolis, but sometimes Clark can see the memories flit across Lex's expression - something feral and afraid, but then it's gone; washed away like foam as Lex's eyes shutter, and his face goes blank, gets harder.
That's always when Clark thinks he should know the right thing to say, but doesn't. Instead he just waits, and wishes he could change things, but Clark's pretty sure it's too late to do that now.
"I wish you'd been here," whispers the wind, sounding like the Lex Clark dreams about, and Clark wishes he'd been there, too. He wishes that Lex hadn't been alone. He wishes that Lex wasn't alone now.
Clark wishes that he wasn't alone now, too, or that there was a way for him to breach the long airy space between the two of them, just long enough to let Lex feel him and know that Clark is there. Long enough to let Lex know that Clark will always be there, if Lex wants him.
But there's a saying about wishes and fishes, and Clark's heard it maybe a billion times and he knows that he's just about as likely to grow a fish on a stalk of corn as he is to get this particular wish granted. Clark will get used to it, but until then he'll try not to let it hurt so much.
Clark's mother taps the steering wheel as she drives, humming along with the radio. She waves at a woman passing by on the sidewalk, and smiles when she sees the homecoming banner over the street.
"The team's doing well this year," she observes. "Pete must be proud."
"Especially because he's finally getting some time on the field," Clark says, leaning his head against the window.
Martha bites back a smile and gives him an amused look. "Be nice."
Clark ducks his head, and smiles back agreeably. It's his turn to wave when he notices Chloe bouncing up and down outside the Talon, flailing her arms to get his attention.
When he laughs out loud, his mother looks over, expression warm. "How's Chloe doing?"
"She's fine," Clark tells her, settling back into the seat. Martha's studying him out of the corner of her eye. "What?"
"I was just wondering who you're taking to Homecoming this year," she replies, giving him a sideways glance.
Clark shifts, frowning. "No one...Mom, I don't think I'm going to go. I - don't exactly have the best track record with these things. Maybe it would be safer for everyone if I just stayed home, you know?"
Martha's eyebrows rise. "Clark, that's ridiculous. You only get one senior Homecoming. You should go - you'll have a good time, but what's more is that if you don't go, you'll regret it."
"Mom, I'm like a magnet for weirdness," he argues, staring hard at the cracked leather of the dashboard. "Maybe if I'm not there, it'll go smoothly, for once."
"That's even more ridiculous," she responds with a snort. Clark glares, and she continues. "Well, I'm sorry, but it is. Not doing something because of the possibility it might not go perfectly isn't any kind of noble self-sacrifice - it's fear, Clark, and you can't let it run your life. You'll miss out on too much, honey."
"There's no one for me to ask," Clark says as Martha pulls into the parking lot, hoping she'll drop the subject. "Chloe's going with that Kevin guy, and that would be a bad idea, anyway."
"Yes, it would be," Martha says, parking the car. She pulls the keys out of the ignition and turns toward him, taking his hand and squeezing it. "Because Chloe isn't the one you want."
Clark sighs, tries not to roll his eyes. "Mom, Lana and I - " he begins, and she shakes her head.
"I'm not talking about Lana," she says quietly. "Because you don't want her either."
The world doesn't so much stop as start moving very, very slowly as Clark raises his eyes to meet his mother's, and processes what she just said. Martha just offers him a warm smile and touches his cheek. Clark remembers to breathe when he starts to feel a little dizzy. Underneath his fingers the leather of the seat cracks and breaks, and he forces himself to let go.
Outside, a child runs past the truck, laughing as she pushes a cart in front of her. Light catches on the handlebars, and Clark swallows, hard.
"He's a better man than your father gives him credit for," Martha says quietly. "But he's not an angel, Clark. Lex is...very many things."
"I can't take Lex to Homecoming, Mom," Clark bites out, looking down until she forces him to look at her.
"I know that," she answers, laughing a little. "But we were talking about regrets before, and I think maybe, that Homecoming isn't what you would regret most, looking back on high school, Clark. Am I right?"
Clark says nothing, just looks down again, and she pushes his hair off his forehead. "I love you, honey, and I want to see you happy. Go to Homecoming by yourself, if you want, but go. It's not too late for you to have fun at a school dance," Martha says, poking him gently.
"And Lex?" he asks, words falling from his lips before he can think about it. He glances up at her underneath his bangs, and forces himself to continue. "What do I do about that? Isn't it too late, now?"
"I can't really say what you should do, honey. But," she pauses, kissing his forehead, "what you have to decide is whether it's better to do something than to let things stay the way they are."
Martha pulls away, and slips out of the cab. Light catches on her hair as she walks toward the supermarket, picking up glints of gold and copper. Clark follows, but stands by the truck for a long minute, finding his legs.
On Sunday, there's a strong wind that blows the shutters to the loft open and closed, over and over again. It rushes through the fields, and whips around the house, pulling at the swing on the porch. It moans through the cracks in the floor, low and strange, all through the day.
Clark sits at the kitchen table, aimlessly doodling all over his notebook as he talks on the phone with Chloe about Hamlet. He can hear his mother and father in the living room, their voice indistinct, falling and rising as they speak to one another.
"I mean, all he does is complain and complain. Sometimes I just want to shake him and say enough already, Hamlet. Get some meds and get on with your life, you know?" Chloe asks. "He's practically the human embodiment of a waffle."
Clark shrugs, twirling his pen between his fingers. "Yeah, but, killing the king is sort of a big deal. It's only natural that he'd be kinda...hesitant."
"I think the word you're searching for is `wimpy,'" she argues. "He knows Claudius killed his father to marry his mother, his dad's ghost can't rest until vengeance is done, and he's all `I can't deal with anything...let me go be mean to my girlfriend.'"
"So he should just be able to commit murder without a second thought? And, what if the ghost isn't real? Or is a demon or something? And, besides, uhm, murder. Kind of a big deal," he protests.
"Okay, yeah, it's a big deal, I'll grant you that. But the thing is - all he does is think about it, all the time," Chloe says. "Wouldn't you get sick of just thinking about something all the time? Just...do it, already. Put us all out of your misery."
Clark drops the pen, and sucks in a breath. From the next room, he hears his mother laughing, hears her voice - clear over the drone of wind.
"Chlo'," he starts, stopping, swallowing, and starting again. "Do you...do you ever feel like it's too late to do something? Even though you really want to do it? Like, you've missed the time completely?"
"I'm guessing we've left the land of Hamlet and entered into the land of Kent." Chloe sighs, and there's the sound of her shifting the phone from one ear to the other. "And it sounds like we're talking about the land of Kent, in the county of romance."
"I'm not talking about Lana," Clark tells her, picking up the pen and sketching cubes on his notebook, making the lines thick and dark. "I...it's just that sometimes, no matter how much you want to say something, it's too late. Or it seems that way. And it seems like...saying what you want to, it could ruin everything. Make it...too complicated, or too hard."
"Okay, well, this hypothetical thing that you have to say to whoever's behind door number one sure sounds like it scares the hell out of you," Chloe replies simply. "Or else you wouldn't be looking so hard for a rationalization not to say it."
He blinks, presses down harder with his pen in irritation. "I'm not looking for a - "
"You are, though," Chloe interrupts, with a snort. "You're pulling a Hamlet, Clark. You're trying to talk yourself out of...whatever this is. So, why? How big are the stakes, huh?"
"Pretty big," he admits, quietly.
"I'll upgrade that to `huge' on the basis of your tone of voice," she teases, before becoming more serious. "I guess the next question to ask is how important is it to you to say whatever it is that you have to say?"
Clark presses his lips together, and thinks of the way light catches in Lex's eyes, and how Lex sometimes tips his chin up like he thinks he's about to be hit when he talks to people. He remembers the brush of Lex's fingers against his skin, and has to close his eyes for a second against the way need seems to hollow him out.
"Clark, I can hear you breathing, so I know you're still there."
"Yeah, I'm here," he says. "And...it's important. It's really important."
"Then just say it already," Chloe says impatiently. "Do what you have to do. Look, Clark, I don't pretend to understand the inner workings of your bizarre and Kentish mind, but, I know you well enough to say without reservation that whatever is going on right now? Is pretty serious. And left to your own devices, you'll probably sit around and mope and just basically wait for things to take care of themselves, but that never happens. If you want something? You have to go out and get it. Trust me."
"And what if, later, I wish I hadn't said anything?" Clark asks, bitterly.
"Then you deal with that, then," Chloe tells him, evenly. "And I'll help. And so will Lana, and Pete, and Lex, and your parents and possibly the entire state of Kansas, because full immunity to your wounded-puppy-hurt-expression is an impossibility. It's a pathetic sight, Clark, really."
"Chloe, I'm serious," he says, standing and pacing across the kitchen.
"And so am I."
Clark draws a deep breath, and stills, gripping the counter as he looks out the window. The wind picks up and rattles the shutters, and the flag in the front yard flaps frantically.
"So what you're saying is that I should go for it?" Clark frowns down at his hands. "Even though it might be too late?"
"No, Clark," Chloe corrects patiently. "I'm saying that there's no such thing as too late."
It's not a night for sleeping, and Clark couldn't anyway. He keeps hearing his mother and Chloe in his head, whispering over and over until their words aren't even clear - just a constant drone of encouragement, buzzing beneath his skin until he can't lie still. He stands, paces the length of his room, over and over. The repetition is somewhat soothing as he moves through the dappled light, seeing the way the moon silvers the shadows that line the floor.
What he wants is simple, but he knows Lex is complicated, and that he is, too. Between the two of them, nothing is going to be easy, but the truth is that Clark has enough regrets, and he's tired of resigning himself to the slow slide of want he gets when he sees Lex - the inevitable flutter and stutter of his breath when Lex smiles, or says his name.
This is the truth: Clark needs Lex, and he's afraid of it. Maybe that's why he's spent so much time being still, watching and wanting, and letting words like `I love you' lie, unsaid, on his tongue.
Clark sees the hollows beneath Lex's cheeks, and in his eyes, and he knows that Lex needs something - and Clark hopes that maybe he can be what Lex needs, if Lex will let him. And as Clark paces across the well-worn wood of his floor, eyes fixed on his feet, that thought makes him a little less afraid; the thought that Lex might need this as much as he does.
For himself, Clark isn't terribly brave, but for Lex he can be, or he'll try to be.
He stands by the window, and looks out. The fields stretch out in front of the house, dark and formless - a black blanket bisected by the white gleam of the gravel driveway. His eyes trace the line of the road, follow the curve of the asphalt by what used to be Lana's house, and beyond, toward the mansion and his feet start to itch with the need to run.
He wants to put on his jeans, his shoes, a shirt, and run to Lex's. He can be there in five minutes, inside the library, the bedroom, wherever Lex is, and that's what's important. But it's three in the morning, and Lex has to sleep sometime, and Clark doesn't like the idea of waking him up. He paces across the room again, and rubs his hands over his arms, hugging himself. He thinks about closing his eyes, and pretending that his hands are Lex's, but Clark's done treating Lex like something he wants but can't have, so he keeps his eyes open, and watches the stillness break way into morning as the sun rises, by inches.
Monday morning sees Clark missing the bus, on purpose. He runs after it until he knows his parents can't see him, and turns, kicking up dust and leaves as he speeds through the fields toward the mansion. There's corn silk in his hair when he gets there, and when he plucks it out, little yellow tufts sticking to his fingers.
It's a bright, morning - not cold, closer to brisk, and the air smells a little spicy. It's a good time to start things over, Clark thinks, or start something new, entirely.
The door opens, and Clark asks where Lex is, even though he already knows the answer. His footsteps seem inescapably loud as he walks down the dark and winding hallways toward the library, and he wipes his damp palms against the denim of his jeans.
Lex sits at his desk, wearing the expected black and glaring at the papers in front of him as if he could re-arrange the numbers on them by the force of his displeasure. It makes Clark smile, despite the nervousness that runs over his body like a thousand invisible ants, because if anyone could, it would be Lex.
There's something so stark about the way he looks - the white of his skin against the black of his clothes, the thin line of concentration between his brows, the tight, red pucker of his lips as they purse with concentration, and his eyes, when he looks up, are startling.
Clark draws a deep breath, and steps into the library, and he's almost shaking, he's so anxious. His eyes sweep across the room, and he notices differences - small, subtle differences between the way it looks now and the way he pictures it in his mind. It's been too long since he's been here - there was a time he would have known exactly when Lex got the standing lamp beside his desk, or when he put up the painting on the far wall, all red lines and blue cubes.
"Clark?" Lex's voice pulls him back to the moment, surprised, sharp. "Clark, what are you doing here? Is everything all right?"
"Do I only ever come here when something's wrong?" he responds, without thinking. "I mean, yeah, everything's fine."
Lex's eyebrows go up, and he looks pointedly at his calendar. "If everything's fine, how come you aren't in school? Correct me if I'm wrong, but it is a Monday, isn't it?"
The distance between Clark and Lex's desk stretches out before him - glossy dark wood that shines in the early morning sun. "Yeah, it is," Clark admits, with a shrug, taking a few steps closer. "I'm uh...playing hooky, I guess."
Lex looks intrigued as he crosses his arms, sits back in his chair. "Clark Kent skips school...that's against type, isn't it?"
Clark swallows, frowns, and isn't sure he likes the three cornered smile that accompanies Lex's dry tone. "I'm not sure," he says slowly. "I don't think that anyone really has a 'type.' I think - I think people are more complicated than that."
"Complicated," Lex echoes, leaning forward on his desk, and something about the motion draws Clark in, makes it okay for him to take the last three steps that put him directly across from Lex, close enough to reach out and touch him. "Yes, people are complicated, with complex motivations and desires. It's just a turn of phrase, Clark."
"It's more than that, though," Clark insists, "it's...do you really think of me as a 'type'?"
"All I was trying to say was it's an uncharacteristic action on your part," Lex says, studying Clark's expression. "I wasn't trying to pigeon hole you. I think I've learned better than that in the past four years."
"But you like to do that. Pigeon hole, I mean," Clark presses. "You like to classify people, to figure them out. But how do you do that, if you don't know...don't know what motivates them? What they want?"
"You guess," Lex responds, running hand over his head and frowning. "You examine the evidence presented, and based on a quick analysis, you make an educated guess and nine times out of ten, you're right. Look, what is this conversation about? I feel like I'm lost in it."
Clark takes a deep breath, studies the way light bends through the windows, and tries to fight his way through the things he wants to say - the words crowding his thoughts, pressing to find any way out - to find an explanation, because he's lost, too.
"Lex, do you ever wonder how things could have gone differently? How you could have been different?" he blurts out, and frowns again.
"All the time," Lex tells him, easily, with a tight smile that belies his tone. "But that doesn't explain anything."
Clark sits, folding in on himself in the leather chair across from the desk, with elbows on his knees as he leans forward and studies his hands, trying to avoid the questioning look in Lex's eyes. "I'm getting there...it's...complicated."
"Like people?" Lex asks, ironically.
Clark chuckles, shoots Lex a look through the fringe of his bangs. "Yeah, like people."
"So that's the connection," Lex teases, grinning at Clark. "The complications."
And the sunlight streams in through the stained glass, shines in Lex's eyes, and Clark's talking before he even thinks, saying, "No, the connection is that I want you."
The grin slips from Lex's lips, and his mouth hangs open, shocked for a brief moment before he sits up, all whipcord and precise angles - rigid, and shuttered. His mouth tightens, his nostrils pinch, and Lex looks away as the floor falls out from beneath Clark.
"Clark," Lex says finally, voice hard like diamonds, and just as unforgiving, and Clark has to gulp in breath. "Let's...let's not do this."
And forcing himself to speak is like trying to use a bicycle covered in rust, but he does it, slowly, painfully. "Do what, Lex? Be honest?"
"No, this is not honesty," Lex shoots back, spitting out the word like it's something foul. "This is about you having some kind of existential senior-in-high-school crisis. You're not happy where you are, with who you are, and you want to pretend you're someone else for a while. That's fine, but I don't want to be a part of it."
"That is not what this is," Clark says, voice low and ragged, as he absorbs Lex's words like blows.
Lex stands, strides across the room, and pours himself a drink. Clark watches the lines of his back, and tries to catch his breath. His fingers bite into his palms, and he tries again. "I...Lex," is all he manages.
"What?" Lex asks, turning, eyes blazing. "What, Clark? Did you expect me to fall at your feet?"
"I don't want to use you," Clark protests, holding Lex's gaze. "I...I dream about you, sometimes. I dream about you on the island, and I want -I want to be there. With you."
Lex stiffens even further, every line of his body hard, tense. He moves as though he'll take a step forward, but checks himself, and takes a sip of his drink, saying nothing, and Clark takes it as encouragement. "It was a long time ago, I know," he says. "But I still think about it. I think about how you were all by yourself, how you're...alone now. And you're...I don't want that, not for you."
"So this altruism?" Lex asks, and Clark gets the impression that Lex wishes his tone was a lot more acidic than it is.
"No," Clark admits, feeling his lips twitch, slightly. "Not really, because...I don't want to be alone either. I don't want to be someone else, you're wrong about that. I just want to be me, but...me with you, not me alone. If that's not what you want, then...." His voice trails off as his bravado crumbles and he can't continue.
Lex looks down, looks at his feet, and Clark can see the struggle in the way his eyes narrow, how he presses his lips together. Clark can't breathe, and his hands are squeezed so tightly into fists that his bones are creaking, when Lex finally looks up, eyes bleak. "What I want is impossible."
"Am I part of it?" Clark asks, voice tight and small.
Lex's eyes fly to his, and rest there, and Clark can feel the heat in them, can feel the weight of them throughout his entire body. "Yes, you're a part of it, but what's not a part of it is your version of honesty. What I want, Clark, is you, and none of the damned lying that goes with you and I can't have that, and I won't take you any other way."
Air is thin, and necessary, and when Clark sucks it down it burns, just like his eyes do as he stands and crosses the room, so that he's face-to-face with Lex, who meets his gaze defiantly. "You want the truth?" he asks.
"No, Clark, I want your trust," Lex corrects.
Clark's nod is a single jerk of his head, as his eyes map Lex's expression. "Okay. I trust you, Lex."
"Just like that?" Lex asks, skeptical, and the laugh that pushes its way out is nothing like happy.
"Not just like that," Clark answers, running a hand through his hair. "Always. There's a difference between...between trusting someone, and being too afraid to tell them something."
"Afraid of what? That I'll sell you to the circus as a sideshow freak? That I'll cut you open and report my findings to my father?" Lex's eyes flame bluer with hurt.
Clark clenches his jaw momentarily and steps even closer, crowding Lex. "Stop. It. Do you honestly think it was supposed to be easy for me to tell you...to tell anyone that I'm...not human? Because, I'm not, Lex. I'm an alien. I fell out of space, so tell me how it's supposed to be easy for me to say that out loud like it's normal? Especially to someone that I love, someone I want to love me."
It's not that Lex's features soften, or that he becomes any less tense, but his shoulders come up and his spine curves, and he sighs, breath pushing Clark's hair back from his face. "Did you just...?"
"What, say it out loud?" Clark's lips twitch again, and he forces Lex to look at him. "Yeah, I did. Both parts of it. I love you and I'm an alien, Lex. I trust you. I want you, and I want you to want," he gestures between the two of them, fingers brushing Lex's chest and his own, "this."
Lex sways forward a little, but his shoulders straighten and he rocks back on his heels, brows drawn tight with thought as he stares at the floor. "There are so many things that stand between us; too many differences. Clark, we don't believe in the same things, the same rules -"
"Do not pigeon hole me," Clark insists, fiercely. "And don't pigeon hole us. We won't know if it'll work unless we try, will we? I could leave right now but," his voice drops until it's nothing more than a whisper against the curve of Lex's cheek, "I'm tired of what-ifs."
And then Lex does sway forward, and Clark feels the press of Lex's chest against his, and begins to feel the build of something very much like triumph buzz through his body. "This is complicated, Clark."
"No, it's simple," he corrects. "We're complicated."
Lex laughs, and it tickles Clark's neck, and he cranes his neck back, looking into Clark's face again. "What about next year?"
Clark lets his hands finally reach up, around Lex's body, and holds him, smiling. "We figure it out then, okay? But neither of us fit here, and maybe - maybe we could fit in Metropolis."
"Maybe we could," Lex agrees, and trails his fingertips over Clark's cheek, leans up, and finally, finally, pulls Clark down for a kiss that rushes through him like a wave, breaking over him, pulling, moving him almost against his will as his fingers rub in constant circles against Lex's skin. It's morning and the light spills into the room, gold-tipped and eager.
When Clark goes home that night, it's with the feeling of Lex's body still tingling on his fingertips, and the taste of Lex on his lips. As he runs, he smiles, because suddenly, and for the first time in a long time, everything is exactly the way he wants it, and the itch, the restlessness that's been pushing him through his days has evaporated. The moon pushes its way up through the thick orange of the sunset, and Clark's happy -just as he is.
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