by Roses

Author's notes: Spoilers for the season 3 promotional trailers only. Everything else is pure speculation.

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The routine had become surprisingly simple to adapt to. Lex's limousine picked him up each morning promptly at 6:20 a.m. and was always ready at 7:15 to take him to school when they were done.

He quickly got comfortable after the driver closed the door for him and pulled a pack of Camels out of his backpack.

It seemed this was the only place he could feel comfortable lighting up since he'd returned to his hometown. Smallville High had a no-smoking policy. His father's policy was just as rigid. He had stated clearly no smoking in the house and certainly no smoking in the barn since one spark and the whole place could go up like kindling.

Unless he wanted to stand out in the field and smoke with the cattle, his options were rather limited.

The smoke drifted in a lazy cloud around him. He turned on the television to catch the news from Metropolis: two cases of arson, a rash of burglaries in midtown, and a drug-related murder.

He'd stopped his share of crime when he lived there, but never out of anything other than boredom and an excuse to throw people against walls and search their pockets. They'd been startlingly stupid and easy to catch.

He dragged slowly on his cigarette and thought just how much more effective criminal activity in the city might have been if the upper echelons of the Metropolis ring hadn't apparently consisted of uninspired thugs.

He pushed the "off" button on the remote and blew smoke towards the ceiling. There were times he missed the simpler life he'd made for himself. Everything had come easily, effortlessly. Lots of money and little moral compunction. He'd never had to put up with anyone who annoyed him.

There was no power on earth like being able to just walk away when he didn't feel like dealing with a situation. He'd embraced his anonymity and been relieved not to be subjected to the irritating presence of friends and family.

Day after day of taking what he wanted, learning to live quite easily with no regrets. The entire experience had been nothing short of intoxicating.

He peered indifferently out the window at the passing corn. It still just didn't feel like home; perhaps it never had. He'd listened to the part of him that wanted to come back but was now second guessing if returning had been such a great idea. Everyone was so strange around him, treating him like a dangerous animal who'd finally learned to tolerate his cage.

Everyone except Lex. The one person who hadn't been in Metropolis to see what he'd been capable of. The only one of his friends who'd been far too otherwise occupied just surviving this past summer to idly wonder why Clark Kent had run away from home.

He glanced at his watch to see it was nearing 6:30. The limo was past the gate and on the secondary drive that bordered the trail.

Lex was outside waiting for him, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He waved slightly and shouted, "Hey!" when Clark emerged from the limo and ground out his cigarette with his sneakered toe. Clark shut the door behind him and made his usual show of stretching and bending to warm up for their 5-mile run.

Lex looked barely awake and his loose sweats appeared to offer little warmth. He clapped his hands and rubbed them together briskly. "Cold morning."

"Yeah," Clark answered, pulling each foot back in turn to stretch his quads, trying to remember what cold felt like. "Maybe we should use the indoor track."

"No way," Lex protested, taking Clark by his sleeve and pulling him onto the trail. "You haven't gotten Metropolis out of your system yet. And I can't believe you're still smoking, Clark," he added with a trace of disappointment. "You definitely need the fresh air."

They jogged together and quickly settled into a regular rhythm. Clark was grateful that Lex was in such good shape since it made talking to him that much easier.

"Things better at the plant?" he asked cautiously. Lex had told him how much trouble he and Gabe were having deciphering company reports from over the past few months. Apparently Chloe's father had been dismissed shortly after Lex's disappearance and replaced by one of Lionel's drones in an attempt by the elder Luthor to sabotage LexCorp's performance.

"My father's attempted coup was a pretty big failure, Clark. I've got my lead teams to thank for that. We're definitely making progress." Lex let air out in a loud huff and lowered his head to swallow.

The path curved and they jogged beside the pond. It had been completely drained and refilled since Sean's body had been removed, and Clark had wondered at but never questioned the extravagance of this. The water was partially frozen in spots and Clark spotted a family of wood ducks near the trail. He poked Lex with his elbow and nodded in their direction. Their low quacking punctured the thickness of the air around them, which tasted sharp on Clark's tongue.

Lex glanced at him sideways a few times. "Things better at the farm?" he asked in return.

Clark had been reluctant to discuss his time in Metropolis with much of anyone and was glad Lex had decided not to press him on it. "Yeah, I guess. Whatever normal is. I've got a lot less free time than I ever did before."

"That makes two of us." Lex wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his jacket and smiled at Clark. The pond was behind them and they ran past the gated southern entrance of the garden.

"Helen told me she was looking forward to redesigning that next spring," Lex said quietly.

Another off-limits subject. The official story was that Helen had died, which Lex didn't believe, and that the crash was accidental, which Lex didn't talk about. Lex insisted that she was simply missing and would turn up as unexpectedly as she'd disappeared. The funny thing was Lex never exactly acted like he would be pleased if that happened. While Clark readily admitted that Lex was infamously hard to read, he'd always been an open book to Clark in all things Helen.

"I know you miss her."

Lex quirked an eyebrow and then shook his head. "No you don't, Clark. You can't know something that's not true."

Clark frowned but kept up the pace. "What do you mean?" Something inside told him he would never have anything but fragments.

"Nothing. I don't mean anything. I'm just--" Lex's voice trailed off. He then looked over at Clark, who felt his gut twist a bit at the dull sadness in the eyes on his. "I'm just glad you're home."

Clark slapped Lex loudly on his back and smiled brightly. "Same here."

Clark thought how true the statement was and wished everything else in his life could also be the same. What was inescapable was that nothing ever would be. Not with his classmates and certainly not with his parents.

He hummed a cadence and Lex started humming it with him.

"We haven't done that one before, have we?" Lex asked lightly.

"No, do you know it?"

Lex thought for a moment. "Two old ladies were lying in bed," he said to the beat of their shoes on the dirt.

"One turned over to the other and said..." Clark continued, loud enough to scare birds out of a nearby tree.

"I wanna be an Airborne Ranger!" Lex sang at the top of his voice, the world around them waking up to the violent disturbance.

"Live that life of blood and danger!" Clark answered.

"Airborne Ranger, blood and danger!" they shouted together.

They continued haphazardly after that and made up verses when they couldn't remember the correct ones, Clark almost doubling over in hysterics when Lex sang that he wanted to be a cattle farmer.

Clark was happy to find his time with Lex growing increasingly comfortable. He was learning to like new beginnings. Fresh starts.

Those were the same words he'd heard often at home, but they'd been spoken in strained tones, a reflection of his betrayal. Here it was different. No one was looking at him with pain in their eyes, judging him for abandoning them, asking him silently what he'd seen, what kind of things he'd done, and who he had become.

When he'd come back and seen Lex again for the first time since their talk in the mansion, Clark was struck by the fact that Lex was now his kinsman. A man with a past he didn't feel comfortable discussing, a wealth of huge mistakes he would never stop paying for, and a never-ending supply of people who would always treat him like a shady character no matter what he did.

Blood and danger were real concepts for them, a feeling in the air as alive as they themselves were. Theirs alone and theirs to keep.

Clark glanced down and watched his feet and Lex's pound into the dirt beneath them. Maybe eventually everything would get easier. But until then, he'd value the time when he could do no wrong and no one was watching him with wary eyes.

He'd found another dangerous animal, and from what he could tell, this one didn't seem to mind sharing his cage.


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