He leans against Lex's kitchen counter: same counter, same groceries as always; same boy but different inside. Wanted for theft, assault, disturbing the peace, destruction of property.
It doesn't seem real. He's in Smallville. Those are Metropolis crimes.
He called the police from a pay phone in Chicago and gave them everything. There's nothing in the apartment that's really his. Clark Kent's.
Who he really is, right?
He swallows dryly and takes an apple from the box. He bites into it: same taste, same crunch in his teeth. Everything... the same again.
Except for the big old NOT.
He crosses his arms. Flannel shirt. Too big, untucked; hiding, swimming in it. He knows exactly how he looks under there now. The girls stared, smiled, followed him around. He could get them to do stuff--to get in his car, go home with him, take their clothes off--by smiling and standing real close.
He put the flannel back on and that doesn't happen any more. Which is--good. Safe. Things are quieter, duller, they don't hurt his eyes or his ears or make him burn under his skin like his blood's turned to lava.
He didn't notice how much it hurt to burn until he stopped.
He sets the apple on the counter. He's not hungry or thirsty or craving anything except maybe a giant bucket of ice water to jump in.
Other guys would go swimming. With all the kryptonite in the water he can't even do that.
His skin itches under the flannel. His chest itches where the burning mark used to be. His fingers are sticky with juice so he sucks them clean.
The stained glass shines red and blue geometry over the foil of the casserole and the plywood box of apples. Lex's castle is like fairyland. Nothing seems real.
How could he be plain Clark Kent in a place with swords on the walls?
And then Lex. Lex pushes through the doorway with both hands, all smiles, all red silk shirt showing his muscles and arms and everything that Clark had only more so--Lex knows what happened when he takes off his clothes, too. It's written all over his face. Clark's worried that it's written on himself--that one day he'll walk down the street and everyone would stop and stare and say look, that's a boy who looks like he could rob a dozen cash machines and lead nice girls astray.
Lex swoops in on him with one hand extended and falters, pauses, blinks, collects himself before taking Clark's arm all the way to the elbow and pulling him in with the other. "It's been a long time since I saw a friend," Lex says with his hand on Clark's back and his cheek against Clark's ear.
"You saw me yesterday," Clark says.
"Indulge me." Arm against Clark's belly. Clark wonders if Lex feels him burning.
Still burning. He hadn't been able to have sex with any of the girls. It hurt--the hotter he got, the closer he was, the more he touched that girl and was touched back, the more the ring and the mark hurt him--until he dove right out the window and into the pool.
And heard the water sizzling from his skin.
It was borrowed heat. Borrowed juice. Borrowed mojo. He didn't want those girls when he was Clark Kent--no more than any other teenage guy wanted any pretty girl--so it wasn't really him, and he couldn't do it.
Or else Jor-El has a really funny set of ethics.
He's not sure.
Lex is still hugging him, and he's okay with that. He thinks maybe they've been hugging past the point where they can step back and pretend like nothing happened--and that scares him, a little, but at the same time, he's not interested in that particular lie. Just the big lies for Clark Kent from now on.
"The last person I touched was Helen," Lex says. "Touching you is a hell of a lot safer." He backs off, finally, but he still stands too close. His wrist rests on Clark's shoulder and his fingertips just brush his back.
"You're my friend. I'd never do anything to hurt you."
Lex smiles; his eyes are distant. "You make that sound like the one follows naturally on the other."
"Calling someone a friend and actually being a friend are different things," Clark says.
Lex looks at him.
"I was in Metropolis all summer," Clark says.
"And got the Metropolis one-two," Lex says.
"I can see it all over you."
Which he--he flinches, he wants to hide, but where can he go? This is his skin.
Lex touches his knuckles to Clark's heart. "Everyone takes a few punches in their time, Clark." He's too calm. Two wives, two attempted murders--he has to feel like George Foreman's heavy bag, Clark thinks.
And Clark shakes his head. "I wasn't taking the punches. I think there's a warrant out for me. A couple of them." Wanting to say don't lie to me.
"They'll never touch you."
Clark looks at his eyes: marble hard. Luthor. Sure.
"You didn't hurt anyone," Lex says, "so it doesn't matter."
"No, I don't have spies. I can see that on you too. You haven't hurt anyone, Clark Kent. You haven't changed nearly enough for that."
He swallows. Breathes. "It's all fun and games until--"
And someone did die in Club Zero, and someone else died in the woods a year ago, and Lex is still alone in this room. Clark isn't a bad guy. He's not even as bad as his best friend.
He hugs Lex hard. Both arms. Squeezing slightly. Feeling skin and bones--hard muscle with no fat at all--quick, surprised breath in his ear. "This has been a really weird summer," he says, still burning under his skin.
It makes him shiver. It makes Lex shiver, skin reacting to skin under all their clothes, because when Clark hugs someone, the flannel stops working and he can't hide any more.
"Oh," Lex says, "you're telling me," and there's a little cough of a laugh against his neck. It's as close as Lex is going to come to a confession.
"Mom sent you a casserole." He can feel Lex's spine. He shouldn't. "It's chicken and mushroom. It's really good."
"You lost a lot of weight. And I don't know what you were eating--"
"Coconuts, sweetgrass and grubs."
"I hated pina coladas already. Chicken and mushroom sounds like heaven."
"Well," Clark says, "don't grubs taste like chicken?"
A joke. But Lex just says "no."
He's still burning. It's the fire from three months of simmer and scorch. He wasn't able to touch himself, could barely stand to get in the shower or even look in a mirror for fear of the mark. It scorched him with every thought.
He should have been able to leave that pain behind in Metropolis--but he can't. He put the ring on. He can't let that decision go just by taking it off.
Lex is shivering against him, little twitches that become quivers where they touch. "Clark, do you--"
Something brushes his back--the counter--and Clark twitches, overloaded. "Do you feel like a man, Clark?" Lex asks.
He'll never be the same. "Do you feel grown up?" Lex asks.
His actions have reactions and he can't get away from it, he knows this, but what he was trying to run away from was here in Smallville, it was him. It was Clark Kent.
He doesn't know how to answer. He looks in Lex's eyes; Lex's eyes are clear, as his are clear, and Lex's eyes are crazy, like he bets his are crazy, and Lex is holding on to him, holding tight. "It's terrible, isn't it?" Lex says.
"I hate it," Clark says.
"When we're children we want nothing more than to grow up because we don't see the price it exacts. It's not worth being able to eat three pieces of cake--but there's no going back." Lex's eyes are wild. He catches his lower lip in his teeth; his hands hold Clark tight, tight. "Clark."
Clark weaves on his feet, bumps against the counter again, and shakes and shakes and shakes. "Clark," Lex says.
His knees are shaking. He has to sit down or fall down. "Clark," Lex says, with his breath and his belly in it, and Clark lets go and grabs the counter.
Lex takes the tails of Clark's shirt in his hands and rips it open.
He could never really hide from Lex. Only the lies kept him covered, and those only held because Lex let them. So he could pretend not to be an alien right now but he couldn't pretend not to be a--be someone having sex right this minute--which he's pretended before when they've gotten nearly this close, but that only works when Lex plays along which he isn't now. He isn't. He's pulling Clark's flannel off and tossing it on the floor and he's looking at him, seeing him.
The mark was there but now it's gone, leaving only so much naked skin. He's paler than he should be--no farm work. He's flushed and burning. "Say yes," Lex says, staring at him.
"Yes," Clark says, and he's not sure it came out right, so he says "yes" again, and he says "yes" when Lex slides his hands into his jeans and "yes" when Lex unbuckles his belt. "Yes" when Lex's hands are on his dick and then nothing at all when Lex kisses him.
Nothing when he comes three months worth of hurting. Nothing when he's sweating, rocking, aching and still hard in Lex's grasp.
A groan when he collapses to the floor with his legs splayed in front of him. Lex kneels gracefully down, licking his hands clean. All Clark can do is breathe.
Lex reaches over his head and picks up the half-eaten apple. He takes a huge bite, looking wide-eyed at Clark. His shirt is the same color as the apple. His eyes are colorless as the stone wall. His mouth twists as he chews--telltale emotion--pain or love or grief, maybe.
Clark watches as he licks the juice from the flesh. He finishes the apple, leans up again and puts the core on the counter. He hangs, hands on the countertop; Clark pulls his shirt out of his pants and skins it up over his head, and he shudders and helps.
Lex is naked--hairless--but Clark knew that already. Lex is pink and burned and raw all over his skin but he pushes Clark sideways onto the tile and rubs up against him anyway. He shoves his pants down and kisses Clark and somehow things take care of themselves.
He knows what to do when he stops telling himself that he doesn't. His eyes are wide open as Lex clutches his shoulders, seeing and knowing when Lex thrusts hard against his leg and comes.
He strokes Lex's back as Lex catches his breath--shuddering breath, more emotion than he'll admit. Up to the shoulder, down to his ass. Not the first ass he's felt. Not the first shoulder. Not the first dick. And there's been breasts and mouths and small, secret touches, and he thinks that one girl had an orgasm on his lap right before he really started to burn.
All that and nothing for him: because there's always a price and when you're operating on a lizard-level it hits to the stomach or the groin.
But now he's home. This castle his home, these tiles are his to walk on, Lex is his to hold. Responsibility and reward. He guesses.
He hopes he's right.
"Clark," Lex sighs into his neck. "Dad wants me to live in Metropolis, but the hell with him. This is home."
Home with the secrets and the reproaches and the lies. Home where he had to hide, had to guard, had to keep watch. Home where he had school and chores and manure. Home where he has his parents--his real parents--instead of Intergalactic Creepazoid Jor-El.
As if there was an option but to come home. Either of them.
"Forget Metropolis," Clark says. "What does it have that Smallville doesn't have, anyway?"
"My father," Lex says.
"Yeah," says Clark. His too.
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