The tablecloths in the Talon had changed while he was away, Lex noticed. Lex had noticed quite a few changes these days.
Clark was sitting across him, seeming profoundly uncomfortable and looking around once in a while with an odd expression. Lex gathered something had happened between him and Lana, but he wasn't concerned with the details. Clark was drinking his usual cappuchino in small sips, his hands wrapped around the cup.
Lex was drinking plain coffee, no milk, no sugar. Black. It tasted better than he would ever have guessed. There was something about simplicity that was more rewarding than he had ever known.
Before he was away, everything had seemed very complicated, his plans labyrinthine. But things were different now, and he had discovered the elegance of minimalism.
His time away had clarified everything. He had come back with several small goals, a checklist on the internal clipboard in his mind. He would take care of Helen. He would take care of his father. He would take care of the Kents.
Burn away the false family, and the one he truly wanted was left.
Lex watched Clark lower his head to sip at his drink. Their eyes met when he looked up again, and Clark smiled at him, a true smile, wide and sweet and pleased. The way he'd smiled at him all the time back in the early days of their friendship, when Lex thought of things much differently than he did now.
Lex thought of that smile often on the island. If Lewis had talked to him about Clark, Lex would have cracked more quickly. It was good to have something to believe in, some secret to be hoarded away from Lewis, untouchable.
He tore down Clark's room at the castle after he got home. It all needed to be somewhere else, somewhere away from him. Somewhere safer, where no one could get it. The mansion wasn't a much safer hiding spot than a shoebox under his bed, not from his father.
Lex set his hand lightly over Clark's outturned one, not breaking eye contact; Clark looked surprised, taken aback, but his smile did not fade, grew warmer and brave. Simple.
Clark had changed over the summer, too. He was older, and rougher, like his skin had formed a callus all over his body, to protect him from the world. Once it might have made Lex sorry, to see that go, the vulnerable and unjaded Clark, but now he was glad.
Clark cleared his throat and rearranged their hands to move them behind the napkin dispenser and clasp them together close. He gave Lex a meaningful look. Lex smiled.
Have what he wants; protect what he has; punish those who hurt him or his.
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