Sliding out of the latest car, Lex pressed the button to raise the top. He knew he looked good. No hair, therefore no trouble with convertibles and wind. Grey cashmere sweater, black tailored slacks, and a few billion dollars' worth of attitude (he liked to leave some in the bank in case of a rainy day): Lex Luthor, large and in charge.
Smirking, Lex rounded the porch and strode up the stairs of the old Victorian house Clark was sharing with four of his closest friends. The white paint was peeling and there was a green-cushioned swing built for two to the left of the door. A black and white cat, curled in the center of the cushions, blinked at him as if he were a man of no account.
He rang the doorbell and put his hands in his pants pockets. Although Clark was unlikely to answer the door himself, good posing was rarely wasted. The cat yawned widely, flashing Lex with its pink throat and tiny sharp teeth, and began to lick at its flank.
Clearly, the cat's thoughts were much the same as Lex's.
The door opened, revealing a young brunette wearing a maroon tank top and last season's cut-offs. "Yes?"
"I'm looking for Clark Kent," he said.
"Oh, Clark just went to the store to pick up some stuff for dinner," she said, stepping aside with the implication that he should just come in. Apparently, Clark had found similarly trusting souls with whom to share a house.
He stepped into the foyer, which opened immediately into a long hallway and a wide stairway on the right. Further back, Lex could see a kitchen. The girl turned left, into a sunken living room dominated by an enormous, shredded couch and an equally supersized entertainment center. The furniture budget clearly, and justly, had all gone into electronics, including the TiVo Lex had sent Clark as a housewarming gift.
The brunette turned to look at him. "I'm Amber, by the way. Are you--who I think you are?"
There were so many answers to that, so few of them nice. And he wanted Clark's friends to like him, this time around. "I suspect I am."
"Good to meet you. We weren't sure you actually existed."
Lex quirked an eyebrow at her, but she didn't elaborate.
"Hey, Jordan!" she hollered. "Come on down and meet Clark's friend!" Turning back to Lex, she said more softly, "Um, I didn't catch your name."
Curiouser and curiouser. Maybe she didn't want to presume that the public Lex was the personal Lex, in which case, good for her. "Call me Lex," he invited.
"Um, 'kay," she said, looking at him dubiously.
"Does Clark use the TiVo?" Clark said he did, but then Clark said a lot of things that weren't, technically, true.
"Are you kidding? We're all freakishly obsessed with the thing. Thanks for getting the 120-hour version--otherwise there'd be bloodshed, what with Clark and his weird Farscape obsession and the sports and the Xena ..."
Lex nodded, trying to remember what Farscape might be. He had a vague recollection of a designer drug back in 2000, but that was obviously wrong. They were interrupted by the arrival of another girl, this one a blue-eyed blonde with a short, pixyish haircut. She was wearing an orange shirt dotted with little mirrors and tight faded jeans. Her aura suggested that she was always the center of attention. Lex smiled, thinking he'd found the Lana of the group, though Clark hadn't mentioned any unattainable girls in his e-mails.
"Hi, I'm Jordan," the blonde said, and stuck out her hand.
As they shook, she subjected him to increasingly greater scrutiny. "Amber, a word if I may?"
Amber followed her out of the living room with a helpless glance backwards.
The conversation in the kitchen was hushed but heated. Amber returned, face red, with Jordan trailing behind her.
"Um, I know this is a stupid question, but are you Lex Luthor?"
Lex smiled, but he was surprised. He'd simply expected that sort of welcome as his due as a Luthor. As a random bald guy, he wondered why Amber would react so strongly.
"Yes, I am," he replied, his tone guaranteed to put the most overawed at ease.
"Omigod!" Amber squealed. "Oh, I'm gonna kill Clark! This is so Clark," she explained. "I mean, ask him about his boyfriend and he's all, 'his eyes are like the only light in the room.' The only reason I'm not really gonna kill him is that Clark actually doesn't think it matters that he's dating one of People's 50 Most Beautiful People or that you're a zillionaire."
Amber looked at him as if for confirmation. Lex blinked.
Clark had a boyfriend, and Amber thought that Lex was the lucky guy. These two realizations set off two chains of thought, which he attempted with some success to segregate.
First, Clark was not completely, 100% heterosexual, contrary to prior evidence, which included some truly pathetic behavior on Lex's part. Thus, Clark had rejected Lex himself, not Lex's equipment. Lex actually felt himself moving through Kubler-Ross's five stages of grief: denial (she can't be right; she's never met Clark's boyfriend; there's no actual reason to think he has a boyfriend--except for what Clark says about his boyfriend's eyes, moron), anger (wondering how hard it would be to run the Kent farm into the ground and get Clark kicked out of school), bargaining (maybe he's changed his mind and would like me now), depression (Dad was right; no one could genuinely want me, and certainly no one like Clark), and finally acceptance (a melange of all these feelings, with a thin candy coating of calm).
Second, Clark's roommates had never met Clark's boyfriend. This created two possibilities: Clark was hiding his lover for some reason, or there was no boyfriend after all. Given the shock he'd just had, Lex was unwilling to assign probabilities to either option. Either way, Clark's life was even more interesting than Lex had thought.
Because Lex's parallel processing capabilities were extremely good, all this flashed through his mind in an instant. "Yes, Clark never judged me by the conventional standards," he said neutrally. Lex was all about neutral. He was fucking Switzerland.
Albeit not fucking Clark Kent. He really hoped that steam would not rise from his ears like a cartoon as his brain fried in its own juices. Since they were over a hundred miles from Smallville, there was some chance that the feeling of his brain overheating was simply metaphorical.
"This is so cool," Jordan was saying. "Rachel!" she yelled. "Get your ass down here!"
Yet another fine young filly trotted down the stairs, this one another brunette, shoulder-length hair in a ponytail and cutesy cat-eye glasses. It was official: Clark had a harem.
"Hello?" The glasses were not for show, Lex could tell, as Rachel (identification pending) squinted at him through the restricted field of vision they allowed.
Flutteringly, Jordan introduced him, using his last name.
"Oh," Rachel said, with the resigned tone of someone who knows she ought to have something to say to the person she's meeting, but doesn't actually. Her face brightened as she remembered something relevant. "Didn't you have an article in Polymer Chemistry on intrinsically conductive polymers?"
Lex adjusted his smile from politely enthusiastic to delighted. "Yes, in fact. Are you studying chemistry?"
The door burst open and Clark charged in, a swirling mass of college boy, jeans, flannel, and a backpack the size of Crete. The living room entrance was wide enough that he was completely visible after three steps in. "Hey, what are you all--?"
He stopped as soon as he identified the full complement of "you all," grabbed for the newel post, stumbled anyway, and staggered into the living room to join his housemates.
"Lex," he squeaked as he regained his balance, which was the capstone to a remarkable performance. Almost as good, in fact, as any that Lana ever got. Lex could understand why someone--someone other than Lex--might think that Clark liked Lex that way.
"Clark," he said back, infusing the name with as much curiosity, warning and sheer bloodymindedness as he could fit into a single syllable. "Your friends were just telling me that they've never met your boyfriend." There. That let Clark finger another guy (and that image might get him through the ride back to LexCorp) as the boyfriend if he wanted, or claim Lex.
"Oh, uh." Clark's big doelike eyes blinked frantically at him. After five years, he still only spoke pidgin Clark, but the message was not subtle. Something on the order of "please please please don't say anything." He could live with that. He was quite interested in what would happen next.
Clark swallowed and firmed his jaw. "Guys, I'm gonna show Lex my room." He promptly blushed another three shades redder, one for each of the lovely ladies staring at him with unabashed curiosity.
"Amber, Jordan, Rachel," Lex nodded at the three, "a pleasure to meet you. I hope we'll have the chance to talk more."
The girls gave him a trio of angelic smiles. "We're having Shabbat dinner," Rachel said. "We'd love to have you join us."
"I'd be honored," Lex said gravely, and Jordan grinned like a maniac and clutched at Rachel's arm.
"Shabbat is--" Clark began as he turned towards the stairs.
"I know," he said as gently as he thought appropriate, beginning the climb to the second floor. "There are places--not places in rural Kansas, I'll grant you, but they do exist--where Jews aren't rarer than aliens from another planet."
There was a crunching noise as the white-painted railing splintered under Clark's hand.
That, thought Lex, was very cruel of you.
Clark stood on the stairs, flash-frozen, his shoulders tensed for some sort of denial, even though denial would be wildly inappropriate.
Well, screw it. If Clark was going to nominate him boyfriend, he fucking well deserved to take it out of Clark's hide. Since he wasn't going to get all the usual boyfriend perks. Still, he ought to let Clark make it all the way to his room before the real torture began. "This place seems to be falling apart. Are you sure it's up to code?"
It was as if the starch faded from Clark's flannel; he relaxed and resumed moving up the stairs.
Clark's room was all the way down the hallway, the room closest to the road. On his door there was a poster of a guy with light brunet hair and a woman with long black hair, both in fairly tight black leather pants. The guy had a very nice--gun. The caption indicated that they represented the aforementioned Farscape.
The door swung open on Chaos. If Chaos were made of dirty T-shirts, stray textbooks, empty cans of soda and old newspapers.
"Is there even a bed in here?" Lex asked with real curiosity.
"Yes," Clark said defensively, and hurried through the debris to clear a space on a bedlike object and then extra space on what proved to be a standard desk chair. Sitting on the bed, Clark gestured for Lex to take the chair, and he obliged.
"Nice place you have here. Comes with hot and cold running women, I see."
Clark's blush, which had faded to pale rose, came back in force. "Don't be angry, Lex."
"Why would you think I'm angry, Clark?" Because he was never certain how much his lies availed him with Clark, Lex tried not to lie directly.
"I didn't mean to put your reputation at risk. It's just... It's a long story."
Lex spread his hands. "Indulge me. Explain yourself."
"Well, when I got here, there were...girls. Lots of girls," he said with something like surprise. "They got kind of aggressive. I tried telling them that I was, you know, seeing someone. Back home."
"And that didn't deter them?"
Clark shook his head. Lex had never wanted to strangle him more. Set aside that no human being could be that clueless about his own attractiveness, because that didn't seem to be the right test--Lex was beginning to doubt that Clark could even qualify as self-aware, based on his utter unwillingness to acknowledge that he was a gorgeous, muscular, pretty-mouthed hunk of man(shaped) meat. Oh, and shy and brooding, to boot. He was beyond being a chick magnet; he was a chick superconducting supercollider, which he might have known had he been aware of a single breathing female in Smallville other than the weirdly uninterested (and uninteresting) Lana Lang.
"Why didn't you just turn them down, Clark?"
"I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings."
Of course not. "So you decided to say you were gay? How very Three's Company of you." Lex realized from Clark's blank look that Clark hadn't even seen the show in reruns. Maybe it was considered too immoral by Kansas standards. "That's quite noble, but I still don't understand what just happened downstairs."
Clark twisted his freed-up sheets in his hands. "Um. You know how you told me that when you tell a lie, it has to be just as concrete in your mind as the truth? You have to have an image of what the world is like in your lie?"
"Let me see if I've followed you. In order to more convincingly sustain the illusion of homosexuality and protect you from the depredations of Met U's female undergraduate--" Clark's wince suggested that there might have been a professor or two in the mix as well-- "population, you made up a boyfriend. And when you thought to yourself, 'What would my gay boyfriend be like?' the answer was, 'I think he'd be like Lex.' You know, Clark, contrary to what's widely believed, I wasn't the only faggot in Smallville."
From the look on Clark's face, it would have been kinder to have hit him with a two-by-four full of nails. "Clark--" he tried, wanting to take back that last bit.
"I didn't--I didn't describe you, all right?" Clark snapped. "I was vague, and you showed up and I guess Jordan thought you must be him because you're my only friend from Smallville to come visit me."
Ohh, a double whammy: Clark didn't imagine Lex as his ideal boyfriend--that was just Lex, reading too much into what had happened--and Clark was lonely, and instead of offering friendship, he'd just attacked. Before Clark, he'd thought only his father could make him this crazy, this careless.
"I'm sorry," he said and scrubbed at his eyes with his fists. "I didn't mean to be--hurtful. It's just that--I think you make things too complicated for yourself sometimes."
Clark snorted, and Lex cocked an eyebrow in acknowledgement that there were some pot-kettle issues being raised. "You're going to hurt people's feelings inevitably," he continued. "Rejection doesn't kill."
"Yeah, rejection only maims," Clark said ruefully, and Lex laughed out loud. Served him right for channeling Pa Kent.
"So what are we going to tell your friends about us?" he asked, because someone had to be practical.
"I'm so sorry," Clark tried again, but Lex leaned forward and put his hand on Clark's arm.
"I can assure you, the only risk is to your reputation, not mine."
Clark stared into his eyes, searching for something. "Are you really--? But what about Victoria? And Helen? And Jessica? And--"
"And Tony, and Vikram, and Charles, and plenty of others of determinate and indeterminate gender. Just about the only thing I haven't done is date outside my species." And that's not for want of trying, he omitted, because he didn't want Clark upset again. "Clark, why did you think the Inquisitor's nickname for me is Alexander the Fabulous?"
Clark blushed the color of Valentine roses. "I thought they were talking about your fashion sense."
He opened and closed his mouth several times. It was as if the Internet hadn't ever reached Smallville. Then, belatedly, he realized that he'd just traded valuable information for nothing. Exposure to Clark was obviously as bad for his mental health as the meteor rocks were for everything else. "You might want to clear things up with your friends before the Inquisitor sets up camp in your driveway. You could admit the original scam, or you can still get away with saying I was just teasing you and your boyfriend is--wherever you said he was before."
Clark's face was distant as he considered his alternatives.
After a moment, Clark said, his voice low, "Maybe...if you're okay with it...we could just, pretend. For now. I can, you know, say you broke up with me later. Otherwise they're really going to think I made it all up."
Lex could only imagine the reasons inquiring minds might think he'd dumped Clark. Would it be because Clark wouldn't put out? Because he couldn't buy Clark's love? Because Clark wouldn't tolerate his endless, well-documented infidelities? As loving as Clark's friends doubtless were, they were also in their late teens and twenties, and they'd talk, eventually to someone with a digital recorder and a byline. There was really no way that this ended well for Lex Luthor.
"Sure, Clark," he said and smiled.
He was never entirely clear on how he ended up in the large family kitchen, chopping onions for the main course. Along with the three women he'd met earlier, there was a tiny, curvy, olive-skinned girl named Marguerida, who had the kind of ringleted black hair and flashing brown eyes of which stereotypes were made.
Marguerida seemed uncomfortable around him, sexually uncomfortable (he'd made something of a study of disconcerted reactions to his admittedly unusual presence). Catholic, he surmised, and willing to put up with Clark when his Friendship with Dorothy was merely theoretical, but unhappy about it now. Jordan seemed determined to provoke Marguerida on the point.
"...So the guy says, 'Have you embraced the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal savior,' and Clark says, 'Well, I don't know. Do you have a picture?'" Jordan laughed at her own story, Amber giggled, and Lex smiled. Not terribly funny, but an A for effort on Clark's part. Off on the side, tearing up greens for salad, Clark stayed bright red, which probably went without saying.
"And that's when I knew there was more to this large silent boy than met the eye," Jordan concluded. "So when we were looking for a fifth to share the house, I asked Clark and he said yes."
From the look on Marguerida's face, Jordan had done so unilaterally, but Marguerida oughtn't hang around with women like Jordan if she wanted to make her own choices. Lex swept the mound of onions into the waiting pan on the stove and began stirring.
"Clark always walks us home after dark," Amber offered, as if she'd been subpoenaed to testify on Clark's character.
"Yeah, even though he's the biggest scaredy-cat of all of us, I don't think it's visible to would-be muggers." Jordan smiled to let them know she wasn't meaning to denigrate Clark.
The onions smelled sweet as they began to caramelize in the pan. Jordan might be the leader of the group, but she was none too observant. Which was surely as Clark had intended.
The conversation continued in that vein as they prepared dinner. Rachel was the only actual Jew involved; Jordan, Amber and Marguerida planned to go out dancing afterwards--the Sabbath dinner was a fun "roomie" activity for them, not a way of life. Jordan offered to show off Met U's preferred hangouts, but he declined on behalf of both himself and Clark, receiving the expected crack about wanting to be alone for their reunion night.
Clark finished the salad, and Rachel began her prayers. He wasn't really paying that much attention; it was so much easier to focus on Clark. They watched as she lit two candles, performing a ritual in which she hid her eyes from the light, and said a number of blessings--candles, wine, bread, hand-washing, and possibly others he missed. All were undoubtedly symbolic, but his interest in ancient rites was more focused on the Greeks and he wasn't conversant with the details. Though, come to think of it, these rituals had survived where many of the Greeks' had not, and that was a lesson in itself.
Dinner was reasonably good. Lex's onions had been melded into risotto with green peas and asparagus, and the challah was excellent. By the time they'd finished, he'd offered Rachel an internship at LexCorp, where she could use her emerging chemistry skills, and she'd accepted. He'd ignored Clark's warning looks. He didn't need a lecture about buying friendship, but he did, in fact, need as many good chemists as he could hire.
"Why did you send Clark away, Rachel?" he asked and took another sip of the barely acceptable wine. Beside him on the couch, Rachel drew her knees together and attempted to occupy as little space as possible. In the kitchen, Marguerida clanked dishes. Amber was off on the ice cream expedition with Clark, who'd volunteered to brave the evening drizzle, and Jordan was just absent. Supervising, he thought it was generally called.
She looked down at her hands. "Clark thinks you're the smartest person he's ever going to meet. I guess I agree, now that I know who you are."
"Which is why you're putting him in danger."
"Excuse me?" He should have known that weirdness would follow Clark, like danger did.
"He doesn't know that you know."
"Rachel, I'm afraid I don't understand you."
She looked directly at him, and her face was tight with anger. "Clark is many things, but you and I know there's one fairly basic thing that he isn't."
Clark wasn't human.
It wasn't a thought Lex allowed himself to have, often, though he could approach the issue from other angles. Stated flat like that, it conjured up too many dark desires, bright lights and sharp edges.
"Pretend that I know what you're talking about," he said silkily. "What possible evidence could you have for your fairly preposterous claim?"
"I notice anomalies," she said. "They cluster around him."
Rachel was a nice girl, smart, and a potential LexCorp employee. Lex realized that he'd be sad if it became necessary for something to happen to her. "Continue."
"Because he thinks he's got you fooled, he thinks it's an accident when someone else finds out. If he can convince the great Lex Luthor, then anything else is just a mistake, a fluke. He's not careful." She was looking away again, twisting her hands in her lap
"Have you spoken to him about this?"
"I...hinted, but he won't listen to anyone who's not you. I haven't told anyone else," she added quickly and now she was scared, which was bad because it meant that too much was showing on his face.
"And what's your interest in his well-being?"
"I think you know," she said with only a trace of bitterness. "You have to tell him. Someday someone's not going to love him before noticing."
He felt his lip twitch, trying to smile. Someone who wasn't Pete Ross, or Lana Lang, or Lex Luthor.
A clatter on the stairs suggested that one of the girls was coming back to join them.
Lex shifted in his seat and tugged at his pants to make them fall better. "I'll certainly take your thoughts into consideration," he said in his best Captain of Industry voice. "Now, you were saying about the substance's depolymerization at high temperatures?"
Rachel opened her mouth, confused, and then saw Jordan in the doorway.
"I'm declaring a chemistry ban for the rest of the night," she said. "Rachel's just going to have to share with the class."
So instead they spoke of the latest films and the tedium of large lecture classes until Clark and Amber returned with the proper brand of butter pecan.
The three girls finally left to go dancing, squealing as they went out into the rainy night and ran to their car. Rachel retreated to her room with an excuse so transparent as to slip entirely from memory the moment she'd finished stuttering it out. Which left Lex and Clark in the living room, with the option of moving upstairs if more privacy were desired. The gutted corpses of several pints of ice cream were scattered across the coffee table, but Clark made a space for his feet, put them up and threw his arms out expansively.
"So," he said, glancing at Lex.
"So," Lex agreed. Clark's hand was almost on his shoulder after that grand gesture. At some point, he'd lost the flannel overshirt, and the T-shirt that remained was pleasantly tight. Not that he was looking, much.
"So how are you?"
"Business is good. Busy. We'll be opening a new plant in the spring. That's keeping us all on our toes."
Clark nodded wisely.
It was easy enough to say to oneself that one was going to confront Clark at the next opportunity, but it was a different thing altogether actually to speak.
Clark had been fairly clear in the past that ignoring central mysteries was a condition of their friendship. Lex had enough endless, fruitless battles with his father; he didn't need another with Clark. And, really, he might as well have been wearing a T-shirt that said "I'll take what I can get."
But if Rachel was right, then Clark was endangering himself by pretending that Lex didn't know. Clark probably thought that Roger Nixon was the worst thing that could happen to him. It was too easy to imagine Clark blithely revealing himself, or, more to the point, revealing who ought to be held hostage in return for his good behavior. In which case, he owed it to Clark, the man--person--entity--he called his friend, to force the issue.
No wonder Lionel advised against friendship; it was a stone bitch.
"What about you, Clark?" His voice broke the contemplative silence, and both he and Clark twitched.
"I really like my classes. And the college newspaper, they're like Chloe with a budget, which is nice. I like meeting people while I'm working. It gives us something to talk about."
Lex couldn't agree more. Although he could ferret out a person's interests and feign interest in them, it was much easier to have a focus, a point to the conversation. Speaking of which, Clark's words were something of an opening.
"Because you don't like to talk much about yourself, do you?"
Clark shifted uncomfortably on the couch, swinging his legs to the ground and looking at the silent television as if it might have some instructions for him. "I'm not that interesting, Lex."
"Oh, I think that's far from the truth," Lex drawled, and Clark hunched over a little more, like a millipede drawing itself into a protective ball. But this was only replaying a hundred conversations in the mansion, the barn, the cornfields, once even in the Smallville police station. Perhaps it was finally time for the more direct approach. To be honest (and someone ought to be, if only to himself), Rachel had done no more than feed oxygen to his already-burning desire to let Clark know that he knew.
"You've kept a lot of secrets, haven't you?"
Clark's eyes flashed a warning. "I really don't know what you're talking about." And check out the beam in thine own eye, too.
"What would it take for you to believe that I'm not going to use what I know against you?"
Clark rose from the couch and turned his back, his shoulderblades pressing against his thin T-shirt as if ready to take flight. "And how would you do that, Lex?" He'd really cultivated the snide teenage tone, Lex thought detachedly. And the carefully disdainful use of his name was a nice finish.
"Clark. You're strong, fast, bulletproof and fireproof. Though I myself am particularly grateful for your invulnerability to expensive cars." He continued over Clark's shocked breath. "Also, you can see through solid walls and set things on fire if they're in your line of sight. You crossed the boundary from 'high jump' to 'powered flight' last year. The meteor rocks hurt you, but where you're really vulnerable is your love for your--adoptive--parents. And your friends. Just like me, there's no telling what you might do to help a friend. Except, of course, tell the truth. Because you're no meteor mutant. You would have told me if that was all there was." He paused, but Clark didn't look at him, denying him the confirmation for which he'd devoutly wished. "I know why you're pretending to be gay. Oscar Wilde couldn't explain your fear of intimacy, but H.G. Wells probably could."
Lex stared at the back of Clark's red shirt, the vulnerable-looking stretch of skin on the nape of his neck revealed by his bowed head. His fists were clenched, had been since a few seconds into Lex's speech.
"Don't you know by now I'd do anything to protect you?" he asked, shamed to find his voice shaking. "Last year, when I put together that tender offer for LuthorCorp--it didn't fall through from lack of financing. I made a deal with my father. He stays away from Smallville and everybody in it, along with the meteor rocks. He's sure there's some sort of opportunity for profit. And there would be, from his perspective. I won't let that happen.
"Before I came to Smallville, I was never worthy of anyone's trust. I didn't think I needed to be. You gave me that--you made me want to be the kind of man you saw when you smiled at me." Lex paused, knowing that if he continued he'd start using words like "repay," which would drive Clark further away than anything short of "E.T."
"Stop it," Clark said, muffled as he raised a hand to his mouth.
Lex stood and dared to touch his shoulder. Hot, always hot, the legacy of some distant sun. Clark spun around and Lex raised his hands, trying to be unthreatening despite his lack of practice.
"I lied to you. For years!"
His face was shiny with--tears? Drawn as if by a magnet, Lex raised his fingers to Clark's wet cheek. "Don't--I'll never tell, I swear it, on my mother's--" Distractedly, he wondered what the tears would taste like. Whether he'd still be able to taste them later, when they'd dried.
Clark's hand seized his wrist, freezing it by Clark's cheek and grinding the bones so that he had to stifle a gasp of pain. "You don't forgive liars. I've always known that. You said--"
The ache in his wrist was nothing compared to what was whirling in Clark's eyes. He was sure--mostly--that Clark wasn't paying attention to his own strength at the moment. "I said a lot of stupid things early on. I was twenty-one, it's practically a requirement. You were right to be afraid. You were right to hide the truth."
Clark stared at him, still pinioning his wrist, eyes wet, panting. Beautiful. The pain in his wrist was spreading down his arm, like a fire in the bone.
After a minute, Clark came to some decision. He nodded and released Lex, who tried not to wince as he curled his fingers to check that they still worked.
"You're wrong, you know," Clark said softly, eyes downcast. There were tears caught in his lashes.
But this was intolerable. "Clark--" he began, letting the anger shape his voice.
And then Clark was pressed up against him, faster than an eyeblink, one hand at Lex's waist and the other pushing his chin up, even though he didn't want to look at another denial.
"Oscar Wilde and H.G. Wells would have to collaborate on me," he said and for a second Lex didn't understand. Then his eyes dropped to Clark's mouth. Clark's red, slightly open mouth.
"I'm, uh, gonna kiss you now," Clark announced, and Lex nodded, mostly out of shock.
He'd expected the heat; what surprised him was how wet Clark's kisses were, his tongue like an invading army. Lex worried about loosened teeth, and then stopped worrying about anything at all as he brought his hands to Clark's shoulders and kissed back.
At some point, he lost his footing and nearly came crashing down on the coffee table, but Clark managed to push them over to the couch. It might have involved floating. Lex couldn't really be sure. Clark pulled his mouth away to rain delicate kisses on his cheeks, the spot behind his ear, the place where his jaw met his neck. Lex pushed his head back into the decrepit couch and sighed.
"I thought you'd be so mad," Clark whispered. "I thought--you might be okay with me being gay, but not so much with the bulletproof."
Bulletproof Fags would be a really good name for a punk rock band, Lex thought. He licked a stripe down Clark's cheek. "You couldn't go around telling people. Especially not a Luthor." Besides, he'd worked through the anger on his own. It was good to have practice with that. Anger energized, but it didn't encourage awareness of the big picture.
Clark captured his mouth again. He was heavy, splayed out over Lex's body, his hands skimming over Lex's sides. Lex's hands slipped under Clark's T-shirt, over skin like brushed satin. The chiseled muscles of his back and shoulders were like the Platonic ideal of young manhood, which was probably pretty ironic.
A thought surfaced, and he laughed into Clark's mouth.
"Just thinking--when they said there's nothing as queer as folk, they weren't talking about you."
"Oh, now there's joking." Clark's tone was pleasant, but he pulled back a few millimeters too far.
Lex reached his (aching) hand up to grab Clark's collar, tugging him back down. "You're amazing, that's all. You were already the best thing that ever happened to me, and now... It's like finding out you can fly. No, that's not really a good analogy, is it? It's like--"
Mercifully, Clark stopped his babbling with more kisses. His hips were moving against Lex's, and anticipation made it hard to breathe. I'm going to be so good to you, he promised silently. He ran a hand down the back of Clark's thigh, then up again, caressing the firm muscle of Clark's ass, and was rewarded with a groan and a perfect chance at Clark's neck, exposed when he threw his head back. He bit at Clark's Adam's apple, wondered again at what that said about co-evolution or the likely origin of the human species, and then moved to the collarbone, mouthing it through the cotton of his shirt.
"We should," he said, in between bites, "go upstairs."
Clark ground against him, sending shivers through his body. "I, uh, I've never-- I don't want to hurt you."
Too late, Lex thought and hated himself just a little bit more for it. "We'll work it out." Then, struck by a terrible thought, "You don't--put holes in anything when you come, do you?"
Clark pulled away. "God, no!" Somehow, his embarrassed blush was a different shade of tomato red than his sex flush.
"Yeah, that would have been hard to explain to your parents, I bet." He grinned, exhilarated. "Then come on, Clark, we've got a sexual education to commence."
Clark hurried into the hallway and up the stairs, turning back at the landing to stare impatiently at Lex. He was almost bouncing with excitement.
What am I getting myself into? Lex wondered, and smirked as he followed Clark. He had a pretty good idea about that, actually.
Back in Clark's room, Lex closed the door and looked at a beaming Clark. Clark's fists opened and closed as he held them at his sides and he was flushed from his hairline to his collar.
"C'mere," he ordered, and Lex complied, attacking the Mouth That Launched a Thousand Fantasies as he settled into Clark's arms. He bit Clark's tongue and scratched his nails through Clark's thick hair. Clark was invulnerable, therefore he was safe. Groaning, Clark pushed him down on the bed, where he landed with a textbook pressing into the small of his back and a pile of papers under his head. Everything around him smelled like Clark, and he took a deep breath.
He looked up at Clark. "Take off your shirt," he encouraged, and Clark gulped and pulled the T-shirt over his head. Lex had to stop himself from opening his mouth out of sheer dry-mouthed appreciation, but then realized that he had nothing to hide and gaped openly. It was a mystery to him how Clark had developed muscles in a world that offered him no resistance, but he wasn't going to quibble with the results.
Clark was simply magnificent. He was sculptural--like Rodin, not Henry Moore. He was Michelangelo's wet dream, or maybe Tom of Finland's. He was proof that Euclid wasn't the only one who'd seen beauty bare. He was--talking.
"Hmm?" He smiled up at Clark, entranced.
"Uh, you wanna--?" Clark made gestures that he determined had something to do with reciprocity.
Grinning like a mad shark, he pulled off his sweater and undershirt, throwing them out into the disaster that was Clark's room. He wasn't built like Clark, but he knew how to flaunt what he had, so he flexed on the bed--ignoring the pesky textbook--and threw his hands over his head, which he tilted invitingly.
It worked even better than usual: In less than a heartbeat, Clark was on the bed, stretched out along his body, hands reaching for his chest and arms. He let his eyes close as he reveled in the feel of Clark's hands learning his body. Clark's mouth, hot and wet as a tropical storm, moved along his throat and down his collarbone.
He could hear Clark kicking more books and papers to the floor, and he took the opportunity to extract the textbook and send it sailing to its fate, elsewhere. The papers weren't troublesome. They reminded him, a little, of having sex on piles of money, which was pricklier than one might think, and more adhesive. "Clark? You don't need any of the stuff on your bed, do you?"
"I don't know," Clark mumbled from just over Lex's left nipple.
Good enough. Responsibility portion of the evening complete, he let his hands wander over Clark's bare skin. "License my roving hands, and let them go,/Behind, before, above, between, below," he recited, curving his hands over the divine arc of Clark's shoulderblades. Face pressed against Lex's stomach, Clark shuddered.
Encouraged, he continued, "O my America! my new-found-land,/My kingdom, safeliest when with one man man'd,/My mine of precious stones: my emperie,/How blest am I in this discovering thee!"
With a soft cry, Clark ripped Lex's belt off--he noted that the buckle had actually given out before the leather--and it flew past his head to land by the desk. More papers fluttered to the floor as Lex toed his shoes off and Clark divested him of his pants and boxers.
Lex pulled at Clark's hair to make him look up. Though he very much wanted Clark to continue moving downwards, it was important to finish this part. His voice dropping even lower, he said, "To enter in these bonds, is to be free;/Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be."
Clark surged up, his hazel eyes shining with tears once more, and took Lex's mouth almost furiously, pressing him back into the bed. Lex kept his eyes open at first, but found the look on Clark's face unbearable, like staring directly at the sun. He rubbed his leg along Clark's and was dissatisfied to find it still denim-clad. His fingers worked to remedy the problem, and Clark groaned as he eased the zipper down over a pleasantly pushy erection.
Then Clark was naked, warm against Lex's skin, rubbing against him as if they could merge. With his hands on Clark's shoulders, he pushed until Clark rolled over. Straddling Clark's body, he rose to his knees so he could get a better look, and Clark aroused was even more beautiful than ordinarily, his color high, his eyes dilated, and his wet mouth half-open, panting. Their erections bumped up against one another, reminding Lex that there was business to be done.
"Watch carefully. There's going to be a quiz later." And, he hoped, a lab practical. Moving down the bed, he bent his head to take in as much of Clark's cock as he could in one swallow. Clark moaned like a redwood about to fall, and Lex saw that he'd put his hands over his head and clenched his fists--probably a good idea, as Clark brought an entirely new dimension to safe sex. Bending his attention to the task before him, he brought his hands into play. He loved the coarse feel of Clark's pubic hair, the scent that caught in it and smelled like distilled Clark, and he loved feeling Clark's thighs shake as he sucked harder and sent a finger dancing under Clark's balls, over his perineum, and around his hole.
"Uh, Lex," Clark grunted, "that's probably not a great idea." Involuntary muscle spasms from muscles that could turn coal into diamond--good point. He'd hate to lose a hand, or any other body part, to a crush wound. He returned to Clark's balls, which seemed perfectly happy with the attention, and applied his tongue to the vein running down the underside of Clark's cock. Clark made various noises, none of them truly recognizable as words, though he thought Clark might be trying to say his name.
"Oh, God--" he said and jerked under Lex's hands, coming and coming, and Lex thought randomly, There's gold in them thar hills. His semen didn't taste noticeably different from anyone else's, but Lex rolled it around his tongue, anyway, just in case, and also to make it real.
He crawled up Clark's body to kiss and lie on his heaving chest, listening to the heartbeat as it stuttered and slowed a bit. Clark unclenched his fists and brought one hand down to cover Lex's neck, rubbing a little and marking Lex with his sweat. "Wow. You wouldn't, uh, consider giving up that whole LexCorp thing and doing that, you know, full-time around here?"
"I have a comparative advantage in business, Clark." Not that Clark was going to get any chance to compare in the sex department, not if he had anything to say, blackmail, or just plain murder about it.
"Too bad." Clark opened his eyes and twitched, sending Lex tumbling off the furnace of his body. "It's my turn now, right?"
Lex nodded, afraid to say anything.
"Can I--um," Clark said and pulled Lex into a sitting position, his legs hanging over the side of the bed. Blushing--and Lex was willing to bet that he'd still be blushing over this five years from now--he got down on his knees on the floor. There was a piece of lined notebook paper clinging to his left shoulder, almost like an angel's wing, and Lex could be excused for that bit of silliness because, hey, Clark was on his knees between Lex's legs, which was more stunning than a thousand-point drop in the Dow.
The first touch of Clark's tongue on his cock was like being set on fire. Clark was tentative at first, alternating licks with more serious sucking. Lex almost fisted his hands in Clark's hair and demanded full attention before realizing that he oughtn't do anything that Clark couldn't. So he put his hands by his sides and shuddered at the careful tease of Clark's mouth.
There was one thing he could do, even if Clark couldn't yet. "Please, suck me, Clark. Yeah, like that, all the way, you're so good at this, amazing. I thought about what it would be like with you, waited for years, your mouth on my cock." Tremors in Clark's body made him look away from that lovely mouth, and he saw that Clark's right hand had disappeared, presumably jacking himself off. "You're so good, I can't wait to suck you again, make you feel as good as you're making me feel, your amazing mouth--"
And he'd talked himself right into orgasm, which hit like an oncoming Porsche, making his fingers clench on Clark's cheap cotton sheets, groaning his release as Clark stayed with him, sucking until Lex had to push him away. Clark's hand was a literal blur on his cock; as Lex watched, he threw his head back and spattered the side of the bed.
Then he was beside Lex, turning his head for a kiss, and they kissed quietly for a while, returning to necking that could have been almost chaste if not for the lingering taste on Lex's tongue.
"Mmm," Clark said as he finally pulled away. "I wanted to do that every time I saw you working in your office."
"Glad I could fulfill such a long-held fantasy."
"Nah, it's not fulfilled until I actually do it in your office, with you looking at a spreadsheet and maybe on a conference call." Clark cast his eyes down immediately after this confession, and Lex was charmed--yeah, that was the word for it--by that scenario. Not that he hadn't entertained similar fantasies, or hadn't had the experience with other people. But for Clark to want it was something to be cherished.
"You know, my people do have standing orders to let you in if you stop by the office," he said invitingly, and Clark's eyes flicked back to his face. They shared a smile, and Lex felt his heart turn over.
"I'll remember that," Clark said, and kissed him again, cupping his jaw in one large hand.
When they broke away, he rested his forehead against Clark's, unwilling to give up the proximity. "You can fuck me if you want."
Clark pulled back. "I don't -"
"If you have enough control to get a blow job, you have enough control to fuck me."
"But...you couldn't..." His mouth worked, obviously trying to form the word "fuck" while his brain worked out another word he could credibly use in its place, and Lex didn't like to see him squirm enough to put him through that.
"Trust me, Clark, I'd be happy. In fact, you'd probably get jealous after a while. Reciprocity has its place in a sexual relationship, but it doesn't have to be an exact trade. For example, I don't want to blow you in an office, but I'd be a happy man if I could do it up in your barn."
Clark sniggered, breaking the rising tension. "Yeah, that would be real tough on me. Let me...think about it, okay?"
"Of course." Lex pulled him down on the bed. It was a single, and it would be a tight fit. In years past he'd routinely refused to stay the night in college dorms for that very reason. But he rather liked the idea of wrapping himself around Clark all night long.
Clark laid down without further protest. His fundamentally clean nature was not, however, to be ignored. "We should brush our teeth," he said after a moment. "And I should get the lights."
"Do you even need to brush your teeth?"
"I like being minty fresh," Clark said, with a bit of wounded pride in his voice.
"Fine," he said, letting Clark up. "But I'm using your toothbrush."
"I don't know, Lex," Clark said as he dug around the floor and came up with a towel, "that's kind of intimate, isn't it?" He dodged out the door before Lex could think of a suitable response, so Lex busied himself with dumping the remaining, somewhat spindled, papers off of the bed and finding a towel that seemed clean on the top shelf of Clark's closet. When Clark returned, Lex performed his ablutions and hurried back to a darkened room and a warm, solid body taking up more than its share of the bed.
In truth, spooning with a mint-breathed alien had its charms. Clark dropped off quickly, allowing Lex to prop his head up on his arm and just look, the way he always had from a distance but never thought he'd be allowed so close.
He felt good. Even the rain pattering against the windows was comforting, like a blanket insulating him from the doubts and temptations that were surely going to crash down upon him in the morning. Ghosting one last kiss along Clark's cheek, he relaxed and let himself sleep.
He snapped awake at dawn when he heard movement outside the bedroom. There was a soft rapping at the door, not loud enough yet to wake Clark. He pulled on his boxers and went to crack it open.
Amber gave him a thorough once-over and then looked into his eyes. "There's a rainbow up in the sky. You want to come see?"
Why the hell not? Rainbows, like Clark, looked miraculous until you understood what rules applied. "Sure," he said softly, and went to grab his undershirt and pants, because he didn't want to be the other item on the girls' list of Things to Observe.
Dressing quickly, he paused to press a kiss to Clark's forehead, the way his mother used to do. A promise to let nothing hurt him, to ensure safety in sleep. Amber had already headed downstairs, and he caught up with her and her housemates on the front porch, looking up where the sun and the rain had mingled.
Rachel was mumbling in Hebrew as the rest of them simply stared and smiled.
"What are you saying?" Lex asked.
Rachel's smile was brilliant. "'Blessed art thou, Lord our God and Ruler of the Universe, who remembers the Covenant, who is faithful in the Covenant, and whose Word is fulfilled.' It's the blessing for seeing a rainbow."
"There's a special blessing just for that?"
"You bet. The rainbow's the sign of God's covenant with Noah."
The old spiritual rang in Lex's ears: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water, the fire next time. No more water, no more drowning in shallow streams. Was Clark God's promise of that? God is not mocked, and the old bastard gives nothing away for free; look what He did to his Chosen People. Other parts of his brain helpfully served up information on refraction through water droplets, leprechauns, a detour on gold mining and the Philosopher's Stone, and numerous subtopics until he forcibly wrenched his attention back to the fragile light show hanging in the watery air. There would be time enough for fire, and gold, later.
If Clark was the embodiment of a covenant with God, its terms were none too clear. But he had a notion that he'd happily spend the rest of his life chasing it.
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