He stood in the waning light of sunset on a dusty square of bare earth, holding a worn ball in his hands. The goal was before him, but he wasn't playing, perhaps because playing alone wasn't worth the effort. Instead he stood quietly, moving the ball around and around in his hands without throwing it, without bouncing it, without experiencing the joy it could bring.
His head turned slightly and he became aware of his visitor. The light played pretty with his profile. Where once there might have quirked a smile, now there was nothing. Where once he would have turned...
Now he looked away.
Clark threw the ball. It bounced off the rim and fell back to the ground, rolling away toward a pile of old, disused equipment. He didn't bother to retrieve it, but he did turn around.
"Hey," he said softly.
"Hey." Lex buried his hands in his pockets. "I'm sorry about Pete."
Nodding a little, Clark turned his attention to his nails. Had they not been standing in the open he might have busied himself with some mindless activity, anything not to have to look Lex in the eye.
"I never meant for Pete, or anybody else, to get caught in the cross-fire." Clark looked up. He'd been crying, a realization that took Lex off guard. "Clark...."
"He decided to move to Wichita with his mom."
Lex opened his mouth to speak.
"Please don't say I'm sorry again," Clark said. He sought the basketball, found it, and fired off another shot.
He missed again. The ball bounced off the backboard and landed in the dirt, slowly rolling back to stop at Clark's feet. Clark gave Lex another cool look with eyes still glistening with the remains of his tears.
"It's not always about you, Lex, or your father, or whatever war you're both waging. Pete's not leaving because of you. Lana's not leaving because of you. Dad isn't sick because of you. So just stop saying I'm sorry. It doesn't mean anything."
Lately it was a struggle not to strangle the boy. Lex was bigger than that.
"I'm commiserating, Clark."
"Well, don't." Clark snapped. "Just...." He raised a hand to his forehead as if suddenly struck by a massive headache. His voice softened. "Don't."
"Why? Because I can't possibly understand?"
"Why are you here?" Hazel eyes blazed at him, Lex responded in kind.
"Just answer the question, damnit!" he spat, and then quickly reined in his temper to continue in more even tones. "I know what it's like to be different, Clark. I know what it's like to be a pawn, to be used and then tossed away like trash by the roadside. I have experienced the pain of having my friends and my family suffer because of me. So spare me the martyr crap."
There was no response. Clark picked up the ball. His expression was unreadable as the two of them stared at each other.
Lex took a turn at the "avoid direct eye contact" game.
"Chloe told me," he said softly. "What I'd forgotten, what my father did."
He heard the ball bounce once, and then twice before Clark's voice cut through the silence to make Lex look up in surprise.
There stirred, deep inside, the old affections, the old understandings, that they had once shared, and Lex wanted nothing more to sink down into the dust with exhaustion because he was just so tired of it all. The look in Clark's eyes was something they'd both been longing for, but never able to find for so long, so long. Relief washed over him like a wave. Clark had never really left him.
"It's not over," Clark whispered. "He won't go easily. He won't go without a fight, and you, and me and Chloe will be right in the cross hairs."
"I don't want you to testify," Lex grasped his elbow, stopping him before he turned and fired off the ball once more. "Clark. It's dangerous enough for Chloe."
Clark looked pained. He knew. Lex wasn't imparting any great secret....
"You're already too close, Clark."
"You wanted me here." Clark shook him off, and shot the ball.
"Why?" Lex murmured. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because," Clark said, meeting his gaze fully, no quarter given. "I was there when they flipped the switch." His voice was full of gravel and his eyes were full of pain. "I watched your father erase my best friend. You say you know how it feels to see your friends get hurt?" Clark laughed bitterly. "Try watching as they're forced kicking and screaming through electroshock therapy and you have to stand there watching, too chicken shit to stop it. The least I could do, Lex, was to give myself over to Gardner. The LEAST I could do was try to keep you from getting yourself right back where you were before everything blew up in your face."
He stopped, his breath trembling.
"And it wasn't enough."
Lex closed his eyes, groaning slightly. "So now you're going to testify."
"I'm not going to let him hurt you again."
"He'll expose everything he knows about you, Clark."
"Let him. He'll still go to prison. You'll still be safe. And if my secret is exposed, it won't matter anymore"
Something in his expression told Lex exactly what he did not want to know, especially now when things were regaining clarity. He reached out a hand, closing a fist on the front of Clark's shirt and despite himself his voice was filled with the anger and frustration that had become par for every encounter with Clark lately.
"You're leaving again."
Clark nodded. "Yes." He paused. "There's nothing here for me anymore anyway."
Lex let go of Clark's shirt, his fingers going weak. There were a million different things he could have said in that instant and they all rushed through his head like the sharp, stinging snow of a prairie blizzard. He flailed, grabbed one and threw it out between them.
Their eyes met for perhaps a second before Clark moved away to retrieve the basketball. He brought it back, dribbling idly across the hard packed dirt with a steady "thump, thump, thump" reminiscent of a heartbeat. When he returned to where Lex was standing, he tucked the ball under his arm.
"Don't," he said.
If Lex hadn't known exactly what he meant, he might have been angry. Truth be told, he was angry, but this time not at Clark, but himself, for letting that particular vulnerability to show. He nodded, setting his jaw and tucking his hands into his pockets. Turning his head, he looked off across the field to where the Kents cattle grazed quietly.
"Well I should know better I guess. Playing the "I love you" card didn't work for Lana."
There was a long pause before Clark replied.
"It works, Lex," he murmured. "Only not the way you think it should."
A breeze stirred Lex's coattails. Quickly, he turned around, only to find Clark gone and the abandoned basketball rolling away across the barnyard by itself.
After Lionel's trial there were calls from the press, dozens of them. Lex ignored them. He ignored the emails clogging up his in-box too, shutting down the computer and walking away from his desk with very specific orders to any and all who heard him.
"I'm not to be disturbed."
He showered, letting the water run down his face and over his body like the caress of a wife to whom he was no longer wed, and a lover who existed only in his dreams. His own hands slipped over soap-slicked skin, following the contours of a body made soft in recent months - soft from lack of exercise, imprisonment, and a life now spent behind a desk. He wasn't the same, never would be the same.
Turning, he raised his face into the water, remembering the few times it had rained on the island during that particular exile. Lex thought in terms of exile. He lived a nomadic existence. Smallville was the closest thing to home he'd ever had, but if home is where the heart is....
He tossed his head, gasping air before retreating back under the stream of warm water. It cleansed him, but only on the outside, just like it had on the island. It could not reach inside him, to where the stains of his sins lay in metaphysical tattoos upon his very soul. Those were inscribed with indelible inks and no matter how much he tried he couldn't seem to escape them. He was marked, branded, and even Clark hadn't been able to see beyond those horrible scars.
But the man who had put them there, was going to pay.
Lex's eyes opened. He turned off the water.
Steam swirled around him as he stepped out of the shower onto the mat, one hand reaching instinctively for the towel he knew would be there. One of the benefits of being filthy rich was never worrying about the menial tasks such as hanging up a towel. There were those who did it for you. They kept things tidy, and clean, like the towel that smelled of bleach and fabric softener. Lex buried his face in the soft terry, reminded of happier times. He dried quickly, before the memories started to hurt.
Some primal instinct made him realize he was being watched, but it was the well honed mind of a modern man who caught himself from starting. Lex continued to dry himself until satisfied, he wrapped the towel around his slim waist. He straightened, indicating that he was finished. The invitation was clear. His visitor took a step further into the room, causing the steam to shift and dance in small, swirling eddies.
"Something on your mind, Clark?" Lex asked softly. "Barging into my shower is a little - ballsy - even for you."
Clark's voice was low, and very quiet. He stood with his arms wrapped around himself as if he were chilled, and maybe he was since he wore only a white T-shirt and jeans. Even his feet were bare, which struck Lex as odd. He looked somewhat lost, confused, and deeply troubled.
"It's tonight," Clark murmured.
"What's tonight?" Lex breathed, although the sudden sharp pain in his chest made him realize he already knew the answer.
"I'm leaving tonight."
Lex hesitated, unsure of himself as he took one step forward, and then another. The steam gave the moment a very dreamlike quality, so much so he almost wanted to pinch himself to make sure he was awake. He didn't have to, for when he was within arms length, Clark reached out a hand to him, and his fingers gently traced the curve of Lex's shoulder to confirm the solidity of his presence.
Lex's eyes followed the motion, then rose to Clark's face. "Where are you going?"
Clark's eyes remained on his own hand, following his fingertips as he ran them down across Lex's bare chest. He stopped at the center, resting his palm over Lex's heart. "Home," he whispered.
Concern overrode any irritation Lex might have felt, as evidently something had driven Clark back to him despite the animosity that had come between them. Lex locked a hand around his wrist, and ducked his head, trying to look into his eyes again.
"Clark, are you okay?"
There was a brief nod, but Clark would not meet his gaze, nor did he try to move away. "I saw you with Lana, at the airport."
"Where were you? I didn't....."
"You'll take care of her won't you?" Abruptly the hazel eyes were there, boring intently into Lex's smokey blue with an expression of desperation Lex had never seen in them before. It made Lex uneasy. They told him Clark wasn't planning on coming back again more distinctly than his words.
"I do love her, Lex."
"I know." Lex let go of Clark's wrist, took his hand instead. "Look, Clark, I don't know what's going on but you're worrying me. Whatever has come between us doesn't change the fact that we were once friends, and I'm not so cold to turn you away if you need help."
Clark's head moved slowly back and forth, and then, suddenly, his hands were on either side of Lex's face, drawing him closer. Their foreheads touched, and Lex was uncomfortably aware of how close they were. He felt the warmth of Clark's hands on his face, the softness of the boy's breath against the bridge of his nose, and for the briefest instant Lex thought Clark was going to kiss him. What, he wondered, would his reaction be?
It stopped just short of that. They simply stood there, looking at each other.
"Did you mean it?" Clark asked. "That day, after Pete left."
"The love card?"
Lex had stretched the truth before and had done things behind Clark's back too, dancing around his subsequent accusations with the carefully negotiated moves of a world class chess player. He was an expert at lying without telling a lie, unlike Clark, whose falsehoods were as obvious as a pie in the face. Or, as in several recent confrontations, a slap across it.
Now was one of those times when Lex's skills would be invaluable, when he needed to answer without betraying himself. Yet when he looked into Clark's eyes he remembered the first time they'd met. That day he had looked up from dreams of dying into the eyes of a real life angel, who had left the sweet taste of mint on his lips and gave him a second chance.
Here was a second chance. It was Lex's chance to reclaim their friendship, or perhaps, to shatter it completely. He had to pick just the right words.
He couldn't find them. They were gone, leaping from his grasp and leaving him holding nothing but that single card to play. He had no choice but to lay it down once again.
"Yes," he blurted.
A gentle kiss on his forehead was followed by another upon his cheek, and a third broke the boundary of friendship. Clark's mouth was warm. Warm. It was all Lex could comprehend at first, before he moved closer and his own mouth parted to accept more. Lips, tongue, the sensation of another's breath mingling with one's own - kissing was so profoundly sensual, so utterly human. In their case there was something desperate about it.
Lex found himself pulling Clark's hair and moaning, wanting it all.
The warmth of Clark's mouth grew scalding hot, heated by Lex's reciprocating kisses, and Lex imagined it leaving burns wherever it touched him. It was at his throat now, sucking skin made soft and tender by the shower. Clark's big hands were at his hips just where the towel rested. Lex could feel the towel slipping and he made a grab for it, tearing away from Clark before it could fall to the floor. His senses returned to him with a jolt and he stepped away, trembling.
"Have you lost your mind? What are you doing?"
Clark looked muddled, but there was also a hungry look in his eyes that betrayed his innocence. He was exceptionally desirable too, with lips, cheeks and the tops of his ears flushed pink. His hair was a rumpled tangle of thick, dark curls, styled by the combination of Lex's frantic pawing and the humid air around them. He appeared to be extremely young, vulnerable, and sexy all at the same time. When he spoke, his voice was low, and sultry.
"I thought you wanted it."
"No!" Lex exclaimed. "I mean yes, but...." Rattled, Lex backed up a pace. "Clark, I don't think you know what you're doing."
"I know exactly what I'm doing."
"What about Lana? You said you loved her."
There was a pause, and Clark raised a hand to run it through his hair. "Lana," he said heavily. "Isn't the one I dream about at night." His voice softened to a near whisper. "I want to take my dreams with me, Lex. I want to make them memories. Please...."
"You aren't coming back." Lex ground his teeth tightly together. His fingers tightened around the edges of the towel, curling inward to press the cloth into his palms. "Are you?"
Clark's eyes grew cold again, vague, as they had been when Lex had first seen him standing there. When he finally spoke it was as if his mind were far distant from his body, or as if he were listening to something only he could hear.
"If I do," he said. "I may not be the same."
"Then don't go," Lex pleaded softly.
"I have to."
Clark turned his eyes toward Lex. His face was expressionless, his eyes still icy cool. "I am not one of you. I'm not human."
The situation was so surreal, with the two of them standing in the lingering fog of Lex's shower, their lips still tingling from desperate kisses, that Lex believed him. The tone of Clark's voice was unmistakable. His expression, or lack thereof, was free of masks. He hid nothing. He was telling the truth.
For a long time he held Lex's gaze, and then strode forward to take Lex by the arms. He moved in close, holding Lex intimately, his mouth close to Lex's ear.
"Take me," he murmured. "I'm yours until dawn, Lex. Nothing will be between us; no lies, no deceptions, not your father, not my parents, just us." One hand eased down Lex's chest to the towel, urging Lex to drop it with a tug. His breath tickled Lex's ear as he chuckled softly. "You'll be the only man in the world to be able to say he slept with an alien."
Lex was torn between joy and terror. Part of his mind wrote Clark off as a kook, but even as he reeled with confused emotions, a cold logic was also at work. All the pieces of the puzzle suddenly fell into place, leaving Lex burdened with knowledge a man could only dream of possessing. His mind could barely comprehend the import of Clark's revelation. What would he, Lex Luthor, do with this valuable commodity?
The answer never came. Clark's hand strayed into territory that Lex normally considered off limits, touching and teasing him. His mouth covered Lex's once more, destroying whatever Lex might have said, and in the end, Lex succumbed. He melted into Clark's arms in an attitude of utter surrender. What to do next was not going to be his decision to make.
Clark was gone by the time Lex woke, and it took him several minutes to reorient himself. Another shower washed away the physical evidence of what they'd done but not the memories. Nor could it cleanse from him the lingering soreness of muscles stretched and joints twisted into configurations Lex had only seen illustrated by very limber porn stars. Clark didn't know how to lie, but he knew how to pleasure a man. How he knew, Lex didn't care to speculate.
There was no answer at the Kent's house when Lex called, and a meeting with his attorney would not allow him time for a personal visit. Lex wasn't sure how he would face the Kents again, not when he knew the truth, not when the last time he saw their son was from a position beneath him. Clark had looked so beautiful, felt so beautiful....
Lex poured himself a scotch. "Gives a new definition to 'anal probe'," he murmured wryly. The wry grin turned into a silly smile, then slowly faded into a scowl.
"I'm going home," Clark had said. Where would that be? There were so many more questions Lex needed to ask.
He kicked back his drink almost angrily, cursing his weakness, and his inability to let go of the boy. In his own self accusations he heard his father's voice. It stilled him.
What fool throws away a handful of gold? Clark was....everything. He was everything Lex had ever wanted and more.
A bitter taste filled his mouth, and at first he thought it was his own grief rising up to choke him, but the sensation grew, opening up inside him like the bloom of a flower. It brought with it an unnatural warmth and a tightening in his chest that was more than the pain of loss. A quick glance at the decanter and he knew the truth, just as the poisoned glass slipped from his numb fingers. His throat closed. A cry for help was cut off along with his air.
Yet his own mortality was not a priority.
Clark was gone, but was he safe? Lex's mind was still his own, even as his body began to fail him, and his thoughts tumbled frantically through his head. Chloe? Had she and Gabe made it to the safe house in time?
"Clllarrrk...." Lex's vision blurred. He staggered.
I had a handful of gold....
He heart the tinkling chime of bells all around him, and everything went black.
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