Lex heard about the death of Clark's ex-wife from the story in the Ledger, and then from Chloe Sullivan's more comprehensive reporting. He supposed that was fitting enough, given that he'd heard about the marriage (and subsequent annulment) from items in the Ledger as well. Before that, the last he'd heard from Clark was one of his endless demands to repent for his father's research at LuthorCorp.
Had they ever been friends?
No, he had to believe that it had been real, that spark that had jumped between them in the early days. Just a light in the darkness, gone now, leaving an afterimage that made everything else harder to see. Whether he'd wanted friendship or something deeper, it had been lost as Clark drained the reservoir of Lex's goodwill. Before all the unshared secrets built up the wall between them, Lex had thought that Clark had discovered something in him that no one else had seen - but then, Clark lied to himself almost as often as he lied to others.
Lying was ingrained in thought, as simple as Mom and simpler than apple pie.
So Clark was nothing special in being a liar. His distinction lay elsewhere. Somehow, he was the heir to a secret history, one that had left marks around the world. Lex wasn't sure whether he was more interested in the why or the how.
Time was, Lex would have contemplated the question while watching some of Clark's greatest hits. The videotapes had been destroyed with the rest of Lex's research collection. He recognized now that keeping it had been fetishism. The archive had made him vulnerable, had severed the last threads of Clark's trust. So he hadn't kept the footage of Clark and Alicia appearing from nowhere in an elevator bay at LuthorCorp. He hadn't kept the images of Clark appearing in the hall outside his office, walking in and staring at the Russian manuscript for a second before it disappeared. His personal security people had understandably wanted to analyze the tape, but Lex had played eccentric rich guy and refused. And he hadn't kept the next tape, or the next.
Time after time, the pattern had repeated itself: evidence, denial, destruction -- and then only a memory.
Lex held on to memories like a miser clenching gold coins, until the patterns left marks on him. Like any other wealth, this could be stolen from him. But he'd fight to keep his knowledge, especially when that knowledge touched on Clark.
He did start to wonder whether he was encouraging Clark's carelessness, but he wasn't sure that was a bad thing. He might never get what he wanted from Clark, but that didn't mean Clark was useless.
Continuing the charade of near-friendship actually hurt -- most people who lied to Lex's face had the decency - the respect -- to do it well. Lex couldn't tell if his insistence on maintaining the appearance of friendship was punishing himself for what he'd destroyed, reminding himself that he had no one on whom to rely, or deluding himself that things might change if he found the right thing to give Clark.
Speak of the devil and he appears; think of an angel, even a fallen one -
The phone played the special tone that let him know that Clark was on the way to the office. Lex checked his calendar and saw nothing urgent enough to delay another round of the Secrets and Lies Waltz.
"I have to write a paper about Romeo and Juliet," Clark said by way of introduction.
Lex looked up at him, closing the computer as he did so. Clark wouldn't know it, but it was a deliberate insult, shutting down sensitive work so that Clark couldn't somehow get a glimpse. A small thing, but it made Lex feel more in control. "I have a number of books on Shakespeare, if you're interested," Lex said. "Of course, a lot of them discuss the evidence against Shakespeare being the true author of the plays, but I've got some literary criticism tucked away." He gestured towards the books in the balcony annex.
Clark frowned, his unusually narrowed mouth showing his distaste. "I don't know why it has to be Romeo and Juliet."
"You don't like the play?"
"It's stupid. They die for nothing."
What's red and blue and outraged all over? Lex wanted to smile, but seeing Clark's emotions devoted elsewhere had lost its Cyrano-like charm. "In the nineteenth century, it was common for American productions to alter the endings of the tragedies. Romeo and Juliet lived happily ever after, Cordelia married and inherited the kingdom from Lear, all sorts of mutilations."
"Sounds good to me," Clark said, looking at Lex as if he were personally to blame for the fate of the star-crossed lovers. There was something more going on here than failure to appreciate great literature, but, astonishingly, Clark wasn't letting Lex in on the secret.
Fine. Lex could play along. "Clark, I'm surprised," he drawled. "This is the Bard of Avon, the greatest dramatist England ever produced, the poet who invented thousands of words and coined hundreds of phrases as familiar to us as the words of the King James Bible."
"He might have been a poet, but the story's still bad. It's all mistakes. They're punished for making stupid decisions and having bad timing, but Juliet was fourteen."
"That's life, Clark. Mistakes and misunderstandings matter. There are no do-overs."
"But what about - what about mercy?" He said the word as if it were plucked from some remembered Easter sermon.
Sometimes Lex regretted the glass desk, because it meant he couldn't clench his hands into fists without being seen. But then, he shouldn't have such obvious tells. "It's a name for a girl." Certainly it had nothing to do with Luthors.
Clark shook his head. "A story should give people hope. There should be last-minute rescues. Look at - Smallville."
Lex had the oddest feeling that Clark had almost said 'look at us.'
It was true that at the level of plot Lex had lived through a number of precisely timed reprieves. Also three months on a desert island, which didn't seem that realistic either. "I suppose," he said, "it depends on your idea of the purpose of art. Is it to reconcile us to the cruelties of life and the randomness of the universe? To offer catharsis, provoking emotion that leaves us shaken and reminded of our human frailties, our obligations to protect one another? To inspire us to act in the world? Or merely to make us conscious of beauty?" He'd lost Clark, he could tell. Clark was now looking out the window as if he could see through the stained glass to the cornfields outside the manorial grounds - not impossible, Lex had to admit.
"Maybe it's a powerful story," Clark said, giving the lie to Lex's assumption that he'd drifted off, "but power shouldn't be what we respect."
"About stories or people?" Lex stood and moved around the desk towards Clark, interested in the answer in a way he rarely was in Clark's inner life any more.
Clark looked straight at him, and it was like being hit with a thousand-watt spotlight. "Didn't you tell me once that we're all just the sum of the stories we tell other people?"
"Now I'm not sure what we're talking about, Clark."
"But that's not true unless people believe the stories, is it?"
Lex decided to volley back. "Disbelief can teach you a lot, too."
"I've got a story, Lex." Lex leaned back as Clark stepped closer. He was almost sitting on his desk, Clark not three feet away. "I had a wife, and she betrayed me. And then she died."
He wondered whether Clark understood the causation implied in his words. And - he was angry. He spoke carefully, so that Clark would hear the insult. "It happens. Husbands are betraying their wives right now, while we stand here debating the aesthetics of tragedy. Wounded lovers are contemplating knives.
"Wives conspire to kill their husbands, or kill them as men even if the body lives." He straightened, and now Clark was retreating. "Why should your life have the miraculous reprieve? The message is lost, the fathers are opposed, the careless scrap in the street takes a life and it all falls apart - these are truths, and to turn your face from them because they hurt is to keep yourself from seeing the dangers headed your way." Clark's face had reddened during Lex's speech, his big hands curling into fists.
Lex felt an ugly satisfaction. Why not, when Clark kept asking advice about Juliet while casting him as Richard III?
"They laughed at me," Clark said, his voice thick. "Everybody kept talking about how stupid it was to marry a teenage girl, and how they'd have gotten a quickie divorce if they'd lived, and they kept laughing and smiling and passing notes. The teacher knows too and she didn't stop them. Even my parents --"
Lex's anger veered off course and found a different target. Was this what family was, he wondered, this desire to keep a person safe from any outside harm even while wanting to gut him yourself?
He stepped forward and caught Clark's shoulders in his hands. "They were wrong to laugh. They're fools."
Clark's eyes shone. He didn't shrug off Lex's grip, just stared into him, plainly looking for any insincerity. Clark had called a lot of false negatives where Lex's sincerity was concerned, but this time he got it right. His face held that blank agony Lex knew so well, the cost of always being the freak in any crowd. Lex took a risk and pulled Clark closer, into a hug, so that Clark wouldn't have to control his expression.
"Like she wasn't a person," Clark said, stiff and heavy against Lex's hands. "Just a punchline, a funny story about stupid Clark Kent."
Lex wished he could tell Clark that faith in other people wasn't stupid, but he couldn't make himself say the words. "She was a person," he said instead. "They were afraid of her, and so they laugh to make themselves think that there was nothing to fear."
Clark made a sound of vague disagreement, but he didn't explain and he didn't pull away.
The air between their bodies was warm, humid, the way they'd always created their own weather, storm-heavy. They were in the standard American heterosexual male clinch, their lower bodies apart so they leaned against each other like the sides of a sharply canted roof. Clark was so hot, even through the fabric of his shirt, that Lex was reminded of touching metal fresh from an autoclave.
Clark's breathing had been harsh and stuttering, thick with the loss no one else would allow him to feel. Then his body stilled until Lex was concerned for him. Lex tilted his head back to get a better look at Clark's face.
Clark was staring at him. They were far too close for politeness, let alone comfort. Clark's eyes were moons in eclipse, a rim of bright iris around the pupils like the coronas of very distant stars. Lex tried not to let his gaze dip to Clark's red, red mouth.
He shifted back on his heels, trying for emotional distance without pushing Clark away. Clark didn't comply; instead, he moved his hands down until they settled at the small of Lex's back. Clark pressed the upper half of his body forward just enough that Lex had to lean back, into Clark's warm hands.
"Clark," Lex said, sounding out of breath in his own ears, "I know you're in a lot of -"
"Shut up, Lex," Clark said, and his mouth twisted in a near-smile at whatever showed on Lex's face. "Just once. I need - I want to do what I want, just once -"
Even though Clark's foolhardy resolve was clear on his face, Lex was caught gaping when Clark actually kissed him. Someone - Lex would never know whom -- had really taught Clark to do it right, strong and slow, just a hint of teeth at first, then more when the initial touch made Lex's body sway towards Clark's.
This is such a bad idea, Lex thought, his hands smoothing over Clark's shoulders, feeling the muscles there. Clark was looking for a way not to hurt, just for a while. That strategy was going to work just as well as it ever did.
Clark's mouth left his, moving over his jaw, nipping at his bared throat. Lex's fingers clenched on Clark's biceps so hard his bones hurt.
Distantly, he wondered whether he'd ever wanted anything that wasn't a bad idea, even as Clark returned to his mouth. His skin stung where Clark had marked him. Lex kissed him back, kissed him as if he could taste what it was that made Clark so dangerous to him. Clark tasted clean, like water, like any other person's mouth. Lex's hands ripped at Clark's terrible cheap shirt, and he managed to pop at least one or two buttons before Clark pulled away.
They stared at each other. Clark was apple-red, a fine sheen of sweat on his temples, Ganymede tempting Zeus. This is the end, Lex realized. Whatever we do now, we can't be friends. Clark wants what he wants, but his enthusiasm rarely survives the getting of it, especially when it's provided by a Luthor.
It should have hurt, but Lex found himself unsurprised. Better to go like this, to commit to the Fall.
Clark reached up and finished the job Lex had started on his shirt, shrugging it off and immediately pulling his T-shirt over his head, staring into Lex's eyes except when his face was briefly obscured by red fabric.
"You're going to have to tell me what you want," Lex said.
Clark drew in a deep breath. His eyes, in an odd trick of the light, glimmered almost golden. "Open my jeans."
That was a little more specific than Lex had expected, but he could work with it. He dropped to his knees, which was enough to bring him close enough to reach Clark. He kept his eyes on Clark's face, his blind fingers stumbling at Clark's waistband, fingertips alive with the heat of Clark's skin. Clark trembled when Lex touched his stomach, not trying to tease, just unable to look away from Clark's sex-drowned eyes.
The denim was stiff against Lex's fumblings, but he got the button and then the zipper undone. Clark put his hands over Lex's, helping him push the jeans down and taking Clark's boxers with them.
Lionel had always said that the person wearing more clothes was the one in charge of a sexual encounter. It was, he'd explained, about power, exposure and vulnerability.
Lex's father was always better understanding ordinary behavior. Lex knew there was no control to be had here.
Clark's hardening, uncut cock moved as Clark kicked off his shoes and the clothes tangled with them. One foot and then the other, with that strange grace of his.
"Do it," he ordered, and Lex bent forward to suck him in. Here Clark was a man like any other, with a dark and sweaty smell that made Lex breathe in and close his eyes. He'd meant to start slow, brace his hands on the fronts of Clark's thighs, but Clark grunted and the plan changed. Opening his jaw and tilting his head, he gorged himself. His hands curved around, squeezing Clark's ass, pressing him as close as possible. Clark was all smooth muscle, trembling under his hands like an expensive car yearning for him to speed up.
Clark fucked forward with only the tiniest of incremental thrusts, filling Lex's mouth with the secret taste of him, salty and sharp. Lex couldn't take it all; he brought one hand up to help, slicking it with his own spit as he moved up and down on Clark's cock. Clark made a sound in the back of his throat and Lex felt a victorious thrill.
There was no way he could get his pants open one-handed, and he didn't bother to try, just rubbing himself through the layers of fabric, the same rhythm for both of them. Clark shook, almost wobbling as he put his hands on Lex's head. Not holding him, more like a priest giving the most obscene of blessings.
Clark yelled, loud and almost joyful. The unfamiliar sound of satisfaction filled the room, echoing off the distant ceiling as he came. Lex swallowed, stilling his hand so he could feel the pulses run through Clark's cock, silky and hot and wet from Lex's mouth.
When Clark made a small sound of near-protest, Lex pulled back and looked at him challengingly.
The line of Clark's jaw tightened. "Do you have anything?" he asked.
Lex could have mocked the lack of specificity -- could have pointed out that Lex, in fact, had everything, but it seemed pointless and unlikely to produce desirable results.
"Yes," Lex said instead and stood so that he could kiss Clark again, not surprised this time, using his tongue to spread the taste of Clark's come. Clark's big hands steadied Lex's shoulders, brands of heat through his too-constricting shirt, as Lex fumbled for his wallet.
Lex heard the wallet thud to the floor beside them. He put his hands on Clark's chest and pushed him down onto the carpet. Clark let him do it, let him run his hands over Clark's biceps and shoulders and pecs, too hard to be a caress. All Clark's skin was perfect, unmarked. When Lex used his nails, Clark only gasped and arched into the touch. Lex's clothes were too tight and hot but he hadn't managed to remove anything. Watching his shirtsleeves obscure and reveal Clark's naked skin was enough to make him shiver.
He made himself stop just long enough to fight his belt and pants open, squeezing his cock to bring himself back from the edge. He put one hand on Clark's tight stomach, letting Clark take his weight effortlessly while he pulled out his cock. Did Clark even know that he ought to be doubled over, fighting for breath, from what Lex had just done? It didn't matter, because Clark was staring at him, staring at his hard and leaking dick jutting out from his clothes, like Lex was a businessman getting a blowjob on his lunch hour.
Clark's eyes were wild and unblinking, a blush like warpaint across his cheeks. He was breathing fast as Lex pulled back a few inches, far enough to get his balance and reach for the condom that had fallen out of the opened wallet.
This was one more thing Clark would hate him for, when he thought about it later, that Lex walked around ready to have sex with strangers, like it didn't even matter. Knowing the future only increased his arousal. Clark couldn't stop himself from wanting this even when Lex was everything he despised and had been taught to despise. For Clark to want him beyond morality and common sense was a victory, like a rainstorm after a drought made of loss and humiliation.
That, and it was some consolation to know that his absurd passion wasn't all one-sided, however unbalanced it might be. Lex tore at the plastic packet, pulling the condom out with shaking fingers. Clark was still watching him, wide-eyed as when he'd seen Lex revive on the riverbank.
As Lex rolled on the condom, his fingers sliding against the chemical lubricant, he realized why it didn't matter that he was still wearing all his clothes when Clark was naked. Clark didn't need the armor that clothing gave him, and dressing up had never worked for Lex, when people pointed and whispered and asked whether he was bald all over. These but the trappings and the suits of woe, he thought and pushed into Clark in one swift thrust.
He moaned involuntarily and his eyes fell closed. His hands scrabbled for purchase on Clark's spread thighs, trying to keep himself from coming right then. He bit his lip so hard he felt the flesh part and blood rush into his mouth, but it was still too good, this hot and secret place surrendered to him at last. Clark was groaning beneath him. When he forced his eyes open at last, Clark was tossing his head back and forth like an unbroken horse, strands of his hair stuck to his forehead with sweat. Lex was pounding into Clark, hard enough that they should have been moving across the floor, but Clark seemed to defy physics here as elsewhere and he was just taking it, mouth opening and closing on choked-off sounds of pleasure.
Clark's eyes were closed, his lashes clumped with sweat, the planes of his face sharp and saintly. His cock was hard again, and Lex fumbled to capture it in his grasp. There was a stutter in Lex's rhythm that made Clark's mouth twist in frustration, but Lex wanted to watch Clark's cockhead appear and disappear in his fist, which he did until Clark put his big hand over Lex's and showed him what to do. He squeezed hard, hard enough to make Lex's fingers hurt, but Clark just opened his mouth in a silent yell and came, cracking his head against the floor hard enough that Lex could hear the thunk despite the thick carpet.
As Clark's body relaxed, Lex moved to get more leverage, pushing Clark's knees further up. His fingers raked across Clark's body, sweat-slick skin over muscle firm as fruit still on the vine. So much skin that he could spend a century exploring it if he had the time. But his body knew the schedule better than his wandering fantasies, and abruptly he lost the ability to reason. Nothing existed except his body, his cock, the wet slap of flesh on flesh, their unsynchronized panting, the blood on his tongue and the way Clark's skin yielded just a little under his clenching fingers.
The orgasm was like drowning.
When he came back to life, Clark was several feet away, not looking at him. He wasn't yet dressed, but he was clearly wishing he could be. Lex blinked a few times to clear his vision, then rolled over and tucked himself back in, not bothering with more cleanup than that. Clark took that as enough reason to begin gathering his own clothes.
Lex sat on the floor, pulling his knees up so he could rest his arms on them, and watched Clark get dressed, even though he knew it made Clark feel awkward. Maybe because of that. His overshirt hung off his shoulders; Clark never looked small, but right now more than ever before he looked like he didn't want to be seen.
Glancing around, Lex saw a spot of shine on the floor, small and white - a button from Clark's shirt. He knew he'd get up when Clark had gone and save it. A hard little souvenir, almost like a memory, but more resistant to interpretation.
"Tell me something, Lex."
He looked up. Clark was almost at the door, seeming almost poised to take flight, as if being with Lex like this was the last thing he needed before launching himself into a new world. Lex had known he was going to start running, but this was fast even for Clark. The setting sun scattered its jewels across Clark's face, blue and red and yellow through the stained glass. "What?"
"If I had been honest with you when we'd first met, would it - would we have ended up differently?"
Lex closed his eyes and gave Clark one last gift. "No, Clark. It would have been the same by the end."
It didn't cost him anything he couldn't afford.
Note: Lex's little rant is inspired by my favorite scene in Dolores Claiborne, the creepiest bit in the whole movie (in the book, it's slightly different, but still good).
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