Title: At Midnight, In the Month of June
Disclaimer: Not mine, not mine, not mine. Archive: Sure
Summary: Clark has a problem. Lex is helpful. Plus, dancing.
Notes: Answer to Livia's Ray Bradbury Title Challenge. For my grandmother, who frequently talked me into things I didn't actually want to do, but who also said I should write what I know.
When he saw the gleam in his mother's eye, Clark should have run. The crooked finger to both keep him quiet while she talked on the phone, and to hold him in place should have been a clue. And really, the high sunset color in her cheeks should have been a warning; red is almost always nature's warning. So when he saw her twining the phone cord around her hand, and marking off the length of the kitchen with long, graceful paces, he should have run.
Instead, he shrugged out of his jacket and ducked beneath the phone cord to get to the fridge. Shelves packed tight with nothing interesting to eat, he settled on milk and wondered if he slouched, if she'd see him drinking out of the carton. A quick glance over, and he caught a ginger brow arched just exactly so; sometimes Clark suspected she could read his mind. He made a promise to himself- one day, he wouldn't even -own- cups.
"I'm sure he'd love to," Martha said, stepping out of the way to let him pass. "They'll be darling. I know, I can't believe they're so grown up already."
Smearing a splash of milk off his glass, Clark winced. Whatever that was, it couldn't be good. He didn't want to be darling, because his mom's idea of darling usually meant he ended up looking like a dork (pink bunny ears on Easter, soaking wet in the Fall Festival's dunk tank,) and it sounded like she'd just signed him up to be a dork with somebody else. He really should have run.
Martha hung up the phone and smiled at him, the dangerous smile of a mother who'd just made promises her son had no choice but to keep. "That was Joan, you remember Joan, don't you?" Such an innocent question, and one asked as she leaned against the counter and tipped the cookie jar to offer him an oatmeal raisin.
Cookies, the smile, and a casual reference to her best friend from college, Clark squirmed and nodded.
"Well, her daughter Katie has a... formal dance coming up, and..." Martha sighed, taking a cookie and contemplating its rough edge, "Her date backed out on her at the last minute, so I told her I'd ask if you'd take her. You remember Katie."
Dread weighed Clark's shoulders, and he stuffed half a cookie in his mouth to keep from answering immediately. Of course he remembered Katie, she'd visited the farm once. Katie had wiry red hair, buck teeth, and about fifteen thousand knees and elbows, which she liked to use to persuade people to get out of her way. She also liked to break the heads off G.I. Joes, and to threaten to stuff them up people's noses if they told anyone about her predilection for action-figure decapitation. Katie, in short, was the devil. "Um, yeah."
Delicately brushing crumbs from the corners of her mouth, Martha smiled again, her face wide open and expectant. She already knew she was going to get her way, and thus, could afford to be gracious. "So, what do you think?"
He thought he'd rather poke his own eyes out with meteor rocks, that's what he thought. Shoving the rest of the cookie in his mouth, he stalled while his mom promised, with just a pretty flicker of lashes, a world of hurt if he said no. So, he tried the next best thing. "I dunno. Maybe."
"She's a sweet girl, Clark, and it's just one night." Winding up to really nail him, sweet, kind, ruthless Martha Kent tipped the jar toward him again. "It would really mean a lot to me."
Even moreso than Martha graced with an agenda smile, Lex laughing and looking away meant big trouble. Sprawled in a lazy spread of limbs on the couch, he had an amazing ability to look comfortable almost anywhere, even places he shouldn't. Like, a barn loft, on a questionable couch, brushing his hand against his brow before looking up again. "You're a brave man, Clark."
"It's not a big deal," Clark said, pinning his telescope between crossed legs to adjust the new unit finder. It kept wiggling, and there was a very good chance he'd lost one of the screws in his annoyance. Clark had expected sympathy, and gotten it, until he'd made fun of the dance's name: the Magnolia Cotillion.
Leaning back to spread his arms across the couch, Lex smoothed his amusement into a wry smile. "It's one finger bowl short of a debutante ball. Black tie dinner and dancing... your mother didn't tell you?"
Clark cursed under his breath when the tiny screwdriver flipped out of his fingers, and rolled through one of the cracks in the loft floor. "She didn't mention that."
"Did she mention the quadrille?" Lex watched Clark's eyes widen, and swallowed another smile. He supposed they probably didn't have many cotillions in Smallville, and he could only imagine what Clark had expected- a school gym full of crepe paper and balloons, probably. Lex would have paid good money, massive amounts of his father's money, for that to have been true, once upon a time.
"What's a quadrille?" Clark didn't appreciate it much when the answer was a smothered chuckle. "Thanks, Lex. Real helpful."
In a brief flurry of motion, Lex rose from the couch. Hands in his pockets, he surveyed Clark's nearly petulant expression, then nodded in the general direction of the castle. "Dinner tomorrow at eight." He grinned, a brief, brilliant flash that faded to a smirk. "I promise, it'll be helpful."
Watching Lex disappear down the stairs, Clark frowned. He wasn't sure if that was an invitation or a threat, but he'd be there on time to find out.
3. La Poule
The formal dining room (and Clark was surprised to discover that Lex had a formal dining room, they usually just ate pizza in the den,) glimmered in amber candlelight. Clark counted at least eight forks and six plates, which was pretty impressive considering only two places had been set. Somewhere at the back of his thoughts, his mother's voice offered up the wisdom to start with the outside fork and work inwards, and Clark hoped that maybe that would be enough to get him through dinner without embarrassing himself.
"Have a seat," Lex said, striding in on measured steps. Rather than taking his own seat, he came to rest standing behind Clark. In his very best professorial voice, he rattled off the various utensils and their order of use, as if he really expected Clark to remember it. There was also something about passing the salt in there, but Clark forgot that the instant Lex said, "I hope you can make small talk with strangers. You won't be sitting with your date."
Clark didn't even have the grace to be ashamed of his own glee. Let somebody else entertain Katie the Wicked. Maybe Satan would enjoy her company? Clark swallowed a grin when it occurred to him that if Katie grew up to marry Lex's dad, they could have a whole legion of succubus and incubus spawn together. Then, he -did- feel guilty, because Lex had enough problems without adding demonic halfsiblings to the mix.
As soon as Lex sat down, a door opened behind him. A man dressed better than Clark was appeared, gliding through the dining room to fill glasses, receding, then returning to fill plates. Lex mixed conversation with instruction, deftly weaving between the two. For a while, Clark just cheated- watching what Lex did before doing it himself, eventually finding a rhythm in all these desperately intricate table manners.
"So you've been to a lot of these things," Clark asked, mastering a particularly angry bit of asparagus.
Replacing his wine glass, Lex shrugged. "A few. My father's been trying to masquerade as old money since he made his first million, and I was his first, best hope for a strategic alliance with one of the better families." Lex rolled his lips, then grinned. "It was poor planning on his part."
Clark's brows rose. "He was trying to marry you off?"
"Trying being the key word," Lex said. His posture straightened, and a wicked glow of pure pride lit his features. Tipping his chin back, he traced the tip of his index finger against a silver scar there. "See that? That's what happens when you tell a society girl exactly what you think of her Vera Wang."
Choking on a sip of water, Clark scrambled to cover his mouth with his napkin. "Jeez, Lex. What did she hit you with, a baseball bat?"
"Her dance card case. Those little bastards are sharp." Lex made a subtle gesture with one hand, and the man hiding in the shadows appeared, whisking Clark's damp napkin away, leaving a clean one in its place.
Clark wondered if his mother knew a cotillion was crawling with ninja debutantes. Then he wondered if he could get away with faking the flu, because if this was one of Lex's - funny- stories about the dance, he was a little afraid to find out what the bad ones entailed. Death by shrimp fork? Diamond and pearl garrottes? Wrinkling his nose, Clark eyed the hateful asparagus again. "Sounds like fun. I can hardly wait."
"You have to make your own fun at these events, Clark." Leaning back in his chair, Lex glanced to the side, then casually, very casually, reached out and flipped his dessert spoon into the air. It clattered with an impressive clang to the floor somewhere behind him. His expression never changed, smooth and mild, and he nodded appreciatively when the servant skittered out of the darkness to retrieve, and replace it.
Lowering his fork, Clark squinted, watching with fascination as Lex waited a few moments, then did it again. Clark bit down on his lower lip, bowing his head because he didn't want to laugh out loud. An innate sense of justice told him it was kind of mean to make somebody run after spoons in the dark, just because you could, but he couldn't help but snicker at Lex's deadpan expression.
The third time he did it, the servant actually stopped at Lex's elbow. "Perhaps Mr. Luthor would like to skip dessert tonight?" His was a familiar tone, laced with the comfortable certainty that his job was going nowhere, even if he did take a swipe at the boss.
"Mr. Luthor wouldn't, but thank you, Weldon." Lex bit back a grin, now trying to catch Clark's eye. "And my apologies, I washed my hands this morning, now I can't do a thing with them."
Clark looked away suddenly, strangling on a half-barked laugh when he put his elbow down on the table, hard enough to knock his fish fork onto the floor. There was no point in trying to hide the laughter now, but he managed to wheeze a sincere apology to Weldon all the same. "Sorry. Sorry. I'm really sorry." The man's taciturn nod as he disappeared only made Clark's case of the giggles worse.
"Come back tomorrow, Grace," Lex said, picking up his glass. "We'll teach you to dance."
"Hanja, Clark. Clark, Hanja. She'll be your instructor."
Lex smiled when Hanja, all five stony feet of her, nodded a stern greeting, then stalked across the ballroom to get to the turntable. Sensing Clark's eyes on him, Lex glanced up and shrugged, all innocence. "I'll have dinner with you, Clark, but I'm not going to dance with you."
"Yeah, I didn't think..." Clark lied, shuffling his feet. Another cavernous room in Luthor Manor he didn't know existed, and he was amazed at how big that miniature woman seemed as she strode back toward him. Sleek and severe in her black leotard and white gauze skirt, Hanja brandished a long, smooth stick in one hand. Slumping a little so as not to be overheard, Clark mumbled, "What's she going to do with that?"
Before Lex could answer, Hanja demonstrated, swirling around them like a Germanic cyclone. She huffed a sound of endless disgust, and poked Clark in the small of the back. "Back straight!" The stick whistled as she whipped it through the air, menacing Lex with an imperious gesture. "Off the floor, if you don't dance."
More than happy to get out of the way, Lex sank back to lean against the wall. Along with the fox trot and cha cha, Hanja had taught him two very important lessons: one, former prima ballerinas didn't give a damn how much money you had, and two, move the first time because they're preternaturally fast with that stick and not shy about using it, either.
Tapping her foot in time to the classical music crackling in the background, Hanja circled around again, leaning her head all the way back to look Clark in the eye. "You can waltz?"
Clark froze. Once, in fifth grade, Mrs. Ping the gym teacher had taught them all something she claimed was a waltz, but there hadn't been any sticks involved, that he remembered. "Sort of. The box step, right?"
"Box step!" Hanja made another disgusted sound, rolling it gutturally in her throat, then suddenly whacked Clark on either shoulder. "Square the shoulders, spread the legs."
When he didn't immediately comply, whack, whack! Sure, she couldn't -hurt- him or anything, but that didn't mean both his knees didn't sting with the hummingbird assault. Glancing back at Lex, Clark promised with a glance that one day, one day very soon, he'd get him back for this. Lex replied with a grin that informed him any petty vengeance on Clark's part would be more than fair in return for the entertainment he was about to enjoy.
With a flicker of stick and tiny, Teutonic tenacity, Clark eventually found himself mostly leading, and mostly not stepping on Hanja's toes. He felt ridiculous and gigantic, towering over her by nearly two feet, but he wasn't afraid of hurting her- not after the way she squeezed his hand when he forgot which way they were going during a transition. After a while, Hanja quit counting the beats out loud, but not before Clark was sure he'd have dreams about whippings in eins-zwei-drei waltz time.
From the waltz, they moved on to the fox trot, where Clark learned to quit looking at his feet with a few, judicious swats from Hanja's non-magic wand, then the cha cha, where Clark learned to pay attention to where his hands fell. He felt lucky to escape with a florid blush, his life, and a healthy, though anerotic, admiration for the kind of toning years in the Bolshoi could do for a woman's behind. Throughout it all, he caught glimpses of Lex stretched out, pleased as cream and smirking behind his hand, for which he would pay dearly... just as soon as this stupid cotillion was over, and Clark had time to get in touch with his devious side.
Once they'd conquered the basic dances, Hanja drew away to cast Clark dirty looks and rub his sweat from her gnarled hands. She looked like she could go a couple more rounds, possibly in a boxing ring, from the way she fixed Lex with her beady eyes. "Enough for today. Tomorrow, we teach der Felsenfusse..." She cut another sharp glance over at Clark. "Die Quadrille, hahn?"
"Ja, im dem morgen. Danke, Fraulein," Lex said, seeing her out of the ballroom and into Joachim's capable hands. When he turned around, he slid his hands into his pockets and walked slowly toward Clark, who was busy mopping sweat from his brow. "That wasn't so bad, was it?" He even managed to keep his smile to himself.
Clark shot him a tight-lipped smile. "No, it was great. The best, even. I only wish I could do it every day."
"That could be arranged." Lex didn't grin, but he wanted to. He had a secret fondness for Clark's many shades of petulance.
"No thanks," Clark said, folding up the hand towel and turning back and forth, trying to figure out where to put it. Everything looked rich and antique-y, and considering the fits his mother could throw over a water ring on their notrich and not-antique end tables, he knew better than to just put things down on any random flat surface. While he worked on that conundrum, another niggle rose to the front of his thoughts. "What did she call me? And since when do you speak German?"
"I speak enough to find the bars, the bathroom, and to get a girl's room number," Lex replied, then changed the subject. Clark thought he'd done well, there was no point in breaking his spirit by telling him the dance instructor was calling him rock-footed. Taking the towel from him before he dug a groove into the floor, Lex started for the door. "Bring a friend tomorrow, you need at least two couples to learn the quadrille."
Pushing his hair out of his face, Clark called after him. "I guess you mean a girl? Where am I supposed to get a girl, Lex?"
Lex didn't even look back. "I can't do everything for you, Clark. Maybe your mom could help." He chuckled, this time peering over his shoulder at him. "And speaking of your mother, if she's ever interested in a career in sales, have her call me."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"She sold you a cotillion with cookies; I can only imagine what she could do for fertilizer with a bundt cake."
"Okay, tell me again why I'm doing this?" Chloe was both unafraid of and unimpressed with the Dance Mistress of Pain, and didn't mind at all whispering between demi-queue duchats. After finding out that she was not only going to be forced to dance, but some bizarro uberdance, with Lex as her main partner, she'd gotten downright chatty. And seemed to appreciate the fact that Clark was the only one who got whacked when she made him miss a step.
Wincing when Hanja barked for them to start the Trenis over, Clark hissed back to Chloe, "We had a deal!"
Chloe screwed her face up, dubious written in her one-eyed squint. "When you said dancing, I thought you meant the Jitterbug or something."
Clark stared at her. "You know how to Jitterbu... ow!"
"Eyes forward," Hanja said, having pre-punctuated her command with a thwap in the middle of Clark's forehead. She was getting pretty aggressive with that stick.
Waiting until Chloe took his hands again, Lex stepped closer to murmur. "You're enjoying that, aren't you?"
"Maybe a little."
Clark noticed Chloe's blush with no small measure of annoyance (jealousy) and would have said something if he hadn't heard Hanja's stick slice through the air, stopping just short of his forehead when he snapped his eyes back into place. The count started over, and Clark pulled Hanja in, then stepped back, stealing glances over when Chloe giggled, and Lex laughed.
Outrage made Clark forget two steps, earning him a sharp rap in the middle of his back, but even that didn't clear his mind. Another stolen glance confirmed what Clark had suspected: Lex was flirting with her, and what was worse, Chloe seemed to like it. Didn't Lex know he could go to jail for that??
Hands crossed, then changing partners, Lex slid past him with a world of grace Clark could only hope to visit one day. Lex was so comfortable with the quadrille, he managed to work in a whisper between courtly bows. "Having fun yet?" His brows danced, and he instructed quickly before Clark got the rod again, "Tours de deux mains, Clark."
Meeting Chloe, Clark led her around in the short, slow circle, almost perfectly in time with the music, and moving far enough away from the dance instructor to dare a comment. "What are you smiling at?"
With a dip of her head to scrape beneath Clark's arm, she peeked back over her shoulder to answer, their backs rubbing with each choreographed step. "I don't know, it's just kind of sexy when a man knows how to dance."
Hope sprung eternal, and Clark counted his steps back around to face her before leaning in just a bit. "Really?"
"I said a man, Clark." Chloe flashed him a twinkling grin, then crossed hands just at the right time to catch Lex's, leaving Clark fumbling for the next transition in the trenis.
6. De Grasse
Smoothing her hands over Clark's tux, Martha beamed up at him. "You look so handsome," she said, licking the edge of her thumb and moving to tame one of his curls.
As he was sixteen and not six, Clark leaned away from her grooming hand, and tried not to grin at her sheepish smile. All around them, society people shone in formalwear, an air of importance lacing through the air. Clark felt out of place, but only a little. Much as Clark hated to admit it considering he still owed him serious payback for those dance lessons, Lex had helped- a lot. As long as Clark could remember the difference between a fish knife and a demi-balance, he was set.
The wait on the steps to the Metropolis Ballroom was chilly, unseasonably so for June in Kansas. A summer storm had washed the streets clean, taking warmth with it, and Clark kind of hoped Katie's arrival had been thwarted by a flash flood or something. Not that he wasn't ready to do this cotillion thing, but he thought he'd probably have a lot more fun doing it without her.
All during the long drive, his mom had shared stories of her younger days, glory days of gowns and glitter, overflowing dance cards and dashing beaux, and Clark- sixteen, but still six years old and in love with the pretty woman he once called mommy, sort of wished she could dress up and go out like this again. He'd be happy to suffer the pantalon and pastorelle for her.
Martha squeezed his arm, suddenly waving frantically with the other. Through a gnattish knot of tuxedoed boys, her friend Joan appeared. Silvery-blonde hair, silvery-pale dress, she looked expensive, but warmed up when she threw her arms around Martha. Suddenly, they were teenagers again, shrilling as they exchanged greetings and compliments. After they had suitably mussed each other, Joan took a step back and smiled up at Clark. "Well, look at you, aren't you handsome?"
Not quite sure what to do with that, Clark just blushed and dipped his head. "Thank you." Glancing past her, his brows furrowed, and he very carefully asked, making absolutely sure not to sound at all eager, "Is Katie here?"
"Let me see, she stopped to talk to some friends..." Joan looped her arm with Martha's, peering down the steps to suss out her daughter. "They're going to make such a pretty picture, Martha. Look, right there, there she is."
Clark had to look twice, because he didn't see any knockkneed freaks among the swans, but following the line of Joan's hand twice, he had to blink. Somehow, and maybe it was the five or six years that had passed since he'd seen her being kind, she'd turned... kind of pretty. Her auburn hair still coiled up, but tied in a neat bun, it didn't look bad, exactly. And she sort of had curves. And the freckles on her nose were just a little bit cute. Clark smiled stupidly as Joan called her over.
For approximately two seconds, while their mothers jostled them closer together to get just the right picture, Clark believed that this might be a good night after all. He would be charming, he wouldn't fall over his own feet, and Katie would squeeze his hand and look up adoringly, and apologize for all the action figures she'd sent to early graves. They'd dance past midnight, and he might even...
"We'll do the Grande Marche, and the last waltz because we have to," Katie grated through her teeth, still smiling expansively for the cameras, "The rest of the time, you'd better stay out of my way."
Clark found it hard to smile with the devil digging her fingernails into his arm.
The unit finder on his telescope fixed, Clark gazed out into the night sky, mentally naming stars as he focused on them. He liked the names, Antares, Bellatrix, Polaris; they made soothing music when he rolled them on his tongue. The sky was his comfortable place, unchanging, without demands, no special rules of etiquette required to enjoy them. Still in dress pants, he'd abandoned the jacket and tie hours ago, making this a semi-formal rendezvous with the universe.
"How did it go?"
Lex's voice came not from behind him, but beneath, and Clark pushed the telescope out of the way to peer down from the loft. Standing in the blue moon shadow of the barn, Lex leaned his head back, meeting Clark's gaze. Already, he looked amused, but at least this time, it was sympathetic laughter in his eyes. "You did go, didn't you?"
Sinking down, Clark sprawled out on his belly, forgetting about the damage deposit on the tux. He crossed his arms to pad his chin, shrugging a little. "I went. It was lame."
"They usually are. Did you dance?"
"A little." Clark shifted, propping his chin in his hand and grinning down at Lex. "If that's what being rich gets you, I hope I stay poor."
Lex's laughter was soft, carried on night wind to float out over the fields. "Can't say as I blame you." Tucking his hands in his pockets, his attention strayed toward the stars, then settled again on Clark. "On the other hand..."
Clark lifted his brows, waiting to hear what was on the other hand.
"If you're rich, you can say things like, 'Wanna go for a consolation ride in my Porsche?'" Lex rolled a shoulder toward the open roads just beyond the Kent farm, and took a step back.
Pointing toward the sky, Clark grinned. "When you're poor, you can say things like, 'Wanna learn to name all the stars in Orion?'"
Being as it was a very clear night, Clark taught him Circinus, Bootes, and Lupus, too.
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