Summary: Clark is never going to die.
Disclaimer: If they were mine...Spandex.
Feedback: Oh, baby: email@example.com
Notes: Thanks to Q for the beta, and Alis on general principle. And to val for betaing, support, encouragement, and for being better than coffee.
"What is divine, terrible, and incomprehensible is to know oneself immortal."
Jorge Luis Borges
Clark is never going to die.
He's pretty sure that his body paused when he hit eighteen, and it hasn't shown any signs of resuming.
There are a couple of inches added to his frame, and his shoulders have broadened to the extent that almost every new meeting comes with the query of whether he plays football.
No, he always says, and ducks his head. I was never very good at sports.
He doesn't need to shave, though occasionally he'll engage in the morning ritual with the other guys, lathering up and scraping ineffectually at his face with a razor blade long dulled from the first time.
One of the frat boys on his hall, proudly sporting an uneven goatee, sometimes calls him "babyface," but Clark is too valuable for the comment to be anything near mean-spirited.
He never really gains weight. Tried, once, living for a month out of the vending machine in the lounge and on the late-night runs for fried chicken and pizza. Didn't eat for a couple of weeks, once. Wished that he'd felt a drain in energy.
But he hasn't felt that, not for a long time.
Not since Lex had cleared and locked away what he'd said were the last of the meteor rocks.
Clark doesn't ask where.
Doesn't really want to know.
Thinks, sometimes, about the sensation of his skin crawling, the slow burn in his blood. The burst of weakness that could send him to his knees.
Like nothing else can.
Dreams about it, sometimes.
Jeremy comes in and it's a few minutes before he seems to notice Clark, hunched over his notebook and a chaotic circle of books.
"Hey." Jeremy always seems a little surprised at Clark's presence in their room, like waking from a dream. He's not a bad guy, but Clark doesn't think that he's ever seen him at a time when he wasn't high.
Remembers the look on his father's face during Orientation when the first thing Jeremy had unpacked was his stash.
Smiles a little.
"Party tonight in Greg's room," Jeremy volunteers, tugging his shirt up and over his head. "You should come, man."
He's tall, broad-shouldered, dark-haired. They look a little alike. Same size, and their clothes have gotten mixed up into an incoherent mess of dirty laundry. From what Clark has been able to ascertain during his roommate's occasional moments of verbosity, Jeremy's rich -- no Lex, he doesn't think that there is another Lex -- but enough of a trust fund baby that he doesn't have to worry about money. It comes in handy, sometimes, because Clark can borrow from the tailored outfits in his closet when there's an event to go to with Lex.
He can shrug off Lex's offered trips to Armani that way, having an excuse. And it helps. Makes things simpler.
"Yeah. Maybe." Clark taps the notebook with his pen. "Psych final's tomorrow."
"Fuck. I forgot." Jeremy blinks at the open books. His own textbooks are on the shelf over his desk, gathering dust along their glossy covers. "Man, can I--"
Jeremy never calls him anything other than "man," and the occasional "dude," and sometimes Clark wonders if he knows his name.
"I'm giving Rebecca my notes," he says. "I'll tell her to make you a copy."
"Nice." Jeremy gives him a thumbs-up, drags a shirt from the cleaner pile next to his bed. "Greg's room. 402. Come by later, man. They don't believe me about the jello shots."
"I'll see what I can do." Clark has achieved minor legendary status owing to his tolerance for alcohol. He did the party circuit during his first few weeks in Metropolis, and some quick experimentation proved what he'd always suspected: substances were about as ineffective to the inside of his body as the outside. He hasn't scarred for four years; he's pretty sure that he could drink his way through the Budweiser factory.
It gets him slaps on the back, a couple of guys who always invite him to parties. Disbelievers who demand shot-glass competitions.
Clark pretends like he's not a sideshow act whenever he takes them up on their offers.
"Study, study, study." Jeremy pauses by the bed on his way out. "Don't know how you do it. Sarnum's an asshole, though. Need all the help that I can get. Thanks, man."
He's gone before Clark can reply, slamming the door.
Oblivious, but. Not a bad guy.
Clark might ask to room with him next year, because it's been an unexpected blessing to have a roommate who never notices what time he comes in, and the times when he doesn't.
He finishes the last of the month's notes. His handwriting is cramped, ordered, bordering on obsessively neat. "Like a typewriter," Lex had said, once, licking at a spot of ink on the pad of his fingertip. Lex writes in a scrawl, all precarious loops flowing across the page. Owning it.
Clark had made his first mistake about a week into Intro Psychology. Professor Sarnum, as Jeremy had so accurately observed, was a horror -- a snarky, snipy caricature like something out of a chapter in a memoir: The Old Bastard Who Ruined My Faith In The World. Bent, bitter, and notoriously impossible, he made of habit of putting students on the spot and asking them to recite definitions from the previous night's reading, verbatim.
When the inevitable faltering would occur, Sarnum would smile -- the only time such an expression could be seen on his face. It wasn't a pretty thing.
Clark never made mistakes.
He made it through the week unscathed, clutching the class's only A on the surprise "reflection," and had been approached by a group of classmates.
The emotions had been mixed. Half of them angrily demanded that Clark stop making them all look bad by comparison -- to "cool it down," as one of their eloquent spokesmen put it. The rest pleaded to know the secret to his success, to see his notes.
I don't take any, he'd told them, honest.
He got into the habit of taking precise, copious notes soon after; it kept the suspicious disbelief of his academic success at a murmur, brought people over to his side. He worked hard on them, paraphrasing the reading into easy-to-absorb chunks. His notes were becoming as legendary as his supposed capacity for alcohol; he was always a welcome guest star at study sessions.
In his classes, grades were going up, students were happier, professors knew his name in the hallways, and if he'd wanted it, Clark would never have had to pay for a meal or sleep another night alone in his cramped dorm bed.
All in all, it's isn't bad, college. It shouldn't be bad. He isn't Pete, lost in the crowded masses of K State, rushing fraternities that sound like they employ medieval torture in regard to their pledges. He isn't Chloe, so caught up in the University of Chicago's journalism program that she usually falls asleep in the middle of their phone conversations.
He wishes, maybe, sometimes, when the noise of the city is too loud outside the window, that he could be Lana. Lana, studying in the south of France, eating cheese and croissants and drinking champagne. Clark imagines her in exotic little cafes, practicing her French, but mostly he imagines the quiet.
Slopes of countrysides devoid of panic, of anger and pain and fear. Houses that no one breaks into, streets clean and swept and empty.
Clark imagines a night without violence and sometimes the idea of it seems so real that it curdles in his stomach, thick and out of reach.
It scares him, the concept of a place that's not here. Where everything's not immediate and rushed and moving too fast, and maybe he could sleep or lie in the sun and not worry. Not have to do anything except exist. But it's his existence that doesn't allow for the quiet, and so he relegates it to empty imagining.
"Let me take you somewhere." Lex's tone had been gentle, persuasive, his hand on the hunched curve of Clark's shoulder. Clark had shown up at three in the morning, soaked with blood not his own. It's never his own.
His face had been twisted with helplessness. Made ugly in a rictus of grief. But Lex had smoothed fingers over his cheek anyway, bent down to kneel next to Clark on the floor. "Just for a few days. You can't stay there over vacation, you know. They lock the dorms."
"I can't go, Lex." The same conversation, so many times. That time, Clark had turned into Lex's touch, hungry for the feel of living skin, of a heartbeat that didn't flutter and fade, torn away for some reason or another. Sometimes he shoved him away.
"Nowhere far. We have estates -- secluded ones. My father will be in Aspen. Or you could stay here. We could just close the door, lock it, shut everything out." Lex had peeled his shirt off then, more to free him of the bloodstains than anything sexual. Clark remembers how warm his hands had felt.
"Don't you see that this is killing you?"
But it wasn't. It wasn't killing him. All the grief and anger and rage, all his ineffectuality at making a difference, all the times he was helpless to stop it -- stop the city from being the way that it was -- it couldn't kill him.
Drive him to his knees on the cold marble of Lex's hallway, yes. Flatten him under the weight of an expectation he'd been able to bear in Smallville, but. He hadn't known -- *couldn't* have known -- how much the responsibility was going to multiply.
So he had pulled Lex in, that night, so many nights, taking away the persuasive cant of Lex's voice, the impossible, beautiful offer of quiet, with his mouth. It's the only way he knows to make Lex. Shut. Up.
Clark hates the city, but it isn't killing him.
It can't. It has already tried.
There are twenty pages of notes now, the final installment. Clark rakes them up and clips them together; just 10:35, according to his clock, but already the exam hysteria has started.
Doors slam repeatedly, echoing down the hall; voices shout and call and whisper and he can hear the gathered clump of them in the lounge outside. He can leave and be back in the morning, and they'll still be there.
Clark frees himself from the tangle of books and paper and gets up, runs a hand that he knows should be weary through his hair. In the mirror, he looks the same as he always has, as he always does. As maybe he always will. There are only pictures to prove that at points in time he looked different.
Albums filled with Halloween costumes and school plays, birthday parties and Christmas mornings. Clark looks sometimes at the pictures, at the small serious boy, dark-haired and red-cheeked, and wonders if the boy understood death.
He wonders if he was afraid of it, then, if he asked questions and cried when his mother did at funerals.
How could he have known that it was something that wouldn't apply to him? Affect him, terrify him, absorb his time, touch, eventually -- god -- everyone around him -- but never take him?
Clark is never going to die, and it scares him so badly that he wonders sometimes how he's supposed to live.
"Clark?" Rebecca's standing in the doorway, peeking around the door's edge. She's small, mousy, sits in the front row of every class they have together; nice, he supposes, but one of those obsessive students who has to do everything perfectly. He's glad he'll never have the option of rooming with her; Rebecca would probably keep a timesheet of his comings and goings.
"Oh. Hey. Here're the notes." He shoves the papers at her, blindly. Not unkindly. Embarrassing to be caught staring in the mirror, hand in his hair.
"Are you okay?" Her eyes are on the notes, skimming the pages, but her voice is concerned.
"Yeah. Fine. Just been studying a lot, is all. I think I'm actually going to go out for a while, get some air. Anything else I can do?"
She shakes her head. "No. These look great. You know we'd love to have you in the study group, if you're interested."
"Uh." Clark gropes around for his jacket, trying not to look as uncoordinated as he suddenly feels, the pressure to get out and go outside, away from some expectations and into others. "Maybe later? Oh, and if you could make a copy of those for my roommate and slip it under the door, he might get around to reading them before 8 a.m." He offers her a smile; it slips, faltering, across his lips.
She doesn't seem to notice. "Sure. And, hey, Clark. Thanks."
He follows her out, waving to the crowd in the lounge, responding politely to the assorted calls of gratitude for the notes. Takes the stairs down five at a time, superspeeding to the bottom of the concrete stairwell and slipping out of the emergency exit, quick, before the alarm can kick in.
On his way to thirteenth street, Clark stops five robberies, a car jacking, rescues a kid from a fire that the fire department hasn't been called to yet, prevents a car crash and three muggings, and picks up a BLT to go from his favorite diner.
It's the closest he gets to quiet, out on a random Wednesday night. The weekends are the worst, but he has a few days left before that.
He walks the silent streets for a little while, sandwich tucked under his arm, letting the city thrum around him. Then he doubles back around to the corner and heads for Lex's.
The night doorman at Lex's building is as discrete as his profession and Lex's generous tips allow; he smiles and waves Clark through, stepping away from the door without question as to why Clark's white t-shirt is stained, vaguely, with smoke and soot.
In the elevator, Clark's reflection blinks back at him from too many mirrors.
He slips his key into the hole at the top, punches the button for the penthouse. Sits down on the padded bench for the long trip to the top, turning away from the mirrors.
The newspapers started noticing Clark in his second week in Metropolis. So many eyewitness reports of a good Samaritan were too much for them to pass up; he's been discrete, he's tried, but it isn't always good enough. He's been careful not to trod into police territory. But there are things that he can do that the police can't. And he can't stop.
No one's ever gotten a picture of him, but he knows -- Lex has told him -- that that's dumb luck that won't last forever.
LuthorCorp has control over half the city's papers and Lex has connections at the rest, and so far the press has all been positive. The public's curious about him, but there hasn't been any backlash against his particular form of "vigilante justice," as Lex always puts it, smiling -- though that, too, can't last forever. Clark knows.
People may be grateful right now that he's out there, but that could change. And there's many, Clark thinks, who may not be grateful.
He thinks he might have stopped about two percent of them. There's always more. Always.
Metropolis has been a haven for crime since its founding, and who could blame them, Lex points out, for continuing to come, when Clark won't even show his face?
The elevator door slides smoothly open, and Clark finds himself staring out into the rounded circle of Lex's hall. There's a fresh bunch of orchids in the Chinese vase on the hall table. Quiet from beyond the crisply white door with its gold-colored knobs.
He uses his passcard and enters in the security code.
The door clicks open, and Clark lets himself in.
Lex isn't home.
It scares Clark, a little, that the enormity of the place has ceased to surprise him. Lex's castle in Smallville had been one thing, eccentric and opulent, but he remembers the first time that they came here.
He'd been seventeen, in the city for the opening of a play with Lex. Metropolis had always been overwhelming; so much noise, so many streets that he couldn't see the ends of; so many people pushing past each other on the sidewalks, nameless.
Cramped and overpopulated had been his impression of the city. Everyone packed together like fish in a barrel. He knew that most people crammed themselves into small apartments, that brownstones were subdivided into multiple rooms. There was never enough space.
Lex had three floors to himself at the top of one of the city's most expensive buildings, and he always swore up and down that this was small in comparison to his father's Metropolis residence.
Clark had spent an hour that day wandering slack-jawed around the penthouse, Lex leading the way like an indulgent college tour guide, opening doors to rooms that led to even more rooms.
Now Clark walks past the full wall of glass in the downstairs living room, with its exquisite view of the city's lit-up skyline, and doesn't pause to look.
In the darkened kitchen, large enough to send owners of gourmet restaurants into fits of envy, Clark sits down at the bar and eats his sandwich. He doesn't turn the lights on.
Here, it's quiet. Here, it's soundproofed, protected from the city outside by doormen and security alarms and passcodes. Here, they could shut the door and leave everything else behind in a world of white marble and silver faucets and indoor pools. Here, Clark doesn't have anyone to save, anyone to write notes for. Here, Clark can be himself.
Here terrifies him.
He cleans up and opens the refrigerator, downing half of the bottle of milk Lex has delivered from Smallville farms for him.
It always tastes like home.
It's been three days since he talked to his parents. His father left a message tonight.
Clark's eyes have gotten sharper, their vision more acute; he can see shapes standing defined in the darkness. He makes it across the minefield of Lex's priceless antiques unscathed, taking the stairs up to his room.
His room. Something Lex insisted on, a battle that Clark couldn't win with his mouth -- in any capacity. Clark had given in, eventually, requested the small space at the top of the second stairwell, the one without any windows.
Inside, it's comfortably simplistic. A world apart from the sprawl of Lex's penthouse. Whitewashed walls, single bed with its bedspread and comforter from Ikea. Chest of drawers filled with clothes. There's another door that leads into a room with a desk and a computer and shelves filled with duplicates of all of Clark's college textbooks. Lex had wanted him to be able to work here.
On the desk there's a framed picture from graduation. Pete's mother had taken it. They're all there: Clark and Chloe and Lana and Pete, flushed and happy in their crimson Smallville High caps and gowns, Whitney in his straight military uniform and crewcut. Clark had tugged Lex into the picture, and he's there, too, immaculate as always in a dark suit, arm flung out across Clark's shoulders in a pose excused by the circumstances, smiling. It was one of the last days that they were all together.
Clark toes off his shoes at the foot of the bed and changes his shirt, eyes picking out the burns from the fire on the fabric. The kid had been two or three, too young to really identify him. He can still feel the cling of her small arms around his neck.
He stretches out across the sheets, fully clothed. Closes his eyes and tries, for once, to stop thinking.
The bed dips under Lex's weight.
Clark turns into the movement, blinking; the clock on the dresser reads 1 a.m.
He doesn't sleep much, not anymore, and it's always a surprise when it happens, something that feels vaguely wrong.
"Hey." Lex looks soft and unfocused in the darkness. "Why didn't you go to bed? I wouldn't have known you were here."
Clark stretches, yawns. Lex is in one of his suits probably worth half of Clark's scholarship; he can tell by the feel of it under his palm. A few buttons of his shirt are undone, and the slight sheen of his tie is loosed at the throat.
"Didn't know how long I was going to stay," Clark says. "Exams tomorrow." Then, curious, "How'd you find me?" "The milk." Lex grins, and Clark can feel it in the dark. "It's a dead giveaway."
Clark pushes himself up onto his elbows. Champagne mixes with gin and aftershave on Lex's collar, and he rubs his cheek there for a moment. "It's a secret code, see."
"Brilliant." Lex turns his head, brushing their lips together. It's all Clark can do not to pull Lex down with him, hungry, insistent, always good, always a way of not talking about how his week has been.
Clark feels his muscles tightening under Lex's hand. Lex reaches to flick on the small lamp near the bed, and he tries not to flinch at the intrusion of light.
Lex says, "One of those nights, huh?"
Clark shakes his head. "There've been worse," he says, honestly.
Lex thumbs a spot on his forehead. "Is this charcoal?"
"Small fire," Clark explains. "Easy."
"Right." The hollow sound of Lex's shoes hitting the floor, and then he's stretching out next to Clark, regardless of wrinkles on too-expensive fabric.
Clark loops an arm around his waist, bringing Lex against him. It's wrong, he thinks, how much he needs this.
"Where were you?" Lex smells like a party, sweat and alcohol and an aftertaste of music.
"Charity event at the Natural History Museum. I left you a voicemail about it. Gala for some cause or another." Lex turns into him, pushing Clark's hair back from his brow. "Forgot you had exams in the morning."
"I haven't checked my messages," Clark lies. "Sorry. Was it okay?"
"Would have been better if you'd been there." Lex yawns against his neck. Brightens. "Highlight of my evening was when one of the old charity ladies I was talking to decided I should marry her granddaughter. Quite a change from the days when they used to tell me to stay away from them."
Lex smiles, showing teeth. "Charming lady. Shame about the granddaughter."
"You'll have to marry one of them eventually, you know," Clark says, and Lex looks at him. Lex will be twenty-six in a few months. There are a few faint lines gathered at his eyes, but he looks as unchanged as Clark.
"That's not exactly fair," he admonishes. "Here's your bed, darling, and here's the one I'll be sleeping in with my barely legal male lover."
Clark laughs in spite of himself. It's a topic Lex usually finds a way around, master of dissembling. "I'm sure that they'll love that in The White House."
And Lex's grin is brilliant. "Someday, Clark," he says, like he always does. "Someday."
Clark tightens his arm around Lex. "I should really go. Exams. The study group--"
"No." Lex kisses the side of his mouth, his jaw, his ear. "They can get by without you for a night. I'm sure you've already done the notes for them. I haven't seen you in two days."
"Well," Clark says.
"Exactly. Give me a minute." Lex tugs himself away, reluctant, disappearing out into darkened tunnel of the hallway.
He comes back as Clark is slipping out of his jeans, kicking them to drop off the end of the bed. Lex is in a t-shirt and boxers, smelling clean.
When he gets back into bed, Clark can see that the lines are gone from his eyes. He looks smooth, relaxed.
Clark reaches out to touch his mouth. He can smell the toothpaste.
"How's the studying been going?" Lex curls in against him, an easy movement.
It's always been so easy.
"Fine. I mean, good. I think it'll be okay." Lex knows as well as Clark that all the studying Clark needs is a few minutes superspeeding through the books and assignments; his memory is perfect.
"I used to like exams," Lex says. His arm rests against Clark's stomach, where his shirt has ridden up to reveal an expanse of bare skin.
"Because you're a geek," Clark clarifies, though he doesn't mind them, either. All he ever gets is A's. That and the 1600 on his SATs had helped to secure the full scholarship to Metropolis University. Lex had wanted him to go to Harvard, had taken him to see it. But. Too far. From everything.
"Maybe," Lex agrees, and the slow lull of his voice -- bedroom voice, no doubt about it -- almost seems out of place in the narrow confines of the single bed.
He doesn't ask that they move into his room, into the king-size with its huge pillows and Egyptian-cotton sheets. It's not the first night that they've spent in here, surrounded by Ikea.
Clark takes his hand, examining the long fingers in the faint light. "Lex."
Lex is watching him, upper lip pulled down a little in an unconscious attempt to smooth the scar there. "What?"
The white fabric of the t-shirt looks good against his skin; less severe than his customary blacks and dark purples. It occurred to Clark a long time ago that he's the only one who gets to see this: Lex, without barriers, without expensive clothing. Others get Armani Lex, get business Lex and charity Lex, Lex in Gucci shoes.
He gets Fruit-of-the-Loom Lex. Lex in his arms in the middle of the night, with the inside of his mouth tasting like peppermint.
"I don't think I can do this anymore."
Lex looks at him for a long time. "That's what I've been trying to tell you," he says. "It's too much, Clark. You can't do everything. You can't save everyone."
Clark says, "I've tried. I'm trying."
Lex's hand turns his head; he kisses him, gently, none of their usual clashing of teeth, bruising probes of tongue. "You do what you can do," he reasons, when he pulls back for air. "It's enough. You have to stop letting it tear you up like this."
Their foreheads touch. Clark tries to explain. "While I'm here, while I'm with you, or even if I'm just in classes or in the dorm -- that's time when I could be doing something else. Be out in the city. Helping." Lex's eyes are too close. "People are dying because of me."
"Oh, god, Clark." Lex shakes his head. "People have lived because of you. You're only--" Clark can taste the words only human on Lex's tongue, the flinch along Lex's shoulder blades as he pulls them back. "You. You're only you. One man. It's not possible. You can't stop Metropolis from being what it is."
Clark feels like a small child. His arguments have no validity, no basis in reality; they don't make any sense. But neither does he, really. Not real. Not a man. Not human. "I want people to stop dying," he says, sounding like a five-year-old.
"It's not going to happen." Lex seems to understand that the conversation has moved beyond Metropolis. "I'm sorry."
Against him, Lex is all long limbs, lean, hard muscle. Strong and quick, fencer's grace. But he's aged. Gotten older. Clark has mapped out the changes in his body with his hands, his mouth. Treasuring them. Hating them.
"I can't watch you die," he says.
"Jesus, Clark." Lex goes up on his elbows, startled. It's not an expression that Clark gets to see often. "For Christ's sake. There could be a nuclear holocaust. Stray bullet. Hit by a bus. You wouldn't be watching. I could die tomorrow."
Lex exhales; moist air tingles against Clark's ear. "Is that what this is about?" He sits up, moving to straddle Clark's hips. "Look. We don't know that. And I'm not about to test the theory."
"I can feel it." All of his fear, everything, coming out of his mouth, rebellious vocal chords working against him. "I'm never going to die, Lex. And this--" he waves his hand, vaguely, at the air. "Is always going to be here. I can't save everyone, but I'm going to be here. Trying. Forever."
"Look," Lex says again. He presses his hands into Clark's shoulders. "You're tired--" Never. "--It's been a long week. You're making yourself crazy. You're what, almost twenty? We don't know what's going to happen. Maybe you'll superage at twenty-one. The rest of us do."
Lex tries to laugh.
It doesn't work.
Clark closes his eyes, the fight gone out of him. Lex always knows what to say, even when it's wrong, impossible. Lex is always here. Making everything okay. Better.
It's not something that he should have.
Not something he deserves.
"I love you," Clark says. It's the only thing that he can say. The time had long passed for the words to be something new for them.
Lex's eyes soften; his hands on Clark's shoulders do the same. "I wish that you'd stop doing this to yourself."
"Me, too." And Clark turns his head away, a little, away from the truth, into lies where everything will be all right. "I'm sorry. You've had a long day."
"Not long enough," Lex says, and he smiles -- his face is smooth again. Problem fixed. Just another day in the life of Lex Luthor, spiritual advisor to silly boys who think that they can save the world. Clark has to stare at the wall for a long moment before he can look at him again. "I missed you. There's an opening next Friday for the latest restaurant -- we'll go to that, okay?"
"Yeah. Okay." Clark isn't sure that he's capable of speech for much longer. He slides his hands under Lex's shirt, pushing it up. Splays his fingers across Lex's stomach, hard and soft to the touch.
Lex ducks his head. "You have exams in six hours. I'm not letting you miss them." He pauses; the faint line of his eyebrows go up. "We'll be quick."
Clark thinks that he mouths another 'okay' into the open air over the slope of Lex's shoulder, and then he doesn't think at all.
Doesn't let it be quick, though.
Catches Lex's hands and slows them, draws out the touch of their mouths, the slide of bodies.
Always good. Always so good, slow and languid or frantic and reaching, crashing into each other, mixes between the two.
They've done everything.
Four years. And there's never been enough time.
At some point Lex reaches up to turn off the light.
In the dark, Clark can hear Lex's heart beating.
It's five in the morning before he can bring himself to wake him. Lex doesn't sleep much; he's almost as bad as Clark, for different reasons. When he does, it's always deep, slow. Clark used to tease him that he could sleep through the house burning down. Lex always responds that there's a reason why he keeps Clark around.
Clark slips from the bed. Pulls on his clothes in the darkness, not fully comprehending the conclusion he reached at some point during the night. Maybe it was when Lex was under him, open to him, returning the three words Clark had given to him earlier. Maybe.
"Lex?" He kneels by the bed. Lex always sprawls, moving into any open spaces.
"Clark?" Sleepy, muddled, satisfied, Lex looks more innocent than any of his acquaintances would ever believe. "Is it time?"
Lex's lips are a little swollen.
He bends down to kiss them.
Clark nods. "I have to go now."
And he does.
Two Fridays come and go.
Clark gets A's on all of his exams.
Sarnum smiles at him, handing Psych back, and for once it's not a cruel expression.
Sixteen phone messages go unanswered.
Clark has stopped checking his e-mail.
On Saturday night, he goes out with a bunch of people from his hall, celebrating vacation. He suggests the posh new club that Lex has partial ownership of. He knows he can get them in.
His name is always on Lex's lists.
The bouncer at the door nods at Clark. Waves his party through.
Clark knows that Lex will be told in about five minutes.
Inside, it's all garish lights, beautiful people, music beating out a rhythm against his eardrums.
Hot noise, hot air from too many bodies. Clark looks hot.
He's borrowed again from Jeremy's closet. The jeans are too tight, the black shirt even tighter. One of the girls from the hall, laughing, had brushed glitter along his cheekbones on their way out. And Clark let her.
He's not sure what look he was going for. What the fuck he's doing, only it seems to be working.
Clark dances for an hour. The lights are on him. The people from his hall are thrilled to see him cut loose. They keep buying him shots, thinking, maybe, that his famous tolerance has finally faltered. He lets them think that.
He's Clark Kent gone wild.
He should have an infomercial.
It's another hour before he knows that Lex is watching. He looks everywhere but the VIP booth, but he's never needed to see Lex to know that he's in a room.
He's still dancing.
Some girl he's been dancing with shoves her tongue into his mouth. It's wrong, feels, wrong, and he knows that and goes with it anyway. Someone has their fingers through the beltloops of his jeans and Clark grinds back and feels that it's a guy and doesn't care.
He goes with that, too.
He's dancing. He's dancing and laughing and drinking and acting like everyone's whore.
He can't look at the VIP booth because looking at Lex would be too much. He's not ready for that yet. Can't see Lex, his confusion, the hard set of his jaw.
All the questions that Clark doesn't have the answers to. Because there are none.
He grabs at another girl, pulls her close. The harshness of her laugh rings out against his ear. There's a new guy, now, and they move together, three of them, fast and bright with the crowd pressing in tight.
Clark dances and dances and he isn't sure, exactly, at what point Lex is no longer there.
It's been two weeks. Two weeks of no sleep, of time spent out on the streets, trying to force Metropolis to slow down. Clark hasn't stopped moving.
Sometimes he passes Lex's building on the nightly patrols. But it isn't a haven anymore.
Isn't a place where he can lock the door behind him and lie down and wait for Lex make to everything better.
Clark thinks about how much time has been lost behind those walls, just him and Lex. Lex telling him everything will be okay, see how okay it is.
Clark has done more in two weeks than in his entire first semester. He's stopped counting.
Robberies and attacks, car accidents and fires and floods and gangs and sickness and death.
He's stopped them all, for stretches of minutes, of hours. But the city is infinite.
No one to make him rest now, to offer him quiet. No one to slow him down.
There's always so much more to do.
Three days later. He's waiting for the ax to fall.
Clark is in the lounge, helping people drag their heavy suitcases down the stairs and out of the dorm.
Jeremy shows up after his sixth trip. Clark brushes his hands off on his jeans.
"Clark." Jeremy's learned his name since the night in the club. "Man, there's someone here to see you." His voice drops. "It's--"
Clark's doesn't. "Lex Luthor?" he asks, loud enough for the girls hanging around to hear.
Their eyes are wide. Jeremy's aren't much smaller. "Yeah. Wow. Why didn't you ever tell me he was a friend of yours?"
"We're not really friends," Clark says. He wonders if that's a lie anymore. If it should hurt as much as it does. "I know him from the old days. From Smallville."
"Oh. Okay." Jeremy looks disappointed. "Hey, do you think--"
"I'm sure he'd love to meet you," Clark says. Lex will kill him. "All of you." He includes the girls. A few of them exchange excited glances. "Just give us a minute, okay?"
The door to his room is open.
Lex is perched on the edge of his desk chair. He gets up as Clark comes in.
He looks like shit.
No one but Clark and maybe Lionel Luthor would be able to tell the difference. Lex is as put together as always, more casual than usual for this trip to a college campus. He's in pressed khakis and a gray sweater. The tips of his shoes shine.
But Clark's eyes see everything. Everything that's off. One cuff of Lex's sweater hasn't been turned down. There's a smudge of dirt showing at the edge of one ear.
Lex has circles under his eyes the size of Texas.
It looks like someone attacked him with a makeup brush on his way out, trying to conceal that; probably one of his father's lackeys, on orders that Lex should not go out into public so unpresentable.
Clark knows Lex's face better than he knows the unchanging curve of his own. He can see the lines, the darkened rings, the pinched where only smooth should be.
He doesn't need x-ray vision for that.
"Clark." Lex's voice is gathered, an attempt at confidence; more prepared than his face.
He looks like he's about to break.
Clark ignores this. He's played over the conversation too many times in his head. "Hi, Lex."
He sounds like the sixteen-year-old who used to show up at Luthor Castle with arms full of produce, ready for history lessons from his best friend on dead philosophers and conquering civilizations.
Before everything became complicated and easy.
"Clark." He hadn't expected this, not really. Not Lex moving like he doesn't know what do with his body, where to put himself. Never Lex.
Lex takes a step forward. Hesitates. "Clark. Tell me what's happened."
Clark can hear the intake of his breath. He doesn't move.
Lex says, "Clark." Again. He has to stop saying his name like that.
Clark stops himself from turning too sharply. He smiles. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Lex's throat works. He swallows, thickly. "This," he says. Another step forward. Another. They're almost touching. "Everything. I've been calling you for weeks."
The lines under Lex's eyes look like they hurt. Clark wonders when the last time he slept was.
"That -- show -- you put on the other night," Lex says. "We were supposed to meet on Friday."
Clark blinks. "We were? I must have forgotten. I've been really busy."
Lex looks like he can't breathe. Clark doesn't have to.
Lex says, "Tell me what I did. Please."
There are people behind them now, gathering at the door. Clark steps away from him without answering. No answers.
His smile is brilliant. "Hey. Lex, this is my roommate, Jeremy. Jeremy, Lex Luthor." He names the rest of them. The girls giggle.
Lex goes into schmooze mode without pausing to think about it. He smiles. He shakes hands, murmurs words of greeting, demurs about LuthorCorp, his restaurants, the clubs. They swarm him.
Clark excuses himself to go and get a soda.
When he comes back thirty minutes later, the room is empty.
Six more days.
Clark has moved some of his stuff into the dorm they keep open over break for the international students.
There are twenty-five messages on his answering machine.
He fast-fowards through the first twenty. His hearing is sharp enough to pick out Lex's voice in the spin of the tape.
"Clark, this is your mother. Is everything all right? Lex called a few days ago, wanting to know if something had happened in the family. We haven't heard from you in a while. You're coming home for Christmas, right, sweetheart?"
"Clark, son. How are you? Your mother's fluttering around like a nervous chicken, convinced that you've had some kind of fight with Luthor. Can't say that I'm surprised. I've been telling you that he's bad news from the first. Call us."
"Clark. It's Chloe. What the fuck is going on? I got a call from Lex the other day. He sounded like hell. Is something up? Is something going on? If something was up, I'd know about it, right?"
Chloe has known about them from almost the beginning. The only one who knows. Who figured it out.
"Come home. It's lonely in Smallville. I'd forgotten what cornfields looked like, and it's pretty fucking scary. Anyway. Call me."
"Clark. This is Lana. Bonjour, mon ami. Are you okay? Lex called a little while ago, wanting to know if I'd spoken to you recently. I told him I hadn't. Aren't you both in Metropolis? Are you going home for Christmas? Nell's coming to meet me in Paris for vacation. I'll call to give you the hotel phone number in a few days. Happy holidays."
"Clark, it's Pete. I got into Delta Phi. Pretty kickass, huh? I have a ring and everything. You're going to shit yourself when you see it, man."
Clark forces himself to smile. Good old Pete. At least Lex hadn't called him. That would have gone over well.
"Mr. Kent. Lionel Luthor. I trust we need no further introductions."
Stares at the answering machine like it has sprouted horns.
"I've always gotten the impression that you were a young man interested in the spirit of friendship and cooperation. In the name of friendship and cooperation, then, I'd ask that you help my son resolve the problems that are vexing him as of late. Am I being perfectly clear? I'm sure that you as well as I would like things to continue running smoothly at the plant in Smallville. So many families are counting on their holiday bonuses, after all. Merry Christmas."
Clark turns off the answering machine.
It's too much.
He has to finish this.
He's speeding, halfway downtown, before he realizes that he's not even noticing the crowded streets around him.
There are only a few lights on in Lex's building, though it's not late. Clark figures that half of the occupants have already jetted off to exotic locales. The lights are off in the penthouse.
He doesn't risk the front entrance; the doorman's probably been told to turn him away. Instead, Clark prowls around the service exit like one of the criminals he's tried to stop, checking out the layout until he locates the alarm wires and crushes them through the brick. The heavy metal door is easy enough to pull open. He takes the stairs up.
His passcard still works.
The door swings open.
Everything is dark. Too still.
Clark smells the smoke then.
Part of the second-floor banister comes off in his hand on his way upstairs, but he barely notices. He doesn't think he's ever moved so fast in his life.
The smoke alarm near his room is lying disconnected on the floor, a jumble of wires and crushed plastic. It chirps pathetically at him as he rushes past. The door to his room -- his room -- is closed. Light spills into the hallway from the space under the door.
Clark pushes the door open. The knob, so familiar, feels strange in his hand.
The violence surprises him, at first.
He hadn't quite expected this.
Wasn't sure what he expected.
The room has been destroyed.
The bedding has been torn off the bed, shredded in some places, tossed haphazardly into a corner. A heap of cloth and feathers testify to the memory of former pillows.
There are books and ripped pages everywhere, the contents of the smaller study space spilled out into the main room. The computer is a mess of loose keys and broken glass, smoking plastic.
The picture from graduation has been tossed against the wall. Clark can see the point of impact, the broken frame lying beneath. The picture is still intact.
Lex is sitting on the ground, back against the ruined bed. The dresser, pushed over, isn't far. Neither is an empty bottle of scotch, lying upended on the carpet. There's another one in his hand.
Lex doesn't look up as Clark comes in. He feeds a textbook to the small fire in the metal wastebasket between his feet.
Lex is burning his books.
He's wearing the remains of what was probably a good suit. Clark can't tell. The jacket is gone, the pants darkened with ash. There's no tie. Lex's shirt is open. Soot is smeared across his brow.
Clark keeps the door open, to air out the room. He bends down, taking the wastebasket from Lex's unresisting grip. The flames are easily pressed out under his fingertips.
Lex looks up, then. He looks so lost, so young, that for a moment Clark wonders which of them is frozen in time.
Clark sets the wastebasket down; the smoke slows.
The room is too quiet in the aftermath of his name. It would be so simple. He can tell by the tone in Lex's voice, the helplessness. It's usually in his own. So simple, so easy, to go to him, put his arms around the body he knows more intimately than his own. All would be forgiven, if Clark could move.
He wouldn't even have to apologize. Lex would understand, somehow. He always did.
Instead. God, instead.
Clark forces his arms to cross. His voice hardens to a level at which he's never spoken. "Look at you," he says. He sounds, he thinks, contemptuous. "You're drunk. You could have burned the whole building down. What if I'd been your father?"
Lex obeys. He looks at himself, the disordered sprawl of limbs and soiled clothing, the chaos of the room with himself at the apex. His eyes come up flashing. "My father can go to hell," he snarls. "Fuck you."
"Not anymore," Clark says, and smiles. He actually hates himself. "This is quite a scene, Lex. Was there something that you were trying to prove?"
Lex starts to get up, thinks about it, stays down. He has the scotch bottle clutched in one hand, and he takes a long, slow sip. "Get out of my house."
"I thought this was my room," Clark replies. The smile feels gross and out of place across his mouth. "My sanctuary, you said."
"I burned it," Lex says. "I'm going to burn it all."
Clark doesn't know what to say. Everything is smoldering, smoking, blackening. He supposes he deserves this.
He's come to finish it.
"You have to pull yourself together," Clark says. "This is all a little melodramatic, don't you think?"
Lex takes another drink. Half the bottle's already gone. "Don't talk to me about melodrama, Clark. If something was wrong, you could have just fucking told me."
"Nothing's wrong." Clark moves. He rights the dresser with one hand, puts out the small fire started by the computer wires. "I figured some things out."
"Really." Lex's laugh is bitter, like the aftertaste of alcohol on his breath. "Enlighten me."
"I'm almost twenty." Clark stands near the open door. He's always enjoyed the height advantage, and he uses it, now; he doesn't think he's capable of bending to sit across from Lex. "I'm almost twenty, and I've been with you since I was sixteen. Not exactly healthy, you know, to fuck one person for the rest of your life."
"The rest of my life," Lex corrects, mocking. "You're never going to die."
"Right," Clark agrees. Wishes that the smoke would burn his eyes, that the heat could be uncomfortable. Lex is sweating, and he envies him that. "You've been holding me back."
"I see," Lex says. He's almost to the bottom of the bottle.
"I can't be who I'm supposed to be with you." Clark has practiced this a hundred times in his head, a million, but it's all coming out wrong, stifled by the sight of the demolished bed. Instead of smoke, he feels the pressure of Lex's hands, Lex's arms around him, Lex's mouth and Lex whispering words. He turns his head away. "It's wrong. We are."
"Because you're going to save the world. No time for distractions, huh? No time for fucking?" There's an edge to Lex's tone that has never been present around Clark. "How very noble. How virtuous."
"You're drunk," Clark says.
Then, "You're a disgrace. You always were."
He doesn't know where any of this is coming from. Lies burn on his tongue like acid.
"You needed a sixteen-year-old boy to make you feel like a man."
Lex looks up.
Sharp. His teeth are bright, white, a shark's grin.
His voice is quiet, though, something beyond the effects of scotch. "Are you trying to make me into an enemy, Clark?"
Lex is something that he knows how to fight.
Lex is something he could anticipate, combat, stop, meet evenly.
Lex would be a kind of violence that Clark could understand.
Not like Metropolis.
Lex is all that he knows.
"It might work."
Turns to go.
"Clark." Lex seems to have moved beyond bitter; his voice is corrosive. "You'll be all alone, you know." The empty bottle falls against the carpet. "It isn't fun."
"My father named the barn the fortress of solitude," Clark returns. "I've never exactly had a problem being by myself. I've been alone my whole life. I'm the only one."
"If the rest of your planet was this self-indulgent," Lex says, "No wonder they blew themselves up."
Clark's hand goes through the wall. He stares at it, surprised.
Behind him, Lex applauds.
Clark needs to leave now. Too easy, he thinks, to tear the place apart. Always too easy.
"Clark." He's halfway towards the hallway. Glances back.
"You'll have to kill me, you know." Lex's eyes are too bright against the pale skin of his face. Amused. "I know too much. I know everything."
Clark doesn't answer.
"The spaceship," Lex says.
"Your abilities," Lex says. "The meteor rocks. I have them."
Clark says, "I know," and Lex nods, like this has been their purpose all along.
In the sudden rush of equilibrium, Clark feels like he could do anything.
Even live. Forever.
He doesn't turn around this time. He's almost out, can see where the darkened tunnel of hallway leads to the stairs, to the city.
"Get the door on your way out, won't you?"
Clark can feel the knob in his hand, cool metal against his palm.
He steps out of the room, across the threshold.
And he closes the door behind him.
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