Author Notes: Bradbury challenge fic. Poetry question fic. I'm mulling a lot.
Dedication: Isabelle. I know you were more specific about the plot, but this came and it seemed so cool. One fic down. Wendi, Bethy, Andy, Hope, and Tara, for that thing where they said, cute! Yes, one of them actually SAID that.
Lex hasn't had a lot of experience with the concept of free gifts.
Gifts are--never free. They're bribes and carefully measured truths and methods of punishment if you know your psychology. They're ways to get attention, get respect, get love, get power. They're pay-offs and they're power tactics. They're useful, in that way that Lex has always thought of as one step up from bribery, and they're obligations, and sometimes, just sometimes, they mean more in the giving than the receiving. Too much Lionel Luthor in his blood and in his head to give without motive. Too much of his mother to never give at all.
But. They're also this.
The gym was locked forty-five minutes ago, and Lex has been pacing the bleachers for the last thirty. Time says eight fifteen on the watch he grabbed off his dresser before going to his car. Security's placed all around the building, quietly inconspicuous, no reason for anyone to know anything is going on here, and Lex, not for the first time, breathes a little thanks about gifts.
Gifts like gyms for MetU's basketball team, with a soaring roof and nicely tended, large, wide-open spaces around it. Gifts that give back, like, say, when one needs a gym for a few hours. No questions asked.
It's good to be very rich.
The bleachers are massive, echoingly empty, and Lex has a brief, body-memory of his last fencing tournament at Princeton. Bad form, not enough experience, but he made up for it in ruthlessness, and all the skill in the world, he thinks sometimes, doesn't really help when your opponent is thinking about the ways to kill you, no touche in the Luthor lexicon of good behavior. Good is when you win. Anything less is unacceptable.
It's the sort of scorched-earth policy his father employs, and it makes him smile ruefully before coming down the stairs, his own footsteps echoingly loud in the silent arena.
Faintly, he hears the sound of footsteps--they start, stop, start again, and Lex tries not to chuckle as he listens.
"Lex?" Like the decision's been made, but Lex is expecting at least another thirty minutes of inner turmoil--he knows his rural boy a little too well to think that this will be one of those times it's all going to go smoothly. A dark head and slim body poke out of the shadows like they're the only safety in the world, and Lex takes the rest of the steps down two at a time, emerging onto the concrete and wood-paneled hall between the outside wall and the bleachers, feet away from the bright, shiny floor of the gym.
He always forgets how tall Clark is, which should be impossible, but it takes a considerable tilt to get a good view of Clark's face.
"Got it in one." It's like the entire room's awake and alive now with something that's some cliche like bigger than both of them, but Lex is okay with that. He's always had a good sense of the dramatic. He can't help the smile when Clark shuffles his feet, but the smile he gets back isn't nearly as relaxed. Hunched shoulders beneath a MetU sweatshirt and the dark eyes are turned down, studying the floor with something very like--oh yeah. That's Clark, down to the scuffs on his shoes. Why make a decision easy when you can make yourself sick over it?
It just makes him want to hug the kid and buy him chocolate.
"I--don't think I can do this." It's not quite a no, and even if it is, Lex has his ways. Forcing down another spurt of manic energy--and where is this coming from anyway?--he reaches out, brief touch of a rounded shoulder, letting the tips of his fingers linger just a little.
"You don't have to." Lex smiles and steps out on the floor. "Just--come on. Relax. Breathe. Enjoy the privacy. God knows, your dorm room is a nightmare."
"Thanks for reminding me," Clark answers wryly, but the hesitation is as obvious as the fact that Clark still uses metaphors to get his point across. God help them all if he actually said something he was thinking. "Lex, look, I know you went to a lot of trouble and all--"
"No trouble. Boring night. LexCorp isn't in the middle of industrial espionage or takeover activity. What do I have to do otherwise?" A debutante by the name of Crissy, but sex is sex and this is Clark. The choice of occupation would be obvious to the blind. Grinning, Lex changes his tone. "Come on." Coaxing. "Just walk around. Take it in. You don't have to do anything you don't want to." And that's a hell of a lie, but Lex knows how to use lies like gifts, too.
The once-white sneakers scuff absently at the concrete before making a decision, possibly before Clark's mind has caught up, and yes, this is manipulation and even if Clark doesn't know it, it's surrender. Hiding his grin, Lex watches Clark come out under brilliant fluorescent lights, and Lex is just beginning to think that there isn't any light on earth that can make Clark look bad. None at all.
"I do appreciate it, you know. And you know, nice touch with the hired muscle outside."
"You've been watching Die Hard again, haven't you?"
Clark's grin is sly. "Buddy movies. You know. It's my thing." Another tentative step out, and Clark looks around, eyes widening a little. "Okay, it's my imagination, I know, but it seems bigger."
"The gym?" Lex turns in a slow circle. "Yeah, it does. No people. High roof. Notice that part?"
Clark pauses, then nods slowly, but he's pulling back inside himself at the speed of light. Peeling off his gloves, Lex drops them into the pocket of his long coat, removing and folding it as Clark shifts uncomfortably from foot to foot. Designer wool on a mostly-clean floor. This is why he has a dry cleaning service on retainer.
"What are you afraid of?"
When the dark eyes come up, they're stark. Endless pools of blank terror, and yeah, Lex has always known Clark was different. He just never knew how much. Clark's known three years, and it may say something that Lex has adjusted to it better than Clark ever has in his six and counting months of knowledge.
This is--confirmation, he thinks. Or something like it, and Clark needs it, and if this is something needed, you get it. That's a simple, basic rule of survival, and it's a basic principle of the psychology of the kid whose been his friend for longer than the existence of LexCorp.
Want. Need. Do. A gym is a small price to pay.
"Clark. I've seen this before." Four weeks, to be exact, middle of the night, long movie marathon on Pay Per View and lots and lots of Mexican take-out. Falling asleep on the living room couch after a blameless night of making fun of Clark and his latest girlfriend, waking up and finding out that what you think you know about physics isn't quite as accurate as it used to be.
He wishes in retrospect, however, that he hadn't actually fallen over Clark trying to figure out how he did it.
"Lex--" Warning signal, hardening just behind his eyes, and that's Jonathan Kent, right, but it's also Lex, because three years is three years and exposure counts for a lot. Tight line of his mouth, no compromise, get the fuck out of my way or I'll walk over you, and it's kind of cool and Lex likes it just as much as he likes it when Clark denies that he breaks the speed limit between Smallville and Metropolis regularly.
Because Clark does drive at ninety-five miles an hour when left to his own devices. And Lex knows because he was the one that showed Clark the route to take.
"What are you afraid of?" Space, and he gets that, keeping them at a nice three feet apart, lots of breathing room, and Clark glances around him briefly. Nervous flicker of fingers when he stuffs them into the pockets of his jeans and then he looks up from under a thick brush of dark hair that needs a haircut badly, breathing out something like a sigh.
"I'm not afraid, it's just--"
"Bullshit. Try that on someone who doesn't do it himself so regularly."
Another shift, and Lex remembers the first time. First conversation. First moment where the world shifted under his feet and stopped acting like it was rational, because there wasn't a rational explanation for a kid who could catch bullets with his body. First time, first moment, breathe again, Lex, you would have been dead.
Dead, like a car going too fast over a bridge, and he wonders to this day if Clark had ever thought he could really surprise Lex again. Until he did, that is.
"Lex--" Stuttering silence. "You don't understand."
"I know. I don't. I can't." He can, he does, but Clark won't see it and Lex won't make him yet. You don't walk away from meteor showers in Smallville without something changing, and Lex thinks all his secrets are probably just as known to Clark.
Clark just chooses not to see.
"Then you gotta understand--"
"You're an alien."
It sinks between them, and it's the first time he's said it, since Clark's never said it, ever, not once. There was a ship as a visual aid and a set of commemorative bullets in Lex's dresser, but that's it. Clark gives his secrets out with his body, never his voice, and Lex supposes on some level, it makes sense.
There's a second where he thinks Clark will walk out--twist on a heel, go back across campus, possibly at human speed, but hell, maybe not. Get back to his dorm room and listen to Mike fuck his girlfriend into the mattress and see, he's planned this pretty fucking well, Clark hates Tuesday nights for just that reason.
"That's not fair."
"It's true." And since when has Clark been above the calling on the bullshit anyway? Lex has the litany starting with the Cadmus Labs debacle, and he wonders if Clark is remembering that, too; nightmarish months where even the air seemed to be too thick and Pete and Jonathan's smug faces and Martha's disappointment and that endlessly hot summer that passed before produce delivery began again as if it had never stopped.
It'd been raining that day.
"I don't want to do this!"
"I really didn't want to close Cadmus," Lex answers, and there's a wall just close enough to lean against. "I didn't want to turn twenty-four without at very least owning half the country, and I sure as fuck didn't want to live in Smallville all those fucking years." That's a lie. Lex misses Smallville every day. "I never wanted to grow up. Guess what. Happened anyway. Get over it."
"This is different."
"How exactly?" So it is, okay. But it's not, and Lex maybe is tired of being the only person in the world with an elevated sense of inner justice going on. "You're an alien. You can outrun the average Lear Jet. Come on." Coaxing smile again, but Clark can probably see the steel beneath. Lex isn't sure he can get rid of that anytime soon, even for Clark. "Stop hiding from yourself. Grow up."
Grow the hell up, Lex.
If there is any justice in the world at all, Clark will remember that conversation. Lex hasn't ever forgotten, remembers it every time he hears thunder.
"You're not being fair."
"That's a non-sequitir." College vocabulary. Lovely.
"And your statement makes just as much sense as mine."
It's inevitability, Lex thinks sometimes. And there's another universe where there was never a car accident and never a bad storm and never forgiveness, and he'd never, ever have learned this.
He wonders what he's like there. Not someone he thinks he'd want to meet.
There's the faint sound of thunder overhead, barely audible through the thick metal and wood and stone of the building, which is excellent. Make double sure no one comes around, and Clark drops his shoulders again.
Then there's the entire symbolism thing going on, and even Clark's catching on to the fact this may be pretty much a non-negotiable of their relationship.
"What if--Lex. This is different, you get that?" There's a step inside, though, which is encouraging. "It--changes things."
"It doesn't change anything. It's already here." As if this will suddenly make the universe break apart and the ground break apart or something pretty and overdone like that. God, Clark has a sense of the dramatic. No wonder he's in the Drama Club.
"You don't get how hard you're pushing." There's a second where Lex could swear he sees air under Clark's feet, but it's probably his imagination.
"Only as hard as necessary." There's a moment of pure envy--and it's been there forever, and he's never been stupid enough to pretend it doesn't exist. It's always there, like the anger he's lived with since he was old enough to know what to call it, and the hate that crawls beneath his skin that he inherited from his father, and the utter joy he gets from driving his cars, and his love of good coffee that's as inexplicable and understandable as anything human can ever be. He's never going to forgive his father for being his father, and he's never entirely forgiven Clark for being Clark and being what he thinks he should be, want to be, when he doesn't really want that at all.
Should be a stupid question, but the answer's always been there. He can smell ozone in the air when he answers.
"Because you made me do it, too."
"I never made you do this."
"You would have if I could." Lex waits for a second, but the gym is too quiet and it gives Clark too much time to think of all the whys. The whys and the hows and the why the fucks and the doubts that his family implanted as deeply as Lex's did the hate. You have to get beyond that, and Lex has. Did. Clark can too. "You said it a long time ago and I fulfilled my part. Now just do it."
Clark takes a breath and then--it's there. He sees it, feels it, and there's a rush just like a Porsche hitting two-twenty on a farmroad and a lot like orgasm but a hell of a lot less messy. Like breathing pure oxygen, and Lex watches, heart stopped, everything stopped, when Clark closes his eyes and leaves the ground.
Dark eyes open wide with utter shock, but Lex never looks away. Couldn't if he wanted to, if he tried, not if the world crashed around him, because this is--this is this.
There's a second, he thinks, when you know something significant is happening, even if you don't know why. Even if you don't know how. Even if you can't imagine what the fuck something could mean, you know it somewhere in you that this is it. It's the second you smell ozone before a storm when your brain doesn't have time to process and it's the second you feel the hairs on your arms rise before the lightning strikes.
It's like falling in love except nothing on earth comes close to a comparison to that feeling when Lex realized that moment had come and gone and somehow, he'd come out on the right side. The side where he was sitting in the middle of a fucking storm and Clark gave him the truth.
There's no possible way that being witness to this moment could not be worth everything.
"I'm flying," Clark whispers, and it's only because the gym is so quiet that Lex hears it at all. Heart in his throat, he gets to watch this. See this. And there's nothing, not even the latest stock prices and an imminent takeover of LexCorp, that could drag him away from this, because this is a fucking significant moment.
And this time around, he's going to enjoy it.
"Yes." Inane and more true than the times Lex has told 'I love you' to women whose faces he doesn't even remember now. Yes, Clark is flying. Clark is fucking flying, and Lex may never breathe again. Two feet has become three and it's like watching someone underwater without the friction problems, and Lex's hands clench at his sides. Envy yes, but that's not the part that really matters.
Clark is flying. And humans can do a lot of things, Lex thinks a little inanely--they can make war and make children and make some kick ass automobiles and fabulous architecture. But he's never met one that could fly.
"Lex, I'm flying." The blank shock would be funny if Lex didn't know how beautifully Clark could do denial, with gorgeous obliviousness. "Lex, I'm in the air. I'm flying."
"And doing it very badly, but I guess we shouldn't model you after avians," Lex hears himself say in some long-ago professor's boring drone, and Clark looks down again and laughs. It sounds hysterical. Lex knows the feeling.
"You bastard." Shocking laugh and Clark finds the ground unsteadily with one foot, easing into balance, and he's shaking, but he's grinning, too. "I--like it."
So surprised. So entranced. Looking up now at the ceiling high above him like he's going to find out what it's made of, and Lex unclenches his hands, feeling slick blood from his nails cutting into his palms too deeply and a really idiotic smile on his own face.
"You love it."
These are gifts, the real ones, Lex thinks. Not the ones that are material and money, because anyone can give those, anyone at all. But this--is different. Clark leaves the ground with more confidence, still shaking, rolling in the air when he can't figure out balance and hitting the ground on his side, and God, he's laughing when he rolls on his back.
"I'm fucking flying!"
Lex grins and unlocks his knees. There's a good chance he would tip over if he wasn't leaning into the wall. "That's rolling on the ground. See if you can get some altitude, superman. Get going."
"Got it." Clark is off again, and that's air and that's Clark doing it, seeing it, enjoying it, it's fun, and Clark's laughing like a kid who just was told the best joke on earth ever, and Lex starts laughing too. Sinking down into the floor and laughing, because this might never have happened, but it did.
Clark is doing it. And Lex gets to see it.
"This is--God, Lex, this is amazing." A little swoop and Clark corrects for altitude and crashes into the ceiling, making Lex wince, catching himself halfway down in a midair twist-type motion that's kind of funny and just a little nauseating, and Lex wonders if it'll ever stop scaring him when Clark falls. Lex is on his feet and moving, pacing to the center of the gym, and his best friend is laughing again thirteen feet above his head, and he was right.
That's a pretty good gift, too.
"Lex." Coming down with a little thump, hand going out to catch himself before he looks up, all big dark eyes and bright smile. "Wanna play?"
"You're kidding." But he doesn't have time to even take a step back, and Clark has that stronger and faster thing going, and it was fifteen years ago and three years ago and Clark said--. "Man can't fly."
"I can." There's a foot of air under his feet and Clark's arm around his waist and Lex grabs for whatever part of Clark is closest, watching the ground getting farther and farther away. "It's--God, Lex--"
"Trust me, I get the feeling." How he's doing it is what Lex wants to know, but it's not important enough to make a blurb on the inner screen of interest, because they are ten feet above the floor and there's nothing but empty air around them. Leaning back, Lex deliberately loosens one hand enough to catch at Clarks' chin, holding bright eyes. "Great, huh?"
"You're being smug." Another two feet and Lex thinks of how Clark lands and then decides not to think at all.
"I'm being really fucking smug, and I will be until the day I die," Lex answers and leans over Clark's shoulder, looking down an expanse of broad back to the floor steadily getting farther away. "This isn't very undignified, you know that, right?" It might be more dignified to crawl up on Clark's shoulders and just cling there, but not by much. He's not afraid of anything. At least, nothing in this room right now.
"Like anyone can see you. Lex Luthor, scared of being airborne." Clark does a little swoopy thing and Lex chokes on something that was hopefully not a scream and could have been a laugh. Please let it have been a laugh, and they're hanging in midair like this is something Clark's been doing every day of his life and not only for the last ten minutes. "I--Lex--" He stops, and Lex just smiles back when Clark shakes his head. "It's great."
Outside a storm's just beginning, the better to keep the curious away, but Lex wasn't thinking of that part when he chose tonight.
"Yeah, it is. Clark." Lex glances down again, but he's not afraid. He looks back up and Clark's smile back is breathtaking, bright, happy. Twenty-one feet above the gym floor and there's a child's helicopter memory that fades like it never existed at all. "Thank you."
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