The hours between sundown and sunrise are as close as Clark can get to living in the darkness. To being like everyone else.
In the dark everyone is the same, and it doesn't matter exactly where they've come from. It doesn't matter if they landed in a space pod or appeared as a freak side effect of the spontaneous regeneration of Dolly the Sheep.
Obsidian night between eight p.m. and six a.m., and Clark revels in existing below a sky stripped of sunlight. There's something he finds comforting about the night, about the equality found under thousands of bright stars and a waning moon that's almost gone.
There's something alluring about pondering what the night hides and what it reveals.
There's something enticing about things that only come out at night. Creatures that were made for long summer nights full of mosquitoes that have never bruised Clark's impenetrable flesh, even when he was small.
Clark pointedly kept mum about the mosquitoes that Chloe and Pete complained about every summer that he's known them. If pressed, he muttered and scratched obligingly, but Clark has never had a mosquito bite; he doesn't know what they're like. He doesn't know what it's like to itch, to sneeze; he's not even ticklish.
But none of that matters at night. None of that matters in the barn with its wide open spaces and dark corners. There's a reason Clark practically lives in the barn during summer vacation. There's a peace that he finds at night when the only sounds are his breathing and the crickets chirping.
There's a lot to be said for solitude that's illuminated by a vast Kansas sky and hundreds of lightning bugs.
Clark has always had a fondness for fireflies.
When he was small, his mom used to sit on the porch after dinner and watch as he zoomed around the yard catching as many lightning bugs as possible and sealing them in peanut butter jars. It took him a while to realize that he had to poke holes in the lid so that they could breathe.
He's still mourning all those fireflies that died before he got a clue. Before he understood that they were nice to look at, but that they could only be contained for so long before they died. That it was better for him get his fill of their radiating light while they blinked and crawled along his outstretched fingers, before letting them go.
Just another cheap farmboy thrill that Clark likes. That he probably will never share with anyone. That he will never tell Lex, because Lex is really the only person Clark shares things with these days, much to the chagrin of Pete and Chloe. But even what he shares it isn't that much.
It's just more than what he tells everyone else.
Not that this is something he's thought about much. 'Not much' meaning every day since he announced at the dinner table that Lex was his 'best friend' and conveniently omitted the part about how his take on that particular title is a bit skewed.
Clark doubts that his parents' definition of 'best friend' includes wanting to lick the nape said best friend's neck, or wanting to use his x-ray vision for more than PG-rated means.
The more he thinks about it, that would definitely be in the too much information category, and Clark doesn't want to visit his dad in jail again. Not that his dad would have any reason to do something that would land him in jail, but Clark has noticed that his dad isn't very rational when it comes to Lex.
Neither is Clark, the more he thinks about it.
Of course the more Clark thinks about Lex, the tighter his jeans feel, and who knew that the sound of denim expanding was that loud?
Clark certainly didn't, but it's not as though he could actually sleep now with his brain being so noisy. He doesn't sleep much these days.
So little time and so much to think through.
So many sounds between the crickets and the owls and the trees rustling from a dry, listless breeze that never reaches his Fortress of Whatever.
Maybe he needs to think less and do more. Maybe that's what the gnats are whispering in his ears. Even now, sitting in the rickety chair beside his telescope, Clark has this insatiable urge to go outside and catch a firefly, for old times' sake.
Just because he can.
Just because Clark wants to remember what it was like when things were simpler. When he was younger and didn't know all the things that he knows now. When he wasn't as aware of everything around him and all the people he was lying to.
"I thought you might still be up."
Although, maybe Clark's not as aware as he'd like to believe. It's okay if he moves that fast because it's too dark for Lex to really see. Besides, if he didn't jump up, he'd certainly have tumbled over, as the clattering of his chair would attest.
"Lex?" is a pointless query because Clark knows it's Lex.
Clark doesn't have to turn to see him. He doesn't need x-ray vision to know that Lex is standing at the top of the stairs with that wry grin on his face and his head tilted slightly to the side. Clark could identify Lex even if he was deaf, dumb, blind and not an alien.
"You were expecting the Tooth Fairy?"
"I - I wasn't expecting you."
And for some reason, even though the barn is dark, in Clark's estimation it seems to be getting a lot brighter.
"You know, that almost sounds like you're not happy to see me."
If Clark were dealing with anyone else, he might think that wounded tone meant something, but Clark knows a little bit about Lex. Lex is different.
Lex is a lot like the night. He likes to hide things. He likes to play games.
"I never said that, you caught me off guard. I'm not used to people materializing in the barn."
If Clark were used to people appearing when he thought about them, he'd like to think that Lex would've shown up a lot sooner. Of course, if this particular gift had developed a few months ago then Lex might've run into Lana, and that would've been unpleasant. At least from Clark's viewpoint.
He knows that there's a lot to be said for the difference a few months make. The difference a few feet make, and Clark's vision is good, great, but Lex was not that close five seconds ago. Clark's body is pretty damn sure of that; his Wranglers would swear to it in court.
Lex is all silent movements and quiet breathing, and Clark is starting to think that Lex is a creature of the night. That he was made to move in the dark, because when he emerges from the shadows of the barn, Clark has to fight this urge to step back. Or to step forward, because Lex's skin seems to glow in the dark. Like a firefly.
Clark really wants to touch him. To hold him in his hand.
"Materializing in a barn? I don't think that's high on the list of places I'd like Scotty to beam me to."
A brief moment and where Clark automatically smiles. A smile that seems almost inate.
"I didn't know you were a Trekkie."
"I am not a Trekkie; I watch the show every now and then."
"Every now and then sounds a lot like everyday to me."
Minute shrug and a rueful smile that penetrates the darkness, "Spock is a smart man."
"I thought he was a baby doctor."
"No, that's Doctor Spock, Clark," and only Lex would know that he wasn't being serious. Only Lex thinks that Clark's smart enough to engage in that sort of mental teasing. Of course, Lex probably also knows the difference between a Klingon and a Ferengi.
"I never saw the original show, I mean except for the repeats on TV. I like 'The Next Generation' myself. Captain Picard was pretty cool." Maybe that's where Clark's bald fascination started, although he can't actually remember having one until he met Lex.
"You don't know what you're missing out on, Captain Kirk was a hero. He was the Alexander the Great of outer space."
"Which must mean that you're running out of territory to conquer."
"Oh, don't worry about me, Clark. There's always something out there for me to conquer."
Not that a farm boy from Kansas can say much to that. The only thing Clark will be conquering anytime soon is rolling the hay out in the west field.
"You don't mind if I sit down, do you?" Clark can hear Lex's grin before it appears; and Clark's mom would be appalled at his lack of manners, right after she freaked out over his receiving a nighttime visit from Lex Luthor.
"No, go ahead. It might be kinda dusty though."
"Well, we are in a barn, I wouldn't be surprised."
"I'm sure nothing surprises you, Lex." Not exactly what Clark was supposed to say, but it's the truth. The subjective truth that makes Clark sigh because he'll never know what that's like. To not be surprised, concerned. To not care.
It has to be easier than feeling responsible for everything. For being able to hear every cry of every person suffering and know that it's all his fault.
Maybe that shows on Clark's face because Lex never seems to come in actual contact with the sofa, but that could be an illusion of the shadows. Whatever the case, Lex is a lot closer than he was five minutes ago.
"What makes you say that?"
"Didn't your mother ever tell you that 'because' is no way to answer a question?"
"Yeah, she did, but she also told me to tell the truth." When applicable.
The pause that follows Clark's statement seems to stretch across the entire farm, and Clark can't be sure why. He knows what he's said, but he also knows what Lex should be saying at this moment. Some snappy witticism about Einstein and the truth being relative.
Everything being relative.
"The truth is important to you, isn't it, Clark?" said in a tone that Clark can just catch the sharpness on.
The realization that Clark has gone too far is accentuated by the creaking of the floorboards as he tries to step back. Away from Lex. Clark knows that he's stepped out of bounds. That he's gone past the edge of the comforting darkness and into someplace that he didn't mean to go.
Someplace that he didn't mean to go with Lex - at least not yet, and Clark has a flash of Lex as something dark and immaterial. As something all encompassing and protecting, like the innate knowledge of the whereabouts of furniture in a dark room.
"Yeah, I mean, it's important to be honest."
"Of course it is."
And there's that tangible silence again; that black hole that seems to open up between Clark and Lex sometimes. It's a vortex that sucks the air out Clark's lungs and paralyses their conversations.
It's a silence of waiting. Anticipating.
"You're right, Clark, honesty is important. Especially between friends."
"Best friends," is Clark's automatic correction before he can think twice. Unfortunately, the word 'friends' snaps the entire conversation into the right context for him.
Friends tell friends things. They confide. They tell secrets.
Clark used to think before he spoke. Before he met Lex.
Clark even knows what he's supposed to say. The truth weighs him down like a net filled with stones; but he can't say what Lex obviously wants to hear and maybe Lex can tell. Maybe that's what's caught up in the barrage of emotions that races across Lex's face in the shadows of the barn.
Hope, disappointment. Resignation.
Whatever it is that makes Lex retreat away from him and move towards the telescope and the open window of the loft. Whatever it is that catches Clark off guard and makes him follow Lex.
That makes Clark stand at Lex's shoulder but far enough behind him so that they're not really together. So that they're separate. So that they're just two young men looking out at the farm. At the inky sky that glitters like pennies at the bottom of a fountain.
This is the first time that Clark understands what's really happening between he and Lex. The sky signifies all that separates them.
He wishes that he could touch Lex, reach Lex, make him understand. Clark wishes that he could be sure that Lex would let him.
"So, what brings you out here in the middle of the night anyway?"
"I came to see a friend."
"That's all I get, Clark? An 'okay?'"
"What more do you want, Lex?"
Clark knows what he wants, but he suspects that they're not talking about the same thing. He knows they're not, and all his regrets over what he can't say leave a sour taste in his mouth.
"Never mind, it's not important anyway. Let's just say that I was in the neighborhood."
"At two in the morning, Lex? Where's your car?"
"I didn't think your parents would look favorably upon my dropping by unannounced."
"At two in the morning."
"At two in the morning," is followed by a long pause that's only stretched further into infinity by Clark's pulse drumming the passing seconds into his ears. "How do you know what time it is anyway? I don't see a clock in here."
"There's this thing called a watch, Lex. You rich guys haven't cornered the market on all the good inventions, even the people in Smallville know about them."
Clark's snarky remark, worthy of Chloe, is rewarded with a sharp turn and a smirk from Lex that's reminiscent of the leopard sharks on the Discovery channel.
Clark feels his mouth turn up against his will, but who's will ever withstood Lex's smile?
Even when things aren't always right between them, they're still okay.
"Touche. Is it too late for you, though, don't you have to be up to milk the cows and feed the chickens in a few hours?"
"We don't have chickens, Lex."
"Oh, well, then the cows."
"It's summer vacation, besides it's never too late for me. If you really thought that you wouldn't be here now," and that is not what Clark meant to say, but maybe it is.
"I'll keep that in mind."
"You never really answered my question."
"About why you're here."
"Insomnia." It seems like a perfectly reasonable answer on the outside, but Clark wonders why it makes Lex rub his head in that way he does when he's exasperated. Or tired. Or just unwilling to say what he really thinks.
"You couldn't sleep so you thought you would come and see me. Wow, thanks. Are you counting on my brilliant conversational skills to put you to sleep?"
A quick blink is too slow, and if Clark was faster he would swear that Lex smiled at him. That he's proud of all of Clark's sarcasm.
"No, Clark, I don't think I could ever sleep with you around," is a response that sets off loud alarms in Clark's mind. There's something askew with that sentence, but he can't be sure just what.
"You parked on the main road, right? I didn't hear an engine." Or see any lights. Or see Lex before he appeared for that matter.
"And they say that kids from the sticks aren't smart."
"Who says that, Lex, you?"
"I'd never say that, Clark, at least not after meeting you."
And there's something else being said. Something implied amongst all the words spoken, but Clark can't tell. The moon isn't bright enough for Clark to read Lex's eyes in the darkness and words can be deceiving.
Clark should know - he's twisted enough words for several lifetimes.
"So, what were you doing when I came up here anyway, besides sitting in the dark?"
"I was thinking."
"Trying to solve the rainforest crisis? Erase the debt? Figuring out how to ask Lana out on a date?"
"I was thinking about when I was younger. About when I used to catch lightning bugs in jars."
"I've never done that."
"I'm not surprised."
"It's not a very Luthor thing to do."
"Could you stop saying that, Lex. Please?"
"It's the truth."
"I know it is, but it's no excuse," is said by someone who sounds like Clark and looks like Clark, but Clark is sure he didn't say that.
He would never be so bold.
Except that it doesn't seem to phase Lex. "No, Clark, you're right. It's not."
"I was thinking about you, too, you know." This does phase Lex and it kind of phases Clark as well. That's not what he meant to say. Maybe he shouldn't be up at two in the morning.
"I'm sorry. What did you say, Clark?"
"When you showed up, I was thinking about you."
And what can anyone say to something like that? Obviously nothing because Clark can't read Lex at all. Lex's face is so perfectly blank that Clark could write an entire history there.
"I was thinking - I was wondering... about you."
"What about me, Clark?"
"Things you liked, things you thought. Just 'things' in general."
"I like a lot of things," and Lex pauses as though that's not quite what he was going to say, and Clark knows that feeling. "In general."
One of those loaded sentences that Clark is growing more able to recognize on hearing, but still isn't quite sure how to decipher. But he can't really blame Lex for being obtuse. It's not as though he's being that honest. It's not as though he's given Lex any reason to be either.
"What I meant was... do you like me?"
More silence that rushes in Clark's ears like the sound of wind in a forest or alien boys speeding through cornfields.
"Well, you're the only friend that I've got, that should say something."
"That's not what I mean, Lex. I mean --"
"Clark, I don't think you know what you mean."
"I should probably go."
"You're probably really tired, Clark. We can talk tomorrow."
"You don't have to go you know."
"I know, but it's getting late. I've got meetings in the morning."
Through the quiet, Clark can hear a lot, and Lex is breathing normally but his heart seems to be beating a bit faster. Clark never thought that the echo of footfalls down the steps would be the sound of Lex running away.
"I'm sure you do."
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