Rings and Sores

by Pearl-o



With every year that passed, Lex's game face had gotten better. Clark could remember thinking Lex was so cool and so smooth when they first met, all the things Clark, terminally doofy, just *wasn't*. Every once in a while it surprised him now to think how much Lex really had let out in the open, how much of himself he'd put on display back in Smallville, without Clark ever noticing.

Being a teenager was an acceptable excuse for complete density, Clark thought. But he'd had thirteen years to get over that, and Lex had had thirteen years to get steadily more and more subtle, and Clark was probably the only person in the room who could see exactly how much Lex was hating this party.

Clark was talking to some woman whose name he hadn't quite caught -- an actress, the ingenue from the latest blockbuster. It was easy to keep up with her with four-fifths of his concentration still focused on Lex, across the room.

Lex was locked in conversation with a large, jovial man and he was smiling, relaxed and seemingly enjoying himself. He was standing up perfectly straight, though, and holding his drink extra-tight. Every minute or so, his other hand went to his waist to brush the dust off his suit jacket.

Not good signs. It took Clark a minute to come with a stupid excuse and a smile bright enough to keep Hollywood Girl from noticing how weak it was, and get away.

Lex nodded to him as he approached his side. "Clark. This is Edgar Milton, vice-president of August Industries." Clark rested his hand on the small of Lex's back; he could feel the muscles relax beneath, could hear the tiny, tiny changes in his breath and pulse. Infinitesimal differences, but enough. "Milton, this is Clark Kent."

"Pleased to meet you," Clark said, smiling, and he leaned in to shake the man's hand.

This one obviously hadn't done his homework; he shook Clark's hand, but his eyes barely flickered over him before dismissing him and turning back to Lex. "Now, Luthor, as I was saying--"

Clark was surprised, and almost amused. He'd gotten that sort of reaction often enough in the early days, but most people knew better now. Clark didn't care, really, hadn't for years, but Lex noticed that sort of thing. Noticed everything.

Lex didn't say anything now, nodding and sipping at his drink as Milton continued to talk. Clark, stroking Lex's back, watched the man and felt vaguely sorry for him; he wouldn't want to be in his shoes a week from now.

They would be here for at least another three hours, Clark estimated. Lex would move around the room, cozying up with everybody of the least importance; you could never tell who might be useful in the future, and Lex didn't take that sort of chance anymore.

Clark, on the other hand, just had to stand around and make stupid small talk with all the trophy wives and bored heirs. And that was easy, smiling like a goon and being meaninglessly courteous. He could do it in his sleep. And maybe they didn't all like him -- maybe most of them hated Lex's guts -- but they all acted nice enough, anyway. And it didn't require that much effort. He could concentrate his thoughts on other things.

He could listen to Lex and Milton have their discussion, and still be planning the rest of the evening in his head. Not that it required much planning; there was a ritual.

When they got back to the penthouse, Clark would send the servants away, shut all the curtains and dim the lights, give Lex a long, slow foot massage and a longer and slower blowjob.

He whispered this in Lex's ear when the August Industries man excused himself, and they finally had a second alone.

Lex bared his teeth and gave him a look, a fraction of the way to a smile. "Nice to have something to look forward to."

"I do what I can."

Lex moved fast, taking Clark by surprise, kissing him hard and groping his ass as if there was no one else around. He let go as quickly as he began. "And I'm off to pounce upon the senator over there. Wish me luck."

Clark never wished Lex luck. They didn't need it.


For all the talking Lex did in real life, during sex he was practically mute.

There were exceptions -- and Clark liked those exceptions, definitely; there were a few core beliefs Clark liked to think of his life as based on, and one of them was that Lex's voice was a good thing.

But usually, it was like this, near silence, with just Lex's harsh shallow breaths and his deep grunts and the sounds of their bodies together. Clark could hear the wet sounds Lex's cock made in his mouth, hear the sound of Lex's blood moving quicker and quicker through his body, hear his name just the barest shadow on Lex's lips when he stiffened and came, arching deep into Clark's throat.

After he tucked Lex into his pajama pants, he crawled back up the bed and settled down beside him.

Lex kissed him for a minute, then backed away far enough to look at him appraisingly. "Have I ever told you how good you are at that?"

"Yep," Clark said. "I don't mind hearing it again, though."

"Mmm. Excellent. Truly, first-class."

"I take great pride in my work," Clark told him solemnly. He kissed Lex again.

"What time are you leaving tomorrow?" Lex asked, rolling onto his back. He rested his hands on his stomach.

"Early, I think. I told Mom I'd be there before noon. I don't like her having to spend much of the day alone."

"Turn off the light," Lex said.

He curled his leg over Clark's in the dark. "I'm sorry I'm not going with you."

"No, it's really okay. It's --" Clark paused, and sighed.

"He wouldn't have wanted me there," Lex said agreeably. "He'd probably be turning over right beneath our feet." He was quiet for a moment. "I think your visits home do you good, anyway. You always seem refreshed when you come back."

It was more than a decade since any place but with Lex had been Clark's home, but Lex knew that already. "He didn't hate you, you know. Not at the end." Lex didn't answer, but Clark continued. "You could come down this weekend. We could visit the Talon and drink bad coffee and go to the public library and make out in the stacks."

"Just because we enter the town doesn't mean we have to act like horny teenagers."

"But it's more fun that way." Clark yawned, stretching out more comfortably on the bed. "Besides, I was a horny teenager. I had an excuse. You, on the other hand..."

Lex laughed quietly.

Clark fell asleep first, like always, listening to Lex breathe beside him.


"I really don't want to have this conversation right now," Clark said, leaning against the dresser in the bedroom.

"Look, I just worry about you is all." Chloe's voice was crackling and plaintive through her cell phone. "I know you love him and he loves you and all that, but you can't just close your eyes and pretend certain aspects about him don't exist!"

"Chloe. There is nothing -- nothing -- you could tell me about Lex that I don't already know."

"Fine," said Chloe, sounding annoyed. "Do you what they're saying about him? That he has a secret lab out in Nebraska, where he's doing illegal experiments? That half the public servants in this state -- hell, all of them in Metropolis -- are under his thumb?"

"They also say Lionel Luthor was Satan, and they had to amputate Lex's horns and tail when he was born," Clark said. "They also say I'm his ignorant hick just here for show, and that I'm sleeping with half the city behind his back. You believe those, too, Chloe?"

Chloe sighed. "Clark, I just think--"

"Listen. You're my best friend, and I love you, but it's early and we're both going to say things we regret if we continue this."

"Fine. Just -- take care of yourself, okay?"

After he hung up the phone, he went looking for Lex.

He found him in his office, working on something on the laptop. He looked up as Clark perched himself on the edge of the desk, a few inches away.

"You don't have to stop working."

Lex smiled, and scooted his chair back a few feet to see Clark more easily. "Who was that on the phone?"

"Chloe."

"You all right? Did the two of you have a fight?"

Clark shrugged. "We had a talk. About you."

Lex's fingers curled around the armrest of the chair. He said, "All complimentary, I hope."

"Not exactly." Clark lifted his feet to pull the chair in closer again, till Lex rested between his legs. "It doesn't matter."

"No?" Lex said, sounding vaguely distant. He petted Clark's thigh.

"I've had people warning me about you since I was fifteen." He leaned forward a little, not continuing till Lex looked up and gave him a challenging glare. "I didn't listen to them then. I'm not going to start now."

Lex's eyes flickered quickly across Clark's face, and after a moment he nodded.

"Besides," Clark said, "I promised you, remember? Back that first night."

Sometimes Clark wondered if Lex ever blinked. Lex's gaze had always been like this, concentrated and shockingly solid, like you could reach out and touch it.

"There was another reporter last week," Lex said, with an almost casual tone of voice. "Apparently there was another copy of the tape from Paris that we missed."

"Dammit."

"I took care of it."

Lex always took care of things. Clark didn't pause as he stroked Lex's cheek. "Did you kill him?"

"No. But we now have a useful friend at the television news channel."

"Good."

"I keep my promises, too," Lex murmured. He turned his head to brush his lips against Clark's palm.

"I know." He leaned in to kiss Lex's forehead. "I'll better leave. I'm already late from Chloe."

"All right. Call later."


Chloe was wrong, anyway. The lab wasn't in Nebraska; it was in Colorado, right near the eastern border. And Lex was doing important research there. Good work, great work, the kind of stuff that was going to make a difference in people's lives, change things for the better. The last three big breakthroughs at LexCorp had originated there, underneath the ground.

You just couldn't get that sort of results (and they were amazing; it still astonished Clark sometimes to think about just how smart Lex really was) without breaking a few rules. It might be illegal, but it wasn't wrong, Clark didn't think. None of the people there had anywhere else to go, after all. And it wasn't like any of them were in pain.

The thing was, Lex had big plans. Important plans. And sometimes stuff got in the way, and Lex would take care of it. Lex always did.

Clark's dad used to say, "To make an omelet, you've got to break some eggs," and Clark thought that was it exactly.

The rules were there to protect people, but Lex knew what exactly what he was doing -- for the two of them, for everybody. Just because other people didn't see things the same way...

There was a reason greatness wasn't for everyone.


The leaves were turning already in Smallville. Clark hadn't realized. The seasons always seemed tamer in Metropolis -- just various precipitation Clark barely noticed and temperature fluctuations that he almost didn't feel. Metropolis, smooth and bright and thoroughly modern, had trees, but they knew their place and kept to it, carefully tucked away into their well-tended and well-maintained parks.

The trees lined all the back roads here, enveloping Clark in the red and orange and golden haze as he drove. He could almost taste them in the air -- taste of autumn, the taste of home, like hot cider, football, pumpkins and squash in the farmer's market.

Other things.

October was always ... intense.

He took the longer route, passing through downtown, but he reached the farmhouse soon enough, anyway. He stood outside and leaned against the car door a few moments, looking up at it.

It'd been a year since the last visit; he took his vacation from the paper the same week every fall. Every time he came back, part of him felt as if he'd never left home in the first place. Still the same house he'd grown up in, still the same one it had been ten years ago.

There were plenty of differences, certainly, if you knew where to look. Clark had painted the house for his mom three years ago; it was pale green now, instead of yellow. The old kitchen door had been replaced, the downstairs bathroom was completely new, and half the rooms had been at least slightly redecorated at some point.

Still, though.

His mom didn't answer when he called out to her, and he wandered through the bottom floor till he reached the kitchen. There was a note attached to the refrigerator door with an apple-shaped magnet.

Clark picked it up, and frowned as he read it. He'd kind of been expecting her to be waiting here for him when he arrived. Maybe outside on the porch. With a fresh-baked pie, even. He hadn't expected her to be busy, out with a friend.

The vases weren't in the shelf next to the sink anymore. After a short search, Clark found them in the cabinet in the dining room. He took one out, filled it up with water and placed inside the bouquet Lex had sent along for his mother. Red tulips, her favorite, with large, ludicrously perfect blossoms.

He brought his bag up to his old bedroom.

This room, at least, hadn't changed in all this time. It was still just the same as it had been when he left for college, all those years ago.

His mother hadn't realized when he left for Metropolis that he was leaving for good.

Clark set his duffel bag on the dresser. He looked carefully at the mirror on the wall behind it.

He looked older, he thought. More mature. More experienced.

He broke into a grin and made a face at himself, twisting up his facial muscles and sticking out his tongue, just like he used to do everyday for -- what, ten years? It'd been part of his morning ritual, all through middle and high school. He couldn't remember why.

He lay down on his bed, feet hanging slightly over the edge. He smiled up at the ceiling. There was a certain crack up there -- junior year, he'd convinced himself that it had an eerie resemblance to Lex, and he'd fallen asleep watching it and thinking about him more times than he could remember.

It really, Clark realized now, didn't look like Lex at all, and he snickered.

There were still some things he didn't tell Lex.


He'd seen Lana Lang do this when they were fifteen, and it hadn't seemed strange then at all. Maybe it should have been bizarre or morbid, late at night among the graves, but Lana just did it the way she did everything else, smooth and easy and natural.

Back then Clark had still been terminally awkward and weird. If he'd been doing the same thing, he'd have just been creepy.

And maybe he was still awkward, even now.

The sun was shining, and there was a light breeze. His mother was taking a walk around the grounds, to give him time and privacy.

"I don't really know how to start this," Clark said. He frowned. "I still miss you. A lot. I wish you could be here, still, with us, but... Mom already talked to you, so I guess you know she's doing good. I think maybe I haven't been paying as much as attention to her as I should have. I'll try and work on that."

He paused.

"I'm doing pretty good, too. I mean, things are good with the Planet, and the other thing -- I'm helping people, people who need somebody to help them, you know? I think you'd be proud.

"And I'm happy. And I know you wouldn't approve, but that does count for something, right? He's -- he's really not a bad guy. And sometimes things aren't that clear cut, black and white, you know? Sometimes there are two right answers. And I do think I'm doing the right thing."

Clark stood up, and brushed off his pants. "I love you. And I miss you a lot."


He called Lex from his bedroom late that night, after his mother had gone to bed.

"Lex Luthor."

"It's me."

"Clark."

"You all right? You sound sort of--" Lex sounded off. Tired, maybe.

"The fucking deal fell through," Lex said, voice cold. "Andersen screwed us over."

Clark pushed out a slow breath. "Crap."

"Really, Clark, your quick grasp of important situations never ceases to impress me."

There were times with Lex when it was necessary to pick and choose what you paid attention to very carefully. "What are you planning on doing?"

"I made an error in judgment. I'm going to correct my mistake."

"I could come back home tonight--"

"No. I don't want you here while I take care of this."

Clark rubbed the back of his neck, ignoring the annoyance that was beginning to build. "I think--"

Lex's voice softened a little, lost what Clark thought of as its outer edge. Ruthlessness not gone, but maybe stored away a further away. "You deserve your vacation, anyway. And your mother would never forgive me."

"But you're okay?"

"For god's sake, Clark," Lex said, voice rising.

"Fine! God, sorry!"

They were both silent for a moment, and Lex sighed.

"I was supposed to have the world in my hands by now," he said musingly.

"When Alexander was your age, he was dead, and his empire fell apart," Clark said. "We have a plan. It'll happen. You just need patience."

"Fuck you," Lex said, voice full of affection.

Clark grinned. "You sure you don't want me? I could run over and be back by the time my mom wakes up..."

"I'm sure. I'm busy. You can stay there and jerk off in your boyhood bed."

"Shut up." Clark shifted his position on the mattress.

"I've got to go, Clark. Call again tomorrow."

Lex always told him to call, like Clark wouldn't do it on his own.

"Okay," Clark said. "Lex -- I miss you."

Lex paused. "Me, too."

It took Clark a long time to get to sleep. Habits were always a pain to fight; it'd been ten years.

Their first kiss (because by the river didn't count) was the story he always itched to tell people whenever they started telling him about Lex and his darkness and his family and everything else they thought Clark was too naive or too stupid to notice.

When after the funeral, after the gathering at the house and the endless condolences, after everyone had left and his mother had kissed him and told him to try to get some sleep, Clark had found himself sitting at the dining room table with no clue what to do next.

He'd done what he always did back then. He'd called Lex.

His words had come out stammering and awkward, not saying what he meant them to at all. "Lex -- it's -- everything's different. I don't..." He'd trailed off.

Lex's voice had been low, assured. "Do you want me to come over?"

Yeah. Lex always knew what to do.

He'd waited in the loft. He had stood by his telescope and looked out blankly out at the stars, and he almost hadn't noticed Lex arriving, not until Lex pulled him away, into a hug.

And Lex was the most hands-off person ever; he hated touching (even if he didn't mind it so much with Clark) but there he was, hugging Clark and bringing him in close, and Clark had closed his eyes and rested his head on Lex's shoulder

"God, Lex." Clark had said, almost choking on the words. "He's -- he's gone." And he was crying, fucking crying. He'd never seen his father cry in his life.

"It's okay. You don't have to be strong now."

Lex's hand rubbed a slow wide circle on his back. Clark had taken a hard, gasping breath.

"Lex, I--" He'd pulled back far enough to see Lex's face; Lex was watching him, careful and concerned. Clark leaned in and kissed him, resting his hands on Lex's shoulders.

He broke away, and backed up a few steps. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

"Ah, Clark," Lex had said, and he'd tugged on Clark's chin till Clark turned his head to face him again. "It's okay. It'll all be okay."

That was the first time Clark fell asleep by Lex, there on the couch in his loft, with his head in Lex's lap and Lex's hands stroking his hair, still wearing his crumpled only suit.

Nobody else knew Lex like Clark did, not even close. Clark had thirteen years of stalker-level observation, and even he knew there was plenty he was missing.


When the call came in, Clark crushed the phone.

It was an accident; his hand curled up tightly, and the plastic snapped into dozens of tiny pieces. He didn't even notice till his mother asked him what was wrong.

"I'm sorry, Mom. I've -- I've got to go. Lex -- there was an attack in Metropolis--"

"My god. Was he hurt?"

"No. He's -- he's fine. I just need to go."

She hugged him tightly and packed a pie for him to bring back home. Clark's mom was a fucking rock.

The car trip was long, slow, and made that much worse by the knowledge that he could run and fly and be there within minutes. But he couldn't do that; somebody, somewhere would notice. Dammit.

Lex always headed to the LexCorp building in times of stress. It was a dependable, reliable habit, steady like an old clock. Clark was glad for it; it was nice to know there were some times when he could know exactly how Lex would react. Especially since he was the only other person with full access to the building.

Lex was lying down on the couch in his office when Clark arrived.

"Clark." He didn't open his eyes.

"What happened?" Clark knelt beside the couch.

"Oh, the usual. Some nutcase with a vendetta decided to take it out on a captain of industry."

"This isn't a joke, Lex," Clark said. "You -- why don't you have a bodyguard?"

Lex opened his eyes and gave him a look. "I wasn't in any real danger, Clark."

"You were. You could've -- you could have died. And I wasn't here."

"You can't always be here to protect me," Lex said impatiently.

"Why not?"

"Well, first, because I'm not a child who needs a guardian watching over him twenty-four hours a day. Second, you have other ... responsibilities."

Lex didn't like that part of Clark's life at all, and they never talked about it, but every night when Clark finished his rounds, Lex was up and waiting for him when he got home.

"You still need a bodyguard," Clark said. He tried using the stern, 'I really mean this' voice.

"Fine." Lex rubbed his temple, and Clark leaned in and rested his forehead against Lex's shoulder.

"Clark. I want to ask you something."

"Okay," Clark muttered into the suit.

"And keep in mind this is likely the near death experience talking."

"All right."

"Tell me what I'd have to do to make you leave me."

Clark looked up at him. Lex was frowning at the ceiling. He was tempted not to answer at all, but... "If I looked at you," Clark said quietly, "and I didn't recognize you anymore, I couldn't stay."

Lex nodded. Good answer. "That won't happen."

"I know."

"You make me better than I would be," Lex said, and he sounded surprised, and close to wary.

"I know." Clark set his hand on Lex's chest. He could feel him breathing. After a minute, Clark broke the silence. "I want to kill whoever tried to do that to you."

"You could," said Lex, not moving his gaze from the ceiling. "You could do it so quickly and easily that no one would ever catch you, ever suspect you, and no one would ever have to know except you and me. But you wouldn't."

"No," Clark said. "Never."

Lex took Clark's hand from his chest and kissed the back of it. "I know."

Clark took his hand back and set his elbows on the edge of the cushion, so his forearms rested against Lex's side. He leaned in to kiss; Lex cupped the back of his head and pulled him in closer.

It started out light and almost more tender than anything else, but it didn't stay that way very long, and it was only as Clark was climbing onto the couch for a better angle that Lex stopped him.

"I have a press conference in an hour."

"Gabe can't take care of it?"

"He could, if we didn't our stock price falling a couple hundred points tomorrow."

Clark sighed and settled himself on the floor, his back to the couch. "I'll come with you."

"Isn't that a conflict of interest?" Lex said. He rested his hand on Clark's head.

"I don't have to be everything at the same time," Clark said. He dropped his head back against the cushion.


It was midnight, and he was watching Lex sleep.

Lex slept like he did everything, with his full concentration and effort. Still, heavy slumber; the expression he wore was almost fierce.

It wasn't like Clark did this very often, just lay on his side and watched -- just every once in a while, every couple of weeks. It was ... grounding, maybe.

It all came back to the first time, Clark thought. Three years after the crash, three weeks after the night in the loft, and it finally happened.

"I've been thinking about this," Lex had said, running his fingers down Clark's arm. Clark had sighed. "Wondering if it's worth it."

"Why? Don't you -- don't you want this?"

Lex's mouth had quirked into that expression, the one that wasn't quite a smile. "I've wanted this for three years. But I want a lot more than that from you."

"Like what?"

Lex had shrugged. "Your friendship. Your honesty. Things that would make you run away right now if I told you."

"Maybe not," Clark had said quietly.

"What I'd really like right now is know exactly why you're here."

"I'm here because -- you're the best friend I've ever had, and I like you, and I want you." He'd taken Lex's hand from his arm, brought it up to his face.

"Clark, I think..."

"You've given me reasons not to trust you, you know, over the years. But I do want to, Lex, I do. And you've never hurt me. So I'll just come right out and say it." Clark had taken a deep breath. "I'm pretty much in love with you."

Lex had closed his eyes and stood very still. There were cogs and springs whirling in his head; Clark could almost hear them.

"I'm not going to leave," Clark had whispered.

Lex had flinched and opened his eyes. Clark tightened his grip on Lex's hand.

"I promise," Clark had said.

"I don't believe you."

"I'll prove it to you. Just wait."

It had taken five years, which was pretty good, Clark thought, considering that it was Lex they were talking about. They had gone out and gotten spectacularly drunk for Lex's birthday -- one of the interesting discoveries of Clark's college years was that he could, indeed, get plastered; it just required a certain amount of dedication to the task at hand. Lex had insisted that the twenty-ninth anniversary of his existence was more than enough of a reason to make the effort.

"You know," Lex had said lazily from the other side of the bed, "you owe me."

"Why?"

"Really, all things considered, I've been a fucking amazing friend to you. You don't know how lucky you are."

Clark had mulled this over. "I've saved your life twenty-seven times."

"You keep count?"

"Well, yeah." Clark had rolled his eyes.

"I've kept the biggest secret on earth for five years."

"I've never looked at you like you were a freak."

"I've never done that to you, either."

"Well, I never shot at you with an Uzi, then."

"That was below the belt," Lex had said, frowning.

"Sorry."

"And you have knocked me unconscious a few times."

"Hey, I apologized for those. Like, a lot." Clark had paused. "Um. I defended you to everybody."

"I gave you kick-ass presents."

"I never slept with your dad. Or died on you."

"I was always a complete gentleman," Lex had said. He'd made a noise that was possibly a snicker.

"I..." Clark had trailed off thoughtfully. "I always know the difference between your 'angry, so stay the hell away' mood and your 'angry, so come over and be cute' mood."

"Nope."

"What are you talking about? I totally do, too."

"Actually, Clark, you really don't."

"Fine. I've never complained about any of the really boring plays and museums you drag me to."

"I've supplied you with a glorious sexual education, the like of which most men will only dream about."

Clark had laughed and rolled over on the bed to brace himself over Lex. "I'm still here."

Lex had looked amused. "I let you in."

And that would have been a good time for some memorable mind-blowing sex, but they really were quite drunk, and that plan had to be abandoned when Lex fell asleep right in the middle of the making out.

Clark had sat and watched him for a while then, just like he was doing now.

He reached out and grabbed Lex's shoulder and shook a little.

Lex mumbled something incomprehensible.

"Lex," Clark murmured. Then a little louder: "Lex!"

Lex's eyes flew open. "What the hell is it, Clark?"

Clark retracted his hand from the shoulder.

"You know, some of us don't have our super alien energy supply to rely on. Some of us actually need sleep to function."

"I just..." Clark paused.

Lex rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand.

"Nothing. Nothing at all," Clark said, delighted. He grinned.

Lex was giving him the extra-suspicious look. "Can I go back to sleep now?"

"Yeah. Yeah. Sorry."

"Don't worry about it. I knew about your strange nature when I got myself involved in this." Lex closed his eyes.

Clark didn't go back to sleep. Instead, he watched Lex until the sun rose and the alarm clock began to ring the next morning.



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