by jenn

Summary: "When did you realize you could do anything you wanted?"

Author Notes: X-Files title challenge. Tabula rasa writing. I'm never ever doing this again. First four lines of dialogue are from Te. To Susannah and Pricklyelf and Wendi.

Clark doesn't have time to be surprised.

"Lex, what are you doing out here?"

The tilt of the head's familiar--so is the smile that reaches just past Clark's skin and brushes like steel wool on sensitive nerves. The same eerily straight posture of someone who's perfectly comfortable in their own skin. Even here. Of all places. "Clark, I can't tell you how much amusement I get out of thinking of you as a six foot three --"


"--whatever of solar battery." Bright smile, like the sun rising over the horizon on the longest, clearest day of summer. Hot, bright, and blinding if you look too long. Clark's been there, done that. Blue eyes over the edges of sunglasses, filled with nothing but amusement. "So how are you, Clark?"

Lex gets off on stuff like this, Clark remembers, flicking up hot off-white sand with his toes of his hiking boots and rethinking the concept of solitude. Throwing people off guard. Charm slick like oil on water; cheerful good will like something you want to wrap yourself in. Then there's all that incongruousness of Lex, dark suit and highly expensive shoes, kicking lightly at the sand with that look of interested expectation, like he thinks something is under there that he can't quite see but wants anyway.

"You didn't answer my question." And wasn't that a brand new thing to comment on. Lex treated questions like optional commentary opportunities--his answer might actually have nothing to do with the matter at hand, and Clark's not expecting anything else now.

Except--Lex really, really hates to be predictable. Case in point.

"Bored." Another kick of the sand, and Lex stares down at it like he can melt it into glass with a single gaze. Clark isn't putting it past him either--ten years have pretty much stripped away any illusions of what Lex is. It's what he isn't that pretty much keeps Clark guessing.

Not Lionel, maybe, but that's about as much as Clark can swear to.

"Bored." Because multibillionaire corporate CEOs really don't have enough to do in between world conquest/control/whatever the fuck Lex thinks he's doing these days and therefore, they need to stalk superheroes.

It's---weirdly appropriate.

"Bored. Very bored. Unbelievably bored. You have no idea." Lex kicks again, then tucks his hands in his pockets, glancing up at the sun from behind the slick sunglasses. "Much fun as this is, Clark, shade would be good here."

"I--" What? "Lex, I'm--"

"Resting, recharging, running, reminiscing, recording your last will and testament, and I don't really care. It's very hot, there's a very nice little overhang of rock right over there, and you can get all the sun you want while I quietly sweat to death." Lex smiles sunnily, and it's true, no one does utter outrageous quite like Lex. He wrote the book on unconventional probably before he could spell the word.

"You have a car..." At least, Clark assumes he does, but then again, he didn't actually see Lex until he was less than ten feet away, crossing blank sand like he was crossing a ballroom, slight swagger and all. A glance around confirms the presence of sand and not much else. But...there had to be a car, right? Helicopter. Plane. Train, horse, buggy, lightrail, subway, fuck, could be teleportation--this is Lex and if anybody's going to decide to rewrite physics for the masses of humanity, it would be him. "Lex. You--"

"You can talk to yourself right here if you want. I need shade." And Lex just turns and starts walking toward the rock, which is just....

"Lex." And Clark follows, which seems also strangely appropriate, but....

Privacy's always been his thing. He had his barn when he was young, the Fortress in the Arctic, and now he has the desert, where--he's no longer alone. Lex is here, and he shouldn't be, because Clark just destroyed his latest laboratory and about a billion in some seriously hi-tech equipment.

"Did you know," Lex says conversationally, glancing back over his shoulder without any surprise that Clark is following, "that certain tribes used to test the masculinity of their male offspring by leaving them in the desert for three days as children?"

"No." Clark wonders where on his body Lex keeps that encyclopedia of world knowledge that spouts out random historical facts like gum from the gumball machine in the mall. Insert a quarter or a minute, and Lex is in the historical zone, reciting off information that a Jeopardy contestant would envy.

Or--not so random.

"I like the concept." Lex smiles and ducks a little as he comes to the overhang, dropping neatly onto the ground, cross-legged, and utterly at ease. It's--disconcerting, to say the least. One long-fingered hand pulls the sunglasses off, blue eyes just as endlessly curious as Clark remembers.

"Survival of the fittest," Clark answers with a downturn of his mouth and comes to a stop a few feet away. "Figured as much."

A low laugh ripples in the air and damned if it doesn't sound genuine. "That's not why I remember it."

Lex tilts his head up, careless of mundanities like sitting while another man is standing, or multiple layers in one hundred and two degree heat. Clark's loving it, but Lex is formed for climate-controlled environments like cars and penthouses and large corporate buildings. Nothing about him indicates that he belongs in nature, even as a casual observer. There's a subtle wrongness in this entire situation that edges on being disorienting, but once upon a time, he watched Lex change personalities in less time than it took to draw a breath. Friend to enemy, snap of his fingers, and Clark would be more comfortable by far if he could really believe it *wasn't* as sudden as it had seemed then. That he'd been tricked by the image of what Lex seemed to be into believing what Lex wasn't. That--there *hadn't* been a point of change, synergy, something. Destiny's easier to deal with than the concept of chaos.

Easier, but easy answers are the stuff he leaves in Smallville, with his childhood; in Metropolis, with its simple black and whites; at the Fortress, with it's frighteningly familiar technology. Clark and Superman and Kal don't come out into sand to brood, which always gives Clark a headache if he thinks about it too long.

Which leaves the fact that neither does Lex, so he has to ask.

"What are you doing here?"

"Making a decision." Idly, Lex brushes faint traces of sand off his pants with deliberate strokes of his fingers. "It'd be easier if you'd sit down. Masculine alpha posturing doesn't work on me--my father did it better and he could back up his threat with action. The best you can do is carry people off to save them from themselves." Lex tilts his head further. "And let's face it, sans superpowers, you have all the dominance of a declawed kitten."

Clark lets his eyes narrow. "That's not fair."

"There's a revelation for the masses--go get a stone tablet and write it out." Lex leans back against the stone and grins a little. "I get the Fortress thing--solitude and the fact no one in their right mind would go up there for any reason short of stupidity. But the desert? You're taking your messiah complex to a new level of disturbing." Lex stretches his legs, absently loosening his tie, and it's more than annoying that he isn't even rumpled when any reasonable person would be. Lex sweats like he does everything else--a little too classy and a little too clean. Clark can't remember the last time he saw Lex dirty. If ever.

"This from the man who compares himself to Alexander the Great and Napoleon. Come on, Lex. You have your idiosyncrasies, I have mine."

He gets a smile that's all the confession Lex needs to give. Lex has never bothered to hide his ambition or his brilliance. It's just that Clark didn't always want to see.

Standing up is--just silly now, and Lex is right about the posturing thing. It's been years since either of them could really get a psychological edge over the other--too much familiarity and far too little, when it comes right down to it. Once close friends with secrets, now something like arch enemies with good manners, or maybe he's overthinking this again. He doesn't often--there just isn't time. The sand is hot and shifting beneath the denim of his jeans, and he wonders how Lex can look so comfortable in these temperatures dressed in Metropolitan business best.

But--Lex is here, and there has to be a better reason than boredom.

"Did you follow me?" Clark asks, though he's pretty sure he knows the answer to that one.

"Yes and no. Yes, I knew you were here, yes, I was looking for you, but no, I didn't specifically enter this particular desert for you. It would have taken too long to get to the Sahara and I like my fixes quick." Folding the tie neatly, Lex tucks it in his pocket and idly scratches beneath the still-buttoned collar of his shirt.


"Fixes." Strangely absent answer, though--not that Lex isn't paying attention, but more like he's phoning in this particular conversation from another plane entirely, and every glance over Clark's shoulder is making him more curious if one of Lex's little bodyguards is out there with a Kryptonite gun trained on his back.

It doesn't make sense, but then again, Clark's found that sense is a really overrated concept.

"What are you looking for?" Lex says suddenly, and Clark retrains his gaze on Lex--intense but not focused. Still not here, not really, but more here than five minutes ago, and it's like a itch against Clark's skin.


"When you come out here." Lex lets himself fall into a modified slump against the stone behind him, unbuttoning the collar of his shirt and revealing inches of very pale skin. Dangerously pale here, in the merciless yellow light, but he doesn't seem to notice. "Historically, people go into the desert to find enlightenment, or so that semester of history of religion seemed to imply. I'm not knocking your symbolism, but if you plan to come out bearded with some stone tablets muttering about end times, I'd like to be prepared."

Clark can't help cracking a grin.

"No. I just--like it." The huge blankness, like an empty tablet that no one would ever be able to spoil with words. He's tried to put it better than that before, but it always fall short. Heat. Light. Endless stark brightness, like bathing in pure energy, washing through his entire body, cleansing. Even Lex's presence can't quite take that away. "It's peace."

"It's the lack of life," Lex murmurs and Clark jerks at the sound of Lex's voice. He's staring over the endless ripples of tan-white with a strangely wistful expression that doesn't quite fit with the even voice or the mocking words. "Don't get technical with me--there's life in the desert, but it doesn't change. Eternal, unending peace, predictability." Lex's grin all bitter edges, wistfulness fading. "Static. In a thousand years, Metropolis might not even exist and our names forgotten, but this little incline of rock will still be here. We're deep enough in that there's a good chance no human but me has ever sat here before or ever will again."

"Now you're trying to be philosophical." There's an uncomfortable ring of--truth?--to Lex's words that Clark doesn't quite want to understand. "And deep, for that matter. That's new."

"Supervillians always have a secondary hobby." Lex grins a little at the air a foot in front of Clark. "Shakespeare, swordplay, swing dancing, hard science. Look it up. I picked history, but philosophy's been creeping up on me from time to time." Lex breathes out lightly and unfastens a second button. Soft material of a t-shirt beneath, whiter than Lex's skin.

"What about chemistry?" Clark answers. Lex is surprising him, and Clark was beginning to think that no one could ever surprise him again. Too many years of watching all the worst of humanity had--jaded him? No, he didn't like to say that, to believe it, but--it could be accurate enough.

"That's passion," Lex answers idly and another button down. "Different thing entirely."

"If you say so." This isn't going anywhere, but--Clark likes it. Random conversation in the desert. Enlightenment's had a great deal less to start it off.

Maybe the heat's getting to him.

"Lex?" When the blue eyes look up, there're here. Right here, right now, grounded and frighteningly sharp and lost. Utterly lost, and Clark shivers. Some half-forgotten Smallville-induced instinct to reach out and touch, but his fingers twitch in the sand instead. "Lex--what happened?"

The slow, bitter smile hurts to watch because it's familiar, and Clark hasn't seen that in years. It's intimate in the way only friends and lovers can look, calling up memories that don't really belong to Clark anymore, even if he wanted to claim them. Coffee, cars, promises, secrets, and there's that word destiny that pops up from time to time. Clark can remember his father's voice when he said it, remembers Lex's when he did, too.

"Tell me something, Clark," Lex says slowly, forming each word out of sand, gritty and raw and still so controlled. "What was watershed?"


"When did you realize you could do anything you wanted?"

There's a cold shiver that runs down Clark's spine, ending with a shock just at the base, spreading through his body.

"I didn't--I can't do anything." It's hard to say, and he's not sure why.

Lex grins, slower than he speaks. "That's how it's done? You lie to yourself? And here I thought you were all about honesty. My mistake." And--strangest thing of all, Lex is on his feet in a single, sandy movement that should look awkward because he has to duck from under the stone to get out, but it's just--not. Pulling his jacket off and dropping it on the sand without interest, absently unbuttoning another button as he glances around before putting on his sunglasses. A cell phone falls gracefully onto the sand and Clark feels like real-time has slowed down, since he can't seem to move. Lex is ten steps away when Clark grabs the soft silk blend from the ground and is in front of Lex before he can lift his foot for the eleventh.

Lex looks at him as if he's surprised Clark even exists outside his attention, which might explain a lot about how Lex thinks.

"Lex, you can't wander around the desert alone--" It's habit, because humans are some of the strangest creatures on earth when it comes to safety, and Lex is strangest of them all. Like he lives in a fucking bubble when that's just about the opposite--even surrounded with bodyguards and people paid specifically to keep him alive, Lex falls into trouble actively when he isn't creating it himself. He's always on hand for his lab explosions and his projects when they go wrong, like his instinct tells him just when disaster has to hit so he can be at ground zero. It's--frustrating to be up against a supervillian that you occasionally have to save from himself. More frustrating when there's no way you can ever even want to stop doing it.

"Don't worry, Clark," he answers a little absently, glancing at the coat with a sort of semi-blankness that's--this is disconcerting. "Run along." He takes a step and Clark reaches out, grabbing a hard shoulder, not even meaning to. "I have things to do."

"What things?" It's--funny and strange and sort of scary, and why *isn't* Lex back at LexCorp headquarters brooding and plotting revenge of some kind, or God, maybe fucking his way through another group of recent debutantes who have an eye toward being the next Mrs. Luthor? He's not--this feels wrong, and Clark--

--is trying very, very hard to drag Superman in to help, but it's not happening by a long shot, Superman doesn't like Lex, one, and two, he left him in Metropolis. Fuck. Fuck.

"Lex, this is the desert. You're alone. You're--" It's like a snap, but so unlikely that it has to be wrong. "Lex, are you...." And he should have thought of it, but a quick scan and it shows up, neatly against the small of Lex's back. Slim and invisible with the exquisitely tailored cut of his shirts, but that's a holster and Lex is alone.

Lex tilts his head, grinning a little. There are so many edges that Clark wonders how Lex keeps from drawing blood every time he moves his mouth.

"I'm trying to answer a question and you're interrupting. Frankly, I thought you'd be a hell of a lot more helpful, but hey, the differences between you in adolescence and adulthood isn't so much after all."

"What's that supposed to mean?" This isn't happening. Mouth gone dry and the air seems too hot, too dry now.

"Which part?" Almost negligently, Lex shakes himself free of Clark's hand and he just--keeps walking. Distantly, there's outcroppings of rock, and Lex has got to have a back-up plan, this makes no sense at all, and he--

--"When did you realize you could do anything you wanted?"--

Clark draws in a breath.

"Lex, what did you do?" A thousand possibilities flash through his mind, too fast, too slow, too possible, too unlikely, and he wants to take to the air and start scanning everywhere, now, because--oh God.

He's missed something.

Lex turns a little and the sunglasses come off in a single quick motion, blue eyes staring back into Clark like he can see straight into his head and that's--too familiar. Too close. Not the man he fights coming on ten very very annoying years, but the guy who drove a Porsche off a bridge into his life, who looked at him in wonder with the first breath of waterless air, and that man is supposed to be an illusion.

"You'll know in just about--" Lex stops glancing at his watch, like this is actually on a timer, and he remembers that Lex almost always sets his own bombs. "--forty-eight hours." Lex's smile is very real. "It's appropriate to ask this here, I think. Is it moral to kill someone you know can destroy the world in less time than it takes for FedEx to send you a package?"

"Lex--" He can't think through this. He shouldn't have to. No one should.

"You either?" And Lex sounds sympathetic, which is more insane than anything that's happened yet, and Clark feels the soft silk of the jacket begin to fray between his fingers, grip uncontrolled like it hasn't been in--God, how many years? "Looks like I'm not the only one wandering in the desert looking for answers. Get back to me when you have one."

the end

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to jenn

Also, why not join Level Three, the Smallville all-fic list?


Level Three Records Room