Author Notes: Beth for the beta and corrections. Meret and Erika for corrections and comments as well.
Archiving: Hazardous, L3, glass_onion, otherwise ask
Feedback: Like double caffeinated coffee, leaped at.
Disclaimer: I do not own them, etc etc etc.
The Talon was cold when she came in for work. It only got colder as the night went on.
Maybe something vaguely to do with the newly installed air conditioning that she and Nell were still fiddling with, trying to find that elusive temperature that meant comfortable. Whitney always said she hadn't been born for Kansas winters and that was true, a lot more true than probably he'd meant, but she liked her layers, always had. Not quite a way to hide, but more of a way to defend these days, and she was feeling more defensive by the layer, t-shirt and sweater and light coat thrown over it all. Dark skirt that touched her knees, tights underneath, and she'd be in jeans if it had been appropriate as hostess that night.
More people were watching her legs than ever before, and it made her clumsy, like the first time she'd carried a tray at the Beanery. Or maybe--just maybe, comforting and frightening thought--she was just noticing it for the first time.
Her thigh hit the side of another table and she mumbled an apology when their drinks rattled on the wood, smile frozen into the lines of her face.
Whitney's friends were in the corner, hovering over basic coffee, and she chose not to think about what they were talking about--smiles that flashed quick and bright when she refilled their cups, changing when she turned away. Nell wasn't commenting, but then again, Nell might not have noticed.
She wasn't here now, so it didn't matter either way.
So it was a relief when closing time came and they ushered themselves out. Head down, stacking the cups, feeling the burn of heat on her face when their eyes lingered too long, and she forced herself to keep still, bending only when she needed to, and God, she'd do anything, anything at all, to go back forty-eight hours and be a princess again.
"Are you all right?"
Lana jerked around, almost spilling the remainder of coffee in the mug she'd been staring into. A hand on her arm steadied her, but at the same time, she couldn't help the instinctive flinch, and the fingers dropped instantly Heat burned into her skin again and when she looked up, Lex was watching her with his most blank expression.
"I'm sorry." Very cool, and he removed the mug from her trembling fingers, somehow managing not to touch her at all in the process.
God, this was so--she shook herself quickly and pushed back a strand of hair.
"Sorry," she whispered, trying on a smile and tossing it out in hopes it looked more real than it felt. "Just--"
"Long day?" A tiny hint of warmth touched his voice, and she looked up carefully, but Lex had relaxed. With a little shrug, he reached around her to pick up the other mugs, and it took everything in her not to jerk away.
Lex read body language by instinct--she'd noticed it before, wondered just a little on its origin, but the blue eyes flickered up and caught hers. Whatever he read there--and God knew, she couldn't hide an emotion if her life depended on it--made him move, sliding by to push the chair near her out and jerked his head to it.
"Sit down. I'll be right back."
Humiliation took a backseat to simply giving in, and she leaned an elbow into the table, shutting her eyes. The quiet, comforting noises of the kitchen were muted as Lex put the mugs aside, and she could hear him pick up the towel that she must have dropped. Light movement of air as he sat down beside her and a cup was pushed gently toward her elbow.
She couldn't look at him--somewhere in her was the dawning realization that she might see it in his eyes, too.
"I--thanks. I'm sorry." She wondered if her blush was covering her entire body and not just her face. Overheated skin and the edges of sweat, and comfortable she was not. There was the vague thought she might never be again.
"Don't be. Drink that."
She picked it up without thinking, taking a long drink of coffee, the better to avoid conversation, and tasted the edge of hard alcohol. Her body stiffened, she knew it, but she forced it down. She could see Lex in her peripheral vision leaning back in the chair beside her. Watching her again with that intense expression that was somehow both curiosity and--
--and God knew what else, Lex was about as readable as Chinese to her.
The warmth from the coffee penetrated to her toes. She was relaxing whether she wanted to or not.
She let the taste sit on her tongue and, for the first time, thought about it. Really thought about it, about everything that she'd been pretty much sublimating to keep some sort of control. Pink sweaters and long skirts, walking through school with the awareness of eyes that were imagining something black and stretchy, her hand digging into Whitney's; it was as if she really was just that fairy-princess-girl again, needing someone, anyone, to take care of her.
She'd gotten what she'd wanted, though--no one looked at her like a princess anymore.
"Just--long." She took another sip of the coffee. "What--"
"Rum. Very light, don't worry." Impersonal and so neutral, very Lex. Maybe... She looked up, and it was something--something--that he didn't look at her like that. She was just Lana, an employee having a quiet breakdown in the Talon.
It shouldn't comfort her, but it did.
"Lana?" The clear gaze always seemed to look through her--looking for God knew what, she'd never quite figured it out. Something to do with Clark, she often thought--the long, studying glances that tried to see what Clark saw and never had. Or she could be overthinking--it wouldn't be the first time.
"I'm fine," she said, and she almost meant it, really meant it.
"So I can see," Lex answered dryly. "Finish the coffee and I'll drive you home." He shifted back into her employer again, and Lana nodded shortly, letting her hair fall to obscure her profile from him. "I have the altered receipts from when you closed the Talon early--you might need to have Nell double check...." She didn't hear the rest, tuning out the sound of his voice and shutting her eyes.
"Lex." She had to ask. She hadn't before--the car and the Talon's closing had been pretty self-explanatory, and she'd wondered briefly if she should volunteer to have his car detailed for him. But. "Lex, did anything else happen when I closed the Talon and borrowed your car?"
She was looking at him now, caught the very faint edges of--something. Something that was like the looks in the hall, on the street, waiting tables, not quite the same, but close enough.
Discomfort won in the time it took for her to draw a breath, before Lex was very much Lex again, and God, she wished she hadn't asked.
She'd love to believe that. Clenching her fingers on the mug, she took a deep breath and looked up.
"Just--tell me. Okay?" Clark and Whitney's discomfort had been kind of funny, but--Lex was different. He was her employer and Clark's friend, and she--God, what had she done, anyway?
"You closed down the Talon and took my car keys." The amused smirk was supposed to keep her at a distance, but it--didn't quite reach everywhere. Lex was too good at control to slip up easily, so it had to be--
"God, did I--" A few thousand possibilities flashed through her mind, one after the other, each worst than the last. Bright red lace underwear on her bedroom floor, that skirt, that thick, musky scent that clung to her clothes, Nell's perfume she never ever would have chosen to use. "Did I--did we--" No. No, but that look was there, a ghost of the one she saw on the guys' faces at school, even Clark. Like they knew something about her, something secret, something.... "Lex--"
"No." It dropped like a rock, cold between them, carefully edged with something she couldn't identify. "I never touched you. Ever."
Blinking, she drew back into her seat, fixing her gaze on the table. Her hands shook around the mug, hard enough to splash her wrist with lukewarm coffee. Of course he wouldn't, especially after Amy, and maybe it didn't say much about her, that she was thinking.... "I'm sorry. I didn't mean--"
"Of course you didn't." But he didn't believe her, and the sharp sound of the chair being pushed back wasn't enough to make her look up. "Are you ready to go home?" And the cool, utterly impersonal voice of her employer shocked her back into the room. She hastily gulped down the coffee, nodding quickly and finding her feet.
Lex opened the door for her to emerge outside, but the distance between them was measurable in miles.
She knew he was avoiding her.
He'd show up only when she was waiting tables, when she was wrapped up in doing something, anytime she was very occupied. The answer to her question probably could have been answered prettily easily just on circumstantial evidence.
Never alone with her. Never around at any time that he could talk to her without witnesses. Clark or Nell were the best possible chaperones, she supposed, and her face heated up every time she thought about it. And--it might have been only now that she was noticing this wasn't new behavior.
She--must have done something. Something uncomfortable enough to make Lex keep a wide distance between them. That--didn't help.
Whitney--well, he didn't act so differently, but his dad was sick, and he'd dismissed all the weirdness for real life problems, thank God. Clark--Clark was still Clark, watching her when he thought she wasn't looking, and while it was warming on some level, it also felt--different. Like when his eyes fixed on her chest when they were talking--only for a few seconds, Clark was a nice guy. But. Long enough. Long enough to make her blush, stammer, and wonder if he was thinking about what color her underwear was.
The same look that flickered across too many faces when they saw her, like they knew about the red underwear stashed in the back of her dresser that she couldn't quite bring herself to throw away, no matter how much she wanted to.
"Lana, it's nearly April. I think you can stop wearing the long sleeves, honey."
Jerking, Lana almost dropped the coffeepot, blinking in surprise at Nell, who was watching her with curiosity from the other side of the counter. Almost defensively, her fingers ran up the soft cashmere sleeve, fingering the material at her elbow before pushing a lock of hair behind her ear and shaking her head.
"It gets cold in the Talon," she answered carefully, and Nell frowned, tilting her head. Over her shoulder, Lana saw Lex had put down his newspaper, glancing out the front of the Talon like he was expecting someone, but his head turned around at the sound of their voices, fixing on them briefly with a line cut between his eyebrows. Jerking her gaze to the coffeepot, Lana turned away, feeling a blush heat up her face.
"Honey, we can adjust the thermostat," Nell said, gently touching her arm. Lana jerked without even thinking--reactive, she knew, but Lex was still looking at her, and she couldn't quite bring herself to want to be touched while she felt like this.
The calm brown eyes of her aunt widened.
"Is everything okay, Lana?" she said, and the honest worry was close to bringing the words out. Words she wasn't even sure how to say, that lingered on the back of her tongue and stuck to the roof of her mouth.
"I'm fine," she murmured, putting the coffee cup down before Nell saw how her hands were shaking. "Really. I just--"
"She probably needs a break," came Lex's voice, very smoothly cutting between them. "Can one of the other girls take over for Lana? She's been working double shifts after school since the Talon opened."
Nell nodded slowly.
"Why don't you go home honey?" she said, very gently. At least she didn't try to touch her again. "Take a little break."
Lana opened her mouth to protest, but Nell was smiling at Lex. Not a huge surprise there--Nell liked Lex. And he was at his charming best, chatting with Nell now about something related to business, and she was pretty much dismissed. Go home, be good, get over it, put it out of your mind. God, she wished.
Pulling off the apron, Lana let it drop, then reconsidered and picked it up, folding it neatly and placing it under the counter. Wiping her palms on the thighs of her jeans, she grabbed her jacket off the hook on the wall and circled the counter.
She was almost to the door when Lex's voice stopped her. "Wait a moment, Lana." He said something to her aunt that made her smile again, wide and sweet, before he nodded, returning to his table and grabbing his keys and the newspaper. Blinking, Lana pressed a hand to the door, breathing out a little when Lex came up and stopped about a foot away. Very careful and very obvious in giving her space.
"What?" And she knew she sounded wary and couldn't help it. A muscle in Lex's jaw tightened briefly, but that disappeared. So did the smile, leaving him looking--very tired.
"I'm taking you to dinner. I already asked your aunt." He made it sound like an order, and something in her stiffened. "Don't argue. Just go outside and try not to look like you expect me to assault you the second your back is turned."
What? Pushing the door open, Lana stepped outside blankly, feeling the light April breeze run over her skin, making her shiver. She began to pull on her jacket, but Lex stopped her, catching the leather between his fingers, and managed it without coming close to touching her.
"I--don't think that." And she was honest, at least.
"You could have fooled me." He crossed in front of her in smooth, controlled movements that were better than open anger at showing the state of his mind. Lex was all about control, hiding things, while Whitney and Clark were an open book of action/reaction, but the familiarity with both had taught her how to read them at least a little.
Though come to think of it, that was a pretty recent development.
Lex opened the passenger side of the car first, those impeccable manners that kept Nell hinting how much she liked Lex and what a nice young man he was. It made her smile as she slid inside, tucking her jacket over her legs when Lex closed the door. It was a brief few minutes surrounded with the smell of leather and new car before Lex was sitting beside her, at his impassive best, turning the key and shifting into gear with ruthlessly controlled movements that reminded her that, yes, he was angry.
"I don't think that," she said, when they were on the road, and Lex wasn't shifting ever few seconds. The look on his face was calm, like he was used to carting high school kids around--oh right, he was, and Lana noted, for the first time, that the thing pressing into her foot was a chemistry textbook and that she'd kicked a highlighter. Clark's own kind of fingerprints, she thought, and gave Lex a quick sidelong glance. "I'm sorry you thought--"
"I didn't think. I know." There was a tight edge to his voice that made her blink, and all the muscles in her body tensed up as they left downtown. No reason to do that, she trusted Lex, Nell trusted Lex, and Nell didn't even really trust Whitney, or Clark of all people.
Swallowing hard, she closed her hands over the edges of the seat and concentrated on the road.
"It's not true."
"That's why you're boring holes in that seat with your fingers," Lex answered, and she hadn't even seen him look over at her. Never once felt those looks that men gave her, and she sucked in a breath, letting it out suddenly when they left town, and that's when Lex pulled over abruptly, stopping the car.
Lana's heart was pounding so loud that she couldn't even hear the engine anymore, and it was--getting dark. Outside.
"Take me home." Forced between clenched teeth.
"Look at me."
If she looked, she might see--something. She was alone, no Whitney or Nell between her and--this. What this? What the hell was going on with her?
"Lana." Softer voice, but the steel underneath was as obvious as the fact he'd removed the key from the ignition. But he never touched her, and every second, she kept expecting him to. "Lana, look at me."
It was an act of pure will, that made her turn, look, and there was--nothing there. Nothing she could read, anyway, not even concern. Blank cool efficiency, like he was dealing with a recalcitrant engine or an unusually difficult part of a negotiation and was trying to think through ways to make it do as he wished.
"Roll up your sleeves."
It was the most bizarre request possible, and she blinked, her mouth falling open to ask why. Her arms automatically crossed over her chest, and Lex's eyes flickered down, making her flush. Remembering every time Clark talked to her, or Pete, and how they did that and didn't even mean to, she knew that. How other people, other guys sometimes did it too, and it was weird, she'd always known guys did that, but now....
"Lana, now. Up to the elbow."
Her mouth was dry.
"Why?" It was coughed out, and he just reached out, slowly, so she could see him do it. Frighteningly unthreatening as those gloved fingers got closer and gently took her wrist. And the gentleness, the way he held her hand with such casual indifference, made her let him. Impersonally, he rolled the sleeves back and she watched his eyes scan her forearm for a few long minutes, turning it carefully to check the lighter skin underneath. Then, just as slowly, he rolled her sleeve back down, and took the other.
It wasn't--threatening, she thought. But it still felt strange with those careful brushes of leather against her skin. Not as disconcerting as bare fingers.
"I don't suppose you remember Rickman, do you?" Lex said, and it was apropos of nothing, so much so that she frowned.
"The--guy who tried to buy the Kent farm?" She knew how confused she sounded, but Lex seemed to think it was a step in the right direction. "I--he was--Clark told me he was found dead at a gas station." Frowning, she went over the memories of that uncomfortable time--Whitney and Kyle and the things she and Clark had said to each other. His faith in a guy he barely knew, over Whitney, and that still had the power to piss her off a little.
"Did Clark tell you anything else?" There was something strangely--fragile in his voice now. Guarded, but not necessarily against her, and the novelty made her relax into the seat.
"A--little." Chloe had told her more. "He--made people do things. Like Mr. Kent selling the farm." Which was probably the best argument for Chloe's hints being true, and she fingered her sleeve, looking down to see someone's mechanical pencil stuck between the seats.
"Yes. He did." There was a pause that took several long minutes, like he was measuring things, trying to find a way to tell her something. "I--was affected."
That made her sit up. "What?" Selling his shares in LuthorCorp? Why would Rickman--
"He--made me do something. However the fuck he did it." There was real bitterness in his voice, and an edge she couldn't identify.
"Do--" She stopped--instinct was screaming, and the impassive cool look was gone, replaced with something very, very blank. A trained look, that she remembered from the very few times she'd seen Lex around his father. "What was it?"
"I don't know." There was a second where she didn't understand. But. Oh.
"He was one of the--people who had something happen? To him?" Like the other people around town, and she wasn't that out of it. "The ones who do--stuff?" How--God, how adolescent, and she flushed. Around Lex, she didn't like to feel that way.
"More or less. I'm not entirely sure." Lex stopped short, and this was taking effort, she could see it. "I--knew something had happened. One of my cars was--unfortunately destroyed." A bitter smile turned up the corner of his mouth. "Clark wouldn't tell me what I did."
"Clark was there?" That--made sense. Clark was always there, it was barely a blip on the radar anymore.
"Yes. He was." There, and Lana put the pieces together, what Lex wasn't quite willing to actually say. He'd done something he didn't remember, and he'd done it to Clark. A short breath later, she looked at him, watching the way his eyes fixed out the windshield like he was trying to remember.
"You--feel it though." Like an itch in the depths of her mind, and all the things possible to have happened. God, so many.
"Yes. Every day. I--finally got him to tell me a little. Not as much as I think happened, but it helped. He said I hadn't done anything that changed anything between us." A hesitation. "He told you the same thing, didn't he?"
"More or less." But--she thought, even now, about the way his eyes didn't quite meet hers sometimes, the way he so carefully kept from touching her-- "Whitney said I just broke up with him. And Clark--said nothing happened. But--" But there were other things. Like a remembered taste of whipped cream and chlorine. The smudge of lipstick on her shoulder that she'd seen in the hospital, the bright, deep red that Nell used. She couldn't have done that with her own mouth.
And sometimes, when she looked at Clark, she felt--other things. Like the memory of his voice, low and husky, and how his mouth felt, when she couldn't know that. She knew how Whitney felt, but--
"Clark thinks he's protecting us," Lex said calmly, and it felt a little strange to class herself with Lex Luthor in anything, but--that was about right. He did. He didn't know--he didn't know how it made her stop when she walked by the swimming pool. How there were chlorine stains on the red underwear that made her flush just thinking about them. How--other people looked at her.
"You don't like it."
"I don't like not knowing things," Lex answered shortly, and she looked back at him. "Clark's father was much more forthcoming."
Oh God. She winced, not even meaning to, and Lex must have caught it from the corner of his eye, because the little smile was lightly mocking--of himself, of Jonathan Kent, of the world maybe. "That--couldn't have been comfortable."
"No, but it was enlightening, to say the least." There was a lot of irony in his voice, but for what she wasn't sure.
"It helped?" God, she'd give anything for those memories back. Anything at all.
"It did." The pause was very telling, and she looked up, just in time to catch the wicked sparkle in very blue eyes. "You stripped down to your underwear and went swimming, then kissed Clark. You flirted with me in the Talon and stole my car. Feel better?"
Whoa. The words were blunt and easy, quick, and sank inside of her for later mulling and mortification, but for now--the sheer relief was enough. Swimming pool chlorine, touching Clark, and whipped cream--whipped cream--
"Did I use condiments during this--"
"Yes." There, he grinned then, and it wasn't uncomfortable or searching, but simply amused, a memory that he probably laughed over. She felt the blush start at the top of her head and work its way down, and he laughed, soft and amused, nothing to hurt her. "It could have been worse. It could have been my father."
"Oh God," she heard herself whisper, and then the laughter came. Freeing, somehow, starting deep in her chest and flowing right down to her feet, and she leaned back into the seat, feeling it come out in shocked bursts, and it shouldn't make her feel better, but it did. Just--knowing. Kissed Clark in her--underwear, and flirted with Lex. Nothing that ended the world, nothing that her restrained fantasy life hadn't dragged up once in awhile and given her a few brief glimpses of, and the tears in her eyes didn't surprise her at all. Grinning, she wiped them away and Lex was watching her with barely concealed satisfaction.
Utterly humiliated, yes, but at least she knew. Taking a breath to calm herself down, she grinned and looked at him. "I--thanks. That--couldn't have been easy."
"I've come to expect underage girls hitting on me," Lex answered with admirable calm, but she could see the twitch at the corner of his mouth. "You're safe with me, Lana. I promise. And with Clark."
"I--" Should have known that. Should have, and didn't, and she pushed the sleeves of her shirt up, glancing down, suddenly remembering. "Why--"
"People react oddly to stress. I wanted to make sure you weren't--hiding anything." Now discomfort, but not hostile, not at all, and she stroked her arm, trying to figure out what he wouldn't quite say.
"Oh." Okay.. That made--sense. And in some way, was kind of--comforting. That he'd worried that much, even if was just on Clark's behalf. "Thanks."
"Ready for dinner?" He was starting the car again, completely normal, and she wondered how he did that.
"Know any good places?"
"A place Clark made me take him a few weeks ago," Lex said, and she felt the textbook against her foot again, for no reason she could think of. "Burger Barn? Some bucolic name with a lot of grease."
"Mandy's," Lana answered with a grin. "Yeah. He'd live there if he could."
"I noticed they never actually asked him what he was ordering, so I suppose that must be true." Putting the car into gear, Lex turned them around easily, and it was clear that whatever tension had been between them was gone. "I told Nell I'd have you home before eleven."
"Wow." At his curious look, she caught herself. "Whitney only gets until nine on school nights."
"I'm very persuasive. Be a good girl and I'll buy you ice cream after." The smirk was back, and things were--well, normal again. As normal as they got, anyway. She darted a thoughtful look at him from under her lashes.
"I'm not a kid, Lex."
There--a quick flicker of something she couldn't quite read, gone before identification was possible.
"Yes, Lana, you are."
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