"He's very good."
"He's brilliant." Lionel never looked at Nell. Standing behind the boards of the polo field, he kept his appraising gaze on his son, watching him tear down the field- stick in hand and bearing down hard on the Argentine bay. The earthy scent of torn grass and horseflesh lingered in the air, washed around in lazy currents when the ponies thundered past. Lionel flattened his smile to resigned amusement when Lex shouldered his opponent, raring back in the saddle to appeal for a foul he'd deliberately manufactured. "But undisciplined. He could be a four goaler if he applied himself."
When the umpire whistled to break play, Lionel caught Lex's gaze, drawing him over with crooked fingers.
Cantering up to the boards, Lex reined the horse in only enough to half-still it. The bay mare snorted, throwing her head back and hoofing at the ground. "Enjoying the match?"
"Sportsmanship, not showmanship, Lex." Lionel reached out to smooth a hand along the mare's flank, as if to apologize to the steed for having such a reckless rider. "This is not a circus."
Flippant, Lex stroked the mare's neck with his crop, turning her in a lazy half-circle, out of his father's reach. "Thanks for the tip. I'd considered taking up fire breathing in my spare time, but you've got that pretty much covered." He let his attention fall on his father's companion. "What do you think, Ms. Potter? Am I ready for the big top?"
Nell held the edge of her hat, laughing and shaking her head. "Oh no, I'm not picking a side."
"That's a shame. My father prefers an ally with unwavering loyalty." Whipping his head around at the sound of the whistle, Lex straightened in the saddle and turned to head back.
Calling after him, Lionel didn't need to raise his voice to be heard. "I expect you to play to win, son."
Underneath the helmet, shadows gathered to darken Lex's pale features, catching the subtler hints of defiance that played on his brow. Hooking the stick over his shoulder, he stood up in the stirrups and geed the horse with his knees. Arms spread out wide, jouncing smoothly to match the horse's gait, Lex made a pretty, obscene picture cutting across the staid field.
Lionel sighed. "Undisciplined."
Laughing, Clark dropped off the tips of his toes, shaking a handful of red and yellow crepe paper in frustration. The streamers coiled down his arm, and sashed across his chest, drawing him festive to match the rest of the gym. All around him, posters and hand-painted signs competed to catch the eye, urging the good citizens of Smallville to buy raffle tickets, or a handmade sweater, or a peach pie to replace the lights on Main Street. "I'm tall, mom, but I'm not that tall."
Martha crossed her arms over her chest, considering the problem. "If we put the tape on first, you could jump." Catching the impish glint to Clark's smile, she added, "Just a little."
"That's no fun," Clark said, shuffling through a sea of crepe paper as he scanned the gym. It didn't take long for his eyes to fall on Lana, shuffling with heavy shoulders to rearrange the spread of flowers on her aunt's display.
Riotous lilies and orchids swayed beneath her fingers, bending their tawdry heads at her touch. She was perfection, almost a bride among all those blooms, and it took several snaps from Martha to drag Clark's attention back to the present. A faint blush stained his cheeks, softening his smile to sheepish. "Sorry."
"Did you enjoy your vacation?" Teasing, Martha glanced over her shoulder, though she didn't have to. She knew her son. "I think Nell might have a stepladder over there. Why don't you go see if we can borrow it?"
Swallowing soft laughter, she watched as he shook off the crepe paper with a bounce and hit mid-court practically before the words were out of her mouth. Her own cheeks colored when a broad hand smoothed over the small of her back, and she leaned into Jonathan's arms. "It's just a little thing."
Jonathan rubbed his cheek against Martha's, trying not to wince when Clark stumbled. "He'll grow into those feet eventually."
They watched Clark fumble, stumbling like a new colt while he tried to maneuver borrowing a stepladder into an actual conversation. From how quickly Lana offered up its use, and Clark's dejected slump when she turned away, it was plain that he'd failed. Nostalgia touched the edges of Martha's smile. "Maybe we should invite them over for dinner. We're neighbors, it would be a... friendly gesture."
Incredulous, Jonathan peered over her shoulder. "Very friendly, considering..."
"I can put aside my differences for the greater good," Martha said, and she squinted with the effort of making it sound like the truth.
Beyond the stables, the Spice Girls informed someone what they really, really wanted was a zigazig ha while Lex worked on getting it in the third empty stall from the back. He traded open-mouthed kisses that tasted of hay dust and sweat with the number three man on the polo team. Sprawled out on a wool blanket, they struggled with tight riding pants, trying to get their hands around each other's cocks. It wasn't romanticit was barely erotic.
They did this almost every day during chambers, Lex making a leisurely stroll from his physics class, Colin tearing across campus to arrive sweaty and breathless from divinity. A few wet, clumsy kisses as a prelude to graceless fucking, it hadn't taken long for the horses to get used to the moans and thumping. The horses stamped their hooves, snorting and jostling against their stalls to cover up whatever noise Lex couldn't squelch by putting a hand over Colin's mouth.
Whispered encouragements blended with the rustle of dry straw beneath them- come on hurry yeah like that. Past breeches and boxers, they forgot to kiss, instead pressing their foreheads together and sharing hot breath, grinding with uneven strokes. Heat robed them by degrees, drawing sweat to sharpen the scent of sex and horseflesh when they finally fell to a familiar rhythm.
Lex moved faster, ruthless in his strokes, fingers knotted in Colin's hair and urging him to come. He was easy really, all Lex had to do was concentrate enough to murmur a few choice words in his ear, remember when I fucked you in the chapel? And Colin spilled out on his hand, sticky-sweet and slick. That kind of power thrummed like spiced wine through Lex's veins, and once Colin got off, Lex didn't have to think anymore. He sank into the straw ticking, lips parted to taste the sky or clumsy kisses, and thrust into Colin's fist.
It could have been anyone's hand: slightly rough, grasping tight and anxious to please, any pretty green eyes and dark, close-cropped hair- Lex had definitely developed a type. He'd been jacked by china-doll girls with narrow hips and apple-bud breasts, rugby boys who tasted of leather and earth, and a handful of razored androgynes in the back rooms of various clubs. Even Colin's sister hadn't escaped his grasp, he'd caught her Winter Formal last in a confectionary gown they'd stained. She had a talent for kissing; her brother gave better head.
Muscles starting to coil with tension, Lex lifted his head to bite Colin's lower lip, but found himself snapping nothing instead. Propping himself on an elbow, it only took Lex a moment to figure out why Colin had pulled away. Her shadow came first, followed by a flash of gauzy pink, then finally, Nell Potter's face.
She didn't see them at first, more interested in the various tackles hanging from hooks, but she looked over when Lex flopped back on the blanket, careless and obvious in his pose. Too startled to say anything, Nell averted her gaze as Lex stroked Colin's back with a lazy hand, and when she slipped away, she was the one blushing.
"You really are mad," Colin said, jerking himself to his feet. "She saw us, you know."
Draping his arm over his forehead, Lex just smiled. "So? She's only here because she's fucking my father, she doesn't have much room to talk."
Colin yanked his waistcoat off the side of the stall. "Well, she's not fucking mine!"
"That could probably be arranged."
Lex covered his face and laughed when Colin kicked a rain of hay at him before stalking out of the stables.
Clark thought about a lot of things in the Fortress of Solitude. Sometimes he thought about how it was a kind of stupid name for a converted barn loft, but cool that his dad had gone to all the trouble to set it up. It was sort of like having his own apartment, if apartments came without doors. If he really wanted to, he could entertain there- he had a couch, plenty of room to move, and he only needed two extension cords to plug in a CD player or a portable tv.
At the moment though, the Fortress was a "No Girls" zone, and had been ever since Chloe made fun of his couch. Maybe, with a lot of begging, she might be allowed to stand on the top step and watch if Clark had a huge party, and if she were properly apologetic, he might even give her a glass of punch. But only maybe, and besides, the biggest party Clark had had was the day Pete brought over the Playboys he had filched from a shoe box under his brother's bedprobably not the kind of party Chloe would be interested in witnessing.
Then again, maybe she would be. Chloe was... well, weird. She never went anywhere without a camera, and she liked to take pictures of people when they weren't expecting it. She also liked to kiss people just to get it out of the way, and that was possibly weirder than her paparazzi fetish. In fact, that sudden peck on the mouth, more collision than kiss, kept replaying in Clark's head at the really bad times. Like, incredibly bad times, like when he was taking the whole solitude thing extra-seriously, his jeans unzipped and hitched down just enough that he could work his hand into his boxers. All-the-way-naked solitude, he saved for the shower, since there were actual doors in the house and all, but Chloe managed to mess that up, too.
He liked to think about dark hair and slanted eyes, glossy lips and sometimes a hint of cleavage, but ever since Chloe planted one on him, she kept showing up. At the worst possible time, too, when he was painfully hard and halfarched off the couch, and it wasn't that he didn't think she was pretty, but... she was his friend. How was he supposed to do the solitude thing thinking about her, and then actually have to face her over coffee the next day? She was a reporter. Sometimes, she seemed practically psychic- she'd notice if he'd been thinking thoughts about her.
Way easier to think about... the girl next door, soft and pretty, and looking at him as if he were a first stringer, and he wasn't even sure he knew what her voice sounded like, but in his head, it sounded amazing when she said, "I want you, Clark." He could be anything with her, in his head anyway. Not clumsy, not a dork, and she was exactly what she was: gorgeous and perfect and untouchable. Okay, maybe he touched, just a little, maybe he even thought bad things about her mouth when he came, but at least he felt a little guilty about it.
And if he wanted to, he could do it two or three more times before his mom called him in for dinner. So the name was a little dumb, but the solitude itself? That was pretty good.
Lionel Luthor was not a large man, but he managed to fill up Lex's room with a feral smile and disdainful arch of brows. Decked out in a dark, formal coat too hot for summer, he surveyed the walls and bookshelves, leaving a snap of broadcloth in his wake. Stopping to read the distressedgrunge typography on a club poster, he made a low sound in his throat, then cast his gaze at his son. "This is how you spend your free time?"
"Some of it." Sprawling on the bed, Lex worked a glass paperweight back and forth between his fingers. If he gazed into the curve, he could see his father, funhouse stretched in a leering caricature of himself. If he turned it another way, he caught tiny rainbows against the tips of his fingers and his own upside-down smirk. "Sometimes, it's just easier to get drunk at the pub in town."
Turning to lean against Lex's desk, Lionel followed the motion of the paperweight with his eyes. "If you're trying bait me, you won't succeed."
"What if I'm trying to get you to leave?" Lex offered his best Mona Lisa smile.
"That is the attitude that mires you in mediocrity, Lex." Crossing the room, Lionel caught Lex's wrist, pressing his thumb against the nerve to uncurl his fingers. The paperweight fell, and rolled across the bed. "I expect more of you. You should expect more of yourself."
Lex narrowed his eyes and pulled his wrist from Lionel's grasp. He pushed off the bed, rubbing his hand over the lingering pressure of his touch. "You can't always get what you want. Jagger, not Whitman, but I think he makes his point."
Reaching into his coat pocket, Lionel pulled a flashing ring of keys from it. He dangled them like a pendulum between them, raising his brows at the same dangerous angle of his smile. "But you just might find you get what you need." With a quick snap, Lionel separated the ring from the fob, tossing the latter.
Turning the leather-clad Porsche crest over in his hand, Lex glanced at and glowered. Silent, he flattened his mouth to a tight, restrained line. "What's this?"
"Your reward for excellent marks this term. These..." Lionel jingled the keys, already starting for the door. "Will be waiting when you get home."
Lex didn't bother pointing out he wouldn't he home for another three months. He just slid his hands into his pockets, tipping his head back with an imperious frown to watch his father leave. "Thanks."
Already halfway out the door, Lionel jingled the keys again, and turned back. "By the way, it's a shame about your friend Colin. But as I understand it, Greenmount is a fine, fine school, he should do well there. Perhaps you can write one another when you have the time."
It was fortuitous Lex only had the fob to throw at the door when it closed. It would have been three demerits if he'd damaged it with the paperweight.
Things Clark Kent had planned for freshman year: Make the football team, say more than two words to Lana Lang, attend some parties, have a party, and figure out what the heck Nietzsche meant when he said "If one is something one really does not need to make anything- and one nonetheless does very much."
Things Clark Kent hadn't planned for freshman year: Get hit by a car, get strung up in a field by the actual football team, watch a childhood buddy turn into a bug, or turn out to be a floating, invulnerable alien. So far his real to do list had gone pretty much undone, and he felt heavier than usual when he crept across the yard to the storm cellar.
He was only a little grateful that he wasn't dead. He should have been, three or four times now, but it had taken maybe a week and a half for his gifts to turn into a cloak of freakitude- so much for normal. The stairs creaked under his (big weird alien) feet, and he only had to squint (with his weird alien eyes) a little to see in the dark. Right now, a lump covered in a tarp, thirteen years ago, the biggest "meteor" to hit Smallville.
Catching his fingers in the cloth, Clark pulled the tarp away slowly. Canvas whispered over metallic fins and gills, and when it finally lay on the ground beside the ship, what it had covered resembled nothing more than a very large, mechanical fish. Clark crouched beside it, examining the flow of lines and boltless seams, considering the vaguely bronzed hue with a mixture of disgust and curiosity. If what his dad had said was true, really true, then this... thing had pretty much wiped out Smallville, and why?
If he had parents somewhere else, why would they stick him in a tin guppy and shoot him into space? Didn't they care what might happen? Were they just trying to get rid of him? Even worse, what if they came back for him? Kansas wasn't the most exciting place in the world, but the farm smelled good and new every day, his mom made him laugh even though she didn't let him drink straight from the milk bottle, and his dad was kind of a stick in the mud, but he was a good guy. Most days Clark wanted to be like him.
Leaning close, Clark inhaled. The metal had a warm, undefinable scent to it, not cold like steel or bloody like iron. Just something odd he couldn't place, and for a brief, irrational moment, he wondered if it would buzz on his tongue like a 9 volt, if he tasted it. Resisting that urge, he stood up and circled around it.
He trailed his fingers along the silvered side plates, and traced the octagon cutout. Little grooves carved inside the shape caught his fingers, and since it was the only spot like it on the ship, Clark guessed a piece was missing. Big surprise, considering it crashed into the ground and practically leveled a town. There should be pieces of it everywhere.
A whole town, and only one piece missing, maybe it was invulnerable like him. Glancing toward the stairs, Clark swayed on his feet, torn between rational and curious. Curious won. He took a step back and punched the side of the ship, hard. The impact vibrated through his wrist, all the way to his shoulder, settling a resonant ache in his joints, and when he lifted his hand, faint specks of blood decorated his knuckles.
Shaking out the ache, Clark rubbed his hand clean , then examined it again. Two seconds, maybe three at the most, and the scrapes had healed. The ship had moved a few inches, but its skin was intact, too. Great. They were both big, weird, indestructible alien things, but only one of them could hide in the cellar. Clark replaced the tarp, tugging at the edges to hide the ship completely, then started up the stairs.
On the surface again, Clark leaned his head back to catch the cool touch of a night breeze. Same as always, sweet and earthy, the scent of Kansas at harvest. He wasn't ready to go to bed, so he took off across the fields, running faster than anyone ever had. Browning stalks rasped in his wake, then faded to trees, to wide open spaces as he slowed to a stop on the absurdly green lawns that carpeted the path to Lex's home.
Lex was older. And rich. He lived on his own, he drove fast cars. He had little oddities like saints' armor tucked in his library. He fenced, and played pool any time he wanted to, because there was a table right there in his house. They had absolutely nothing in common, but Clark hunched his shoulders and made his way to the door anyway. For all the rich and elegant and different about him, Lex seemed like an alien too.
And for Clark, that felt like home.
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