Bent in the Undergrowth

by jenn



Author Notes: For Isilya's cuddlefic challenge. Thanks to Bethy, Isilya, Val, and Jack for the commentary.

Archiving: SSA, Level_Three


It's hours after dusk--hours after the numerous feet have abandoned their trampling across priceless rugs, busy fingers poking into every crevice, checking every room with restless eyes and voices raised loud and frustrated.

Lex, in his office, had stared at a laptop for sixteen hours and never knew what he was reading. Signed off on reports that were gibberish spread across numerous pages, watched the betrayed eyes of his Smallville employees from the factory as severance checks were signed. Tried to remember how to breathe.

Of course, they had other things to worry about. The glances over their shoulders with each noise, breaking furniture, new rooms to check, attic to subbasement, inch by inch and room by room. The plans for the castle clutched in official hands, and everyone, everyone's been asked what they know, what they guessed, what had happened.

Where Clark Kent is.

The castle isn't alone. The town is being deconstructed before their very eyes.

His basement lab, only in the beginning stages, was searched thoroughly--spilled and broken glass and bottles, wrecked equipment from frustration and disbelief, and Lex rather thinks they don't entirely believe him when he says he doesn't know where Clark is. Picking his way across the once-smooth concrete floor, he glances at the long, uneven stone of the wall they had stared at and studied for so long, suspicion unconcealed.

They were so sure there was a room hidden behind there. Lex smile grimly when he pushes inside, finding the right pressure, the right spot, without effort.

They'd be right.

Two weeks, and every time, he wonders if he'll find Clark here still--every day has been like this, knotted tension in his spine, the snapped orders to the servants packing for his return to Metropolis. And every time, he breathes out, something easing, when he sees Clark again.

A cramped, silent room, like a tomb, no matter how much Lex has worked to make it less so. Big body that looks small and vulnerable on the single bed, the laptop on the floor beside him, one arm over his head, face hidden from view. Books piled neatly in the corner, no light except for the lamp that is as far as Lex's understanding of electric systems go. Clark doesn't move when Lex shuts the door silently behind him, flipping on the lamp, casting the dark room into a gloomy grey.

He hadn't had time to get something better installed here, and no one he could have trusted to do it anyway.

"Clark." He keeps his voice low, though he has no idea why. No one could hear them now.

He wondered every night--if he'll come down here and find the room empty, if Clark will run, tired of being trapped in tiny, finite space for the hours the government searches the house, over and over and fucking over again, lawyers no help, Dad less than useless, and Lex has never felt this alone. His name means nothing to them, and it's the first time in his life he wishes it did. Disgust, anger, fear, anything but the sheer, mind-blowing indifference.

Nothing that can protect him or Clark but continued ignorance, and that scares him as few things ever have.

Control, dammit, Lex. His hands don't shake when he pushes them into his pockets, tacky with sweat.

Clark doesn't move. He's awake, Lex can tell from the rigid line of his spine, the clenched fingers, the fact that the laptop hasn't powered down from disuse, which means Clark only put it down minutes ago. Socked toes just peek free of the covers, and Lex pushes them gently aside to sit down at the foot of the bed.

"They're gone." For now, he doesn't say. They stay later every time. Too many rumors of friendship, Lex thinks, rubbing his temples lightly. The tension headache's an almost permanent fixture. He barely remembers sleep when it didn't include this.

"Not for good." The voice is low, scratchy, and something in Lex's throat closes.

"We're leaving tomorrow." He has a plan. A car. A lot of luck. And Dominic, who knows who wields the power of LuthorCorp right now, officially or not. Who doesn't know anything but to follow three simple orders. Lex will get Clark into Metropolis, and money will get Lex and Clark both out of the country. Somewhere distant and quiet, a LuthorCorp backwater plant where the exile will be of Lex's choice, at least for awhile.

He doesn't know how to do this, though--Clark's so still, quiet, rejecting everything Lex can offer--there isn't anything that Clark wants that Lex can give him. His parents, his life, his freedom. His home.

This is responsibility, Lex thinks, staring blindly at those innocent cotton-covered toes. Like some perverse sort of quasi-parenthood, and this is the first time he understands what it means when someone says it's for your own good. Nothing less would have made Lex leave Clark here, locked away from sight, and if this hadn't been one of Clark's nightmares before, it is now.

Probably nothing less would have kept Clark here, either. Lex's back itches with the first traces of latent claustrophobia.

He gets that more every time.

"How?" Low voice, almost pained.

"I have it arranged."

Clark doesn't ask--somehow, that's the worst thing now. At first, Clark asked about every decision he made, questioning this and that and the other, endlessly frustrating, but at least it was Clark, eternally curious. Exhaustion and frustration--and face it, Lex, face it here if nowhere else, you were angry with him, too, with his family, with the sheer horror of responsibility--had stopped the questions when Clark listened to impatient, brief answers one too many times, and Lex regrets the sharpness as bitterly as he regrets everything else.

There hasn't been a real question since, and he hasn't looked into Clark's eyes and seen anything familiar.

The silence stretches--painful down here, unlike the freedom of upstairs, with open air and other people and God, he never realized until now how quiet it is. Clark's voluntary prison, and no different, maybe, than the one planned for him in a government lab.

Lex shudders at that, fingers pressing prints into the blanket over Clark's ankle, and the dark head lifts. Eyes like summer leaves at night, green only from memory. A sixteen year old boy who looks even younger now, and the lines of skin recently dried, salt leaving tracks Lex can trace even in the dim light.

Lex hasn't seen him cry, but then, he wouldn't expect to.

"I'm sorry," he says, and it sounds like every other time he's said it, and he's meant it every time. Clark shakes his head, rote response and it doesn't mean anything either, not now.

"It's not your fault." The script doesn't vary no matter what night they play it out. In twenty-four hours, Clark's life will be circumscribed by the breadth of an apartment in Metropolis until Lionel Luthor can assume the helm of LuthorCorp again. Please God, let it be soon.

Lex doesn't know this--this. Whatever it is. Strategy, plans, lying smoothly to more questioners than he can count, dominating Dominic to the point of perfect obedience, destroying a hard drive's worth of information on Clark Kent and rewriting a friendship, yes, that's Lex, that's Luthor, but--this isn't something he can deal with. Outmaneuvering Dad, outwitting the government, playing for time, these are things he knows. Cocktail parties with hungry socialites would be more comprehensible than this moment.

At least then, he knows what he's supposed to do.

"Lex. You--you said tomorrow?" There's a shift of the bed, and Clark's sitting up, rumpled t-shirt and messy hair. Lex can't meet his eyes, fixing on one cheekbone, thinking of every night he's sat with Clark down here, watched him while he pretended to sleep, so still that he could have been carved from stone. This--is unacceptable. And now Clark's trying to be what he shouldn't have to be, trying to do what Lex is supposed to be doing, keep it fucking together, Luthor.

"Yes. In Metropolis--" You'll still be locked up, but there'll be windows you can see but can't stand at and a television so you can watch your family being hunted. Lex can barely stand to turn on the television, the radio, hear the reports. He expects to see the Kents captured any day now. He can't help the shiver, wondering how he can possibly be cold in this stuffy room on a hot summer night. "I'll get you there."

He catches Clark's hand on peripheral vision--aborted movement, stopping inches from him, and he wonders what Clark wants.

"Wh--what time is it?"

"Midnight," Lex answers automatically, glancing down unnecessarily at his watch. "Dominic will be ready by six. In a few hours, Clark." Internet shopping has become Lex's new addiction. Bizarre items are being charged to one of his alternate identities on an encrypted connection, and if the government is looking, they're going to seriously wonder about his interest in flannel and a patchwork quilt handmade by a Kansas farmwife that reminds him of the one on Clark's old bed.

Gone now, like everything else. The books he ordered are in the Metropolis apartment already. Lex's memory of that room is very good. Of that night, even better. He'll never stop smelling gas on his skin. No matter how many showers he takes.

Clark's staring at him though--wanting, God, something, and after a second, the hand falls, curling forlornly into the blanket, like it's lost something it desperately needs. Clark, who looks down and away, staring into his lap, and God, he's been so strong, stronger than Lex could ever be.

"Thanks." It's barely whispered, and it hurts, God, and maybe this is his penance. Accepting gratitude for destruction, and Lex feels every muscle tense. He--shouldn't make Clark deal with this, with him, right now. Pushing himself to his feet, he draws in a breath. The castle is huge. He has hours to walk every inch until dawn.

"I'll let you sleep." There are dark circles under Clark's eyes, too visible on skin that hasn't seen the sun for days. He wants--oh damn, he wants to just pick Clark up, take him outside, get in the car, and drive until they reach--something. Anything. Fuck the plan to alleviate suspicion, just see the kid in daylight again and maybe just one smile--fake it, Clark, and God, what the fuck is wrong with him?

He's barely taken a step before Clark's pushed up on his knees, and a strong hand closes tightly over the hem of his jacket, jerking him to a standstill.

"Don't--I'm sorry. I know you're doing the best you can. Don't--don't leave yet."

Jesus.

"You're--sorry." God and fuck and damn and he's Lex Luthor, if there's anything he does well, it's making a bad situation worse. Turning around, he looks down, and yes, meet his eyes, Lex, look at what you're doing to him. "Oh--Clark. You're not doing anything wrong. I just--" Am not the right person for this. Not for anyone to depend on, and dammit, you should have listened to your father when he said Luthors were trouble. This is what happens when you trust us. "I--"

"Stay." The pleading is unmistakable--and there shouldn't be a plea, there shouldn't be fear, and if there's one thing he can do, should do, should have fucking done, it was to make sure that was never there. Ever. "Lex, please, don't--don't leave yet."

He could hate himself for putting that in Clark's voice, desperation and fear. Of all the people in the world, he's all that Clark has now, and that--

"Okay." The hitch in his voice is almost inaudible. Sitting back down, guided by Clark's pull, closer than he's used to. Close enough to touch without reaching, breathe without effort, feel on every inch of his skin. Just--this. Clark doesn't pull his hand away, and when Lex looks down, he can see the white-knuckled grip on his coat, like Clark can't be sure he won't leave if he isn't held in place.

Jesus God.

Clark jerks away the second Lex looks up, like he's done something utterly forbidden, and there--all these things that Lex doesn't understand between them. Things he doesn't know, like what Clark could possibly want, why on earth he wants Lex anywhere near him at all, a living reminder of everything he's lost. Lex reaches out, brushing his fingers across the back of Clark's hand, and the dark eyes look up.

Searching.

Lex tightens his fingers. He can make promises, and for Clark, he can keep them. "I'll never leave you."

The second stretches impossibly--wide dark eyes searching his, then Clark's fingers close over his, tight and almost painful, and Clark needs something.

This, maybe.

"Just--until I fall asleep." And it must take everything in Clark to say that. Lex nods, watching Clark lie back down, but the hand on his doesn't let go, and Lex shifts up the bed, making it easier. Pulled in, and then Clark shifts enough to leave a space, an invitation that maybe he has no idea he's making, but--God, it looks better than the bed he's been ignoring for two weeks, better that the couch in his office where every dream wakes him on damp leather in a cold sweat.

It's weak, and it's stupid, and it's wrong, because he doesn't deserve this, and Lex doesn't really care.

Kicking off his shoes, he gets a curious look, but Clark lets his hand go at the slightest pull. Lose the jacket. Fold it neatly, because Lex is anal and still stupid, but also likes his wool uncreased. Pushes down the blankets and Clark--grins, suddenly, blinding and brilliant, and moves to share the pillow so fast, that Lex almost gets it.

Definitely gets it when Clark stares at him, hands uncomfortably tucked against his chest, and they aren't touching anywhere. Yet.

Until Lex touches him. Just a t-shirt-clad shoulder, achingly warm under his hand. Completely unfamiliar, to do this, no idea how, no idea why, but.

Completely what Clark needs, of course.

It's sudden--one second, cool space like miles between them, the next, warm boy, almost frighteningly eager, one arm thrown across Lex's waist, holding on like Lex will disappear. Brush of soft hair against Lex's chin, and--Clark relaxes, just like that. Curled close and warm, breath against his throat, and Lex settles an uncertain hand on the back of his neck. Tentatively stroking warm skin under dark hair.

A murmured thank you, Lex thinks, from somewhere around his shoulder, and Lex doesn't know how to do this, how to even start, but that's okay, because Clark's doing fine on his own. Maneuvering them both until Lex is sprawled on his back, blinking into the ceiling, Clark a heavy, warm presence across his chest, Lex's fingers tangled in his hair because he just can't quite make himself want to let go.

Uncertain and completely comfortable tangle of legs and blankets and sheets, this--this full body hug that draws a memory from behind the curtains in Lex's mind. His mother during those last days, when he'd crawl into bed with her and she'd pull him close. The slow circles on his back by slim, shaking fingers, and the smile that curved her lips and the promise in every touch.

She smelled like lavender, and it's stronger than gas could ever be.

You're not alone, Lex.

"You'll never be alone, Clark" Lex murmurs, shutting his eyes, listening to the steady breathing, relaxing into the boneless sprawl of a kid's tired body, and Clark nods sleepily against his chest. There's a disturbing possibility Clark believes him.

There's an unwavering knowledge that Lex will live up to it.

the end



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