Clark knew the first time Bruce Wayne came to Smallville.
Introduction by numberplate as a Rolls Royce passes the Talon, coupled with Lex's hasty exit when Chloe casually mentions it over lattes, Clark can't help but be curious.
Deliveries take him out to the castle earlier than usual after a crash course in investigative journalism, or rather Chloe's version of it, the night before. She insists that a Wayne and a Luthor together is too good an oppurtunity to pass up. Clark allows himself to be convinced to go in her stead when she reminds him that Lex's stanard response to the press is to make himself scarce. Last time she didn't get her story while Clark was left with a really long week with Lex in Metropolis. With her pointers on investigating she's quick to assure him that he's ready for anything. Chloe, it turns out, has never met Alfred Pennyworth.
A butler at home in Lex's castle, but Clark tells himself that's what butlers do. Grey flecking his temples, he remains impassive in the face of Clark's bumbling attempts to be invited in. Clark's just glad he convinced Chloe to let him go alone because his first steps into investigative journalism are simply pitiful. After the embarrassed silence there's an invitation to coffee until "Master Lex" - Clark tries hard not to laugh here - comes down. He's sure Alfred extends it out of pity and decides that there's something to 'bumbling" after all. Clark follows Alfred into the steel kitchen that always gleams just a little too much for his liking. Under the butler's touch however, there's the scent of coffee in the air, and colour scattered around the place. Alfred adds a third mug to the two already waiting, while Clark endures patiently bland questions right up to the "When are you going to graduate?". That never fails to surprise people, but Alfred just nods. Thankfully Clark hears them finally, bounding down the stairs. Lex and Bruce Wayne burst into the kitchen, tycoons in waiting in thousand dollar suits.
There's the barest hesitation, but the pause screams at Clark, because this is Lex, and Lex doesn't hesitate.
Introduction by numberplate notwithstanding, Clark waits.
Alfred pours the coffee.
"You're working on a Saturday?" Clark asks finally, gesturing to his suit. He can't bring himself to include Bruce, because Bruce melts away as if the lack of introduction reduces him to a black shadow at Lex's shoulder. Where he's comfortable, because Bruce says nothing.
Is just there.
Clark remains resolutely fixed on Lex.
"Something like that...Clark, this is Bruce...Bruce, Clark..." Lex finally deigns to introduce them and Clark scowls at the smirk playing on his lips.
Acknowledgment unavoidable, Clark looks finally. Bruce is there, shuttered and cool. He nods and Clark mirrors the greeting. That's all.
"Report..." Lex says to himself, ignoring them both.
"Stay, I'll get it, " Bruce says smoothly, softly, as if whispering in the darkness is all he knows. He nods once, a dismissal Clark realises. It makes him plant his legs just a little more firmly. He intends to be here when Bruce comes back.
"Big meeting?" Clark asks, dragging himself back to Lex.
"Yeah. Saturday afternoon board meeting...fun," Lex says, a sarcastic smile twisting his features.
"One would hope more than that, Master Lex," Alfred interjects. Clark suppresses a laugh - Lex is being scolded. But Lex replies simply, " I know." Alfred nods satisfied.
"Umm...you're going to Metropolis?" Clark asks. It's an inane way to begin the conversation but he figures he gets points for recognising an opening when he hears it. Chloe, Clark hopes, will be proud.
"Yeah, I should be back tonight," Lex replies. He turns when Bruce walks into the room. Clark realises he didn't even hear Bruce come down the stairs. There's a folder in one hand and a dark coat over the other. Bruce holds out the coat for Lex, who shrugs into it as if he expected no less. Alfred nudges a mug in Bruce's direction surreptitiously. Bruce takes a sip pointedly, which it seems is enough to satisfy Alfred.
"We've got to get going," Bruce says, glancing at his watch. There's a final sip of coffee and a hand that closes over Lex's arm.
"I know...I know..." Lex replies.
"Clark," he says, cocking his head to one side, hands before him gesturing an apology. Clark waves it away.
"I'll see you later," he says, but Lex is gone, Bruce at his side. Clark tries hard to ignore the jealousy that's sparking in him and Alfred's implacable gaze.
It's on the way home when it hits him. Lex doesn't do domestic, but it's the closest he's seen Lex to being familiar with someone. Lex's life outside Smallville has always been just that - outside - the person that is his friend. Clark shies away from that line of thought immediately. It smacks too much of his father and everything he's been defending Lex from.
Truth distilled from everything he's seen today and it fits.
Clark has seen Lex with his lovers before. The only difference here is that he may like Bruce.
Lex doesn't come home until Monday night and Alfred is as patient with him as the first time he called. But Lex is unavailable and Clark has to remind himself that Alfred and Bruce are Lex's guests. He goes out to the castle just to check on Lex, he tells himself, and nothing else. Just to make sure his friend is all right, and stops right there when he realises he's nodding to himself as he steals around the grounds to where he can see Lex's study.
In the study Lex paces with broad gestures to illustrate whatever it is that has him so alive. Bruce watches, a predator in expensive clothes, in Lex's home like he belongs there.
Haunted and intense as if nothing else exists, Clark recognises need then. Sees it in the way Bruce rises fluidly and intercepts Lex, sweeps the legs out from underneath him before they fall to the floor. Clark starts, moves, but Bruce is already there, holding Lex, keeping him safe.
There's the thread of something else borne in Clark then, possibility perhaps and change...but there's Lana, and he sinks into her image fast, before he remembers his mom's advice and closes his eyes.
"Clark, I'll see you tomorrow," Lex says calmly.
This is when Clark feels most human, helpless really, and the irony of it is Lex is protecting him. Secrets or not.
He didn't think they'd ever talk about it, but they do, awkward and fumbling because Clark's mom taught him well and he can't say 'no' when he walks in on the end of a phone conversation and Lex gestures to him to sit .
"He's nothing I can't handle, Bruce," Lex says and his brow furrows as he listens to what Bruce has to say. The name twists inside Clark, before he pushes it away. Lex paces again and it hits Clark that he's sitting just where Bruce was that night. He wills himself to remain in the present.
"Okay...bye..." Lex finishes and joins him on the couch, sinks down into the leather with a sigh. Lionel's visits always do this to him.
Lionel, or Bruce, there's a choice Clark never thought he'd have to make. He opts for the lesser of two evils, or so he hopes.
"How's Bruce?" he asks. Brightly. Strives hard to sound normal but Clark knows he falls far short. Lex's eyes, wary now, hold him.
And then the challenge.
"Is there something you want to ask me?"
The sentence makes him cringe - it's so Smallville, thick with everything Lex has endured here and tried to fight against. This is just another thing to add to that list. Clark's determined he won't add anything to that list.
"No...not really," he says. Ignores the expectant look on Lex's face and asks about the new Porsche he saw in the driveway.
That year he dates Lana. He spends the first month of their relationship in a state of disbelief and aching gentleness around her until it eventually sinks in that this is happening. That he's allowed to touch, to taste her. They're together and it's everything he ever wanted. Sunsets in the loft with her cradled in his arms and coffee at the Talon where he's allowed to gaze at her as she works.
Lex dates too - Veronica, Julia, Jennifer and Kandi with a "K". A bevy of beautiful women that stretch to the city and none of whom stay around too long. They're enough to occupy the Smallville rumour mill constantly.
"Do you like any of them?" Clark asks as he stretches out on the couch in front of Lex's desk, his book propped on his stomach.
"Of course I like them, Clark, why do you think I let them stay for breakfast?" Lex says with a smile.
"I don't have time for anything beyond breakfast," Lex answers, looking at him briefly before he returns to his reports.
"Aren't you tired of them?" Clark asks. He knows he's been laying on the love bit pretty thick, but there has to be more - especially not for Lex, who believes that his destiny is to be alone. There has to be more.
Lex looks at him in mild disbelief.
"What?" Clark replies defensively.
"I forgot...everything is forever at your age."
"Some things are, even at my age," Clark says and Lex snorts and turns back to his reports. Clark realises Lex thinks he's talking about Lana, but he doesn't know how to say he's talking about being in love without sounding like the love sick teenager Pete says he is. Without having Lex smile at him indulgently as if he expected nothing less from Clark.
Nor would Lex be completely wrong. He would be lying if he said he hadn't thought about it - forever with Lana. But, then she wanted to know.
A sudden desire for ice-cream in the middle of a movie that has him running across town to the Johnson's store because he could hear the noises inside and strange voices and he hasn't learnt how not to help yet. Then there are the unexplained ones where he can't say anything except apologise for making her wait for an hour and a half because another meteorite pyromaniac attacked the school.
He's always sorry.
Every time the choice is his, he knows it...but it's not really a choice and it stopped being guilt a while ago. It's just who he is.
But, he forgot that Lana needs.
Demands everything completely and utterly from him and gives the same of herself in return. Except, the thing is, he looks at her and imagines bringing her into his world. Lies and secrets - everything she abhors...but it's simpler than that too.
It never occurs to him to tell her.
Not when they first start dating, and not now, to keep her either.
"I need someone I can trust, Clark. Who'll be there for me," she says.
He's late again and she's been waiting for him at their regular table at the Talon. Her home away from home.
Old joke. Not so funny anymore.
Chloe this time. She's been on the trail of the cheaters in the science club for months now. Even joined and got the t-shirt. Unfortunately they turn out to be somewhat maniacal about their grades and none too pleased about her expose in the Torch. He finds her just in time, locked in her car, the engine running. Around her are the members of the science club.
Stays with her until the ambulance comes, and all the while Lana waits.
He should, for everything they mean to each other, he should tell her. But he doesn't. Lana still speaks to her parents, holds on to her past with all the terror and ferocity of a little girl in a fairy costume that clutches at the wand her dad made for her. No matter how hard she tries to be anything but.
"I know," he says brushing away the hair from her eyes.
He means it, like every other time, but it's not enough. Dark lashes flutter closed, and a tear escapes. One step and then another, and she's gone just as the sun sets.
There's the briefest bit of panic in him...but then he's okay. Has been since he told his parents and all the way over here. It does hurt, he does miss her...but he's okay.
Lex puts down the phone and waits.
Clark shrugs, and Lex takes it as the sign he was looking for.
"Yeah well..." Clark sinks down into the couch, into leather and the scent of Lex. He can't remember if he's ever noticed the scent before.
"She needs someone she can trust," he replies. Thin ice this, because Lex can only be wilfully blind to a certain extent. They've achieved a balance of sorts, but there's an impulse in Clark that wants to see how far he can go. He sighs and picks at the leather. Maybe someday.
"Ah..." Lex replies. Maybe today, when Clark looks up at his friend. Knowledge there, abstract still.
Luck and lying - Clark has one in abundance and has elevated the other to an art form. His gaze falls to Lex's feet and they're bare. It makes him want to giggle even as Lex crosses the room to pour him a drink.
"For the end of an era..." Lex says as Clark takes the glass. Clark laughs, short and harsh at Lex's words because he's right. And it's over just like that.
"You'll be okay," Lex continues. Eyes, blue fire, earnest and believable this. Certainty that's a comfort, a match to his own.
Maybe he could claim he was drunk. Except, he' s still on his first glass. Clark grins when Lex swallows audibly.
"Excuse me?" he says wiping at his chin, eyes wide and unblinking. Clark knows there's a stupid grin plastered on his face and can't help it. It's not very often that he manages to throw Lex off balance. Despite the embarrassment of his words.
"Why don't you date guys?" he enunciates carefully and then suppresses the rude urge to giggle.
"Where did this come from?" Lex hedges.
"Don't do that. Don't answer a question with a question," Clark admonishes. He does giggle then and admits to himself he's drunk. All it takes, it seems, is leather and Lex. And scotch.
"I'll answer," Lex says slowly. Intently, which makes Clark wonder if he's crossed a line somewhere. It's alarming because Lex has never denied him anything.
The whole alien/honesty thing is in a category all on its own.
"Bruce Wayne," Clark says.
Lex's brow furrows.
"Annndd," Clark tries to latch on to the other part of his sentence, "you don't seem to have much luck with women." Which is something Clark will never understand.
"Bruce? Clark, that was a long time ago."
Figures he would latch on to that, Clark thinks morosely.
"Exactly," he continues valiantly for the benefit of his friend's love life. One of them should have one.
"And two of the women sold their stories to the tabloids."
Cover stories, in papers that are nothing but a bad memory now, thanks to Lex's army of lawyers.
"You like him, right?" Clark continues, warming up. For the good of Lex, of course. "So why don't you?"
"You make it sound easy," Lex comments, and Clark cringes. Careful words, but the rebuke is there. He does know better, but there's alcohol, a whopping one glass, no Lana, so Clark figures he's allowed.
"Yeah, I guess I do."
"Talk to me in a couple of years," Lex says.
"Should I remind you that Lana and I just broke up," Clark shoots back.
"Ah, but knowing you, you'll have a plan to win her back...or whatever..." Lex gestures vaguely.
"So you can...whatever too," Clark says. He might be pouting, but he can't really tell.
"Let me remind you of something Clark. Lionel, LuthorCorp, LexCorp..." Lex recites.
"Lex, you hate your father, you don't want LuthorCorp and LexCorp is going to be bigger and better than anyone ever thought possible. And you're a Luthor," Clark emphasises the name, imbues it with everything it can mean, and not Lionel. He realises he's nodding quite determinedly but that Lex just doesn't see. Clark doesn't mind however, because Lex is grinning and it reaches his eyes.
"If anything gets complicated, you do complicated in your sleep."
So there, Clark nods, and then the room spins. He falls back against the couch and draws his legs up underneath him. Prods Lex's thighs with his feet just for good measure, ignores the smile that earns him. The afternoon is a distant, fuzzy memory now.
"If you like someone, Lex, fight for them..."
He's paraphrasing Lex, he thinks, no matter how incredibly naive that sounds. But Clark's on a roll and hopefully tomorrow, he'll forget this conversation.
"Clark, you're just going to have to trust me when I tell you that it's complicated..."
He registers the words, a question forms in his head, but it's easier just to close his eyes. Clark never does ask Lex who it's complicated with.
The year Clark tells Chloe he loves her, the Luthor wars begin.
Chloe, who makes him laugh because the seasoned Smallville reporter likes cloud-watching to relax. Who makes him cry when she storms out after a huge fight at the Talon. Pete, who looks after Chloe as she leaves with longing, then at Clark with betrayal in his eyes before he too leaves. Clark splits apart and comes together again in one sunny afternoon with no idea how to make this right.
But Chloe is the brave one, the vulnerable one too, because she comes to him in his fortress, strips him of his defences with her words in one breath.
Chooses him. Holds him, as he stumbles over the words he's been waiting to say for so long, but can't because he's shaking. Tells him it's okay. Tells him she loves him over and over, sweeter than he ever thought possible.
He loves her because she works too hard at the paper, the tips of her fingers are stained with ink most of the time and who else could convince him to go undercover at the Smallville Annual Bake-Off? Armed with a smile and his mom's recipe in their bid to expose the seedy underbelly of this beloved annual tradition. Who else would eat the pie he bakes?
Lex does too, but Clark isn't sure he knows what he's doing.
The Porsche speeds by the Talon late in the afternoon. Chloe kisses him and says, "Call me later" before she's off to write the article.
Armed with pie, Clark enters the castle. Dark, since Lex has been away this past week. A light in the study, barely there, but it's all Clark needs.
"Lex," Clark ventures. Lex doesn't turn, just stares into the depths of the fire, gold and pale. There've been rumours and articles from Metropolis and Gotham that Chloe's dug up for him.
Luthor vs. Luthor. Father against son, with no end in sight.
Clark sits next to him, the pie tin resting on his knees.
"Are you okay?" he asks. Lex moves finally, blinks at Clark as if he's only just seen him and smiles.
"Tired, that's all," he says.
Weary eyes spark when they notice the pie resting on his knees. Lex takes the tin from him, rolls back the foil neatly and breaks off a corner. Clark tries not to cringe.
"So, you and Chloe get the scoop?" he asks.
"Well, the glow should have been a dead giveaway," Clark says. Not to mention his reaction to the pies. "But yeah, we did. She's got another by-line in the Ledger."
He can't quite keep the note of pride from his voice.
"And you?" Lex asks.
Clark shrugs - his reasons for doing this were simple.
"You love her," Lex says, voicing his thoughts. Carefully too, as if he might break it.
"Yeah," Clark says even though it wasn't a question. His eyes narrow as they sweep Lex. His friend hasn't eaten anything in a while, there are circles under his eyes. Not to mention he takes another bite of Clark's pie.
"How was your trip?" Clark asks.
"Productive," Lex replies. Clark knows better than to push. Lex has his secrets, just like everyone else.
They're liars, both, manipulators of truth and friends. Clark isn't sure how to have a regular friendship anymore.
It's the wrong thing to say, that much is obvious when Lex discards the piece he's just broken off. Apologies already on his lips, Clark stops when Lex gravely turns to the scotch sitting on his desk.
"Just checking," Lex says mildly and Clark groans. He's scarred for life. He's going to be reminded of that night every chance Lex will get. That's when he remembers.
"With who is it complicated?" he asks suddenly, one of those times when his vague memories and dreams come together to form something coherent.
"What?" Lex says confused.
"I asked you why you didn't date guys, you said it's complicated...but with who?"
Lex looks at him neutrally before he rises and pours a drink for him.
"Here," he says, "I want you to have a good excuse for later."
Clark takes the glass but doesn't drink.
"No one really," Lex says. "It wouldn't matter anyway, it's still going to be complicated."
Clark frowns at him and the worn excuse.
"But Bruce is fine..."
Slow smile, word drawn out suggestively and Clark blushes.
"Good," he says. Lex smirks and Clark moves the topic of conversation into neutral territory.
"What about LexCorp?"
"Will have to be moved to Metropolis soon."
Lex leaving has always been a far away possibility. Lex leaving because he needs to, is harder to bear than Clark thought possible.
"I can't run it from here," Lex says. There's a curious expression on his face.
"Not for much longer anyway."
A reprieve that Clark clings to. He knows change is unavoidable - he's the poster boy for change while his parents, Chloe...Lex are his anchors. But they're catching up with him too.
There's the edge of dismay there, Clark bites down on it quickly because Lex is going to do great things, be great, and not in Smallville. It's something he's told himself enough times over the years and it's been enough. It really has.
"I'm not sure when though," Lex continues. "There's something to be said for having Dad come to me."
Small comfort or Lex's sense of humour, Clark holds on tight.
"The king in his castle?" he murmurs. Lex looks at him, the part that is Lionel's son surfaces and Clark feels his heart beat too fast.
"Something like that." Eyes lock, steady as Lex lets him see what he's hidden away.
A second later,
A flick of a switch and they're back there. Safe assigned roles, talking with his best friend about the woman he loves. They talk and he falls asleep on the couch again.
Lex does make Lionel come to him. Like an avenging angel on behalf of the Luthor name, Lionel sweeps into town, curses interspersed with words like family and honour. An up and coming computer company pulled out of his father's grasp, and Lionel is livid. Lex laughs in his face.
Clark wants to hit something.
They prepare themselves for it, or try to. Months of talking, of being with her, and Clark knows it's not enough. Nothing makes this okay, not even Lex. There's a moment when Lex offers to keep Gabe in Smallville, like there's a moment where he imagines he says yes, and then ...Chloe. He tells Lex, no. That's when Lex gives him a set of keys, leaves the castle at his disposal and says, "You told her you love her. Show her."
It's not like he hasn't thought about it constantly. Aches for her and is afraid all at the same time. Clark looks down at the keys in his hand and thinks about lost chances, regrets and change. And then freezes everything for one night.
He makes love to Chloe in the castle, in a cavernous room that reminds him of something out of her secret stash of romance novels he's sworn on penalty of death by tickling never, ever to mention again. He's fully prepared for an attack of Chloe, but instead she throws her arms around him and tells him she loves him.
He wants to tell her then - explain all the absences and excuses that have between them for so long. Torn shirts and ripped jackets he knows she's seen, but never said a word about. All the lies she's told herself, for him, but still she catches his words with a kiss.
"Don't..." she mumbles against his lips. "Please don't."
Chloe moves to straddle his hips, desperation in her kisses now, her touch never leaving him. But he's forgot that this is Chloe, that truth is her weapon, like the lies are his and they're caught in this middle ground he's chosen.
He goes to the castle, but Lex isn't there. Lets himself in and goes to the study, to the couch of leather and Lex, and falls asleep there.
Clark wakes the next morning to the sound of perfectly manicured fingers on keys. He looks up at the desk and Lex is there. Somewhat dishevelled and he yawns widely; it's the best thing Clark's seen since Chloe got in her Dad's car. The leather creaks as he shifts and Lex looks up immediately. Eyes meet, hold and Clark thinks if he hears one more worthless word about how everything is going to be okay, or it's for the best, he'll run. To Colorado maybe. Lex cocks his head to one side, considering.
"Go back to sleep, Clark."
Blue that's certain, sure and Clark's eyes drift shut. For the first time he thinks he might survive her.
Clark understands when Bruce Wayne returns to Smallville.
Chloe's a deep ache he's learned to cherish more than anything else. She's now intent on Gotham University and he has no doubt that she's going to get there. Lex is still in Smallville, but it's obvious it's not going to be for much longer. LexCorp grows every day, moving is just a matter of time. The thought hangs over Clark, over him every time he visits Lex. Sits in the couch that Lex has dubbed 'his' and listens to his friend's plans.
The pall clears when he receives his acceptance letter from Metropolis U and calls Lex first, only to have his father walk in on their conversation about the clubbing establishments in the city. He's never seen his father quite that shade of red before.
There are signs then, reports from Prague, Rome and London, problems Lex only hints at, but which demand his attention immediately. His presence as well. Clark tells himself that Lex is on the verge of greatness, of leaving his father behind and what sort of friend is he to begrudge him that?
LexCorp's official move to the city is delayed while Lex flies all over the world to get to the bottom of these problems, or mishaps as his publicity department puts it. A nice non-threatening word that, Clark notes.
He worries for Lex, for everything his friend has worked for, or rather that's what he tells himself it is. Until he catches himself thinking of his couch and Lex together and understanding that leaves him meteor-weak. Clark sinks down into his couch as he turns the thought over in his mind. Here in his fortress he can admit it, with Lex away it's safe.
With Lex away from him.
"How long?" Clark asks. Stretches on the couch.
"I got back about an hour ago, called your mom. She wants you to call if you're not going to be home in time for dinner."
Clark grimaces. His mom's getting a little bit more mothering than usual as the days go by.
"She's worried about you," Lex points out. Just like that his guilt shoots up a bit more.
" I know..." he replies. Promises himself to make it up to her later.
"How's everything in London?" he asks finally. Lex frowns, is about to answer when the phone rings.
Eyes, ice like a lake frozen over swing to him and then the computer.
"Send them to me." Curt, before he slams the phone down.
"Fuck," he mutters. Clark is at his side just a little too fast but Lex doesn't notice.
On the computer screen a mail icon flashes. Lex doesn't answer, just opens the mail and the attachments. They watch the pictures load one by one. Clark leans in close, one hand on the back of Lex's chair, the other on the desk. Lex is hemmed in, fills Clark's senses in a way he's sure is completely wrong right now. Indefinable and still him.
A lab becomes clear onscreen. Blackened by fire, glass shattered and benches broken. The scent of Lex disappears and Clark thinks he can smell fire instead.
"LexLabs," Lex pronounces.
"I don't know," he replies. He tilts his head up to Clark and he's back, drawing him in. Clark moves closer. Needs, the room shifts before there's the heady rush of flying. And then a fall because he's drowning in blue now, like a lake after the thaw. It holds him, despite the common sense that tells him the time is wrong. He can't move, not with the knowledge he sees flicker to life in Lex then.
So Lex does it for him.
"I have to go to Gotham."
Friendship. He thinks he should save his strength for when he tells them the rest.
Instinct recognises watching instantly, eyes on him, stripping him bare and taking his secrets and... not Lex. Clark's eyes snap open and reason clamps down on instinct, on attack, but only just.
A shadow in black that leans against Lex's desk like he belongs there. As if Clark is the one out of place. Clark manages to sit up, just barely with some restraint.
"Where's Lex?" he asks. Something flares in the dark eyes, frustration maybe. But it's gone and it leaves Clark with the feeling that maybe Bruce knows how to hide as well.
"Metropolis. He should be back later this evening."
There's the faintest hint of dismissal in Bruce's words.
"Why are you here?" Clark says. Challenges really, but it amuses Bruce more than anything. Tethers of his temper slip free before he rises, because he belongs here, Bruce doesn't. Certainty in that thought that's terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.
"Lex invited me," Bruce returns, mildly, as if he's retreating. Which leaves Clark feeling ridiculous - and Lex invited him.
Alfred's measured tones appear from nowhere giving Clark an escape. But he doesn't move.
Bruce doesn't move either.
"There's a call for you."
"I'll take it in here," Bruce replies. He walks around the desk and picks up the phone.
"Please show Clark out."
"Master Clark..." Alfred bows, a little apologetically. Clark leaves.
Clark listens. Wind, the rustling of the trees, which are usually comforting more than anything. But then the night shatters. It's what he's been waiting for. He registers that it's a helicopter, tracks it to the castle where it lands. Clark rises from his couch as he imagines Lex stalking across the grounds to the castle, upstairs ...a car?
He focuses his hearing like his dad's drilled him to...the Aston Martin maybe? Before he can think why he shouldn't, why it's impossible, dangerous, he takes off after the car.
Clark skids to a stop outside the gates. The Aston Martin's parked just beyond.
Work? Relief floods him, sweet, suffusing his being...until he hears...something.
Reality shifts, hearing and vision work in tandem and layers of concrete disappear...until... a nest of pipes, a junction and a luminous dial ticking off the minutes.
Clark extends his hearing, lets it drift while his vision sharpens. Black still, even when he flips a figure over easily and focuses on Bruce staring up at him.
Unafraid, because Waynes subscribe to the same credo Luthors do - show no fear. Despite the fingers digging into his arms.
Focus, Clark tells himself. He lets Bruce up and follows him.
Oak doors for his domain, typically Lex. But it's just an obstacle, splintered and then gone because Clark sees what's behind the doors. Bruce still at his side, unblinking, moving for the gun and the person holding it. There's a sharp crack Clark reacts to, moves, blanketing Lex as the bullets slam into him harmlessly...and glimpses regret.
Clark picks himself up from his friend. Regret becomes steel, becomes Luthor and Clark steps back. Secrets and lies thick between them.
"Bomb," Lex nods towards the door. "Go."
He nods, then he runs.
Silence as deafening as the blast.
They watch him as he crosses to them, each step heavier than the last.
Still steel, unreadable. Now Bruce, curious...which becomes recognition. That makes Clark stop.
"We have to get out of here," he says. He exchanges a glance with Lex before he pulls his sweater off in a fluid movement. There's the absence of colour...but the belt.
All Clark can think is that Chloe is going to have the time of her life in Gotham.
Alfred is there when they arrive, impeccable even at two in the morning.
"Master Bruce..." he greets them calmly. Clark supposes he has more practice at this than anyone else in the room.
Bruce looks to Lex for guidance, who nods at the study. The figure they're supporting stirs slightly. Bob Simmons. The manager Lex hired in Gabe's place. Inside they settle him into a chair.
"Lex...what's going on?" Clark asks. He hates that he sounds small and plaintive but his arms are leaden and he desperately wants to know, because Bob's been over to their house for dinner. Defended Lex to his father over his mom's cooking.
"I suspect, my dad," Lex says calmly. That's all he says but it's enough. Lionel would do anything to keep Lex under his thumb.
"At least he set the thing at night," Lex muses. " Dad must be getting soft in his old age."
Bruce wades into the conversation now, still the impassive mask he wears so easily.
"Clark, go home."
Simmons, 'Call me Bob', stirs again in the chair. Lex moves, herds him out of the study.
"Lex..." he tries, but he has no idea what to say, where to begin. Lex is frighteningly...not there.
"Go home, Clark."
Cold, the words make Clark afraid because this is his worst nightmare come to life - secrets exposed and there's no going back now. A friendship, the stuff of legends, held hostage to fear and themselves. It's a wonder they survived this long. All that's left is an end.
The words come from Clark, then the story. It's a long time before he stops.
"Are you all right?" Perfunctory question Clark doesn't bother answering.
"Lex is in Metropolis."
More finality there than the news bulletins last night. Lex isn't coming back.
"And Bob?" his father asks.
"Worked for Lionel. He's been taken care of."
Clark can't quite bring himself to care.
"Taken care of," his mom says faintly. His dad's mouth is set in a straight line, and Clark knows the tirade that's about to be let loose. But Bruce waits the perfect beat longer before he says pointedly, "He's been arrested."
Then turns to him, says his name softly, knowingly.
Clark nods. This much he recognises in Bruce. Secrets to be kept, even without the belt.
Clark steps down to the ground, draws close to Bruce. Asks softly, knows his parents will hear anyway.
"Is he ok?"
"He's a Luthor."
Metropolis, classes, people, white noise really that fills his days, obscures the absence of Lex that seeps through the hours. It's weeks later and Lex is everywhere and out of reach. LexCorp has moved to Metropolis finally while Lionel is very, very absent.
Grounds teem with students, jostling each other, him, rushing forward and there's no way that he can, but he does.
Scans the grounds, faces, people shifting, becoming macabre parodies of their true selves under his vision until they're gone. All that's left is the faintest thread of Lex.
Clark goes to Lex that evening. A friendship of legend to salvage; he's going to begin with truth. Lands on the balcony of the penthouse, which makes the French doors reverberate loudly. Lex stumbles outside and Clark has never felt so bare facing him.
"Close your mouth, Lex, it's not polite to stare."
Lex, barefoot, still in his slacks and lavender shirt. Clark allows himself to soak in the sight of him like he does sunshine. The hunger in him quells just a bit.
Then Lex retreats, pulls back. Mask in place.
"Can I come in?"
There's a broad Lexian gesture to the apartment beyond. Clark accepts the invitation.
"Yes," he replies. "We both have."
Lex snorts. Hands slide into his pockets superbly casual. A defence he's seen Lex use dozens of times. Has even admired its effect on his enemies. Clark steels himself.
"Who are you?"
Soft drawl that cuts deep.
Clark reaches for control, takes refuge in the truth as he sees it, wants it to be desperately.
"Clark Kent, journalism student."
Lips, a perfect bow, twist in anger. No middle ground this.
"Alien," Clark concedes.
Clark remains fixed on him, waits but there's less surprise than he expects.
It doesn't quite make it out as a question. Lex shrugs.
"I knew something Clark. Nor am I blind. But that's what we settled on right?" Lex gestures between them
Vintage Lex. Control Clark flails for. Finds it in what he's come to say.
"I'm sorry. I haven't quite got the hang of telling people I love that I'm alien. It takes practice. I haven't had any."
Surprise now, sharp that he can taste. Lex off balance, listens.
"Which part? That I want you? That you're the only person I've told?"
Clark steps close, a dare and Lex never backs down from one.
He's not disappointed.
"Forgive me if I find that hard to believe, what with having a ring side seat to the greatest love affairs of your life," is the sharp retort. It's better than he expects, painful too because Lex has always been there for him. And Clark never thought to look for this. But, Lex is retreating already.
"You are," Clark returns. He risks another step, a faster one that leaves Lex startled because he's so close. So fast.
His palms are sweaty, like the first time he kissed Chloe with the both of them paying attention. Lex's eyes are wide and it's easy to imagine them at the desk, in the castle, anywhere he knows Lex would have looked at him like that. Before he knew, before he realised. It's frightening how many times he's missed seeing this.
"Your secrets are safe Clark, you don't have to do this..."
So tired now, and Clark wants to smack himself because he hasn't seen this coming.
"Lex..." he breathes dismisses the string of words with just the one. Leans forward and rests his forehead against Lex's, his hands keeping him close. Slow circles in the middle of Lex's palm. Wants Lex just to give, just a little to him. The part that isn't Luthor, or even Lex, but it's his Lex. The one that'll have Clark because he wants to.
"What is this, Clark? Happily ever after?" Lex whispers. "It's never that easy."
It's just a little slack, on the secrets between them, thick and binding,linking them completely. It's enough for Clark and he'll make it be enough for Lex.
"No," Clark laughs softly. "It's complicated."
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