In a Yellow Wood

by jenn

Author Notes: Because Beth TOLD me to. Often. Using many long words. hugs Beth Title from Jack. Thanks to Pearl-o, Jack, Kate, and Val for the pre-reads.

Feedback: Like whipped cream on the coffee of good moods. Mmm. Coffee.

Archiving: SSA, level_three

A long, lean body is sprawled awkwardly across the rough ground.

He's never seen Clark like this--weak, barely-conscious, fingers scrabbling at the ground without force, but the dark eyes are vividly alive with pain and fixed on something Lex can't see. Lex follows the steady gaze, barely breathing, the sounds that had drawn him here finally registering, half-manic voice echoing through the clearing, and it takes less than the time between breaths to realize what's happening.

Too surreal, though--or maybe that's Lex's denial trotting itself out and settling in, saying, this can't be happening. There's a hospital room in Lex's memory that tries to remind him of the price of every hesitation. Everything that he can do wrong.

He's Lex Luthor, and worst-case scenario is practically a given.

The gun's out before he's even completely aware he has that option--warm, familiar butt clasped against his palm, years of practice bringing it level, and it's reflex, marking out the place to shoot, straight through the back, slick path to the heart, and Nixon will never fuck with any of them again.

His finger's already on the trigger, pulling in, and the line's perfect, none of them even know he's here. When Nixon raises the stake, it's only icing.

*That's twice you've hesitated, Lex!*

"Drop it, Nixon."

Words can be as useful as bullets. Hesitation, a stake high overhead, and Lex lets his finger tighten.

There really is no substitute for a point-blank shot.

"Luthor." A long, endless moment, before Nixon turns around, watching him with wide eyes that burn with something very close to joy. It's as if he doesn't even see the gun, aiming for his heart, unaware he can count his life in seconds. "You have no idea."

"Drop it." There's a moment where Lex thinks Nixon is just as crazy as he looks, because there's a fucking gun pointed at his chest, and the man isn't doing anything but grinning. Huge and wide and something like ecstatic. "Drop it, Nixon."

The grin widens impossibly, and something in Lex's stomach turns over sharply. Thin lips shape words that change everything.

"I know what the kid is."

Falling between them like rocks, and Lex's finger relaxes on the trigger before his mind even knows he's made a choice.

That's three.

Clark's asleep in his room--knocked dead-out, something about meteor-rock exposure that Lex isn't too clear on. Jonathan Kent's been--less than forthcoming on the facts and Martha Kent's too busy to spare time from ministering to her exhausted son. He feels her just behind him now as he watches the sleeping boy and wonders what she's thinking.

A gentle hand brushes his shoulder, and he flinches, uncontrollably and more revealing than he ever wants to think about.

"So you know."

Yes, he knows.

Leaning into the doorway, Lex takes a deep breath. There's--nothing. Shock, maybe, or just exhaustion--he's been awake seventy-one hours and right now, nothing can surprise him. Not the boy sprawled on the bed like any kid in the world, not the woman behind him strung as tight as piano wire and still kind enough not to throw him out on his ass.

Very politic, he supposes, and he wonders how far Nixon has gotten toward Metropolis.

"Yes." Clark Kent, boy alien. Someday soon, the ramifications are going to set in--what this means, what it is, retrofit a friendship of almost a year to see every evasion and lie and possibility, but right now--

--right now, he can feel the gun warm in his hand, smell the gunpowder residue of a shot that was never fired. His hands are still clean.

"Come on. He'll sleep awhile." The hand's careful, not quite touching this time, clear in peripheral vision--an invitation, an offer, and a command all at once. Nothing he wants to obey, but he moves from the door, forcing his eyes away from the steady rise and fall of Clark's chest, the mess of grass-and-leaf tangled hair on his forehead. Utterly human in a way that Lex has never felt himself.

There's nothing in that room that relates to what Nixon said. Nothing at all.

The kitchen's quiet--Jonathan is in the bedroom where Martha left him, and Lex wonders if Jonathan's aware of Lex's presence. He's going to say not--and he's going to say it's deliberate, when he's pushed gently toward the kitchen table and a cup of coffee's placed before him.

Scalding hot, but he barely notices, taking it solid black in one long drink, lips burning, throat dry, and he feels it slide all the way down. Not nearly enough. It's on the tip of his tongue to ask for alcohol, but when Martha pours him a second cup and sits down before him, the words go away.

Very blue eyes look into his, reading him. Not what he's used to from her, not the searching glances or wry smiles, the indulgence and trust and hope but--different. A look he's never seen but instinct tells him is the look of a mother, ages old and constantly underestimated.

The danger, he thinks a little light-headedly, has never been from Jonathan, and maybe it's taken this long for him to see it. In that clearing today, if it'd been Martha there, the gun would have gone off, and likely from Martha's own hand.

He takes another drink of coffee, hoping to God his hands don't shake.

"Jonathan gave me the cliff notes version," she says, sipping her coffee with ladylike grace, as if this is any day in her kitchen. "I take it Nixon is on his way back to Metropolis?"

"Yes." Easier to simply answer her questions, something that doesn't require actual thought.

"How long do we have?" Her voice is only calm interest. Lex takes a second, trying to remember the editions of the Inquisitor, how long it will take Nixon to get to his editor....

"First thing tomorrow morning. At the earliest." There's a vague feeling he should offer to call the paper, see how much it would cost--but no. Anything else, maybe, but for this? A journalist's wet dream come to life. There isn't enough money in the world. Any world, come to think.

The thought chokes the coffee in his throat, and Lex swallows desperately, sucking in fast, panicked breaths, and he's twelve again in a cornfield, watching the meteor come at him, inhaler nowhere, and this is where he'll die.

That was Clark. Fuck, fuck, Jesus Christ and fuck.

Slim, cool arms slide around him instantly--the smell of lavender and good clean soil and sunlight and sweat, a woman who works, a woman who doesn't let him flinch away, pulling him close and holding tight. A woman whose son tomorrow will be public domain, their lives destroyed, but takes the time to cradle him like he's the one whose world is ending.

"It's not your fault." The soft, certain whisper curls through the air, like it's so obvious that anyone should know it, even him.

Hesitated, just long enough to say the words. He should have just shot. The knowledge he wanted was never worth this.

"Lex, look at me." Work-hardened hands force his head up, thumbs pressing indents into his cheekbones. "Never doubt this one thing. If you'd shot him when he told, it would have been nothing less that cold-blooded murder."

Nothing less than murder, but nothing less than what Martha would have done, even if Jonathan couldn't, Clark never would. Lex knows that as well as he knows his own name. His hands close over her wrists, but he can't push her away. She has to see it.

"If I'd known, I would have done it," Lex whispers, and the clear eyes hold his again--endlessly dark, waiting, watching, searching, finding. "If--if--"

"No 'if's'" she answers, and her hands tighten, forcing focus. "Now we deal. Jonathan. Clark. Me. You."


Deal. Right. He's good at that. Making plans, seeing them through. This should be child's play, because--there's so much that has to be done, and it's already sunset. Twelve hours from now, everything changes.

"You have to get out of here." The words are easy enough to say, and that starts everything moving. The Kents have to leave. Now. Hours ago. Yesterday if possible, but before that story explodes Metropolis, before the vans and the reporters, the scientists and the government get here, track down, find out everything. "Take Clark and--"

Martha shakes her head briefly, and some part of him has the time to be utterly frustrated. "You have to--"

"Yes, Clark does."

"All of you."

The pause is forever, and Lex can't figure out what she's trying to say, what she--


"No." Pulling her hands down, they fall almost strengthlessly into his lap, and he's cupping them, the first rise of shock receding. This is something he can deal with. "You can't stay--"

"We're not. But we're his parents, and they'll know to look for him with us. And three people--" she trails off, mouth hardening, turning down. "We'll leave tonight, Jonathan and I."

"I can get you out of the country." God knows, they really do have those twelve hours. Nixon won't share this with anyone if he can help it. "LuthorCorp jet--"

"No. You aren't going to be connected, Lex." Her pause is delicate this time, and maybe he's just too tired to follow along, but--

"Commercial flight out of Metropolis," Lex says slowly, trying to follow. God, anything for something high proof right now. "Nixon won't share this with anyone tonight, too big, and he's too stupid to think--"


"I'll have tickets for all three of you waiting at the airport." His hand is already reaching for the cell phone that's nowhere in his jacket. In his car, of course. He hadn't wanted witnesses in that clearing today.

"Three tickets. Only two people." She's looking at him like his dad does sometimes--Lex, keep up, why aren't you getting this? None of this is making sense. "They need to follow us, Lex. They need to think we all left together. They need to believe that you knew nothing about it."


Slowly, she stands up, crossing back to the other side of the table and picking up her cup of coffee. The surreality isn't getting any easier to handle, and Lex rubs his hands together, wanting to keep the fading warmth of her touch on his skin.

"Jonathan and I can't protect Clark anymore." The coffee cup presses neatly to the table. "There's nothing we can do except buy him time." Her hands flatten on the table and the clear eyes meet his. She isn't hiding anything at all. "Buy you time."

The words penetrate.


She nods slowly, naturally, and Lex feels his hands begin to shake--even the tight grip he takes on the edge of the table doesn't do anything to stop it.

"Buy the tickets for three people," Lex hears himself say, and it's the Luthor in him that lets him do this, just work it out. "I can find someone to go with you who will match Clark's description. Disappear. Good so far?"

She nods slowly in approval, sending a ridiculous flicker of warmth through him. Focusing, somehow.

Questions, possibilities ripple to the surface of his mind. Problems to fix. "Pictures. All of them are here? Of Clark?"


"Burn down the house." All natural, this plotting. Wipe out evidence. Very Luthor. "There'll be an investigation of the entire town--"

"You can hide Clark. Get him out of Smallville. Somewhere safe."

She's amazing. Lex nods slowly, thinking of the basements, the attic, the thousand places that even the best and most thorough investigation would never find. Temporary accomodations until the worst is over. Scottish castles are useful things.

"Temporarily. My father wants me to move back to Metropolis," Lex says slowly, carefully. "I--I can get transferred out of the state." And he can even think of how to do it. "Somewhere--"

Else. Out of the country might be better, somewhere Clark's never been seen, but Lex doesn't want to push his dad too hard.

Reality will set in soon enough, and doubtless the flaws in this plan will come out very fast, but Lex thinks best when he's cornered, and this is cornered, more than he's ever been in his life.

There's something terribly inspiring about desperation.

"You'll have all the money you need," Lex says slowly, and Martha nods like she expected nothing less. God. "I know how to set it up."

"I know."

Of course she does. She just gave him her son. The hugeness will sink in later, but right now--right now, it's still pushed aside to get this done. They have eleven hours. "Will Mr. Kent agree?"

Her smile's very slow and very, very careful.

"This is the only way. He will." Standing up, she brushes a hand lightly across her shirt, dislodging stray grass and dirt. "I'm going to go talk to him."

Go talk to Clark, she doesn't say, but she doesn't need to. Lex's feet feel heavy and he's awkward like he hasn't been in years, stumbling over the chair before finding his feet and the wall with one hand, throwing her a meaningless stretch of lips that has nothing to do with a smile, and he's walking numbly up the stairs, pushing the door open and finding Clark up on both elbows.

Staring at him with the wide, shell-shocked eyes of a child who finds out that the nightmare is reality. Lex leans into the door, hearing the snap of the latch as it closes behind him.

"Lex--" He stops, voice breaking. "I could hear--"

"Yes." A boy's room in every way. Lex glances around, taking his first and last view of this room, memorizing it for some reason that seems important. "Pack what you want to take."

The golden skin fades paler, almost sallow, unattractive on anyone else, but Clark makes everything attractive. White lips press together tightly, parting for words that are barely a whisper.

"I can--"

"You can't do anything." He needs something to do--anything. Crosses to the dresser, opening it, throwing clothes on the bed. "Find a bag, Clark. Your parents don't have much time."

There. That got him, sitting up straight, eyes wide and dark, shock erased by blind fear.

"They--wouldn't be hurt--"

"They took in an alien for twelve years." Strange, how absolutely unbelievable this sounds. "Questions are the very least they'd be subjected to." Next drawer. Lex has no idea what he's touching--t-shirts, jeans, a teen boy's wardrobe choices for rural life. It almost doesn't matter. Activity is key here. He's got to have his focus. "Clark. Get up."

He sounds like his dad, and that's a thought that penetrates, making him wince. Cleaning out the third drawer, he turns around, seeing Clark standing awkwardly in the middle of the floor.

"I can't--"

"You will. Where's your bag?" Just do. Easier than thinking, and more productive at this point as well. He watches as Clark kneels, scrabbling under the bed until he pulls out a worn backpack and a duffel bag, pushing both onto the bed with slow, clumsy movements. "Pack. What else do you want?"

"I--" They both freeze to hear Jonathan's voice, loud, and for Lex, mercifully muffled by walls and distance. Things being knocked over, and Clark stumbles to his feet, taking a step toward the door, hand reaching out.

"No." He does sound like his father, command voice, refusing anything but perfect obedience. His father's son, he supposes, and he crosses the room, catching Clark's wrist, jerking it back down. Clark stares at him like a stranger, which may not be far from true now. "Your mother is handling it. Finish packing, get your shoes. We don't have a lot of time, Clark."

The jerky nod is really the best Lex could have hoped for, and he goes over the room while Clark dreamily stuffs clothes into the bag. Quiet, unwilling acceptance while Clark gets a few childhood momentos--no pictures, Lex took those out of his hands and got a long, pained look before understanding dawned. Socks and shoes laced on, and Clark pulls the backpack on, picking up the duffel, following as Lex walked out of the room.

Martha and Jonathan are in the kitchen. And it says a lot, that Martha is so deathly, absolutely calm--her plan won, everything in motion, and Lex has to admire that will that he wishes he'd known more of. Wishes he'd known her better, but so glad, so very glad he gets this much. Jonathan doesn't look at him at all.

"Who is going to stand in for Clark?" Martha asks softly. Two bags are by the kitchen table, neatly closed, ready to go. She has a light jacket pulled over jeans and shirt, and she looks--ready. Able to do whatever needs to be done, and done now.

"I'll have him meet you at the airport," Lex says evenly. He already knows who to call, who he owns, who will never speak a word. And he can dispose of him just as easily if he has to, no questions asked. Martha reads every thought that slides through his eyes and nods, and he's glad about that, too. No verbal explanations required, not to the men with them that would never understand.

"Contact?" Martha asks, pulling her jacket closer.

"One month. Cash will be waiting for you at the airport." Slid through enough grey channels that no one could possibly trace it back to him. Waiting a few more seconds, he watches Martha's eyes fix on Jonathan, before she nods and walks to her son. Clark, shaky and frightened and in too much shock to do anything but stand there, and Lex takes the bag from him, walking out the door.

The sunset's already died, leaving night dark and thick and heavy around him. Shivering more from the thought than anything, he walks slowly to his car, finding his keys without thinking, opening the door and tossing the bag in the back seat.

Clark, right under the noses of investigators. It tickles him to consider sending him to Metropolis to hole up in the penthouse or one of Lex's apartments, but Lex can see Martha's head shake in his mind, hear her voice, what she didn't need to say. Your responsibility, Lex. Yours alone now. No, he can do as well as she did--Clark won't leave his sight.

Turning around, Lex watches in surprise as Jonathan Kent comes down the stairs--unsteady, bright-eyed, and so much anger that Lex instinctively backs up into his car, pushing the door shut with the weight of his body.

There's no words, not really--none that will cover this, and some part of Lex wants to stammer out apologies, and the first that comes to mind is probably the worst he could say.

"I'm sorry I didn't shoot him."

Or maybe not. The man pulls up short, chest heaving, eyes dark and wild and some bizarre combination of emotions that Lex can't even begin to interpret. Staring at him, looking through him, and then the second breaks.

"It would have been murder." The words are grated out between clenched teeth, but it's true, so true. Jonathan Kent wouldn't have killed Nixon, not even if he'd had the gun in his hand when Nixon spilled those damning words. "I'm better than that. So are you."

No, I'm not, Lex almost says, and bites his tongue. Waiting.

"Take care of my son." There might be more--Lex isn't really sure, because Martha and Clark come outside. He can see the tracks of tears on Clark's face, the pain broadcast in the hunch of his shoulders, the lowered head, but Martha is calm. Controlled. Ready to get everything in place before she's able to break, and Lex wonders how she does it, how she can do it.

Lex turns his gaze to the ground as the family stands together for the last time, closing his ears to whatever they say--family things, little things that don't mean anything to anyone not a part of it. Only when a hand touches his shoulder does he look up, and it's Martha, studying him.

"Be careful," she says, and he nods, mouth dry when the slim arms encircle him, quick and tight, enveloping him in understanding.

"I won't hesitate again," he whispers into her hair, smelling corn and soap and exhaustion and desperation. It's a promise, and when she looks at him, the worry and fear are touched with confidence.

She understands what her men never will.

"I know."

Clark's silent on the drive back to the manor--still in disrepair, the window blown out, and under other circumstances, Clark might have commented, but he's sunk so deeply into himself that Lex is faintly surprised that he rouses himself enough to notice that they're in front of the main doors. Getting out, Lex gets Clark's bag, crossing in front of the car to get a grip on the slim arm as Clark stares around blankly, unmoving.


"Later." They need to talk--oh God, do they need to talk, because Lex needs to know so much, and the alien thing really is the least important of them. But the refrain is later and it's going to be like that for awhile. They'll have to deal in shorthand. "Come on. I'll get you settled."

"They'll search here." Clark follows like he has no idea what he's doing. Auto reaction--when pulled, he moves. Probably strong enough to stop Lex without even thinking about it, too. Fascinating thought that Lex wishes he had the time to indulge.

"Not tonight they won't." Morning will bring the changes, but this is grace time. He has hours before he needs to start that fire, erase whatever evidence there is to erase.

"I don't--how--"

Lex grins tightly as he pushes open the heavy door. The servants are long gone, Metropolis or Smallville for the next week until repairs are completed. Lex thinks of small hotel he set them up in and of the fact he'd had thoughts of staying there himself, despite the fact his room was undamaged.

This part of the house looks well enough, but Clark barely notices, even on the long trip up the stairs. A different turn here, and Lex pushes open his bedroom door, seeing some flare of interest gleam in the dark eyes, looking around as Lex sets the bag on a chair by the door, flipping on the lights.

"Do you want to take a shower?" Lex isn't sure if leaving Clark alone is a good idea quite yet, but there's still dirt-stains on his clothes, leaves in his hair, a smear of mud on his cheekbone. A frightened kid, and it's easier right now to think like that. Not just his friend, Clark Kent, but this impossibly young kid standing awkwardly, everything changing too fast for him to adapt.

Probably thoughts of running trickling through his head, and Lex tightens his grip, forcing eyes the color of spring leaves to look into his.

"You promised your mother," he says softly, and the little start's confirmation enough. Half of him wonders what was said, what she told her son--the other doesn't care. He can imagine. And he has his own promises to keep.

"I--I know." Defeat, exactly what Lex needs to hear. "I--yeah, a shower would be good." He's just going through the motions, but activity is necessary, Lex knows that. Nodding, he steps back.

"That door," he says, pointing to the smooth wood to the left. "I'm going to make some phone calls." He has three lines to his bedroom, so it's a short trip to the bed to pick up the phone. Some kind of miracle that the phones here are working at all, and he'll be more startled about it later. Three calls, none of which will be at all odd, none of which will be traced, because though he's been turning over a new leaf, he's still a Luthor.

The third line, then. Money for the Kents, one dupe to play the part of Clark, and one to check on his dad.

Watching Clark go into the bathroom, Lex starts.

Clean and somewhat dry in sweats and a t-shirt, Clark is standing awkwardly at the door when Lex finishes the conversation with his father's doctor.

"Is--is your dad okay?"

Taking a breath, Lex rubs the bridge of his nose.

"He wants to talk to me personally about the surgery." Impossible tonight--he'll have to make some time tomorrow to go, though God alone knows how. "The doctor sounded positive, so I assume he came through well enough." Lex almost stands up but thinks better of it, patting the mattress beside him. "Come here, Clark."

Their friendship, Lex thinks as Clark hesitates, eyeing the space as if it contains something dangerous, probably was never near ready for anything like this. Or really, no one's could be, if he's honest. It's a small relief when Clark sits down gingerly, smelling of clean boy and expensive soap, hair curling wet and dark around his face.

"Lex--" He sounds determined now. "We--I mean, it doesn't have to--"

"You'd like to turn yourself over to whoever comes out here?" Lex asks smoothly, watching fear wash the color from Clark's face, mouth open in shock. Good. "The decision's been made, Clark. Your mother explained?"

Jerkily, Clark nods, face turning away, pure line of his profile to Lex. Angry and scared.

"I--my parents--"

"We'll find a way for you to see each other," Lex answers, not sure of that at all, but he knows that's what Clark needs to hear. Later will be enough time for the reality to settle in. "They'll be safe, I promise, Clark. So will you."

Licking his lips, Clark looks down, staring at his knees.

"I--you know. I--"

"Yes." God, alien. It should be a hell of a lot more jolting, but Lex is on a sleep-deprivation high. Hell if he knows how he's supposed to feel about anything. "Nixon was pretty specific."

He doesn't see blame in Clark's eyes, for the hesitation that cost him his life. Too much his father's son, maybe.

"He doesn't have any evidence. Dad said he destroyed the film."

Lex nods, not in agreement so much as thought. "He has more. When he approached me, he said he already had something. He's not stupid, Clark. And he doesn't need much--the rumor would be enough. We both know that."

Or near enough to count--Smallville's high number of strange occurrences, Clark's presence at so many of them, God, it's just a surprise that it took this damn long for someone to find out the truth. And a bigger one that it took Nixon stating what should have been obvious to make everything click in place.

Words will be enough. Words splashed across the headlines of the Inquisitor is as good as a death sentence. Or worse.

Lex watches Clark's face--determination in the strong set of his brow, the stubborn curve of his mouth as he thinks through every possibility. Lex wonders how often Clark's stayed up at night, wondering about this very circumstance, how often his parents had those first years. Ideas floating through clear eyes, considered and discarded in the time it takes to breathe.

When Clark looks at him, the hollow resignation is almost painful to see. Relieving, too.

"How--I mean, what's going to happen?" To my parents, he doesn't ask. To me, he doesn't need to. Whether it's trust or the lack of other options, Lex doesn't know.

"Your parents will be safe. I've already arranged for them to have enough money to--well, stay lost for a very long time." Taking a breath, Lex watches Clark's face. "My father closed down the plant. I was negotiating to buy and reopen it."

Something flickers on Clark's face. "Was."

"Was." No way to do it now--he has to get Clark out of Smallville. "I'll agree to my father's terms and probably take control of LuthorCorp for the duration of his--incapacity. In Metropolis."

"I can't--stay in Metropolis." Clark sounds so sure of that. Lex lets himself smile briefly. "I mean, my picture--"

"If Nixon has decent quality footage, good enough for perfect recall of your face, I'll start driving domestic," Lex answers, letting a little smile curve his mouth. Clark doesn't return it, but Lex doesn't expect him to. "We'll work on that. And we won't be in Metropolis long--just until my father is well and reassigns me."

"I thought he wanted you in Metropolis, though."

Lex grins, unable to help it. "Not with the persuasion I'll be using." And Metropolis is what Lex knows--where to go, how to get things, things Clark will need. New identity, new history, something impossible to break, impossible to trace, something that no government or private agency in the world can possibly follow. Seeing the uncertainty, Lex reaches out, touching one shoulder lightly. "We can do this, Clark."

"You make it sound easy, like people won't see me--" Clark cuts off the words., eyes flickering down.

"Enough money and time, people won't notice." Not entirely accurate, but for once, the Luthor name is going to be fucking useful. Blindness bought and paid for, and Lex has cover story after cover story drifting through his head, ready for any and all eventualities. No one who knows him would imagine he'd risk himself for anyone.

He's never been so glad for his shitty reputation, his name, in his entire life. A youth spent in self-centered dissipation is paying off, like he's been waiting just for this one time, this one need. It's vaguely romantic in some desperately depressing way.

Amusing as hell, too. Forcing down the half-hysterical smile, Lex watches Clark simply sit, breathing. A luxury that Nixon's article will lose him far too fast. Should have killed him, then and there.

"What--" Clark swallows. "They'll search here, won't they?"

"Yes." Lex stretches his hands on the coverlet, feeling the expensive weave catch on the rough edges of his palms. Soothing and grounding in some way he doesn't bother examining. "But they won't find you."

Wide, desperate eyes stare into Lex's. There's an unfamiliar edge to Clark's voice--not quite anger, but close enough. "How can you be sure?"

"Scottish castles, Clark." Grinning, Lex shakes his head. "Trust me."

Right, like that's really an option right now, and that flickers over Clark's face, too fast to follow. Trust me, and the little pool of resentment that's been sublimated for immediacy rears up, rippling softly in the back of Lex's mind. Resentment he doesn't have any right to, never has.

Trust me. "Just try it," Lex hears himself say, and shit, not now, not now not now. "For kicks."

Clark catches the implications, all right--hot burn of color across both cheekbones, eyes narrowed, catch of breath. "That's not fair." The edge is stronger--yes, Clark Kent has a temper, yes, Lex has seen it before, and no, up until this second he really didn't think he'd ever want to see that again. "You--"

Things change.

"I don't have time to argue," Lex answered, standing up. Automatically straightening the fall of his shirt, noting the dirt and creases, the smudges of mud and God knows what on the sleeves of his jacket, the cuff. Rubbing it with his thumb, he keeps his back to Clark. Arson, deliberate arson--no need to hide what was being done, just who had done it. Nothing too fancy then--something a farmer would have on hand. Fertilizer and a gas stove, a match. Shouldn't take too long at all "Get some rest. When I get back--"

"You'll lock me up in the attic?" Challenge and so obvious, and Lex turns. Forgetting this is a desperately frightened kid who just lost his parents, forgetting everything but this was fucking insane.

Smallville, dammit. Everything's insane.

"Don't fuck with me, Clark." He's heard that voice before--spoiled rich kid who always, always gets what he wants, no matter who is in the way. The one he's never used near Clark, never had to, not until now. Like maybe a mask shed, or one put back on, Lex isn't sure anymore.

Nothing's sure anymore.

Fists are curled tight at his sides, and there's this--God, this irresistible urge to strike out. Why the fuck didn't you kill him, Jonathan? Every opportunity, and your son's worth it. His life is worth it. Resentment of a moral code Lex can't ever really understand, because he can't imagine not being willing, not being able, to make that decision.

So why the fuck *hadn't* he? What the hell had stopped the gun from going off?

Turning on a heel, he ignores the single step Clark takes toward him, the big hand that makes an abbreviated gesture, walking out the door. He has things to do, do now, no hesitation.

Never again.

He hasn't lost all of the less interesting skills he's picked up over the years--turning on the gas in the kitchen, Lex goes through the house quickly, opening doors, closing windows. Accumulation won't take too long, and he leaves, tasting the sweet-sick slick of gas on the back of his tongue, the smell soaking into his clothes.

He left his car down the road, off to the side in case anyone sees anything. There's a painful sort of abandon to the cheery yellow house, and Lex hears himself mutter apologies that make no sense.

Of all the stupid things to be thinking of right now....


It shouldn't surprise him, even though it still does--alien, Clark, remember?--jerking him around, meeting eyes as green as grass only a few feet away, wind-dried hair a mess of tangles, and bare muddy feet.

"You shouldn't be out here." The words are harsher than he wants, and Clark winces, almost stepping back. Dammit.

"Not until tomorrow morning." Clark stares at his house for an endless second--pain, hunger, need like something tangible that Lex could touch. Can't ever really understand, though--there's never been a place that meant that much to him.

"You don't need to watch this."

Clark doesn't answer with words, just a quick shake of his head. Taking another step closer, hesitant, awkward, and it hits Lex out of the blue like the obvious always does. Because if it isn't subtle, he's never going to see. Clark needs--

"Clark--" He breathes it, nothing behind it because there's nothing he can think to say.

"I'm sorry--"

"Jesus, don't apologize!" He can't handle that. He can handle alien and he can handle knowing he's destroyed the lives of people he'd cared about, he can handle the plan Martha outlined, the responsibility he's assumed in the place of that unused bullet, but he can't handle Clark apologizing. Not here, not now, not when he's playing arsonist on his best friend's childhood home at in the middle of the night

Clark's close enough to touch, smelling of soap and a cool May night and summer, wiping the scent of gas that still lingers around him. The touch on his shoulder is tentative, careful, like Clark's never been careful before.

"It's--it's okay. I mean--"

"You shouldn't have to see this." Live this. Live this lie when he could be snug in bed in his own home. Only thoughts, until Clark's voice breaks through, and Lex realizes he's been talking aloud.

"My whole life's been a lie, Lex." Lex forces himself to look up, the rueful, edged smile of a completely different person. Not the kid he left at the castle, not quite the best friend Clark, but some strange amalgamation of the two and more. Whatever else that Clark's hidden, prevaricated, buried, brought out and he's letting Lex see. "That much is pretty much the same."

"I should have killed him." He doesn't mean to say that, either, but Clark only tilts his head in thought, turning just enough to give the house a brief look, something flaring in his eyes before he turns back.

"My secrets aren't worth anyone's life," Clark says carefully, like he's measuring out the words. Like every one has a dozen meanings and he has to get every one right. "Not his. Not--not yours."

When the fingers drop away, Lex catches them. "Don't even fucking think it."

Looking over Clark's shoulder, he can see the backpack discarded in the very edge of light. Typical, to remember to pack but forget his shoes.

"They shouldn't have made you do this," Clark answers sharply, pulling away, hard enough for hot friction between their skins. Almost enough to make Lex wince, but not nearly enough to make him let go. "I can't let you. You--you did the right thing, and you get saddled with--with this. You didn't know what you were getting into, you couldn't know--God, Lex, I don't even know--know what I am."

"That doesn't matter."

"It does to me. It isn't worth it."

"You're worth enough for me to order a hit tonight." He could. The reality of it settling in now. Holding the green eyes, Lex sucks in a breath. "I can make two phone calls and Nixon will be dead before morning."

"No." Barely enough air to be sound, and Lex frees Clark's hand.

"I could do it myself." That he's not so certain of, but Dad's awake in his head, telling him, yes, you can. You can.

There's a terrifying possibility that in this moment, this second, he could. Get in his car, drive to Metropolis, and put a bullet in Nixon's head without flinching. Faced with this--a house about to burn, a broken boy, and one hesitation too many.

He could do it, and maybe that's not what Martha would have done, he can. The freedom of it is almost dizzying, too high, endless.

"No." Stronger, and there's a frantic edge to Clark's voice. "Lex, no. My life isn't worth that."

"Is mine?"

It only takes a second--a second to hesitate, a second to not-respond, a second to consider, and everything changes. A second that Clark doesn't take, big hands on Lex's shoulders.

Holding him in a way that's impossible to ignore, brush aside.

"Don't, Lex. You're better than that."

No, I'm not.

"Promise you won't leave." Clark stiffens, no other word for it, eyes flickering away. "Promise me and mean it, Clark. Let me keep you safe. One way or another."

He can see the conflict, the inner balance Clark's trying to make, reconciling what he is to what he's seeing, understanding. There's a terrifying second where something clicks, Lex can see it.

The smile that breaks across Clark's face like a beacon is not at all what he's expecting. Even close.

"You--you're holding me hostage for Nixon's life?" The tiny bark of laughter's unexpected for both of them, and Clark puts a hand to his mouth, as if he's surprised he made it at all. Another one escapes, almost choked out between them, and then Clark is laughing--laughing in some hysterical way that probably shouldn't be considered encouraging, but it doesn't really matter because Lex is laughing too, and then they're sitting in the middle of a dusty driveway with a house about to explode only fifty feet away from them.

This is a fucking riot.

"C-criminal mastermind who is--God, Lex, you're never going to get anywhere with threats like that!" Clark's hand closes over his shoulder again, hard and eager, helpless with choked laughter. "What next? Be good or I'll make you drive the Porsche home? Eat your vegetables or all you can have is dessert? Jesus."

"Stop it." Lex wishes he meant it. Clark's grinning at him, just grinning, like this is any other day, God, any time in their shared history, making him feel that--that thing again. Like they're just any two guys in the world, not a multimillionaire and a farmkid. Nor, apparently to add to the list, a human and an alien.

That just makes it worse. Clark has to feel it, too, and Clark's on his back in the driveway, laughing into a clear sky of stars. Hysteria and relief, yeah, reaction, probably, unhealthy, what the fuck. Leaning into one upraised knee, Lex can't help watching, just taking this one moment to forget everything else.

A long time, before Clark settles back down, and it's closer to the Clark Lex knows, and the smile he's offered is closer to calm. And completely real.

"You don't have to do this."

Lex shrugs. "I don't have anything better to do." It might be kind of sad how true that is. He honestly can't think of anything he'd rather have.

"I could have killed him too, you know." Clark offers it between them with supreme indifference. "I didn't."

"You couldn't," Lex counters, and Clark shakes his head slowly, almost indulgently. Annoying damn look from someone six years his junior.

"No, I *didn't*." Short pause, like Clark's working something out. "I wanted to, and I could have. And I didn't. It's not--it wasn't a matter of what I could and couldn't do. It was--it was deciding. And that was what I chose." Clark looks up at Lex, nothing hidden, nothing at all. Maybe never will be again. "There were three of us in that clearing with Nixon, Lex, not just you. And we all chose this." One hand gestures vaguely into the dark, taking in the empty, gas-filled house, the night, maybe Clark's parents on a frantic journey to Metropolis. "Do you--do you regret it?"

Every second. "Do you?" Lex hears himself ask, and shit, what's wrong with him?

Clark shrugs, dust jumping up beneath his shoulders in tiny clouds of grey haze. "Only every other minute or so." Turning his head, he holds Lex's gaze, the remains of the smile not quite disappearing. "You're not the only one, Lex. You've never been that alone."

Th quiet of the night settles around them like a winter coat, warm and welcome. Pushing himself to his feet, Lex extends a hand, unreasonably pleased when Clark takes it, bare feet scrambling under him until he gets his balance.

"You'll stay?" And of course, it sounds more like a question than Lex wants to acknowledge. He needs sleep. And alcohol. Badly.

Clark looks at him. Smile gone but not forgotten, the lines of worry and fear not quite faded for good, but the long fingers slide through Lex's like it's the most natural thing in the world. The dark lashes lift, something in them making Lex catch his breath.

"I guess." The little shrug's marvelous, and so's the crooked curve of his mouth, daring him to disagree. "I don't have anything better to do."'

The words loosen something in Lex's chest, and he lets out the breath he hadn't known he'd been holding. Clark moves a step closer, shoulder brushing his--comfort, Lex realizes in surprise. Instinct. Tightening his fingers around Clark's, he follows the steady gaze to the house, only seconds from the end. There's plenty of gas in there by now.

Tonight will have a bonfire that no one will ever forget.

the end

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