One For The Road
Disclaimer: They're all firmly in the 'not mine' category.
Summary: Smallville has a few surprises left for Lana.
Spoilers: Umm... not so much, but consider anything through "Vortex" fair game.
Notes: Many, many, so very many thanks to jenn for encouragement and betaing and general goodness. Feedback always adored at email@example.com.
Late July in Smallville is business as usual, but it all seems frighteningly unfamiliar to Lana. Knowledge of abrupt and life-altering change came early for her, and everything after always seemed slow and gradual in comparison. Even the insanity of high school, Smallville-style, never quite registered as high on the scale, not when the only way to keep going sometimes was to just... compare. Whittle down the hugeness of anything and everything by putting it into a certain sort of perspective.
But now... Leaving, most likely for good, is reintroducing her to the concepts of sudden and jarring. She takes a break one day from packing and drives to town to look around; she heads back quickly because the new management at the Talon has already made visible changes and the 'For Sale' sign in the window of Nell's shop makes it a little difficult to breathe evenly.
She's a little excited. But she's more scared. She's been waking up every morning to so many objects to pack and the feeling that she has nothing to take with her.
Nothing that matters. It all slipped away while she was busy convincing herself that nothing was so important in comparison.
The stable used to be a comfort, her safe space, her haven. She used to be able to come here and tend to the horses and forget that outside the wooden walls, life consisted of more than the soft sound of animals breathing, occasional snorts and hooves scraping across dirt, the smell of leather and hay, animal sweat and manure.
It retains that quality, but to a lessened degree. Spitfire is the only horse they haven't sold, and she hates to look at him and know that she has to decide soon whether or not to accept the offer the Carpenters have made. Still, it's better than staying in the house, where a lifetime of neatly arranged clutter is being methodically gathered and sorted and arranged in carefully labeled boxes.
Where she can't help but look out the window and see the Kents' barn and think about Clark. She's tired of looking, tired of thinking, tired of being angry.
In the stable there's still the sense of life in motion, and there's nothing to be angry about. Spitfire makes a soft sound at her arrival and watches her solemnly from his stall as she brings three saddles from the tack room to work on cleaning them one last time, and after she settles down to begin wetting the leather and soaping it, she finds it relaxing to talk to him softly about life, about her trifles and regrets and fears.
He's a good listener, but she wishes briefly that he could offer advice. When she's soaped and rinsed each saddle and set them aside to dry in the hot shade, she goes to him and takes a moment to rub his nose and scratch around his ears. Time fades away, and she's idly thinking about taking him out and giving him a thorough grooming when she hears the shuffle of feet behind her.
She turns and sighs. "Lex," she manages curtly. "What are you doing here?"
"Thought I'd drop by and see an old friend." He's watching her intently, in a way that makes her wonder if something's happened, if there's yet another round of insanity about to start and send her out of Smallville with a bang, instead of with the muted whimper she's managed so far.
"Nell isn't home."
"Lana." Low laugh, slight softening of his expression. "Have I done something to make you angry?"
"No, I --" She stops, sighs. "I'm sorry, I just -- Bad day."
"No need to explain. I was teasing you, Lana." He raises an eyebrow and tips his head to the left, towards the Kent farm. "I haven't forgotten certain... circumstances."
"Right." She frowns, unhappy with being reminded of Clark. "So you just dropped by."
"Is that not allowed?"
"No, I... I just can't really imagine why."
"I understand your moving day is soon."
"Next week." Unsettled for some reason, she distracts herself by checking the first saddle. Finding it warm to the touch, she moves it to a bench and sits to apply leather conditioner.
"So." Lex wanders a bit, stops and runs a lazy hand over one of the other saddles, her favorite. The sun has lowered since she placed them near the exit, and the fading afternoon light is soft on his back while his face is in shadows. "What's troubling the prom queen?"
It drives her crazy, always has. He has this way of making her feel like she's five years old, like anything she says is cute but inconsequential in the adult world. There have been moments, yes, usually having to do with the Talon, but she's never ceased to feel that he counts the years between them on a much larger scale. "It's nothing," she mutters, scrubbing oil into the leather in front of her with only slightly muted anger.
"Ah. Clark, is it."
"What it is, is none of your business," she says, glancing up quickly. "Look, it's dumb, anyway. His choices are his to make, whether they make any sense or not."
"Right." He draws the word out, grates on her nerves. "How's Nell doing these days?"
It's not that easy, she knows. It can't be; it never is. But she plays along because maybe it's just better that way. "She's fine. She finally found an apartment in Metropolis that she likes."
"Of course." Oil, rag, leather. She focuses and tries to push everything else away, but that like so much else is a failure. "Ever find that talking to people gets boring when you keep tabs on everyone?"
"At times. So tell me something I don't know."
"Did you know Clark isn't going to college?"
That wasn't supposed to happen. Not that it's a secret, but she wants to talk about Clark even less than Lex probably does. Still, he looks at her sharply. "I wouldn't know much of anything that Clark decides these days, would I?"
One of too many changes. Lana hesitates, then sighs and figures that caution is more the wind's thing than hers, anyway. "What happened between you, Lex? Clark always refuses to talk about it."
"No one thing." He lifts one leg over the bench and straddles it across from her, the saddle between them. "Let's just say that there were a lot of things that resulted in neither of us being able to pretend that what we had was still friendship."
"That's funny," she says bitterly. "You've got a lot in common, like never giving real answers to my questions."
Lex grins crookedly at her. "That mutual trait happened to be one of the bigger things for both us."
"There's stuff Clark wouldn't tell you?"
"Not according to him."
There's something far too familiar about what Lex is saying, and she narrows her eyes, twists the oily rag in her hands. "I always got the impression that you guys shared a lot."
"Oh, we did." He grins again, a hint of sly secretiveness behind it. "And now we don't. So he says he's not going, does he?"
"He says he can't," she says, blowing out an angry breath. "He has so much going for him, we had so many plans, and he -- he's blowing it all to stay here and do chores."
"The Kents are making him stay?"
She completely understands the incredulous tone in his voice. "I don't know. All Clark told me is that they might lose the farm if he leaves, that they can't afford to hire enough help to replace him."
"Paying one farm hand would be that much of a hardship? I was under the impression that the Kents were finally turning a profit. And they've pulled themselves through hard times before."
"I didn't say I understood it," she mutters. "What I'm left with is a sense that either Clark has an inflated opinion of how much he does around there, or there's another reason."
"Mmm." She can see a calculating glint in his eyes and wonders about that. "With Clark, there usually is some other reason. Which, of course, none of us are allowed to know."
"Bitter, Lex?" She smiles ruefully. "It's not becoming on you."
"I could say the same. Tell me, Lana, are you really this angry about Clark not joining you in Metropolis? It is his life, after all."
And again, she's getting the feeling that he finds her silly, overly dramatic, a child still. "I thought we were finally getting back on track to being friends. And now..." Lex just waits, silent. "Now, I feel all these lies between us again."
"Again?" She can tell a carefully schooled expression when she sees one, even on Lex. God knows, she's seen it enough from Clark. "Mind telling me what you mean?"
"Actually, I do."
"Touchy subject, I take it."
"I do still consider Clark a friend, Lex. And he doesn't consider you one."
"And why do you think that is?"
"You just refused to tell me."
"I didn't refuse. I avoided answering. Go ahead, press me on it."
This is a mistake, she thinks. This is bait; this is Lex being exactly what everyone has always said he is, and what Clark seemed to begin believing over a year ago. This is not something she should let happen.
But she's no longer so sure that her loyalty should lie with Clark, no longer sure that anything can be boiled to down to what everyone says. She hesitates, tries to search Lex's eyes and sees nothing helpful revealed in them, and she goes for broke. "What happened with Clark?"
She thinks she must be imagining the flash of approval that softens his expression. If it was there, it was fast, and he quickly reigns it in. "Clark lied to me," he says, as if he's telling her he had eggs for breakfast.
"And you're always totally upfront with everyone."
"I'm not saying that I never lied to Clark. He has reasons enough to hate me. But the fact of the matter is, I have my own reasons. At some point, all of them come down to certain truths, and a lot of lies."
"What did he lie about?"
Lex smiles and it looks almost sad in the shadows of the fading day. "Lana, how did I meet Clark?"
She frowns. "You nearly hit him with your car."
"He got me to believe that for awhile, too. I think I wanted to believe it, after awhile. Clark makes you want to believe certain things, have you ever noticed that?"
"Lex, I'm not sure what --"
"I hit him, Lana. Smallville has made me certain of very few things, but I am certain of that. And it was only the first of many times that he miraculously walked away from something that would have injured or killed anyone else."
She feels sick, listening to him calmly lay out what she's turned into a bitter joke in her head: Clark Kent, the luckiest guy on earth. "I don't want to hear this," she whispers.
"You asked me, so I'm telling you. Haven't you ever felt that his excuse of just being lucky violated a lot of statistical probabilities?"
"Math isn't my thing," she chokes out. She put this behind her years ago; she told herself that when push came to shove she didn't want to lose Clark by demanding to know too much. And she willed herself to forget, to ignore, to pretend not to see the holes in what he said.
She got so good at fooling herself, and Lex is ripping it apart in seconds, like he's found a loose string on a sweater.
"Simple addition. Smallville hasn't always been kind to you, after all. How many times has Clark been the one to get you out of danger?"
She closes her eyes. Breathes. "A lot," she admits.
"How many times have you ever seen him bruised? Scratched? Bleeding? How many times have you looked at your own injuries and wondered how much worse they should have been?"
"I asked him!" she lets out suddenly. "I tried, after the tornado, after... I pushed as much as I could. And after awhile -- I wouldn't see him for days. It was better to learn to believe."
"It was," Lex agrees quietly. "What I'm telling you is that I tried it, too. But call it pride, or just a sense of fair play: I couldn't stand the look on his face anymore when I wasn't completely honest with him."
"You must have gotten that look pretty often," she snaps, suddenly furious that he's drawn her into this.
He raises an eyebrow. "As a matter of fact, I did. And I deserved it most of the time. But that's besides the point, don't you think?"
"I'm not entirely sure what the point of this is."
"I was simply answering your question. What happened with Clark was that we lied our way right out of a decent friendship. So perhaps you can see why I'm curious about you feeling that he's lied to you. That he is lying to you."
"He is," she mutters, giving up. "I really did convince myself that it didn't matter. He was more important than whatever he was hiding. But..."
"But I guess you understand what it's like to have no idea why you're still alive, and to be so sure that he has something to do with that but be kept from knowing it all." She sighs and frowns down at the saddle. "It wasn't a big deal until the tornado. But he..."
"What did he do, Lana?"
"He looked so far away when I saw him. But he wound up in the truck, Lex. I know he did."
"After the funnel lifted you."
"And Clark said, no, no, you must have been confused, imagining things."
Swallowing hard doesn't help the bitter taste in her mouth. "I got that line a lot. But... I always was a little confused, you know?"
"Of course you were. And here we are, a little less confused and a lot angrier. Think he ever planned on that?"
"I don't know what to think, really."
"Think whatever makes it easiest. But know that something this complicated isn't going to be very easy at all."
"Not anymore," she says softly. "Look, Lex, I have a lot to get done here..."
"Of course. I'll leave you to it." He stands and brushes the possibility of dirt from his slacks. "It's been nice seeing you again, Lana. I wish you luck with everything."
"Yeah," she manages. He's wrong, she thinks, stuck a few minutes back. She's more confused than she's been in a long time, and over a lot more aspects of her life. "It's been..."
"I think the word you're searching for is 'enlightening'."
"Something like that. Good-bye, Lex."
He just nods at her and walks slowly out. It's a long time before she can bring herself to stop staring after him and return to her work.
And later that night, she stands out on the porch and watches the lights over at the Kent farm. Tiny pinpoints in the dark, like so many hints to the secrets he still keeps. Wondering if she'll ever know it all, she goes back into her increasingly empty house and goes to bed.
It's a week of boxes and tape and too many different kinds of household cleaner to count. Her chances to escape to the barn are few and far between, but it's there that Lex finds her once again. "You spend all your time out here?" he asks, watching her throw hay into Spitfire's stall.
She jumps slightly, quickly calms herself. "Whatever I can manage. Lex, I -- I wasn''t really expecting to see you again," she says. Mostly true; it seems somehow fitting and... and nearly predictable, that he would show up one last time.
Leaning against a wall, he's the picture of casual confidence. She's quite sure he has something up his sleeve. "I got to thinking it would be... unfortunate, to leave our last encounter on such a sour note."
"How considerate of you," she tells him dryly.
"Well, you know me." Glancing over at his tone, she sees him looking almost... playful. "So. Sad to be leaving?"
"In a way."
"But not entirely."
"A lot of bad memories," she says simply. "They seem to have gotten worse just recently. So now... a clean break from this place seems like it might be best. I need to put things behind me once and for all."
"Such grit, Lana. Such determination." He smiles lazily. "Talked to Clark lately?"
She stops everything and shakes her head at him. "How did you do it?"
"Do what?" He spreads his hands in false innocence. "All I did was ask a question."
"Mm-hmm." She narrows her eyes. "So you have no idea why he suddenly changed his mind about everything?"
"I never have an idea when it comes to Clark. Of course, there are certain... rumors around town that the Kents won't be having money troubles in the near future."
"Fine. Don't tell me what you did. But tell me why."
In the long silence that follows, she becomes certain that she's about to get another classic Luthor brush-off. But he relents with a slight smile. "Anything else about Clark aside, I was convinced from the beginning that he shouldn't be one of the ones who gets stuck here. After our talk last week, I became even more convinced."
"How philanthropic of you."
"Hardly. There's a certain... selfish aspect to it."
He leaves it at that and she rolls her eyes. "Care to elaborate?"
She gets a mockery of a considering glance. "Not really."
"Of course not. Lex, don't you ever just want to -- to spill your guts to someone?"
"Of course. And I used to try, to spill some of it at least."
"The web got tangled. I really wasn't very good at it. Possibly a Luthor genetic deficiency."
She can't help but laugh. "Well, whatever you did, and for whatever reasons, it worked. Clark is not only leaving Smallville, he's going all the way to New York."
"No." She frowns and moves into the tack room to start sorting through what she wants to keep for future horses. "It seems he feels certain doors are closed."
She's glad when Lex doesn't pursue that. "Harder to get home for visits."
"He didn't seem too worried about that. Look, Lex, we really didn't talk that much. He said things had changed, we did our awkward small talk routine, and I left."
There's a low laugh behind her, much closer than she would expect it to be. "Funny, that sounds a lot like the last time I saw Clark."
"Lex..." She sinks onto a bench, suddenly tired of everything. "Look, as far as I'm concerned, Clark can go and be whatever he is, wherever he wants. So could we not talk about him anymore?"
"Don't you ever want to spill your guts to someone, Lana?"
He really is close behind her. "Like who, Lex? Clark is obviously out of the question. Pete still gives him the benefit of every doubt, and nobody's heard from Chloe since the Sullivans moved back to Metropolis. She wouldn't care, anyway, not after -- there isn't anyone, Lex. Not anymore."
"After what?" he presses. "Why not spill to someone who might actually understand, Lana? Someone who's offering to listen?"
She twists and looks up at him. He makes it sound a lot easier than it could ever possibly be, but that's because he also makes it sound good, tempting, cleansing. "I slept with Clark."
"Did he tell you?"
"Of course not. It wasn't hard to figure out, though."
"Great. It's no wonder Chloe found out."
"Ah. Sounds unpleasant."
"Understatement. She... she avoided us for the rest of junior year, and then she moved."
"Gabe requested the transfer, you know," Lex tells her casually. "I tried to talk him out if it so that I wouldn't have to turn him down flat, since I didn't want to be the reason for Chloe leaving her friends. And then he told me he made the request for her. She'd suddenly become so unhappy in Smallville --"
"Yes, well, now you know. Of all the things I could have done to hurt Chloe, I picked the absolute worst."
"You didn't do anything to hurt Chloe. Chloe was hurt by something you did. It's a very fine distinction."
"It's not one I choose to make. That sort of moral tap dancing may work for you, Lex, but not for me. I don't want to be that sort of person."
He laughs yet again. "Don't want to be like me, Lana? I'm wounded."
"Save it. You don't want to be like you. Do you? The truth, Lex."
"The truth... the truth is that there are things I want to be, and who I am right now is very necessary to becoming those things. Something my father taught me and taught me well: you get nowhere if you stop and berate yourself at every turn. Sacrifices get made, have to be made, and some of them, for some people, are sacrifices of personality."
"That's pretty bleak."
"That's reality. Mine, at least." He leans in and she catches her breath. "Who do you want to be like? The truth."
"I don't know." It's a day for honesty, and her guts are on the floor in all their pleasant imagery, and Lex is close enough that his breath brushes her face lightly. She inhales and thinks that at least that part of him is like everyone else, that he can't make his breath smell expensive. It's good or bad, minty or not. His is surprisingly neutral, just a tiny hint of hours-old mouthwash and nothing else. She lays it all out. "I used to want to be like my mother, like if I could put enough pieces together and model myself after her, I'd be able to know her like I should have been able to."
"That changed." Not a question. She has absolutely no idea what's happening, just the insane realization that she's never, ever seen his face this close before, and that from here it doesn't look so shockingly smooth. He has pores and a couple of tiny scars from pubescent zits, and other slight surface imperfections just like anyone else.
"Yeah. She was this woman, and she got married and had a kid and went about her life until she died on a day when a lot of people died. I still wish I'd known her, I mean, God, I wish that so much, but I can't keep chasing this ghost from fifteen years ago, hoping I can make her possess me. She never would have wanted me to do that."
"mmm. What would she want you to do right now?"
"Right now." His smile is back, tiny and knowing and just the slightest bit cruel. "Alone with an older man of... questionable morals who tells you that you have about fifteen seconds to move before he starts touching you. What's old mom's advice?"
She doesn't say a word. She can't, but that's apparently enough because he takes her by the arms and pulls her to her feet. "Walk away, Lana. Last chance."
It's harder than he seems to think. She stands there and she realizes that she has no idea what her mother would have said, and that it really doesn't matter as opposed to her just saying it doesn't matter. She closes her eyes for a moment and pushes the lingering thoughts away, and then she looks at Lex and shakes her head.
The expression on his face is surprised, amused, tempted... and respectful. It's rare enough to startle her more than anything else today, this week; that this, at last, would be the thing to twist whatever view of her he's had all these years. His mouth curves in something that isn't quite a smile, and he raises a hand to curl around the back of her neck. "What do you say?" he asks, the hint of a cruel taunt beneath his words. "Something for the road?"
Her spine stiffens and she cuts her eyes away, hesitating more because she's not sure of how to proceed than because she has doubts. She has them, plenty of them, but none seem so important as to make her change her mind. Tipping her head back slightly, she feels the edge of his hand at the base of her skull, warm and bony beneath her hair, and it feels good to be touched, even by him.
Especially by him, knowing that at the very least, they have being pushed away in common. She leans forward slowly, resorts to gentle and delicate because... because that's just what has always worked for her, and when their lips meet Lex seems willing to go with it. His hand tightens on her neck but his mouth is soft and slow, giving her grazing kisses and small suckling nips at her lower lip. And he continues, just like that, until she shifts closer and brings a hand to his side.
Like he was just waiting until she could bring herself to really touch him. She can feel his smile against her mouth just before the slide of his tongue and an abrupt roughening, deepening. His free arm curls around her waist and there's something desperate and fierce in the way he backs her up against the gate of an empty stall, lifts her to sit on the railing, slides warm hands under her shirt to knead into her waist and lower back. She knows it's too late to turn back when she hears her own helpless moan at the feel of his lips and teeth on her throat; it's a certainty that feels good, a resignation that evaporates the last traces of uncertainty and lets her just... be.
"Should we move this inside?" he asks quietly, right in her ear.
She trembles under the pressure of his hands, his tongue; she brings her hands to his belt and shakes her head. "Here," she says. She hates her voice for sounding young and needy, for betraying truths she'd rather deny. "I don't want to go in there right now."
Lex just murmurs acquiescence against her skin. "Is there a blanket out here?"
It's hard to process the logic of the question. She finally manages to nod, and breaks from his arms to slide down to solid ground again. The walk to the tack room is impossibly long; she can feel Lex's eyes drilling into her back and as she closes her hands on an old wool blanket, all she knows is that she doesn't know what she's doing.
But she doesn't care. Lex is willing to take her back in silence, no questions, no demands, willing to pull her back against him and make life and time and anger slip away for the moment. It's a fumbling process to spread the blanket and fall to their knees in the barest cushioning of hay, but they manage and she's happy to lose herself to it. Because with him, sex turns out to be everything it is most likely meant to be: an echo of everything else he is. All of boils to down to just... different.
Even the real reasons behind it. She slept with Whitney because she was his girlfriend, because he adored her, because at the time of that decision she felt happy and free and she didn't see any reason not to. And she slept with Clark for reasons that still shame her, for reasons having to do with Whitney being gone so long and him being so familiar, so devoted, so there when she needed him. His constant secrecy didn't matter as much right then, because when she needed something to fill a void she couldn't define and to give her the edge of experience over someone for once, he was there for that, too. She's still ashamed about all of it, but especially about being grateful he didn't cry when she said they had to stop. The anger of his confusion was just enough to mask how she'd broken him, and almost enough to make her change her mind. Clark angry was always a beautiful and tempting rarity.
Truth be told, she does this with Lex because she can see her anger reflected in him and because he's every single thing that she never would have considered for so many years. He's different, and it's different. She was generally happy enough with Whitney, with Clark, with how and what they made her feel, but she never did manage to shake the feeling that she shouldn't be able to think during sex. She always thought, with them, of what was happening and what to do next and what motion might elicit a strained gasp and what she needed to pick up at the grocery that afternoon.
With Lex all she can think is, thank God, she's finally unable to really think. Sins of the flesh should be matter before mind, and fucking Lex with her clothes still mostly on in a musty pile of hay is most certainly a matter of sensation and sensation alone. Itches and aches and dirt and skin, and the wet slide of his tongue, the sharp sting of his teeth, the pressure of his fingers all over her body. Smell and hear and feel, and none of it requires any more thought than that necessary to register it in a haze of mute, blind motion.
In a pile of hay in a barn that won't be hers in the morning, Lex is rough and it hurts and she's never felt so good in her life. She thinks she might be able to love him for this if they hadn't all been learning to push each other away as the line between truth and lie started mattering in ways too convoluted to ever work through like adults. She could love him for the bruises that will form, for not really looking at her at all, for just closing his eyes and pressing guiding palms against her hips when she rolls him under and presses down.
She could love him for being as different as everyone has always accused him of being, and for being absolutely nothing like Clark.
But instead she fucks him in a stall until they're both filthy, and when he leaves, she still hates Clark in her own tiny ways, but it no longer seems to matter as much. She can leave that behind, with everything else.
Almost everything. Now, she has at least one thing to take along.
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