Psyche's Candle

by Basingstoke


Thanks to Livia and jacquez h. valentine for a kickass tag team beta.


Psyche's Candle.

*

The deep twilight blue is turning to black. The stars are shining already--it was a beautiful, clear day today, crisp and cool after the storm.

Beautiful day to kill a man. Beautiful day to die.

He's hiding in Clark's nest, sitting on the floor surrounded by Clark's shields against the world: his telescope, battered but unbroken. His backpack, still weighted down by textbooks. His ugly sheepskin coat.

Clark's couch smells like dog--it still has long black hairs embedded in the weave, in fact. Lex wonders who they got it from.

Lex keeps his armor in his pockets. Cell phone, wallet, PDA. They're all turned off at the moment. The cell phone isn't working anyway; the PDA is full of appointments he's missed. He's not sure what he's going to do about the factory. He's not sure what he's going to do.

He's not dealing. He wraps his arms around his knees and looks at the house.

The electricity is still out, but he can see the soft lights of candles moving through the house as Clark and his parents clean up. They don't know he's out here. He left the car pulled off the road at the mouth of the drive, hidden by a fence. If he's lucky, nobody will find him.

He hasn't been that lucky lately. He should probably leave.

He is sorry. He is.

He wants a normal family. He always wanted that, ever since the meteor shower, or maybe before. He can't remember.

Underneath the war there's love. He knows that. That's where it all comes from. And he thought, maybe, that in the moment when he pushed the pillar off his dad, that they connected. That maybe they really cut through it. That maybe they both remembered that they were father and son, and remembered what that could mean.

But they didn't, and his father hates him more than ever.

His father hates him. Smallville hates him. Metropolis thinks he's a curiosity, someone to read about in the tabloids. The Kents tolerate him. A select few employees might trust him enough to buy out the plant--but that was one of the appointments he missed today. One that he missed while killing a man.

He's completely fucked.

He's trying not to think about that.

He's wrapping himself up in Clark's things, because he thinks he's probably in love with Clark, despite the fact that Clark is growing less enchanted with him by the day. Or by the lie, he should say. Clark keeps finding him out.

He almost wishes Clark were as brainless as Victoria, but he wouldn't be in love with him then, now would he? He never fell in love with Victoria, despite her best efforts.

But Clark. Clark, Clark. He's sunk.

The wood is old and splintery under his butt. The couch behind him smells strongly of dog, which explains one mystery about Clark. Lex had been wondering if that was simply his natural smell--unfortunate, if true, but it didn't put him off.

Scent comes in a bottle. Smiles do not.

He thinks about Clark smiling and almost smiles himself. His face is hot and stiff, though, as if carved out of wood, and he doesn't make it.

Footsteps pound up the stairs. "Who's up here?" Clark rounds the landing, glass-shielded emergency candle in hand. "Lex?"

"Yeah. Sorry."

"What's up?" Clark sits on the floor beside him.

"Nothing."

"Aw, come on, it's never nothing with you."

"It's really nothing," Lex says. He's got...no job, no house, and only one friend. That's one remarkably big pile of nothing. "I have...people in from Metropolis cleaning up the castle. When my study went, my bedroom went as well. The hotels are all full of other storm victims, so I'll have to find the keys to another property. I think I gave copies to Nell, but I'm not sure..." He shakes his head. "But right now? I'm not doing any of that. I'm sitting and doing nothing."

"In our barn?"

"It's as good a place as any and better than most."

"You could come inside. The lights are still out, but the stove runs on propane and Mom made stew. It smells really good."

"I don't think that would be such a good idea."

"What? Why not?"

Because he could let Clark take him in and make him feel welcome, but it would be a lie. Eventually, Clark will find him out. Clark is no brainless beauty. Clark sees right through him. "Clark, I've made a terrible mistake in getting so close to you. There are a lot of people--a lot--who are going to try to get to me by hurting you. Nixon is just the first."

"That's funny. I thought Nixon was trying to get to me by throwing dirt all over you. Anyway, the first wasn't Nixon, it was Phelan, and you know what? I'm going to choose my own friends, okay?" Clark stands up and offers his hand.

"I'm a lousy friend, Clark," Lex says quietly.

"Yeah, I noticed how lousy you were when you were saving my dad's life."

"That's not the same thing."

"Lex!" Clark looks at him, puzzled and sad. "Would you get up, already?"

Lex turns away, looking down at his knees. He wonders what Clark would do if he kissed him. He banishes the image from his head, rubbing his temples carefully. "I'm good here."

Clark reaches down, grabs his jacket and hauls him to his feet. He scowls comically when Lex opens his mouth to speak, so Lex shuts up and lets Clark march him down the stairs and across the yard to the house.

Clark puts an arm around his shoulders as they walk. It's the first time Clark has touched him so extensively when he's not saving Lex's life; his face hurts, and he realizes he isn't controlling his expression. He doesn't know what Clark is seeing.

The kitchen is soft and yellow with candlelight. The stew does, in fact, smell extremely good; he hasn't eaten since before he killed Nixon.

He's not hungry.

"Dad, you were right, it was some homeless guy," Clark says, setting his candle on the counter by the door. The table is laden with a stainless steel pot and three earthen bowls. Duct tape covers the cracks in the windows.

Mr. Kent raises his eyebrows, mouth full of stew. Mrs. Kent sets down her spoon. "Oh, no--it's that bad?"

"The castle itself is structurally sound," Lex says, echoing the contractor he flew in from Metropolis. "But all the windows are blown out, some of the outside rooms are trashed, and a few of the towers have crumbled. I'll have to refurnish--or my father will, I suppose."

"That's terrible," Martha says. Clark fetches a chair from another room, slides it in between him and his mother, then brings down another bowl from the cupboard. "All that stained glass?"

"Broken," Lex says. "Which--my mother predicted."

Clark ladles up a bowl of stew and balances a biscuit on the rim. He pushes down on Lex's shoulder and Lex sits. "When it was still in Scotland she took me around on a tour. She showed me all those windows--and she told me every one would be broken one day. Either during the move or after, it didn't matter. Everything would eventually be smashed. Even beautiful things you don't want to break. Even the things you don't think can. Everything."

His eyes are closed. If he opens them, he'll see the Kents all wearing some variation on pity, worry or embarrassment. He knows he's acting crazy. He can't seem to stop.

"I'm not hungry. I should go." He stands and Clark grabs his jacket.

There's neither pity, nor worry, nor embarrassment on Clark's face. There's irritation and determination and affection, which just--hurts; what Clark wants from him is not what he wants from Clark, but Clark won't let him walk away.

He tugs away from Clark's hand but Clark's grip is like iron. "Clark, you're a very pushy host today."

"Lex, don't go," Mrs. Kent says.

He tugs. The lining of his jacket rips. Clark grabs his arm instead.

Mr. Kent looks at him. "Lex, would you let us be hospitable?" He's as tired as Lex, but as steely as Clark. Like father, like son--which is why he's walking away, trying to walk away, trying to leave before something else happens and a little bit more of his father shows through him.

And his father always tries to steal his girlfriends. Part of the game. What would he do with Clark?

He can't think about things now. But Clark won't let him go... Lex closes his eyes. He sits down. He's not hungry, but he takes a bite of stew anyway.

He wolfs it down. He empties the bowl and mops up the broth with the biscuit. He feels his brain folding back together, settling into place; he feels his body become heavier, more real with the warmth in his stomach.

He's ravenous, still.

"We can take the truck out and clean up the west field tomorrow--oh, and Betty found a huge flock of chickens hiding in her barn," Mrs. Kent is saying. "Many more than just hers. We should go and see if any are ours, poor things."

Clark nods. "I saw a couple of the barn cats. I think they hid out. Think the coyotes made it?"

Mr. Kent snorts. "They're like cockroaches. Live through anything. Well, we can clean up first, and then get the chickens once it's getting dark. You're sure they cancelled school?"

"Yeah. The power is out everywhere except the hospital. Nell said they just cancelled school for the rest of the year. There was only a week left anyway."

"Too bad for the seniors--I suppose they'll reschedule graduation," Mrs. Kent says.

Mr. Kent nods. "Can't have much of a ceremony with that tree tossed in the middle of the stadium."

"No, they can have the teachers sit in the branches! It would be awesome! And Assistant Principal Lehner standing on the trunk with a bullhorn? It would be the best graduation ever."

Mr. and Mrs. Kent laugh. Lex looks down at his bowl. He's suddenly exhausted, but clear-headed, and while he should never have come, there's no place in the world he'd rather be.

"Lex, would you like some more?"

Lex shakes his head. "Thank you."

"All right." Mrs. Kent stands up and picks up the pot. "Well, here's lunch tomorrow. I think we have bread for breakfast--and you know, it's a good thing I didn't go shopping the other day like usual. We'd have a whole fridge rotting away instead of just the milk and jam. Clark, can you go pull out the sofa bed while I wash up?"

"Sure, Mom." Clark leaps up from his seat and takes a candle upstairs.

"I'll check the doors," Mr. Kent says, and gets up as well. He takes a flashlight instead of a candle.

Mrs. Kent sets the pot on the stove and covers it with a tight glass lid. Lex stands, slowly, aching throughout his entire body, and gathers up the dishes. There's a print of Clark's lip on the edge of his glass. He doesn't rub his thumb over it.

"Thank you, Lex." Mrs. Kent runs water over the dishes, washing away the traces.

"Mom, where are the extra blankets?" Clark calls down the stairs.

"Top of the closet!" Mrs. Kent washes up quickly, setting the dishes in the drainer. "We'll want some of these candles upstairs...Lex, I should warn you, the hot water heater needs electricity to turn on and Clark and Jonathan used it all up. We'll have to heat water on the stove and takes baths in the morning."

He shouldn't stay, but he's ravenous. "That'll be fine. I did that for four months as an undergrad, you know."

"Really! Stingy landlord?"

"I had classes during the handyman's office hours. I couldn't be there to let him in until after finals. I suppose I should have called a real plumber, but I was too busy to care. Plus? You can study while taking a bath, and you can't do that in the shower unless you laminate your notes."

Mrs. Kent laughs.

"So once the hot water heater was fixed? I laminated my notes." Lex smiles. He covers up his blunders. He tries to convince Mrs. Kent that he's balanced and normal.

Usually he's better at this.

Clark bounces back down the stairs. "I found the blankets! So the bed is all made up."

"All right. You boys look exhausted. Bedtime for everyone." She rests her hand on Lex's shoulder and guides him to the door. "Oh! Candles."

She hands each of them two of the candles and blows out the rest. The house is almost entirely shadow then, with only the soft glow where they stand. Clark is delicate and gilded until he grins at Lex and puts a candle under his chin, casting weird shadows from his nose and chin. "We should stay up and tell horror stories," Clark says.

"I've had enough horror for one day," Lex says.

"Oh." Clark lowers the candle, turning back into sad-eyed Eros in the hall. "Sorry, that was dumb."

Mrs. Kent urges them to the stairs. Lex follows Clark up and the stairs creak under his feet, each step a different note. He's never been in this part of the house before. He's never been welcome. "Are you sure you want a killer under your roof?" he asks abruptly.

"Yes," Mrs. Kent says.

He can think of no other objections. She knows his name, she knows him nearly as well as Clark does. She knows what he's done. He's sure she knows he's in love with Clark, and she's seen that Clark won't let him walk away.

Lex looks at Clark's broad back, haloed in light. Mr. Kent stands at the top of the stairs.

The guest room is also the study. Lex sets his candles on the desk, revealing a stack of software boxes and the monitor, gleaming like a dark mirror. He sees himself, green and distorted. He sees the stars through the cracked window behind him.

He turns to the window. "Did you know that Orion, the Hunter, is also Hercules fighting the lion and Osiris, the god who rose from the dead?"

"Yeah. And the three pyramids at Giza? Are shaped like Orion's belt."

Lex stares out the window. "Orion fell in love with the wrong woman and was blinded by her father. He regained his eyesight when he was led in the direction of the rising sun. The constellation runs west, though, which doesn't make sense... he's facing away from the sun."

"Well, it hurts to stare into the sun," Clark says.

"My father is blind."

Clark draws a breath. "Since when?"

"Since I authorized surgery. Since I let them take the aggressive route, which was the wrong route, and blinded him. This morning."

"Oh, man..."

"It's been a real fucker of a day," Lex bites off, catching his tongue between his teeth.

"It wasn't your fault. You're not a doctor, you didn't do it." Clark draws closer, gesturing broadly as the candles gutter in his hands.

Lex lifts his chin, still facing the window. He sees Clark and himself like fractured ghosts in the glass. "Do you think that really matters?"

"Yeah. It does." Clark looks at the candles; he sets them by the door. Their reflections are backlit in the window, black silhouettes. "It matters to me. You're not trying to hurt people."

Yet he still is, over and over.

Clark touches his shoulder, obviously angling for a hug. He wants to. He still carries the body-memory of Clark's arm around his shoulders as they ran across the catwalk and the bruises Clark left on his chest by the river.

He still feels his father's hand in his and hears his father wishing he had died. "Please don't," Lex says.

"Lex, I want--"

"Please don't."

Clark pulls back. Lex can't see his face. He doesn't dare look, not even for a moment. "I don't want that," Lex says.

Clark says nothing, but his breathing is very loud.

"You're my friend. And that's--more important than you probably think, especially now." He feels his face freeze over, safe and hard again. He risks a look at Clark.

Clark's throat bobs as he swallows. "To me too," he says, and his voice is hoarse.

Lex offers his hand. Clark seizes it--his palm is sweating--and Lex folds Clark's hand in both his. Clark's face betrays confusion and no little sorrow. Heartbreak, which means affection, and possibly love.

Love and war. Lex holds Clark's hand until Clark's mouth twitches, betraying his thoughts: a kiss. He releases Clark and steps away. "Goodnight."

"'Night," Clark whispers. He bends and picks up the candles. A rivulet of wax falls from the unshielded pool near the flame, trickling down the side of the candle and over Clark's fingers. Clark doesn't notice as it burns his skin.

There's a folder on Lex's PDA labeled "project C." It's password-protected and written in shorthand. He does not fish the device out of his pocket and scribble this down. He does not cross-reference it to other observations.

Clark closes the door behind him.

A bruise is settling into Lex's right eye, relic of the bookshelf and his moment of hesitation. He wishes the cut would scar--but he hasn't scarred since the meteor.

The sheets smell of detergent and dust and are staticky against his skin.

He dreams of casting light on Clark's face; he dreams of Clark opening eyes full of tears. He dreams of glass breaking.

*

He turns over onto his back, cheeks wet with tears, and someone's hand rests on his arm. He doesn't open his eyes. He doesn't look.

*

He wakes up with the sun on his face. By his watch, it's 9:30. He's slept for twelve hours.

There are some neatly folded clothes on the chair beside the bed.

He goes downstairs in his own black pants, Clark's white socks, Clark's soft blue boxers, and Clark's red flannel shirt. The soft detergent scent and ineradicable twinges of musk surround him as he moves. He wonders if his own cologne will rub into the cloth, giving Clark the same odd feeling when he next puts this shirt on.

He feels like he's wearing Clark's skin. He tries it on for size.

He wonders what Clark's secret is--the one that Nixon was trying to sell. He wonders how much he already knows. He wonders what would happen if he found out the entire truth.

He resolves never to find out.

A press-pot of coffee waits on the countertop. He pours a mug and drinks it down black. Clark takes it that way too: surprising, since you'd think he would load up with sugar and cream.

He hears the truck in the yard. Clark pulls in with his father in the seat next to him and a load of debris in the back.

Clark gets out and jogs around the side; he opens the door and pulls his father out of the truck into his arms. Strong farm boy. His father is either unconscious or asleep.

Lex meets him at the back door. "Is he all right?"

Clark nods, smiling. "He's just sleeping. He got up at five, like usual, and he just completely crashed. Mom said to put him to bed."

Lex follows Clark up the stairs. "I'm relieved. I hope you're sure, though. Head wounds can sneak up on you." Mr Kent's right eye is swollen from the blow he took. He looks small, almost delicate in Clark's arms. Almost fragile.

Clark pauses at the top of the stairs, squinting down at his father. His father stirs slightly. "No, he's really okay. I guess you--" He looks at Lex. "You don't like him, but you really care, don't you?"

"I've always cared. He's important to you, so he's important to me."

Clark looks down. He carries his father to the bedroom and sets him down on the bed; his father frowns and stirs but doesn't awaken, even as Clark tugs his boots off.

Clark shoos Lex out of the bedroom and closes the door. "Thanks," he says.

"For?"

"Caring." Clark smiles. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine."

"Really?"

"I'm fine." Clark's shirt is warm against his skin. He's very much in love. He killed a man last night and he's not going to jail for it. It works out, he thinks, to "fine."

"And we're still friends, right? Because--" Clark squirms.

"Nothing could keep us from being friends." And he means it. He does. It's a certainty, like a paperweight on his brain pinning down his thoughts.

The door opens behind them. Mr. Kent stands there, rubbing his head. "Dad, go back to bed. Mom says you need sleep," Clark says.

Mr Kent scowls. "Clark--"

"No, seriously, Dad, or I'm sending Lex in to sit on you!" Clark puts his hands on his hips. Lex puts up his dukes.

"Well, for heaven's sake." Mr Kent looks from Clark to Lex; he shakes his head, but turns and goes back into the bedroom.

Clark grins at Lex. "Are you busy?"

His PDA is stuffed with appointments he has no way of keeping. His cell phone still doesn't work. "No."

"Want to pick up trash? It's almost fun."

He's trying on Clark's skin. "Sure."

Clark drapes an arm over Lex's shoulders and they head downstairs.

end.



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