The Secrets

by Kate Elizabeth

Many, many thanks to Elizabeth.

She'd associated Lex with sensuality since she first saw the white shape of his head gleaming above warm blue water, bent to a girl's tan breasts. Lex had the girl's back pressed against the pool's tiled edge, had her arms spread out sideways and a wrist in each hand. The girl's head hung back, her hair a dark tangled mass. She made a low hurting noise and Lana squeaked, sort of scared, very confused. When Lex lifted his head, his mouth was wet and red and shiny. He licked his lips before he smiled at her. Before Nell hurried her away.

Lana dreamed about that afternoon. In some of the dreams, the girl in the pool rolled her head sideways and was Lana, herself, eyelids heavy and fingers clutching at the tile. But mostly she dreamed that she could feel Lex's gaze piercing time, shattering this pretty shell she'd grown to reveal the little girl within: the little girl staring back at him with wide and fascinated eyes.

Oh god, Lana thought, oh god, brain stuck and fluttering like a torn loop of videotape. The fire swarmed around her, roared and rushed in her ears. Oh god oh god oh god. She was going to burn and she knew how painful it would be. Not as quick as an explosion or a meteor. This would be a long slow roast and already her skin was heating, tightening.

And suddenly like always Clark was there - he just appeared between two licks of flame. "Lana!" he yelled, eyes wide, tearing off his jacket so fast he seemed to blur. Her eyes were streaming, so she couldn't really see. Throat so fiery she couldn't speak. And then she was wrapped in his jacket, couldn't even tell the difference between canvas and the hot solid air but it was darker and she was flying. In a moment everything got cooler and her eyes weren't so clogged with tears and smoke. She was coughing, breath scraping in and out of her throat, muscles of her stomach cramping from the force of it. She lifted her head. Saw the fire still leaping hundreds of yards away and Clark outlined against it like a dark constellation.

Lana struggled up. She tried to scream his name, get him away from it, but she couldn't make her voice work.

Something fastened around her wrist and pulled her back to the ground. She squawked in terror, tried to tug her hand free, rolled to see Lex Luthor there beside her on the grass, smudged and dirtied and torn. "No," he said. "Look."

She turned to look back at the blaze and saw a spume of blue crystals flying from Clark. The fire's roar quieted. Flames froze in shape, a perfect ice sculpture of devastation. He shifted and she saw that the spray was coming out of his mouth. She wanted to close her eyes but couldn't. Clark was killing the fire quickly, dousing it with that. That. Oh god.

"He-" she said, croaking, voice rising. "He-"

"Yes." Lex's fingers twined with hers, not carefully. Holding her there. "I know."

Clark turned toward them and even from this distance she could see the moment when he realized they were watching. His face went slack and blank and horrified and when his mouth fell open she was faintly shocked to see only darkness there, no glowing blue.

She started to back away. Realized it only when Lex's grip on her hand stopped her.

"Don't run from him," Lex rasped, staring at her. Irises brilliant blue in his reddened eyes. The bones of his fingers ground against hers and Clark came toward them, walking slowly, reluctantly. Behind him, the iced flames crashed to the ground.

Clark hadn't touched her the way he usually did after saving her life. He'd looked at her only rarely, shocky wide-eyed glances as they stumbled towards Lex's car. Talked only to Lex. He drove while she sat in the back alone, Lex in the passenger seat.

"You need a doctor, seriously." Clark's voice sounded even, but she saw the way his grimy knuckles blanched, bent around the wheel. They were going slowly, maybe thirty miles an hour through the drying corn. Clark took the curves with infinite care.

"No hospital." Lex coughed. "I'll call Toby."

"Lex, I'll do it," Clark said. "Where's his number? In your cell?"

Lex gave him a droll pained look. "The Titanium."

She listened to their secret language, mildly stunned. She watched the way Lex angled his head to watch Clark unobtrusively, the way his lips opened. Wonder, or anticipation. Sunny afternoon light streaked by the car window, striped across his dirty face. When the sunlight faded, the glow remained - some private delight banked and burning there.

Lana closed her eyes, still afraid.

Toby was a weird slack-bellied man with long stringy hair who looked as if he ought to smell. He didn't seem to care that she didn't smile at him when he entered the room.

She sat on the edge of the bed while he looked at the inside of her throat, took her blood pressure, listened to her breathing. The deep breaths hurt - rough and pulling, as if the tissues in her lungs had been tightened. She put a hand up to her throat instinctively, pushed at the pain.

Toby made a disapproving noise and pulled the stethoscope out from beneath the back of her shirt, then wiped his nose with his free hand. "Got some smoke in there, but you'll be fine, girlie," he said. "Take it easy for the next week or so."

Lana blinked, let her hand drop back to her lap. "All right," she said.

He rummaged in his bag. Plastic cases knocked dully into each other, pills rattled. After a moment, he found what he was looking for and held out a dull brown tube with a faded pharmacy label.

"Codeine?" Toby asked her, as if offering party favors.

"Yes," she said. Too quickly. "Yes, please."

In one of Lex's guest bathrooms, she cut off her burnt hair and tried not to look at herself. Her makeup had all washed off and the skin below her eyelids was puffed, purpled.

Her face. Fine-boned and naked, surrounded only by the short limp layers she had managed to save. Blunt chopped ends brushed the sides of her mouth when she looked down.

She swept the crisped strands from the counter to the wastebasket with the edge of her hand. The hair powdered on her skin, leaving dark grey ashy smudges that didn't entirely scrub off. She scrubbed the counter, too. Didn't want to look at her reflection again. Her scalp hurt, prickly-tight, as she tugged the brush through her hair. Bits of it still flaked and fell.

Someone knocked lightly.

"Come in," she said, leaning back against the counter, away from the door. She wasn't afraid of Clark. Still she breathed out, just a little, when Lex opened the door slowly and stood there staring at her.

"Oh, Lana," he said. "Your hair."

She managed a little laugh. "It's less trouble when it's short, right?"

He smiled at her. The skin of his forehead was slightly reddened, like sunburn or blush or drunkenness. And he looked a little drunk, the curve of his lips a bit too deep for someone who'd just faced death and avoided it, again. "That's what they say."

"I cleaned it up," she said. "I hope you don't mind."

"My scissors are your scissors." He leaned against the doorframe, watched her for a minute as she rinsed out the sink. "Lana?"

She looked up.

"I can even the back for you if you'd like." He wasn't smiling anymore. Just looking at her calmly, hands loose and open at his sides, though energy still hovered around his eyes and the corners of his mouth.

She turned away from him, toward the mirror. "Thank you."

Lex stepped up to her silently. His hands settled, gentle, on the curve of her skull. Her hair sifted through his fingers. She looked at his face in the mirror, nervous, but he was gazing intently at the back of her head. Not meeting her eyes at all. Just smiling a little as he studied her. It wasn't a cruel smile - though she didn't know why she'd expected cruelty from Lex.

He reached past her to take the scissors from the countertop. The dull sides of the blades dragged on the marble and she shivered. Lex stilled, let the scissors dangle by his side.

"Are you all right?"

"Where's Clark?" she asked softly.

Lex's eyes met hers in the mirror. "In my study," he said after a moment. "Lana, I know you're frightened, but-"

She turned to look at him. "Clark is my friend." Her voice sounded reasonably steady.

Lex tilted his head at her a little. "I'm aware of that," he said mildly. "But you can't tell me that what you saw today didn't... surprise you." Delicate, layered Lex pause.

Turning back to the mirror, she bit her lip. Looked at herself and the visible edge of her sharp little teeth. "Yeah," she said. Soft. "Yes. It did."

"You know he would never hurt you," Lex said.

"I know."

His hands came up to cradle her head again and she flinched at the scraping sound of scissor blades opening. Her scalp stung as he lifted a lock of hair free, pinned it between his fingers.

As the scissors closed, Lex said, very quietly, "Don't be scared."

She allowed Lex to lead her to his study, even though she knew who was waiting. What was waiting. When they approached the broad doors, Lex opened one and pushed her through with a light hand at the small of her back.

Clark stood as soon as he saw her, took a tentative step forward. So tense. Eyes lit up blue-green, nostrils flaring in fear like a horse's. The long soft line of his mouth unchanged. "Lana-" he began. His face was still dirty, his hair a mass of tangles.

"Clark," she said, holding up a hand. "It's okay."

"It's not," he said. "I scared you and I lied to you. I'm sorry."

She stared at him, her own fear ebbing a little. "You saved my life. And not for the first time. You don't have to apologize to me."

"I do." He twisted his hands together in front of him. Big, agile, smoke-darkened hands. "I owe a lot of people apologies."

"Well, you don't owe me," she said more certainly, and found that she believed it. "Or Lex. You saved us both today."

"I already apologized to Lex," Clark said quietly. Lana thought suddenly of the intoxicated tilt to Lex's smile, looked back at him before she could stop herself. He looked happy. Contented.

"Oh," she said.

Lex shifted, came forward to stand beside her. "Clark," he said, after a minute - childlike impatience in his voice. There was another heavy pause. She could feel them watching each other, as if the air had thickened above her head.

Then: "Sit down," Clark said. She heard his father in his voice, suddenly authoritative. "I'll tell you."

Immediately Lex broke away from her, strode towards the chair placed diagonally from Clark's end of the sofa. He looked back at her expectantly. She found herself hurrying to the sofa, sitting quickly next to Clark.

Clark sat. He smelled of smoke and sweat and she could hear him breathing, fast and shallow and quiet. He didn't want to Lex to hear, she realized. Didn't want Lex to see how terrified he was. She thought Lex must already know. But when she glanced at Lex again, he was smiling slightly, leaning forward, ready.

"I can do things," Clark said, looking down. "What you saw, with the ice - that's new. I've never done that before."

"What other things?" Lex asked. His tone was perfectly modulated, casual and conversational.

Clark turned briefly, glanced at her before answering Lex. "Run fast. Really fast. Nothing hurts me except the meteor rocks; they kind of make me feel sick. I can see through things. And once," he said, "I floated."

"Floated?" Lana asked. "Like flying?"

He nodded at her with that shy look from beneath his eyelashes. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I wanted to tell you."

Lex had gone curiously silent. Lana turned to look at him and saw an altered man. Younger-looking, open, something almost sweet in the twist of his lips. She wondered if that was the face he wore when he did drugs - wondered which element of Clark's confession had made him so high. "I hit you," he said. Slowly, but with utter certainty. "I hit you and you still saved me."

"Yes," Clark said. They stared at each other. From the other end of the couch, Lana couldn't see Clark's face very well, but she could see Lex's, and she watched as the corners of his mouth lifted. Watched, bemused, as he began to laugh.

"Clark, of course," Lex said. "You were positively affected. The meteorite fragments must have simply hit the right combination of genes. You're not crazy, you're not homicidal, you're just a perfectly normal Midwestern kid with comic-book powers."

Clark drew in a fast breath. "I'm not a normal kid," he said.

"Neither am I, Clark," said Lex. They hadn't looked away from each other at all.

Me either, Lana wanted to say. But she had no visible marks from the meteor shower, only the necklace she no longer wore. The necklace carved from a shining fragment of meteor rock. "Clark," she said suddenly. "My necklace. Did it hurt you?"

He turned back to her, slightly dazed. "What?"

"My necklace. It's meteorite. It must have hurt you."

"Yeah," he said, dipping his head as if in apology. "It did."

"That's why you couldn't get down," Lex said. "From the scarecrow stand."

Clark nodded.

She blinked. "That's how Whitney lost my necklace?" she whispered, feeling her stomach roil. "He made you wear it?" He looked down, looked back up at her. "Oh," she said. "Oh, Clark, I'm so sorry. I didn't know."

"It's not your fault," he said and looked suddenly, oddly stricken. "It really isn't."

They were all quiet. She didn't look at Lex. "What should we tell people about the fire?" she asked after a few moments.

Lex spoke lazily. "You two were both here all afternoon working on a report. None of us were near the fire and we don't know anything about it."

"What about the ice?" Clark asked.

Lex sighed. "The ground was so hot that I doubt there's any left, but I'll drive by after I take you two home."

"All right." She heard awed relief in Clark's voice. Had he thought they would turn him in? Then he said, "Oh," in a completely different tone.

She turned to find him staring at her mournfully. "What is it?" she asked.

"Your hair," he said. Surprised.

Lana lied. It's just hair, she told him, it doesn't matter. I'm not that vain. Don't feel bad. And while she lied, she looked over Clark's shoulder and saw Lex, sprawled boneless and satisfied in the chair, still wearing that sweet high smile.

Lex drove them home. Lana wasn't surprised when he took the turnoff for her house, swinging the car onto the narrow lane with only one hand on the wheel. From the back seat, Clark made a distressed noise. Lex slowed down. When the car came to a careful stop in front of her porch, Clark wriggled out of the back and stood beside her, holding the door open. She slid out of the low passenger seat, smiled at him.

He smiled back and folded himself into the front seat. "See you at school tomorrow," he said. Lex gave her a jaunty wave from behind the wheel.

She went to bed early that night to avoid Nell and her questions. Swallowed a codeine tablet with half a glass of water to avoid thinking. It didn't work that quickly and she stared at the gloomy ceiling of her gloomy bedroom. Feeling like she ought to be upset, or maybe excited. The codeine began to make her feel heavy. Distantly, she heard the phone ring.

Nell called up the stairs: "Lana! Whitney's on the phone!"

She fumbled for the phone on her bedside table, managed to haul it onto the pillow beside her head. "Got it," she mumbled into the speaker.

"Hey," Whitney said, voice rumbling low in her ear. "You okay?"

"Just tired."

"Did you hear about the fire? The Hutchinsons' feed shed burned to the ground. They think some moldy hay started it."

Lana yawned, feeling her eyelids drift low. "Yeah?"

"They live real near you. You didn't see it?"

"No," she said. "I was at Lex Luthor's with Clark."

The silence rested on her, thick and heavy as the codeine. "What were you doing there?" Whitney asked. She knew that tautness in his tone, knew she should care about it. But she didn't. The ache in her throat was receding, replaced by a warm tide.

"Project," she said. "Whitney, I'm really tired. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?" And maybe he said something as she hung up - but she didn't hear it.

The alarm clock jolted her up in the morning, head hanging low between her shoulders as she slapped at the clock ineffectually. Her head felt stuffed, her throat freshly scraped. Kicking back the covers, she let her feet swing down to the floor and walked unevenly to the bathroom. And there she was, in the mirror. Choppy haircut, tired eyes, but still inescapably herself, Lana Lang, witness to miracles and keeper of secrets.

Her mouth tasted like socks.

She looked at the codeine bottle again. Picked it up and shook it experimentally, thoughtfully, and then threw it out.

"Jeez, Lana," Whitney said when he saw her. "That's... drastic."

"What?" Lana slipped out from under the arm he draped across her shoulders, smiling apologetically as she spun the combination lock on her locker.

"Your hair."

She stopped and gave him a sharp look. It felt satisfying, if totally unfair. Lifted her chin a little. "I just felt like a change."

He shook his head at her, muttered, "Yeah, you seem to feel like lots of changes lately."

They didn't sit together at lunch.

Chloe didn't know and that was just strange. Just another way she knew more about Clark than Chloe did, another thing that bound him to her more intimately. She wanted to apologize - wanted to hand her part of the secret over to Chloe, who would certainly know what to do with that knowledge and probably with Lex too.

She tried to smile when Chloe shot her envious, probing looks. It had been easier before, when she'd really had no claim over Clark. She had smiled then and meant it. Now each smile felt like a lie of omission. She wondered if this was how Lex felt, if he even felt the lies anymore.

"I like your hair," Chloe finally said at lunch. "It's a bold move." She was poking at her food with one careful finger, not looking at Lana.

"Thank you." Lana touched her bare neck, still half-disbelieving.

"You'd fit right in in Metropolis," Chloe continued. Pointedly cheerful tone, and Lana wanted to apologize again for all the things she kept stealing, unaware.

"I doubt it," she said, trying to smile, and ducked her head.

Pete thought she had finally seen the light. Seen Clark, and his hidden halo. He'd always been polite and warm with her but now he touched her on the shoulder as he passed in the hall, gave her broad proud grins. She wondered how he'd feel if he knew what she'd really seen.

She left when the bell rang, didn't stop to talk to anyone, didn't go the Torch office or the Beanery. No longer scared, no, but she didn't want to see Clark. She went home and took out her necklace. The chain spilled over her spread fingers, glittering like tears. The blank gleam of the faceted rock made her think only of Lex's eyes.

She ended up more and more at the mansion after school, waiting for Clark or doing her homework in Lex's library. He rarely bothered her there and Nell liked it. She let Lana go back there in the evenings, a few nights a week. Said, "Lex's library is a wonderful resource, Lana. You're very lucky to have access to it." Meaning: Lex is a wonderful resource. Nell had always approved of cultivating the billionaire's son.

On a Thursday night she finished her French homework quickly, as usual. Clark was gone already; he'd stopped by to drop off produce and say hi to Lex. The library echoed her as she put down her pen, pushed back her chair. She went looking for Lex.

He stood on the balcony, watching the sun on the horizon. "Hi," she said from the open French door.

"Hello." He didn't turn to look at her. "You really should speak to your teacher about giving you more to do."

"It's all right. I like having free time in the evenings."

Lex tilted his head to the side, oddly birdlike. "Fair enough."

Lana stood there for a moment or two. He still hadn't even glanced at her. He didn't seem inclined to say anything else. She wasn't good at being ignored; hadn't had much practice, she guessed. It stung. She shifted in the doorway, prepared to go pack up her books and leave.

Lex braced his hands on the railing, leaned out toward the sunset. "Lana," he said.

She turned.

"Thank you."

"Lex," she said, a little surprised. He was looking at her intently, skin gleaming pale orange in the dulling light. "What for?"

He shook his head a little, mouth twisting. "For being there during the fire."

"I don't understand," she said slowly. "I didn't do anything."

There was a short pause. Lex closed his mouth, opened it again. "I don't think Clark would have told me the truth if you hadn't been there." His tone was perfectly flat. Eyes a chill grey.

She wanted to deny it but she knew Lex had suspected Clark long before she had. Lex cared. Lex gave of himself and expected everything in return. She hadn't given Clark anything and she expected nothing from him. "I don't think that's true, Lex. He would've told you. He cares about your trust."

Lex's eyelids lowered; shuttering his emotions, she thought. Protecting himself. He smiled that small sour smile that never made it past the center of his mouth. "He doesn't care that much."

"He does, Lex," she told him. "He was terrified. People do stupid things when they're afraid."

"Lying to protect yourself isn't stupid, Lana," Lex said, low and fierce. "It's very smart." He turned away from her suddenly and looked out over the field again. She studied his glowing profile silently for a moment. Saw the tension in his face and didn't stop to consider when she'd become such a good student of Lex Luthor's facial expressions.

"Are you angry at Clark?" she asked softly after a minute.

He laughed. "No, Lana. I'm not."

"If you say so," she said.

"You sound like Chloe Sullivan." Lex shot an amused look at her.

She shook her head, looked out at the sunset. It hadn't started out as anything spectacular but the colors were deepening, bruising, and the left side of the western skyline had become a pure brilliant red. The color of flame. Hearts on fire. "I just don't want you to be mad at Clark."

"I'm angry at myself," Lex said quietly. He stepped back from the stone railing, smiled at her. "You should get home. I'll drive you."

They drove back in the same car he'd had the day of the fire. It had been cleaned and smelled only of subtle fresheners. Lex had rolled down the windows and the crisp twilight air stroked her face, blew her short hair into her eyes. She laughed a little, pushed it back. Got her fingers caught in a snarl of hair.

Lex looked over at her, suddenly focused, features cast strangely. And he kept looking until she glanced out through the windshield and said, "Lex, the road-"

He blinked and cursed softly. "Thanks," he said. His voice was dry and sharp but that look was still there, the look of surprised awareness, of bemused understanding.

Her life developed a new pattern. They spent time together. Lex spoke to her rarely but she talked with Clark, endless sessions in the loft, sitting cross-legged on his dusty couch with their bent knees nearly touching. He told her how it felt to run so fast that he barely noticed the slap of corn on his face. Let her poke at his forearm in wonder, try to scratch his skin lightly with her nails.

Clark talked about Lex. Told her things about Lionel Luthor, about Lex's lost mother and brother. He fumbled through circuituous explanations of Greek myths she knew by heart, and she let him.

She told him that Whitney didn't call as much anymore. His eyes widened whenever she said things like that and he made sympathetic noises, but she no longer felt the heat and pressure when he studied her. Gone away, she thought. It didn't bother her as much as she'd thought it might. She felt free to look at him, free to act without considering how each action might be taken, misconstrued.

Lex's stares had heat and pressure, all directed at Clark. Lana felt something growing between them, a swelling beneath the skin of their secrets. Surface tension. She felt anxious around the two of them - didn't know why.

She drove to Lex's on a Friday afternoon. The long driveway was empty and she parked in front of the mansion, walked boldly in through the front door. Lex had dismissed most of his servants in the last few weeks. Didn't want them overhearing, didn't want speculation. So she sought out Lex and Clark on her own, glancing into the library, the war room, the kitchen. Finally she came to the study. She opened the door and froze as she heard Lex's voice, soft and venomous.

"You're lying."

"Hey-" She stepped forward. "What's going on?"

Lex's attention snapped to her briefly. "We're having a little discussion, Lana. Want to join in?"

"I don't understand," she said.

Lex's teeth were bared. She imagined that he thought it was a smile. "Here's how it works. I ask Clark a question and he tries to avoid answering me."

"Lex-" Clark said. He flinched visibly when Lex's gaze swung back to him.

"Why do the meteorite fragments affect you like this, Clark? They don't affect anyone else." Lex's voice had the sharp ring of bullets, a firing squad in his throat.

"I don't know. I didn't really notice it until recently."

"How did you get exposed to them in the first place?"

"I don't know." Clark was standing in front of the sofa, backed up hard against it. Lana thought of the other time she'd seen him there with the same fear in his eyes and wrapped her arms around herself, cold.

"Why won't you tell me, Clark?" Lex said, slowly and clearly.

"Tell you what?" Clark asked hesitantly. "I told you about-about what I can do."

"Yes, you did." Lex walked to the back of his desk, crouched down and unlocked one of the large rolling drawers. He lifted out a rectangular box, muscles in his forearms standing out below his rolled-up sleeves. Clark made a little noise and Lana looked over, wished she hadn't. She wanted to turn away from the freeze in his eyes, the terror in the twitching corners of his mouth.

"Lex, don't-" Clark began to say.

Lex lifted his head. Pinned Clark with a sharpened stare. "Don't what, Clark? Don't open this box and watch you slowly turn green and sprout veins a junkie would envy - and yet somehow heal from that, too? Of course not." He placed the box carefully on the desk and spread his hand flat against the lid, protection and warning.

Clark swallowed. "You know what it does to me," he said. His voice was stronger and Lana felt a surge of pride. "There's no reason to expose me to that rock right now. Unless you want to hurt me. Is that what this is about?"

Something in Lex's smile made Lana colder.

"You lied to me," Lex hissed. "You lied to me for months, and when you were forced to, you only told me part of the truth. That's not how friends treat each other, Clark."

"I couldn't tell you. You know that. I was protecting my parents."

Lex's eyes slitted. "You told me quickly enough once I caught you." He lifted his hands from the box, stalked around to the front of the desk. "No one else was affected like you were," he said. "No one else was improved by those fucking rocks, Clark, just you. Something is going on here, you aren't telling me everything, and I don't want to dig deeper, but so help me, Clark, I will find out."

"There's nothing to find out," Clark said weakly.

"There is!" Lex shouted. Lana flinched, stepped away from him. "Why won't you tell me?"

Clark was shaking his head, mouth open, eyes wide and sad. "Lex," he said. His voice filled with pleading. Lex walked toward him, taking slow menacing steps.

Lana shook all over. Lex couldn't see her, she realized. As usual, his attention was focused completely on Clark. She began to walk quickly toward his desk, stepped like a cat over the hardwood floors. Eyes continuously on Lex, as if he were a feral animal who might turn on her. He seemed like one.

There! She hefted the box and turned it to brace its hinges against her belly. "Lex," she called. He turned, startled. She opened the box.

Clark dropped to the carpet, a low whine drifting out of his slack mouth. She stepped out from behind the desk and began to walk toward him slowly, eyes apologizing.

"What are you doing?" Lex yelled.

She kept walking. "Does it really matter, Lex?"

"Of course it does-Jesus," he said, head whipping around as Clark moaned, torn between watching her and watching the boy on the floor. "I didn't do this for fun. Lana-"

"Lex," she said. "It doesn't matter."

He was staring at Clark. Mouth firmly closed, eyes still slitted in the low light.

Clark opened his eyes suddenly and stretched his hand out towards Lex. Not towards Lana. His skin looked scaly and the green veins stood out beneath it, like the hand of the hundred-year-old woman she'd read to at the retirement home. "Please," he said in a choked voice.

She watched Lex's mouth fall open. "Lex," she said again.

He shook his head. Said, "Put it away," and said, "Shit," and walked out.

She snapped the box closed as fast as she could and ran over to put it back in Lex's desk. Ran back to Clark, who was gasping and sobbing for air like she had after the fire. His face was pale and sweat-shiny and he blinked when she knelt beside him. Smiled a little, a sad rictus, when she lifted his head and put it on her thigh.

"Lana," he said and stopped. Breathing harder than she'd ever heard.

"I'm so sorry," she told him. Her fingertips slid on his temples, on the slick curves of his cheekbones. His eyelids were shiny too, delicately veined. "Clark, I'm so sorry."

He shook his head a little, winced. "Thank you."

She closed her eyes for a second. "Clark."

"I know why you did it," he said, sounding better with each moment. "And thanks. For not being as mad at me as Lex is."

She took her hands away from his face. Rubbed her damp fingers against her palms. He was still looking at her expectantly. "I'm not mad at you at all, Clark," she said, watching his eyes. "I understand. I never expected to know any of this in the first place and I know that if there is anything else, you'll tell me when you're ready."

He smiled and sat up. The sweat was drying rapidly on his forehead and his color had returned, golden flush along his cheekbones. "Thank you," he said again, softly, gravely. "But Lex-"

She stood up, dusting herself off out of habit. "Lex is mad at himself for caring so much that you haven't told him everything."

"I don't know." Clark stood, long colt legs unfolding gracefully, only the slightest bit unsteady. "I don't know if it even has anything to do with me. He just wants to know everything."

"Yes," she said, considering that. "But you're wrong. He cares about this because it's you."

"I guess," Clark said.

"I can take you home, Clark," she said, knowing he would refuse. Often he made excuses to stay behind after she'd left and it had never really bothered her. He and Lex were better friends, after all. But now the idea felt dangerous. The meaning of things between them seemed fluid as water. And then Clark smiled at her, a small tired ghost of his radiant grin, beautiful as the end of a sunset.

He said, "No, thanks. I think I need to talk to Lex."

"I guess you do." She looked down. When she looked back to his face, the smile had vanished, but she saw something familiar in his eyes. That secret shining delight, that glow. She felt her mouth fall open a little in awe. She knew. Lex needed someone who could heal like Clark, endlessly and flawlessly. Someone who could take hurt with eager acceptance.

"I'll see you later?" Clark touched her arm lightly.

"Yes," Lana said. "You will."

She walked to the castle after lunch the next day. It took her thirty minutes. The driveway was empty again but she knew Clark was there. When she knocked on the staff door, Mrs. Mason let her in. Through the dim halls, through the heavy oak doors. Lex was in the study, sitting sprawled on the carpet where Clark had fallen. He turned his face up to her as she came in and his eyes were such a deep smoked blue, his mouth wet and red and shiny.

Lana closed the door behind her and sat in the chair diagonally across from him. "Hello," she said. Even to her own ears, her voice sounded kind.

"Why did you do that?" he asked softly.

"You were hurting Clark," she told him. "And you weren't being very nice to yourself, either."

A long, breathing pause.

"Lana," Lex said. "I may have underestimated you."

She laughed. A light free sound, the kind she hadn't heard from her own lips for too long. Something in her belly unraveled. She felt weak, loose, un-knotted. Relieved.

"Lex," she said. "Join the club."

He looked at her assessingly, the considering gaze she'd seen him direct at Clark for months. "You don't want to know what Clark told me?"

Lana said simply, "No."

"All right," Lex said. "All right."

They sat in silence for a minute.

"Do you want to see him?" Lex asked. "He might be asleep."

She shook her head. "No, that's all right. I just needed to know that he was okay."

"You-" Lex said. Shook his head in disbelief. Looked back up at her. "Thank you," he said.

She looked at him, direct. Said just as solemnly, "You're welcome," and turned to leave.

Lex caught her in the entryway, a hand around her upper arm. "Lana," he said, and stopped. And then he just smiled, simple and bright, the odd half-smile without the bitterness. He bent and kissed her. Warm mouth, kiss angled and skilled and gentle. His tongue slid along her lips, her hair fanned out over his fingers. She opened her mouth for a moment, tasted him, and then he pulled away.

She looked up at him, touched her slick mouth, and smiled. "Goodbye, Lex."

"Goodbye," he said.

"Tell Clark to come see me when he wakes up," she told him, and didn't wait for an answer.

She went out through the huge door into the afternoon light, leaving him there with Clark asleep upstairs. Possibly. Lex hadn't been certain. She wondered what Clark looked like asleep. Wondered if Lex knew. And paused, turned almost unconsciously, thinking perhaps she'd see Clark waving down at her from Lex's bedroom window, giving her a sign that he was happy.

She didn't see Clark. But Lex was still standing in the doorway, expression oddly desolate as he watched her. She saw yearning in the set of his mouth, the cool determined look of his eyes. Something had gone wrong.

He didn't look away as she turned and walked back to him. She had thought before that Lex had eyes like the whirling tips of drills, eyes that ate at her, fractured her defenses. But really his eyes were just regular eyes, dark blue-grey and tired-looking. She stopped in front of him. Breathed in deep, and smiled up into those tired eyes.

When he took her hand carefully, she didn't try to pull away. Instead she looked down at their entwined hands, the contrasting tones of their skins and the bones pushing beneath. His fingers were warm and slightly damp around hers and his thumb rubbed slow circles in the center of her palm. His eyes had gone opaque again, but she knew what that touch meant. She knew Lex. The thought would've surprised her once. Now it just made the corners of her mouth lift as she looked up at him.

For a long moment they stood that way. Then Lex smiled suddenly, brilliant as day, and drew her back into the mansion.

Up the wide stairs, their feet stocking-quiet on the thick carpeting. She watched the easy motions of Lex's hips and shoulders as he climbed the stairs. His feet were bare and she nearly stumbled on the deep steps, staring at the thin white arch of tendon. Lex's heels looked appropriately vulnerable.

Lex turned to look at her when they reached the top of the stairs. "This way," he said, and guided her in front of him as if they were dancing. They moved down the dark hallway. Lex folded a sure hand around the upper curve of her hip, stopped her in front of the third door on the left.

She looked up at him, nervous. Grey shadows under his browbones, light gathering in his eyes. She licked her lips. Could think of nothing to say.

"Go on," he said, hand still warm at her waist. One of his fingers had slipped under the hem of her shirt.

The doorknob turned easily in her hand.

On the bed, Clark lay in a slice of stained sunlight, cathedral colors. Blue across his cheek, red in his hair, golden dapples on his white shirt. He'd flung one arm out over the sheets and folded the other beneath his head. His mouth was open, wet. Stunned, she stopped a few feet inside the room. Thinking only: so bright.

Lex's hand fell away from her body. She watched him as he pushed past her and sat on the edge of the mattress. He bent toward Clark, paused just before touching him. In the blue light from the window he looked frozen in that moment.

"Hey," he said softly to the boy on the bed. "Hey, you."

Clark stretched long and limber across the bed, eyes still closed. "Lex," he said, and there was wonder and worry and hope in that tone, in the way he waited to open his eyes.

"Hello, Clark." Lex's velvet voice, full of tenderness. He reached out slowly and stroked hair away from Clark's eyes, got a hum and a smile in return. Lana liked the dawning joy on Lex's face, the fiery blossom of that slow-burning private delight.

Clark rolled over onto his back, t-shirt sliding up his stomach, face turned toward the door. Opened his eyes. "Lana," he said in the same voice, and pushed himself up with one arm. Wonder and worry and hope.

Lex lifted his head and looked at her. Bright eyes, firmly closed mouth, his joy buried instantly under a kind of wildness. Understanding stretched out between them like a cord. She knew his secrets and he would perhaps never forgive her that. They shared a strange genuine smile. Clark shifted uncomfortably, rolled his body like a cat under Lex's hand. "Is everything okay?" he asked.

Lex broke into that downward smile, shaking his head. "Everything's fine," he said, spreading his fingers out over Clark's sternum for a second before he stood up, turned toward her. "Lana came back to see us."

Us, said Clark's jubilant expression. Lana smiled at him as Lex came closer, moved behind her. She shifted and his arm snaked fast around her waist, pressed her back against the solid warmth of his body. She thought about pulling away from him, pretending she didn't know what was happening. But she knew, and there were enough lies between them already. They had truth in the tension of his muscles, truth in the sudden heat between her legs.

His mouth opened hot and liquid on her neck and slid to the side of her throat. Her head dropped back against his collarbone. "Oh," she said weakly, and grasped at his arm.

From the bed, Clark made a low hurt sound and their eyes caught. She flushed under his gaze. Opened her mouth to say something, but Lex fastened his mouth on a circle of skin and sucked hard and she moaned. Watched blurrily as Clark's wide-eyed wonder sank under that familiar heat and pressure, under his lowering eyelids.

"You know he would never hurt you," Lex murmured, lips moving hot on her ear.

"I know," she said on a sigh. "I know."

Lex's teeth closed once, quick and fierce, on the soft flesh just above her earring. "I would," he said, words barely louder than breath.

She knew that too. Should've been frightened but she just wasn't and there was Clark, sun glancing off his shoulders and sparking in his hair, smiling so wide she knew she'd refuse him nothing. Lex walked her slowly towards the bed and her legs moved in perfect obedience. Clark moved forward as they approached him, got up on his knees and held out his arms as Lex delivered her like a gift. Blood-heated cheeks and still that gorgeous open smile as he drew her in, let his fingertips drift over the moist places Lex's mouth had left on her neck.

He leaned in slow and kissed her, hands heavy on her shoulders. Hot and clumsy, hesitant flickers of tongue and sweetness she could just sink into. Clark, oh, kissing her in Lex's bed. And Lex's fingers tracing the funnel of her spine through her shirt, rough touch that gentled when she moaned into Clark's mouth.

Lex settled onto the bed beside them. She and Clark broke apart, gasping, and turned to face him together. He'd lost his composed mask and he was breathing faster, flushed, lips red and wet. His blue shirt hung unbuttoned from his shoulders. She stared at the strip of milky skin bared beneath it. "Come here," he said, his voice low and rough and direct, and his eyes blazed in the light, beautiful, like flame seen through cut crystal.

She woke, later. The light through the window had dimmed. They'd fallen asleep in the center of the huge bed, a knot of heat and flesh, her head on Lex's chest and Clark's arm draped over her to rest his palm over Lex's heart. When she wriggled free, Clark only muttered and rolled closer to Lex. They were more exhausted than she was, she guessed. They'd just fallen in love.

Her inner thighs twinged and shook as she stepped into her skirt. Her shirt was draped over a lamp, bra on the bedside table.

Lex's eyelids flickered open as she bent to pick up her shoes. She looked at him silently. His cheek was pressed against the mattress, arm hanging over the side of the bed.

She dropped the shoes. Knelt there and kissed him, lazy and slow. He let her open his lips, let her suck his tongue into her mouth, let her trap flesh between her teeth. When she pulled away, he was smiling. She smiled back. She was not that little girl, not staring at him in hopeless hurting fascination. She knew exactly where she stood. "Goodnight, Lex," she whispered.

He murmured her name. She straightened up, shook her head. Slipped her feet easily enough into her still-buckled shoes and didn't look back at him until she had her hand on the doorknob. His eyes were closed again, though she knew he wasn't sleeping, just making things easier for her. Showing his gratitude.

Only one more look before leaving, she told herself. They were lovely there on the bed in the soft darkness. They looked complete without her.

She walked home content and alone in the lowering dark. Her mouth hurt, her thigh muscles complained. She licked her swollen lips and traced the teeth-marks with the point of her tongue. Finally marked, she thought. Finally she had something that revealed her difference, something that only they knew. A secret.

The gravel on the side of the road crunched beneath her shoes. Around her, leaves fell silently. She walked weightless all the way to the light glowing warm on the empty porch. Lana stepped onto the creaking boards, slow, looking around at the posts and shutters and paint as if she'd never seen them before. Stood silent, calm, aware.

Soon enough a breeze picked up, coming out of the northwest, out of the cooling sky. She wrapped her sweater close around herself as she settled onto the wicker chair, tugged the collar up to hide her bruised throat, wearing a new smile that was hers alone.


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