Summary: Lex returns home in time for the holidays. Originally written for the Snugglefic Challenge.
Notes: Many thanks to Chaeysa and Lisa for the beta. Comments very welcomed.
In the late afternoon light, the interstate stood out like a dark ribbon stretched across a flat, white package. Lex rolled his neck from side to side as he glanced at the speedometer. Between the snow and the traffic he was behind his usual pace, but for once, he didn't care.
Having three hours to himself was a delicious luxury. It gave him ample time to appreciate the little things. His Mercedes-Benz and its stereo system for one, driving on the right side of the road for another, and the chance to savor being back on home territory again.
Considering the number of time zones he had recently left behind, spending another night in Metropolis would have been the wiser choice, but he was more than ready to shed the slick corporate persona he'd been donning for the sake of both LuthorCorp and LexCorp the past few months. Even the tiredness he felt was mixed with a slight tinge of something he hadn't experienced since boarding school--homesickness.
Who knew he would develop a fondness for a drafty castle and a little backwater town?
By the time he reached the outskirts of Smallville, it was already dark. He tapped his fingers lightly against the steering wheel as he passed houses in the distance, their windows softly glowing. Most families had long finished dinner by now. He hadn't had anything to eat since lunch, but he wasn't particularly hungry. A leisurely hot bath, a glass or two of Scotch and a night in his own bed was far more appealing than food. Still, he pressed the accelerator and continued straight ahead, past the turn that would have led him to the castle.
He slowed as he reached Smallville's main street. Ahead of him was a line of cars and trucks, looking for parking spaces. Settling back in his seat, he took in the mainstays: Fordman's, the dry cleaners, the video store, Betty's Beauty Salon and the Talon.
Nell's Bouquet was of course long gone, but in its place was a toy store. Strings of tiny white lights framed the display window where a group of stuffed animals, dolls and nutcrackers stood encircled by a train set.
When he'd left, the trees were still full of leaves just turning color, and the new semester was only a few weeks old. Now the signs of Christmas were everywhere, from the red and white wrapped lampposts to the string of stars stretched over the street. A light dusting of snow covered the buildings.
Like a tall beacon, a large pine tree stood in the center of the town's square. The colorful lights wound around the branches twinkled brightly against the evening sky. Parents with children walked up to point at the ornaments before wandering around the Nativity scene next to it.
Spotting a space around the corner, Lex turned onto the side street and parked.
Picking up the cashmere muffler on the passenger's seat, he looped it around his neck and buttoned his trench coat before opening the door. He shivered a little at the cold as he made his way toward the square.
Back in Metropolis, the LuthorCorp holiday gala was in full swing. But Lex had had his fill of long-winded speeches, and the thought of making more polite small talk with the board of directors between courses made his eyes glaze over. After his last meeting, he'd picked up his briefcase, gotten into his Mercedes and headed out of the city.
After nearly four months abroad, he had a different homecoming in mind.
Lex walked slowly down the block past the nail salon and stopped in front of the bookstore.
The high school choral group was starting to gather in front of the tree. The students, all wearing matching green scarves, laughed and chatted with one another, while Mr. Martinez, the music teacher, waved his hands, trying to get their attention.
The square was filling up with spectators.
Shoving his gloved hands in his pockets, Lex watched from across the street. It was still hard to shake the feeling of being an outsider, despite the stability LexCorp had brought to the town.
According the latest stream of e-mails and faxes, Gabe Sullivan had been doing a fine job, running the plant in his absence.
Lex was not surprised. He'd thought of Gabe after he'd gotten the call from LuthorCorp. His first inclination had been to turn down the plea for assistance, but the head of the board of directors was both persistent and shrewd.
"I'll be frank with you," Charles Bergmann had said over the phone. "Given your father's current condition, he's going to be at a huge disadvantage at the negotiating table. Which is why your presence in London would be invaluable."
"In case you haven't noticed, I have my own company to run, Mr. Bergmann."
There was a moment of silence then the senior director chuckled. "You know, your tone reminds me of your father."
Lex had frowned at the comment and eyed the disconnect button on his phone.
"So," continued Bergmann, "I understand you've been angling for some contracts in Asia."
"Yes, I have." That bit of news had hardly been a secret. Even the Smallville Ledger had made note of it in its business section.
"I tell you what. If you help our team with the negotiations, I'll personally introduce you to Dr. Li-Yu Sung, the head of the Tianjin Corporation. They're starting up an operation in Malaysia. I believe he'll be interested in what your company has to offer."
In the end, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
The emergency trip abroad, originally scheduled for three weeks, had stretched into a little over three months as Lex flew to New York then crossed the Atlantic to Great Britain, Germany, Italy, India, China, Taiwan and Japan.
It had been a brutal schedule, but Lex persevered, knowing he was building valuable international contacts for LexCorp at the same time he was putting out fires for his father's company.
Now that he was back, he could feel the exhaustion seeping into his bones.
The weeks had gone by in a blur as he moved from country to country, reassuring jittery investors and negotiating deals as he went. He barely remembered the cities themselves. After such a breakneck pace, it was almost a shock to his system to slow down. Watching the citizens of Smallville going about their usual holiday preparations was a reassuring reminder that it wasn't necessary to keep moving as fast as a Concorde.
Lex thought about stepping across the street and hesitated as a small group of teenagers approached. He moved back into the shadows as they walked past him, unaware of his presence. After a few moments, he stepped forward again, quietly drinking in the sight of the town, as he nursed the real reason he'd been drawn here. To the one person he'd missed the most.
He scanned the crowd milling around the square and even thought he glimpsed Chloe among them, but no Clark.
Disappointed, he let out a long sigh. The weekly e-mails from Clark had been a lifeline, something he could hold on to and savor, to keep from being swallowed up by the activity around him as he plugged away, conference after conference, dinner after dinner.
His return messages, usually a brief description of the city he was in and some of its history, were eagerly read by Clark, who seemed unusually determined to make sure the connection between them didn't falter.
Lex watched his breath turn white in the cold air as he recalled one e-mail in particular in which Clark had described what the town normally did during the Christmas season. From the lighting of the tree in the square to the sleigh rides and the night of carols that always ended with the entire town singing "Silent Night," the simple images had brought a lump to his throat and the desire to see it firsthand for himself.
That flair for writing, Lex vowed, was one ability of Clark's he would not let fall to the wayside. Even if he had to coax it out of the reluctant teen one paragraph at a time. But first, he needed to find the budding writer. In the mass of parkas, caps and coats, it was hard to tell if Clark was at the square or not. Perhaps he should have stopped by the farm first.
"Hey," said an eager-sounding voice. Lex's heart jumped as a hand unexpectedly settled on his shoulder. "I thought it was you."
Sternly telling his pulse to slow down, Lex turned as casually as he could manage. Damn, but it was good to see Clark. Backlit by the light across the street, he looked almost otherworldly, like a tall angel. Lex swallowed and smiled. "Hello, Clark."
Clark grinned back, his eyes showing delight. Despite the temperature, Lex felt himself warming as though he were standing in the middle of a bright August day instead of a cold December night.
Clark tilted his head a little as he stared back intently. "How long have you been out here?"
"Not that long."
"Are you back at the castle?"
"Not quite. I just drove here from Metropolis."
"Wow." Shaking his head, Clark dropped his hand slowly, as though he were reluctant to let go. "I can't believe you're back."
Lex pulled his hands out of his pockets and flexed them, feeling the tension he'd been holding inside slowly bleeding away. "Neither can I. It's good to be here."
Looking up, Clark eyed the awning they were under. "So why aren't you at the square with everyone else?"
Lex shrugged. "And be the specter at the feast? I didn't want to spoil everyone's enjoyment of the occasion."
"Oh please." Clark rolled his eyes in the classic teen look. "Of course everyone will be glad to see you."
"I haven't been gone that long."
"Long enough," Clark said quietly. "I've missed you."
"I missed you, too, Clark." Maybe it was a case of wishful thinking, but he would swear there was something deeper in Clark's eyes. An air of certainty he'd never seen before. Yes, he had caught glimpses of Clark's interest toward him in the past, but it would quickly disappear, masked behind his on and off pursuit of Lana.
Something was brewing. But whether this meant things were finally tipping in his favor, he couldn't quite tell.
Before he could say another word, Clark reached out and gripped his wrist firmly before turning to face the square. Lex abruptly found himself being towed across the street like a pull toy on wheels.
Stepping onto the curb, Clark plowed straight into the crowd, still pulling Lex along as startled faces turned and looked. So much for his dignity. Lex braced himself as he caught sight of the Kents standing together, Jonathan's arm around his wife's waist.
"Mom! Dad! Look who's back."
Martha turned her head, her eyes widening in surprise. "Lex!" She pulled away to open her arms and hugged him tightly, long enough for Lex to register the homey smell of cinnamon and ginger in her hair before she stepped back to look him over with a mother's critical eye. "You look terrible!" she chided, putting her gloved hand against his face for a brief moment.
"Why, thank you." The blunt but true assessment tickled Lex. It was quite possibly the most honest thing he'd heard in months.
She muttered something about not eating enough and poked her husband gently with an elbow.
He blinked at Jonathan's firm handshake and steady, "Welcome back." There wasn't a single trace of rancor or wariness in his voice that Lex could detect.
Then again, he was very jetlagged.
"Look, there he is."
To his surprise, a small cluster of familiar faces began to approach led by a blue-capped Chloe, who bounded up with a bright smile; Pete followed closely behind. As he gave Lex a hesitant nod and wave, Chloe closed in and pulled out her camera. "It's about time you got back. You don't mind if I take a picture of you for the Torch, do you, Lex?"
Even Lana slipped in to give him a quick hug and peck on the cheek.
Gabe clapped Lex warmly on the back and plucked him away from his daughter, still peppering him with questions, and quickly ushered him into another group--this one composed of his people, his LexCorp employees. Among them were Martin Ludlow and Bill Manning in operations, Ruth Krasnow from chemical analysis, Bob Stanfield in production, Judith Watson and Daniel Lee from purchasing and their respective spouses and children who crowded around him. As word quickly traveled, more people from the plant came up to greet him. They all murmured, "Welcome back," shook his hand and asked about the trip, treating him more like a returning politician than the head of the company.
Just as Lex felt his energy and memory for names flagging, the choral group began singing "Joy to the World," and the entire crowd quieted to listen.
Taking a deep breath, Lex slowly began to back away. It was heartening to know that he had actually been missed, but he hadn't failed to notice the disapproving looks either. Henry Small's sour expression was a keen reminder that not everyone was thrilled to see him.
Still, he had been eager to return to Smallville. For a chance to be part of something he'd never experienced before. A sense of community. Of closeness. Of family.
Too bad communal bonding couldn't erase naysayers or jetlag. Reminding himself to ask Gabe later about the upcoming company party, Lex eased himself toward the edge of the crowd. As he turned, he bumped into what felt like a solid wall covered by a red parka.
Clark raised an eyebrow. "And where do you think you're going?"
"I thought I'd go back to the castle before I wear out my welcome."
"You're not going to stay?" There was a fleeting look of disappointment on Clark's face. "Sorry," he muttered, dropping his eyes. "Mom's right. You really do look tired." He looked around. "Where are you parked?"
Lex pointed. "I'm just around the corner."
"I'll walk with you. Just give me a sec. I'll tell Mom and Dad." Clark slipped back into the crowd then reappeared again with disquieting speed. Lex refrained from shaking his head. Some mysteries never changed.
As they trudged down the street together, Lex thought about asking how school had been, whether or not the principal had eased up on his case and his current feelings toward Lana. That tidbit of information had been conspicuously missing from Clark's e-mails. Then again, maybe he'd wait. If the status quo had changed, he'd prefer not to hear about it just now.
Lex shook his head. "Nothing, Clark. It just feels like my soul hasn't quite caught up with my body yet. I think it's somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean." Or more likely, it had stopped to sip mai tais in Maui. The sneaky bastard.
Clark slowed as they rounded the corner, out of sight of the square. The side street was a narrow one, almost an alley. Lex had parked the Mercedes near the back of the frame shop. He turned and leaned his back against the side of the SUV while the strains of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" carried through the air and over the store building.
"My mom likes that carol," Clark said, sliding his hands into his pockets.
"Did you know that carols were originally associated with dancing? Which is why their tunes tend to be livelier than the standard church music of the day."
"No, I didn't know that."
Babbling was a definite sign of fatigue. Lex sighed inwardly. His face felt stiff and cold. He really could have used a stopover in Hawaii.
Clark looked a little uncertain as he scuffed at the ground with his boot. "So, when exactly did you get back?"
"Late last night. Or rather, very early this morning."
Lex smiled at the look of surprise on Clark's face. "I meant to call you, but by the time I got through customs, security, the airport traffic and finally to the penthouse, it was after midnight. I didn't think your parents would appreciate my phoning you that late."
Clark looked a little sheepish at the last part. "That's true. If you had, it probably would've sent Dad through the roof."
"As for today, I'm afraid I got tied up in meetings." Despite the reports he'd sent ahead earlier, everyone, from his father on down, wanted a briefing on the last series of negotiations.
"And tonight, I was scheduled to be at a dinner party."
"Did something happen? Why did you skip it?"
Why? A flip response came to mind, but seeing the serious look in his friend's eyes, Lex discarded it. "Nothing happened. I decided I'd rather be here, with the people I really care about."
Clark studied him thoughtfully. "A party in Metropolis sounds a lot more glamorous than watching high school kids sing carols."
No, not really. Lex had already seen his share of drunken executives. "I'm finding that the simple pleasures are better." And considering some of their wives, safer, too.
He angled his head toward the square where the choral group had switched to "The Christmas Song."
"About those e-mails you sent me..."
"What about them?" Clark stilled, his eyes narrowing slightly.
"I couldn't help but notice that you put a lot of time and thought into writing them." It was true. They weren't casual little notes dashed off before school or between chores. Clark had taken pains to compose the letters and even proof them. Lex kept them saved on his laptop to reread on the bad days, when nothing seemed to go right.
Clark scuffed at the sidewalk again. "Remember when Chloe went away to Metropolis for the summer?"
"Well, I never called or even sent her a note while she was gone."
Lex watched as Clark paced a little in front of him.
"Turned out I hurt her feelings and our friendship by not staying in touch. She thought it meant I didn't care. But I did. I just took it for granted that she was coming back and I'd see her again." He turned and faced Lex. "I didn't want to make that mistake with you. I wanted to make sure that no matter where you went, you wouldn't forget us."
Forget? Lex gazed up at the night sky and swallowed. "Clark, that was never an option, no matter what time zone I was in."
"Come on, I read all your e-mails. London, Rome, Tokyo and Hong Kong? Smallville must seem pretty dull in comparison."
Lex smiled ruefully at the thought that foreign cities would be enough to tempt him away. Maybe it was time he dropped his mask. "You underestimate yourself. What none of those cities or countries has is you, Clark."
A large hand cupped the side of his face, and he gasped a little at the sudden flare of warmth against his skin. It was hard to tell which was hotter, Clark's hand or the look in his eyes.
He shivered as Clark ran his thumb gently along his cheekbone and murmured, "Thanks."
His back still against the SUV, Lex spread his legs a bit, grabbed hold of Clark's parka and tugged him closer. One thing he had honed abroad was the ability to recognize an opening and seize it, no matter how unlikely the setting.
There was no one else on the street. Tilting his head back he studied Clark's face carefully, but saw no sign of apprehension. Instead, Clark continued to move in steadily, eagerly, his lips partially open. Slowly, he closed in until their mouths met.
The first press was light, like falling snow--clean, crisp and delicate. But the heat from Clark's lips was amazing; they made Lex's tingle. He tugged again, wanting to taste more, eager to replace the memory of lonely nights in foreign hotels with Clark's unique flavor of coffee and peppermint.
True, but if Clark would just keep kissing him, he'd warm up in no time.
"I mean, you're like an icicle."
Clark sounded concerned. Lex slid his eyes at the SUV. "Let's sit inside. You can thaw me out." He reached into his coat for the remote, pressed it and popped the locks.
Grabbing the rear passenger door, Clark slipped inside. "Could use a little more leg room in here." He leaned over the driver's seat and stared at the console. "How do I--"
"I'll get it."
Clark sat back as Lex squirmed his way across and leaned over to press the correct button. With a low hum, the driver's seat moved forward a few inches.
Lex started as a pair of hands caressed his butt. The next thing he knew he was sitting on Clark's lap.
"Pretty comfortable in here." Strong arms wound around his waist as Clark rested his chin on Lex's shoulder.
"I'm glad you approve." Yes, the back seats were nice, but he couldn't kiss Clark from this angle. He squirmed again until he was sitting next to Clark. This was much better. Turning his body, he leaned in.
Clark swiveled his head, meeting Lex's mouth again with surprising ease. Or rather, practiced ease. Lex made a note to find out with whom and when, later. For now, he felt himself melting, like a snowflake on Clark's tongue. Everything he'd been missing the past few months--the taste, feel and smell of home--was here, next him.
Tossing his gloves aside, he ran his fingers through Clark's hair as they traded kisses, moving from light to heavy and back again. Clark's hands scrabbled over his trench coat, gripping the material tightly until the seams creaked and a few threads popped. Finally, Clark broke away, breathing hard. Lex sat back and grinned as he watched Clark lick his lips.
"Oh man." Clark's cheeks looked flushed and Lex wondered how much of his body matched that particular color.
Maybe he could entice Clark to the castle later for little private exploration. Considering the look in his eyes, that wouldn't be too difficult.
"I want to touch you."
Ah, now that was definitely music to his ears. "I want to touch you too, Clark." Lex paused for a moment. "But this really isn't the best place for it." Not at this temperature, and not when the townspeople and the Kents were less than a block away.
"Wait, I've got an idea." Clark straightened and unzipped the front of his parka. "Take off your coat."
"It's too cold in here," Lex protested, but he raised his hands and plucked at his buttons.
"I'll keep you warm." Clark helped him peel the coat off and tucked him against his chest before draping it over Lex like a blanket and encircling him with his arms.
Half sitting on Clark's lap, Lex turned his face into Clark's shoulder taking in the familiar smell of Tide on his sweatshirt and soft feel of flannel against his cheek. He ran his hand across Clark's chest, enjoying the feel of firm muscles under the layers.
Clark burrowed his hand underneath Lex's sweater and shirt until he found the skin he wanted and made a pleased sound. Closing his eyes, Lex imagined themselves stretched out in front of a fireplace. Naked.
"Is this okay?"
"It'll do for now."
Clark laughed as he lowered his hand and brushed the bulge in Lex's pants. Craning his neck, Lex nipped at his jaw.
"What about Lana?"
Clark sighed as he rubbed small circles on Lex's thigh. "It wasn't the same."
"Same as what?"
"Same as before. I don't know why exactly, but the feelings I had for her weren't as strong any more. After you left, we went out a few times, but it felt like a book had closed on us. All I could think about was how much I missed you."
Lex put his hand on top of Clark's and squeezed.
"I told myself that when you got back, I'd let you know how I felt."
Lex huffed softly. "In that case, it was worth it."
"Putting up with that inane schedule. And those idiot drones of my father's."
"Hey, listen," Clark pressed a button on the door handle, sliding the window down a crack.
The townspeople had joined in to sing "Silent Night," their voices ringing strongly through the air.
"It's just like you described," Lex murmured. "Beautiful." Warm lips brushed the top of his head as he settled back into Clark's arms.
"Did I mention how glad I am you're back?"
Lex smiled as he raised his head to kiss Clark again. So what if his soul was a few time zones behind?
No matter how far he traveled, Clark would always be home to him.
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