Breathing Room

by NiteLite

This takes place during the first season with a tiny reference to Prodigal. Comments very welcomed.

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Lex isn't hiding.

Or so he tells himself.

He's merely taking a breather.

After all, he's the one in charge. In charge of his life, his destiny, his own fertilizer factory, for God's sake.

On second thought, he didn't have much choice in the matter, career or birthwise. Despite the expensive cars, clothes and lifestyle, he considers himself a loser in the genetic luck of the draw.

Having Lionel as a father is enough to give any child nightmares for the rest of his life.

Lex though, is nothing if not a quick study. Over the years he's learned to decipher his father's expectations, sidestep his demands, endure his disappointments, ignore his rantings and still appear a semi-dutiful son.

It's just that the pressure never lets up. Ever.

LuthorCorp headquarters may be hours from Smallville, but it's never more than a phone call, e-mail or helicopter's ride away.

Lionel's presence is everywhere he turns, from the office to the castle. Sometimes the air is so thick with it, Lex feels likes he's suffocating. It's as unpleasant as his old bouts with asthma, and he still remembers the times when it seemed as though someone was squeezing the inside of his chest so hard he could barely breathe.

Perhaps that's one of the reasons he doesn't wear a tie to work.

Now that he's older, he's learned to push back, but sometimes, when he least wants or expects it, he's reminded all over again how much of his life is still within his father's reach.

Except here in Clark's loft, his Fortress of Solitude.

Stepping inside the barn, he lets out a small sigh of relief. It's about as anti-Lionel as anything Lex can imagine. Instead of floor-to-ceiling glass panels, he's surrounded by overhead beams and rough-sawn pine boards. In place of a polished mahogany desk, there's a worn, pitted worktable covered with tools and metal parts. The air smells of machine oil and hay, not expensive cigars and cologne. For an instant, he's filled with a sharp sense of longing for the summers spent with his mother on her ranch.

He eyes the pitchfork leaning against the wheelbarrow. Mr. Kent would probably be shocked to find out that he can do more than click keys on a computer or press buttons on a cell phone. Not all the calluses on his hands are from fencing.

Underfoot, there's no cushioned carpeting, only wood floorboards that creak under his weight as he climbs the steps to the upper level. Small wonder he finds himself drawn to the Kents, time and time again. At their farm, he can find some quiet, relax a little and lower his guard.

The loft is unoccupied at the moment. Lex crosses over to the open window and leans his elbows on the sill. Thoughts of the office intrude, including the short but highly irritating phone conversation with one of his father's assistants. He tucks it all away in the back of his mind and takes a deep breath. And slowly lets it out.

A breeze brushes by his face as he idly scans the fields and notices the clouds turning dark orange in the afternoon light. He pretends Clark is standing next to him, talking about school, his homework, Chloe's projects, Lana and Whitney's latest spat. It's comforting to picture Clark's face--the tousled hair, wide, earnest eyes, high cheekbones and sweet mouth. Such a beautiful boy.

Lex still hasn't figured out why no one in Smallville seems to be aware of how special Clark is. He certainly isn't blind. To him Clark shines like a beacon, and he'd like nothing better than to stand in that light and warm himself. Against Clark. While he hasn't crossed the line, he thinks about it. More often than he probably should.

He cares about Clark's well being, too, and that keeps him from going too far with his little flirtations. Otherwise he'd say the hell with Clark's age, his innocence and his secrets.

Nor is he unaware of the grim expression on Jonathan Kent's face whenever he drops by. Fortunately Mr. Kent isn't psychic, or he would've no doubt added an assault rifle to his arsenal by now.

Lex sighs and smoothes the blanket draped over the old couch. Maybe coming here wasn't such a good idea after all. It may be calm oasis from the factory, but it's also a reminder of the things he can't have: his father's love, Mr. Kent's approval, Clark's trust.

He hasn't experienced any of those, at least not since his mother died, but he still continues to try. Why, he's not sure. Perhaps he's being foolish, which is not a good thing for a Luthor, but being around Clark gives him hope.

Hope that if he's determined enough, he might find them again some day.

Lex takes another look around the loft. There's really no point in lingering. Clark's probably still at school helping Chloe with the paper, or else drinking coffee and watching Lana. It's getting late. He should return to the castle and finish reading the reports in his briefcase.

He pauses for a moment at the top of the stairs and glances over his shoulder. It's funny, that of all the places he could turn to for some respite, he would choose this.

It's a place where he can catch his breath, forget the factory, his father and his past for a little while. He can plan for his future instead. And Clark's.

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