Clark sat hunched against the wall of the loft, knees drawn up to his chest. The tartan blanket lying across him smelled comfortingly of hay and fabric softener and dust. His fingers stroked it absently, picking at the nubs in its warp and weft.
He could hear the distant rumble of a car's engine, growing louder as it approached.
It was a mistake to come up here; it was the first place Lex would look. Clark huddled deeper into the blanket. Why didn't he have any useful powers, like invisibility?
It was so stupid. Clark had just been doing a favour for Lana, helping her with repairs at the Talon. He'd dropped a wrench through the grating of a drain. And then, on the spur of the moment, he'd decided to reach it by pulling the bars apart, instead of laboriously unscrewing the grating. The iron had groaned as he bent the bars sideways to form a neat, diamond-shaped hole.
That was the moment Lex had walked in.
Clark had looked up at the sound of footsteps, fingers still curled around the warped bars. He saw Lex pause, gaze dropping down to Clark's hands.
Lex had seen.
What Clark couldn't forget was the look on Lex's face. He had frozen, eyes wide, lips parted wordlessly. But before Clark could marshal his thoughts, Lex had schooled his face back into that peculiarly blank expression he had.
And then Lex had turned on his heel and walked out the door.
Clark hadn't known what to do. He couldn't breathe, couldn't think, aware only of the pounding of his heart and the sick terror in his stomach. It was like the meteor rocks all over again.
But this was worse. He had done this to himself. And no evasion or half-truth or circumlocution was going to save him this time.
He heard the crunch of gravel as the car slewed to a stop in the driveway. There was still time to vault out the window and superspeed away, but he didn't want to move. Lex had caught him out. Lex knew he had lied. Lex had been too disgusted to even waste words on him.
The blanket grew blurry, the pattern of stripes melting together in Clark's vision. He smeared the wetness away from his eyes with the back of his hand.
"Clark?" a voice called from below.
Clark scrubbed at his eyes and stood, the blanket puddling at his feet. He wasn't ready to face Lex, but he had no choice.
"Clark, are you in here?" A pause. "I'm coming up the stairs, okay?"
The boards creaked as Lex climbed into view. He was dressed as he had been earlier this afternoon: grey sweater, dark tailored slacks, polished leather shoes. He sauntered forward and stopped behind the sofa, resting one hand on its back. "Hey, Clark."
"Hey." Clark couldn't bring himself to meet Lex's eyes. He slouched his shoulders, shoving his hands deep into his pockets.
"I came by to return your school bag." Lex's voice was casual, betraying no hint of anger or accusation. "You forgot it at the Talon."
"Oh. Thanks." He hadn't even given it a thought. He'd just run, as fast as he could, all the way back home. As if with enough speed he could outrace time.
"Lana was surprised you left without saying goodbye."
"I--I'm sorry." He would have to apologise to her later.
"I told her something urgent had come up," Lex said. "I'm sure she'll forgive you." His tone was light, almost amused. Clark tried to detect whether there was sarcasm in it, but failed. He waited for the inevitable.
It didn't come. Lex set Clark's bag onto the floor and straightened up. "It's getting late. I'd better go. I'll see you tomorrow."
Before, Clark had been miserable. Now he was utterly baffled. As Lex began to descend the stairs, Clark burst out, "Wait!"
Lex turned. Inclined his head. "Yes, Clark?"
"Why aren't you asking me?"
"Asking you what?"
"About this afternoon. You saw. I know you did."
Lex circled back with slow, deliberate steps. "Clark. I'm not an idiot. It's been obvious for a long time that there's something going on. And it's just as obvious you don't want me to know."
Clark flushed. "Lex, it's not--"
Lex held up a hand. "Clark. It doesn't matter to me. Not anymore."
Clark's confusion must have shown on his face. Lex sighed and sank down onto the sofa. He patted the space beside him. "Sit down, Clark. Tell me, have you ever heard the story of Psyche and Eros?"
Clark shook his head as he settled into position next to Lex. "Doesn't eros mean love?"
Lex nodded, leaning forward. "Eros was the Greek god of love, also known as Cupid. He fell in love with a mortal woman--Psyche--as gods often do. But he only ever visited her at night, in darkness, keeping his true identity from her. Psyche's sisters were jealous. They told her that her mystery lover must be some kind of hideous monster. "
Clark shifted uneasily. "So what happened?"
"Psyche started to doubt, of course. She wanted to know what her beloved was hiding from her. So one night, when Eros was sleeping, she lit her lamp and raised it to look at him. But instead of a monster, she beheld the beautiful face of the god of love."
Lex stopped. He glanced over at Clark, as though to check that he was still listening. Clark looked away, his cheeks growing warm for no apparent reason.
Lex went on.
"But while Psyche was watching him, a drop of hot oil from her lamp fell onto his skin. Eros woke up, and fled back to the heavens. Driven away by her suspicion."
A long pause followed. Clark stared down at his hands.
"I won't ask," Lex said. "I can live with that. What I don't want is for you to have to keep lying to me."
Clark was quiet for several more moments. Then he said, "Lex, what would Psyche have done if she'd discovered he really was a monster? Or, or some kind of freak?"
"We're all freaks, Clark, one way or another. You think I don't know what it's like?" He fixed his steady gaze on Clark. "You're my only friend in this town. You saved my life without even knowing who I was. You're not a monster, Clark. And even if you were, I wouldn't care." His mouth quirked into a smile. "You'd still be my monster."
Clark's throat tightened. Without thinking, he covered Lex's hand with his own. He sensed Lex start at the unexpected touch, but then he grew still as Clark twined their fingers together.
"You don't have to worry about driving me away. You can't. And I don't want to have to keep lying to you either." His heart began pounding again, but this time it wasn't from dread.
"Come on," Clark said, drawing Lex to his feet. "There's something I want to show you."
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