Lex Luthor had been four months shy of twenty-one the day he hit Smallville. It hadn’t been a willing relocation. It had, in fact been a bitterly disputed embarkment, forced upon him at the threat not only of disinheritance, but the removal of all his expensive toys, eviction from his Metropolis apartment, and the reimbursement of one aborted year at Yale, two semesters at Harvard and a particularly disastrous short stint at the University of Metropolis in which Lex and the Dean of admissions wife had been caught in a particularly incriminating position by the entirety of the school’s admissions committee.
Lionel had been pissed. But, it hadn’t been the U of M thing that had triggered the meltdown of mythical proportions, but an unfortunate incident a few weeks after that expulsion involving a prostitute, two lines of cocaine, and an infuriatingly unbuyable Metropolis beat cop who hadn’t flinched at Luthor money or Luthor bought police influence. Though the only charge they’d been able to make stick, embarrassingly enough, was the possession of alcohol by an underage person – – which galled particularly, since Lex had been a connoisseur since sophomore year at Excelsior – – the gossip rags had still picked up the story, thanks to someone’s cell phone shots of the walk of shame out of the club. For Lionel, it had been the last straw.
So Lex had ended up the last place he’d wanted to be, away from the city and any entertainments it had to offer, stuck in a drafty testament of his father’s ego, in a town that seemed as a whole to hold a grudge against his family name, in charge of a small town fertilizer plant.
He never had decided whether it was supposed to be a lesson in responsibility or one of humility.
Either way he’d made it work. And not quite a year later, he found himself in a position he’d never quite imagined when he’d crossed the county line.
In hock up to his eyeballs, at the helm of his own company, and still operating the Smallville plant – – only it was his now – – wrestled away from his father in a move that could have just as easily backfired and ruined Lex and a good portion of the town. Lionel had been out maneuvered, and it must have galled. Lex knew his father well enough to know that as plain fact.
Lex successfully launching his own company hadn’t been part of Lionel Luthor’s lesson plans.
Metropolis would have made just as good a headquarters for that budding company as Smallville. But Lex knew himself well enough to realize that the temptations the city offered might well be his downfall and despite a generally chilly welcome, and various bouts of disastrous luck, Smallville had its allure.
God knew it had its mysteries. And Lex loved a mystery almost as much as he hated one. Most days now, months after the fact, he could almost convince himself to stop caring, others it ate at him until he couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t work, couldn’t sleep – – until inevitably he trekked down to the basement and stood staring at the car – – with its crumpled bumper and ravaged roof, wondering what cosmic power had stepped in and changed his fate. Or if it hadn’t been fate or karma or some greater destiny at all that had pulled him back from simple death, but just a very extraordinary boy.
The boy in question denied it. Sometimes vehemently, sometimes with a shuffling of feet and an avoidance of big, green eyes. Sometimes with a hurt look that made Lex, who’d never backed off from anything since he’d grown old enough to realize that retreat was the surest way to get your ass kicked, feel like he’d been caught kicking puppies.
So Lex went against his nature and backed off. Because five days out of seven, the feelings of a sixteen-year kid tipped the scales against his thirst for the mystery the boy represented. He had no idea how he’d gotten to such a point.
In the summer heat the smell of the plant was overwhelming. It permeated the air and clung to clothing and Lex avoided it as much as humanly possible. He had capable people in place that thrived just fine without him. The office in the mansion was better suited for expanding LexCorp’s budding prospects, and though the place was cold as a tomb during the winter months, thick stone walls tended to keep it relatively cool in the summer ones.
Construction crews had finally left the grounds, repairs finished on the last of the structural damage. The storms that had ripped a swath through the county two months past had left no small devastation in their wake and stone masons and carpenters qualified to repair, in a historically accurate fashion, a medieval era structure were few and far between. So for the first time in weeks, there were no sounds of construction, and no workmen tromping through the mansion and around the grounds.
It was hard to truly appreciate peace and quiet until you were deprived of it on a daily basis for weeks on end.
He hit shuffle on his iPod and delved into dry as bones research on a potentially advantageous acquisition. About two hours in, the clomp of heavy shoes in the hallway alerted him that the housekeeper had let a teenager onto the premises, and provided Lex with a not unappreciated break in his work.
With school out for summer, and Smallville being the hub of teenager friendly activities that it was – – there was a coffee shop, one theater that only showed second run movies, a bowling alley, two strip malls and a Walmart – – Lex had seen quite a bit of Clark Kent over the course of the school break.
Not that he minded seeing Clark. Seeing Clark was likely the bright spot of his day since there was nothing in the county, likely the state and possibly the entire mid-west that came close to capturing his attention as fully as Clark Kent. The boy was beautiful in the way of masterworks of fine art and classical music, in that upon first exposure, you had to simply sit back and drink him in and marvel at the hand that made him.
Lex had run with models, and starlets and the children of obscene wealth and not a one had anything on this backwater kid. Who tromped in with mud-spattered boots, worn jeans and a white t-shirt with a faded logo that clung to broad young shoulders and hinted at the swell of pecs and the lean planes of the torso below. And really, it was a terrible thing to allow one’s mind to wander to places entirely inappropriate in regards to a boy only freshly sixteen – – but Lex and inappropriate were on good terms.
“Hey, you working?” Clark asked, oblivious to the fact that Lex was sitting behind his computer, with financials and spreadsheets scattered around the desk.
Lex drew his eyes up from the fascinating hole in Clark’s jeans to Clark’s face and smiled dryly. “Just dabbling. What brings you out? Didn’t you mention you and your dad were repairing something farm related today? Barn? Windmill?”
“Silo roof,” Clark supplied with a grin. “And we’re finished. Wasn’t as big a job as we figured. I thought I’d come over and see what you were up to.”
It would have been flattering – -and often was, because Clark did have friends his own age, and chose Lex’s company over them on frequent occasion – – but today Clark had a look in his eyes. A faint gleam of hesitant expectation that hinted that there was more to this visit than boredom or a desire to check up on Lex’s activities. He wanted something.
Lex leaned back in his chair and decided to play it out. Making Clark work for things that Lex would inevitably give him entertained him greatly.
“I’m considering the acquisition of a small chemical production plant in Bakersville. I’m going over specs now – – production rates, capacity for expansion, profit loss ratios – – care to take a look?”
“Uhh – – no. Thanks.” Clark shuffled, caught off guard by the offer.
“Really? It’s fascinating material.”
Clark narrowed his eyes, catching on finally and smirking. “I was thinking more a game of pool.”
“Right. Because there’s nothing you like more than losing to me.”
Clark snorted, but the smirk turned back to the blinding grin. “But if you’re busy – -”
“I could use a break.”
Clark wasn’t bad at the game, but he tended to over break and the occasional ball hopped off the table onto the floor, or once, directly into a curio across the room.
He’d gotten better at it, but he still tended to lose two out of three to Lex.
“So,” Lex leaned down and lined up a visual shot. “How many weeks till school starts back up?”
“Four,” Clark lamented, leaning on his cue. “It sucks. It’s like school time runs in slow motion and summer flashes by at fast forward. Which you’d never figure, because it’s not like I did anything interesting. Chloe got to go to the city and Pete’s dad let him get a car. A car! And my dad only just let me get my driver’s license.”
Lex hid a grin and sank the six ball, then circled the table looking for his next shot. “Hmm. So, maybe you should do something memorable before school starts, so you have a competing story to share?”
“Well,” Clark started, with that tentative tone that said he was about to delve into whatever ulterior motive had brought him here. “There is something – -”
Lex looked up from drawing back his cue and raised a questioning brow.
“There’s this show thing, I was thinking about seeing.”
“A show thing?”
“Uh, a performance art show down in Manhattan, outside the KSU campus.”
It was a bizarre enough declaration that Lex postponed his shot and straightened up. The idea of Clark and a performance art exhibit of any sort did not meld well in his imagination. Clark’s taste in entertainment tended to run less avant-garde.
“Really? And what spurred this sudden interest in culture?”
Clark shrugged, staring at the dried mud on the blunt toes of his boots. “I dunno – – I just sort of heard about it and wanted to check it out. It’s sold out though and tonight’s the last show, so I was sort of hoping you might be able to you know, talk to the people you talk to, and swing some tickets?”
Clark looked up from under his bangs with a mix of hopeful embarrassment.
It had to be Lana Lang. Somehow Lana was the inspiration for this peculiar request. It was the only explanation. All summer long, Lex had been getting running reports from Clark about Lana waffling over the decision to break up with her absent and enlisted boyfriend. A decision that Clark managed to support and feel guilty about at the same time, since the aforementioned boyfriend was risking life and limb for the sake of mom and apple pie. Not guilty enough, however, not to stalk Lana the seventy-five miles to Kansas State University.
“And what’s the name of this show?”
Clark blushed a little and hunched his shoulders. “Uh – – Uterus.”
Lex blinked. Shook off the urge to lean on the pool table and laugh, managed an understanding smile instead and asked. “And this has to do with Lana, how?”
Clark opened his mouth. Shut it. Let out an exasperated breath and finally blurted out. “She’s going down there with Shelly Pierce and her boyfriend and her brother, Toby, who’s been hanging around the Talon all summer for no good reason. And Pete said he heard Shelly say she thought Lana and Toby should hook up, and this is her trying to set them up.”
Lex kept his wan smile fixed in place, because teenage drama was not to be lightly mocked, no matter how much it begged for it.
“And you think Lana’s interested?”
“No. I don’t know. I mean – – he’ll be a senior next year and he’s on the basketball team, Lex.” Which celebrity status obviously worried Clark enough to make him throw his arms out in exasperation, brandishing the pool cue dangerously close to Lex’s bar.
“I’ll see what I can do, Clark.” He extricated the cue from Clark’s hand, saving the decanter of scotch closest to the edge from the possibility of an early and unsatisfying demise.
“That would be great.” Clark took a breath and added. “So – -um – – what are you doing tonight?”
Lex lifted a brow. “No particular plans. Why?”
“My dad doesn’t want me taking the truck as far as Manhattan on a Saturday night.” Clark rolled his eyes, as if the admission were entirely embarrassing.
“So you want tickets and a chauffeur?”
“You like artsy stuff like this, don’t you?” There was just the slightest hint of whine, which meant Clark was desperate and not entirely sure his reasoning was sound.
Lex was almost entirely certain he wouldn’t like a live art performance of Uterus, but the notion of seeing Clark suffer through it had its draws. The notion of Clark, alone in the car for the hour drive to KSU, also had its appeal.
“Your parents are okay with you taking a road trip with me?” One had to ask, because having an angry confrontation with Jonathan Kent over the possible corruption of his son was not on Lex’s list of favorite things to endure.
“Sure.” Clark’s smile broke out again, toothy and breathtaking. Impossible to refuse any request that came hand and hand with that smile and to hell with parental disapproval. “They’re okay with it, long as I’m home by twelve.”
Clark knew Lex would come through. Lex always came through. He was the most reliable person Clark knew, despite what his dad said. And his dad said a lot. His dad really didn’t like Lex, despite what Lex had done for the farm, and for him and his dad after the tornado, even if that something had involved shooting a man dead. But then, Clark thought with grim determination, better Roger Nixon than his dad.
He didn’t like to think about what might have beens, but sometimes he couldn’t help picturing the nightmare scenario. His dad dead and him exposed, and his mom devastated because of it. And yeah, Lex had been involved with Nixon, but he hadn’t been out to ‘get’ Clark, he’d just been trying to make sense of things, and he’d promised to let it drop. Clark believed him, even if his parents weren’t quite so trusting. But he supposed they’d been protecting him so long that it was sort of second nature to suspect pretty much everything and everybody.
His dad hadn’t been happy with the idea of him going down to Manhattan with Lex, like he thought Lex was going to abscond with him and maybe sell him to gypsies or something. Luckily, his mom had come through and softened him to the idea.
It wasn’t like Clark couldn’t have just run anyway and made the trip a whole lot faster – – but Lana had been hinting around all summer about how friends didn’t keep secrets from friends. She’d bring up the tornado every once and while with a little quizzical wrinkle between her brows, so Clark didn’t want to give her reason to question how he showed up seventy-five miles from home with no ride in sight.
Besides, Lex had cool cars. And Lex was easy company, and when you went places with him, people just sort of got really, really accommodating. And Lana might actually buy Lex showing up at something like performance art and dragging Clark along, as opposed to say – -showing up with Pete – – who’d probably rake his eyes out with nails before he’d be caught dead at a show called Uterus.
“Mom, Dad, I’m going,” he yelled, as he pelted down the stairs at six-thirty sharp when he heard the sound of tires crunching up the drive.
“Is that what you’re wearing, honey?” His mom stopped him on his way through the kitchen. His dad was on the couch, finishing up his iced tea from supper and watching the evening news.
Clark looked down at himself uncertainly. He had on a clean white t-shirt under a new jacket and the jeans were devoid of worn spots and wrinkle free. He thought he looked okay.
“He’s fine. He’s not going on a damned date.” His dad stomped into the kitchen and looked out the screen door at the sleek little sports car that was pulling up to the house. It was a sullen defense of Clark’s fashion choices and it made Clark grin just a little. His mom pursed her lips and went back to finishing up the dinner dishes.
“I just think if you’re going to try and impress a girl, you ought to dress up a little. You do own a button down shirt, Clark.”
“Mom!” Clark complained. “I’m not trying to impress anybody.”
Martha Kent shook her head, not buying it. “Just be careful, honey, and have a good time.”
She jutted out her chin for a kiss on the cheek and he obliged her before heading outside. His dad followed him out onto the porch to glower out towards the car and Lex who’d gotten out to stand by the open driver’s door.
It was a Porsche, Lex’s brand of choice, and a sleek jet-black, which went well with Lex’s outfit. Black on black and no less sleek than the car.
“Mr. Kent,” Lex inclined his head, never anything but polite to Clark’s parents, even when Jonathan was staring daggers at him.
“You remember, back by twelve,” his dad called, as Clark was heading out the gate.
“I remember, Dad.” He grinned at Lex where his dad couldn’t see and the corner of Lex’s mouth twitched minutely.
“And you follow the damned speed limits.” That last got barked at Lex, as he was sliding back in behind the wheel. Lex didn’t crack a smile until his door was safely closed.
“He never forgets, does he?”
“Not ever,” Clark agreed with a happy grin. He was out of the house and almost on the road. The car had that new car smell, and the leather of the seats was so plush it sort of sucked you in. He pushed his seat as far back as it would go and sighed. Life was good.
Lex pulled out of the drive sedately, following the strict limit of the law until the farm was out of sight before his foot got heavy on the gas and the car surged forward.
There was something playing on the stereo that Clark didn’t recognize but it had a great beat. Lex had eclectic taste in music. You’d walk in one day and he’d be listening to classical and then the next there’d be alt rock playing and the next the soundtrack to some musical that he claimed was genius.
They got to talking about music, and moved onto movies, discussing a DVD Clark had rented last week that was a remake of an old classic. Clark liked the bright, Technicolor remake with all the bonus special effects, where Lex preferred the original black and white. This evoked a debate that lasted most of the forty-minutes it took Lex to make a drive that would otherwise have lasted an hour, comparing remakes versus originals versus the books that had spawned them.
It was one of the things Clark liked about Lex the most, his ability to talk about just about anything wholeheartedly. To get into discussions and actually listen to Clark’s opinions and think them over and sometimes even admit that Clark had points that might be more valid than his. It was pretty awesome to have somebody like Lex take him seriously.
They hit the ‘little apple’, as Manhattan, Kansas was affectionately known, quarter after seven. Compared to Metropolis and its sprawling millions it was a tiny little hamlet, with its boast of a measly 50,000 plus residents, but compared to Smallville, it was a bustling hub of activity. It had a teeming transitory college age population thanks to having several institutes of higher education within its boundaries, and an equal number of establishments catering to that age group. University Row was one long strip of bars, eateries and arcades, music shops, bookstores and theaters.
Lex found parking three blocks down from the theater, outside a little café with Christmas lights blinking from around the door and loud music wafting out onto the street from within. Late evening and it was still hot, so Lex shed his jacket, tossing it into the backseat of the car. Clark didn’t notice extremes in temperature very much, but he’d gotten good over the years at following the lead of others in such matters, so as not to seem the freak that didn’t sweat in summer heat or shiver in winter cold. He shed his jacket, and stood on the sidewalk, grinning like a fool as he basked in the glow of neon lights just starting to flicker on as the long summer day started to purple. Smallville had nothing like this. You could walk down main street at eight o’clock and the only stores still open would be the Talon, an hour shy of closing, and Bailey’s ice cream.
Pete would be green with envy that he’d missed it. But, Clark couldn’t regret Pete’s absence too much, what with Lex padding around the car, sleeves of his summer sweater pushed up to his elbows, looking slim and predatory with a half-smile curving his lips. Manhattan better watch the hell out, because it had no idea what had cruised onto its streets.
“This is great,” Clark exclaimed, peering into a music store where somebody was testing out an electric guitar with a pretty good rendition of ‘Freebird’.
“This is quaint,” Lex countered, fingers in his pockets, looking chic and unimpressed.
Clark gave him a dubious look. “See, now you’re just trying to impress me with all your big city ways.”
The side of Lex’s mouth Clark could see in profile quirked up.
A pair of girls, Lex’s age, maybe older, turned their heads as they passed on the sidewalk, checking them out, and wow, just wow, even if they were probably checking out Lex – – because he was Lex and Clark was just a high school kid from a nowhere town – – but still. College girls. Pete was going to die when he heard about it.
The show started at eight, and there was a small crowd milling around the little theater. Mostly college age, some older, some spilling over from the patio of the bar next store. The majority of them were women. Clark, who stood taller than most of the people in the crowd, craned his neck looking for Lana, or Toby Pierce, since his 6’2 frame would stand out more in a crowd. He didn’t see them outside, and Lex was already weaving his way through bodies to the ticket booth, where he started speaking with the girl behind the glass. Apparently he’d arranged to have something called in, because she produced tickets from an envelope under her counter and handed them over with a smile.
Clark was all for heading inside and finding Lana. He’d worry about coming up with an excuse for just happening to be here when he saw her and if he were lucky, Lex would take pity on him and cut in with a flawless explanation and save Clark the trouble.
It wasn’t that big inside, or maybe it was the black paint and black curtains and carpeting that made it sort of close in when you entered. The seating wasn’t traditional, but was made up of rows of carpet-covered benches that formed a semi-circle around a raised stage. There was a low background music playing that sounded like the sloshing of some sluggish fluid and ambient blue lighting seeping up in spots from underfoot lighting.
He didn’t see Lana or any of her friends inside and figured maybe they were running late. Very late, because the theater lights dimmed a few minutes later and Clark had to fumble through darkness to find Lex again. He stumbled over somebody’s feet and caught himself with a hand on Lex’s shoulder, before leaning in close and whispering. “She’s not here yet.”
The liquid music intensified and the blue floor lights extinguished, plunging the whole place into darkness. When the stage lights oozed on, there was this large, translucent sort of sack on the stage, lit from within and undulating with multiple people inside. It was sort of gross.
“Do you want to call her?” Lex leaned in to whisper. His breath on Clark’s ear made his skin tingle a little.
Clark nodded, realized Lex couldn’t see it, and whispered, yes.
They eased their way out, back into the now empty lobby, with its comfortable fluorescent lighting and lack of embryonic inspired music.
Clark started to hit Lana’s number then hesitated. He couldn’t just come out and say, ‘Hey, Lana, I’m at the place you were supposed to be with your other friends. Just wondering why you’re not here?’ and not sound like a pathetic loser.
“What do I say?” He gave Lex a desperate look.
“Just ask her if she’s still at work? That seems to cover a variety of ulterior motives.” Lex suggested dryly, and it sounded like a good plan. Simple and uncomplicated.
He dialed her number and after a few rings she picked up.
“Hi Lana, you still at work?”
There was a pause, and he could hear voices in the background. Then, “No, Clark, I was going to a show, remember?”
“Oh. Yeah. Uh – – how is it?”
“We didn’t get there. Shelly’s car broke down twenty miles from Smallville and we’re at a service station waiting for a tow.”
“Really?” Clark winced at the sudden note of brightness in his voice. “Umm, that’s too bad.”
“So what’s up, Clark?”
“Oh, nothing. Just wanted to see what you were up to.”
She laughed. “Not much. Just waiting for Aunt Nell to close up shop and come pick me up.”
“Ah, that sucks – -that your night was cut short and everything.”
He was smiling by the time she hung up. Lex eyed him curiously, waiting for an explanation.
“Their car broke down outside Smallville. Her aunt’s picking her up and she’s going home.”
Lex lifted a brow. “So, disaster averted.”
“Do you want to go back and finish the show?”
Clark groaned, his little bout of euphoria cut short at the prospect. He really, really didn’t.
It was raining lightly when they stepped outside. A warm, summer evening shower that cooled the air and made everything shiny and new looking. Clark didn’t mind getting wet.
“God, Lex, I ‘m sorry I wasted your time and dragged you all the way out here for nothing.” Clark did feel terrible for it. Lex had gone to a lot of trouble just because Clark was feeling insecure about another guy’s girlfriend.
Lex canted his head, the light rain making the skin of his head glisten, staring somewhere in the area of Clark’s chest. Finally, he looked up, gave Clark a sloe-eyed, conspiratorial smile and shrugged. “Maybe not so much a waste of time. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve let myself do anything but work? How many months since I actually did something remotely social on a weekend?”
“Umm – – a lot?” Clark guessed.
Lex laughed. “Yeah. A lot. Building a company from scratch eats into your time. This isn’t Metropolis, but it’s a college town on a Saturday night, so I think we can find something entertaining the pass the time until your curfew rolls around.”
Clark stared down University Row, at the neon lights and the growing groups of people moving along the sidewalks. Music filled the air from a dozen venues and he’d never been set loose in a place like it.
He gave Lex a slow grin, nodding. This might end up being an awesome night after all.
Lex drifted over to the bar next to the theater to get out of the rain. It was crowded with college age people, small tables, a few pool tables, a few very old arcade games, and a live band playing on a little stage in the back. The sound system was pretty awful and the singer barely intelligible because of it. Clark drank it in regardless, following Lex as he made his way to the bar.
Lex leaned in and yelled an order at the bartender, who’s hearing must have been pretty damned good to pick it up over the blare of the band. Either that or he could read lips. He glanced to Clark questioningly, and Clark shook his head. Even if by some off chance they decided not to card him, if he drank anything remotely alcoholic, he just knew his mom would be able to sniff it out like a bloodhound.
Lex got his drink and tossed it back like he was trying to get a head start on a buzz, then tapped the bar top for another. Clark wandered over to the old arcade games, and slipped into position in front of one of the pinball machines as someone else left it. He fed it a quarter and racked up balls. Lex joined him as he was pounding the flippers, with a new drink in hand and an amused look in his eyes. He leaned a hip against the edge of the machine and watched Clark play. Clark was pretty good at it, fast reflexes making more of a difference when he didn’t have to slow down to let a computer game play catch up. Only problem was, he kept getting distracted by Lex, who was watching him instead of the migration of the little silver ball.
It wasn’t like Lex watching him was any new thing. Lex was like the master of penetrating looks. Lex liked to try and get inside people’s heads and Clark had gotten pretty used to it over the course of their friendship. It was just that he was usually not so close when he was doing it. Lex’s hip was almost brushing the knuckles of Clark’s left flipper hand, and damp as he was from the sudden shower, he sort of smelled like some subtle cologne that Clark hadn’t noticed so much before the rain.
Clark lost his last ball because of it, and Lex gave him a consolatory raise of his empty glass, before jerking his head towards the door.
Clark was game to see what else Manhattan had to offer. They headed out the door and had to sidestep some guy on the way. The guy was probably drunk, because he stumbled a little into Lex, until Clark caught his elbow and helped the man catch his balance and sent him on his way into the depths of the bar.
It was still misting outside, but it wasn’t keeping people off the sidewalks. There was an actual arcade a few doors down, with dozens of games, and a row of skeeball machines.
“We have to!” Clark gave Lex a look. The only time he ever got to play was when the state fair came into town and he loved the game. Lex shrugged and strolled in after Clark and they spent the next half hour racking up tickets.
Clark used the combined tickets to buy a Kansas State University baseball cap for his dad.
“He took classes there.” Clark explained and then had to rub in his exceptional score. “You might be able to beat me at pool, but I rule you in skeeball.”
Lex grinned. “And I’m feeling the sting of defeat so bad, I think we need to go find another bar. With better music.”
Clark turned the hat in his hands, imaging attending KSU himself. But God, it was a long way off, and he had no earthly idea what he wanted to study, much less do with his life.
“Where did you get your degree, Lex?” He realized he’d never asked, and Lex had never volunteered the information. He imagined some Ivy League college that his parents could never afford in their wildest dreams.
“Really?” Clark blinked, blindsided by the admission.
Lex shrugged, looking as close to self-conscious as Lex ever got.
“I had other priorities.”
“You’re like the smartest person I know.”
Lex laughed. “I read a lot.” Then he shook his head, like he was debating with himself whether to continue this line of discussion or nip it in the bud.
He shrugged finally and admitted. “I went through three colleges in two years. It wasn’t pretty.”
“What, like you flunked out?” Clark couldn’t believe it and Lex gave him an offended look for suggesting it.
“I’m not going to go into the particulars, but let’s just say I was invited to leave.”
“Why?” Clark kept on Lex’s heels as he wove his way through the crowd of a little bar with an island theme, momentarily distracted by a waitress slipping by with a platter of shish-kebabs, before catching up at the bar.
“You mean metaphysically?” Lex decided to go theme since there was a thatch tiki roof over the bar with fake palm tree boles holding it up, and ordered something tropical.
“Can I get some of those kebabs and a Pepsi?” Clark added to the barkeep, who nodded and went to mix Lex’s drink, then to Lex. “Sure, I guess.”
“To piss off my father.”
“So, I’m guessing that did it? My dad would blow a fuse if I got expelled.”
“Mine takes out his grievances more subtly.”
“Is that why he sent you to Smallville?”
Lex laughed outright. “No. That was a whole different fuck up.”
He didn’t explain further, but it was just as well, because Clark’s head was reeling from what Lex had already shared. He felt sort of privileged that Lex had shared at all, because Lex liked to pretend he was all smooth perfection. Clark knew better. Clark had seen Lex scared and he’d seen him vulnerable, and under the veneer he was pretty much like everybody else. It was nice to hear him admit it once and while.
By the time the barkeep sat Clark’s plate of kabobs on the bar in front of him, Lex was picking the spear of pineapple and cherries out of his second drink. He helped Clark polish off the kabobs.
They headed out afterwards and Clark wondered if this was what they called barhopping and if it was something Lex had made a practice of back when he was pissing off his dad and getting tossed out of prestigious schools.
It had stopped drizzling, but the sidewalks were still wet and there were puddles in the street that cars splashed through as they passed. A pickup rolled by and water geysered onto the sidewalk, spattering a guy leaning against a street sign. Clark winced a little in sympathy, even if the guy didn’t so much as flinch. Something made him look again, because it almost looked like the same drunk from the first bar, but the man had turned away and was ambling across the street.
Clark shook his head and caught up with Lex.
They hit a club next, where they actually did card at the door, which was cool, because Clark had never actually been to a place where he’d been required to show his brand new license and Lex got a stamp on his hand, indicating, Clark guessed, that he was okay to consume all the alcohol he wanted.
This place made the others look deserted, but a lot of that had to do with the dance floor, and the techno beat that sort of bounced around inside of Clark’s skull like a little DJ with a hammer. The strobe lights made his x-ray vision sort of stutter on for a few beats in a disorienting fashion.
Lex elbowed Clark to get his attention, and pointed to a row of tall, round tables at the fringe of the dance floor, then started weaving his way through the mess of people that way. Clark took a moment to get his bearings and followed. A girl came up to Lex and put her arms around him in a drunken sort of way, and Lex went with it, like drunken women accosting him was no big thing. But she was really pretty, so maybe he made exceptions. She perched up on tippy toe and said something in his ear. Clark couldn’t hear what, but Lex smiled at her in that lazy way he had when he was on the prowl. He glanced over her head at Clark and jerked his head towards the writhing mass on the dance floor and mouthed the words, ‘have fun’, before he let the girl draw him into it.
Clark stood there, not quite knowing what to do, because he didn’t dance. He just didn’t. Not gracefully, at any rate. Slow dancing maybe, if he had to, and even then he tended to squash toes.
He worked his way over to the row of tables, but there weren’t any free ones, so he stood against the wall until a harried looking waitress paused to ask if he wanted anything. Another Pepsi so he’d at least have something to do with his hands.
He found Lex on the dance floor, sort of slow grinding with the girl, more like it was a sex thing than a dance thing. It was almost embarrassing to watch, because it was Lex and thinking about Lex and sex was uncomfortable. Not that Clark did think about it. It was just that before LexCorp, Lex used to date – – did you call it dating when he only ever saw the woman in question once? – – a lot. When he was on the prowl he sort of slipped into this ultra-provocative mode that was hard not to notice. Women noticed, because they generally tripped all over themselves to get close to him, and Clark didn’t think it had to do with all the money. Though he figured that didn’t hurt.
He looked around the club, trying to find something else attention worthy. There were a lot of really pretty girls, a lot of them standing around the little tables, drinking, flirting with guys – – college age girls that he could just go up and talk to, if he wanted, That is if he had any idea what to say. But his eyes were drawn back to Lex, who’d drifted closer to the bar, with the girl still clinging to his side. Lex had somehow gotten a drink, which he swallowed down and passed off onto the tray of a passing waitress.
The girl leaned up and sucked at the side of his jaw. God knew how much she’d had to drink, but Clark did a mental tally of how much Lex had had, and figured it was just possible that he might be getting to drive the Porsche home tonight.
Having that dream come true might have diverted his attention for a good while if his full attention hadn’t been drawn to the dance floor. Lex had drifted back out into the crowded throng of pulsating bodies, and some random guy in a tight black T-shirt pressed up behind him, laying a hand on Lex’s hip like he was testing out waters.
Lex turned, to see who was invading his space, took note of the guy, who was a little taller, and a lot tanner, with a shock of blonde hair, then did the unthinkable and didn’t shove the guy off him. Did the opposite, in fact, and shifted around, face-to-face, up close and personal. Clark didn’t even want to think what was being rubbed up against what.
Lex couldn’t be that drunk. There were some things you just didn’t mistake and a 6’2 guy with bulging pecs and tight leather pants rubbing his junk against you was one of them.
Clark’s world reeled. Lex wasn’t – – Lex slept with women. Lots of women. And yet, Pete was forever making insinuations – – snide little remarks that Clark had always figured were rooted in the fact that Pete was a little jealous over Clark’s friendship with Lex. And he’d heard a few other people in town say the same thing, but most people just didn’t get Lex, and saw the flashy cars and the way he dressed as a blaring sign that read ‘outsider’. And Clark couldn’t have been so blind that he’d maybe missed something, could he?
Or maybe being bi – – and Clark wasn’t one hundred percent sure what all of the implications of that were – – was just really cosmopolitan and something that the upper crust, those people that Lex used to hang with and Clark supposed maybe still did when he went to the city, considered a cool thing to be.
The guy slid his hand to Lex’s ass, and Clark swallowed, mouth gone dry – -a little offended maybe on Lex’s behalf, because this guy was taking liberties and Lex generally had a pretty particular personal space requirement for most people.
Images came to mind without his express permission – – those occasional unexpected Internet pictures that sometimes popped up when you were searching for perfectly legitimate porn. Pete always made gagging sounds over them, but Clark would stare at the images with the helpless fascination generally reserved for people rubbernecking at horrible car wrecks. Putting Lex into the mix was just wrong and sort of made his eyes burn in an uncomfortable way.
A girl inserted herself into his line of vision. Blonde hair, halter-top with a good deal of cleavage exposed. She was blocking his view.
“You’ve been standing over here by yourself for like half an hour and that just seems criminal, because you are sooo incredibly hot,” she said, and cut her eyes towards a few other girls at a nearby table, who were wide-eyed and giggling.
“Umm – -” Clark wasn’t entirely sure they weren’t joking with him, the way the ones at the table were all staring and whispering.
“Are you taking summer courses at KSU?”
The part of his mind that wasn’t still stuck on Lex’s sexual preferences was sort of flattered that she thought he looked old enough to be taking college courses. He stood up a little taller, but part of that was so that he could better see around her to what Lex was doing. The girl had joined in on the sex dance thing and it was sort of – – wow. His pants felt a little tight. His cheeks began to flush with the horrible, dawning realization that there was a boner in progress.
He stammered something, and slipped out from between her and the wall, not wanting her to see it. Because it was right there, plain as day, straining against the material of his jeans. He got over to an unoccupied spot by a vending machine where he could breathe, and thankfully she didn’t follow. Mortifyingly enough, Lex chose that moment to break away from his little threesome and sauntered up with a sly grin. He spared a glance for the girl who Clark had abandoned, then with absolutely no shame down at Clark’s tented jeans. The grin widened.
“She was pretty. Why don’t you go back over there? You aren’t dating Lana yet.”
Clark thought he might die. He was pretty sure it was a distinct possibility that embarrassment could do what bullets and runaway cars and explosions couldn’t and kill him dead. What made it a hundred times worse was the fact that he couldn’t even recall what the girl had looked like. He could remember, with crystal clarity, that guy’s hand on Lex’s ass, though. How wrong was that?
In a fit of absolute humiliation, Clark pushed past him, heading for the exit. He could breathe again outside, where the music wasn’t making his head pound and the lights weren’t making him dizzy. It was drizzling just a little and it felt fantastic against his skin. He closed his eyes and raised his face to the rain, and thought he could get a handle on this if he could just get his mind on something appropriately disturbing. Like how his parents would react if they had any idea he’d spent the night bar hopping with Lex.
God, that would go over just great. He could just imagine them forbidding him to ever hang around Lex again, after that. The notion of which struck a chord of fear, because he really liked hanging out with Lex.
Lex came out of the club, bright-eyed and a little flushed, still with that self-satisfied smirk on his face. Clark just knew he was going to laugh at him and tightened his jaw in preparation. But Lex bumped him with his shoulder to get him moving and said conspiratorially instead.
“Nothing to be ashamed of. Everybody gets them.”
He was still on the boner issue. Clark wanted to melt into the sidewalk. Or maybe distract Lex and then superspeed away. All the way home where he could hide in the barn until the shame evaporated – – oh, in a couple of years or so. But that would leave Lex with the distinct possibility of adding a DUI to his list of accomplishments, and Clark wasn’t prepared to risk Lex’s life to spare himself a little embarrassment.
“Are you okay to drive?” It was an entirely rhetorical question.
Lex didn’t seem to get that. “Sure.”
Clark gave him a dubious look. “Y’know, I’m thinking….not so much.”
Lex laughed, bumping him again as they were walking, way, way too close for comfort all of a sudden.
“You just want to drive the Porsche.”
“No, you’re just having trouble walking a straight line,” Clark countered.
Then after a few minutes, he said. “You asked why I got exiled to Smallville – -”
Clark looked over at him, surprised that Lex was picking up on a thread of conversation they’d dropped an hour ago.
“There was a lot of alcohol involved, a few less legal substances, and solicitation charges.”
Clark gaped, not able imagine Lex ever having to stoop to pay for sex. “Seriously?”
Lex laughed, but it was a little bitter. “I didn’t actually solicit him – – someone else did – – and they couldn’t make the drug charges stick – – but I got charged anyway and it was in the papers. Unfortunately LuthorCorp was bidding on a contract for construction of the Holy Trinity Broadcasting Network’s new Metropolis headquarters at the time and suffice to say it didn’t win that contract. I swear, I thought my father was going to have me murdered and buried in the foundations of one of his projects, but he decided on banishment instead.”
Clark couldn’t quite manage to close his mouth. With a story full of so many eye-popping revelations, he couldn’t get past the ‘him’ in the solicited prostitution part of the tale.
“Him?” Clark croaked before he could stop himself from asking. He cursed himself for it, because he wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer.
It took Lex a moment to figure out what Clark meant, but even full-on shitfaced, Lex was quick on the uptake.
He flashed Clark a grin. “He was very pretty. Not as pretty as…” He broke off abruptly, shaking his head, the grin still half there, but a bit more wry. “So have we missed your curfew?”
“No,” Clark glanced at his watch. “But it’s almost eleven and if I’m driving we’ll be cutting it close.”
For a sixteen year old experiencing his first time behind the wheel of a hundred thousand dollar piece of automotive excellence, Clark drove like a little old lady. He wavered between five and nine miles over the posted speed limits and no chiding or suggestion that he test out the power just waiting to unleashed, prompted him to go any faster.
Lex didn’t know whether to be impressed at his tenacity or annoyed that he couldn’t tempt him into living just a little dangerously.
Of course, temptation was what had gotten Lex slouched in the passenger seat of his own car in the first place. Or the attempt to stave it off, more accurately. Rain, combined with Clark’s white T-shirt, had conspired against him. The transparent material was clinging in all the right places to a torso that honestly ought not be allowed on persons with whom it was illegal to properly appreciate it. The outline of hard brown nipples had been the straw that sent him heading for the closest bar. Spending the evening with Clark in a wet shirt was an activity that, simply put, required a little alcohol to numb the impact.
Clark was off limits. From day one – – or at least once he’d actually gotten to know the boy – – he’d told himself Clark was off limits. Fifteen year olds were not fair game even when they topped six foot and had shoulders like a young god. Fifteen year olds to whom he owed his life were especially sacrosanct. A year didn’t make all that much difference in the grand scheme of things, even if Clark hadn’t been unequivocally straight and in love with a girl.
Lex had wasted a lot of things in his life, had taken a great many things for granted, as wealth and material possessions had always came easy to him. People came easy, too, flocking to you in droves if you moved in the right circles and had a big enough bankroll. One set was pretty much interchangeable with the next. All of them wanting something. Prestige. Power. Connections.
Then there was Clark, who other than the occasional ludicrous excursion to chase after a girl, didn’t want much of anything. Who’d show up unannounced to shatter Lex’s focus and waste his time and draw him away from that cold, practical mindset he had to immerse himself in to keep LexCorp on course when he was fighting against a subtle undertow, fueled he suspected, by his father.
Clark was separate from that part of his life, and Clark was precious because of it. Clark infuriated him when he lied to his face, and then salved the indignity with big eyes and a hopeful smile when Lex let him believe he accepted the deceits. Clark kept him up at nights, wondering what he was hiding, and then made him doubt his own good sense, because this was a boy. Just a boy who lived on a farm and went to a public school, who worked the occasional odd job outside the family farm because his parents didn’t have the funds to afford a generous allowance, who laughed at bad jokes and listened to Lex when Lex talked like he was spouting the gospel. There was no earth-shattering secret, despite the car in the basement. There were stranger things in Smallville than Clark Kent and Lex had seen his fair share of them in the ten months he’d been here.
So he’d fight for Clark’s purity, even if it went against his baser nature.
“Who’s this?” Clark finally broke his half-hour long silence and Lex had to take a second to shift drink-dulled focus, to concentrate on the song presently oozing out of the sound system.
“London Suede,” he said. “Back before they were just Suede.”
“Oh. I sorta like it.”
Clark glanced at him, a little apologetic half smile on his mouth, and Lex had to wonder if maybe he’d missed something that Clark was feeling guilty about. It was entirely possible. His head was starting to clear, but he thought he’d been pretty wasted for a while there. Drink and drugs had that effect on him. He could get a quick buzz as easy as the next idiot, but he tended to metabolize very fast. Which meant, back when he’d been trying his damnedest to scandalize his father, he’d had to try twice as hard.
Back when. He almost laughed, because it hadn’t been that long ago.
By the time they entered the town limits, passing the weathered sign planted at the edge of a cornfield – – half the things here were planted in or around cornfields – – sobriety had snuck back up on him. He spent the next five miles of country back roads trying to remember if he’d done anything embarrassing enough to need damage control. He didn’t think so. He hadn’t been that drunk.
Clark pulled to a stop and killed the headlights a good ways up the long drive leading to the Kent farmhouse.
“My parents probably shouldn’t see me driving back.”
Clark was thinking, and it was a good point. Jonathan Kent already thought Lex was enough of a bad influence. Having to explain why his sixteen-year old son had felt the need to take over driving duties was a chore he’d rather avoid.
Clark sat there, hands still gripping the wheel, just a dark silhouette with all the car lights off.
“You gonna be okay driving back to the mansion?”
He could see the glint of Clark’s eyes when he turned to peer at him through the darkness. “You were supposed to be the adult influence on this trip. Well, at least my mom said you were supposed to be.”
Lex shut his eyes, imagining well enough Clark’s father’s opinions on Lex’s influences. He doubted many of them centered around adult responsibilities.
“Sorry. After the Mai Thais, things just got away from me.”
A passing bit of moonlight caught the white of Clark’s teeth as he grinned. “Yeah, well, plus side, I got to drive this car. Which is awesome, by the way.”
He leaned in towards Lex, and for a heart-stopping second, parked in a darkened car, with a corn field on one side and a pasture on the other, and maybe just the last vestiges of a buzz lapping at the edges of his powers of higher reasoning, he thought – – well, he thought unrealistic things – – when all Clark ended up doing was whispering conspiratorially.
“So, I’m thinking I’ll just go with the ‘we stayed for the after party of the performance art show’ excuse.”
Lex swallowed, wondering if Clark could hear the thudding of his heart. It sounded loud enough in his own head.
“That sounds like a good one. I’ll back you up if I get grilled.”
It wasn’t until he got home, that one of those little details he’d overlooked about the evening struck him. He stopped with his hand on the banister and his foot on the bottom step of the grand staircase and cursed himself. He’d actually told Clark about the incident at – – God, he didn’t even remember the name of the club – -just that it had been dark and a little bit dangerous and it had seemed like a good idea at the time – – and had apparently felt the need to mention the sex of the pay by the hour person he’d been caught with red-handed – – so speak – – in the less than savory men’s room of the place.
God. No wonder Clark hadn’t said so much as word most of the drive home. Not that he thought Clark was biased, Clark was very likely the most open-minded person he knew. After all, he defied the prejudices of a whole town and hung out with a Luthor. But he was sixteen and the product of a conservative home and – – fuck.