Clark went into town with Chloe after school. It was better than going home and facing his dad’s lingering disappointment, or not being told what had gone on during his parent’s ‘talk’ with Lex, because they had some misguided notion that they were protecting him. He’d bet it never entered their minds that ‘he’ wasn’t the one that needed protecting.
She wanted to stop by the little used bookstore at the corner of Main and Vine, and he had nothing better to do than tag along. He wondered the aisles filled with their dusty books in a fog, trying to figure out how he was going to approach Lex with his apology. No matter what his parent’s said, he was going to try and at least make the attempt.
Normally the person he’d ask how to go about approaching a delicate situation like this would be Lex. But since that was out of the question, Clark was sort of on his own. Asking Chloe, even in a round about way, would be a disaster, because she’d pester him relentlessly with questions about details he couldn’t give. There was nobody else that was talking to him at the moment that he felt comfortable enough to broach the subject with. It occurred to him, sort of miserably, that he had a lot of acquaintances, but not a lot of friends. His own fault, for being too self-conscious about ‘the powers’ – -let alone the alien stuff – -to let himself get close to just anybody.
Which was probably a good thing, since the people that were close to him, he inevitably hurt.
Chloe bought a few paperbacks, and then wanted to go to the Talon, which he balked at, since Lana would be there and she’d already made it perfectly clear what she thought about him.
“Don’t be a wuss,” Chloe caught his arm up in hers, and urged him along. “So you screwed up. She can either get over it or not, but either way, its not like Smallville is a big enough town to avoid somebody forever.”
“Thanks for that,” he said glumly. “You’re great at the pep talks.”
She smiled up at him brightly, which made him feel just a tiny bit better, so he stopped dragging his feet and went with it. She even opened the door for him, which he rolled his eyes at, headed through and stopped dead – – face to face with Lex, who was on his way out, laptop under his arm, paper coffee cup in hand.
Lex flinched, took a half step backwards, something flashing through his eyes that looked very much like fear. All of it happened in like two seconds, but Clark caught it. Caught every nuance of it and it was like a fist to the gut. He opened his mouth, drawing in a lungful of air, chest constricting in panic, heard through the rushing in his ears Chloe saying, ‘oh, hey Lex,” and Lex not answering. Lex looked warily up from under his lashes at Clark for a second, before looking away.
Clark turned on his heel and almost stumbled back out onto the sidewalk. Ignored Chloe calling his name and walked until he got to the first alley between buildings, darted into it and ran.
All the way to the sign at the edge of town, planted in the midst of a sea of gently swaying corn. He leaned against one of the posts, digging his fingers into the wood, pressing his forehead into the weathered grain and whispering words his mother would be horrified to hear coming out of his mouth.
Lex was scared of him. He’d seen it in his eyes. And it wasn’t like he didn’t have good reason. Really damned good reason to never trust Clark again. And why had Clark thought he could just find him and offer an apology and have it make a difference, when he’d done what he’d done to him? And it hurt, knowing it. It hurt so bad it felt like his gut was turning to stone, this dense weight of remorse churning inside him. It made Lana’s dismissal of his request for forgiveness seem superficial. Something he’d get over, given time. And he’d been pretty sure he’d loved her. What did it say about him, that Lex flinching away in fear, made him want to die? Same thing maybe that made him give up on her so easily when she’d walked out on him at the bar, when the red Meteorite had taken away his ability to give a shit, but had made him go after Lex with a vengeance.
What if he was gay on top of everything else he had going against him? He sure hadn’t had much interest in Jessie, once she’d spread her legs and let him touch her down there. It had actually been a little – – unappealing. The smell, the squishy feel – – and oh, God, but Lex hadn’t been. Lex had been hard and smooth and so damned wonderful to lay hands on. And he’d smelled good, and tasted good and felt better than Clark thought anything could.
Which was just wrong, because all those sensory memories had come from him doing something careless and violent to somebody he liked. Really, really liked. What he ought to be feeling was revulsion. And he did for the way he’d treated Lex, for the way he’d used his powers to force Lex into doing what he’d wanted – – but there was no getting past how it had felt when he’d been kissing him – – much less the other stuff.
He remembered what he’d overheard his father saying last night. That those urges had come from somewhere. Buried deep inside him. And God, he hoped he wasn’t a rapist at heart. God, he hoped he hadn’t ruined things beyond repair.
He squeezed his eyes shut and shuddered.
Lex shouldn’t have been surprised that Clark showed up at the Talon. He’d been on his way out, attempting to avoid just such an occurrence, but he’d actually been able to concentrate on a little work, and time had gotten away from him enough that he hadn’t even noticed the new shift – – the high school age one – – getting in, until Lana stopped by his table to freshen his coffee.
With her in the shop the chances of Clark drifting in went up dramatically. The Kent’s – – or Jonathan Kent’s – – little threat had no bearing on his decision to safely avoid any encounter with Clark. He might even have sought it out, if he’d been of a mind, just to spite the man. But he wasn’t of the mind, not yet. There were things fresh in his head that he wasn’t ready to confront Clark with just yet.
When he’d looked up and seen Clark unexpectedly, gut instinct said – – fuck – – and for just a moment, his mind blanked, and all he could recall was that look that Clark had had in his eyes when he’d been holding him down and toying with him. Malicious disregard.
But there’d been no hint of that in the brief moment Clark stared at him. Just wide-eyed surprise and shame, before he fell all over himself trying to get out, and disappeared down the street, Chloe calling after him in confusion.
“What is up with him?” she complained. “He’s been like this all day. He have a falling out with you, too, during his wild weekend?”
“Too?” It wasn’t in him not to ask.
Chloe rolled her eyes. “Well, Lana’s pissed off at him, because apparently something happened with that new girl Jessie, when he was supposed to be on a date with her. And Pete’s actively avoiding him like the plague, and neither one will tell me why. I hate being in the dark.”
Lex could commiserate with that sentiment. He had one up on her in the Pete Ross department, though. He’d seen that look in the boy’s eyes when he’d burst into Lex’s bedroom with Clark’s father. The look had been an echo of Jonathan Kent’s. Disbelief. Revulsion. This was the sort of town where they’d tolerate the occasional rampage by the meteorically challenged, but not sexual deviances.
He couldn’t thank his father enough, for sending him here.
Clark couldn’t eat. He sat at the dinner table and the bites of food he had taken sat like lead at the bottom of his gut. His dad didn’t look like he had much of an appetite either, and dinner conversation consisted of his dad telling his mom about the calf one of the heifers had birthed out in the far pasture and her trying to get Clark to talk about how school had been today. He couldn’t work up the enthusiasm for more than a mumbled okay and refusing to say more about it.
When he finally got up the nerve to ask if they’d gone and had that talk with Lex that she’d threatened, his dad slammed his fork down and snapped. “That’s not appropriate dinner talk.”
“Not – -? Did you or didn’t you?”
“We did. And I don’t want to hear another word from you about it!” His dad confirmed, voice getting loud enough that his mother put her utensils down too and said tartly.
“That tone of voice isn’t dinner appropriate, either.”
At which his dad, swallowed, and looked away.
Clark sat there, clenching his fists under the table. ” I have a right to know,” he finally blurted. “He’s my friend and – – and you saw what I did to him, Dad – – and how’s anyone gonna make it right but me?”
“You will not,” his dad shoved back from the table, red cheeked and furious. “Talk about that sort of thing in this house.”
“Jonathan,” his mom snapped at him, but he was storming out, the back door slamming in his wake.
They sat there afterwards, his mom’s fingers tearing the paper napkin in her hands to shreds. Him just feeling sick.
“You father loves you,” she finally said. “He’s just out of his depths with this.”
“What?” Clark asked numbly. “With me maybe liking guys? Or me being a rapist?”
She stared at him, taken aback. Her mouth worked soundlessly for a moment, before she gathered her wits, but by that time Clark had pushed back and fled the table himself.
Up to his room, where he shut the door and flopped on his bed, trying very hard to think about nothing. His mom came by later, stood outside and said softly. “I’m here if you want to talk, honey.”
He pulled the pillow over his head and tried to block out the concern in her voice.
The next few days passed in sort of a fog. He went to school, did his chores, barely ate, barely talked to anyone but Chloe, who forced the issue with her usual doggedness.
Lana relented a little, talking to him again, but not the way she used to. A lot more cautious, a lot less warm. Pete wasn’t talking at all. He moved from his customary seat next to Clark in biology to sit next to somebody else. It hurt. A lot. Chloe shifted up to take Pete’s seat, and kept casting glances from Clark back to Pete with that curious wrinkle between her brow.
He didn’t see Lex at all, which was probably good, since he didn’t think he could stand to see that flash of fear in his eyes again.
On Friday, Chloe pushed her way through the press of kids in the hall between fourth and fifth periods, her eyes wide with that look she got when she’d stumbled upon something major. He was almost afraid to hear what she had to say. He didn’t think he was up to dealing with some meteor freak on the rampage.
She caught his arm and pulled him towards the Torch office and didn’t spill until she had him inside. “They found Jessie Brook’s dad this morning. Shot dead in his house.”
He stared at her, vague memories of seeing the man on the road during his red meteorite rampage. Jessie had been attempting to make the long walk to school and her dad had been trying to chase her down when Clark had rolled up on his dad’s motorcycle. He hadn’t paid much attention. He hadn’t paid much attention to the guy with the badge that had shown up at Lex’s looking for him, trying to find Jessie and her dad. A dirty cop who’d said something about her dad being on the run from witness protection and the million-dollar bounty on his head.
Clark recalled having a stirring of interest in that – – but it hadn’t been nearly as important as hunting down Lex. So he’d just let the guy go on his way and a man was dead because of it.
“What about Jessie?” he whispered.
“Gone. No sign of her.”
It was his fault. He could have stopped it if he’d wanted. But all he’d wanted was to satisfy his own needs.
He turned blindly, walking out of the office and out of the school with classes still left in the day. Put on a burst of speed outside the doors and headed to the rental house he’d dropped Jessie off at late Saturday night. There were just a few county crime scene investigators there now, the body already taken away. He stood at the edge of the cornfield across the road and used his special vision to scan the place, not even knowing what he was looking for. Of course there was nothing to be found. Nothing to release him from the burden of guilt.
He walked after that. Aimless, at mundane speeds. He ended up, a few hours later, on the slope overlooking the rear grounds of the Luthor Estate. He didn’t venture past the wall, just stood there, staring down, wanting to talk to Lex so bad it pierced the wall of numb that had been building since he’d left the crime scene.
He used his vision again, looking for Lex. But Lex wasn’t to be found. Just Lionel and a few staff. He worried that Lex had done what he’d suggested to Clark Sunday morning, packed up and gone back to the city. Driven there, maybe by Clark. Maybe by Lionel. Maybe both.
There were such a multitude of sins on his doorstep, that Clark could barely feel the weight of this one more.
It was dark when he got home, and his mother came out on the porch, looking worried.
“Clark, where have you been? We’ve been worried sick.”
“Sorry, Mom,” he mumbled. “I didn’t realize how late it was.”
She didn’t buy it. He could tell from her eyes, she didn’t buy it. But she waved him in anyway with a call for warmed over dinner.
“I’m not hungry. I – – I ate in town.”
He went past her into the house, up to his room and changed his shirt, stopped by the hall closet downstairs on his way back out and headed for the barn. The loft that was mostly clear of all the things he’d bought during his spree. It was plain and simple again. He wished he were.
Footsteps alerted him to his dad’s presence and Clark stopped on the bottom step and waited while his dad approached. He looked nervous, and his dad very seldom looked unsure of himself.
“Clark, I’m not angry at you.” His mom had sent his dad out here, then.
Clark stared, accepting that. He believed the ‘not angry’ and thought he was just disappointed instead. Repulsed. “Okay, dad.”
“You’re not to blame for those things you did and you need to get it through your head. You’ve been moping around for close to a week now and its time to snap out of it.”
“I – – I’ll try, dad. I just – – I’ve got homework.”
Homework was always a tried and true excuse.
His dad swallowed, not comfortable with this task his mom had sent him on, and glad for the excuse to end it. He headed back to the house. Clark headed up to the loft. Sat down on the battered old couch and pulled the box he’d taken from the hall closet out of his pocket.
Little lead box he’d made with his own hands, molding pliable lead with the strength of fingers alone. He remembered capturing Lex’s wrists with those same fingers, trapping them behind him, grinding fragile human bones together just to drive home the point that he could.
He flipped the lid of the box.
Pain hit him. Sudden, harsh and invasive. He ground his teeth to keep from screaming. The rock inside glowed faintly, maliciously, like it always did in his presence. He could barely lift the hammer he’d placed on the couch next to him. He brought it down, with an effort onto the rock, and a splinter chipped off. The hammer hit the floor, the box almost following in its wake, but Clark grabbed it, clutched it in his hands, even as the blood was boiling in his veins, and plucked out the chip.
He slammed the lid closed and the lead blocked out the crippling agony of the tennis ball-sized chunk. The tiny sliver in his hand still hurt – – a lot – – but it didn’t threaten to steal his consciousness in a wash of pain. It just made him weak, and sweaty and dizzy with the torment spreading up from his hand to the rest of his body.
It was only justice that he feel a little of what he’d caused.
Those scratches he’d made on his arm the other day had faded before they’d truly even existed. The jagged little sliver of meteorite sliced through his skin like a knife through soft butter. It was like acid under his skin, mingling with his blood. There was salt in his mouth, either tears or blood, he didn’t know which.
This was what it felt like to be vulnerable. To be breakable. To be human. He stared at the blood – – at the pulsing sickness spreading out from where the sliver ripped into flesh – – fascinated and horrified at the same time at what he was doing.
And couldn’t stop.
Lex had been at the plant all day, dealing with an unscheduled visit from the EPA. A random inspection of the facilities that had his entire workforce, himself included, jumping through hoops.
It had been a long, frustrating, exceedingly hot, exceedingly pungent afternoon. He wanted nothing so much as to strip off clothing that had absorbed the smell of the plant and wash away the sweat and the stench.
The solitude of the pool was a welcome relief from the stress of a long day dealing with government bureaucracy. He swam laps until the snarl of tension eased away. Floated lazily on his back afterwards, staring up at the cloudless sky through the glass roof.
He drifted and thought about Clark. He hadn’t allowed himself to be distracted by him all week. Had worked hard to immerse himself in business to keep his mind from wondering. He’d needed that time to clear his head, to separate himself from the tangled emotions Clark stirred. He needed not to lock-up when he finally decided to confront him and demanded those well-earned answers.
He’d almost expected Clark to make some overture. The guilt in his eyes the day they’d run into each other at the Talon had been huge and laced with the self-incrimination of a boy that liked to take blames that weren’t always his own. Much less the ones that were. And Lex would use that ruthlessly to get what he wanted. He had to, for the sake of his own sanity.
He left the pool, trunks dripping, and pulled on a terry cloth robe. Walked through a house blessedly free of workers. They’d left earlier in the week, their tasks completed, and it was just the house staff now, housekeeper and cook, Smallville natives, who commuted. He’d had his fill last year of the eccentricities of having live in staff. His father had brought people with him, his own security, his therapists, his assistants, but they’d found lodging in town and he hadn’t pressed the issue of having any of them move into the servant’s quarters. Hopefully he’d be gone before he started contemplating having access to his staff 24/7.
He’d stopped trailing water by the time he reached his bedroom. There was a spidery crack in the frame around the door where Clark had slammed it. His eye was drawn to it each and every time he passed. One more reminder of that power.
He’d have to have someone up to repair the crack, but not yet. Not while it still fascinated him.
He took a shower, washing away the chlorine. Pulled on a pair of boxer briefs and collapsed lengthwise across the bed, cursing the mansion’s less than adequate cooling system. There were days that even thick stone walls couldn’t keep out the heat, and proper ductwork was apparently difficult to install in medieval era structures. When his father had had the thing brought over, he’d been a stickler for preserving the historical architectural accuracies.
One more thing to resent the old man for.
He shut his eyes and breathed. Remembered in great detail, Clark’s body. Every line, every delineation of flesh and muscle impossibly perfect, yet the boy behind those eyes had not been his Clark. That boy had been a stranger.
It wasn’t like Lex hadn’t had sex with strangers, even rough sex upon occasion, where he’d come away with aches and bruises and some dark need fulfilled. It was just that sex with Clark shouldn’t have been like that. Sex with Clark should have been – – he laughed a little bitterly at the first word that came to mind – – sacred. He’d never been that much of a romantic, but then, he’d had a lot of months to build scenarios in his head. He’d never wanted anyone before as long as he’d wanted Clark without having them.
He wasn’t sure what that said about him. Probably nothing good. But then, he’d never been trying for good. Had been in fact, actively striving to be anything but, for the simple purpose of doing anything he possibly could to piss off his father. Until he’d come here and been systematically imperiled and saved by the eccentricities of this damned town.
The ringing of his cell phone interrupted his musing. He rolled and reached for his jacket across the end of the bed, dug into the pocket and retrieved it. If it was business related, he considered tossing the phone against the wall. He’d had his fill today.
“Speak to me.”
“Mr. Luthor. Sam Soloman. I’ve got that information you asked for.”
His investigator. Whom he’d almost forgotten he’d contracted, weeks ago after Clark had told him about that second murder.
“It took a while to track down all the names on the list you gave me – – three still in jail, one institutionalized. One disappeared completely off the grid. One, Sam Weatherly, killed in what the Metropolis cops are calling a mugging six weeks ago.”
Lex drew in a breath. He’d been hoping nothing would turn up. And Weatherly had been an issue for him long before he’d come to Smallville. A Metropolis University issue that had turned nasty after a misunderstanding over a young woman. And threats afterwards, until Weatherly’s family had sent him on a forced European tour. That had been a year and half ago maybe. Right before Lex’s expulsion from Met U.
Lex had put the name on the list almost as a control, adding one non-Smallville related enemy to the list of the one’s he’d incurred here. He hadn’t expected this. He wanted to use that coincidence card badly. Because there was no connection between the son of Metropolis wealth and the murders of two meteor infected miscreants. Other than him. Other that the connection that all three had tried to kill him, one way or another and within the span of – – and he did a little mental calculation and came up with a unsettling number – – two months, they’d all been murdered.
“Should I continue to look into it?” His investigator wanted to know.
“Yes.” He severed the connection, lay there trying to fathom anyone with a possible reason to take out his enemies. Not even enemies – – enemies was too strong a word. Grady Cooper, had just been a delusional, misguided old farmer. Desiree, a manipulative, greedy bitch. Weatherly, Lex had forgotten a long time ago.
It made no sense and the lack of rationality made him uncomfortable.
The only person that had that much interest in his affairs was his father. And his father had demonstrated upon more than one occasion that Lex’s well being was situated somewhere behind the well being of LuthorCorp and his dad’s own interests.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt to probe the waters. Lionel knew things that Lex could only guess at.
Lex found his father in the study formerly known as his, sitting on the couch, a snifter of brandy in hand, the room resonating with the tones of a Vivaldi suite.
“Dad.” He sat down on the opposite couch and his father acknowledged him with an inclination of his chin, hand waving in time with the music as if he were conducting inside his head.
“Do you remember Sam Weatherly?”
Lionel’s hand kept moving, his eyes were invisible behind the dark lenses of his glasses.
“Excitable young man. You slept with his girlfriend. He ran you down with his car. I had to fly back from New York to deal with the fallout of that, if I recall. You never have had the good sense to know whom to sleep with and whom to not.”
Lex smiled tightly, and convinced himself that it would be beneath him to toss his blind father a middle finger salute. He smiled tightly instead and said. “Apparently it’s an inherited trait. He was killed a couple of months ago.”
Lionel laughed and waved his hand towards Lex in appreciation of the barb. “Are condolences in order? I wasn’t aware you were on terms that didn’t involve restraining orders.”
“We weren’t. It’s just coincidental that he was killed within the same two month period as Desiree Atkins and Grady Cooper.”
Lionel cocked his head. “You don’t say? That is coincidental.”
Lex snorted, knowing very well his father’s view of the probability of coincidence of any kind. “I find it interesting that three people that tried to kill me turn up dead within weeks of each other.”
“Are you suggesting I might have had some hand?” Lionel inquired, amused.
“No, Dad. I’m well aware of the extent of your parental concern.”
“You say this started how long ago?” Lionel asked.
“About four months, give or take. I’ve got someone looking into it.”
For a moment, Lionel’s brow furrowed. He was hard to read at the best of times. With his eyes hidden, it was almost impossible. But still, there was something. Lex waited for a moment, for him to expound, but the hand began moving again in time with the concerto, and whatever had been there was gone.
Lex knew a dead end when he saw one.
He went to the library where he’d had his office moved. He’d had the couch from the armory carried in, and his mobile bar. The housekeeper had been airing it out all week, and the smell of old books was not quite so predominant. It was tolerable as a temporary space. He kept telling himself that every time he felt the indignation start to build.
He pulled up the computer simulation of that fateful day on the bridge, but stopped it midway though. He didn’t need to stare at it any longer and tear himself up with doubt of his own sanity. He had hit Clark on the bridge and Clark had survived it unscathed. He just needed to know how. And Clark was going to tell him.
He’d avoided the issue long enough. Putting it off longer would only make it harder to broach in the long run. It was just a matter of approaching Clark. A touchy matter, since the places he might encounter Clark were limited. The farm was out of the question. Here was not a comfortable prospect, even if he could arrange to have Clark set foot on the grounds without Clark’s parent’s finding out. He didn’t need more of that drama.
Chloe was an option. Chloe was concerned about Clark and hadn’t been shy sharing that information with him that day at the Talon when Clark had rabbited. She’d gone into greater detail about Pete Ross’s sudden distancing and Lana, when asked, had shared the details of her aborted ‘date’ with Clark at the Wild Coyote. Clark had apparently been on a tear long before he’d shown up at the mansion. Since the moment he’d slipped on the school ring, in fact. Which, Chloe also had informed him, had been made with locally discovered red meteorite instead of the low-grade rubies the company had advertised. She’d written a story that had prompted a recall and was smugly proud of the fact.
It was quarter past eight and Lex considered whether calling his plant manager’s sixteen-year-old daughter this time of night would be frowned upon any worse than his occasional late evening forays to Clark’s farm had been. At least she had a cell phone of her own, and he didn’t have to call her house. He had the contact number with her father’s information.
“Hello,” she answered second ring.
“Chloe, it’s Lex. Do you have a minute?”
There was a pregnant pause, before she asked, with a wary sort of surprise. “Luthor?”
As if there were some other Lex she knew in town.
“Luthor,” he agreed dryly.
“Uhh, sure. What’s up?”
“I was just thinking about our conversation the other day and was concerned about Clark. How is he?”
She sighed dramatically, then burst into exposition. “Worse. I mean, really down in a non-Clarkish sort of way. I swear, it’s got to be more than screwing up with Lana – – because he never sulked this much over her even when she was dating Whitney. Besides, she’s actually talking to him again. Which is not nearly so much a surprise as him not talking back. I can’t even get him to go to the Talon with me after school. He just goes home and – – I dunno – – sits in his barn and cries or something.”
He could practically hear her rolling her eyes over the line. And sat there for a moment, his planned casual suggestion that she draw Clark out over the weekend to some public place stalled on his tongue. He hadn’t realized how badly Clark was taking this. And honestly, he ought not care, beyond using it as leverage to get the boy to reveal long held secrets. But still, it was Clark – – who had had given him one crazy, something induced morning of violence – – and close to a year of the one thing all the money in the world hadn’t ever been able to buy him.
He took a breath, pushed that weakness aside, and suggested smoothly. “Why don’t you try and get him out of the house this weekend? To draw him out of his funk.”
There was bound to be something happening within the limits of Lowell County that would draw the interest of teenagers over the weekend. He really should have checked before he called, in case she drew a blank.
But Chloe was up on her current events, and once prompted, had the estimable ability to plot on the run.
“The Torch is covering the local 4-H show at the fairgrounds tomorrow, and since I’m his editor and he’s behind on his Torch credits, I think I can bully him into going out there with me.”
God, the best the county had to offer were piglets and calves and whatever else 4-H clubs entailed. No one would ever suspect him of ulterior motives if he happened to show up at such an event.
“That sounds like a good idea, Chloe. I’m sure it’ll get him out of his funk.”