The sheets were coarse and the pillow was lumpy, but there was a certain smell to the pillowcase that was vaguely comforting. Something familiar and warm, that was so much more appealing than the blossoming ache that came with consciousness.
A whole-body ache that came with its own set of multi-hued colors sparking at the corner of vision when Lex opened his eyes and moved. Or tried to move. The effort was aborted at the first contraction of muscle and the first bone deep swig of pain and he groaned and pressed his face back into that inviting pillow.
Jumbled memories played through his head. Fragments of things that might or might not have actually happened. Run off the road. Assaulted. Vivid recollection of the glint of a school ring flashing in front of his face. Snapshots of pain and he flinched, involuntarily as his body recalled more vividly than his brain. He couldn’t recall what they’d said, other than they’d blamed him for Lana’s death.
That was pretty much a given. He wasn’t sure where he was and finding out would require lifting his face out of the pillow and opening his eyes to take a guess.
He shifted his head, carefully, and cracked an eyelid. There was a window with blinds half cracked, letting in dappled sunlight. The curtains were some horrid country print. The posters on the wall looked like they belonged out of the late nineties, or in a school hallway.
They were familiar. The room was familiar. And now that he had visual stimuli, he connected the smell directly to Clark. He still had no idea how he’d gotten here. Wasn’t sure if he ought to be alarmed, offended or relieved.
He shut his eyes again to consider it – – and drifted.
Came awake again some indefinite period later and chided himself for the lapse. This was not his bed. Not his house. And Clark was not his friend, no matter that his body wanted to sink into the bed that oozed his scent.
He pushed himself up and little stabs of dizzy pain rippled behind his eyes – – muscles complained vehemently, limbs trembling with the effort. It was a familiar feeling – – a month ago he’d felt much the same. And often enough before that, the way his luck tended to run, that he ought to be used to it. But there was a subtle difference in the distribution of pain. There didn’t seem to be a great deal of him that they’d left unattended in the road last night. Everything hurt.
He had a sudden memory of Clark there. Of Clark kneeling on the road next to him, calmly asking about – – something – – Lex didn’t remember the question, just the soothing tone of his voice.
Clark in the road. Clark in the field. Clark in a dozen other places, unexpected savior – – Lex felt a shiver of indignation. Or maybe it was just cold. The room was chill on his bare skin.
He realized he’d been undressed and felt another very distinct curl of annoyance, His clothes were nowhere in sight. There was a robe on a hook on the closet door, grey and mercilessly without country print.
Getting out of bed took effort. His muscles wanted to cramp. His head wanted to explode. His bladder felt like it was on the verge of rupturing. The bladder won out over other physical discomfort.
He felt like an old man, limping across the floor, easing into the robe, which was thankfully thick and warm, if overlarge. Clark’s robe would be. But it was comfortable and it had that smell – – and Lex’s brain seemed intent on focusing on scent.
The bathroom was one door down on the other side of the hall. He heard no sounds from the rest of the house when he ventured outside of Clark’s room.
The porcelain tiles of the bathroom floor were cold on his feet. The wallpaper was just as hideous as he remembered from the last time he’d been in here. The décor was the same.
He raised the lid of the commode and closed his eyes at the sting. If the residual hurt were any indication, he’d be peeing pink for a while.
As he was finishing, flushing away the odor of blood-tainted urine, he remembered what had happened to his clothes.
He growled, low in his throat, fist pressed against the wall behind the commode and thought he’d find the bastards and kill them. He even contemplated whom he’d get to do it.
But first he needed to get his bearings, to find some clothes and get out of here. He paused on the way by the mirror, winced and passed on. He didn’t need to see the details. He felt them.
First thing – – even if Lex didn’t feel up to a confrontation – – and what encounter between them wasn’t lately? – – was find Clark.
The stairs were a challenge that his legs just didn’t seem up to handling. His left knee in particular kept sending little shooting pains up his leg and if his equilibrium had been up to the task he’d have looked down for signs of massive bruising. As it was, a dozen steps overwhelmed him. His head was spinning by the time he’d reached the bottom, and his body shaking, and it was either sit down on the bottom few or fall. So he chose the less embarrassing former option.
Which turned out to be mortifying after all, because that was where Clark found him when he returned to the house, stomping in through the kitchen with the noise three people might have made, and spotting Lex before Lex could pull himself up. Not that he’d be particularly dignified standing, considering his attire, but it would have been a marginally better way to confront Clark.
Clark was full of brilliant observation. Clark was flannel clad and bright eyed, a few errant strands of straw in his dark hair, as if he’d been baling hay or mucking out stalls or some other farm oriented morning chore. Which was probably right on the money, all things considered.
“I didn’t hear you. I was out – -” Clark started, then shut his mouth, as if he’d decided he really had no obligation at all to explain what he’d been about.
“I wasn’t wearing a bell,” Lex said dryly. “I wouldn’t have expected you to. What am I doing here?”
He saw the moment Clark’s eyes got belligerent. The morning sparkle replaced by resentment and Lex felt a nudge of satisfaction at that.
“I could have left you on the road,” Clark said sourly and when Lex kept waiting, he elaborated. “You were dead set against the hospital and didn’t want to go home.”
“So you brought me to your house?”
Clark narrowed his eyes, clearly not pleased. “I’ve made better decisions.”
Lex ran his tongue along the faintly swollen edge of a split lip. Picking a fight with Clark seemed inherently counter productive. There was nothing to fight over at the moment, worthy of taxing his throbbing head.
“How did you know?” he finally asked.
Clark’s eyes flickered away a moment with that look Clark got when he was considering a lie. Lex knew it so well it was almost comforting.
“Lois told me.” Clark shrugged. “Said she saw them take off after you, and I was heading that way – -” he shrugged again, as if to drive home the pure happenstance. “We need to call the sheriff. Somebody’s probably already reported your car.”
“No,” Lex said and Clark blinked at him.
“What do you mean, ‘no’? They can’t get away with what they did to you.”
“Sure they can. If I can’t identify them, which is a distinct possibility and if they have alibis from their buddies at the bar or the turkey shoot or pool hall or where ever they hang out, you think the sheriff will take my word over theirs? If you haven’t noticed, I’m this month’s town pariah. My pull isn’t exactly what it used to be.”
“I know exactly who they are and I’ll pick them all out of a line up, and give a statement and testify if it comes to it.” Clark declared with absolute certainty.
There was something fierce in his eyes, something offended that was in no way directed at Lex. It was almost – – touching. If Lex didn’t know better, he’d almost think Clark was angry about them hurting him – – instead of just angry over the general principle of the thing.
Lex shook his head slowly, pulling himself up by the banister rail. “I appreciate the offer, but no sheriff. I don’t need one more complication right now.” He didn’t need the incident spread over the papers – – and it would travel from the Smallville Ledger to the City papers at light speed. All the humiliating details. God help him if Clark had told Lois Lane.
He felt a little surge of panic – – a fine indication of his state of mind – – and took a few long breaths to push it back.
“Clark, I would – – appreciate it, very much, if you would keep this incident to yourself.” And there he was, reduced to pleading and it sat terribly wrong, but the words slid from his mouth silk-smooth regardless. Lex could do all manner of unpleasant things with a smile on his face, if needed.
Clark stared at him, eye level for a change with Lex on the bottom step of the stair. Not happy at all, Clark’s sense of justice being what it was.
“If you’d care to share the names, I’ll see it taken care of privately,” Lex offered, to appease injured sensibilities and Clark snorted. An actual half laugh, and Lex hadn’t heard Clark laugh in years it seemed, even if it was a disbelieving one.
“I know how you take care of problems, Lex. It’s either the law or nothing.”
Lex shrugged. He could find out on his own – – if he could remember the faces. “Okay, nothing then.”
“Fine,” Clark snapped.
“Fine,” Lex smiled tightly.
Clark stood there, breathing hard, probably no more comfortable than Lex, probably wanting to invite him out of his house, but hampered by the fact that Lex was standing there in his robe and without a ride to take him on his way.
“Clothes would be nice,” Lex commented.
Clark looked down at the robe. He winced a little, a faintly embarrassed look crossing his face. “Ah, your clothes are pretty messed up – – I’ve got them in a plastic bag – -”
“Burn them,” Lex suggested. He didn’t want to think about what was on those clothes.
“I’ve got some old stuff, you can use.”
He nodded. The idea of climbing back upstairs after he’d just completed the task of coming down seemed more than the prospect of clothes was worth just this moment.
“Would you bring them down?”
Clark shrugged and squeezed past him to climb the stairs. Lex moved down the hall and debated, kitchen or living room. The living room had a couch. He went for the couch. His phone had been in the car. He was almost certain he hadn’t stuck it in his pocket before he’d gotten out. Which meant until he got home, he was limited to the numbers he knew by memory.
He should get someone on the car right away, if the sheriff’s department hadn’t already towed it in. They’d make something out of it just to give him grief. He didn’t want to have to explain how it had gotten there, but figured he could claim a cow had wandered into the road that he’d swerved to avoid. It was doubtful anyone else, other than Clark, would come forward with the real story.
He heard the muffled sounds of Clark rooting around upstairs and wondered where he was having to burrow for this ‘old stuff? It seemed to be taking a while. He leaned back, settling into the corner of a well-used couch. The cushions had permanent dents where bodies had nestled over the years. He shut his eyes, finding a position that was halfway comfortable against a patchwork pillow, drawn into relaxation despite himself.
He could rest here, he mused. Without his cell, without his computer, without access to his staff – – he could rest. Just a little while, so he could catch his breath before he forged back out into the fray. He was tired. He hurt. There was so much to do.
Clark couldn’t be trusted. Clark was the only one he could trust. Contradictions swam in his head.
Lex snapped open his eyes, head reeling. Clark was standing in front of him and he hadn’t heard him come downstairs – – a miracle in itself, for all the noise Clark made simply existing. Clark had a pair of jeans in his hands and a long sleeve sweatshirt.
“I found something that might sorta fit,” Clark explained. “My mom had some of my old stuff from middle school packed away.”
Charming. He was getting hand me downs from Clark’s middle school years. But then, Clark had been taller than him at fifteen, and broader, so Lex could only assume he’d either had an astronomical growth spurt or he’d towered over his middle school classmates.
Clark shook out the jeans, soft faded blue and still long enough in the leg to make him doubt the prospect of a decent fit. Embarrassing. Simply embarrassing.
If the sweatshirt had Smallville middle lettered on it he was going to have Clark killed. Fortunately for both of them it was plain navy.
“Um, are you hungry?” Clark asked, as if he were nervous of a sudden.
The thought of food made Lex vaguely nauseous. He could handle caffeine though. He could live off of caffeine. He thought he smelled some drifting in from the kitchen. “Coffee would be nice.”
Clark nodded and went to fetch some and Lex grimaced at the prospect of bending his body in the required ways to get on the pants. He managed, with only a few stabbing pains and muscle complaints. The jeans were a comfortable fit around the hips, but still an inch too long.
It was almost funny. Almost.
Clark came in with the coffee while Lex was standing there, shirt in hand, considering the possibility of growth hormones in the Kent farm water supply, or meteor enhanced growth spurts. Which would be mild additions indeed, to his file of Clark oddities.
Clark stopped in the doorway, as if he were surprised that Lex was still in the process of dressing. His eyes flickered down to Lex’s chest, an impulsive, awkward sort of glance that he hastily drew back up to some point beyond Lex’s head.
He thrust the coffee out, some of it sloshing on his hand. “Here. I can take you home, if you want.”
Lex was still processing the look. There was an odd little blush across the top of Clark’s cheeks.
“No,” Lex said, easing into the shirt. “If I can use your phone, I’ll call someone.”
He took the cup, the ceramic warm in his hands. It was black and fresh and could have been store brand crap and it would have tasted good at that moment, hitting the back of his throat.
Clark loitered in the kitchen while Lex sat back down and made the call, then came back in when he’d hung up and stood there, thumbs hooked in the pockets of his jeans.
“Listen – – I’m sorry about what happened to you, Lex. It wasn’t right and you didn’t deserve it – – ”
“It wasn’t your fault.” Lex cut him off before he could veer into the realm of pity.
Lex didn’t take pity well, even beat to within an inch of his life. Even when he felt it so plainly now in muscle and bone that he wanted to curl up and sleep for another few days – – until it all went away and he could wake up renewed and pain free.
But what he would do, was go home and take a long, hot shower to ease the stiffness and afterwards he’d see to a few things that could be seen to from the Smallville end.
He’d never gotten to M&C labs, and there were staff there – – a few people in the know, that he had paid and paid well to keep their mouths shut when the government had started in on the project – – that needed reassuring. Personal reassuring to make sure those files stayed secure.
He would have someone drive him into the city, and he could rest in the comfort of luxury leather seats during the drive. He’d allow himself that.
“Why did the sheriff call you in?” Clark asked and Lex kept the coffee mug neutrally at his lips while he mulled over possible answers to that question.
Of course, Lois had told him. Ridiculous to think Clark wouldn’t find his way into the loop someway or another. He always had managed to be privy to information that had no business knowing.
“No breaks in the investigation,” Lex said casually, after a long swallow of coffee. There were little tremors in the black surface of the liquid in the mug and he tightened his hands, resting it on his knee. It wasn’t nerves – – but the overall weakness of a battered body, but a tell was a tell, anyway you looked at it and Lex didn’t like giving things away.
“What did they want?” Clark folded his arms, big forearms under the rolled up sleeves of his blue plaid, corded with muscle. His hands were large, long fingers, big knuckles – – to be expected of a young man who managed a working farm with no outside help. It was hard to fathom how he did it, the crops and the cattle and the general upkeep, and still managed to be exactly where he wasn’t wanted with annoying consistency. Sheer stubbornness, perhaps, if Lex wanted to look at it from a purely mundane point of view. The same stubbornness that would keep Clark hammering at him until he got an answer he believed – – and at the moment, Lex was marooned in his house and too tired to fence words over an inconsequential matter – – even though part of him wanted to seek out conflict with Clark.
“It was nothing. Just photos. Security footage of her in a restaurant a few days before she died. They wanted me to identify the man she was with?”
“No. They thought she was having an affair.” He threw in, out of malice, just to see Clark flinch from the notion. And Clark did, a sharp glance of the eyes, a frown as the gears in his head turned.
“She wouldn’t,” Clark said, as if he were the expert on Lex’s wife. Which, come to think of it, he probably was.
“Really? The way I understand it, she was ready to cheat the day we took vows – – or am I mistaken?” He met Clark’s stare, and Clark gazed back, hard and serious.
Clark shook his head, mouth tight and Lex wasn’t entirely sure if silence meant that maybe there had been something behind his back other than unrequited love, or if Clark was simply disgusted by the implication. He rather thought it was the latter, because Clark wore his guilt like an outer layer of skin – – plain for all to see and it just wasn’t there.
“You know, at this point, I really wouldn’t care.” He felt the need to be casual about it. To relegate any assumption of damage done as insignifigant – – fleeting. He’d been called callous and cruel enough times that there was no reason to challenge the viewpoint. It was easier filling that role, than the one Clark liked to project.
But, Clark just stared at him, like he was trying to dissect him and it was unnerving. Clark’s eyes were too green, and too familiar, and had seen too much of the inside of him before he’d learned the folly of sharing secrets and weaknesses that would never be given back in return.
There was the sound of a car pulling up outside and Clark looked that way, flexing his fingers, shifting, as if he’d grown tense in his own body.
Lex sat the mug down on the end table and pushed himself up with a grimace of pain that he couldn’t quite conceal. He stood there for a moment, delivering orders to his body to quiet down and stop complaining in front of people he didn’t wish to seem weak to. He looked up, after a breath and met Clark’s eyes with a faint challenge. Clark didn’t rise to meet it. Just stepped aside and let Lex walk stiffly past.
But he followed him out onto the porch, looking down into the yard where the driver was getting out of a silver Audi sedan, standing by the car door, waiting for him.
It was cold outside. Frigid weather that made him miss a coat, that made bruises ache all the more. His breath frosted a little in the air. Clark didn’t seem to mind. Clark had been out in it without a jacket all morning.
“Thank you,” he said, because it was only polite to do so when life had been on the line and he hadn’t before.
He glanced over his shoulder and Clark nodded, but Clark still had that look on his face, things going on behind his eyes that Lex just couldn’t concern himself with now.
At the moment it was all he could manage to walk down the front porch steps and across the yard to the car. But he did it with aplomb, well-versed in the art of hiding weakness.