What You Sow: 16

Clark caught Lex on the way down. Was already reaching when Lex’s lashes fluttered shut, his face went slack and his body gave up the pretense of stability. Lex was just unresisting weight against him, slack in his arms while Clark stood there breathing like he’d just run been running laps coast to coast, Lex’s babble starting to make sense in his head.

God. God. J’onn had said time would tell, but Clark wasn’t sure this was damage plaguing Lex, so much as conscience. He hoped not and all he could do was hope, since J’onn wasn’t around to inquire. And if it was conscience – – and he didn’t think Lex had been capable of guile just then, then it was a good thing, right? It meant maybe what Lionel had said about the Zod thing just being a whisper of a presence inside Lex’s subconscious was maybe an understatement. Was maybe a damned big understatement if the pain in Lex’s eyes had been anything to go by.

He got an arm under Lex’s knees and swung him up in his arms. Familiar sense of weight, familiar fit of the body in his grasp. He’d had Lex in his arms a lot lately. Enough that he could see habits forming. He shifted his shoulder, so Lex’s head lolled forward instead of back, and figured upstairs. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t carried him up there before.

He passed boxes on the landing, and padded down the second story hall to the room he’d taken Lex before – – after he and J’onn had pillaged his mind. No. Not pillaged, damn it. Repaired. It had been necessary. For all involved. For the world, maybe, if the Zod influence had pressed Lex towards the sorts of things that had led to the destruction of Zod’s own race. Clark’s own race.

He laid Lex upon the bed and the damp blood on his sleeve immediately stained the beige brocade of the comforter. It would have to stain, because the notion of undressing him again – – after what had happened in New York – – it made Clark’s hands shake. Seeing Lex’s skin bared was not conducive for deep thought and Clark really needed to think. He settled for taking off Lex’s boots, which had dried mud in the soles and bits of glass embedded in that.

Letting Lex continue on, driving himself mad and blithely unaware of the reasons why, would be deplorable. An unforgivable act of cruelty. And yet, how did he broach the subject without dredging up the inevitable questions of how he knew? And Lex loved his questions. Lex thrived on questions. And Clark made a livelihood of keeping secrets. No wonder there had been the inevitability of clash – – with neither one willing to bend. Only it was important now, really important for Lex to understand that maybe those things he was grieving about, those lives he had tallied up, weren’t entirely his fault.

Clark needed someone to talk to in a bad way. Someone without bias. But did such a person even exist that didn’t have prejudice against Lex one way or another? Maybe mom, and even if she did, she’d still try and give him honest advice. Only she was in Washington and the last time he’d popped in to visit, he’d almost gotten caught on camera, because she had a spotlight all her own now. So calling was a safer bet. Besides, he wasn’t sure he wanted to be a half country away just now, until Lex sobered up and got a grip.

But outside would be fine. Where the cold fresh air would clear his head. The mansion was oppressing. As if all the dark deeds done within its walls weighted the air. It was enough to push a perfectly sane man over the edge. He never had liked the idea of Lana living here and that went above and beyond the fact that she’d been with Lex. Hell, he wasn’t sure if he liked the idea of Lex living here, with nothing but staff that obviously didn’t give enough of a damn to try and deal with him when he was so obviously in need of dealing with.

He went downstairs, picked through the shambles of the study and found Lex’s cell in his coat pocket. His own was dutifully charging at home and he hadn’t really stopped long enough to think about grabbing it in his haste to get here anyway. Lex hadn’t asked for help in so many words when he’d called, but Clark had heard it plain as day in the slurred speech and the nonsense words. After he’d heard ‘blood’ that had pretty much clenched the deal and he’d just been there, heart hammering in – – well, in fear – – of what he might find.

It was almost three and the sun, which had been out this morning for a while had gone back into hiding behind ominous fronts of clouds. Another storm rolling in on the heels of the one that had just left. The temperature was already dropping. He went out the kitchen door, to the back terrace overlooking a manicured array of evergreen box hedges formed into a geometric maze that dominated the landscape below. He walked across the tiled terrace past wrought iron patio furniture, down low stone steps and onto a lawn that no amount of time and effort could keep green in the midst of early winter weather. It was scrupulously free of dead leaves or other fall debris, and the dormant garden beds were rich with mulch and spotted with fall hardy perennials. The gardens here were too formal for his tastes, too controlled. He liked his mother’s wildflower beds better, that grew untamed and tangled and beautiful.

He dialed his mother’s cell number, and it picked up almost immediately, answered by the now familiar voice of his mother’s personal assistant.

“Hi, Nancy. It’s Clark again.”

“Hi Clark. Session’s running over. The senator’s still tied up.”

He shut his eyes and sighed. Some days, he missed the sound of his mother’s voice.

“Okay. Just – – just tell her I called again.”

“First message I give her.” Nancy sounded like she had better things to do than talk to him.

He severed the connection and held the phone to his chest, debating his other venting options. He used to be able to tell anything to Chloe – – except this Lex stuff was different. And Chloe had reason enough to not want anything to do with anything remotely involving Lex and it didn’t feel right making her fight past painful grudges just because he couldn’t deal with a problem on his own. It didn’t feel right having to explain to her why it mattered to him so much, really mattered, when he wasn’t quite sure himself.

There was Lionel, but he shivered a little even as the thought crossed his mind. Lionel’s methods of helping Lex were as inscrutable as Jor-el’s were of helping Clark. Even though Lionel might have more than the straws Clark was grasping at, the idea of baring Lex’s weaknesses to him made the hair on the back of Clark’s arms rise. No, he’d given Lex over once into that particular brand of care when he been young enough and scared enough not to know better, he wouldn’t do it again. No matter whose side Lionel claimed to be working on.

He cursed J’onn for being secretive and elusive, because if anyone could figure out exactly how to deal with this problem, it was a being capable of getting into people’s minds and sorting through the mess. At the very least Clark would dearly have liked to shake some comprehensive answers out of him.

Otherwise, his options were limited to just coming out and saying, yeah, there was a chunk of Zod left inside your head and I helped rip it out. Sorry it’s messing with your mind, but that’s the price you have to pay, I guess. How did I know? Well, you want the old familiar lies or should I come up with some new elaborate ones? God. He was screwed. He was totally screwed.

He collapsed down onto a white stone bench at the edge of the hedge maze and stared gloomily up at the weathered fa├žade of the castle. He focused his hearing, picking up the rhythmic tempo of one heartbeat inside. Strong, steady beat, that didn’t even hasten when something loud and porcelain sounding shattered.

Crap. Clark was back inside before he finished his mental cursing. He skidded to a stop in the doorway, and found the beside lamp in pieces on the hardwood floor and Lex staggering towards the bathroom with the single minded intent of someone desperately feeling the need to hurl. Clark followed him in, hovering, because Lex seemed none too stable – – clenching his fists a little, helplessly when Lex dropped to his knees and hunched over the commode, the whole of his body shaking as he heaved.

From the sound of it, it was mostly liquid, and though Clark was neither squeamish nor prone to nausea, his stomach did flutter a little in sympathy. Lex knelt there a while longer, after whatever was going to come up, had come up, his arms resting on the toilet seat, his head hanging and for a moment, Clark thought maybe he’d passed back out. But after a minute, he shuddered and managed to push himself up, leaving a little red smear from the hand that had had the worst cut, from blood soaked through the bandages.

Clark took a step backwards as Lex staggered for the sink, yanking open the mirrored cabinet over it, and fumbling around inside after a bottle of mouthwash. A tumble of various other medicine cabinet paraphernalia came tumbling out after it, which Lex ignored in his struggle with the Listerine cap. He took a swig of it, dropping the open bottle where it fell, to ooze green minty freshness over the bathroom sink counter. Clark snatched it up, screwing on the top as Lex bent down and spit, wiped the back of a hand across his mouth and turned to collide with Clark.

Lex blinked up at him, as if he hadn’t noticed Clark’s presence before, put a hand out and patted Clark’s arm, then frowned down at the stiffened, blood-crusted cuff of his own sweater.

“God,” Lex breathed, hazy distaste, as he pushed around Clark and back into the bedroom, awkwardly attempting to pull the sweater off as he walked. Which considering the massive amounts of expensive booze that he’d probably consumed, was probably a really bad idea. He lurched, socked feet dangerously close to the remains of the lamp and Clark caught him, an arm about the waist, helping with tangle of sweater and arms and head. Which left Lex listing against him, bare now, from the hips up, hands sliding up Clark’s arms to grasp the collar of his shirt, pulling Clark with him towards the edge of the bed.

Clark’s mouth was appallingly dry and whatever innate grace he might have possessed sort of shriveled up and died as his feet tangled with Lex’s and it was either twist about and sit down or fall down with Lex under him. Lex on top might have been worse, because Lex’s hip was pressing against Clark’s crotch, his weight solid and warm. Lex’s mouth was really close to the edge of Clark’s jaw, his breath sending tickly little fingers of sensation all down Clark’s body.

“I love – – your smell.” The words shimmered out along with one of those amazing, tingly breaths upon Clark’s skin, and Lex sighed afterwards, going loose and heavy against him.

“Oh – – God,” Clark breathed out one of his own, not even having a coherent clue at that precise second what to do, with his hands on Lex’s naked back and his dick having inappropriate, twitchy thoughts where it was pressed between his thigh and Lex’s hip. He looked at the ceiling and imagined his dad’s expression, walking in upon such a scene and that served to put his lower extremities firmly back in line.

Now if he could just get his nerves to settle – – no easy task, because well, this just shouldn’t feel so nice. He ought not be experiencing the distinct urge not to wriggle out from under. To simply lie there and soak in the sound of Lex’s soft breath, and the feel of his heartbeat and the texture of all that vibrant, living flesh under his hands. Maybe just for a bit, he could indulge this unexpected impulse.

He eased backwards a little, getting his back against the padded headboard, getting a leg up onto the bed and shifting Lex into a more comfortable position. Lex was easy to deal with unconscious, long limbs, lean body, malleable and cooperative. But his skin was cool to the touch, and Clark realized that was because the room was chill, just like the rest of the damned castle, so he pulled the side of the comforter they weren’t laying over and draped it across the both of them. He lay there a second, Lex’s forehead pressed into the curve of his neck, then slid his hands under the blanket and against Lex’s back. Almost he felt guilty for it, that indulgence, like he was molesting a man not aware enough to protest – – or appreciate it. But he couldn’t quite stop himself from spreading his fingers out over skin he’d been thinking about a lot lately and just savoring it, when there were no witnesses to catch him at it, Lex included.

Lex’s shoulders were broad, but his shoulder blades were sharp and boney, and the muscles of his back a thin, sinewy covering across bone. Clark could almost feel the shape of ribs under flesh. There was nothing to spare on Lex, no excess anywhere, like the magnitude of Lex’s energy consumed anything even remotely superfluous. Until you got below the belt – – and no, Clark absolutely refused to let his hand wonder past the small of Lex’s back to the swell of his ass – – his memory was excruciatingly perfect in recalling the detail of that, thank you.

He shut his eyes and imagined his dad again. Now son, there are just some things you don’t take to bed with you if you expect to wake up with all your parts intact – –

Clark grinned. It wasn’t exactly one of his father’s pearls of wisdom, but he could well imagine it coming out of his mouth. He felt the smile fade, chased away by more sullen musings. He’d been so angry at Lex, for so damn long. Driven to it by jealousy, rage, hurt – – before Zod ever came into the picture, when Lex had gone in for the kill and taken what he knew was Clark’s – – even though she really wasn’t. Anymore than she’d been Lex’s. Clark’s ideal girlfriend. Lex’s ideal wife. And the both of them left with nothing but the ashes of a feud over a woman.

It was funny, that the way’s Lex had always chosen to strike at Clark had been at the heartstrings – – when he’d had the resources to make more devastating physical assaults. As much obsessive interest as Lex had in metahumas, as much evidence as they had of his gathering both willing and unwilling subjects – – he’d never gone after Clark. After that last time, that fiasco at the farm that had almost gotten Clark, Lana and his parents killed, Lex had never tried again – – and even then, even if Clark had responded the way Lex must have been hoping – – Clark had the feeling it might never have gone further. Like all he’d really been looking for had been confirmation.

If he’d gotten it, maybe things might have turned out different – – maybe. Who the hell knew anymore? Clark didn’t. The world was so turned upside down now, that he didn’t know much of anything. He knew he wasn’t angry right now. Not even close.

He turned his head and watched the first drops of cold rainfall outside the window. Snow would have been nicer. Snow wasn’t so gray and depressing. It covered and made beautiful the things rain simply just washed bare. He shut his eyes again, lulled by the silence of the house, the patter of rain outside, by the slow, steady cadence of Lex’s heartbeat.

He came awake at movement. The careful motions of a man who was probably in the throes of a none too subtle hangover. Clark blinked down at Lex, then over to the window, which framed darkness instead of the gray afternoon light that had been there the last time he’d looked. It didn’t mean a lot. It was getting dark early now, closer to the equinox, but his internal clock guessed somewhere around six. He’d check with his watch as soon as he could extract an arm.

Lex looked up at him, the faint traces of red veining at the corners of his eyes, skin tinted with an unusual pallor. There was a strain in his eyes that suggested no small bit of pain throbbing behind them. Definitely hangover.

“Hey.” Was the first thing that came to mind, and Clark kicked himself a little for the brilliance of that opening statement. But maybe it was okay, because Lex wasn’t looking all that clever himself at the moment.

“God,” Lex breathed, and got an elbow under him, braced against Clark’s ribs, and sort of rolled off Clark and over onto his back next to him. He lay there, breath a little harsh, one arm over his eyes. Clark shifted, uncomfortable of a sudden, looked down at the one foot that was on the bed and the dried mud that had flaked off from the boot he’d neglected to remove. He sat up, pulling the leg from the bed, leaning down to swipe at the dirt. It was six. Which meant he’d dozed for close to three hours.

“What – -? do I want to know – – what happened?” Lex murmured, arm still hiding his eyes.

He didn’t remember? Was that a good thing or a bad? Clark swallowed, panic biting at the edges of his calm. “You, ah, passed out. Guess you went on a binge. Tore up your study, really bad.”

Lex was silent a long time, the rise and fall of his chest his only movement. Clark noted absently that his nipples were a shade of pink only a tone or two darker than his skin, the nubs only slightly darker as they peaked from the cool air in the room. He tore his eyes away, up to what was visible of Lex’s face and asked softly. “Lex? You awake?”

“What are you doing here?”

Back to that again. Clark bit his lip, the urge to come up with a comfortable, easy lie and avoid the plain truth so strong it was almost in his throat, before Lex lifted his arm – – lifted both arms to look at his bandaged hands. The blood on the white gauze of the one was dark and dry now, but the hands were trembling. He curled his fingers and winced, turning his head a little to look at Clark, a sort of dread inquiry in his eyes.

“Yeah,” Clark sighed, claiming credit for the patch up and pushing the lies back. “You sort of messed yourself up. I should have taken you to get stitches.”

Lex dropped his hands to his chest, gaze shifting away. Eyes fixed on some mundane spot at the corner of the ceiling. “Okay,” he finally said, voice a little hoarse. “I appreciate it. You can go now.”

Dismissal. Clark blinked, chewing on the inside of his cheek. It would be really easy to back off, to let Lex have his distance and his defenses. Only it would make it twice as hard when he had to come back and eventually deal with this. And he would, because he couldn’t do it to Lex anymore, let him flounder when all it would take was a semblance of explanation to give him something to cling to.

“Do you remember those numbers you rattled off to me, Lex? The ones you were so upset over that you did this to yourself? Lives, right? Victims?”

Lex narrowed his eyes, jaw working, then pushed himself up. A shiver of pain passed across his face, before he strangled it, trying to hide everything. But he was still too ragged to achieve the usual perfectly placid expression that graced most of his deceptions. Too hungover, too off his balance, too damaged to hide the bruising in his eyes.

“I don’t require your services any longer, Clark. Go home.”

Textbook Lex on the defensive. Imperious and cold. It didn’t throw Clark off one bit.

“Did they matter to you two months ago, Lex? Why not?”

“What do you want?” Lex asked, clipped, soft-voiced tone.

“Maybe it wasn’t all you, Lex.” There, he’d said it, gotten over the first difficult hump. “Remember what you told me about feeling like there was something inside you? Something left over from Zod? I think maybe – – maybe you were right.”

Lex took a breath, staring at Clark with bright, bloodshot eyes for maybe three breaths, before he said quietly. “That’s an unusual leap of logic for you to make, Clark.”

“Yeah, well, its not completely out of the range of possibility, is it?”

The silent stare Lex gave him was that critical, under the skin sort that made Clark feel like he was fifteen and had just presumed to offer Lex stock tips. He took a breath and leaned forward anyway, not flinching from that gimlet gaze. “Is it still there. That feeling?”

Lex’s mouth twitched, he pushed to his feet, shut his eyes for a brief moment and swayed. After a breath and a gathering of determination, he headed for the bathroom. Clark knew Lex metabolized fast, but he wasn’t sure if the unsteadiness was all hangover or if Lex was still a little drunk. Even if he was, he’d gathered his wits enough to form coherent sentences.

Clark trailed after him, standing in the doorway of the bathroom, while Lex hesitated, staring dazedly at the jumbled contents of the medicine cabinet scattered on the counter, the gummy puddle of spilled mouthwash. The had this lost sort of look, like he couldn’t comprehend the disarray. Then with a jerky motion, he snatched up what looked like a bottle of prescription painkillers and struggled with the cap, fingers no doubt a little stiff and sore from the slices in his palms. Got it open and shook out two pills, which he downed with a glass of water. He stood there afterward, hands on the countertop, staring past his own reflection at Clark’s, eyes close to blue under the bright bathroom bulbs, searching for something from Clark maybe, with the safety of reflective glass between their gazes.

“I’d be scared, too,” Clark said softly, and immediately figured mistake, when Lex’s expression hardened and he scoffed at perceived insult. Weakness was not a trait Luthor’s admitted to, Clark recalled with something close to frustration – – at least not when they were close to sober.

“You’re delusional,” Lex suggested coolly.

“Right,” Clark shot back. “Because it’s total science fiction that anybody could conceivably be taken over by an alien entity. What was I thinking?”

Lex was not amused. Lex was so anything but amused, but his hands were shaking, and he couldn’t quite clench his fists to hide it. Smooth denials weren’t flowing from his mouth because he was thinking. Clark could practically see him putting together things in his mind, things that he didn’t like, or that hadn’t occurred to him before maybe.

“What about the dreams, Lex?” Clark asked, needing to hit on all the points that he safely could. “Are you still having those?”

Lex let out a breath of exasperation, a whispered curse, and tried to push past Clark through the bathroom door. Clark didn’t budge, blocking escape from a simple question. He repeated it. “Are you still having them?”

Lex stood there, practically close enough that Clark’s shirt brushed his bare skin, staring straight ahead, resolutely fascinated with Clark’s mouth, lashes a fine fan of ginger shading his eyes. And for once, the nearness didn’t scatter Clark’s wits, but reinforced his determination.

Very softly, without looking up, Lex said. “You know, if any other Kansas farm boy came up to me with this fantastical supposition, I’d assume he was growing more than corn – – and smoking it to boot. But you – – you’ve got the inside track, don’t you Clark? You knew about – – Zod, before I did. What was the story you told Lana, again?”

“Please don’t make this about me, Lex. It’s about you, this time. Just you.” Please, please let him accept it, this one time, without argument, without closing himself off, on the outside of one more not quite lie. Clark didn’t want to lie to him now, not with Lex’s hands shaking and his body held so defensively taut it was a wonder he didn’t shatter. Clark’s secrets could only cloud the issue. He owed Lex an explanation, he owed him maybe more than that, but he didn’t owe him the deeds to his life.

Lex looked up and for the briefest moment, his eyes glittered with hurt or anger, but he pulled it in, throat working, back ramrod straight. “Please get out of my way, Clark.”

Softly asked. Politely asked. And what was he going to do, keep Lex trapped in the bathroom until he agreed to consider a not entirely reasonable explanation without the facts to back it up? He shifted out of the threshold, and Lex passed by. He hesitated at the remains of the bedside lamp, but stepped around them, to the door. Clark trailed down the hall behind him, towards the double doors of the master suite.

The last time Clark had been in here, the traces of Lana had been everywhere. The obvious signs of impact that a woman made on a room. But they were gone now. The dresser top starkly bare, devoid of make-up, brushes and combs, perfumes, hair accessories and jewelry and all the other assorted stuff that sat it apart from the sort of things a man might have on his own small portion of dresser top.

Why hadn’t she noticed? There had to have been signs. Maybe just subtle changes at first from pre-Zod Lex to what he had become afterwards. Clark hadn’t been close enough to see for himself – – had purposefully distanced himself from the pain of Lex and Lana – – but she should have seen. Maybe she did see, eventually, and maybe that’s why pregnancy or no, she’d hadn’t wanted to go through with the marriage. Maybe she had questioned it, but had had no one to turn to with her suspicions. She could have come to him – – she damn well could have come to him with it and he’d have listened. Maybe. Perhaps he’d still have been too angry to care. Or possibly, she’d been too wrapped up in her own problems to question why Lex went from his normal brand of obsession and subtle Luthor manipulations to cold-blooded dictator in the span of months.

Clark ran his fingers across the gleaming, lacquered surface of the dresser. There was a box sitting next to it, the flaps half open, filled perhaps with things Clark really didn’t want to dwell on. Her things. He was surprised Lex had left them here as long as he had. Clark wasn’t sure he could have looked at those personal items, day in and day out without crumbling a little each and every time.

“Hurting her was the last thing I ever wanted to do.” Lex said quietly from behind him. Clark turned and found him leaning against the threshold of the closet, watching Clark look at those boxes. Lex had put on a shirt so dark it verged on black, save when the light hit and brought out shades of purple. The cuffs hung, unbuttoned, covering the top edges of the bandages on his hands.

“I know.” Clark sighed. And he believed it. No matter what he’d thought Lex capable of, harming Lana had never been on the list.

For a moment, Lex just looked at him as if gauging the validity of Clark’s admission. Then his eyes flicked down, and he shook his head slightly, a sort of dismissive motion, but Clark saw pain in it – – guilt certainly. Lex pushed off the doorframe, with the careful movements still, of a man who’s not quite sure if his head is up to speed with his body.

Lex headed down stairs and Clark followed, feeling like he was keeping vigil. God, the quiet of the place was almost alarming and he focused his hearing a little just to pick up more than the muffled pads of their footfalls. He couldn’t hear the rain outside anymore, but there was the sense, even through castle walls that it was doing something out there. He looked through the stone and saw big flakes of wet snow wafting through darkness. Not sticking yet, but soon. That’s why it was so silent. Snow buffered everything. Even the sounds of nighttime wildlife from the grounds and the woods at the edge of them was muted, everything tucked in and awed by the catharsis of snowfall.

Everything but Lex, who had stopped at the entrance to his study and was staring at the devastation he’d wrought with a sort of shell-shocked amazement. He stepped into the room, and his shoes crunched on bits of glass, stopped in the center, heartbeat increasing, and God knew what was going through his head. Clark wondered if he even remembered thrashing the place.

“Let’s assume, for the sake of argument,” Lex said, without turning. “That your theory has a grain of merit. Why did it stop?”

No one without particularly acute hearing would have picked up on the tremor underlying the question. No one that didn’t know Lex might have even caught it then. It would have sounded like polite inquiry – – nothing Lex was particularly invested in knowing the answer to. Clark didn’t want to lie. He really didn’t want to stand there and come up with fabrications one more time in the face of Lex’s raw need.

So he said nothing, perhaps the wisest choice he might have made, because Lex didn’t press the issue, wondering around the study instead – – coming closer to his own conclusions. He picked up the half empty bottle from the floor behind his desk and Clark frowned, thinking seriously of going over and knocking it right out of hands if he lifted it to take a drink. But Lex just looked at the blood-smeared bottle, a sort of bemused quirk on his mouth and commented.

“Do you know what a rare label this is? I was saving it for – – I don’t know what I was saving it for. A rainy day?” He looked around, as if he were searching for the cap, but it was nowhere to be found, so he sat the open bottle on the cracked, chipped surface of his desk.

A stray flake of snow blew in from the jagged hole in the window behind the desk. There was enough cold air with it that their breath fogged a little. Clark hadn’t picked up on that before. Hadn’t noticed the fire was long dead. He shivered and it had nothing to do with cold. He didn’t want to stay here. He sure as hell didn’t want to leave Lex here alone.

“In another couple of hours the roads are going to be a mess,” Clark said, and Lex glanced at him with mild curiosity, no doubt wondering what exactly that had to do with him.

“Then you should probably get home.”

“That’s a good idea.” Clark took a breath. “I think you should come with me.”

Lex canted his head. “Should I?”

“Because if your staff’s not here now, they’re probably not going to have an easy time making it in tomorrow and – – let’s face it, the place is a shambles. And it’s cold.” And huge and quietly unsettling.

“I know how to work a thermostat, Clark. I can start a fire, for that matter.”

“Really? So cutting grass is a problem, but starting a fire you can manage?” He tried to keep the fact that he felt faintly desperate out of his voice.

Something shifted in Lex’s eyes, a sharpening of perception that had been noticeably dull since they’d come downstairs. “Fire’s considerably more interesting than grass. Why do you care, Clark, if I’m cold and have a deficit of domestics?”

There was enough of a taunt in that question, that Clark rose to the bait and countered. “Why’d you bring shirts by the house this morning?”

Lex opened his mouth, hesitated and something close to a smile twitched at the corners of his lips. “You know, one the things that always annoys me the most about you, is your penchant for answering perfectly legitimate questions, with questions of your own.”

Clark stood there, not quite knowing how to respond to that blatant truth, other than shuffle his feet and shove his hands in his pockets. “Yeah, I guess that used to be a bad habit.”

“Used to be?” A brow shot up.

Clark studied the rug under his boots, then looked back up at Lex from under his lashes, waiting.

“This morning, you told me to get off your property.” Lex reminded him.

“Yeah,” Clark agreed. “I’m inviting you back on, now.”

Lex looked away, laughing abruptly. Stopping abruptly. “Am I a project, Clark? One of your charity cases? I’m flattered, really, but I would think you could find a cause more deserving of your – -”

“Shut up and put on your coat, Lex.”

Lex chewed the inside of his cheek, considering. A lot less offended that Clark would have thought. Finally he shrugged, just a touch of wariness in his eyes and said. “Okay.”