The first thing Martha Kent had wanted to do was fly home. Clark talked her out of it. Reasoned, whined, begged, when it got right down to it, for her to stay put in DC, as much for her own safety as for Clark’s sense of dignity. It would simply be embarrassing to have one’s mom fly into a protective tizzy and take up arms because one’s – – he wasn’t sure what to qualify Lex as at the moment because Lex fit a lot of bills – – was seven different kinds of pissed and had the means and the motive to do serious damage.
He’d ended up convincing her to stay put by merit of the simple truth that if it came to violence, to some sort of attack by Lex’s men in black, then Clark could protect himself more efficiently if he didn’t have distractions.
“But I don’t think it’ll come to that, mom,” he’d told her.
“You hope, honey,” she’d said, in the little park outside her DC apartment where she’d met him that morning, because what he’d had to tell her, he didn’t trust to phone lines. And he’d told her a lot of things. Everything but the most intimate details. The one’s he couldn’t voice, because they hurt too much to dwell on.
“I know you think so much of what he was – -what he did last year – – was because of the part of Zod still inside him, and that may be true. But his obsession with you came long before that.”
“I know that.”
“I still think we should call Lionel. I have contacts here in DC, but he has resources you and I can’t even imagine.”
“No!” He’d snapped at her and she’d blinked at him with soft, worried eyes, not understanding his reluctance. Not understanding that his tentative alliance with Lionel was the root of a good deal of this whole mess to begin with. He wasn’t going to rub salt in the wound unless Lex left him absolutely no other choice.
“I’m sorry, mom. I just can’t. It’s my problem. I’ll deal it with myself.”
She’d swelled up a little bit then, her eyes turning sharp and fierce. “It’s not just your problem, Clark. It’s my problem, too. If you get hurt – – I hurt, you understand that, don’t you?”
He did. It didn’t make anything easier.
He’d swallowed and nodded and promised vigilance. Then he’d gone home and waited for the hammer to fall.
And waited. And after a few days, when nothing had happened, no assault on the Kent farm, no a hint of surveillance, no call from Lex – – even a cold, pissed off Lex offering to take him up on his offer of full-disclosure, Clark began to get annoyed.
Where did Lex get off, acting like he was the only injured party anyway? It wasn’t like Clark had physically attacked him. The kryptonite had hurt. A lot. And Lex had just looked at him like he was contemplating a high school science experiment. Probably the same way Lex looked at any other unlucky meteor infected subject that he’d snared for his research facilities. Oh, yeah, don’t forget any of them, and the fact that Lex had been an absolute son of a bitch in his dealings with the genetically challenged and maybe Clark had been giving a lot more credit to the Zod remnant than it deserved. Like his mom said, Lex had had his obsessions long before Zod was a whisper of a nightmare.
It wasn’t like Lex hadn’t been pushing his buttons long before possession of any sort had occurred. Lex talked about betrayals and lies as if he wasn’t the grand master. Clark lied out of necessity. Lex lied to further agenda’s and manipulate.
Clark stood in the yard outside the house and fumed. Stared at the snow free spot in the drive behind the truck where Lex’s car had been, and the trampled snow around it, where he’d taken Lex off his guard and made him grin with honest horseplay.
That was the problem with Lex, he didn’t have anybody with the nerve to just force the issue with him, make him forget all his plans and his issues and just relax for a little while. If he had somebody full time to just haul him up and toss him into convenient piles of snow, he’d probably be a lot less uptight and scary.
Clark found himself half smiling remembering the exact look on Lex’s face when he’d done just that, then caught himself and corrected it with a scowl, clenched his fists and decided he desperately needed to destroy something.
In efforts to avoid going on a demolition spree that he’d just have to come back and fix later, he ran. Down through Mexico and into Latin America, all the way down to the tip of the continent where the land eroded away to treacherous ocean. It was colder here than home, but there was no snow to cover the dour landscape. It fit his mood.
He stood at the edge of a towering cliff and flung rocks out into the waters of Cape Horn, watching them skip from wave crest to wave crest, before they disappeared beneath the surface. He sat down after a while, and just watched the seagulls scrapping over something bloated and dead lodged in the rocks far below.
If it ever came down to war between him and Lex, he didn’t know what he would do. He didn’t know what he could do, other than run, because too many innocents would be caught in the crossfire otherwise. Too many lives endangered if he fought back. He’d end up someplace like this, remote, isolated and lonely, because Lex was relentless when he went after something, and no place else would be safe.
If it ever came down to war between him and Lex – –
He’d been prepared for it, months ago, before he knew the things he did now, when Lex didn’t know the things he did, when all Clark could think about was Lana in Lex’s bed. Now – – God – – now it made him nauseous thinking of it. Nauseous like the feel of Lex pressing the kryptonite against his chest and leaning down with that cold, angry look on his face. Like things were slipping away that Clark couldn’t stop the flow of. Things that were integral to him and precious.
Over a quarter of his life people had been telling him beware Lex. That Lex would be his downfall, that Lex would have him on a slab, peeling back his skin, or in a box, poked and prodded worse than any animal. That Lex couldn’t help it because he was a Luthor. And Lex had yet to prove any of them right. And Lex had known – – maybe not all the pertinent facts, but enough to warrant closer examination in one of his labs. So why wasn’t Clark there? Especially last year when there hadn’t even been the illusion of friendship to hold Lex back – – when the insidious presense of Zod would have been whispering in his inner ear to take Clark down anyway he could. Why hadn’t he followed the compulsion?
He had to believe that Lex wasn’t going to change his habits this late in the game. He had to believe that the things he’d seen in Lex these last weeks – – the good things – – had been real. That as long as Clark didn’t push, Lex wasn’t going to push back. A damned wobbly definition of détente, to be certain and not one that particularly catered to the things Clark wanted for himself. Namely a détente that went beyond cold war and into the realm of negotiations, with concessions offered by both sides in the personal arena. He’d be willing to sit down to those sort of talks.
He broke off another flat piece of shale and hurled it out over the water, wondering if it were possible to sink any deeper into wishful thinking?
Easier not to think about it at all. To get himself invested in something that didn’t require anything but instinct and let whatever was going to come, come and deal with it then. He pushed himself up, spurred on by that motto, and expanded his hearing, blocking out all the murmur of mundane life until he heard the distant echo of gunfire against the shrill backdrop of screams.
He latched onto the sound, followed it to its source a hundred miles north along the coast of Chile. Drug runners or gunrunners or maybe just simple thugs come down from the mountains to terrorize a small coastal village. It didn’t matter who they were, because there was an old man with a bullet hole in his head on the ground, women screaming and wailing and two boys about to be forcibly recruited by desperately violent men who only knew how to terrorize and take.
It pissed him off. It really, really pissed him off. He sped around the clearing at the edge of town and slapped guns out of hands too fast for men to realize quite what had happened, then stopped dead right in front of the group that had the two boys, not giving a particular damn if they saw him or not. They were more than likely too busy gaping at their empty, stinging hands to have even realized he was there, until one of the village women screamed something that might have been a prayer to God over the apparition that had just appeared before them. Clark’s conversational Spanish was about as comprehensive as his conversational Kryptonian, which was to say, not very smooth at all, when it came down to following rapid fire, excited speech.
The bandits were looking at him now, with wide-eyed suspicion and the boys took the chance to run. One of them slipped past and pelted back towards the gathered women, but the other got snagged, a hand in his ragged collar. A knife came out and Clark got a threat leveled at him, or the boy did, it was hard to tell who was being spoken too when everyone started talking. He stepped right up to the guy with the knife, ignoring the other four in favor of staring down the four or five inches that separated his eyes from the one holding the kid, completely freaking a man out who was probably used to people cowering away from him.
It wasn’t the fear in the man’s eyes that got to him, that made a little shiver of satisfaction run down Clark’s spine, it was the subtle awakening of knowledge in a killer’s eyes that he longer had free reign.
Clark caught the knife by the business end before it could press to the kid’s throat. Closed his fist around it until metal crumpled like play dough and released it. Every set of eyes in the little circle around him was glued to that savaged bit of blade. Somebody made the sign of the cross.
“Ir.” Clark said to the boy. He knew enough Spanish for the simple commands.
The boy stared up at him with the sort of awe you’d expect from church devotees, then twisted out of the loosened grip of his captor and ran back to his family. You’d think that if people who didn’t even know him or have reason to trust him were that appreciative when he saved their lives, that the one’s he’d been making a habit of saving for years could practice a little more gratitude.
He looked at the beat up old jeep on the dirt road beyond the bandits, narrowed his gaze and let loose a burst of heat vision. The jeep went up in a surprisingly large blaze of flame, suggesting more than just gasoline fueling the flames, and everyone, including the bandits yelped in surprise.
Clark tossed the one with the knife twenty feet towards the brush at the side of the road. A second one followed before the others started scampering up the road towards the forest, eyes white rimmed with fear. They’d left guns in their wake, scattered on the ground. He wasn’t particularly feeling in the mood for gun control today, and rather hoped the villages collected them and used them well to protect against future incursions. They’d need something eventually, beyond the tall tale that would no doubt spread about the nature of today’s salvation.
He picked up the knife he’d mangled and tossed it towards the sea. It spun out of sight over the village towards the ocean. He was long gone before it splashed down.
The first thing he did when he got home was run by the mansion. But like every other day he’d checked since the incident, there was no sign of habitation. The only difference today, from the last few, was that workers had come out and repaired the window.
He contemplated calling, but Lex had been pretty damned specific and Clark wasn’t the boy he had been once upon a time, desperate for acceptance, desperate to be on the inside of something when everything else about his life demanded he be on the outside. Damned if he would beg. He refused to be the one that gave in and made a fool of himself crawling to Lex for a scrap of understanding. He’d already made a fool of himself. Lex was the one who’d been panting after the truth all these years anyway. If Lex wanted it – -if Lex wanted anything more to do with him, Lex could damn well resend his imperious command.
Making that declaration to himself felt good, fortification to a flagging self-esteem. It energized him into catching up on work he’d left undone around the farm. It didn’t take long at super speeds, so he made up more work to occupy himself. The barn had needed a new coat of paint for years. The water tower needed patching. The harvest of fall gourds was long past due. He could load up the truck and take the lot down to the organic market in Fisherville tomorrow.
Which he did, spending half the morning browsing the quaint shopping district that was popular with the collegiate crowd down from K-state in Manhattan. He leafed through a fall curriculum guide someone left on the counter at the little café he stopped at for an early lunch. Idly, he counted up how many credits he’d managed to snag in the three semesters he’d actually finished before he’d let things distract him. By all rights he ought to be a junior now, on his way to a degree. Lex’s wasn’t the only life Milton Fine had screwed with in his calculating campaign to free Zod. Easy to blame it on Fine though. Or Lex. Or even Lana. Anybody other than Clark himself, who’d just slouched away from campus and never come back.
Was it even worth it anymore, with the responsibility of the farm in his hands, or the looming threat of exposure that would pretty much insure that his life went to hell? It wasn’t even like he wanted the sort of degree he could get at K-state anyway, with its strong focus on agricultural studies. He knew everything about agriculture that he needed or wanted to know. Learned at his father’s knee.
He remembered what Lex had said, the insinuation that the only reason he stayed in Smallville was the approval of a dead man. Lex was too clever for his own good – – or Clark’s apparently.
Riding down the road home, the human way, on four wheels, and obeying posted speed limits, gave his mind too much leeway to wander. From the contemplation of maybe taking a few classes that actually interested him at Metropolis Community College, just to get back in the game and to hell with disaster teetering over his head; to less helpful musings, like the way Lex’s voice sounded when he was pleased with himself and relaxed. That lazy, velvet drawl that made you sort of loose track of what he was saying in favor of just listening to the sound of him saying it. How many conversations had they had in the past – – back when they were actually talking – – when Clark had come off a lot more oblivious than he really was by the simple virtue of that embarrassing habit?
Clark frowned at the long stretch of road before him and remembered he wasn’t supposed to be dwelling on Lex and forcibly started thinking about other things. He ought to rent a movie tonight or just go to the multiplex in Granville and camp out at the back of a theater and see something on the big screen.
He ended up renting the movie, not particularly being in a mingling with people sort of mood. A couple of old Jackie Chan flicks that he and Pete used to watch every chance they got. Pete had always ended up hyped and practicing exaggerated Kung Fu moves and Clark would sort of endure it and try to roll with the punches and not hurt Pete in the process.
Watching it in the house proved unsuccessful though, by the simple virtue that sitting on a couch that had recently seen an awful lot of sex proved an insurmountable distraction. He kept missing big chunks of the action, imaging stains that weren’t there and then picturing how they’d come about – – really, really vivid pictures. Which resulted in really, really tight, uncomfortable jeans and an erection that begged attention. He ignored it, because damned if he was going to jerk off thinking about Lex.
Lean, smooth thighs spread while Clark delivered his first blowjob – – Damnit, no. If he wanted to dwell on Lex’s thighs, he could damn well picture them straddling his hips while Lex pressed a chunk of kryptonite to his chest. That had been a memorable moment.
He popped the DVD out and retreated to the loft where there had been no sex of any sort and flopped on the couch to finish the movie on the little twenty-inch out there.
He fell asleep during the second flick and slept in the loft, sprawled on the old couch. Woke up to his cell phone ringing all the way in the house and was there, tousle haired and bleary eyed on the third ring, staring hopefully at the number of the incoming call – – then shutting his eyes and fuming at himself for harboring foolish hope.
It was just Lois.
“God, Smallville, there you are. I thought you’d run off and joined a cult or something, you’ve been so scarce.” Was her opening complaint.
“Not so much, Lois. What do you want – – it’s – -” he cast a glance at his watch and winced. It was closer to noon than morning and he hadn’t slept in so late since high school.
“Past ten?” Lois offered, the not so faint sound of sarcasm in her voice. “Rough night?”
“No, I just – -”
“So I was thinking,” she cut him off before he could quite think up a plausible explanation. “Since you’re not doing anything and don’t have a real job, that maybe you could help me with something.”
“I have a job. Farm.” He ought to be more annoyed. It was hard to work up the motivation.
“Yeah, whatever. Listen, I’m investigating this little thing on the bad side of town in Metropolis and not that I can’t take care of myself, but sometimes the perception of a little muscle can go a long way. You came to mind.”
“Gee, thanks. I’m not interested.”
“Oh, c’mon Smallville, you gotta take the plunge every once and a while and live dangerously. What else do you have to do, groom cows?”
“You don’t groom – -” He shut up. Stood for a minute, staring at the assortment of magnets on the refrigerator, all the homey little nic nacs that his mom had collected over the years, and realized he was on the verge of slipping back into moping.
“Okay,” He said.
“Great. I owe you one.”
Lois had apparently entertained high hopes of uncovering a nefarious Russian gambling ring the pots of which consisted of wagered human organs, sold on the medical black market.
Where she’d picked up that rumor Clark didn’t even want to know. What they’d ended up disrupting was a nightly backroom card game attended by admittedly shady looking characters, but hosting nothing more intimidating than chips on the table, with not a bloody body part in sight. There had been threats leveled at the interruption, but Clark had dragged Lois out of there before she could aggravate the situation to the point of violence.
“I swear to God, I thought my source was legit,” she complained on the way back to her car. And kept complaining on the drive out of the lower east side.
The river was a dark presence to the north, seen in flashes past the dark bulk of warehouses. The lights of the city proper sparkled to the south, a whole different kingdom than the low dark buildings that sprawled here. Luthor Corp tower was the tallest spire, a jeweled edifice even in the dead of night. Lionel’s creation, which Lex had skillfully subjugated.
He wondered if Lex were there now. Even if he weren’t, he was probably somewhere in the city – – within this few square miles worth of concrete and stone and welded iron. Clark could try to seek him out if he wanted, like he’d sought him out when he’d been desperately searching the night he’d saved him from Nikolas Daniakos’s bullet to the head. He’d never known a heart could beat so individually unique, until he’d zeroed in on the pattern of Lex’s. He wondered, in this city of millions, if he could weed through all the extraneous heartbeats and find the one he wanted.
He wouldn’t try. He looked out Lois’ dust streaked window and realized they were very close to the factory he’d followed Lex to the night kryptonite had become an issue.
“Take the next exit, Lois,” he said without really thinking it through.
“Just do it. Please.”
She sniffed, but veered off the city bypass. “So where are we going?”
“I just want to check something out. Pull in there.”
He got out of the car when she stopped, across the street from the building with the faded logo M&C labs. There were no cars in the lot, no lights on at all inside the little, glass fronted entrance. The security guard that had been there before was absent. He listened for the sounds of activity in the places he couldn’t see, the lead shielded one’s that had protected whatever Lex was doing here before from him.
There was nothing. No hum of machinery, no sound of human presence. The place was dead. Abandoned.
“So what are we looking at?” Lois came around to stand next to him, staring in the direction he was staring, at the face of a bland old building.
“Nothing. We’re not looking at anything. I thought something was here that’s not. Must have gotten my addresses mixed up,”
“Yeah?” She frowned. “M&C labs? What’s that?”
“I dunno.” He got back into the car. “You said something about springing for dinner?”
She cast one more look at the abandoned building, then circled around and got back in the car.
Two days later, Chloe showed up at the farm, smartly dressed like she was on her way into the city for work, instead of tromping through soggy snow towards the Kent farmhouse.
“You know, if Lois hadn’t confirmed that you were still alive and well, I’d have seriously doubted it. Why haven’t you been returning any of my calls, Clark?”
She perched on one of the tall kitchen stools by the island and watched him putter around the kitchen, tossing various fast food debris into the garbage. The pizza box from last night still had a quarter of a pie in it that he’d forgotten to put in the fridge for later. No great loss. It hadn’t been that good anyway.
“I’ve been busy.” He turned around to face her, hips against the sink, feeling vaguely grungy in a thrice worn t-shirt and mud-spattered jeans. He hadn’t told her. He hadn’t wanted her any more involved or endangered than she already was from mere association. He hadn’t wanted her looking under the outside layers and seeing the things that lay beneath. It was hard to hide things from Chloe. Harder still when it would have been such a relief to simply share.
“Okay. She lifted a dubious brow, but didn’t argue the point. “Lois said you helped her out the other night.”
“So what’s Lex doing at M&C labs?”
Clark blinked and looked up at her, seriously off guard at the unexpected inquiry. “What makes you – -? Why do you think Lex has anything to do – -?” He took a breath and trailed off, his ability to formulate even partially believable evasions having apparently dried up and died.
Chloe gave him a moment then shrugged, face carefully neutral. “Lois told me you stopped by there and were suitably mysterious about the reason. It wasn’t hard to find out it’s a subsidiary of LexCorp. Is something going on? I thought you were considering a tentative truce with him – – at least that’s what it sounded like last time we talked.”
He didn’t know what to say, other than the truth. Or the parts of it he could tell her outright and not flush reactor hot over the admission of. “He knows, Chloe.”
She looked at him, lips parted, computations going on behind her eyes. “Knows what?” she finally asked, cautiously.
She knew what and he gave her a look for making him spell it out, before he told her. Well, not the sex parts, but all the other pertinent details.
“Oh, my God.” She pushed herself up off the stool, stalked halfway across the floor towards him and stopped, breath coming a little hard. “When did this happen? Has he done anything about it yet?”
“Over a week ago. And no. He hasn’t done anything since – – since I tried to talk to him about it later and he pulled a piece of kryptonite on me.”
“You told him about the kryptonite?” That came out a few decibels higher than she’d probably intended.
Clark winced and stared dismally at the floor. “No, he had that one figured out all on his own.”
“Oh, God, Clark. Should you even be here? He’s not adverse to snatching people up in the dead of night, you know.”
“If he’d wanted me – – he had me. He let me go.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? I could have been on this from the get go, helping figure out what he’s up to.”
She was frightened. He could see it in her eyes, hear it in the patter of her pulse. He hated the fact that he was the cause.
“How? How is this complicated?” She wasn’t buying it.
She was staring at him like she expected an answer and he couldn’t frame the one he really felt into words. The hope that it would all blow over. That Lex would show up, the way Lex always had after disagreements, before things had gotten out of hand between them, always the first one to offer the olive branch. The mature one of the two of them, willing to bend for the sake of friendship, when Clark’s teenaged stubbornness had prevented him from making that first step. Funny that Lex never made those same overtures to anyone else that slighted him. That for the rest of the world Lex’s grudges were long lasting and cruel. Clark had never truly appreciated being the exception to that rule until he found himself clumped in with everyone else.
It would have been nice to say that to Chloe, to get it off his chest, but he couldn’t, when the only person he wanted to make that admission to, was Lex.
“I didn’t want you to worry. I didn’t want you doing anything that would put you on his radar if he did decide to do anything.” This was truth, too, just not the one that made his stomach flip flop.
Maybe she sensed that, because she kept staring at him, with that look she got when she was trying to crack a mystery and almost had it. “Well that’s just stupid and I’m teetering on being really pissed off at you.”
“Well that would be great. You can go compare notes with Lex.”
“I’ll pass on that. What I will do is give Ollie a call and see if he’s got a line on what Luthor the younger has been up to this week. I’ve got a few more sources that I can tap.”
Almost, he told her not to, but it was only reasonable to have an inkling if potential trouble was on the way. And it had been nine days of nothing and he didn’t know what was more frustrating, worrying about Lex initiating some move towards him, or the fact that that he hadn’t cared enough to bother.
“I’ve exhausted every resource I have and as far as I can tell – – there’s no activity on the alien manhunt front.” Chloe said, settling at the table in the apartment above the Talon.
Clark stared at his coffee, brought up in a Styrofoam cup from the cafe below. It had been almost a week since he’d told her and she’d started digging. A very long, very gray week. It hadn’t snowed again, but every day the skies seemed to threaten it.
Clark wished it would, simply to obscure the dull spatter of dirty, half melted ice that seemed to cover everything. Even his trips south of the border – – and he’d been making a lot – – didn’t seem to lighten the mood. He’d been going into Metropolis at night too, when he couldn’t sleep, looking for the sort of trouble that sought out victims considerably less formidable than him. It used to be a good way to relieve frustration. All it did now was depress him. The world was so full of people with ill intent, so full of terrible happenstance, there seemed no way to put a dent in it.
“Even Oliver hasn’t gotten wind of anything questionable on the dark side of LexCorp activity and believe you me, he’s always on the lookout.” Chloe said, finishing off her own coffee like she was chugging soda. “In fact it seems as if several operations that Ollie has been tracking have dried up and disappeared seemingly off the face of the earth. Looks like Lex is trimming the budget. Word is in financial circles, that LexCorp is gearing up to repel a Japanese buyout and between that and the huge chunk of capital he still needs to come up with to satisfy his get out of jail free fines, you’ve gotta figure that’s eating up most of his attention.”
“Yeah?” Clark furrowed his brows. He’d been so busy waiting to hear something from Lex personally, he hadn’t been scouring the business section, but then again, Clark’s understanding of Wall Street politics was limited at best. Anything he’d ever picked up had been gleaned from listening to Lex, and quite honestly, any time Lex had started to drone on about business tactics Clark had more often than not, let his mind wonder to other things.
“Yeah. People in the know are saying the smart move would be to just let the buyout happen – – take the cash and bail himself out of government debt. Its not like he doesn’t have the mother company to fall back on.”
“Lionel built LuthorCorp,” Clark said idly, putting dents in the lip of the cup with his nail. “LexCorp is the first real thing Lex created despite his father. He won’t give it up without a fight.”
Chloe canted her head, eying him shrewdly. “That’s an interesting Lex insight, but it won’t matter if rumors are true.”
“Don’t hold me to this, but I’ve heard that Lex no longer holds majority stock. That during the first big move to liquidate assets for the federal fines he supposedly shifted some very large chunks of LexCorp stock around as collateral to gain capital, with the understanding that he had a buyback option and share voting power. Apparently that agreement wasn’t as ironclad as he’d hoped. If Toshiba has it, and nobody on the outside knows for sure, they could force him out as CEO.”
Clark had to wonder, if that would be such a terrible thing.
Day twenty and everything that possibly could be fixed or painted or refurbished, plowed, trimmed, planted or shoveled on the Kent farm, had been. It hadn’t been so fresh and sparkly new since the day the first outbuilding had gone up in his grandfather’s day.
Fourteen muggers, three rapists, six attempted robberies, a car jacking, two fires, a near drowning, a barge accident on the river, a meteor freak outside Smallville that did something that sucked the air literally out of the immediate area, thus incapacitating if not downright killing bystanders and a dog down a well. The deterrent of all, should have left Clark with a warm, fuzzy feeling of accomplishment. It didn’t.
Lex was a son of a bitch. This absolute lack of interest was all a ruse to mess with Clark’s head. Even if Lex couldn’t stomach the idea of carrying on a relationship with – – well, an alien – – there was no damn reason he shouldn’t at least want to know all the vital details.
What the hell was wrong with Clark that Lex didn’t want to know? Was there some other extraterrestrial implantee that Lex was getting his information fix from?
Clark composed a half dozen indignant messages he might leave on Lex’s phone, settled on one particularly good one and worked up the nerve to call. The old number was no longer in order.
Clark’s cell ended up a somewhat mangled mess in his hand before he’d finished listening to the automated message and he stood staring at the ruins with the dawning realization that he was fucked. Twisted. Terminally screwed up. Because something in his physiological, biological or Kryptonian makeup – – possibly all three – – seemed intent on dooming him to only really, badly wanting the things he couldn’t have. For example; Lana, Lex, high school popularity or anything resembling a normal life.
Lana. It occurred to him, in the middle of a Lex-induced tantrum, that he hadn’t thought about her in a very long time. That her absence from his life wasn’t that great yawning pit that made existence meaningless. He’d always thought that living without her would be like that, devastating. It felt like betrayal of some sort that it wasn’t. It felt like betrayal, that making love to her had been a pale comparison to what he’d felt sinking inside Lex.
It bothered Clark so much he was lost sleep.
“He won’t talk to me.”
Chloe blinked owlishly as Clark stalked through the door into her Talon apartment Sunday morning. It was early enough that she was still tousle-haired and pajama’d and looking in serious need of a shot of straight caffeine.
“And this is a bad thing? Wait, are we talking about Lex?” She stood there, a little baffled while he crossed the room.
She followed him over to the window, dipping her head to look up at him skeptically.
“Clark, did something happen?”
“No,” he said flatly. He felt flat and simultaneously jagged.
She took a big breath and ran a hand through her hair, finger combing unruly strands. “Oookay. I’m gonna put on coffee.”
He stared out the window while she did, down over Main Street, at the tops of pick-up trucks and bare-limbed sidewalk trees. At people bundled up against the chill walking past storefronts that were every bit as colloquial as they had been when he’d been fifteen. Smallville was slow to change. Maybe that was the way the town protected itself and its identity against all the upset that his arrival had caused. All the fallout years later from the introduction of kryptonite into the environment. He’d never get over the guilt of that. Of what he’d done to this place. So maybe the town wasn’t the only thing that resisted change.
He started when she put a cup of coffee in his hand, having lost more than a few minutes somewhere along the way.
“What’s going on with you? This is not nervous anxiety. This is you upset. This has been you melting down for days now. Don’t think I don’t know about your little night trips to Metropolis. The last time you started doing that you were blowing off steam after Lana and Lex tied the knot. Spill, Clark.”
He glowered at the coffee, the reminder of Lex and Lana doing anything setting his teeth on edge. The reasons for that irritation had become oh so much more complicated now than they had been.
“Why are you so upset?”
“I’m not upset, Chloe.” He tried for a smile but it came out tight and strained.
“You know who you’re talking to, right? I read you like tealeaves, Clark. I know upset when I see it. Is this still you worried about what he’s got up his thousand dollar sleeve or is it something else?”
He wasn’t sure why he’d come over. Because sitting at home alone was driving him slightly mad and he needed to get out of the rut. Badly.
“I was thinking of maybe picking up a few classes at the city community college.”
She took a second to process the chance of subject. “Really? That would be great.”
But her brows were furrowed, as if she realized it was a ploy. A desperate attempt to get on with his life – – to get past one more heartbreak.
“Yeah, I can pay by the class at Community College, so it works out better.”
“Are you ever going to tell me what happened between you and Lex?” Chloe asked softly, solemnly.
Clark froze, feeling his insides clench up. What hadn’t happened? Lex had been happening to Clark for the better part of seven years and he just hadn’t realized all the subtle nuances.
“Did I betray Lana by forgiving him?” He asked. “By forgetting to think about her, because I can’t stop thinking about him?”
“God, Clark – -” she stared up at him, wide-eyed, caught off guard by that desperate question, by the desperate admission that felt so good to voice, even if he’d used Lana as a cover to voice it. It wasn’t about Lana at all.
“Give me a second to wrap my mind around what you’re not saying here – -” she said, clutching her own cup, round eyed and worried. “Are you saying – -? Did you and Lex – -?”
He shut his eyes and leaned forward, pressing his forehead against the windowpane.
“Oh. Wow.” Chloe whispered surgically removing an answer from that glum motion.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said, letting out a small, bitter laugh. “Apparently he’s a lot better than putting things behind him than I am. It doesn’t matter if I hate him or I – – don’t hate him, because one way or another he doesn’t care.”