After their third night, Clark's beginning to fall into a comfort level that's entirely new.
Clark fixes his eyes back on the road and doesn't think of the strange little shiver he gets every time he looks at that. Every time he thinks of morning, waking up with his jeans still undone and tangled around Lex like he was never going to let go, and at the time, it had seemed like a good plan. Still does, if he's honest. Mouthing Lex's spine and hearing the stuttered beat of Lex's heart beneath his palm and grinning. Lex, warm and sleepy and touchable, kissing him slow and hot under thin blankets and sheets, then getting up to take a shower, and Clark rolling into the warm space left by his body, breathing in his scent, content to listen to the quiet sounds of Lex in the bathroom.
He could--get used to that. Maybe he already has.
Sex tends to make people either horrifyingly awkward or more comfortable with each other, depending on the level of security involved. Clark feels relatively secure, and their conversation reflects that, discussing Lex's adolescence and then following Lex through the grocery store. If I was feeling more pretentious than I am, I'd say the sex is symbolic for their moving into a deeper relationship, or maybe some really strange metaphor about falling in love, but I won't. I'll just think it, because that's pretty much what I was doing.
I'm a huge fan of sex in stories, though, and this one let me indulge a lot of my personal tastes as well as simply being able to tell a love story. To these characters, in this venue, sex has meaning. It's not about getting off or getting a quick fuck--they take a deliberate risk in changing the friendship between them into something else, and they take it as slowly as the timeframe allows them to. There was some deliberate mirroring on how intimate they were in bed with how intimate and comfortable they were in the scenes between.
The grocery store's newspaper header that Clark didn't quite get a chance to read, however, starts accelerating things for Lex, though Clark's not completely aware of that. Their next night's in a hotel, and Clark and Lex jumps the pace a little. In most of the story, Lex is deliberately working to keep Clark at his comfort level--nothing too unusual, nothing he probably wouldn't do or hadn't done with his family or friends, leaving out the sex. The hotel, however, is the next step--moving Clark completely out of his element and into Lex's. It's not exactly a test, more like testing the waters, letting Clark glimpse what his life is like--or more than that, what Clark's life might be like.
And Clark figures that out, at least a little, in how Lex treats him, how much Lex is letting him see of himself. Clark can push then--push harder than he ever would have dared before, from the semi-awkward dinner conversation to the walk in the park, where he and Lex fall into acting like people in a relationship so smoothly that even Clark feels surprised.
Leaving the hotel so suddenly isn't as much a surprise as Clark thinks it should be--he's been feeling the difference since they came here, how much Lex is showing him, from the moment that Lex saw the newspaper in the grocery store.
Lex isn't--anything like uncomfortable, standing beside the bed with casual patience, like there's all the time in the world for Clark to move, but the thrumming energy is back, almost vibrating in the quiet air, and Clark thinks that maybe, just maybe, they're coming to that time for questions. All questions. Any questions.
"Let me get dressed," he answers, sliding his feet onto the cool floor, finding the bag on the foot of the bed. Jeans, t-shirt, and he can feel Lex's gaze on him as he ties his shoes, familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. As he picks up the bag, Lex's hand closes over his wrist, less confining than--wondering? Maybe.
"You're not asking." It's not even a question. Clark breathes in, cool air from the expensive air conditioning chilling his lungs if not his thoughts, but the look on Lex's face is enough.
The phone in the room rings, startling them both, but Clark doesn't look at it. "Can I drive?" The smirk almost feels real when it curves his mouth.
There's a second where Clark thinks Lex didn't understand him--a single, sharp blink, and Lex turns for the door, but then he's being pulled along, shift of fingers into his tightly, hard enough to hurt if he were human, but he's not, so he only squeezes back. Lex, who kisses him in the elevator, quick and soft and light, laced with cognac from the bar in their room, and Clark closes his eyes.
There's a garage--he'd sort of suspected as much, vast and underground, but Lex seems to know what they're looking for, and it's not the Aston. Sleek red Porsche, gleaming like new in the fluorescent garage lights, hood down and Lex pushes a button on the keychain before tossing the keys to Clark.
"West," Lex says as he slides over the door, bag in the backseat, and Clark decides that the over the door thing could work. He hears Lex's laugh as he manages to get into the seat with minimal fuss, noting that it was already set for his height, and gives a glance to Lex before turning the key.
"What's west?" Clark asks, and Lex grins--the smudges are gone as if they were never there, and Clark's feeling the current of energy like Lex's skin is feeding it to him when he kisses him. Bright, sweet, perfect in the hot, stuffy darkness and this, Clark thinks, could be freedom.
Dark blue eyes and a smile like the morning that's still hours away, and Clark catches his breath.
"Have you ever seen the ocean?"
Clark keeps his unspoken promise and doesn't ask the question of why.
Everything just hits fast forward from here. Clark knows their grace is running out.
And finally, we're coming to the end, where everything kind of coming together. Clark's aware of Lex's tension and keeps everything light--he knows Lex will tell soon, it's just a matter of time. Everything's coming to an end, and knowing that, aware that in a matter of days, maybe hours, this will all be over, makes Clark consider what he's going to tell his family.
He's kept up the rule of isolation that Lex seems to want--even encourages it, because it's as much for his freedom as Lex's. Only leaving a message early on to let them know he's okay, he's shut out all contact with home and Smallville, aware they can't do this any other way.
But like the questions that he's going to have answered soon, he knows it's time to call home, too.
It's been five days, it's Wednesday morning, and it would probably, maybe, be a good idea to at least call his parents, leave a message to tell them he's okay. A little late now, he thinks, watching gold and pink splash the road as the sun rises behind him. Dad's up, and Clark knows he's not up to hearing his dad's voice with that unique combination of fear and outright fury. Chloe's probably worried sick, Pete, too, and Lana--friends, family, and this isn't the first time he's looked for the guilt that should be edging into his mind. Just a little for disappointing so many people, worrying them, frightening them, and God, school--he's not even going to *think* about that right now.
But--no guilt. There's this car and Lex and miles and miles of perfect highway during the hottest day in May *ever* and it's--good.
A call to Chloe is his compromise with himself, to let her know he's okay, and her warnings about Lionel Luthor in Smallville set off alarms. It's a choice that only takes a second, but he doesn't ask, moving the conversation beyond that.
Early the next morning, Clark thinks it's time.
Clark mulls this for a few long seconds, absently stroking. The oven-like heat's diminishing from his consciousness with every touch, and he doesn't know how he can possibly ever think about moving. Think about anything, really, but Chloe's words are in his head, and Lionel....
Lionel Luthor is in Smallville, and there's no good reason for Lex's father to be slumming the farm territories. None at all.
"Lex, why's your dad in Smallville?" It slips out and Clark stiffens with no clear idea how it happened.
The tension's so brief it might as well have never existed at all--flash of muscles going stone, weight, then Lex pushes himself up on one arm, glancing at the window with a narrow-eyed look that seems almost as if--he's looking for something. When Lex looks back, there's nothing to read. "Do you want answers now?"
"Do I need to ask?"
And Lex tells him.
I kept Lex's motives throughout the story a mystery, though most people were getting really close to the reason early on--in fact, most knew before I did. See, 'cause *I* didn't know for sure. I had some theories, and I had some ideas I'd run by other people, but until Clark asked, I didn't know. It really could have gone any way.
It's kind of a sucky way to write--it makes foreshadowing kind of amusing, since you have no idea what exactly you can do to foreshadow something that you don't yet know about. But I wanted to keep Clark's POV as pure as possible, make everything that he learned a complete surprise, but also be able to add up the bits he's seen so far to work into the whole. More than that--I wanted to be along for this one. Like I said, it's a romance, but it's one where both characters choose to do it blind, and I wanted to be as blind as they were through it. Clark wouldn't feel any stirrings of foreboding most of the time, and knowing what was going to happen would have probably got my dramatic tendencies awakened in a big way, and the story isn't about that.
"LexCorp stock went through the roof eight days ago," Lex says slowly, as if he's measuring the words out in precise increments, as if every one of them is important. A flickering gaze down, then Lex tosses the paper to the center of the bed, and Clark slowly sits up, reaching to unfold it. One look at Lex and his hands still.
"It's in there." Pulling up a knee, Lex simply watches, head tilted. Like there's nothing more important going on than kid's gossip, but they *aren't* kids, not anymore, not after this. And Lex, just maybe, has never been a kid at all. Taking a breath, Clark flips the page and the headlines tell him everything.
"Lex." A sucked-in breath, let out in shock. Like exhilaration. And like pain. "You--." LuthorCorp and LexCorp and the war Lex so rarely discussed, and here--it is.
Over. All of it.
Lex knew from the beginning that once this went through, everything would change. His public profile, his home, his life, is going to be turned upside down. He's not just Lionel's heir anymore, but the once and future CEO of LuthorCorp, and he's got his father right where he's wanted him since he was old enough to know how to want it. It's a life's goal, the reason he sometimes thought he even existed anymore.
It's not that just circumstances would change--that he himself would change. Clark's got it right in the essentials--Lex walked out on the moment of his greatest triumph, the moment that he's been working for his entire life.
"You don't want LuthorCorp," Clark says flatly, but that can't be true. He knows that's wrong instinctively, and staring at Lex as he folds the paper neatly back together and throws it off the bed, he has no idea what to say. What to even *think*.
"Oh, I want LuthorCorp." Lex is smoothing the blanket of a single wrinkle that somehow appeared on its surface. When he looks up, the blue eyes are dark and filled with something that Clark doesn't know quite how to define. Hunger like something insatiable. A decade, God, over a decade of want, the kind that never burns out. "I can taste it. I can see it. I can feel it all under my hands and see my name on the top of the Fortune 500 and Wall Street will whore itself to me like a crack addict for a fix. You have no idea, Clark." There's a little pause, almost indiscernible from the normal lull of conversation. "And I don't want you to."
It takes a long second to sink in, and Clark's mouth goes dry, and he likes shock, loves it because it keeps the pain at bay, held somewhere distant. His hands close over the comforter without even thinking and he hears the tear of material between his fingers, through comforter and sheet, no way on earth to hide that. Lex's eyes fix briefly before flickering back up, one eyebrow raised with mute query and quiet amusement.
"I have one more secret." Lex drops the words between them with careless ease, and slides onto his back, arms folding neatly behind his head. "I'll trade you for it."
Lex left Metropolis and the meeting without a backward glance. Not just on the decision itself, but the man who wanted it so badly. He went to Smallville, because that's where everything started for him, good and bad. He went to Clark, because Clark's the first and only who doesn't really give a good damn about the CEO of LexCorp, just about Lex. And he wanted to be just Lex for just a little while longer. The man who can be friends with a teenage kid and do good things without motive, the person that can have someone like Clark in his life. He's not sure the man who runs LuthorCorp, the one who will enjoy taking it and cutting it into pieces, the one that wants to destroy his father so badly he can taste it, is someone that can have those things, or even should.
"Come with me."
There's a second before big storms, on those impossibly hot days with no wind, when everything goes still. Dust falls back to earth, every tree lifts from it's half-bend of heat, and the world waits for the first drop of rain to fall. It's the fresh smell of ozone that's sharp and the second of realization that something is about to happen. Is happening.
It's change again, for both of them.
Lex didn't take a week to make a decision, that was done the second he walked out the door--he took a week to live with it, to decide on what terms he could live with it. To realize how much he's changed, that the moment came and he froze. It wasn't just Clark, but everything Clark represents to him, the person Lex is and the person he wants to be.
It was about the journey for both of them, in a way, though Lex's is a little less metaphorical than I made Clark's.
"It's interesting about decisions," Lex answers meditatively, flicking sand up in the air, and Clark squeezes his eyes shut briefly to avoid getting it in his eyes. "They're usually made very fast. The time between making it and accepting it is the variable. The time it takes to rationalize it to yourself." When Clark opens his eyes, Lex is watching the water again, and Clark can see the ocean reflected in the dark blue. "Five minutes, five hours, or five days, it doesn't matter."
Clark breathes out a sigh. Five minutes, five days to find out more than either of them knew in years. Go figure. "So what's your reason?"
Lex grins, bright and brilliant, blocking out the brightness of the sun, the glare of the light off the ocean. The doubtless ten thousand reasons this shouldn't be so damn easy.
"I'll build my own empire," Lex answers softly, and Clark draws his knees up, leaning into Lex with a deep breath of salty air, shutting his eyes. A gentle hand brushes the hair off his forehead. "What's yours?"
Clark grins blindly into the sky, settling more comfortably into the sand. "I don't need one."
A lot of people didn't quite care for the ending, which is understandable. I think part of it is that I wrote it over such a long period of time, it didn't make sense in context, as it might have if read all at once. Then again, maybe it wouldn't have. I'm not sure anymore.
Unlike Lex, who was finding himself in isolation in the desert, er, sort of, Clark came to this moment in a completely different way. Like Lex, the actual decision was made the second Clark got in Lex's car. No subtext behind running, no reason at all except it was Lex. That was his only motivation from the very start.
Hmm. Yeah, in retrospect, I can see why it wasn't liked all that much.
The Cows and Other Loose Ends
Okay, yes, Clark left the cows. I worried about the cows only after someone mentioned that Clark had left them, feedless and abandoned, and man, that like, just ate at me during the writing of the ending. I left the *cows*, and they aren't even mutant cows who could, like, fly for water and food and whatever else is involved in the care and maintenance of cows. And chickens. I completely forgot there could be chickens. And other farmy things.
To comfort myself, I have a theory. It makes no sense, but hell, I slept better knowing I hadn't committed virtual cow abuse and neglect.
Clark left on a Friday afternoon, right after school. The Kents came home Saturday night after Pete came by the house, and he fed the cows and chickens with a brand new knowledge of farm procedure. Canon does this to characters all the time. Lionel shows up in Smallville on Saturday night and the Kents put two and two together and figure their son wasn't kidnapped by evil scientists, aliens, or Jor-El, but instead, went with Lex, which begs the question of what they thought was worse. Then Clark called Sunday night after going to the Fair with Lex and left a message.
Another question I got from someone was why Lex and Clark ran out of that hotel so fast, and I never did get around to explaining that. Lex took two days there, and no matter how wonderfully discreet a place might be, Lex is very much a public figure now, in the newspapers everywhere. He was seen, and he was seen with Clark, and Lex knew they'd been discovered. The phone call that Clark didn't answer before they left was the manager telling him that reporters were arriving any minute, and Lex wasn't quite ready.
I think that about covers it. Any questions, comments, amused laughter? Feel free. It's been over a year and a half since I wrote this, so I could be getting a lot of things very, very wrong.