Lex is cool and strangely distant in sunglasses and business clothes--Clark misses the soft feel of the linen shirt and how easily it came loose beneath his fingers the night before. But little glances remind him of Lex waking him up this morning, mouth on his stomach, wet and warm, and how Lex grinned up at him from underneath a worn tan comforter and soft cotton sheets.
"You okay?" Lex switches gears, giving him a look from behind the dark lenses that makes Clark laugh a little, sinking into the warm leather with a sigh.
"At my age, is it pathetic I'm scared of my parents?"
"You've never met Lois' mother, have you?"
Clark thinks about it, eyes widening as he remembers their few meetings. "I take that back. I just--I don't know how they feel about me--changing."
"You didn't tell them beforehand?"
Clark looks over. "I wasn't sure how they'd react."
Clark can see Lex worrying on his lip, obviously thinking hard. "That they wouldn't want you to go through with it?"
"That they might want me to." Running a hand through his hair, Clark wonders what's showing on his face. "I--I had to make this about me, not anyone else. I didn't even talk to Lois about it really, except to tell her when I left so she would--in case--"
"Yeah." Lex spares him from making it plain. So many things could have gone wrong.
"So--I mean, I talked to Mom on the phone once. I'm just glad this fall's so busy for them, otherwise they'd probably have come to Metropolis. Lois handled Mom while I was sick, so she doesn't know anything about that, just that I'm okay and getting used to everything still. They--they wanted me to come back for the adjustment period. You know, so I could be--" Clark stops, frowning. "They're still not happy I wanted to stay home."
Clark watches a road sign pass. Thirty miles to Smallville. At Lex's current speed, twenty minutes or less. Clark wonders how silly he looks, hell, how silly he sounds. He's a grown man--he's been out of Smallville since he was eighteen and starting college, and went from dorm room to apartment on his own. Not easy, no--and more than once, baskets of food had appeared at his apartment when his mom worked herself up into active worry about his eating habits--but he'd done pretty good on his own.
Well, the invulnerable son had, anyway, and Clark thinks he's doing pretty damn good now, since he's finally remembering to reach for potholders when he wants to get something out of the oven and that frying pan butter is *hot* and hurts a hell of a lot.
Lex's hand on his knee brings his gaze back up from its fix on the radio, now off. "Don't worry so much. They're your parents. Unless they've drastically changed since I met them, they'll just be happy you're happy." Little pause. "Do you regret your decision?"
Clark can hear both questions in the even cadence of Lex's voice and answers both. "Not once."
The silence is comfortable, and so is the hand on his knee--friendly, open, and he likes that. Likes that he can reach down and cover it with his, study again the fascinating contrasts of gold skin on pale.
"Do you ever--" Clark stops, biting the tip of his tongue. He doesn't know very much about the later relationship between Lex and his father, even less about his death. Frankly, he's never *wanted* to know--keeping up with Lex's other crimes was pretty much a full time job in itself, so he didn't go sifting the past that often to find anything else. But. "Do you ever wonder what your dad would have thought? Of you now?" It does make him wonder a little. His son's surpassed him in every way--LuthorCorp is a distant memory to most people, even in Smallville, dominated by LexCorp for so long that some can't even quite remember what it was like beneath the father. Lex has worked for that impression, too.
"That I didn't beat Alexander the Great's record."
Clark turns his head, looking at the tight line of his mouth. Maybe he isn't so weird in his parental fixation.
"Except Dad and a few other people, no one really remembers him," Clark offers, wondering if that's what Lex wants to hear. Wondering if there's anything that Lex *could* hear besides his father's voice. Those years of friendship, half-buried, drawn out only on bad nights, horrible nights when Clark needs something to hold onto, to remember about Lex that isn't the conflict, the fighting, the anger, that implacable hate that Lex had turned on him the first time that had hurt so much he still wakes up remembering how it felt, running through every nerve like ice water.
"I remember," Lex says softly, and he says it like the subject's closed, hand pulling away, but Clark pushes down, trapping Lex's fingers against his jeans. Wondering if Lex will keep pulling and is surprised when he stops. "You know, I used to think you hadn't changed at all."
"Changed?" Lex has calluses on his fingers--tips from pens, papers, computers, his business life, but there are other places, too. His palms are hard, there's the broken line of his knuckles. Lex hadn't let Clark retape his wrist this morning, so Clark's been extra gentle.
"From the kid I met." Lex's gaze is fixed on the road, like he's trying to pretend he's not saying anything at all. "I used to wonder how anyone could--" Lex stops short, like he's said way too much, and Clark wonders what else Lex is thinking.
"You never really understood why I became Superman, did you?"
Lex doesn't answer for a few long seconds. "The skin changes, what's underneath doesn't, Clark. You were always Superman, even before I knew what else you were. I just never understood why you--" And this is obviously territory Lex has gone over before, if only in his head. "I never understood what made you do it."
That's a question Lois asked him once--when Clark and Superman were still two different people, when Superman still attracted to her and Clark was trying not to hate her, and wow, does that show some kind of serious psychosis?
"Because I could, I guess." He's never been able to work this out either. His parents think it's something in the Kryptonian genes--but then, his mom and dad have a kind of romanticized idea of Krypton and the standard is their son. He wonders how they would have reacted to some of the things he'd learned from the Fortress and shies away. "Because it was something--" He stops, thinking. "You know, in Smallville, it's not like I went out looking. It just--sort of fell in my lap. And it was my fault--"
Lex snorts something. "Yes, I know your opinion on genetic guilt, Lex. But--" Clark pushes a foot into the floor, watching it slide across the carpet.
"Smallville was my home. I wanted it safe." Clark looks up, but Lex is staring at the road. "Don't pretend you don't understand."
"I know you keep your people safe."
"I wouldn't put my life on the line to protect a stranger," Lex answers shortly, and the car speeds up, sudden and shocking, hitting one hundred.
"I never did either, not really."
At the flickering gaze, Clark wonders if he's ever really known Lex at all. "Lex--"
"We're in Smallville," Lex says, hand moving from his thigh to downshift into something approaching the speed limit. In a rush, everything he's about to face returns--Mom, Dad, vulnerability, this thing with Lex. Taking a deep breath, Clark leans back, watching the familiar farmlands coalesce around him, almost suffocating. He hasn't been here since he was Superman, too, and he wonders if it's just his imagination that everything looks so different.
Could be his shitty eyesight, though. He wishes he'd brought his glasses.
"Are you staying the night?" Lex asks in a carefully neutral voice.
"Um, no." That will piss off his parents a lot. "Work tomorrow. Are you?"
Lex gives him a slow smile. "Of course not. How would you get back to Metropolis?" His eyes go back to the road, smile still fixed in place. "Farm to the right, Clark. At the end of the driveway or right in the yard? I'm all for a grand entrance."
"You really like pissing off my dad, don't you?" Clark manages a grin from somewhere, but his stomach's turning over and there's a vague sense of unease.
"I really do." The smile widens into nothing friendly, and Clark's stomach clenches again, remembering a time Lex would have done anything to earn Jonathan's respect. Things change, he thinks.
"I have my cell phone. You just want to call--"
"Call me when you're ready to go home," Lex says, and he's turning in the driveway. Right. Because when Lex gives up on someone, he does it as completely as possible and with malice aforethought. Shove it in Jonathan's face that his son's lover is the one man Jonathan hates above all others.
Thank you, Lex. You've made this so much easier for me. Teeth clenched, Clark unbuckles his seatbelt and waits for the car to stop. He can see the front door open, his mom a bare outline behind the screen. Doubtless the human blockade keeping his dad from doing something stupid like getting the shotgun. "I'll call."
Clark looks back over, hand on the door. The sunglasses are off, and Lex is watching him. No one else would see the worry. Or the regret. "I can send someone else to get you. Gabe's still in town."
Clark has to think about it, and hates himself the second he realizes that's what he's doing. "No. I'll call. Be careful." Right, sheep for a lamb, so he leans over just enough, brushes a kiss over Lex's mouth, because he doesn't want to send him away like this, even if he probably deserves it. "Have fun terrorizing your employees."
"Right." Lex sounds a little surprised. "Don't worry, Clark. They love you."
"I know." Pushing the door open, Clark steps out. Mom can't hold Dad back forever, though it's an appealing thought. Pushing the door of the Porsche closed, Clark shoves his hands in his jacket pockets, suddenly feeling sixteen and waiting for his dad to tell him that getting too close to Luthors always equals trouble.
He was right, Clark reflects, feeling himself begin to grin as Lex vanishes down the driveway in a fit of dust and excessive horsepower.
Mom's on the porch by the time he gets to the stairs, coming down to engulf him in a hug that smells of yeast and cooking bread and peach marmalade. Sweet and warm and so home that it makes him ache. It makes him wonder why he doesn't come home more, just for a few seconds.
"Honey." She feels heavier than he remembers when he swings her up, making her gasp, and that makes him laugh, half-carrying her up the rest of the porch stairs while she giggles and hits his shoulders with floury hands, like so many times he's come back. It almost eases the nausea away.
Setting her down, he opens the porch door and she goes inside, wiping floury hands on her skirt before reaching out and drawing him in behind her. Dad's at the table, drinking coffee, looking some bizarre and uncomforting amalgamation of worry, anger, and frustration. Great. No one is going to make this easy.
This is why he doesn't come home so often. Dad looks like that a lot when they see each other.
"How are you, honey?" Mom says, looking him over like she expects visible change to erupt on his skin. Maybe a big tattoo saying Human Now! or something.
"Fine." Glancing at his dad, Clark debates sitting down or standing at the door looking uncomfortable. He can feel them both studying him even when he looks away. "How has everything been?"
"Busy," Dad says shortly, and Clark forces himself to follow his gaze, at the phone that's still off the hook. They may need to get a new phone number. "You look well, son."
"I'm fine." Do all men have this defensive thing going with their dads?
"Want some coffee, honey?" his mom asks, and it seems like a good idea, with the uncomfortable silence that's stretching around them. Clark nods, mouth dry, and he crosses to the table, gingerly taking a seat across from his dad.
"Lois and I are working on a new story," Clark breaks out desperately as the silence stretches. "I've been busy, so I haven't--"
"Had time to call home?" Dad's on his third or fourth cup by now. Clark can see it in the tension just below the skin. "Lois took some time to call and tell us how very busy you both were."
There's really nothing like guilt.
"Jonathan." Warning. Definitely. Mom slips the cup in front of him, adding a muffin and a spoon for the coffee. Clark thinks at this point some bourbon added as flavoring would be a great idea. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine. It's--it's fine." This morning, he cut himself with the razor for the first time. It stung, and the pattern of red drooling down his chin in the mirror had held his fascinated attention for a long time. He'd never seen himself bleed before. Absently his hand comes up to touch the tiny cut, almost invisible to the eye now, but he remembers the stillness when Lex had seen it, wiping the blood away with toilet paper and spraying it with some antiseptic spray from the cabinet. "I-I like it."
"Good, honey." There's worry in her eyes--there always has been, son and child always, but this is new. Her son was invulnerable, the dream child of anyone who has ever wanted children. Staring down at the table, Clark listens to the quiet sound of the leaky faucet, ever drop like an accusation from his dad. You're killing your mother, Clark.
More long silence, and he feels her cross behind him, pulling out a chair to sit down beside him.
There's a lot of questions in the room.
"Lex and I are dating," Clark says, and takes a drink of coffee. Waits.
"Yes. We found out from the Inquisitor," Dad bites out, and his coffee cup slams into the table. Mom should really cut back on his caffeine intake. "Since you didn't call to explain--"
Clark looks at his dad over the edge of his cup. "I don't have to explain, Dad. This is my life."
He slept badly last night. Imagining how this would go. Even with Lex curled around him, warm and solid, strong arm around his waist, fingers entwined like nothing else could matter. And in Metropolis, it doesn't. No one knows what Lex is, really. He, Lois, Chloe, a few other unfortunate people who get on the wrong side of a man who holds grudges with the tenacity and deadly anger of a pit bull. In the city, there's talk and articles and curiosity and laughter behind hands, maybe, but there isn't this.
Even Lois and Chloe don't know everything, but his parents--they do. They know almost everything he does, because when he needed to talk, they were here to listen. And he can remember every conversation, broken, furious, terrified.
"I don't understand," his father says slowly, and the anger underneath is so obvious that the words hurt to hear. Disappointment, too. "After everything he's done, after all these years--"
"I remember." Clark takes another drink of coffee. "Trust me, Dad, I remember everything."
"Then why? Explain this to me. Why would you involve yourself with someone who would have fucking dissected you if he got half the chance? You--what the fuck are you *doing*?"
Clark takes a breath. "I fell in love." His dad's mouth opens. "Before I could even legally do anything about it."
His mother's tiny gasp is the only sound. Clark forces his gaze to his father's face, forces himself to hold it. Waits for the comprehension, forces himself to keep looking when sick understanding takes its place.
"Is he the reason you did it?"
Clark takes another slow drink. It's like being invulnerable again. He knows the coffee's hot, but he can't feel a thing.
"No. But it might have been a reason I wanted to." Lois asked. Lex never has. His parents thought they knew. He wonders what they'd say if he told them he didn't know why himself, that when he went to the Fortress and stared at that Kryptonite, entire lives had flashed in front of his eyes. Every life he could have had, fifteen to now. Gripping the mug, Clark wonders if any one reason will ever be the right one. "I don't know what to tell you. I'm doing this. He's doing this. We're doing it. That's all there is to say about it."
"And Lois?" Shock's taken the color from his dad's voice, and he sounds--so old. Clark stares at the table.
"Lois never wanted me. Not like that. We're--" Clark breathes out, feeling his mother's hand rest lightly on his shoulder. "When I lost Lex--I couldn't talk to you about it. You--you were so happy. You thought you were right. You made it harder." His mouth feels dry, and he's saying this totally wrong. "You were right. But--" Clark tightens his lips. "Lois was--she took the place Lex left in my life. The friend and the mentor and everything that went along with it." Clark forces himself to take another tasteless drink of coffee. Still no burn. "She would never have taken advantage of that, Dad."
Just like Lex hadn't, either. Every crime he's ever committed, every wrong he's done, Clark balances it against that, that Lex never once crossed that line. No matter what he'd wanted, he'd been willing to wait for it.
"Do you seriously thinks he gives a crap about you?" Clark hates the way the words come out, hates the way they sound. "That you can--what, Clark, do you think you can change him now? That--"
"Yes. I know he cares. And I think I can."
It falls like a rock between them. The next drink empties the cup, and Clark stands up, needing something, anything, to do. The coffee pot's as good a place as any, and Clark keeps his back to his parents, the silent communication between them so thick he thinks if he looks he can read it in the air like script.
"Clark, it's not that we don't trust your judgement." Mom, careful, diplomatic in the way Dad isn't. It's tricked him before, the way she can do that. She believes what Dad does. "But now, you're--very--"
"Vulnerable?" Clark turns around, leaning into the counter. The mug would be broken if he was still invulnerable. But if he was still invulnerable, this conversation never would be happening. "Mom--" Clark swallows hard. "I've always been vulnerable. For this." His hands are shaking--the shock of hot coffee hitting his skin makes him almost drop the cup, putting it on the counter quickly and raising his hand to his mouth. His mom makes a wounded sound and Clark hates himself for giving her that look. She hasn't seen him injured in years. Pulling his hand down, he locks them behind his back. "This--isn't open for discussion, okay? I'm doing this. I--"
"Clark, baby." She can still hurt him with that voice. He's ten every time he hears it. "You--I think you're making a mistake."
"I'm old enough to be allowed to make them myself."
"He's a murderer," Jonathan says, and Clark can hear his own voice saying that into his pillow. Superman came back here a lot. "He's destroyed lives, people's homes, companies. You know this. You know everything he's done. He's crossed every line, everything we've taught you to believe, to cherish. You can't--"
"The first line he crossed was the one we pushed him over," Clark whispers. Even to himself, it hurts to say it. He knows his dad remembers Nixon with the first angry flush across his face, eyes flickering down.
"If I can't have your--look, you don't have to like it. It's not like I'm expecting to bring him here every weekend or--" Clark cuts it off, seeing his mother's head go down, staring into her cup, and for the first time, he sees all the grey in her hair, washing forward to hide her face. "I--I want your acceptance, at least. I've done the thing with two separate lives and it sucked. I don't want to do that again."
For a second, Clark thinks that may have gotten through. Make this easier for me, he wants to say, but he doesn't, because he's never had it easy, not like Lex thinks, and he wonders how Lex would have handled what he considered the perfect family, the ideal he never really thought he'd be worthy of, never thought he could have.
"I can't, son." It's defeat, and it hurts. Hurts even though Clark thinks he must have expected it all along, because he knows his dad and he knows that, like Lex, Dad's grudges last just as long and die just as hard.
He finds himself standing there like the awkward teenager he hasn't been in years, and it could be any fight from his adolescence about Lex except it's nothing like any of them. The worst thing then was the fear that Dad would forbid him to see Lex, and he'd thought then that it couldn't get worse.
Of course, he hadn't known how much would have to change to stay so exactly the same.
"Okay." His mouth's dry and his heart's pounding, and there are things he could say, but he bites them back. About family and how love's supposed to be unconditional, but this isn't about whether they love him, he knows that. Nothing can change that, nothing ever will.
Blindly, he feels for the cellphone, but Lex is doing things, and it would only make things worse if Lex came here to get him now. He can't handle that, knows he can't. Patting it back down, he looks at his parents. "Okay. I--I have to go."
"Clark." Mom's on her feet, and it hurts him to see how much he's hurting her. "Clark, don't. Let's talk about this. Just--you and your father and I, we'll discuss it and I'll make dinner and--"
"This isn't a discussion," Clark says, and somehow, his hand's on the door. "I--I can't, Mom. You won't change my mind and I can't change yours and I can't--right now I just can't do this."
His dad doesn't say anything at all, sipping at an empty cup like he's forgotten what he's doing, and Clark hugs his mom quickly, wondering if he'll ever smell baking bread again and not get sick. Blindly, he lets go, pushing out the door, the cheery, cold afternoon like a slap in the face after the warm semi-dark of the kitchen.
"Clark, where are you going?"
Good question. An easy answer.
"Up to the castle. I'll--I'll call this week, okay?" Out of the yard, and he can't quite see very well, even worse than his usual bad vision, and he wipes his eyes, cutting across the driveway. It's only a few miles. Even a normal human wouldn't think that was too far to walk.
If he cuts through the fields like he used to when he was a kid, though, it'll still give him too much time to think, replay every moment in his head.
It'll be a lot of repetitions before he gets there.