*sigh* More on that later. Just a note. Whiskey can be used to numb down one's inner cheek when one bit it very hard when one falls on the stairs and one is out of oragel. This is new information to me. However, people who like whiskey do look at you strangely when you use it as mouthwash and spit it out after.
Clark spends quality time exploring the castle.
Maybe it's because he's bordering so close to sixteen today, or maybe it's just that he needs the distraction, but when the housekeeper lets him in as if he's still the kid from down the road and leaves him to his own devices in the hall, Clark goes for a walk. He turns his cellphone off at the first ring, seeing his parents number there like an accusation. Very Kent of him to walk out on a fight--he's like his dad that way. Mom likes to argue things out completely, but--
Not this time.
The differences between a house and a habitation were clearer back then, when he could see the traces of Lex's occupancy in the pens with the chewed caps in his office and the immaculate placement of rugs so Lionel wouldn't trip and fall. He remembers the office and the kitchen, the ballroom where Lex fenced, the armory, and the upstairs bathroom best. Lex's bedroom and the big adjoining one, too--Lex had once explained it was for a married couple, though back then, Clark really hadn't gotten why a married couple would want to sleep apart and be separated by two entire dressing rooms.
At least until he met Victoria, who used that room during her stay. Much easier to understand after that.
A long time ago, Lex had gotten a little drunk and taken him on a tour of the house--Clark thinks now it must have been reactionary to Lionel moving in and Hamilton doing his level best to fall apart as spectacularly as possible, but back then, it'd just been his friend Lex, who was bored and asked him to come over and play, in Lexian terms. They walked what seemed like miles of hallways in their socks, drinking rum and coke out of these huge plastic tumblers that Lex unearthed from somewhere, while Lex gave him a Scottish history lesson and how some ancestral Luthor had led an uprising against the lord of whatever. Kind of neat, because Lex used gestures like he was stabbing enemies with an imaginary sword and used a bad Scottish accent.
Clark thinks now Lex may have been playing out a scene from the Braveheart DVD they'd watched earlier that week, but he's not too sure.
There are lots of guest bedrooms--suites, Lex had called them. Some had their own little living room attached, as if even when there were guests you could make sure to have as little interaction with them as possible. A huge, glassy room that he vaguely remembers being called the solar is up next. Winter sunlight spills down on the floor and over Clark's shoes in pink-tinged gold, and Clark stands at the huge windows that overlook endless fields of corn, Lana's house in the distance.
If he stands very still, he's sixteen and in love with Lana Lang, watching her from a distance because close was a dirty word for a Kent back then, or at least, for Clark Kent. But when he closes his eyes and touches the stone, he remembers he was falling in love with Lex even then and didn't know it.
He's not even surprised. Or angry, though he thinks he should be.
"You had Mercy following me," Clark says, not opening his eyes. He listens to Lex, who's still walking with the slightest trace of a limp, come up behind him but not quite touching. Like they're both still kids and all those lines are still there.
They've both erased a lot of those since then, though, and Clark half-turns, watching Lex watch him.
"I told you that if I assigned you bodyguards, you wouldn't know about it," Lex answers mildly. He looks tired, and Clark thinks he sees a shadow of fatigue in the blue-grey eyes, but he can't be sure. Lex is so rarely tired. He breathes energy and action, even when he's at rest. "Mercy's skilled and extremely discreet."
"Did she follow me all the way to the castle?"
"Right through two cornfields, across a dirty road, and over the ridge," Lex says softly, still looking at him. "How did it go?"
Clark looks away. "You need to ask?"
"No. I just think you need to answer."
That's another difference. Lex used to let him off the hook a lot. Back then, he'd just thought he was that good a liar. Now, he thinks Lex just wasn't willing to push too hard.
"They said they can't--" Clark stops, taking a breath. "They can't accept. Us." With a shrug, Clark takes a step back to lean against the glass. It's thick, but it gives him a sudden sense of vertigo--he could fall if it broke. And he won't be able to fly. "They--" Clark stops, biting down on his lip. "It was pretty much a nightmare. That what you want to hear?"
"No." Lex turns his eyes briefly out the window, and Clark watches them fill with light, the clearest blue of a summer day, all captured in a single moment that makes Clark's breath catch. Like Lex is somewhere else entirely, somewhere Clark can't follow. "Give them time."
"It's not going to be that easy." Centuries, maybe. That might help. And Lex--Lex grins, looking at him again, the look fading away until Clark thinks he just imagined it.
"I know. But--Clark. Just trust me. A little time. After they've thought for a little while--I think it'll be okay."
And Lex said *he* was bizarrely idealistic.
"Wow, you're delusional. I should have known this, right?"
"Megalomaniac," Lex answers prosaically, and the grin flashes, bright and sharp, and Clark willingly pushes aside memory. He can think later. "Come on. The housekeeper made lunch and she's waiting desperately for someone to eat it. I think she gets bored out here."
Lex talks about the plant while they make their way to the kitchen. There are names he recognizes--Adam Henley, who'd been in his chemistry class and came back to Smallville to be the lead biochemist for Plant #3. Lizzy Stuart, the ditzy cheerleader who'd almost gotten herself killed by her boyfriend when he'd gotten a bad dose of meteorite testosterone, an accountant who's being transferred to Metropolis to head up the LexCorp accounting division. Some of the other employees, kids following in their parents' footsteps like every generation before them. Like Clark hadn't, when he'd chosen a career in journalism instead of on the farm.
"You like Smallville, don't you?" Clark says suddenly as they meet the stairs, and Lex gives him a startled look.
"Yes and no." A hand lightly runs down the edge of his jacket, removing non-existent wrinkles, before settling defensively on the banister. "I like what it symbolizes. Does that make sense?"
The smile turns again, going inside--that feeling of Lex seeing something he doesn't. "I suppose that's as close to accurate a description as I could come up with. It's--the beginning. Everything I've done since--I see this when I do it. I see what I did here."
"Every person I save, I see my parents, Lana, Chloe, my friends--you," Clark says quietly, staring at the bottom step, and he can feel Lex's startled attention. "I was thinking about what you asked me. Why I do it. Did it."
"Is that how it happens?" And strangely, Lex seems interested, and if it keeps him off the subject of this morning, Clark's all for it.
"I--think so." Coming to the bottom of the stairs, Clark leans into the banister, trying to think. "I--just do. It's something I had to. Even if I didn't want to, even if I knew I'd fail, I had to try. It's always there. In every face I ever saw."
Lex nods slowly, like he's turning the words over in his head, filing them away for later study. Clark has to grin at that. So very Lex.
"You know, I don't think anyone's ever asked me that question before." And he's never really thought about it. He could, therefore he did. Which, honestly, might be something very close to how Lex thinks, even if they have directed it in totally different ways.
"Not even during the interviews?"
"No." Clark grins. "Not even the interview I gave myself."
"You're lucky Lois didn't castrate you for that," Lex answers with a chuckle, and Clark looks up, surprised by the flare of jealousy in the pit of his stomach. He can't be jealous. "You're responsible for about seventeen hundred dollars on Lois' Visa, if you're curious."
"She did dress *really* well for the next two weeks," Clark reflects, and Lex snickers softly.
"She took her temper out on me and Italian shoes, not you." Slim fingers brush his on the railing, settling naturally over his, and Clark shifts enough to turn his hand over, lacing their fingers together. "Are you hungry?"
"Not really." Hi stomach still isn't quite settled yet.
"Too bad. You're losing weight--you need to eat more. And Mrs. Lewis is an excellent cook."
"Tell me this is regular food," Clark answers, letting Lex pull him along behind him like a slightly obstinate pet.
"It is. Relax."
The housekeeper's waiting when they walk in the kitchen, looking unreadable and as close to excited as Clark can imagine a person being without managing to show it at all. There's sandwiches with the crusts cut off and salads and bottle of familiar water that make Clark laugh.
This is--good. Clark kicks Lex under the table when Lex starts studying the ham for quality, then they both grin and eat.
Lex doesn't leave him alone again, taking Clark with him back to the plant, refusing to let him sit around the castle and brood, and he can't even say he protested very hard. He hasn't been here in years, and it all looks different but exactly the same, right down to the room where he and his classmates were held hostage and he watched Lex act like an immortal moron.
"That is still the dumbest thing I've ever seen," Clark says while Lex checks something on a console with a little frown.
When Lex looks up, Clark motions in general around the room. "That thing you did with the removal of the vest and all."
"Not so stupid," Lex answers calmly, like they're discussing stock options. "I had perfectly good reason to think I'd survive."
Unless he was aware his dad had sealed the plant, that is, but Clark's still not entirely sure how much Lex really knows about that part.
"Okay, give me your reasons."
Turning around, Lex leans into the console, arms crossed. "One, I had a destiny--"
"Oh, right. That turns back bullets. I totally forgot."
Lex doesn't appreciate his humor. Few do, really. Clark's beginning to think it may be him. "You want to hear this or not?"
Grinning, Clark nods, trying to look attentive. "Of course I do."
"Two, his aim was for shit. He'd have been lucky to hit a barn at five paces. Three, and most importantly, I knew, even if no one else did, that unless it was point blank to the head, I'd survive it." Lex gives him a smug smile.
"You didn't know back then just how fast you could heal."
Lex shrugs. "Let's say after over a decade of living the life of the young, rich, and perpetually bored, I had a pretty good idea that something was keeping me alive besides dumb luck." Lex gives the room a glance, eyes narrowing thoughtfully, like he's reviewing the past for strategic flaws. Clark would say the drop of the bullet-proof vest was one, but he gets the feeling Lex might not. "Besides, worst case scenario didn't happen."
Clark nods slowly. "Did you ever blame me for that?"
Surprised Lex. Always interesting. "For what?"
"I could have stopped the leak, got everyone out, and done it in, like, minutes. Instead, you had to come down, do that song and dance for trading, and then get dangled off a catwalk." Wow, when he says it like that, it really does sound bad. He can almost hear his dad's voice beginning to reply, but he cuts him off. Even in his head, Clark's not up to facing his dad again today.
When he looks at Lex again, he sees that thoughtful strangeness. More than Lex deciding guilt or innocence--in the world of Lex, that's a split second and highly subjective decision--but as if he's replaying events again, this time in slow motion.
"No." Pushing off the console, Lex hits a few keys as if at random, then straightens. "I never really thought about it."
Oh great. Way to go, Clark. Any other moments he should bring up? The multiple concussions, maybe, or the fact it was *years* before Lex really understood the concept of the meteor-mutant?
"Hey." Hard fingers push his chin up. "Guilt doesn't suit you."
"You'd be surprised. I think it's my defining quality." He's used to it, but this one's always been particularly special to him in some way. Maybe because it's what he uses when he thinks of the Lex that was his best friend, who could have been so very different from the well-dressed and quietly ruthless man before him. For years, when he needed the good memories like water, like air, this is what he'd had. The ones where Lex wasn't Luthor at all but was, too, in all the right ways.
"You couldn't reveal yourself, Clark. Even I know that." With a little shake of his head, Lex takes another step, warm presence almost but not quite touching, only those long fingers connecting them. "If you must feel guilty, try that time in China when you took down my black market cartel. That pissed me off." Clark hears himself choke out a laugh. "And cost me so much money in jurors. You really have no idea."
"I'm so sorry I spoiled your arms trading," Clark answers with a grin, and Lex kisses him, slow and careful, maybe like he would have if they'd been alone in the elevator that day, riding back up to civilization and safety. "Where are you going to be tonight?" he asks when Lex pulls back slowly, wet mouth and dark eyes. It's a shock to realize that he hasn't slept alone since their second date. That he's so used to it now that he really can't quite imagine giving that up.
Lex is very, very addictive.
"Wherever you are." Smiling a little, he reaches down, taking Clark's hand, and Clark remembers the security cameras suddenly, looking around. X-ray isn't possible, but he forgets that for a second. "What--oh, the cameras." Lex motions to the console behind him. "I had them disabled. Standard operating procedure." The smile turns mischievous. "Nothing to be used in a court of law."
"I think so, too." Moving their joined hands, Lex rubs lightly into Clark's jeans, making him hiss. "Also, other useful and completely legitimate reasons for not wanting to be taped."
"Right," Clark breathes. "But--"
"Hmm?" The kiss that skims his jaw steals the words but not the thought. Clark shakes his head quickly, unable to move away with the console behind him, and moving forward feels so good he might not ever stop.
"Sexually inhibited at your age?" The hot breath against his ear makes Clark shudder, like the back of Lex's hand, rubbing firmly down the buttons on his jeans. "Really, Clark. I thought--"
"Car." That came out fairly audible, apparently, because Lex pulls back, looking interested. "Are you still a teenager or something?"
"My cars are sexy, Clark. You said it yourself. Having sex in one can only make it better."
Rolling his eyes, Clark straightens, almost sighing when Lex pulls their hands away. His body doesn't get why here isn't a great place, and right now isn't on the agenda.
"Don't you have to finish your inspection?"
Lex takes a step back, the heat still flaring in his eyes, in the way he smiles back. "I finished before Mercy called me. The manager knows his job. I just came back to check up on some paperwork" Another step back, pulling Clark gently with him toward the door. "I'm free for the afternoon. With a very, very fast car."