Spoilers for, surprise, surprise, Phoenix.
He can hear the ocean at night, five thousand miles from that broken line of the Pacific coast. The rhythm of water that never rocked him to dreamless sleep.
A rush of sound and sensation that falls like sun-warmed water, and for a moment, he feels heat and drying salt on his skin, the scrabble of sand beneath his back, worked into every pore, every mouthful of what passed for food, every fucking *breath*, until he breathed sand like air, scratched raw from the inside out.
A moment when he opens his mouth on a gasp and the cool, humid air of midnight Kansas washes over him, bringing a relief so acute it hurts. His tongue, licking away the ocean taste of nightsweat from his lip. The sheets, moving like water beneath him.
His body remembers what he's forgotten, wrapped in silk sheets and buried in the softness of a pillow.
Blood laced water vomited on clean white sand beneath the cool shade of a palm tree from a raw throat and blistered mouth. He drew patterns with sticky, burned fingers, a map of the mind that hadn't accepted. Manicured nails with fingertips scarred from a hundred nights screaming awake from malaria dreams. Flash of bitter pain, blisters on blisters from an unforgiving sun, breaking open to crust and dry and blister again.
His *body* remembers, with the brush of callused fingers like sandpaper, and he curls away, teeth clenched against the break of skin and scratch of sand inside.
Touch is a dangerous thing.
"Lex," Louis murmurs into his ear, the smells of rotting seaweed and stagnant water washing over him. Harsh hair rubbing into the back of his neck. "Let me."
His hands fall and the sun burns red through closed eyes when he lays back. The scratch of sand on broken skin, the whisper of ocean air, all almost welcome. He's been alone so long. It's a tropical night and it's cold and Louis is so close.
Louis is *warm*. And Louis is here.
Callused palm around his cock that he pushes into, sandy-scratch, the only skin that doesn't ache and now does and he wants it to. He wants--
A dark room, indoors, alone, his own hand wrapped around his cock, teeth clenched over his unblistered lips when he comes, sharp and sticky, silk all around him, suffocating him in hot, humid air that smells like long, hot nights and drying sweat.
His life's this. Restless and moving and nothing's changed at all. Even the scars are going away, fading. Glancing into a mirror in passing, he sees a stranger slip out from beneath his skin and watch him from behind his own eyes.
He doesn't remember what it feels like to starve, there's just a loaf of bread beneath his bed and a plate of cookies on the end table. He doesn't remember eating, there's just are crumbs that rub against his skin like sand, and he slides out of bed and pads to the closet. Soft silk shirts that button in a rational straight line, smooth cashmere pants that slide up his legs soft as clouds and no longer catch on his fingertips. He forgets shoes until after his feet touch dew-wet grass, and he doesn't remember what it was like to walk on hot sand, even as he raises to the balls of his feet.
It's Kansas, imagined on a hundred cooling nights and a hundred heat-drenched days, moving remorselessly into fall, light wind cutting through his shirt and chilling his skin. This familiarity that's not familiar at all. This press of the world that's reforming around him, pushing him back into fresh new skin that was once his own.
It's not *home*.
"Jesus, Lex, what are you doing out here?"
The voice breaks the quiet, harsh and worried, and Lex turns with complete unsurprise. Clark, mussed too-long hair and doe-wide eyes, only feet away on a deserted road that Lex hadn't known he'd come to. Rumpled and vivid and the part of the memories he'd once wanted to keep.
"I could ask you the same question." His hands slide into his pockets, wincing at pain from cuts that no longer exist when they brush against the linen inside. A slow, practiced smile that stretches his lips like plastic.
Clark ducks his head, and there are things here, too, that once he would have asked, but now he doesn't. The kid he met on a bridge is far from here, this all-new figure no longer comfortable in denim and old flannel, big hands resting at his side without regret. All that *energy* leashed, puppy enthusiasm as gone as if it had never existed at all.
Clark, who lifts his head and doesn't look away this time, flashing something bright and painful at him. Looking into your darker parts may never be easy, but looking at someone else's can be harder. He doesn't need to know what he's looking at to know what he's seeing.
"Taking a walk." It's not defensive, as once it would have been. Tiny, invisible chips of memory flake away, and Lex wonders how much he's forgotten. Then Clark flushes, still holding that steady gaze.
Red enough to cut through the grey of the night, and Lex almost laughs. He doesn't know why, but it's heady and sweet and it doesn't hurt. "I almost forgot."
Lex waves one hand, surprised to see the smooth, buffed curve of neatly trimmed nails, the fading gold of a tropical tan. "That. You still look like you just got caught peeking in the girls' locker room."
It's nonsense words that make Clark cock his head, but the blush is where everything stops fragmenting and he wants to keep it. Build something off the familiar part of an unfamiliar boy who will never again be the one he remembered.
"It's a nice night." Cold the way only Kansas can be, cold to his heat-thinned blood and sun-colored skin. His lips are going numb. "I won't ask why you're out at this time of night."
Clark smiles, slow and not-sweet. "Then I won't either."
There's nothing left to say or do. The script is all shot to hell, and Lex doesn't know what this self says to this Clark. Big, strong body beside his when they fall into step, booted feet thudding silently by Lex's bare ones. No dust flips up clouds to haze their vision and the wind continues on. There've been walks like this before, but never this one, and it's new, the way he stretches his stride to keep up with Clark.
"How was my funeral?"
He likes that the boy peers out at him in shock, like he just said a filthy word for no reason in the middle of irreproachable conversation. "Your--"
"Funeral." The tombstone had been warm under his hands, reminding him of the rocks on the shore. "You came, didn't you?"
Clark nods, head turning to face the road, hiding his face. "I was there."
Dark hair ruffled by the wind closes his profile away, and Lex feels an insane urge to grab him, say something pithy and stupid like, get a haircut, dammit, because the words are right except they're wrong, because he wants them coming from someone he knows.
Louis had said something like that. Why do you want to go back? What life is there for you? Mine, he'd said, but it's not. He's not sure it ever had been.
"I was looking for you," Clark says, and Lex feels the catch in Clark's chest like it's his own. "In every club I went to. How you did it. How you--"
The wind takes his voice, and it's a scared kid who looks back at him from this boy-man's eyes, the one who wanted Lana like air and to be normal like water. "How I what?"
Clark's voice is mild. "How you forget."
Metropolis is farther than five thousand miles from Smallville, and Clark looks like he's walked every mile. That gentle curve of his mouth that tells the story better than Lana's concise history ever could. He was gone, she said. He came back.
But not completely. Neither of them. Nothing will ever take the shadow from Clark's eyes or the memory from Lex's body.
"Did you?" If he could, if they would, if one day he'll wake and not lunge for something sharp and not feel Louis' breath on the back of his neck, *Let me*, on his skin, soaking onto him and through him and into him.
"Yeah." Clark's eyes swallow up the dark around them. "I did."
The touch is just that--fingers against his cheek, like he's fragile and breakable and he's not, he proved that on an island in the middle of nowhere and a plane flying miles above the earth. In a cornfield in the town that first tried to kill him, then grew around him, and now he can't figure out how to grow back in. Like he's still someone Clark can remember when Lex doesn't remember himself at all.
"I know who I am," Clark says, and it's Lex who likes the enigmas in his speech, not Clark. The one who touches and smiles and touches again, never like this, or maybe, just maybe, he forgot that, too. "I just don't know what that is yet."
A soft palm on his cheek, strangely wrong, a farmboy's hands smooth as a Metropolitan playboy's, the sharp touch of nails like a warning. Let me, his fingers say when they smooth over bruises and abrasions that are fading by the hour. Nothing will be left of the man who lived on that island except the person beneath his skin.
Felt so slowly, like Clark's creating his own memory with fingertips and eyes that Lex could stare into forever. Things will look back if he does. He knows it like he knows how to breathe.
A thumb smoothes over his mouth. This isn't Clark. This is no one who has ever lived in this small town and blushed at the mention of Lana's half-clothed version of skinny-dipping and laughed at cartoons on Sunday morning. This man never wondered why Lex fucked Victoria and why he loved Desiree.
"I know who I am," Lex says against Clark's skin, and his tongue tastes acid salt like a copper penny from the sea. It's true. "I just don't know what everything else is."
They've never kissed before. This Lex knows, because he'd remember the angle his neck bends to and how hard Clark's hand is on his cheek. How he's tentative and sure and inexperienced and so jaded it makes Lex ache, hate whatever has changed him so much. A kiss as impersonal as a backroom fuck until Clark's eyes close and Lex breathes.
There's nothing but quiet around them.
"I thought there was nothing here for me," Clark whispers against his mouth.
*There's nothing for you there.*
* She's a murderer and he's a sociopath.*
"There was something," Lex hears himself say. He steps closer, and not even the wind can come between them, not with soft flannel wrapped in his hands and Clark's taste in his mouth. That he knows, he's always known, and that he couldn't have forgotten, river water and desperation and fear. The feel of those arms around him on a dusty driveway and Clark, God, Clark, who he hadn't missed until he'd seen him and felt him and knew what he'd almost forgotten, but his body hadn't.
"Yeah," Clark murmurs, forehead pressed to Lex's.
There was something. There was this.
Wrapping his fingers in soft, dark hair, Lex kisses him back.
It's a cold, familiar night on a well-known road, and it's almost like home and Lex kisses Clark and hears nothing but the wind.