by Lenore

Summary: Lex returns from the island, Clark from Metropolis, but coming home is complicated.

Warnings: Rated NC-17. m/m, spoilers for Phoenix.

The day after Lex turns up at the farm miraculously alive, Clark goes to see him at the mansion. He has his school books with him, so when he finds Lex bent over the laptop, talking heatedly into his cell phone about some contract or the other, he settles onto the couch and spends the afternoon puzzling over his trigonometry.

It becomes a ritual of sorts. Everyday he drops by Lex's after school. Sometimes they play pool and discuss safe, inconsequential things like the improvements Lex is making down at the plant or how the crops are doing this year or how desperately the Sharks need a quarterback if they have any hope of making the playoffs. Sometimes, they don't talk at all. Lex works on business deals, and Clark does his homework, content just to have Lex nearby, breathing and in one piece.

Clark's never quite sure what drives these visits, some misguided protective instinct toward Lex or his own need for comfort, maybe a little of both. Days string into weeks, and after a while, it becomes clear. Conscious decision or not, he's staying in Smallville.

Today he finds Lex staring thoughtfully into space when he arrives. He quietly slips the backpack off his shoulder, takes a seat. Lex's abstraction gives him a chance to really look at him, to study the differences. He's felt it since that first moment of reunion, that Lex has not come back the same man he was before. Of course, it is only to be expected that he'd be changed after everything he's been through. But there's something in Lex's eyes now that's not entirely civilized, that's just a little unhinged, and it makes Clark shiver. Maybe that's another reason he comes here so often. After they've spent time together, that wildness starts to recede. Lex's eyes warm up, and his smile looks genuine again, more like the Lex he knows.

Clark gets lost in his thoughts, and it startles him when he realizes that Lex's attention has shifted in his direction. "You can say it, you know." His voice is quiet, but it shatters the stillness like glass.

Clark swallows hard, a little guilty. He's wanted to tell Lex, but he didn't know how, wasn't sure if it would be welcome. "I'm sorry about Helen." Lex's look of surprise takes him off guard. "What did you think I was going to say?"

Lex stares at the floor. "That I should have known better. It's what I keep telling myself."

Clark frowns. "But how could you? How could anybody have known? I didn't. My family. We-- trusted her too."

Lex's eyes turn the dark gray they get whenever he's concerned. "I hope that's never a problem for you." For once he's not asking any questions that Clark can't answer.

So for once Clark doesn't have to look away. "Me, too." His voice is soft, earnest.

Something about that seems to act like a towline, helps reel Lex back to shore. The lost, wild look fades, and he seems more present, more solid. He gets up and heads to the bar with a hint of his old energy. He pours two glasses and hands one to Clark, something he's never done before, even when Clark has half jokingly asked to taste it.

"After a summer on your own in Metropolis I figure there's no point in treating you like a kid."

Clark takes the Scotch, lets the crystal warm in his hands. He doesn't particularly want the drink, but he's glad to have something to hold on to. "Being away-- taught me things, I guess you could say."

Sense memories flash through him, broken glass and grime under his knees, fingers digging into his shoulders, strange men begging, all the things he'll never tell his parents.

Lex nods absently, takes his drink and stretches out in front of the fire. Clark settles on the floor next to him. "After being on the island, baking in that heat, I never thought I'd be cold again." His eyes flicker over to Clark. "I suppose it only goes to show that nothing is ever as permanent as we think."

The way Lex says it makes Clark feel like there's no such thing as solid ground, nothing to hold on to, not this friendship, not even this moment, and that's simply not acceptable. Maybe that's why he does it, leans in and presses his lips to the pale skin flashing at him so promisingly above the collar of Lex's shirt, to make things more real between them, to have some sense that this is going to last. Or maybe it's just that he's wanted to do this for so long and now all the reasons not to seem laughably trivial.

Lex's breath catches. "Is this one of the things you learned in Metropolis?"

Clark can feel the action of Lex's muscles beneath his mouth, constricting, relaxing, as he speaks. He slides his lips down the column of Lex's throat, to the cradle of his collarbone, right where the pulse beats, darts out his tongue to taste salt and heat and life. "One of the few things I wouldn't just rather forget."

"Rebellious experimentation. I remember it well. This isn't going to be like that." Lex takes Clark's hand and guides it to his erection. "Just so you know."

Clark strokes his cock through his pants, hot and alive, jerking at his touch. Of all the things he could feel, relief seems an unlikely candidate, and yet it's overpowering. "I'm counting on it being different."

It seems the right the thing to say, because Lex is suddenly a man unleashed. He takes Clark's chin in his hand and kisses like someone who's been too hungry for too long, messy, greedy, sharp sighs against his mouth, aggressive thrusts of his tongue, the play of teeth. Clark holds on and kisses back and that feeling of relief builds, a hot sting behind his eyes.

After long, frantic moments, Lex pulls back, his chest rising and falling. He gets to his feet and holds out his hand. Upstairs, he leads Clark to a room down the hall, not his own bedroom. Clark is confused until they get inside and he sees Lex's things on the dresser and realizes. Starting over isn't just some abstract notion.

They undress, taking their time, watching each other intently. Lex lies down on the bed, his eyes huge and dark, filled with longing, and Clark settles over him like a blanket, like safety, comfort. His fingers gravitate toward a scar, white and jagged and angry looking, and he traces the length of it, wanting to soothe it away.

"I called out for you when I was on the island, when I was half out of my mind," Lex says softly. "I wanted you to save me."

Clark presses a trembling kiss to the scar. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you," he whispers.

"Hey." Lex cups his chin, makes him look at him. "You were. Or I wouldn't be here."

Clark kisses him fiercely. He has no plan to ever stop.

In his furtive, heated encounters in Metropolis, there was never any time, and everything was filtered through the narcotic of red kryptonite, distant and distorted. So he refuses to rush this. He maps the creamy canvas of Lex's skin with light fingers. Finds the places that make him cry out, just behind his ear and the crook of his elbow and the hollow of his hipbone. He puts into every touch all the things that trip him up whenever he tries to say them. I won't let anything hurt you ever again and You didn't deserve this and I love you.

By the time he takes Lex's cock in his mouth, Lex is shuddering and begging and writhing on the sheets like a textbook case of desperation. It feels good to finally be able to put his experiences in Metropolis to good purpose, to use what he learned from faceless strangers to make Lex scream and shake like he's going to fly apart when he comes. It's amazing how different it is, how much better, having the hands of someone he loves on him. Lex's teeth worrying a nipple. Lex's tongue exploring him. When he comes in Lex's mouth, it actually feels like completion.

Afterwards, Lex rests with his head on Clark's shoulder. They share lazy kisses and caress each other absently, murmuring sweet-sounding nonsense. And yet, Clark can't help noticing. Beneath the warm affection and the shimmering need, there is still that sharp edge, that dark place where Lex has been unmoored from humanity. It reminds him of what they said that day at the farm. The darkness is a part of you, and you can't deny it. No matter how much they ever love each other, it will only be a respite from whatever ugliness they carry inside them, never a cure.

There is a loss in this realization, the end of that young, breathless belief that love is all-transforming, that it is the answer that trumps every question. Clark knows it is something he will grieve, but there have already been so many losses. And there will still be more to come, because that's what life is.

He tightens his arms around Lex, feels Lex's soft sigh against his cheek. He knows there is never any predicting what the next moment will bring. The most he can hope for is to hold on to this one for as long as it lasts.


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