Things to Sweat
by Lenore

Summary: For the Iconography Challenge. Lex has things to sweat.

Warnings: Rated PG. m/m

It's never clear to Lex how he realizes that something is wrong, if there's a cartoonishly loud ticking in the room or a threatening phone call or a note from one of his many enemies. Maybe he's even rigged it himself as some kind of insane test. These details are not important, and he never remembers them.

What does matter is that there is a bomb wired to his chair, and if he moves, coughs, speaks, so much as breathes too hard all Clark's good work at the bridge is going to be for nothing. Lex and the castle will be well on their way to kingdom come.

Time slows down, thickens, like it's something gritty and physical, and Lex clings to it by his fingernails, waiting, hoping. Most days, Clark makes up some excuse to stop by after school. Lex can only pray this isn't the afternoon he finally goes out and gets himself a real teenaged life and leaves Lex sitting on a tinderbox of plastic explosives.

The room is stuffy, as if the furnace is turned up too high, or maybe terror just gives off heat. Either way, Lex can feel the sweat beading along his forehead, starting to trickle down his back. He doesn't dare move his hand to wipe it away. He hopes to God drops don't start to fall. Death by perspiration is too cheap a joke.

Happily, Clark is just as geeky and steadfast as ever and shows up right on schedule. Equally fortunately, he does not slam the door when he comes tromping into Lex's office.

"Hey." He smiles.

Speaking is too risky, so Lex just stares, trying to convey the urgency of the situation with the sheer panic in his eyes.

"Lex?" Clark looks confused, takes a step toward him. "Are you okay?"

Lex doesn't really know what pleading feels like, so he can only hope he's getting the expression right.

Clark creeps closer, and he seems to understand because he stops talking and moves with great care. He kneels down beside the chair, and Lex holds his breath.

"Good God," Clark whispers.

He gets up slowly. And hesitates. Lex stares at him, desperately. He knows Clark can help, and he never imagined there'd be a decision to make. But apparently there is, because Clark just stands there, caught between necessity and fear. If he doesn't help, doesn't show his true nature, Lex will die. If he does, Lex will know.

Of course, there's no reason why it has to be all or nothing. Lex has a history of mysterious head injuries to prove Clark has ways of not revealing himself. But this is a dream, with its black-and-white, slightly nonsensical dream logic, and so that's how it is, his life versus Clark's secret. Their eyes lock while Clark decides, and the moment of truth seems to stretch out forever, like a special kind of hell.

He always wakes up before Clark makes his choice. In the clear light of day, of course, he has no question what it would be. But in his dreams, there's just the smallest niggling uncertainty, more to do with his own damaged sense of self-worth than any real doubt about Clark, that keeps him from ever seeing how the story ends.

It is a blistering day, and the castle's whimsical air conditioning system has gone on the fritz. Lex sets down his bottle of water. The plastic sweats in the heat, leaving a lukewarm puddle on the glass table.

Lex picks up his cue. "I have you right where I want you."

Clark grins. "Is that your way of saying I'm winning?" His hair is tousled, damp along the hairline. Dark stains spread under his arms.

Lex feels the sweat running down his back as he takes his shot.

Clark purses his lips. "Too bad." He touches Lex's arm as he passes, brief swelter of skin against skin.

This is what Clark does. Reaches out. Stands too close. Puts his hands on Lex. Takes liberties no one else would even dream of. Liberties that Lex doesn't so much tolerate as live for.

Clark sends the four-ball sailing into the corner pocket. He has this way of looking at Lex through lowered lashes, the corners of his mouth turning up, like every promise that has ever been made without words. Clark bends to make his next shot, and Lex gives no thought to the game.

He prefers to save his calculations for Clark. He's plotted it all out many times, the combination of suggestive remarks and strategic touches that would get Clark naked and on the sofa, his arms outflung, legs opened in welcome. He suspects it is more a matter of simple arithmetic than advanced calculus, if the way Clark brushes against him is any indication.

Desire is always the simplest part of any equation.

It is the thornier variables that keep Lex from making a move. He's pretty certain that Clark is willing to trust him with his body, maybe even his heart, but his secrets? There's just no way to know. If Clark were open to him in some ways but not others, would it be enough? This is a question Lex hasn't yet managed to answer for himself.

Clark presses close as he lines up his shot, and Lex doesn't move. Even after Clark misses, he lingers there, the two of them hip-to-hip. Lex doesn't know how this story ends, either. But it's not a dream, and he doesn't have to worry about waking up. Clark is a problem he has all the time in the world to solve, and, really, he couldn't be more pleased about that.


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