by Thamiris
by Thamiris

History has many cunning passages.  --T. S. Eliot

1.  Falling Through History

The devil didn't fall.   It was no accident, a clumsy soft-shoe off an unsteady cloud, a big step
when it should've been a small one.   That was apocrypha, no more real than black wings and a
forked tail, a bedtime story to reassure kids that God didn't have a temper.   Truth, Lex thought,
was a comedian in a circle of hecklers.   

And in the history of not-truth, the real story was this:  when Lucifer did his nosedive from the
Home for Retired Angels, he had a little help.   Sure, pride yanked him down like a hungry river, but
truth be told--and sometimes it had to be--God shoved him.  Two hands right over his unbeating
heart, then clouds over his head, fire in it after.   Now history was in reruns, only this time God
was in high school and the devil wore Hugo Boss.   And it was time for the devil to pay.

"You can't talk your way out of this one, Lex.   I know how you really are.   The friendship's
over."   Clark's face when he said it was ice-in-the-summer cold.   Clark, the warmest person Lex
had ever known.   

All because Lex told a lie, didn't explain the accident of the irradiated flowers, Dr. Hamilton as
the floral Dr. Frankenstein, his own search for a meteorite cure for the leukemia that wasn't, for
answers to questions that no one asked, cures because the world was one sick place.   Now Pete
had a gun and a heavy dose of hostility, while Jonathan and Lana were dying in the hospital.   Lex
was the human monkey paw: wish for something, and death came knocking. 

That's when Clark shoved him.   Crack of pain as Lex's head hit the wall, Clark's hands imprinted
on his chest.   He fell and a black rush sped to his brain, knocking him into a dream.   It faded to
nothing in a minute, and he lay there, stunned and confused, finally oriented by the red wall, red
carpet, the perfect setting for a little cosmic justice. 

"Clark, what the hell...?"   Got it right on the first take.     

"I'm sorry, Lex."   

Deviation from the script, and Lex's confused relief grew as Clark helped him up.   Pete sprawled
in a chair, open-mouthed and unconscious, the gun gone.   "So it was an act?"  
"I didn't know what else to do," Clark said.   Read: ‘Other than shove you into a wall when my
hyped-on-flower-juice friend Pete went all John Wayne and tried to buy you a one-way ticket to
the red, scary place.' 

"You had me for a moment."   Classic defensive understatement.   They were tied for the Oscar,
he and Clark, and he'd process Clark's brutally-smooth lie about broken friendship after his head
gave up the bass beat.   "I thought you were serious.   What are they feeding you on the farm?"  
Quick deflective jab with some tendentious humor.   God, he hated Freud.   Still, he was so close
to total forgiveness that Lex heard angels humming.  

Unfortunately, Clark wasn't finished.   Seems sorry and the help back up weren't full forgiveness,
only slippery steps to it.   "Was Hamilton really here?"

The question dragged him back to the edge.   "What do you think, Clark?"   No lightning, no
thunder.   Lies made Lex itch, and he'd learned to stand still only by watching his father.  He'd
like to blame him for this, but blame didn't stretch that thin, and mea culpa wasn't just for
priests in confession anymore.   Lex's money funded the research, and Hamilton had a point about
unpredictable steps.   Cause and effect, chaos theory in action, and Lex had butterfly wings, the
match.   He was the box-holder, which left the very cold hope that Clark believed him.   Except
that Clark was a farmer's kid who'd grown up around bullshit, and as the savior of Smallville he
knew a broken commandment when he heard one.   Thou shalt not scam thy best friend.   

"Okay.   Then let's get Pete to the hospital."   The look he gave Lex was very Old Testament.   


Days later, Lex's headache was gone, but even a sulphurous river of paper couldn't drown that
look.  The numbers jumbled, columns turning into thighs, and he had to walk away.   Drive away,
foot hard on the gas, not answering his cell because that spelled disaster, a ride off a bridge.  
Clark was all about accidents, stopping them, being one, and they'd already played that game six
months ago.  Adolescent in itself to care what a fifteen-year-old kid thought, like Clark was the
morality police or the chorus in the sordid play of his life, and Lex aimed for ironic distance
behind the wheel of his car.   Drove straight for it and missed, because he drove like he lived: with
a false precision that hid a messy attention to detail.   

History had the answers, and Lex was a backwards-looker; even Clark had noticed it.  
Machiavelli to Nietzsche: how to be an uber-asshole in twenty-six not-so-easy steps.   But life was
about patterns and rhythms, had to be, or what was the point?   The urge came for something
juicy and historical, a library kind of book, Juvenal's Satires or Suetonius' Lives of the Caesars,
the second of which he'd foolishly lent in grad school to a girl with big breasts and no short-term
memory.   Overall, a bad trade since she'd dumped him for a football player.   ‘You're too
serious, Lex.'   So what did she want with Suetonius?   

People were a mystery, and the problem with solving mysteries was just that:  they were over.   It
worked both ways: too much revealed, disappointment, rejection.   What happened when Caesar
showed too much of himself?   A bloody break-up on the Senate floor.   Same story with the devil
now that he thought about it: what pissed God off was the honest admission that Lucifer wanted
what he had.   History wasn't a big fan of confession.   On his darker, drunken days, Lex admitted
that this was why he'd never touched Clark.   Confession led to falls and pain.   He preferred
silence or at least displaced admissions.   Tell your mother you love her, and her heart gave out.   
Tell your father, and he used it against you.   Besides, Clark liked Lana.   It was a fact.   Clark
liked quiet, pretty, unattainable girls, not lie-happy, skinned billionaires' sons.     

The Smallville Public Library smelled like stale bread.   No one around except a dusty librarian
with surprisingly bright lipstick; the other colors were dull greens and blues, worn-out armchairs
with shiny seats, metal bookcases that climbed the greying walls.  Books came here to die.   He'd
play patron of the arts, give them an endowment secretly, the way he did with charity things.  
Even Machiavelli, the Ann Landers for the tyrannical set, applauded princes who ‘endeavored in
any way to increase the prosperity of their city.'   

The history section lurked at the back, like even librarians found the subject embarrassing.   The
oldest books peered out from an oak cabinet with glass doors.   Unlocked, of course; this was
Smallville, after all, with Clark as the cabinet, easy metaphor, and Lex really needed to get a life,
get laid, a tall girl with blue-green eyes, dark hair, and long, long legs.   There'd been Victoria,
but that turned out the way it always did: ugly.   His father had sent him a message a few weeks
ago, sharing the rumor that Victoria had celebrated her newfound poverty with a bottle of
champagne and a hundred sleeping pills.  

Lex concentrated on the books.   The Nicodemus Diary, the tell-all bestseller of nineteenth-
century Smallville, sat placidly on the top right side.   The original, not the cheap paperback
reprint that he'd given to Hamilton, all about the flowers of doom and the torched settlement
where Lex's estate now stood.   Creepy story, but the writer had a flair for the dramatic, so what
the hell.   Too high to reach so he grabbed the stool, a kid going for the cookie jar, and climbed
up.   The rough spine bit his finger, and the blood tasted too sweet.   That's when he noticed the
second volume, squeezed behind the row, invisible except to a guy pausing to suck his bloody

The Nicodemus Diary II: A Brief History Of Tragical Affairs in Morley, a thin volume by the
same priest who'd written the first one.   Morley, Smallville before the kick-ass name change
courtesy of Benjamin Small, a former mayor best known for, well, his name.   Not exactly Die
Hard II, but he was here for history, and this was part of his. 

At the front desk, he turned the book so the lipstick-librarian wouldn't see the blood on the cover,
and when she wasn't looking, took a donation form.   "Thanks."

Back at home, he slid some jazz in the CD player, Bird at the roost, loud enough to hear over the
shower.   Hot, hot water, streams of it, before dinner.   Jerked off once, shamed himself by calling
"Clark" as he came.   That face always did him in: Clark on the riverbank, reviving him, Clark at
the loft, smiling into the sun.   One very tender slice of duck a l'orange later, a glass of iced
Stolychnaya Ohranj beside him (he appreciated a recurring theme), he was in bed, naked under

The phone didn't ring, and he ignored it mostly, picking up the book.   The blood had dried
invisible.   The title was misleading: while the story began with a few pieces of morality-laden
gossip from Morley's history focused on adultery, the focus shifted to the priest whom the writer
had replaced at Holy Trinity.   Lex knew the place, although he'd never been inside the church
proper, only the hall in the basement.   Apparently there'd been a scandal, and he kept reading.

Florid style--the priest was a drama queen, and used ten words when he needed one.   Lots of
words, smooth, even flow of them, like breaths...     
Lex slept with the book.   There were dreams between the pages.   


People stare as he walks down the street, which isn't new.   Neither is the street: no concrete
anywhere, no traffic lights.  The tallest building is only a few stories, and all have sloped roofs and
flat white faces, windows like the eyes of Argus.   The doors are painted red as mouths, although
the talk takes place inside.   Someone is baking bread for transformation; afterward, it always
tastes different, dry and faintly gritty, like old skin.     

No Hugo Boss but some all-black get-up, and the hem billows a fine, brown dust.   There's a
book in his hand, black beads at his waist.   Too much sky overhead, the painted kind with clouds
that never drift.   A cart sits before a tavern, and the horse seems asleep, not even twitching its
tail.   Even the leaves of the scattered trees are motionless.   He might be dead.  

He's wrong about the buildings: a turned corner, past a neat row of poplars, and the spire
appears, cross-topped.   The bell doesn't ring, but he feels it, a reminder of time and fathers.   The
church's wooden edges seem very sharp, even with the moss creeping between the slats, and with
its white paint, the building's too bright, like a misplaced sun.   It would be cool inside, even with
the tiers of candles.   Lex keeps walking, guided by a  purpose he doesn't understand.

Ahead, the gullet of the street narrows and grass clutters ditches that now run beside it, as do
spiky yellow flowers drooping in the heat.   Sweat travels down his spine, and the robe's rough
cloth scratches his skin.  No more wooden sidewalks, and the houses are a memory.   When his
feet in black boots move faster, he slows them.  Other parts are less easily controlled since bodies,
like the weather, are disobedient; he'd beat them both if he could.  

The road is grooved from wagon wheels until it splits in two at an arrow-shaped sign.   The city is
to the left, but he heads right, following the river that glints silvery green.   In the distance, a farm
rises from the earth, carrying the cows' humid smell, with an orchard beside the water, and he
goes to it, walking between the trees.   Different smell here (why is this so vivid?), moist soil and
dying cherries under branches that reach like arms.   Easy to get lost here in the rows, so many
leaves and scaled brown trunks, but there are magnets in his boots.  

With his face shaded by a tree taller than the rest, the boy looks like a man.   The shirt open to his
waist shows the strong lines of his chest, sweat-oiled skin darkened by the sun, and his legs are
very long.   When he steps into the patchy light, his face is young, too young.   "I wasn't sure
you'd come."    Clark always says this.   "I mean, I know you're busy."

"You asked."

"I'm glad you're here."

"I missed you.   In church last Sunday."

"My father needed me.   One of the horses was sick.   We almost lost him, and we can't afford
that right now."   Too many words, the sign of a lie.

"It's all right.   I know your father doesn't like me."

He's quiet, then, "I do."

No one else can shake his rhythm, and he takes a step in the wrong direction.   Edging too close,
and he can see too much, too many colors and angles.  "Your confession.   I'm ready for it now."

"I've already given it," he says, and there's a wide, soft smile.   

"Liking someone's not a sin."   He almost believes it, standing here in the orchard with him.  

"Want to go for a swim?   You can do that, can't you?"

"I haven't forgiven you yet."

"You said there wasn't a sin."   His chin lifts a little.

"It depends."   He's not sure Clark's listening: his shirt's already off, dropped to the ground.   His
skin's colored like a penny, uniform everywhere except the brown of his nipples, the line of dark
hair that starts low on his flat stomach.   In another time, he'd have an arrow in his hip.   "It
depends," he says again, "on how you like the person."

"Are you coming for a swim or not?"

"I can't.   Don't you know what I am?"

"You're my friend."

"It's more complicated than that."

"It doesn't have to be.   Under all that, you're like me.   Take it all off, right now, and you'll see." 

"I've got to go."   Lex isn't sure where or that he really wants to leave.   It's like someone else is
speaking for him.

"You're mad at me."

The hurt's dangerous; it makes him want to reach out.   "You don't understand anything."

"Try me," he says.   "Just try me."

Lex breaks, and Clark's mouth tastes like cherries.   It carries him cloud-high, that taste, the
sweetness, higher, until he's Icarus in the afternoon sun.   The kiss changes him, wine to blood,
dead to alive, melting rules and time.   

A voice interrupts them.  At first, he thinks it's God, but it's Jonathan, looking for Clark.  "I've
got to go," Lex says again, without moving.   There's that familiar dream-heaviness to his feet,
like he's sinking in quicksand.

Clark stands there, touching his mouth.   His face is flushed, and he looks sun-struck.   "Come
back tonight."

"I can't.   I've got things to do."

"It's okay.   I understand.   Look, I'll come to church this time, no matter what he says."  

"I really have to go."   In other of those quick shifts, Lex is already back in town, walking
between the eyes and mouths.   That's when he remembers his book, lying under the cherry tree
like the marker of a grave.   

He doesn't go back.


Taste of cherries in his mouth.   

Lex reached for the lamp and sat squinting in the blurry light.   Luthor Manor.  2002.   All the
modern conveniences, from the widescreen tv to the laptop.   Still naked, no creepy black robe
like the Jesuit pricks at St. Ignatius.  (‘They'll teach you discipline,' his father said.  From his
mother: ‘Your grandfather would be so proud').   His thighs were sticky; he'd come like the
wacked priest when he kissed that kid who was and wasn't Clark.   

Stupid-ass dream, subtle as a hangover, and he reached for the warm vodka.   Lesson?   Simple:
don't read overblown prose after indulging in orange duck, Russian booze and guilt complexes.  
The last thing he needed was the mess of fucking a modern-day Christ.   Look what happened to
Judas: hanged himself from a tree, red head pointed down.   Besides, Clark's feelings in the dream
were pure projection: in reality, he was a nice kid with a crush on a cheerleader.   Sure, he was
nice to Lex, but then he was nice to everyone, the type who helped little old ladies across the
street and rescued kittens from trees, albeit with an interesting edge when he thought he was
being used.    Not to mention any lingering issues that Clark had with Lex's recent web of half-
truths around his involvement with Dr. Hamilton and the flowers.  

The dream's realistic detail was also easily explained:   the orchard stood at the back of his
property, and he walked there every few weeks for the quiet.   Credit his overworked brain doing
a puzzle, no matter how real the dream felt.   His hand shook, and the vodka sloshed over the
sides and onto the silk.   "Great," he muttered.   "Just fucking great."

To top it off, he was boiling, like someone had jacked the thermostat, although they were in the
middle of a freak heat wave.   Only when he pulled off the sheet, there was grass and mud, the
soles of his feet stained with cherry juice.


In the morning, he called Dr. Vargas.   "I need sleeping pills."

"Who is...?   Lex.  You know what time it is?"

Lex glanced at the clock.   4:36 am.   "I've been telling time for years.   It's one of the neat things
adults do.   Now call in a prescription to the Smallville Pharmacy.   Something with a kick.  
Horse pills."   

"You're having trouble sleeping?"

"I'm having trouble staying in bed."

"Some rigorous exercise will help you sleep."

"I'm getting plenty of rigorous exercise.   That's the fucking problem."

"You're sleepwalking?"  

"Brilliant diagnosis, Doc.  Glad to know your years at Harvard Med weren't a total waste.  Yes,
I've been sleepwalking."

"I doubt it's physiological.   You got a clean bill of health last month.   Are you under a lot of

"Nothing unusual."   

"What about alcohol?  That can trigger it.   Did you drink before you went to bed?"

"Yes, but I've done that before."  

"That's probably it.   Nothing to worry about unless it happens again."

"I don't want it to happen again.  I want the pills."

"Fine.   I'll give you some triazolam.  Halcion.  It's a muscle-relaxant, too, so--"

"I don't care what it is as long as it works."

"It works, but you have to watch out for the side effects.   If you notice any confusion,
depression, or--"

"Whatever.   Just get them to me."

Always a pleasure," Vargas said, as Lex was hanging up.   Sarcastic bastard.   How he'd managed
to convince a few patients to sleep with him was anyone's guess.   Without that dying kid of his,
he'd be history.  

Now tired as a crack-wired junkie, Lex gave up on sleep and headed for the shower, leaving a
muddy red trail.   Good thing for non-disclosure contracts, or by noon the denizens of Smallville
would be speculating on Lex Luthor's latest midnight foray.  ‘I heard his bed looked like a
compost heap.   God only knows what he was doing in there.  Who he was doing.   Did you hear
about him and those English boys?   Too much money, not enough discipline...'

Dressed with touches of imperial purple, he avoided the kitchen and went to the study.   Did some
work to prove he wasn't disturbed by his nocturnal call of the wild and avoided the clock to prove
he wasn't obsessed.  At exactly 6:45, he revved up the black Ferrari and sped off toward the
Talon.   With one coffee in his hand, the other three secured in a cardboard holder and a bag of
Danish on the seat beside him, Lex failed ‘I'm Not Obsessed 101' for the second time that day and
drove to the Kent farm.   At 7:15, he peered through the screen door and called out to Martha
Kent, "I come bearing gifts."

"Lex.  Come in."   

Smell of fresh bread and butter, cinnamon under it, as she opened the door.   "Mrs.  Kent.   Mr. 
Kent."   He nodded at Jonathan, who eyed him from the table with his usual enthusiasm.  If Lex
were a bug, he'd be staring up from the bottom of Jonathan's work boot. 

"What are you doing here, Lex?   I thought you millionaire-types slept in ‘til noon."

"I have an early meeting today, and thought I'd see if Clark wanted a lift to school.   I brought
this for you, fresh from the Talon."    He offered the coffee.

"He hasn't had his breakfast," Jonathan said.   "Growing kid like that needs to eat."

"How sweet, Lex."   Martha gave her husband a look as she accepted the holder.   "Clark will be
down in a minute.   And Lex, thank you again for the flowers you sent when Jonathan was in the
hospital.   Not to mention bringing in those doctors from Metropolis."   

"It was the least I could do."   

A series of thumps as Clark barreled down the stairs.   Then he was in the kitchen, hair wet from
the shower, shirt half-untucked.    "I thought I heard...Hi, Lex."   Big, warm grin.   "Here to tell
us you haven't been robbing the Smallville Savings and Loan?"

"I told you, Clark: I'd wear a mask.   You'd never know."   He found himself grinning back.   If
this was an act to cover Clark's concerns, he was channeling Gielgud.   "I bought coffee with my
big score."

"And I'll bring you some in prison."   Clark fixed his shirt, shook his wet head, splattering them
all in the process and grabbed a cup.   The long sip showed the longer line of his neck.  

"Want a ride?  I've got pastry in the car."  

"The cherry kind I like?"

"What else?"   Lex kept the obvious dirty metaphor to himself, saving it for his dreams.

"You'll get there too early if you go now," Jonathan said, his own coffee untouched.   

"That's okay.   Chloe will be in The Torch office, and she always needs extra help.   Just let me
get my stuff."

"Mr. Kent, how long has your family been living in these parts?"   

"Why?  Hoping for a loophole so you can snap up our property?"  Jonathan had apparently
forgotten that the liberating flower juice had been flushed from his system.  

"Jonathan!"  Martha shook her head.   "Forgive him, Lex.  He's not a morning person."   

Or an afternoon person, or a... 

"The Kents have been living in Smallville since before the Civil War.   Jonathan's family came
over in the early nineteenth century, and they've been farming ever since."

Clark burst back into the room, bag over one shoulder.   "Ready."

"Don't forget your jacket, honey."

"It's warm out again, Mom.   Feels like spring."

"Can't trust the weather," his father said.   

Lex felt like the weather.   "It's supposed to stay like this through the weekend."

"We'd better go, Lex, before my dad starts with his speech about farmers and how they know
more than anyone."  Clark's smile even got a reluctant one from his father.  "Later."   He kissed
his mother on the cheek, but when he went to leave, she touched his arm.

"Hold on, honey.   I need you to pick up some things at the store after school."   Martha pulled
off a square of paper stuck to the fridge with a heart-shaped magnet.   "I'd do it myself, but I've
got to help your father and my class is tonight.   It's for a good cause."

"I'd do it for the pie alone," he said, and tucked the list into his pocket, then pushed Lex gently
through the door.  "Now let's go get that breakfast." 

"Enjoy the coffee," Lex shouted over his shoulder.

Clark was already in the car, his mouth full.   "This is so good.   A lot better than cold cereal."  
He licked his lips, checking for stray crumbs, shoved his hand back in the bag, then paused.   "Can
I have another one?   I'm always hungry lately.   My mom says I eat more than some of the cows.  
Don't know where it all goes."

"It's all for you."   The engine gave a throaty laugh.   With the sun on overdrive, Lex opened the

"You're the best friend ever."   Clark sat half-turned toward him, watching in that deceptively
earnest way.   

"So how've you been?   Tell me everything."

"Busy.   We got behind on the chores when my dad was sick.   All he did was watch football and
hit on my mom, and he was out of it for a few days after the doctors finished with him.   What
about you?   You look tired."

Nothing a little certainty wouldn't cure.   "Just trying to finish a project I didn't handle right."

"Anything I can do to help?"

"Not unless you're a farmboy by day and a tax attorney by night."   Oh, and a blowjob wouldn't

"Want to talk about it?   Sometimes that helps when there's a problem."

"I just want to put it all behind me."   Clark went quiet in his corner, and when Lex looked over,
he was staring out the window.   "Everything okay?"   

"Actually, there's something I need to talk to you about.   Something I've been thinking about a
lot since the other night at your place, when Pete freaked out."

A point of pride that Lex didn't drive off the road.   "Talking's overrated, Clark."

"It's important."

"We can't do it now.   There's the school."   And he drove too fast into the parking lot.   "Maybe
some other time."

"How about this Sunday?   I can come to your place around noon."

"This sounds serious."

"It's...I don't like lying, Lex.   It doesn't matter why you do it.   It's wrong."   

"Life isn't Sunday School, Clark.   Sometimes people have good reasons to lie."   Lying about
lying--a new low.   

"I thought about that.   But it's too easy, you know?   If you're friends with someone, and you
trust them, then it's just...I don't know.   Creepy."

Creepy was teen-speak for unforgivable.   Lex was fifteen again, listening to Veronica Martin
explain why she couldn't go out with him anymore.   ‘It's the bald thing, Lex.  It's too creepy. 
I'm sorry.'   Except this was worse.   "Sounds like your mind's made up."

"It is."   No desperation, just matter of fact.   

Lex had bad luck with cars: he kept dying in them.   Maybe he should sell his collection and get a
motorcycle.  A bicycle.   A horse.   "Clark, trust me: some boxes are better left unopened."   

"I know that one.   Pandora.   Chloe thinks she got a raw deal."   He laughed a little.   "Don't go
all mythological on me, Lex.   This isn't about old stories and dead people.   It's about us.   Our

"You'd better go, or you'll be late."

The herd of students had started walking up the stairs and into the building.   Clark glanced at
them, then back at Lex.   "You seem mad."

"I'm not."

"I guess you wish I hadn't brought this up."

"If you feel we have to talk about it, then we will."

"Okay.   Just don't be mad.   I'll see you on Sunday."   The car door slammed shut.

On Sunday, Lex would be in Metropolis or New York.   L.A.   Anywhere but at his house,
waiting to get dumped by a kid he hadn't even kissed.   ‘The friendship's over, Lex.'   He felt like
he was falling. 

Clark was wrong.   This was a very old story.   


Work was apocalyptic.   Lex misread figures, skipped appointments, ignored phone calls.   His
goddamn omnipotent father knew, and by mid-afternoon had emailed him from Tokyo:   "The
cat's away, but has very large ears and sharp teeth, and will eat mouse on return.   Better yet,
come here.   Our team can use another man, even a mousy one."   Prick.   It didn't improve his
mood.   Lunch was a half-eaten tuna roll stuffed with cucumber pieces, and their thick, fleshy
texture turned his stomach. 

At four, so restless he couldn't sit, Lex made two calls.   The first was to his chauffeur, telling him
to pick up the Halcion from the drugstore.   The second was to an old business acquaintance of
his father's, and it took Lex fifteen minutes to list his requirements.   

Miriam was surprised to hear from him, but quoted a price and promised a worthwhile return.   "I
know the perfect  the one.   He's an actor."

"Who isn't?"

"They all want to be actors or singers, but I know where their real skills lie.   Trust me on this
one.   You won't be disappointed."

At seven, Lex lay naked on the bed in the hotel suite, a glass of Absolut Citron in his hand.   It
didn't come in cherry flavor.   Rich room green as a river, touches of gold and black--sun and
earth.   Life would be easier if things weren't always something else.   The world was too damn
slippery, and he took another smooth-stinging sip.   Better drink now while it was still safe.  
Tonight he intended to sleep the sleep of the drugged and well-fucked.   No more cherry-flavored
boys or echoing guilt.   His father had nailed that one:   ‘Guilt is a nasty habit, Lex.   It's for
women and priests.'   Tonight was an exorcism.   

The knock came precisely on the half-hour.   "Come in," Lex said.   "It's not locked."   The door
swung open, and, Jesus, Miriam had delivered.   Clark's older brother, just a few shades off if he
squinted.   Okay, shorter, narrower, hair longer, but with the same full, wide mouth.   It was
enough with the booze in him and the lights at half-mast.  The flannel shirt and jeans didn't hurt;
the guy even had a knapsack over one shoulder.   

"Hi," he said, ducking his head.   Deeper voice than Clark's, but the attitude was right, awkward
and confident both.   "I hope I got here on time."

"The cash is there," Lex told him, but he didn't even look, just walked in, closing the door behind
him.   Good.  A pro, and Lex relaxed, spreading his legs a little wider, letting the guy see him.  
Better to show the baldness, all of it, at the beginning, to avoid that annoying look of ‘What the

"You're going to have to tell me what you want.   I've never done this before."   He lied like a
pro, too, met Lex's eyes and smiled, then looked down at his feet.   "But I'm glad you invited me. 
 I've...I've thought about this a lot."

"Take your clothes off."   He was already getting hard.   And why not?   After tonight he'd be
free.   Box closed.   A final sip of his drink, and Lex put the glass on the nightstand where it sat
shiny and alone.  

The guy walked to the armchair, tossed his bag on it, kicked off his running shoes.   The shirt
came off slower.  Smooth chest underneath, nice flow of muscles.   Hesitation when it came to the
jeans, a quick, nervous smile before he started to slide them off.   He stood for a minute in his
dark blue boxers, watching Lex.   "I've been waiting a long time for this.   I guess I'm a little
nervous.   Maybe you could help?"   

"Come here."

He walked over to the bed, and Lex sat up, hooked his thumbs in the boxers and pulled them
down.   Body out of context, and this could be Clark, all smooth skin, dark hair around a nice,
thick cock.   Not hard, but not soft either.  Ready for his mouth, and a few licks had it stiffening
on his tongue.   

The guy's hands closed on his shoulders, and he said, "God, that's so good.   I've never felt
anything like this."  

Lex didn't look up, distracted by history, fast-forwarding images of bridges and falling, waking
and knowing, the first time they crash-met and the second, when Clark showed up at his house to
return the balancing gift.   No warning that time either: he was suddenly there in the doorway, and
Lex said hello by shooting his load or at least his foil right at Clark's head.  That was Clark:
unexpected in a predictable world.   Clark in his mouth now, light soap smell, soft needy sounds.   

A stroke of his cheek broke through the daydreams.   "I want to touch you.   Lie back and let me
do it to you," he said, always breathless.

The pillows sighed as he leaned back, his legs open.   Clark between his legs, that first touch of
his tongue.   Perfect, except--

Lex tilted the dark head so the hair fell into his face.   There, and he relaxed into the blowjob.  
Lots of tongue, no teeth, very wet and noisy, a little pre-ordered hesitation thrown in.   Sucked in
to the base, slow pull off, head explored, entered, circled, while his fingers traced veins,
squeezing, stroking below the tongue, double action that usually sent Lex stratosphere-high.  

Only forty-five minutes later, Lex still couldn't come.   His balls started to ache, he was slick
everywhere with sweat, and nothing.   He'd get close, fucking that wide mouth, ramming his cock
nice and deep.   There'd be that windy rush down his spine, and his muscles would lock while he
arched...And the orgasm would stall.   He'd drop back on the damp pillows, unclench his fists,
and it would start again.  

For inspiration, Lex reviewed his hottest sexual encounters.   The English twins from a few
summers ago in London.  He'd ordered them to kneel on their bed in some grubby East End flat,
then alternated between each pale ass.   After he came, they'd blown each other and fallen asleep
in a tangle at the foot of the bed.  Then some tabloid photographer had caught the three of them
groping in the back room of a club and the international press had picked up the story.  
‘Billionaire's Son Climbs Twin Peaks.'   

When the memory didn't work, Lex tried the Russian art student he'd picked up at the
Hermitage.   She'd been standing in front of Titian's Saint Sebastian, and they'd gone back to his
hotel.   She stole his cash, but it was worth it for those endless legs and the harsh syllables
whispered in his ear.   At the time, he'd figured she was saying "Fuck me harder," but in
retrospect it was probably "Hurry up so I can rob you blind."    

Things kept getting confused in his head, faces shifting.   He thought about the girl's voice, the
thereness it brought, and picked up the phone beside the bed.   Not defeat, only an unforeseen
step in the exorcism process.   "Just keep doing what you're doing," he said, punching in the

"Whatever you want.   I could suck your cock all night."  His mouth looked tender, but the fake
worship stayed in his eyes.  

"It won't take that long."   He brought his knees up, and kept one hand on the guy's head.   "And
don't say anything until the call's over."   One ring, and, "Hi, Clark."

"Lex, remind me why homework's a good thing.  Especially history.   And don't tell me that
knowledge is power or I'll hang up."

His voice had the desired effect.   So hard now and ready.   "It'll keep your dad off your back."

"Good enough.   So what are you doing?"

"Taking care of unfinished business."   Between Lex's legs, fake-Clark licked the head of his
cock, holding it tight with both hands.   

"Same thing from before?"

"I'm having trouble letting go.   I need to concentrate on the present."

"History sucks, Lex.   Trust me.   I know."   Pages turned at the other end.   "It's always the
same thing.  Different names, same problems."

"And you're going to change all that?"

"I'm going to try.   Otherwise, what's the point?"

"And how is this miracle going to happen?"

"I don't know yet.   I'm thinking of becoming a reporter.   Maybe.   Help people that way.   Show
them things."

Raising his hips, Lex pushed down on the dark head until his cock was buried deep.   "You're
going to solve the world's problems by telling everyone what to do?"  His voice sounded shaky,
so he shifted until only the tip of his cock received attention.  

"Not telling, showing.   Sometimes people get stuck in the same groove."

"What makes you any different?"  

"I like to think I bring an alien perspective to things."

Lex heard the smile.   "You're definitely a weird kid."   

"Don't call me a kid, Lex.   You're only five years older than me."

"That's thirty-five dog years."

"And you say I'm the weird one."

"You do have a few redeeming qualities."   He saw the head of his cock, wet and shiny, before it
disappeared back into the gently-sucking mouth.    

"Like what?"

"Your habit of saving bald millionaires, for one."

"That's too easy," Clark said.   "Give me something else."

"Hold on.   What about me?   Can you find anything redeemable there?"

"You have very good taste in friends."

"Is that the best you can come up with?"

"You're strong.   You're so strong it's kind of scary sometimes.   I guess...The thing I want most
in the world is to be normal, like everyone else.   And you don't care.   That's great, but also

"Intimidating?   That's a good point?   I don't think I'm flattered."

"The strong part is good.   How you always get what you want.   Always go after what you

"I don't always get what I want, Clark.   Trust me."   The tongue between his legs moved down
to his balls, long, slow licks between kisses to his inner thighs.   Clark would do it like that, no
rushing, just sweet, light pressure.   It could be him, if Lex kept his eyes half-closed.  

"What's stopping you?"

"I don't like to make mistakes."

"You mean you don't like taking chances?"

"It depends if the outcome's weighted in my favor."   Lex spread his legs wider, leaning further
back on the pillows.   The tongue penetrated him, but he was ready and didn't moan in Clark's
ear, not even when a hand closed over his cock and the tongue pushed deeper, a hot wetness that
crept inside.   He shivered and placed his hand over the one jerking him off, slowing it.  Kept it

"My dad says--"

"Clark, if you talk about your dad now I'll have to hurt you."

"Okay, then tell me about my redeeming qualities."

"You're persistent."   Lex got a laugh, and pleasing Clark made him even hotter so he slowed the
hand even more.   His cock looked ready to burst, stiff with blood, and the teasing licks lower
down didn't help.   "And I like the parts of you that aren't normal.   Normal is very overrated."

"You know what else I like about you, Lex?"

"Tell me."   Close again, but different than before, not mechanical pleasure, just this, Jesus, this
sweet syrupy run that went from Clark's mouth to Lex's ear, a straight gold line like the painted
one in a Renaissance annunciation.  He was a puppet, his strings pulled tight, and he guided
Clark's mouth back to his cock, pretending that Sunday didn't exist.   "Tell me what you like,
Clark.  In detail."   He wanted to add, ‘You owe me,' except it was the other way around.   

"You don't judge people.   I mean, you do, but not like other people.   Like when Amy was doing
her stalker-thing.  You didn't freak out or get mad.   It was pretty nuts, but you were cool about

The hot mouth slid up and down, and Lex tangled his Clark's hair.   "Don't stop."

"Same thing with Kyle Tippet when he got hurt.   The guy lived in a trailer in the woods, and
everyone else in town thought he was a shorter version of Big Foot, but you helped him."

Lex hoped the noise he made sounded like agreement.  

"Then there's me." 

It was enough.   Lex yanked Clark from his cock and shot a sticky splatter onto his own chest.

"You might've noticed that I'm not Mr. Popular in Smallville--"

Another one.   Jesus, it was intense.  

"More like the town dork.  But--"

A third burst, hot on his stomach, Clark's voice still rumbling in his ear.  
"--you're my friend anyway."

Last one, strong as the first.   "Yes, Clark," Lex said, swallowing to level his voice, "I'm your

"Hey, my dad's calling, so I'll let you go now, Lex, but don't forget about Sunday."

Way to kill the afterglow.


Lex lived up to his own promise and didn't dream that night.  Okay, he didn't sleep either, staying
up until dawn and using his cock to work out his issues, all without another 1-800 call to Clark.  
Cheated slightly with the lookalike, flipping him onto his belly and taking him from behind, over
and over again.   Came a lot, and maybe said "Clark" once or twice.   Allowable in the context of
curing himself. 

Dawn now, with splashes of dusty sun hitting the carpet.   He didn't join the kid in the shower,
not after the light found his face and pointed out the non-Clark wrongness of it.   Moral hangover,
that's all it was.   To prove it, he called the airline and booked a flight to Tokyo for Sunday
afternoon.   Screw Clark and his Boy Scout virtue.   

A condom wrapper scratched Lex's thigh, and he tossed it on the floor with the others.   Place
looked like a whorehouse, smelled like one, but this high up the window was suicide-proof and
opened only a crack.   He leaned into the space, letting the wind slide over his skin, which felt dry
and tight.   Drained.   The mini bar had orange juice, expensive Euro-shit with an umlaut in the
unpronounceable name.   It tasted too sweet and looked too dark, like someone had mixed in
blood.   His stomach danced and he switched to bottled water so cold it punched his gut, made his
teeth ache.   Then he made two phones calls.   The second was to Miriam, and he let her rant
awhile before he hung up, then went looking for the knapsack.   He was back at the window when
the bathroom door opened, wafting in a lemony mist.   

A flutter of cloth as the guy got dressed, then a rustle as he pocketed the money.   Then:   "That
was great.   Any time you want to do it again, I'm yours.   Ask for Rafe, short for Raphael.   Like
the archangel."

"I'm an atheist," Lex said.   

"Too bad.   Believers get a discount."    

"Didn't Raphael pretend to be someone he wasn't?"

"All for a good cause.   He also cured Tobias' blindness, so it balanced out in the end."

Lex caught the grin right before the door swept shut.  


He didn't see the air change, but somewhere along the highway the city's raw grey smell faded,
turned into earth softened by melted snow.   The temperature shot up, like Smallville was running
a fever.   Too early for real spring, although on the radio the voice of WJSV promised another
week of it.   It was offensive somehow, the heat and the confused flowers by the roadside.  
Couldn't anything in Smallville work right?  In protest, Lex rolled up the windows and turned the
air conditioner on high.  Point of pride that he didn't turn onto the road leading to the Kent farm,
although the cows in the field were unimpressed.   As he drove ahead to the LuthorCorp plant,
Lex decided to have a hamburger for dinner.   

For the site of his exile, the plant looked remarkably tame.   No fiery river or Tartarian pit, not
even a three-headed dog, just lots of tame slabs of concrete, with echoes of Virgil only in the gate. 
 Well, and in his father, Tisiphone without the scourge.   But he was in Tokyo, and Lex officially
ran this crap factory, so in he went, too wrinkled for anywhere but a fertilizer plant in the sticks
where high fashion meant Sears instead of Wal-Mart.   

Gabe Sullivan was at mission control, playing Picard to Jeff McNeil's Riker.   Horses pranced
across his tie, the cartoon kind with oversized teeth, and Gabe absently petted them as he spoke.  
"I don't think Mr. Luthor would approve.   Remember, it's crap first, life later."

"What wouldn't I approve of?"

"Mr. Luthor.   Didn't see you there.   Jeff here's got pie on the brain, and not the kind you might
think.   Apple.  Blueberry.  Cherry."

"He's in a pie-eating contest?"  

"It's the annual bazaar at one of the local churches.  There are games for the kids, a raffle, that
kind of thing.   Big deal in our little town.   All the ladies bake up a storm and the money goes to
the kids' ward at the hospital.    Even Chloe tried her hand this year, although I don't think
there's much call for charred Rice Krispie squares.   Got to say they weren't half bad once I
scraped the bottoms."

"Your daughter's also the source of that interesting tie?"

"Last year's Father's Day gift.   Her idea of a joke, but I wear it just to see her roll her eyes."  
Gabe winked.   "You should see the one Jeff Jr. gave his dad.   Glow-in-the-dark frogs.   ‘Cos
Jeff likes his fishing."

"Did your wife bake anything, Jeff?"  The conversation felt surreal, like Lex had been transported
to Mayberry.  

"Sure did, Mr. Luthor.   Stella's been in the kitchen ‘til all hours every night, but she won't let me
touch a thing.   And she makes a mean brownie.   Still, I've been dreaming about Martha Kent's
apple brown betty."

"When does this culinary extravaganza start?   I mean, when do the doors open for business?"

"Five pm on the nose.   Can't start too late or the kids will get cranky."

"Why don't we close at four and give everyone here an edge on the competition?"

"That's very generous of you, Mr. Luthor," Jeff said.   "I can taste that apple brown betty

"Don't taste anything else or Jonathan Kent will be after you with a pitchfork.   But Jeff's right:  
this is a good morale booster for the troops."   

Caesar had his Praetorians; Lex had an army of hungry shit processors.   His father would snicker,
but with Jeff's meaty face hunkered in a grin and Gabe showing more teeth than his equine
parade, Lex didn't care.   "Great.   Make the announcement, then we'll go over those figures."  
When he and Gabe were alone, he asked, "Have we contributed anything to the raffle?"

"No.   Your father...Well, he wasn't big on community service."

"How about a helicopter ride for two over Smallville?"   A nice irony, given his father's penchant
for swooping down on the city in one.   Deus ex machina.

"That would be great."  

"You let them know, and I'll set it up."

If only life always worked that easily.


The third jaw-cracking yawn reminded Lex that he wasn't fifteen anymore.   Marie, Gabe's
secretary, kept bringing him coffee in a cat-covered mug with an inscribed handle that read: "Cats
sleep anywhere--they don't care."   Lex checked for irony behind the funky red frames and saw
only curiosity and blue eyeshadow.   When she thought he wasn't looking, Marie studied his skull
and dark purple shirt, doubtless taking notes for the next bridge club meeting. A few years ago, he
might've baited her, but now found himself in the odd position of wanting her to like him.  When
he complimented her coffee, which was too sweet and light, she blushed under the round pink
patches carefully drawn on her cheeks.   

"Thanks, Mr. Luthor.   I'm glad you like it.   And thanks, too, " she added in a rush, "for letting
us go early.   Gives me time to pick up my kids at daycare and get to the church on time, like in
that old song."

Lex smiled and felt like an alien.   Daycare, kids, church.   She could be a closet dominatrix, and
her life would stay galaxies from his.   Even though his heart zipped along on the caffeine
highway, he accepted another cup of coffee just for letting him in.   His own mother never picked
him up from daycare; he'd had a private tutor until private school, then the chauffeur had ferried
him back and forth.   She'd never had a mug painted with cats, preferring brittle china cups filled
with Earl Grey.   

One time he asked for a sip, and she blew on the tea to cool it, pursing lips only slightly darker
than the cup; she must have been dying even then.   As she leaned forward, stroking his hair--it
was that long ago--her cross swung, catching the light.   In that low, tired voice, she said, "Just a
little one.   It's full of Mommy's medicine, and I don't want you to get a headache.   Don't tell
Daddy or he'll be mad."   Afterward, she gave him one of the peppermints she was always
sucking to calm her stomach.   He realized years later that the rough taste under the bergamot
came from very old, very expensive Scotch.  

"You going to put in an appearance tonight, Lex?  See how the other half lives?"  Gabe leaned
back in his chair, making the springs squeak, and rubbed his neck.  

"How could I miss the social event of the season?"   He stood up and smoothed his jacket. 
"Where is it, exactly?"

"Big old church on Oak, off Lennox.   Can't miss it.   Has a tall bell tower topped with a cross."

"The one with the soup kitchen in the basement."   He remembered the flyers now, pink sheets of
paper with bold print.

"Right.   Used to be Catholic back in my grandfather's day, but it's Anglican now.   Holy Trinity.  
All the action takes place in the basement.   It's not a night out at the opera, but the pies are darn
good.   Avoid the Rice Krispie squares, and you'll be fine."

"I'll remember that," he said, blinking away the dream.   

The headache started on the way home, the one his mother warned about.   The aggressive sun hit
the road at all the wrong angles, blasting up into his eyes even past his sunglasses, while the
caffeine migrated through his veins, leaving him twitchy and irritated with his teeth clenched and
his hands shaking under the driving gloves.   He made it home in record time, all squealing tires
and startled pedestrians, and grabbed an apple before heading upstairs.   Still a few hours left
before Operation Woo the Public, so he grabbed a quick shower, popped one of the purple pills
from the bottle neatly labeled Triazolam, and crashed.   

The last thing Lex saw before his eyes closed:   the second volume of the Nicodemus chronicles.


The church reeks of incense and old death.   No one is ever born here, just laid out to rot like the
man who died of the flux last week.   Since it's symbolic, baptism doesn't count, and in any case
leaves no smell.   Nothing is real in here; everything points to something else.   The order of this
used to please him, the complication of it.   Now the disconnection disturbs him; it's like living in
a dream.   If bread's a body, it shouldn't be flat and dry like pages in a book, leaving you hungry.   

When the door opens behind him, he turns, expecting God and a lecture on blasphemy.   The nave
is narrow, the pews flanked by thin columns that form arches like inverted smiles.   Light falls
through lancet windows, showing clouds of dust and ash, drawing saints' faces on the floor.  

"You dropped this."   The book is in Clark's hand, the pages a little fat from wet grass.   His
muddy black boots clap against the tiles as he walks to the altar.   A statue rises behind him,
Raphael with his wings extended.  

"You didn't have to bring it."

"I know, but I figured you'd miss it."

"Not really.   I'm tired of writing."

"How come?"

"It never goes anywhere."

"Where do you want to go?"

"Why do you always ask so many questions?"

"Because you'll never tell me anything if I don't."   His arm brushes against Lex's as he puts the
book on the altar.   "I know this is wrong, but I read some of it.   Well, all of it.   I liked the notes
for your next sermon, about King David and Jonathan, where you wrote about how much David
loves him.   About them kissing."

"You shouldn't have done that."   

"I know.   But I'm glad I did.   Because I wasn't sure before, but I am now."

Lex doesn't have to ask about what.   It's written all over his face, like a page in the diary.   "It's
just a story.   It doesn't mean anything."   He shakes his head, trying to wake up.   "You're not
real.   None of this is real."

"Of course I am.   Feel."   He takes Lex's hand and puts it on his heart, holds it there.

"This is wrong."

"Not if you love me."

The anger rushes up, and Lex pushes him back against the altar, kissing him hard.   His hands go
everywhere, and when he feels the stiff cock, it gets worse, makes him blind and stupid and
desperate, pulling off Clark's clothes, licking and biting him all over his smooth, warm skin.   He's
touched back until Lex grabs Clark's wrists and pins his hands behind his back.   "I'll show you
what this is about."   The floor's under his knees, blackened by his robe, and his mouth is
suddenly full, so full he almost chokes.   He starts to suck, forgetting to hold Clark's hands, and
they fall softly on his skull.   Sounds fall too, moans that don't belong in a church, his name, and
he sucks harder, gorging himself.   

This is supposed to be a lesson, but his body's not listening, his cock stiff under the cloth.   He's
too hungry and keeps going until the flood comes, a hot, salty river down his throat.   Even when
it's over he can't let go, not full enough, even hits at Clark's hands when he tries to pull him up.  
He's dragged to his feet, still swallowing, running his tongue over his lips for traces, then placed
with the altar at his back.   By the time he says "No, don't," it's too late: his black robe is hiked
and his cock is sliding into Clark's mouth.   "Jesus."   

It's sin and hell and falling from an unsteady cloud, but he stands there letting it happen,
supported only by the altar, the hands on his hips, the mouth around him.   The biggest mistake is
watching, seeing Clark staring up at him, the worship in his eyes that's repeated in the tongue
moving over his skin.   A clatter behind him as the monstrance topples onto the floor, and the
silver candlesticks go next as he rocks against the altar, shouting like he's dying or delivering a
mass.   A voice in his head whispers that he's weak, that he'll never be good, that his life isn't a
lie but a mistake.   If it didn't feel so good he'd kill himself right there, but he can't, caught by
Clark's eyes and tongue.   

There's a second flood, and it's like he's being ripped into strips.    And already he wants it to
happen again. 


Lex woke up half on the floor, half on the bed, the mattress pressing into his back.   His stomach
and cock glistened with come, and the room seemed too quiet, like a shout had suddenly stopped. 
 No one should have a Catholic mother and a Nietzschian father; it turned guilt into an obligation
and a crime.  

The alarm went off suddenly, though he swore he hadn't set it, a blare of jazz that startled him
down onto the carpet.   Charlie Parker, who played music with angels even before he drank
himself upstairs.   Smoke, midnight, short skirts and gin.   God, he needed that, not crazy dreams
that felt like memories.   The music picked him up, carried him into the bathroom, and he puked
up last night's vodka.   

He brushed his teeth in the shower, water flagellation-hot, and spit Crest into the drain, tempted
to follow it down.  Afterward, the towel bought for softness scraped his skin, and even the silk of
his shirt hurt like broken glass.   He'd tried that once when he was fifteen and feeling dramatic,
with a chalk-colored line on his right wrist to prove it.   Sometimes it seemed the wound had
never closed, that things leaked out no matter how hard he tried to keep them in.  

Outside the sun had fallen and the sky was the color of coffee.   He drove with the radio blasting,
never fast enough, and slowed only when the bell tower loomed ahead.   Groups of people walked
along the path beside the church: Marie and a tall man made taller by the pig-tailed daughter
riding his shoulders, the lipstick librarian holding hands with a woman who could've been her
twin.   A cluster of kids burst through the front doors to run shrieking down the steps, the first
one clutching a handful of balloons, while a few men stood together under a tree off the sidewalk,
their cigarettes poking orange holes in the black air.    

The street was jammed with cars, forcing him to park several blocks away.   Walking back, he
ended up behind a pack of thirteen-year old girls, who turned periodically to stare before breaking
into high-pitched giggles.   Vultures had nothing on teenaged girls; they'd pick his bones if he let
them close enough.   The thought struck that his father wasn't any different.   Most people were,
if you got close enough, and he refused to think about the exception.   Tonight wasn't about
Clark; Lex was only here to play benign overlord.   

As he neared the church, people began to acknowledge him without giggling, a combination of
polite nods and "Evening, Mr. Luthor."   No one appeared terribly enthusiastic except for a small
boy with a chocolate-stained mouth who ran up to him, hugged his leg, then took off.   

"He's in a very affectionate phase," the embarrassed mother said.   "Sorry about that, Mr. Luthor. 
 I hope he didn't get your pants dirty."  

"Cute kid.   And I'm good."   He gave her smile, a real one so rusty it probably looked fake, and
thought how pathetic it was to feel comforted by a hug from a hyper five-year old.  

This close, the church always seemed bigger than he expected, most of the tower swallowed by
the dark.   A few bulbs strung along the side brightened the path, and he followed the crowd to
the back doors, then headed down the wide stairs.   Inside was chaos:   clutter of people, kids
running with more balloons, tables lining the walls, each heavy with trays of food and garage sale

"Want to buy a raffle ticket, Mr. Luthor?"   This from Jane, a tiny woman with carefully-starched
grey hair.   She had a roll of tickets in front of her beside an open metal cashbox, a can of diet
coke, and a hand-lettered sign announcing the cost of the tickets: two dollars for one, five dollars
for three, ten dollars for eight.

"What can I win?"  

"Some great prizes this year.   We have the usual double passes to the Odeon, dinner for two at
Al's Steak House, then some great anonymous ones: ten donations of a thousand dollars each to
the Children's Hospital and The Heart and Stroke Foundation."   She winked at him.   "And of
course a helicopter ride for two over Smallville, thanks to LuthorCorp."

"Right.   You can thank Gabe Sullivan for that."   He pulled out his wallet and handed her a
twenty.  "I'll take fifteen.  And keep the change."

She tore off a strip, helped by nails the color of cat's tongue.   "Guess that's your lucky number.  
Here you go."

Everyone was eating, and Lex's empty stomach rumbled.   A booth to his right advertised
sandwiches, and he bought a ham and Swiss on sourdough dabbed with bright yellow mustard.  
World conquest should taste so good, and he chewed slowly as he wandered through the room.  
Nell had a table stacked with bunches of dried flowers, and he walked over to her, wiping his
mouth with a paper napkin.

"Hi, Lex.   I didn't expect to see you here."

"Just checking out the local culture."

"It's marginally better than a hoe down, but only marginally."  

"So why are you here?"

"Free advertising."   She nodded to the sign for her flower shop attached to the wall at her back.   

"Is Lana here?"

"She is.   She's supposed to be helping me, but she's off with her friends."

A young couple interrupted them, and Lex drifted away.   A flash of red, and he bee-lined toward
it.   Martha was cutting a slice of blueberry pie for a stooped man with a cane, chatting with him
about his sick wife.   When he left, she saw Lex and smiled.   "You just missed Clark.   He went
off somewhere with Pete and the others."

"I'm here for a piece of your famous pie."   

"Any kind in particular?"

"I'll let you decide.   Where's Mr. Kent?"

"He's huddled in a corner somewhere with a few of the local farmers, talking shop.   He pretends
he hates all of this, but I always have to drag him away."   She handed him a piece of apple pie on
a white cardboard plate, adding a plastic fork.   "How's work?   Clark mentioned you were busy
finishing up a project."

For a second he forgot about endings, jolted with the secret pleasure that Clark talked about him
to his mother.   Too bad the world wasn't wired for happy endings.   That he wasn't.   "I'm tying
up a few loose ends."

"When it's done you'll have something you can be proud of."

"Yeah.   Battle scars."   He cracked a smile, sincere as he could fake.   

A waste of energy, with Martha turning away to the next customer.   "Enjoy the pie, Lex."

"Can you give these to Clark when you see them?"  He handed her the raffle tickets.   "Chloe
asked me to hold them, then disappeared."

After that, he wandered again.   The pie tasted of nutmeg and carried memories.   To entertain
him as a little kid, his parents' housekeeper, Hilde, had opened every jar of spice in the house and
let him have a taste or a sniff.   Nutmeg had been his favorite, less for the taste and texture--sand
on his tongue--than for the smell.   Later, he realized it was like putting your face between
someone's thighs for the first time and breathing in.   As a kid, breathing deeply used to scare
him, the result of long asthmatic nights.   The fear lingered: crowds stole his air.   No panic, just a
pressure in his chest, and he walked through the doorway on the far right wall.   Black-railed
stairs wound up, and for each step the texture of the space changed, forward became backward,
like being lost in an Escher woodcut.   The top step saw him winded, although he ran miles on the
treadmill without breaking a sweat.  

The church had a narrow nave, the pews flanked by thin columns that formed arches like inverted
smiles.   A niche held the altar, and while the angel was gone, the pedestal still stood.   A bowl of
tired yellow flowers rested on top, the ones with faces like starfish; he'd dreamed them in a ditch.  
Deja vu was a mistake in the cognitive process, an overly-slow transference of information.   All
emotions were simply glitches in the cerebral hardware, constructing patterns from nothing.   

All of this--the dream, the recognition, the almost-over obsession with Clark--was caused by the
accident.   He'd hit his head when his car went over the bridge, triggering all sorts of shit, and the
second bump the other night when Clark shoved him only made it worse.   He'd made a mistake
in the hotel room:  he didn't need to get laid--he needed a CAT scan.   Infatuation as brain

He went to the altar because dreams were lies and fear was weakness.   His father hit him once,
after Lex's mother died.   Lex had been going through her drawers looking for peppermints,
crying as he plunged his fingers into silk.   A sound behind him, and his father's hand cracked
against his face.   He stood there, staring, tasting the blood from his split lip.   ‘Time to be a man. 
Can't hide behind her skirts anymore.   It's you and me, Lex, to the death.'   Lionel believed in
Caesarian comfort, where nothing mattered until blood spilled.  

The light from the candles didn't penetrate the niche, and he moved deeper inside it, touching the
wall to his right, wood so old and smooth it felt like flayed skin.   That's how his felt after the
meteor-rape in the cornfield, naked and exposed.   The return to Smallville years later brought it
all back, everyone always watching, waiting for him to screw up.   Ironic that he'd actually been
helping the town, kick-starting the economy, not to mention the Herculean task of not seducing
the hero.   If anything, they should give him a plaque:  I revived Smallville, didn't fuck Clark
Kent, and all I got was this lousy reputation.  

He needed to get out of here, head home to Halcion, bed, a drink.   His stomach was twisting into
a Gordian knot, the only thing alive in this House of Nothing, and the waiting was going nowhere. 
 What did he think, that Clark would show up so they could act out his dream, and give Lex some
guilt-free satisfaction?   Now there was a defense:  ‘Sorry, Martha, Jonathan.   I didn't mean to
blow your son in the church.   See, I had this crazy dream and...'

At a sound, Lex turned to stare down the church's long throat.   But Fate didn't understand wish
fulfillment, so Clark wasn't there walking toward him.   No one was there, not at first:  just
voices, and he backed into the shadows.   Getting caught alone with a hard-on in a church
wouldn't enhance his reputation.   Besides, the voices were familiar, and he could spy on Clark in
his natural habitat.  Not ethical, but habit-forming.

"Thanks for saving me, guys."   Chloe collapsed into one of the pews, Pete moving beside her,
Clark sliding onto the bench behind them, tall enough that his face was easily visible over Chloe's
messy blond head.   "I can only take so much. If I had to hear my dad tell the world about my
Rice Krispie nightmare one more time, I'd be the one going snap, crackle, pop."

Pete swiveled toward her.   "Is it true you set the kitchen on fire?"

"Don't start or I'll be forced to remind you of the Great Chemistry Accident of ‘98."

"At least that didn't have exploding marshmallows," Pete said, snickering.

She threw up her hands, black stains from ink cartridges on the tips of her fingers.   "What kind of
marshmallows explode in the heat?  I'm still picking fluffy white bits from my hair."

"You can always write an expose: ‘Girl Attacked By Mutant Marshmallows.   Company Denies
all Responsibility, Blaming It On Bad Baking Skills.'"

"Pete, you're about as funny as my dad's Smoky the Bear impersonation.   Where's the
sympathy?  That's what I want to know, after I nearly went all Joan of Arc."

"You'd need a cause first," Pete told her.   "Our Lady of Perpetual Kitchen Disasters doesn't
have the right ring to it."

Her snort was loud and emphatic.   "Gotta love the wit of a teenaged boy wired on sugar.   Just
how many pieces of Mrs. Kent's pie did you have?"

"Two apple and a blueberry.   Maybe she could give you lessons, Chloe."

"Clark," she said over her shoulder, flapping her hand in his face, "snap out of the trance and start
defending my honor."

"He's just mad because his favorite bald stalker's not here."

Lex's stomach, slowly unknotting during the conversation, pulled tight.   Is that what they
thought of him?   And Chloe thought she wanted her honor defended.

Clark, who'd been looking quietly around the church, glanced at his friend.   From his dark
recess, Lex could see the sudden shift as Clark remembered to play the game of normal.   "Shut
up, Pete, or I'll make you eat some of Chloe's cooking."   

Not exactly a duel to the death, but Lex started to breathe again.

"I'd like to see you do better, Betty Crocker."   Chloe had apparently decided to fight her own
battles.   "Just because I've got two X chromosomes doesn't mean I'm genetically programmed
for culinary brilliance.  I have better things to do with my time than practice for the Pillsbury

"And we're all grateful for that, Chloe."

"You know, Pete, if you weren't one of my best friends I'd get on the PA system and tell
everyone exactly why your stuffed water buffalo's so special to you."

"Then I'd have to share the pictures of last summer's home perm."

Chloe hadn't given up.   "Clark, feel free to leave Planet Zone-Out and join us back here on

"Yeah, Clark.   What gives?   Your old friends not good enough for you?   Maybe I should shave
my head."

"Sorry, guys.  It's this place.   It feels weird in here, like somebody died."

"It's a church," Pete said.   "They always feel like that."

"I guess.   Maybe it's because it's empty."

"Hey, you reminded me:  when I was doing research for that ‘Our Town' history project last year,
rooting through old editions of The Ledger on microfilm, I remember seeing a couple of articles
on this place.   I can't remember the details, only that there was some scandal, and someone
might've died, and that's why the church is Anglican now, not Catholic."

"You're saying this place is haunted?"  Pete laughed, then stopped short as the sound bounced off
the walls.  "You see weirdness everywhere, Chloe.   Next you'll be telling us that Santa Claus is
really an alien and Rudolph's his lieutenant in an army set to invade Earth."

"No one that jolly can be good.  It's not natural."

"Clark, is this girl whacked or what?"  Pete ducked when she swung at him.   "Look, there's no
such things as ghosts."

"Right.   Just like there's no such thing as fat-sucking vampires or single white shape-shifters.  
Smallville's like Sunnydale without the cool clothes.   Well, except for Lex."

"Don't tell me you're defecting to the bald side of the Force, too."

"I'm only saying he knows how to dress.   I wasn't offering to bear his love child.   Not that he'd
want me," she added, glancing back at Clark.   "I'm not tall, dark and heroic enough for him."

"You'd have to move to a farm, then blush a lot whenever his name comes up."

"Very funny," Clark said.   "You should take your routine on the road."

"I think we hit a sensitive spot, Pete.   Could there be trouble in paradise?"

"Maybe Clark's starting to realize who Lex really is.   I never bought his innocent act over the
whole Nicodemus flower thing.   You can't trust that guy."

"Even you have to admit, Clark, it was suspicious how Dr. Hamilton disappeared like that.   He
had a lot of new equipment in his lab, plus it had to cost a bundle to pack it all up and move it so
fast.   Big bucks points in one direction in this town."

"Look, if it makes you guys feel any better, after Sunday I don't think Lex will be hanging around
with us anymore."

"All right!" Pete crowed.   "You're finally shaking off the Bald One's spell.   Welcome back,
Clark.   Glad you still know who your true friends are."

"Have to agree with Pete on this one, Clark.   Lex is like one of those guys in the Bible who's
cursed forever.  He shows up, and plagues happen.   It's not like he's a bad guy, more like a
magnet for the big bad."

"He did save you guys when Earl Jenkins went commando and took everyone hostage at the
LuthorCorp plant."

"That was Lex's fault in the first place," Pete said.   "All he had to do was admit he knew about
Level Three and the experiments, and Earl would've backed off."

"He said he didn't know about that, about what was going on there."

"You believe in the Tooth Fairy too, Clark?   Come on.  The guy's like his dad: out to make the
big bucks no matter what."

"Don't get me started on the Tooth Fairy, Pete," Clark said.  "I'm not the one who knocked out
my front tooth with a rock so I could get money for new Hot Wheels."

"No, you're the one who stares through a telescope every night hoping the mother ship will land." 

"Can I interrupt this testosterone fest for a minute?"  Chloe tapped the face of her watch. 

"They're going to be drawing the raffle number pretty soon, and I want to win that helicopter
ride.   Think what you can see when people don't know someone's watching."   She put her hand
on Pete's shoulder, urging him up.

Clark got to his feet.   "I think they call that spying."

"It's all in the interest of exposing the truth.   Besides, Mr. Telescope, you're not one to talk."

"Forget about exposing truth.   If I win, I'm flying over Angela's house to see what she's
exposing."   Pete took a few running steps to keep out of Chloe's reach. 

"Remind me to keep my bedroom curtains closed at all times.   I think every guy in Smallville's a
peeping Tom."

"You'd change your mind if it was Justin Gaines up in the helicopter."

"Remind me again why I'm friends with you?"   

Pete's response was lost as he and Chloe headed downstairs.   Clark paused on the way out, one
hand on the doorframe, and looked back into the church.   His face looked young and open, and
Lex thought how stupid it was to stay hidden, trapped in this third-rate production of Hamlet, not
even one of the cool characters but that old pompous fart Polonius.   ‘Dead for a ducat, dead.'  
At least Clark had no sword. 

Lex swore he didn't make a sound, but Clark shifted, and for several long seconds it seemed like
he was looking straight at him.   Impossible, because of the darkness and the distance, but Lex
started to sweat in itchy trickles down his spine.   He closed his eyes, and when he opened them,
not hopefully, Clark was gone.

The urge to play lord of the manor had long since died, and there was nothing left to do but head


The candles draw monsters on the church wall.   Lex studies one, the horned skull, the forked tail,
the lewd grin.   It's like looking in a mirror.   

"Of all the ways to ruin your life, you chose this?"   The bishop is in red and white, and his hair is
too long.  

"What are you talking about?  You sent me here."

"To prove yourself, not practice sodomy."

Hiding the panic, he studies the bishop's face to see what he knows.   Everything, it seems.  
"You were watching?"

"Hard to miss when you're on your knees at the altar in a disgusting parody of communion."

"I wouldn't expect you to understand."

"Understand?  That you're abusing yourself and that boy?  That you're a disgrace to me, to
yourself, to the Church?  And if you mention love, I'll excommunicate you right here."

"Why don't you do it?   You've been threatening to forever.   Do it and get it out of the way."

"Much as you deserve to join the other sodomites in hell, that would be too easy.   No, I have
another solution to your problem: you're coming back with me.   You'll work in my household,
help me build the Church back to its former glory.   This place was all wrong for you; you never
fit in."

"What if I want to stay here?"

"If you do, I'll tell everyone.   I'll go to the boy's parents and tell them what you did.   They'll
hate you.  He'll hate you.   You don't belong here, Lex," he added, his voice soft and oily as
candle wax.   "You're a powerful speaker; you'll go far, with the right guidance."

"It doesn't sound like I have a choice."

"You always have a choice.   This time, make the right one."


Saturday night at the Talon.   What could be more exciting?   Just Lex, a small ex-forest of paper,
a Mont Blanc Classique, his laptop, and a nearly-finished tall cappuccino.   He'd almost ordered
that horror of horrors, decaf, to lure the sleep gods back into Luthor Manor, but had actually
started to enjoy the unreality that came with little sleep.   Even the tricks his eyes kept throwing
were amusing in a Daliesque way.   The coffee shop, with its faux-Egyptian motif, morphed with
every blink into a different site from an Egyptian travelogue: right now, with the coffee traveling
down his throat, Lex was floating down the Nile on Cleopatra's barge.

And here she was herself, with her black bob and Liz Taylor eyeliner.  "Can I get you another

"Please," he said, and offered his mug.   When the waitress returned, this time looking more like a
cat-faced goddess in her tabby-colored t-shirt, Lex added, "I figured the heat wave would bring
everyone out in force." 

"Everyone's chilling out at the Odeon watching the new Tom Cruise movie," she said with
Bastet-like complacency.   "It'll pick up when the seven o'clock show lets out.  In the meantime,
enjoy the quiet.   Oh, and if you're looking for Clark, I don't think he'll be in.   He came by for a
quick coffee this afternoon between deliveries, and he said something about working late on a
broken fence.   Glad I don't live on a farm."   She flashed him a feline, tip-me-big smile, then
sauntered back to the counter, her Nikes shuffling like paws against the tiles. 

Okay, back up a minute.   He hadn't said anything about Clark, had deliberately not eyed the door
every ten minutes, was loaded with work, and looked admirably busy planning the future of
Smallville's one and only crap factory.   Was it waitress' intuition, or was he really that
transparent?   Sometimes Lex really hated Smallville.   

He deliberately sipped his coffee to prove he was cool and not in any hurry to leave the Temple of
Luxor.   Shuffled some papers, too, and adopted his best serious work face.   Fifteen minutes
later, he yawned loudly, stretched his arms until bones cracked, left a large tip to show no points
had been scored, then packed everything up.   If tomorrow was D-Day, the least he deserved was
one last night with Clark where they both pretended to be honestly happy.   

With the Talon out of sight, Lex hit the gas and drove like the road was a bridge.   This wasn't
hard, with a system running on caffeine and broken sleep.   Everything drifted by in a blur, less
clear than his Freud-ready dreams but with the same sense of dislocation, like Smallville was the
third point of the Bermuda Triangle.   Occasionally his sleep-deprived brain, stuck in hyper-drive,
tossed him more surreal images: the lightning-scarred tree at the corner of Maple turned into an
angry troll, waving huge leafy arms; the Shell sign became the head of a Mayan king; and the
water tower off the highway looked uncannily like Father Browning, his third-grade Latin teacher. 

The radio didn't ground him.   Songs blended together until it sounded like Iggy Pop doing Celine
Dion, manic vocals with lyrics about eternal love.   Lex switched it off.   The Kents' farm was
ahead, the house with its single porch light a cyclopic canary, and he pulled over to the side of the
road near the field that stood empty except for invisible cows lowing softly at the moon.   


Lex opened the car, then stood looking over the roof, squinting into the dark, trying to make his
eyes behave.   Under the moon-happy cows, another sound drifted over the grass, a regular
thunkthunkthunk, and an occasional whirr of white that could've been Clark, if he'd turned into
the Flash.   Apparently the Kents' field was haunted.  Or maybe it was a giant moth or a mutant
seagull; anything was possible in Smallville.   When he shut the car door, preparing to investigate,
the white rush stopped then slowly moved toward him.   It grew long legs, strong arms, a torso
covered in a white t-shirt, and a handsome, wide-eyed face.   


"You were expecting someone else?"   The grin showed teeth white as his shirt.  

"Just hallucinating.   Nothing new these days."

"What did you see?"

"Let's just say I was wondering how to perform an exorcism."

"I didn't know you believed in ghosts."

"Neither did I."

Look, I'm finished out here.   Want to come into the loft for awhile?   You'll ruin your shoes
standing out in the grass."

"Good idea.   I've had enough of nature for one night, what with giant moths and mutant
seagulls."   They moved onto the lane hugging the side of the field.   

"Are you okay?  You're seriously babbling.   I didn't know that Lex Luthor did babbling."

"I'm a man of infinite mystery."  

Clark looked at him over his shoulder.   "You're in a good mood."

"More like beyond any mood."

"Lex, what's going on?"

"Don't worry.   I haven't started mainlining whatever passes for drugs around here.   It's sleep-

"Because of that project you've been working on?"

"Yes, my project."   He glanced at his project's long legs in the faded jeans.   "But it'll be over on
Sunday.   Life will get back to normal.   As normal as it's ever been, anyway.   Sometimes I
wonder if I even know what normal is." 

"You're not working on Sunday, are you?   Because that's when I'm supposed to come over.  
So we can talk."

"I remember."   What would it be like to talk to Clark without sidestepping the truth?  Like his
dreams: messy.   A mistake to think about them, the look on Clark's face when Lex sucked his
cock for the first time, the noises he made--   

"Did you say something?"

"I was wondering what your parents are doing."   

"Probably reading in bed.   Maybe asleep already.   The coast is clear."   

He turned on a light and headed upstairs to the loft, Lex behind him, watching.   Clark wasn't
sweating, not even in the warm night, after whatever the hell he'd been doing in the field.   Lex's
shirt felt damp, too tight against his back, and he wondered if Clark's skin was slick and wet
under his clothes.   As Lex sat on the couch, Clark at his side, it occurred to him that Clark hadn't
asked why he was here, that Clark never did.   This relationship made and broke rules like none
he'd ever had.   No wonder he kept coming back.

"I heard you showed up at the bazaar," Clark said.   "I looked for you, but I guess you didn't stay
long.   Smallville overload?"

"Sometimes this town's better in small doses."

"It's not a good place if you have anything to hide."

"I'll keep that in mind."   

"I didn't mean...Hey, guess what?"


"I won the helicopter ride.   First time I've won anything."

"If you wanted a ride in a helicopter, you could've told me.   I would've arranged it."

"You've done enough for me, Lex.   Sometimes I feel like I'm taking advantage of you." 

That stopped him, the image of Clark leaning over and doing just that, while Lex lay there on this
lumpy red and blue striped couch, letting it happen.   "I like to give things to my friends."   All
one of them.   "Especially the ones who save me."

"Lex, I saved you months ago.   You've paid me back, like, a hundred times.   You don't owe me
anything anymore.  Maybe Dad was right: you didn't owe me anything from the start.   There was
an accident, I was there.   End of story.  Stop trying to make me into something I'm not.   I'm
just a normal guy with a good sense of timing."

"It's not that simple, Clark.   It's--"

"The thing you're not getting is that it is simple.   Someone's in trouble, and I help them out, like
you did when Earl took everyone hostage.   There wasn't time to plan--you did what had to be
done.   If you're here because you think you owe me, then maybe you shouldn't be here at all."

Lex was aware, in an underwater and drowning sort of way, that he was going to kiss Clark,
alarmist chorus in his head or not.  He was too damn tired to fight it anymore, not with Clark
flushed, a little angry, and halfway to sending him back to Metropolis with his tail between his
legs.   One selfish kiss, a reward for months of restraint, for all the effort he's made to be new and
improved.   Clark would survive.   

The couch creaked as he shifted, a spring pressed into his thigh, and Clark's mouth went soft and
open, startled and--

"What's going on in here?"   For a big guy, Jonathan Kent climbed stairs like a cat.   Standing in
front of them, he looked like the Maple-Street troll, huge and very pissed off.   "Clark, go to your

"Dad, I'm not a kid.   Lex and I were just talking, and--"

"I said go to your room."

"Maybe you should do what your father says, Clark."   He got up, brushing bits of hay from his

"Lex, I don't need your help enforcing my rules.   Clark, I'm telling you to get out of here.   I
want to talk to Lex alone."

"Dad, you don't understand--"   He was on his feet, taller than his father.

"I understand a lot more than you do.   I'm not telling you again.   You live under my roof and
you follow my rules.  Now go."

"Clark, listen to him."   The last thing he needed was Clark hearing the "You're a depraved
pervert, Lex" speech.   "It's okay."

"Are you sure?"   He kept looking from his dad to Lex, proof that saving was an instinct with

Lex nodded.   "Go to bed."

"Don't forget about--"

"Good night, Clark."   

When the slow clunk of his steps faded, Jonathan faced Lex.   "I should've said this a long time
ago.   I let Martha convince me that this was an innocent friendship, that your intentions
weren't...what they are."

"If it's any consolation, nothing has ever happened.   He doesn't know, and I don't want him to.  
Tonight was a mistake."

"A pretty goddamn big mistake.   He's only a kid, Lex.   You can't use him the way you use
everyone else.   I won't let you."

His first reaction--‘I'm using him differently from anyone else'--didn't make a very good defense.  
"Don't worry, Mr. Kent.  I'm going to Tokyo tomorrow, then back to Metropolis.   I won't be
around much after that.   Your son's virtue is safe."

"Don't turn this into a joke.   This isn't about sex.   The truth is, you're not good for him.   Not
good enough for him.   You're only going to hurt him, and I won't stand for it."

"You're not telling me anything I don't know."

"I don't give a damn what you know.   It's actions that matter.   Leave him the hell alone."

"The thing is, Mr. Kent, you have nothing to worry about.   Clark's come to his senses on his
own.   This was only--"

"I know what this was.   Stay away from my son, Lex."

Lex left before Jonathan took out his shotgun or starting quoting lines straight from High Noon
Really, it was all too funny, and if he wasn't laughing, that was only because defeat beat out irony.

His father wouldn't be impressed.


The whispers are like cat scratches.   He can't make out the words, only feel the thin red stings,
see their lips moving through the gaps between their fingers.   The sun hits him through the
window, and there's nowhere to hide. He failed, and they all know it, or think they do.   Everyone
but Clark, sitting in the front row, smiling and dangerously oblivious, waiting to hear about David
and Jonathan, about love and tolerance.   No one should ever be that innocent; he's a wound
waiting to happen.   

Lex takes a deep breath, so deep it hurts, and starts to speak.   Clark's face doesn't break at once;
even now he gives Lex the chance to change direction, thinking that a sermon beginning with sin
and sodomy will become something else.   When it doesn't, the disintegration finally starts, the
smile wavering then fading, and Lex keeps going, his voice loud and angry as he lies.   And even
with his hands clenched around the pulpit's edge, even after Clark has left the church, Lex feels
like he's falling.

When the sermon's over, he leaves, walking until the gullet of the street narrows, past the grass
growing in the ditches that now run beside it, past spiky yellow flowers drooping in the heat.  
Sweat travels down his spine, and the robe's rough cloth scratches his skin.  No more wooden
sidewalks, and the houses are a memory.   The road is grooved from wagon wheels, until it splits
in two at an arrow-shaped sign.   The city is to the left, but he heads right toward the river, which
glints silvery green.   

Despite the sun, the water's cold, but he keeps walking, even when his clothes are soaked and
heavy, even when he tastes brackish wetness, even when his lungs threaten to burst.

His father was right: there's always a choice.


Lex woke up choking, tearing off the blue silk sheet wrapped like a river around his neck.  
Throwing it to the floor, he took a quick shower, his mouth tightly closed against the water,
dressed, then tossed some clothes into a suitcase.   Sunday, and time to get the hell out of Dodge.  
The dream clinched it: this place was eating him alive, screwing with his perspective, and the
sooner he escaped, the better.   Tokyo first, then Metropolis, a nice abnormal life full of money,
power and paternal subversion.  No more goddamn Clark Kent, no more guilt, no more
nightmares.   It was 11:30 already, and his flight left in four hours--enough time if he kept his foot
on the gas.   

Sitting in his Porsche, the suitcase in the trunk, Lex realized he'd forgotten his passport on the
dresser.   "Fuck."   Not a Freudian slip, just a last-minute packing job, and he took the stairs two
at a time back up to his room.   He was about to leave the house when the doorbell rang.  
"Fuck."   Fuck Clark Kent and his punctuality.   He jumped again as Clark hit the buzzer, then
gave in and opened the door.  "Right on time, as always."

"Hi, Lex.   Going somewhere?"

A gift.   All Lex had to say was... "I...No.   Not right now.   I said I'd be here, and here I am."  
He tossed the passport onto a table.   "You're not coming in?"

Clark stayed in the doorway, folding the cloth of the jacket in his hands.   "No.   Can we... Is it
okay if we stay outside?   Go for a walk?"

"If that's what you want."   He let Clark lead the way, and they followed the path that snaked
behind the house, heading for the orchard, for the tallest tree there, where confused nature had
hung cherries--the same ones, presumably, that he'd been trudging through the other night.     

"Wow, Lex.   Look.   Cherries."   Clark reached out for one, ran his finger over the swollen red
skin, took a bite.  Juice squirted, and he licked his lips.  "It's good.   Strange thing is, there are no
pits.  Try one."   He started to pick them, gathering the fruit in his hand.  

"Of course there are no pits.   This is Smallville, after all.   I'm surprised they don't have two

"Okay," Clark finally said, dropping the cherries to the ground where they formed a small, red
pyramid.   "I guess you want to know what this is all about."

"I already know.   You're not that good an actor, Clark."

"Oh."   He turned away, looking toward the river.   "I guess this is going to be over even faster
than I thought."

"It's better this way.   Fast, I mean."

"Why are you here if you knew what I was going to say?"

"I feel like I owe it to you.   To listen."  

"You mean you still want me to say it?"

"That's why I'm here."   In a fit of psychosomatic anxiety, his lungs started to close, like an
asthma attack.   He should've left when he had the chance. 

"Well, I'm glad.   I need to say it.   I've been thinking it for a long time, and I figured you knew
because everyone else seems to.   It's just that there are all of these secrets, and sometimes it's
too much to keep them, so--"

"Look, Clark, I'm sorry.   I screwed up.  I hired Dr. Hamilton to do research on the meteor rocks. 
 I didn't know he was going to create a mutant hybrid of a long-dead flower and some rock
fragments.   Not exactly responsible behavior on my part, I'll admit, for hiring the mad-genius
type."   He tried to smile, look cool and unconcerned.   It didn't feel like a big success, but the
pressure in his lungs eased a little.

Clark was staring like Lex had confessed to killing Kennedy.   "What?"

"I'm telling you the truth."   Sort of.   "He was at my place the night Pete got shot.   I lied
because I didn't think you'd believe me.   And because Hamilton was already on my payroll,
researching the meteor rocks."

"Lex, what are you talking about?"

"What really happened.   How it's my fault about Pete and Lana and your dad.   I'm sorry."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't think you'd believe me.   No one ever does."   Good thing that unlike Caesar Lex had no
Suetonius to record this highlight of his life for posterity.   "I haven't given people a lot of reasons
to believe me."

"Why are you telling me this now?"

"Because I wanted you to know.   So we could stay friends."

"Lex, I did know.   Well, not for sure, but when I thought about it after and talked to Chloe and
Pete, that's what we all figured."

"So I guess staying friends isn't an option after all."

"Lex, I'm not really good at reading people--ask Chloe how slow I am about this kind of stuff--
but I'm getting the feeling that you don't have a clue what I want to tell you."

"You want to tell me that our friendship's over.   That I've failed."

"Now I know how Chloe feels.   For someone so smart, Lex, you can be pretty blind."

"What are you talking about?"

"I don't know why, but this makes it easier to say.   Lex, I like you."

"You like me, but...?"

"That's the thing.   There is no ‘but'.   I like you.   A lot."

"You mean you want to keep being my friend?"   He cringed inside as he said it.   Regression to
childhood was apparently another side effect of living in Smallhell. 

"Not exactly."

"You don't want to be my friend?"  

"Lex..."   He swallowed, then took a short step closer.   His cheeks were flushed from the heat.  
"Okay, I was right the first time.   This is hard.   Okay.   You know how I like Lana, right?"

"Pretty hard to miss."

"That's nothing compared to how I like you."

And there it was: Clark's secret that maybe Lex had always known and avoided since it screwed
up everyone's plans for sanctity.   Accepting it meant acting, and he didn't want the responsibility,
the pressure, the guilt.   Now it was unavoidable because, God, Lex wasn't that strong, not with
Clark standing under the tree so scared and needing and irresistible.   Lying to other people was
pathetic; lying to yourself was one step from cloven hooves and a shaky sense of balance.

Clark's mouth tasted like cherries, and Lex couldn't stop licking, tasting, couldn't stop getting off
on the simple fact that his tongue was against Clark's.   Sweet, awkward and perfect, with Clark
bending his head a little too fast, bumped noses like curious cats, both of them with their eyes
open wide, Clark's green-circled pupils reflecting things that Lex had never seen.   It was too
bright out here; sex in any form was done in the dark for a reason.   The dark let you pretend that
it was about bodies and hormones, with feelings easily masked as general lust.   Clark would see
too much, and Lex would see it mirrored back.   He almost pulled away, but his hands were stuck
to the strong, flat planes of Clark's back, his mouth to Clark's hot, open one, his cock to Clark's
hard one.  

His brain flashed more error signals, and Lex ignored them.   This was only a kiss, a long, deep
kiss, no matter how hard they were or what he wanted.   No one went to hell for a kiss; even
Judas tagged betrayal onto his.  So he kept going, let Clark taste him with his cherry-flavored
tongue while Lex buried his hands in Clark's hair.   They didn't have to do anything but kiss like
this for hours, then he'd send Clark home.   He would.

Except his hands were now under Clark's t-shirt, skimming over his back while Clark arched into
him, his body like a bridge and hard everywhere.   The kiss broke, but Lex saw the line of Clark's
throat and had to lick it, had to find out how the rest of Clark tasted.   Salt and some powdery
light soap, and Lex licked until the soap was gone and it was all Clark under his tongue.   Lex's
shirt had somehow unbuttoned, and the two sides hung open, spread wider by Clark, who stroked
along his ribcage, then up to his nipples, and Lex bit him, heard a gasp, felt Clark press against
him, and did it again.   

"Lex.   God.   Please don't stop."

So he pulled Clark's shirt over his head, tossed it into the grass beside Clark's fallen jacket and
the pile of fallen cherries.   When the jacket was spread beside it, anchored in place by the snips
and snails and whatever else Clark carried around in its pocket, Lex took Clark's hand and
lowered him onto it, cushioning his head with the crumpled t-shirt.   

"Wait," Clark said, when Lex went to kiss him, and tugged off Lex's shirt.   "Wow.   Your
skin..."   He reached out and touched Lex like a cherry, one finger moving from his shoulder
down his chest.   "Can I...?"

"You can do anything you want."   

Clark propped himself up one elbow and kissed Lex's shoulder, then licked it, a wet tickle better
than most blowjobs.  "Was that okay?"

"Better than okay."

"I want it to be good.  I've been thinking about it for a long time, and I know you've had lots of
practice while I'm experience-challenged.   And Lex..."

"What's the matter?"

"You're not doing this because you feel sorry for me, are you?  I mean, I guess that's fine.   Or
not.   I don't know."

"I wouldn't do this if I didn't want to," Lex said in a voice calm as a lie before he put his hand
over Clark's heart and eased him down.   Every time they stopped, the guilt came back, and if his
cock wasn't so hard and Clark wasn't so ready, his own cock outlined against his jeans, his
shoulder, neck and mouth wet from Lex's tongue, it would take over.   And he needed this, God,
needed to do things to Clark, make him crazy and wild and his, this one time.   

"Good, because you don't owe me--"

Lex licked up the rest of the sentence, and Clark moaned, the tense line of his lips softening until
Lex felt the warm press of his tongue.   With his hands, Lex encouraged him, testing Clark for
vincible spots, like the flow of skin over Clark's collar bones, the hollow at the back of his skull
under his hair.   He did it all while Clark traced his spine with the tips of his fingers, then the curve
of his hipbone, and it was so incredibly cliched and stupid to lose it like this under a tree with a
hot young virgin, like they were glued to the pages of...Virgil's Eclogues

Maybe if Clark would stop grinding his hips, stop rubbing his cock against Lex's, this wouldn't be
so chaotic.   Not terrifying, just too much of everything.   The way Clark looked at him, even his
pupils wide open, his face flushed and so desperate that Lex kissed him like he'd never kissed
anyone, forgetting about precision and order, pushing his tongue deep into Clark's mouth again
and again, thinking about his cock there, his cock inside Clark's strong body-- 

--until he was held off.   "Lex."

"Sorry.   This is too much.   I know."

"It's not that.   Kind of the opposite."   He gave one of those grins that took over his face, too big
on anyone else, then stared at nothing over Lex's shoulder, before looking straight at him.   "I
don't want you to stop.  At all.   I know it's stupid to stop you and tell you not to stop, but, well,
I worry about things and I don't want any distractions."

"I don't want you distracted.   I want you here with me the whole time."   

"So maybe we could take everything off.   So we won't have to stop again."

"Are you sure?"  


They finished at the same time, and when Clark went to lie down again, Lex touched his arm.  
"Wait.   Let me look."

Clark had a scattering of freckles on his chest, a swirl of dark hair around his nipples, more under
his arms and on his legs, between them.   Lex looked there the longest, at Clark's cock, a solid
line that thickened at the head.  Darkened, too, full of blood that stained it the color of the
overhanging cherries.   His balls were made for a mouth, smooth and round, and Lex's hand went
out.   At the last second, he changed direction, and his fingers closed over Clark's hip.   "Lie
down," he said, and heard the difference in his voice.   

It happened quickly, with Clark grabbing Lex on the way so that they tumbled together into the
grass, ending side by side, face to face.  So much skin against him, and while they kissed, Lex
stroked Clark's back then lower to his ass, sliding a hand over each cheek.   It brought them too
close, his bare cock against Clark's, and Clark was moaning into his mouth in a hot rush that Lex
felt in his balls.   That was the problem with Clark Kent: too much direct cause and effect.  

To control the situation, Lex left Clark's mouth, shifting on the grass so air whispered between
them, and went for his throat again, held Clark in his teeth, all of that power and beauty
completely his.   For now.   Something pushed against his lungs, a little sting of panic, but he sent
it somewhere deep and moved lower to Clark's nipples.   He didn't lick or suck, not at first, just
looked up to see Clark still watching with a kind of fervor, barely blinking, breathing in gulps, so
intent and happy that Lex almost lost it, almost took Clark's cock in his mouth to claim that first

This had to last, had to be imprinted in Lex's memory, every detail of Clark's reaction, every
moan, every shudder, every look, so he ran his finger over Clark's lips then pushed it between
them, while Clark sucked.   A little thing, miles from a blowjob, but it hurt to pull his finger from
the tongue circling it.   Lex rubbed the wet tip of his finger against Clark's right nipple until it
stiffened into a tiny, hard mouthful, then sucked, always aware of Clark's cock pressing against
his, the arm slung over his back.  

"I'm sorry," Clark said dreamily, but didn't let go when Lex tried to move away, sure it was over,
that this was another crazy dream.  "Sorry that I pushed you into the wall.   You keep getting
hurt, and that time it was my fault.  I kept thinking about it after, how you could've died, and it
would be all my fault."

At that, Lex had to take Clark in his hand, where he was so smooth and swollen.  Clark went still,
and when he finally reacted, reaching for Lex's cock, Lex pushed his hand away.   "I'm too
close," he said.  

"Because of me?  Or--"

"It's you, Clark."   The ‘always' nearly followed, so he shut up after that, just stroked Clark's
cock as slowly as he could, feeling the throb of blood under the skin.

Clark went wordless again, lying there panting before he turned his head a fraction to kiss Lex's
cheek, then his mouth.   Nothing so sweet ever as the soft penetration by Clark's tongue, and Lex
didn't fight it, even let Clark roll him onto his back so he could suck Lex's nipples, and Lex had
to let go of Clark's cock.   His nipples  were tender already, but Clark looked so serious, did it so
eagerly, that Lex only stroked Clark's hair and tried not to come.   He took an odd comfort, too,
in the slow pace of it all, so different from his dreams.   Only this was true.

Then he started to miss Clark's mouth on his and pulled him up again.   Kiss after kiss, and his
fingers itched, too empty, and it only stopped when they closed around Clark's cock.   His name
slid down his throat as Clark said it, filling him, and he encouraged Clark onto his back, then
licked a straight line from Clark's full bottom lip down his chest until he reached the head of his
cock.   Stopped dead.

With his fingers tight around the base, he lifted it to his mouth.   "Are you ready?"

"What do you think?"

"Because this is going to change everything."

"I know, Lex," he said, and raised himself for a better view.  

The head was slippery, and Lex loved that he'd made Clark wet for him.   He half-expected Clark
to taste like cherries even here; instead, he was sharp, vaguely like pine, and Lex loved that, too,
because it was Clark and no one else knew it.   It was their secret, how Clark tasted, how he
looked the first time Lex's tongue slid over the swollen head of his cock, the way his eyes closed
for a second and every muscle went taut for him, how that incredible full mouth softened and
spilled his name again.   

God, it made Lex's hands shake, his cock throb, to have Clark like this, to hold him on the tip of
his tongue.   A blue vein ran under Clark's skin, and Lex pressed his mouth to it, held his tongue
there to feel the pulse of blood.   It echoed through him, the beat of it, and the orchard faded to
nothing, leaving him alone with Clark.   Lex confirmed this by opening his mouth for the stretch
of Clark's cock.   His eyes burned, and he'd have to blink sometime, only not now, not with Clark
so far from a saint, from Jonathan's son, just this beautiful kid hovering near orgasm, all for him.   

If there was ever a time for ironic distance, this was it, with the raw clamoring under the surface.  
Lex tried, but it was like slamming on the brakes at sixty miles an hour, and he skidded right over
the bridge, taking Clark's cock deep down his throat, then pulling back before hungrily taking it in
again until Clark was writhing on the grass, one hand hot on Lex's skull.   He kept sucking even
when Clark cried out "Lex," even when he arched, even when the first wet burst fell like rain on
his tongue, only hot and bittersweet, like everything else about Clark.   

He didn't swallow as Clark warmed his mouth with come, savoring it like his mother with her tea. 
When the bursts slowed, then stopped, and Clark had fallen back into the grass, Lex drank it all,
filling himself with it.   Only it wasn't enough.  "Roll over," he told him.   "I'm not finished with

"Good," Clark said, low and sated, as he moved into place.   "I want you to do everything to me.  
I even brought...stuff.   In my jacket."

A tube of lubricant in the pocket, a white plastic bag wrapped around it.   "How do you even
know about this?"

"I'm not twelve, Lex.   I live on a farm, surf the net.   When Chloe's not around, Pete and I watch
his brother's dirty movies."   He was barely audible, his eyes closed, not annoyed but amused.  

"Hidden depths," he said, irrationally jealous of Pete, and dropped the lube beside the spilled pile
of cherries.

"It's why you like me."   He folded his arms and rested his cheek on them.   "Think how bored
you'll be when I stop surprising you."   

Before he straddled Clark's hips, Lex looked at Clark's relaxed, flushed body.   "I wouldn't hold
your breath."   Then, in place, he leaned down, his cock against the swell of Clark's ass, held
Clark's hair from his neck and kissed him.  It earned him a long vowel of pleasure, so he did it
again, keeping his knees locked to avoid the firm contact that would have him coming all over
Clark's ass.   "Stay relaxed," he whispered in Clark's ear.   "It won't happen until you're ready
for it."

"Ready for it now," Clark mumbled, and raised his hips.  

"Jesus, Clark.   Don't do that or it won't happen at all."   He felt the laugh under him, and gently
bit the lobe of Clark's ear.   "Not funny, farmboy.   I want to be inside you, and you're making it

Another rumbled laugh.  "I can tell."   

That feeling came back, panic mixed with something old and sweet as communion wine, and Lex
buried his face between Clark's shoulders, licking the salt from his skin, watching the flicker of
muscle.   He kept licking, making Clark shiny and wet across his shoulders then down the column
of his spine.   When he couldn't go any lower, Lex knelt between Clark's legs, cupping his ass
with both hands, and squeezed.   

"That's nice."

"It's going to get nicer."

"I was hoping."

He kept one hand in place, but moved the other to lick him, slow and wet like a cat, then switched
sides, until Clark's ass gleamed like the rest of him.   Never in the middle, though, only teasing
Clark by letting his tongue slide down the curve then licking back up.   Clark's breathing changed,
got a little faster, and Lex pictured his cock growing, not hard but fuller than normal.   Next came
the sucking on the fleshiest part of Clark's ass, down to his thighs, always returning before the
flush had time to fade.   

Clark started to squirm around a series of low sighs.   "Lex, I think I'm ready now."

"I'm just getting started."

"I was afraid you'd say that."

"You don't like it?"

"You know I do.   It's making me, well, crazy."

"That's how I want you.   Well, actually, like this."   With his hands on Clark's hips, he
repositioned him so that Clark's head stayed down, his cheek against his crumpled t-shirt, with his
weight resting on his knees and his ass high in the air.   Clark's cock hung down between his legs,
thick and very hard, and Lex stroked it quickly, just once.  "Perfect."

With one finger, he followed the cleft, brushing it lightly, then traced the skin under Clark's balls,
back and forth until Clark moaned and lifted his ass.  Lex pushed him back down and reached for
a cherry in the grass, a ripe red one, laid it flat above the line of Clark's ass, then flattened it.  
Juice squirted, staining Clark's lower back and the curves underneath.   The ruined flesh tossed
away, Lex caught the red drops with his tongue, this time licking deeper along the line.   When
Clark moved, Lex pressed with his knees.   "Let me do this."

"I guess I should be cool about everything, not king of the dorks, but no one's ever...And it's
you...And, wow.   I've never felt like this before, and it's really hard to stay still."  

A truth seemed necessary, but Lex only said quietly, "If you do, I'll make you come harder than
you ever have."

"You already did.   It feels like I never stopped.   But I'll try, Lex, if that's what you want." 

For an answer, Lex picked up a second cherry, tore off the stem, and put it in his mouth, careful
not to bite it.  Then he spread Clark with both hands and pushed the cherry against him until it
burst.   More juice and torn flesh, and Lex cleaned it up, his tongue slipping briefly inside Clark.  
At the gratifying shudder, Lex took another cherry, a smaller one, removed the stem, and again
with his tongue placed it right at the center.   This time, the pushes were light, not enough to
break the fruit, but hard enough that Clark tensed, whimpering.   

Holding the cherry with one hand, he stroked Clark's back with the other one.   "Relax.   Stay
open for me."   The sigh eased the tension, and when Lex moved his tongue away, the cherry
stayed in place.   "Keep breathing.   Long, slow, deep breaths."   

Quick obedience, and Lex nudged the cherry deeper, until Clark said, "It's too good.   I can't,"
and the cherry broke in a flare of juice.   With two hands, he pulled Clark apart and this time
didn't hold back, devouring the sticky bits of cherry, plunging his tongue deep into Clark's ass,
licking and sucking.    

Clark almost fell, and with a groan stuck his hand between his legs and grasped his cock.   "Lex, I
have to.   I think I'm dying."

"You can't," Lex said.   "It's mine."   

"You don't understand.  I can't stop.   I want to, but I can't."

"Then I'll help you.   Put your hands behind your back."   It was a slightly kinky, controlling form
of help, but Clark didn't resist, not even when Lex pulled the t-shirt from under Clark's cheek and
used it to bind his wrists.   "Is that okay?"   To make sure it was, Lex drew circles in the cherry
juice with his thumb and passed his palm over the head of Clark's cock. 

"Um, yeah, it's okay," Clark gasped.   "In the sense of ‘okay, you're killing me.'"

He wasn't alone.   Having Clark like this, kneeling and wrapped like a present, made up for every
crappy Christmas with his father gone south and the obligatory seasonal postcard:  ‘Don't touch
the liquor, Lex, or there'll be hell to pay.'   Lex scooped up more cherries and painted Clark's
cock, pulling it back between his legs to suck the head clean.   Another one in his ass, poised
there, and Lex popped it, wondering if he'd ever get tired of the metaphor.   Not likely: Clark was
endlessly innocent even now, and maybe he hoped it was catching.   

Annoying thought, and he chased it by pushing his tongue inside Clark, deeper than ever, sliding it
over the flesh slick as water while Clark shook.   A finger next, first only teasing the rim, never
quite penetrating, and Clark rocked back, trying to catch it.   When it finally entered him, they
both moaned, and Lex had to touch his own cock to relieve some of the pressure.   It only
increased the need to have his cock where his finger was, to open Clark all the way.

The lid of the tube snapped open, and Lex slicked himself  so he'd be ready when his edge-pushed
control shattered.   Not long now, but Clark had to be aching for it.   He used an oiled finger next,
skimming past muscle until it was buried to the knuckle, and twisted, getting Clark right--

A startled cry, and Clark started to speak, only the words came out chipped when Lex did it

"Breathe," he said, and tried to.   Complicated process, with his finger wrapped so tightly in
Clark, who tried to ride it, his back glowing with sweat and lower down with cherry juice.  His
bound hands were clenched, his sides heaved, and he repeated "Now, now," his voice so thick it
sounded like he was crying.    

Lex, overwhelmed in a just-born way, closed his eyes for a second, using the dark as a compass.  
Like a kid, and knowing it was like a kid, and hating that, he boxed the consequences and buried
them where his superego couldn't reach.   Then he freed his finger, smeared the last of the
cherries over Clark, leaving his ass the ripe color of blood, and positioned his cock against him.  
This was a fuck, not history or perdition.   A necessary, desperate, hot fuck, and with his fingers
hooked around Clark's hips, he pushed--

--and it felt like he was falling.   

Because it was Clark, Clark's sweet cherry ass he was sliding into, and he couldn't deny it, not
even with Clark's face hidden and his body slick with red juice.   He saw him anyway, leaning
over Lex after that push into the wall, concerned and confused and something unnamable that had
to be denied.   Another push, deeper connection, a rope of feeling that forced his head back, his
eyes wide open, and Clark's name from his mouth.    One more push, and he'd be--


Hot like a blast from a meteorite in a cornfield, with his cock locked inside Clark, who held him
so tightly that Lex wasn't sure he could move, wasn't even sure he wanted to.   Then Clark said
his name, pleading, and kept saying it while Lex pulled back, his cock cherry-colored like first-
time blood, and drove into him, fast, sixty miles an hour right off a bridge, and he did it again.  
Dangerous, but stopping didn't exist, not with this familiar, perfect fit, this rhythm natural as
dying.   He took Clark's cock in his hand, repeating it, following the echo.  

Thrust after thrust, no grace, no rules, only the feel of Clark's cock in his hand, his cock in Clark.  
He had to slow down, make it good, unforgettable, worth Clark's bravery in telling him.   But it
was like going down a slide, and holding tighter onto Clark made it worse with the solid strength
of him under Lex's hand, the realness of it.   How could he have thought his dreams were real? 
This had more texture, color, taste than those fucked-up fantasies, even if he couldn't control it
any better.

His mouth opened and Lex started to say things, endless pieces.   "You're so..." and "God, I
want..." and "This is so..."   And every time Clark pushed back, offered his ass for deeper
penetration, harder thrusts, seams split inside Lex's head, the point and order of everything
spilling together, melting.   The feeling spread until he was drowning in it, held under until his
lungs were bursting, until Clark's cock was, until Lex's was, come wet and hot everywhere like
the dying cherries.   And as he came, Lex wondered if the cherries weren't for Clark, but for him. 
The next thought, a darker secret, was almost lost under the pleasure, and he pressed his face to
Clark's damp back to keep it in.

When he was empty of everything but words, Lex untied Clark's hands, and they both dropped
back into the grass, panting and sticky with sweat, come and cherry juice.   

"Is it always like that?"  Clark asked, rolling onto his side, and placed his hand flat on Lex's

Lex stayed on his back, his hands linked under his head, his thighs still shaking.   "It's never the

"What was your first time like?"

He thought of Miriam and his father's lecture on divorcing sex from emotion.   "Business-like."

"How would you describe this?"

"Definitely not business-like."

"That's good, right?"

"Very good."

"Are you okay, Lex?   You're very quiet."

It was the secret, the new four-letter one.   He hid it because old habits die hard, even now with
Clark so loose-limbed and warm beside him.   Time enough later when the knowledge was
processed and contained.   "You took a lot out of me."

"I feel like I did the time I played basketball a few weeks ago with Pete, Whitney and Brent, this
other guy from school.   We got our butts kicked, but it was one of the best times of my life.  
Only this is better."

"I'm always happy to be better than a basketball game."

"What was the best time of your life?"

"The day I died."  

"What about...No, forget it."

He turned to face him.   "Today's up there, Clark."   

"Lex, there's something else I have to tell you."

"It can wait," he said.   "Let everything else wait."  


The sky was the color of pewter when Clark left.   Lex walked up the driveway, watching the
trace of clouds, felt them under his feet.   He might have been humming, something old his mother
used to sing to him.  Sleep, then he'd call Clark, and they could talk about the things that never
got said.   Maybe he'd drop by the farmhouse, go with Clark up to the loft and take him on that
ratty old couch.   Jonathan wouldn't be happy to see him, but he'd work around that.   Maybe
arrange a lower interest rate for the Kents' loans at the bank, relieve some of Jonathan's stress.  
Secretly, of course, because the guy was more suspicious than--

"The prodigal returns."


His father stood in the foyer, backlit by a window, artfully posed for maximum effect.   "We need
to talk."

"What are you doing here?   Did the Japanese extradite you?"

"You always did like your jokes, Lex.   And I just had the displeasure of witnessing your biggest
one yet."

Oh, fuck.   He didn't see--

"That Kent boy is criminally young.   And I emphasize ‘boy'.   I thought you gave up that
particular perversion after the last debacle.   Or is this another pathetic attempt to make the
headlines again?"

"He's a friend.   That's all.   You've heard about friends, right, Dad?"   

"We don't fuck our friends, Lex.   At least not that way."

"That's beautiful, Dad.   It would look great on a t-shirt."

"At least you're not trying to feed me sentimental garbage about true love.   There's hope for you

"He doesn't mean anything to me."

"That lie would work with anyone but me.   I'm your father.   I know you better than you know
yourself.   That's why you have to break it off and come with me to Metropolis before you can do
any more damage."

"Believe it or not, people can have relationships with me and come out undamaged."

His father laughed, a quick loud bark.   "Tell that to Victoria Hardwick.   Amanda Rothman.  
Those English boys.   You did know that one of them tried to kill himself after the story broke? 
And then there's Sam Phelan.   Who was the one they found over the body?  You.   And Bob
Rickman came to Smallville, and he's dead, too.  Granted, not a big loss, but the truth is, Lex,
you destroy people.   If you stay with this other boy, you'll destroy him, too.   You're like me,
Lex, whether you want to admit it or not.   We don't need other people to survive."

"Why don't you try to pin my mother's death on me, too?"

"You want to play hardball?   The truth is, you broke her heart.  You weren't the son she wanted

"Get out."

"Your emotions are showing, Lex.   Use your brain.   People are going to find out that you're
fucking this boy, and it will make the papers again."  Every time he repeated the word ‘boy,' his
father drew out the syllable.   "He'll lose his friends and his family, and he'll hate you for it.  
Even you must be able to see that."

"You mean that you'll see to that.   If I don't do what you want, you'll call one of your serfs at
the Daily Planet."

"If that's what it takes to stop you from ruining your life."

"You forget that I survived the last scandals."

"You're running out of credibility.   Besides, things are different now.   You're not a teenager
anymore.   People are less likely to forgive and forget when a man transgresses.   You'll be left
with nothing.   You think your boy will want you then, especially after you've humiliated him?"

"It doesn't sound like I have a choice."

"You always have a choice, Lex.   For once, make the right one.   Come with me to Metropolis
and put a stop to this foolishness."

"One question: why did you come back?   I thought you needed me in Tokyo."

"I never needed you, Lex.   It was a test.   You don't think that I keep my eye on you?   I didn't
get where I was by burying my head in the sand.   That's your failing, not mine.   Now, I see that
your bags are packed.   Let's go tonight.   You can send your truelove a little note from the city
explaining that he'll be much happier settling down with a nice girl."   He was already heading out
the door.   "Come on, Lex.   Don't fight me on this.   You know I'm right."

"This is only temporary," he said, "and I'm going with you for my reasons, not yours.  I'll be
back here in a few weeks.   Smallville's my home now, like it or not."

"Don't waste the amateur theatrics on me.  I know where your real skills lie.   Trust me for once."

Familiar dialogue, and he knew how it ended.   "Let me guess:  I won't be disappointed."  

His father jerked his head around.  "Sarcasm is the last defense of the beaten man."

"I thought it was the best defense."

"Only when you wield it well.   You're out of practice, Lex.   This town has softened you, and
that's dangerous for everyone.   Now let's go."   

There was nothing to do but pick up his bags and follow his father to the car.


It was late before he had the chance to call Clark.   His father, that all-knowing prick, insisted on
taking him out to dinner, a power play designed to force Lex to show his hand.   A refusal would
be too telling, would give Daddy Dearest too much ammo that he might use against Clark, so Lex
sat at Le Maitre, ate his rognon de veau with chard, then sipped a glass of 1942 Darroze-aux
Ducs armagnac, every muscle purposefully relaxed.   He ignored his watch, turned his phone off,
and didn't flinch when his father ordered cherries jubilee, cracking to the waiter, "But none for
my son; he's had enough cherries for today." 

He was dismissed at eleven, and at his condo spent fifteen minutes staring out the window,
watching the moon hit the river.  A hit of Halcion later, Lex called Clark.   "It's me.   We need to

"I went by your place tonight and the maid said you were in Metropolis."

"Clark," he said, gently as he could, "what happened this afternoon--it was a mistake."

Silence.   Then, "What do you mean exactly?"

"I want to be your friend, Clark.   I've always wanted that.   And if we keep doing what we did
this afternoon, the friendship's not going to last."   

"Why not?"

"Because I'm too old for you.   If your father finds out, he'll have me arrested.   You have to
know that."

"He won't find out.   It's not like I'm going to tell him."

"He will, Clark.   If he doesn't find out, someone else will.   How do you think Pete would feel if
he knew?   You'd lose him as a friend.   And he's not the only one.   You always talk about how
you want to be normal.  Well, this isn't normal.   You'd be a freak."

"It could be our secret.   No one has to know.   Please, Lex."

"It's not fair to you.   I don't want to ruin your life."   It felt like another voice was speaking
through him.

"Is this because I didn't do things right this afternoon?   I'll get better.   I know I need practice--"

"No.   This afternoon was...It was great, Clark.   Special.   Nothing will ever change that.   But it
can't happen again."

"Please, Lex," he repeated.   "Can't we try and see what happens?"

"It'll only make things more complicated.   If we stop it now, before it starts, it'll be easier to act
like nothing happened."

Clark's voice went higher, the words dropping harder.   "It already started.   I'll know that
something happened.   I'll remember everything you did to me."

"That'll pass.   You'll see.   You'll get a girlfriend and forget that we were ever anything but

"I'll never forget," Clark said, and hung up.  

That night, Lex dreamed again about the river, the green glints, the coldness, the brackish taste.  
He didn't want to wake up.


Monday crawled along like its back was broken.   At work, lodged behind a desk once owned by
a guillotined French king, Lex fought it, lined up meetings and phone conferences, sent email and
faxes.   He didn't call Clark and shut the blinds when the sky threatened to turn the color of his
eyes.   There was one incident with a cherry-colored binder, but his secretary cleaned up the flurry
of papers while he was out for lunch.   

By four-thirty he felt like someone had slammed him against a wall, and downed two Codeine
tablets with a glass of too-cold water.   The buzz of the intercom reverberated in his skull.  

"There's a young man to see you.   He won't give his name," she added quietly, "and he's quite

"Tell him...No, forget it.   Send him in."   He picked up a pen then put it down.  No props, unless
the dead king's desk counted.   Clark deserved his say after the cheapness of a phoned-in break-
up.   At the last minute, Lex noticed a brochure on the new children's wing at Metropolis
General, and he carefully tucked it under the blotter.  

His office door swung open.   "Who the hell do you think you are?"

It took Lex a few seconds to recognize his visitor without the flannel and soft-spoken manner.  
The truth was he didn't really look much like Clark at all.   "Raphael, wasn't it?   Rafe."

"You should goddamn well remember my name since you got me fired."   

Charlotte buzzed him again.   "Is everything all right in there, Mr. Luthor, or do you want me to
call security?"

"Everything's fine."   He looked up at Rafe.   "Now, where were we?"

"I want to know why you got me fired.   I did what you wanted.  I sucked your cock and let you
fuck my ass and played your stupid game."

"Did you find the check?"

"Yes, and that's even more fucked up.   I made a crapload more money working for Miriam, and
I need my job.   Your money won't last more than six months."

"Did you like working for her?"

"That's not the point.   The point is you royally screwed up my life."

"I freed you."

"Who asked you to?   I was fine where I was."   

"So you don't want this?"  Lex rummaged around on his desk and picked up a piece of paper,
handing it to him.   "I was going to send it to you, but since you're here..."

"You're crazy, you know that?   I don't need a fairy godfather."   But he kept the paper in his
hand, studying it.  "Is this real?"

"Of course."

"So what's the catch?   I have to suck your dick whenever you're in town?   Dress up like a
teenager and tell you what a great fuck you are?"

"No.   No sex.   No obligation except that you can't tell anyone what I did."

"So this is an offer I can't refuse?"

"You're not that stupid."

"You don't even know me."

"I know."

"This doesn't make any sense."   Rafe dropped into a chair.   "Is it because of the guy I was
playing?  Clark?   I'm some whacked-out substitute for him?"   

"Not for him."

"What happens if I bomb in the interview?"

"That's not my problem.   I've given you a choice; what happens after is up to you."

"So that's it?"

"Well, you can buy me a drink."   Lex wasn't sure who was more surprised.  

"A drink?"

"It's not a metaphor.   Come or don't.   It's up to you."

"If I do go, and say the wrong thing, are you going to call the school and get the interview


Rafe drummed his fingers against his thighs, then stood up.   "Okay, you're on.   I have to say,
you are one strange guy."

A sure sign that his life was a mess, Lex thought, when it sounded like  a compliment.

Vertigo looked like an eighteenth-century brothel designed by Andy Warhol.   Red velvet
everywhere, crystal chandeliers hung from low ceilings over tables with gilt legs, and flea market
refuse stuck to the walls, from soup cans to broken radios to tennis rackets.   Invisible speakers
whispered low jazz, and invisible waiters brought endless rounds of Manhattans.   It was a million
miles from Smallville.   

Lex didn't plan on getting drunk, even told Charlotte he'd be back in an hour.   Seems he'd lied.

"Do me a favor," he told Rafe through a jumble of whiskey, vermouth and bitters.   "Don't die.  
Don't kill yourself or get killed or have a breakdown.   Just make it big."   

"I'll see what I can do."

"Don't see.   Do it."

"So you can get a return on your investment?"

"So I can show my father I'm not cursed."

"You look pretty lucky from where I'm sitting."

"I guess that's why you're an actor and not a psychic."   He started to laugh, and couldn't stop.

"Mr. Luthor..."

"At this point, I think you can call me Lex."

"Lex, I think maybe it's time to go.   Tell me where you live, and I'll call a cab."

"I can do it."   He made the call on his cell, paid the bill, then tried to stand up.   Three tries later,
Rafe slung an arm around his shoulder and helped him weave past the maze of tables.   When he
stumbled anyway, Lex put his arm around Rafe's waist.   "Now where are the photographers so I
can ruin your career before it gets started?"   

For once the Fates didn't crap all over him, and the street was relatively quiet, just a few
pedestrians under the lightly falling snow.   

"Want to come back to my place?" he asked Rafe as the cab showed up.   

"Do I have a choice?"

"You know, if I hear that goddamn question one more time, I'm going to kill someone.   I told
you: the money's yours.  This is an innocent proposition.   Well, not innocent, but you know what
I mean."

"I'll come, but only to make sure you get home safe."   Rafe opened the car door and helped him
in, then climbed beside him.   "It's the least I can do.   You need sleep.   And maybe some

As he sprawled on the seat, Lex saw a blurred flash of color across the street.   "Did you see

"It's just the wind blowing the snow."

"Of course it is."   What did he expect?   That the flash would grow long legs, strong arms, a
torso covered in a white t-shirt, and a handsome, wide-eyed face?   The dreams were lies; some
things weren't meant to be.  "Let's get out of here."

And they drove off through the dark streets of Metropolis.


The house smelled dead as an old church, and that's why Lex had to get away.   Maybe it always
had and he'd never noticed, buried it under the hothouse flowers in every room.   His father
thought the flowers were queer and always eyeballed them, his lip twisting, but Lex kept them
around to prove that his post-asthmatic lungs were clear.   As a kid, the slightest hint of
something green, and he'd be fumbling for his inhaler so wall-to-wall orchids were a victory.   He
took his victories where he could them, only sometimes they were as buried, too.  Unlike the
dusty, Shirley-Jackson atmosphere of the mansion, his condo in Metropolis was modern, all clean,
sharp angles, the kind of place Howard Hughes would've liked:  sterile, no hidden corners and
little metaphoric potential.   

The sunflower yellow of the Kent's farm hurt his eyes.   Hard to imagine living here, with the
clutter inside, all of these things that had meaning for them but looked messy to anyone else.   The
door was closed against the cold, but unlocked in conventional Smallville carelessness.   Maybe
they'd start locking it once they realized he was back in town.   Luthor-prevention--it could be the
start of a whole new ad campaign for the locksmiths of America.

"Anyone home?"   Like he didn't know that Jonathan and Martha were at a town hall meeting

No response, then Clark was there, on the other side of the kitchen table.   No smile, about as
warm as a Kansas winter.   "You're back."

"Hi, Clark," he said, proving his brilliant command of the language, of the situation.   Blame his
stomach, which slipped and rolled, and the sweat that lined his hands and his back.   

"Want a drink?"   Clark opened the fridge, rummaging around, and pulled out a carton of orange
juice.   He drank from it directly for what seemed like a long time.   The back of his shirt was
creased, half untucked from his jeans, and his hair seemed longer, curling over his collar.  

Lex's fingers itched, and he forced them steady.   "I'm good."

Clark put the juice back, but stayed where he was.   A round, wood-framed clock ticked noisily
on the wall over his shoulder.   "How was Metropolis?"   

"It's still standing."

"I didn't think you were coming back."

"Smallville's my home.   Besides, every town needs its own eccentric billionaire's kid.   Gives
their lives a purpose."  No reaction.   "So, what've you been doing?"

"The usual.   School.  Chores."   

"Anything new and exciting?"

"I went for that helicopter ride, and it was pretty cool.   Just glass and metal between us and the
air.   Like flying, except for the noise.   We saw everything--even flew over your house."   For a
second, he smiled and it had no edges.  

"Every kid's fantasy: to fly.   Total freedom.   Who'd you go with?"

"Chloe.   She and Pete pulled straws, and she won.   Pete swears she cheated, but she says when
you want something bad enough, you usually get it."

"Chloe has a lot to learn about life."   

"I don't know, Lex.   I kind of agree with her."

"You and Chloe have a lot in common.   Maybe someday--"

"We're just friends."

"Are we?"

"Are we what?"


"Sure, Lex."


"Look, it's okay.   You were right.   It's better this way.   I mean, it's not like we could date or
anything.   It's hard enough being your friend, dealing with my dad and Pete and everyone.    You
need someone older, and I need someone normal.   No offense."

"None taken."

"I mean, it's going to be weird at first.   Because of what happened.   But it's like when my
grandma died: it sucked at first, but then it got okay.   I remembered the good things."   He
seemed to relax, and took a seat at the table.   

"Well, I'm glad.   Your friendship matters to me."

"It's not like...It's not like I'm in love with you or anything.   It was just, you know, a crush."  

"I understand.   Older guy, lots of money and notoriety.   Perfectly natural."     

"And you were just paying me back for saving you."

"I...Yes, I think you're right."   A brilliant lie, bright and long as a river under the sun.  Not quite
as smooth, but then all of his energy was concentrated on keeping his face weather-talk bland.  

"So we'll go back to the way things were before when everything was normal."

"Sounds like a good plan."   Words were like a rabbit hole, and he moved across the square tiles
of the kitchen floor to keep from falling.   When Clark took a step back, Lex stopped.   "I'd better
go.   You probably have homework."

"Yeah.   Lots of history.   I hate history."

"Right.   It's always the same thing.   Different names, same problems.   But you're going to
change all that."

"I said that, didn't I?   Well, I still believe it."

"If anyone can do it, you can.   Save a few more lives, and you'll earn a ‘Get out of jail free'

"What about you, Lex?   You're the one with the money and power."

"Lex Luthor, patron saint of the poor and hungry?   No one would believe it."

"You shouldn't let that stop you."

"I know.   I'll see you later, Clark."

On the way home, Lex stopped on the bridge, wondering if half a day of happiness balanced a
mediocre life.   For now, it was enough.   


Man is what he believes. --Anton Chekhov

2.  Falling Into Now

Lex stopped dreaming ten years ago.   The doctors couldn't explain it--some warped reaction to
the Halcion and his own even stranger metabolism.   Smallville, it appeared, was literally in his
blood.   This particular infection had other side effects.  Even though his friendship with Clark had
eroded, finally stalling when Clark went off to university, Lex never stopped watching him, always
secretly.   He knew when Clark slept with Chloe for the first time, when he moved to Metropolis
and got his first job at the Daily Planet, when he developed his crush on Lois Lane and when it
turned into a solid friendship.   He also knew, although less precisely in origin, when Clark
became Superman.  

Somehow, the distance gave Lex greater perspective, despite the ongoing emotional investment.  
Clark's role-playing was more apparent, how Clark behaved differently depending on
circumstance.   His motives stayed the same--he was a hero no matter what--but he became more
adept at burying its signs.   Mostly, this meant playing Clark Kent as uber-normal, a parody of
himself.   All hints of difference disappeared, so that it was never Clark performing impossibly
heroic tasks, never Clark caught in provocatively strange situations.   Instead, he deflected all of
that onto his alter ego.   And speaking of irony:  not only did Lex's Nietzsche-spouting father
warn him away from Superman, but he missed the potential in the concept.   There were different
ways to rule the world.

Maybe Lex's sympathy with Clark's identity crisis also that let him guess his secret identity when
no one else could.   Because underneath the glasses and the geeky demeanor, the baggy suits that
hid his body, Clark looked the same.   There was a certain irony that Clark, who always wanted to
be normal, received the most attention when he was at his most alien.   Lex figured that he was
probably the only person in the universe who felt sorry for Superman.   

Truth be told--and sometimes it had to be, even when no one was around to listen--in addition to
his Polonius role, Lex had found another way to keep in touch with Clark.  He started sending the
notes five years ago, untraceable email messages sent to Clark at the Planet.  The content varied
in details, but not intent: he'd warn Clark when crimes were about to go down or when they had
taken place.   Drug deals, money laundering, gun running--any and all illegal activity he heard
about through his private network.   It played hell with Lex's own reputation; to discover the
specifics, he often had to move close to the center, so his name often came up when the cops and
Clark conducted their interviews.   But Lex had never had much of a reputation to start with, and
he figured it was a small price to pay.   He always signed his messages as "Chekhov."  

The trouble now was that Clark seemed to be catching on.   In the last few months, references
appeared in Clark's articles to a mysterious source "placed high in Metropolis' business
community."   Also, the usual cutting digs had vanished about Lex and his "unsavory" business
practices, and he seemed on the verge of spilling the truth.   Lex wasn't ready for that mirror.  
There was something safe about apocrypha; it created within the chaos a tiny universe that he
alone controlled.   The truth brought too many expectations, too many demands he'd never meet. 
This way, covered in lies, he could do what he wanted, no questions asked, no messy answers
revealed.   Being good was even more complicated than being considered evil, and he'd choose
the latter over the former any day. 

Only now, for the first time in a decade, Lex's nightmares returned.   He was back under the
cherry tree with Clark, faking virtue so Clark would make the first move, letting everyone else
dictate who he was, what he should do.  All of those wrong fucking choices, and he'd wake up
wishing he hadn't.   Every four am for two weeks, he'd drag his ass to the computer, click on the
Daily Planet web site, and stare at Clark's picture, sometimes jerking off to it.   He used to think
that Clark's inalienable (alienable? alien?) goodness fed his obsession, that Clark was who he
wanted to be.    Clark certainly gave him the model for his own secret behavior, taught him by
example to try and be good no matter what his father expected.   

The difference, and this felt so important that he shut his eyes against Clark's watching face, the
difference was that Clark could be good so damn easily.   Or maybe it wasn't so much about ease
but about acceptance.   Jonathan and Martha let Clark believe that goodness wasn't weakness or
a disease, that it was normal even for a kid who was anything but.   The usual punch of envy
followed, mixed in with a lust so old it should've died years ago.   God only knew everything else
around him had.   His mother, Pamela, Amanda, Max, Jude, Sam Phelan, then last year his father
(the "Daily Planet" sent flowers and a card in Clark's handwriting).  

When Lex opened his eyes, he noticed a link to another article on the page: ‘Actor Breathes New
Life into Russian Classic.'   It was a preview for Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard starting
Saturday at the Metropolis Art Center, with the critic raving about Raphael Mendes' star turn in
the Broadway production, here to reprise the role of Trofimov, the idealist student who foregoes
love for philosophy.   

Sometimes Fate was as subtle as a hammer.   His mouth went dry, the desert kind of dry so far
beyond water that only cherries would quench it.   He wondered if Clark ever got that thirsty, and
what he'd do if someone sent him a basket of cherries.


"Is this some kind of joke?"   Clark had never learned to enter a room normally.   He still did it in
a noisy, messy way, more so, apparently, when he was royally pissed off.   Bits of plaster
decorated the floor and the slammed door echoed.  

Not quite the reaction he'd hoped for, and Lex shamelessly imitated his father.   When all else
failed, steal from an expert.   "If you want an interview, talk to my secretary.   I'm busy right

Clark threw the basket of cherries on Lex's desk.   The top ones spilled over, rolling without
grace across the surface.   One dropped in Lex's lap.   "Don't play dumb, Lex.   It's not you."

"Thanks for the insight.   Now if you don't mind, I've got work to do.   And take your lunch or
whatever the hell it is with you."   Without seeming to, he reached down for the cherry and
soothed the skin.  

"This might come as a big surprise," Clark said, leaning forward, his cheeks flushed and his
glasses halfway down his nose, "but there's only one person in the world who would send me a
gift like that.  You.    And I want to know why."

"Much as I enjoyed our little frolic in the woods, that was years ago.   I've moved on.   You've
moved on.   I don't know who sent you this, but it wasn't me.   Maybe it was a secret admirer."

"Secret admirer my ass.   This has you written all over it."

"I have to admit this is the first time someone's looked at cherries and thought of me.  
Pomegranates, maybe, or even apples--"

"Spare me the metaphoric bullshit.   Why can't you admit it?   Why send me this then pretend it
wasn't you?"

"It would be quite ingenious if I'd sent it.   Only I didn't.   I have a business to run, in case you've
forgotten, and sending cherries to former lovers isn't my style."

"‘Former lovers'?   I don't think one afternoon qualified us as lovers."

"Then let me rephrase it: sending cherries to former fucks isn't my style.   If I wanted to call you,
Clark, I'd pick up the phone.   Since I didn't, you can assume you're not wanted here."

"Admit that you sent them, Lex, and I'll go."

"Sorry.   And much as I'd love to reminisce, duty calls.   You can shut the door on your way out.  
This time, try not to shake the whole building."

"I know it was you.   I know it was.   And I'm not playing your game."

"I'm not fifteen, Clark.   I don't need to play games."

The door slammed again, and more plaster chips shot from the wall.   Lex didn't move, just sat
there until his heart settled down.   It took a long time.


The best thing about the play was Rafe.   The worst was the constant mention of the cherry
orchard.   Lex drifted in and out, picturing Clark lying naked in the grass, hard and ready,
remembering how it felt to be inside him.   Usually, he reserved the memories for sex or
masturbation, doling them out in pieces.   Tonight, the whole scene replayed inside his head, and
his cock ached.   Too many dreams lately, not enough sleep, and the world was starting to tilt.

It had been a week since the second delivery of cherries, and Clark hadn't come back.   Clark
wasn't coming back.  Who could blame him?   Lex had been thrown by Clark's anger when he
barged into the office, but what did he expect?   That he'd look at the gift and see everything that
Lex was trying to say and ask, but couldn't?   

After the curtain fell and the applause died, he headed backstage.   No one stopped him.   Rafe
was in his dressing room, wiping away the make-up that turned his face too pale.   When he saw
Lex over his shoulder in the mirror, he dropped the cloth from his hand but didn't turn around.  
"Come to collect your debt?"

"Are you in character?"

"I'm always in character, although I feel like I'm in the wrong play.   We're heading into Faustian

"I'm not here to collect anything.   Actually, that's not true.   I'm here for confirmation."

"Confirmation of what?"

"That I did the right thing."

"What do you think?"

"Let's just say that my past efforts haven't always worked out."

"Then consider yourself confirmed because this time you did good.   It's taken awhile, but my
life's turning out fine.   Better than that.   I guess I should thank you.  It's just that I've been
waiting for the other shoe to drop.   Your reputation...Well, I guess you know what it's like."

"Like everything else about me, it's pretty hard to miss."

"It's a pretty big role to play."

"Who says it's a role?"

"Well, unless you whip out a contract and start talking about souls, I'm going to start thinking
that maybe you and I have more in common than I thought."

Lex raised his hands, palms up.   "No contract.  Your soul's all yours."

"Then how about I buy you a drink?   I owe you one."

"What the hell.   It's not like I have any big plans."

Rafe finished cleaning his face, then changed into street clothes.   "Can I ask you a question?"


"Whatever happened to that kid?   The one I impersonated?   You ever work things out with

"Not exactly." 

"But you're still in love with him?"

"I never said that."

"Lex, you might be a good actor, but you're not that good."

So they went to a small, dark bar a few blocks from the theater, drank vodka gimlets and talked.  
Strange to talk to someone who didn't want something in return.  Then again, he'd paid for the
privilege.   Looking at Rafe across the table, he saw Clark again, believing that their relationship
was purely about obligation.   

"...I don't have that much money right now," Rafe was saying, "but I've got a few commercials
coming in and--"

"If you gave me the money, it would throw things off.   I'd owe you.   Giving you the money,
getting you the interview--it wasn't all about charity.   It was something I needed to do for me.   I
don't expect you to understand it, but I need you to believe me."

Rafe studied him, then nodded.   "Okay.   I buy it.   Like I said, your acting's not that good.  
You'd have to be Olivier to pull that off."   He grabbed his jacket off the seat and stood up.  
"Let's get out of here and celebrate my success the old-fashioned way: in bed.   You know," he
added quietly, "I think about that night sometimes.   You were pretty hot once you got going. 
Most guys didn't give a shit if I came or not.   They still don't.   And I won't even charge you this
time."   He winked, and for a second he looked like Clark.

"What the hell," Lex said and followed him out the door.   Even this late the air was warm and
thick from the day's fumes.   This blurred the edges of reality, like they were walking in a dream.  
Maybe this was the last one he'd have; maybe going with Rafe was the ending his life needed.   

They passed a newsstand as a truck for the Planet dropped off a stack of papers.   "Hold on a
second.   I want to see if the review is in."   He read it as they walked, making pleased sounds
every couple of seconds.   "Your investment definitely paid off, if this guy's anything to go by."

"Can I see it when you're done?"   When Rafe handed it over, Lex flipped to the front page,
looking for Clark's byline.   It led a story on a recent foiled bank job.   No mention of the Lily
foundation, which he'd named after his mother, or Lex's bankrolling of it.   He breathed a sigh of

"Expecting bad news?"

"This guy at the paper's got it in for me."

"Let me see."   Rafe grabbed it back.   "Clark Kent.   Guess I don't have to ask if this is your
mystery guy.   Can't be too many Clarks around who push your buttons.   I have to ask: why
aren't you with him?  Is he straight?  A serial killer?"

"No.   I knew him from a long time ago, when we lived in Smallville.   He's just...good."

"I can see why that would be a problem."  He rolled his eyes.  

As they walked up the path to his front door, Lex slowed.  "If I slept with you, I'd be doing it for
the wrong reasons."

"It's only sex.   I'm not looking for a marriage proposal.   We fuck, then go our separate ways.  
You can even close your eyes and pretend I'm a reporter for the Daily Planet.   I'm always willing
to try a new role."

Lex laughed.   "Thanks for the offer, but it's better this way.   I'm thinking of going away for
awhile, getting out of the city.   Maybe back to Smallville."

"I knew there was a reason I generally avoid bald billionaires.   Too damn temperamental.   And
they say actors are bad."

"I'll get you a cab."   He called the number.   "It'll be here in a few minutes.   I'm sorry about
this," he added, and meant it.   "I'm still trying to work something out."

"Someone, you mean."

"You could say that."   A yellow cab screeched to a halt beside them.   "You were great tonight
in the play.   I should've told you that before."

"You know, Lex, for a notorious super-villain, you're not a bad guy.   Good luck."   He shook his
hand, then climbed into the taxi.   

After the lights faded on the horizon, he walked down into the parking garage and climbed into
his Porsche.   The interior smelled antiseptic, too clean and unnatural.   Who lived his life like it
was the inside of a car?   His father had.   Lionel had died like royalty, with all the pomp and
ceremony he loved, but not a single person cried, not even Lex.   Hard to care for someone who
used The Prince as his bible--or someone who acted like he did.  Tears, funerals and Luthors
didn't mix.

Even at the end his father seemed proud of his life.   But then, why wouldn't he be?  He'd made
his choices, hadn't let anyone make them for him.   Lionel built himself up from nothing, turned
himself into an institution because that's what he wanted.   ‘You always have a choice.   This
time, make the right one.'   Lex had never fully believed that; unlike his father, there were things
he couldn't control.   Or things that he hadn't tried to control.   That's what his father would say,
and maybe Lionel was right.   

Lex picked up his phone and called a Metropolis number.   He put the cherry order on his real
credit card, not a dummy one, and dictated a note this time, asking that it be signed "Chekhov."  
Then he hit the gas and drove back in time toward Smallville.


He drives past a neat row of poplars, and the spire appears, cross-topped.  The church steeple is a
grey triangle against the sky, and the street is full of clouds.   The fog stays with him even when
he pulls into his driveway.   Funny to think of it as his since he hadn't been back to Smallville in
years.   Weeds line the path to the orchard, and they grow thicker as he moves further from the
house, their seeds scattering like dust.   Trees appear through the thinning dark, and the heavy
sweet smell of cherries drifts toward him while dead fruit squishes under his feet.   He sees the
tallest tree, the one like a giant.   No one is under it, so Lex keeps going toward water the color
of Clark's eyes.

His clothes in a pile on the sand, Lex walks into the river.   It's shivery cold, but he doesn't stop,
not even when he tastes brackish wetness.   There's no panic or fear; this is more a relief, a
baptism that should've happened years ago.   As the water closes over him, he thinks of his
Catholic mother, his Machiavellian father, and the suicidal priest, about the choices they made and
the ones they didn't.   In his own way, he loved them all, but Lex isn't sure that he wants to be
them.   If he stays down here on the slick sandy bottom, he will.

The dawn floods the sky pink above him, and he goes to it.   One of Fate's cheap metaphors, but
there's something undeniably warm and reassuring about them.   The air rushes into his lungs, and
he heads back toward the shore, the water drying on his skin.   

Clark is there, watching him.   "Strange time for a swim."

"You know me.  Always have to be different."

"You were down there a long time.   I thought maybe I'd have to save you again."

"There's still time."   Lex doesn't touch his clothes, just stands facing Clark.

"You look all right to me."

"As you should know, looks can be deceiving."

"Sometimes that's all we've got to go on."

"I lied to you."

"I know.   You're not exactly what you seem."

"I don't think you know all of it."

"If you're talking about your secret life as a saint, I know.   And I know about the guy.   The
actor.   The one you were sleeping with ten years ago, the one you went out with last night.   It's
okay.   I understand why you didn't tell me about him.   You didn't want to hurt me."

"I'm no saint.   God."   He laughs.   "That's you.   My motives are too screwed up.   As for that
guy..."  He laughs again, a deep burst like he's surfacing again.   "He's not why I broke it off with
you, Clark.   I wasn't sleeping with him.   I did, once, before that afternoon with you, but not
after.   He was someone I helped, and who helped me."

"So why...Forget it.   It doesn't matter."

"I told myself a lot of lies about why we couldn't go on, and fed them all to you.   About being
scared of ruining your life.   You've always been strong, Clark.   You could've handled it.   I was
the one who was scared."    He'd like to look away, maybe run, but he's come too far.    

"Scared about what?"

"Losing control.   Being weak.   Failing my father.   Failing you."

"How could you fail me, Lex?   I was in love with you."

The past tense had sharp teeth.   "I'm a Luthor.   We don't do love well."

"Why did you send the cherries?   That hurt, Lex.   It was like you were making fun of me."

"Making fun of you?   Is that what you thought?   I sent them because ten years is a lot of

"So you thought we could pick up where we left off?  Ten years is a long time.   Things change."

"Not for me.   I mean, I've changed, but I still love you, Clark.   It's one of those permanent
things, like rivers and religion."

"Why didn't you tell me then?"

"Some secrets are harder to share than others.   You should understand that, at least."

"How long have you known about me?"

"Years.   To be honest, Clark, you always were Superman; the cape didn't change anything."

"Lex, have I ever told you that you're the most frustrating guy I've ever met?   You know how
scared I was to tell you the truth?   I even tried, but then we were never that close again.   God.  
You're like a hundred history books all rolled into one."

"And you hate history."

"I've never had a lot of patience for things I can't change, for the sameness of it.   Like my
feelings for you.   I tried really hard to get rid of them.   Lois teases me about that sometimes.  
She thinks I'm obsessed with you."

"I can live with obsession."

"What if it's more than that?"

"I can live with that, too."   

Clark's face goes so soft and warm that he looks fifteen again, a kid, not the savior of the world.  
But when Clark's arms close around him, the truth hits home as they move through the air toward
the cherry tree, quieter than a helicopter.   Unsteady clouds trail under Lex's feet, but he never
feels like he's falling, even when they land and Clark lays him on his back under the tree.   The
last flash of clarity fades when Clark strips and joins him on the ground.  

The first kiss blends into dozens and differences break down, so he only knows that hands are
sliding over skin, mouths following in perpetual motion.   He does wake up briefly when Clark
goes down on him for the first time, staring up, his mouth full of cock, and Lex strokes his hair,
languid in this floating place between dreams and reality.   He's not even sure when he starts to
come or when he stops, only that it lasts for hours.   

Clark comes at least twice, because Lex can taste the semen on his tongue, feel it deep inside him,
smearing his thighs.   There should be a part that he likes best, and it could be when he's filled in
some way, mouth or ass, or when Clark makes those wild sounds as the thrusts get rough.   Later,
resting with Clark's head on his chest, his arm around him, he ranks the confessions pretty high,
the straight, razor-edged truth that sliced through years of bullshit.   To be sure, Lex rolls Clark
onto his back and licks him everywhere, testing him until the damn thing happens again and he
can't separate sensation or action, just flows through a series of shapes, stretched and filled, so
changed-but-the-same that he really is falling this time, through ten years, maybe even a hundred
and thirty, back to the present.   He sucks and licks and fucks until it's all the same, until it
doesn't matter anymore why it's happening, only that it's going to keep happening again and

"Lex," Clark says sleepily, "can you do me a favor?"

"As long as it doesn't involve moving.   Or thinking."

"Stay away from water."

"I don't know, Clark.   It's been pretty lucky for me."

"But what if I'm not there to rescue you?"

"I made sure you would be, just in case.   That's why I sent the note with the last basket of
cherries asking you to come here."

"I didn't get any note, but I did get a phone call from some guy who said you were in trouble.  
He thought you might come here.   Any idea who it was?"

"A friend.   He also thought I was obsessed."

"With me?"

"Who else?"  Lex asked, and kissed him. 


While their fights never reached Miltonic proportions, they still happened.   Lex was surprised to
find both that they weren't always his fault, and that he enjoyed the glimpses of Clark's human
side.   Nothing was more reassuring about his own humanity than when Superman got pouty.   

The biggest bone of contention was Clark's insistence that the public had a right to know about
Lex's Messiah complex.  He'd let it go for awhile, apparently convinced by Lex's point that his
ability to do good depended on his public persona.  It didn't hurt that Lex always took Clark to
bed afterward, turned on by Clark's belief in him, and they'd fall asleep on Lex's bed, dreaming
about ordinary things.    The other fights revolved around a series of commercials for a new
lemon-scented cleanser.

Sprawled on the couch, his shirt opened to his waist, wet traces from Lex's mouth visible on his
skin, Clark insisted, "He doesn't look anything like me.   I'm taller, and my nose is totally
different.   My mouth, too."   

"You're much hotter," Lex said, but couldn't resist teasing him.   "I still think he looks like you
around the eyes."

"So go fuck him if he's so great."

"I'd rather fuck you."   And Lex would show him for hours afterward.   And, really, was it his
fault if he forgot to tell the maid not to buy that particular brand?   

Clark walked in one night, collapsed in a chair, then sniffed the air.   "What the hell is that?  
Lemons?"   In a white flash, he was on his hands and knees, rooting in the cabinet under the
bathroom sink.   "You bastard," he said to Lex, admiring the view from the doorway.   "I can't
believe you brought this crap into the house."   The bottle left a round hole in the wall beside
Lex's head.   "You are so going to pay for that."   With a familiar shove, two hands right over his
beating heart, Clark pushed Lex back against the marble.   

It didn't hurt, and Lex twisted around, his palms flanking the gap.   One of those Superman
flashes followed, so that Clark was pressing his naked body against Lex's.   "Take what I owe,
Clark.   Now."

"I will.   And the next time you want to play games, remember this."    But Clark slid in with
infinite slowness, kissing Lex's shoulder, stroking his cock.   

"I don't think this is the sort of reinforcement you want to give me," Lex said, pushing back to
take Clark deeper.   "I'm going to smell that stuff and get a hard-on."

"I'll find some stuff that smells like cherries.   You can use that and not this lemony crap.   You're

Every six months or so, when Clark needed relief from the burden of saving the world or Lex did
from helping him, Lex slipped the maid an extra hundred to buy more lemon-scented cleanser.  
He had to pay a small fortune in masonry bills, but truth be told, sometimes history was worth

To remind himself of the history that wasn't, Lex had a plaque placed under the tallest tree in the
orchard.   Nothing fancy, just a flat stone marker engraved with a line from Chekhov: ‘Man is
what he believes,' the same thing Lex wrote on the last page of The Nicodemus Diary II right
before he burned it.   And every year, when the cherries were ripe, he took Clark under the tree
until nothing mattered but the present.

The End

Notes:  The opening scene contains several lines of dialogue from Nicodemus.   Also, this is my belated response to Livia's X-Files challenge, which I've been working on since she issued it.   

Thanks:  To LaT for the title, and Narcissus for the beta.   This story is for them, for Ice, and for Beth Ann.   Each in her own way contributed, and I love ‘em all for that.

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