Clark's throat hurts. He rubs it the way he's seen other people do, feeling the glands, and wonders if he's dying. A quick burst of panic, and he throws off the covers and races into the bathroom at super-speed, just to prove his powers still work.
They do, but it's not that reassuring. Swallowing convulsively, he runs the tap and gulps down an icy glass of water. The pain stays, stubborn and scratchy, like a cat climbed into his mouth and slid down, claws out. Hands on the watery counter, he leans into the mirror, opening wide, half-expecting to see a furry whiskered head staring back. Nothing, just red tonsils that he pokes with one finger. No extra pain, just the same level burn.
She hurries into the room, smelling of toast and jam. "Clark! What's wrong?"
Her face turns the color of the tub. "Where?"
He points at his throat. "Here." Her hand is cold against him like the water, and he shouldn't have told her about the pain. With his dad fresh from jail and the house still shaking from his parents' fight over that stupid watch, the last thing his mom needs is an extra helping of worry. "It's not that bad. Maybe I slept wrong." That's what people say when they wake up hurting, and under the guilt he likes how normal it sounds. Lex said it once, when Clark caught him rubbing his neck the day after the hammer incident. "Ow."
"I'm going to get your father."
"No. I'm okay. Really." After all, it's not as bad as the fall behind his dad's truck when Eric stole his powers, or the bullets from Lex's-- "Ow."
His mom leads him to the bed, sitting beside him. "Is it worse?" She strokes his forehead, her own wrinkled with worry.
"I was just thinking about the time Lex -- Ow."
"Come into the kitchen. I'll get you some juice." She hurries ahead, standing at the table still messy with breakfast dishes, a glass of orange juice in her hand. "Drink this. When Lex what?"
Another scratch at his throat. "When Lex..." It happens again. "Lex," he says. "Lex. Ow."
"Lex," she says slowly, watching him with eyes wide as a cat's.
The lines in her face smooth out, and she looks normal again, not old and broken in the sun shining through the yellow curtains. "Honey, did you and Lex have a fight?"
Over her shoulder, on the counter between a canister with a daisy trim and a clock shaped like a heart, there's a picture of his mom and dad, taken a century ago. They're hugging and smiling wide, not even aware of the camera held by Mrs. Richter, one of his mom's friends.
Clark swallows hard, wanting to be happy like his parents were back then. "Yeah, we had a fight. Sort of." If storming into Lex's place and doing his best jerk routine qualified as a fight, with Lex just taking it the way he always did.
"When he came over last night?"
"No. Before that. About Dad. I said stuff. Stupid stuff. And he's my best friend, and I should've known better."
"Is he mad at you?"
"No. Lex never gets mad at me, no matter what." The burn in his throat is spreading, moving up and behind his eyes. He sees Lex in the Beanery, drinking hot chocolate with fake whipped cream just to make Lana feel good about her new job, Lex giving him tickets to the concert, to football games, anything he wanted. With one bare toe, Clark rubs the floor, identifying with it for being low and a little crumby.
"Did you apologize to him?"
"Clark," she says gently, "maybe you should."
"But..." A hot stinging ripple inside. "Maybe." The ripple slows.
"He's been a good friend to you. I don't always agree with some of things he does, but if you hurt him, he deserves an apology."
Hurt Lex? Weird to think he has that power, with Lex so strong. Then he remembers the look Lex gave him in the loft last night, the quiet, hopeful way Lex asked, "So, are we okay?" Like it mattered. A lot. "I think maybe I hurt him, Mom."
"So fix it." Like Lex is a broken toaster, and he just needs a screwdriver.
"Mom, I'm kind of scared. That if I talk about it, he'll get mad or leave or something. Can't I just pretend I didn't say anything?"
"Ignoring problems doesn't fix them." She gives a little laugh. "I sound like your father."
They share a secret smile, and Clark's throat cools a bit. "Thanks," he says, and kisses her quickly on the cheek, then hugs her. It feels good, like syrup on pancakes.
Her cheeks turn pink, and she laughs again. "Poor Lex.
He doesn't stand a chance."
An hour later, standing in the doorway of Lex's study, Clark isn't so sure. "Hi," he says.
Lex shuffles some papers and looks up. He's wearing a blue shirt, buttoned high, very professional and sophisticated, and Clark glances back over his shoulder at the door. His stupid throat complains, the cat's claws sinking in. "Ow."
"You okay?" Lex pushes back his chair and stands, doing that statue thing where he doesn't seem to breathe. His eyes are like one of those big, dusty books on a high shelf in a library, full of hard-to-read stuff.
"I've been better. Is your dad gone?" The house seems hollow without Lionel here, the ceiling higher and full of trapped words, mean accusing ones. Clark stares at one white corner.
"He left this morning."
Usually Lex opens up about now, talking about his dad and what a jerk he is. This time he doesn't, maybe because Lex doesn't trust him anymore with the truth. Clark swallows. "Can I have a glass of juice?"
"Sure. The maid's off today, so I'll have to go to the kitchen."
"I'll come." It's ten kinds of awkward as they walk down the hall. Lex moves like a ghost, no sound at all, while Clark thumps like an elephant.
"Don't you have school today?"
"Professional day. I guess you don't get one. Maybe I should go."
"You don't have to," Lex says, as they reach the kitchen, pouring a glass as Clark wanders around, touching all the bright silver things. "I've been up since five working, so I could use a break. Here you go."
"Thanks." Clark takes the glass and drinks, then sets it on a shiny counter top. "That was good." He sounds like an idiot, and Lex is giving him a long, slow look, standing close enough that Clark can smell his aftershave, rich and spicy, the way the kitchen should be. "Is that a new shirt?" It fits Lex like clothes never fit Clark, all straight, wrinkle-free lines.
Lex nods. "Blue is the color of mourning in some cultures, but I like it for other more local associations."
"It's nice." And he wonders for the millionth time how Lex could like him. Lex is so smart and nice and, yeah, a little unpredictable, but that's an interesting part of the whole package.
"You want some more juice?"
"I'm good." To his right, the fridge hums like a June bug.
"Clark," Lex says, "I think I know why you're here." His mouth twists into a small smile that doesn't look real. "And I understand. You don't have to say anything."
"But I want to. It's just hard to get the words out." His throat tightens in agreement.
"It's not easy being friends with a Luthor. People don't survive it."
"It's not like it's easy being friends with a Kent."
"I don't have a problem with that. But this isn't about me. It's about you. And don't worry: I won't come after you when you leave."
"Where am I going?" Sometimes it's like Lex is speaking Swahili. "Do you want me to go?"
"You do what you have to." Lex has gone blank like the counter top, smooth as his shirt. "I understand."
"You're understanding a whole lot more than me."
"It's about trust, Clark. And --"
"Oh, okay. You don't trust me anymore, and I don't blame you. God, Lex," and he can't stop now, his throat stretched wide, the words pouring out, "I'm sorry. I was a jerk the other night. I can't -- there's no excuse. I want there to be, but I know you'd never do anything to hurt me or my dad or my family. You've always been there for us, for me, always, and I don't mean with the money or the presents. Just listening and talking, and I'm so sorry for what I said about shooting people, for even thinking it for a second. I'm sorry." Clark can't even see Lex anymore, his eyes hot and blurry.
"Clark. Why'd you come here?"
"To give you this apology speech, which sounded a lot better in my head." He tests his throat with a gulp, to confirm that the pain is fading fast. Bodies, he decides, are unpredictable, but he can't resent his too much. Too many good associations with that quality.
"And now you're going to leave?"
"Lex, what's with the whole leaving obsession? If you want me to go, just say it."
"That's not what I want, no."
"So, are we okay?"
"We were okay before. This is...Better than okay."
"Really? You don't hate me?"
"I don't have a lot of experience receiving apologies, but even I know hating someone is the wrong reaction. Especially when that someone is you." Lex raises his hand, then drops it.
Clark clears his throat, which sounds too loud. "I hear that hugging is the usual response." When Lex doesn't move, just fixes him with that grey stare, Clark pretends it's cool. "I mean, punching each other on the arm is fine, too."
"I'm not very experienced in the hugging department," Lex says, "but I can give it a try." Lex's arms go around him, his body warm in the cold kitchen. "How's that?"
To be honest, Clark is a little concerned about opening his mouth. Other things are threatening to spill out, things that have been building since he pulled Lex from the river and they were as close as they are now. Instead, his arms at Lex's waist, Clark hugs him.
"How long should we do this?" Lex asks. When he blinks, his eyelashes flutter against Clark's cheek.
"Until it stops feeling good."
"What if that takes a long time?"
"I'm kind of hoping it will." The pain is gone, replaced with a slow warmth like Clark has swallowed the sun. "I'm sorry," he says again, only this time Clark's apologizing for something else. His body really needs therapy. On the plus side, so does Lex's, and he can't resist a little wriggle against the hardness. "You know, Lex, I just remembered: kissing is part of the whole apology-forgiveness ritual."
"I wouldn't want to break any cultural norms," Lex says. His mouth is even softer than Clark remembers from the day at the river, as it brushes against his. "You might want to kiss me, Clark, just to prove there are no hard feelings."
"I can do that." Clark does, only he forgets, sort of, the intention to keep his mouth closed. Lex doesn't seem to mind, and licks away the juice on Clark's tongue.
The room melts away as Lex kisses him back. Not just the room, with its humming fridge and sharp appliances, but every clawed word that ever passed between them. Clark's body has a lot of things to say, and he likes the answers it gets from Lex's.
They stand like that for a very long time, kissing hungrily, forgiving
each other in Lex's kitchen.
Body Talk. (c) Thamiris, January 2003