"I, alone, trace and retrace your steps." --Virgil, Eclogue II
Lex boards the plane with a single suitcase and a hundred ugly adjectives. Some are gleaned from his father, the others adopted since Clark crashed into his life, and Lex, like Galileo with his telescope, lost all sense of perspective.
His vocabulary fails him somewhere over the Atlantic, and while a plastic Hollywood doll feigns heroics on the screen ahead, Lex sips orange juice and moves backward through his list, deleting the less accurate choices. By the time the wheels hit the runway in Manchester, only one remains; it swallowed the others and sits fat and deadly as a tumor at the back of his brain.
Since acting normal is second nature, he passes easily through Customs, and once free of the sharp-edged airport, races his rented convertible with the top down, one hand on the misplaced wheel, the other against his skull as though this thing inside him will vanish if he rubs hard enough. When this doesn't work, he interrupts his relentless surge north to stop in Leeds for aspirin and a map.
Ahead in the checkout line a woman with lacquered red hair devours a tabloid, and from its cover a man leers at Lex, his worst nightmare, some debauched, crudely-attractive aristocratic, the kind who lives to spend money and seduce boys, beautiful, naive boys on their first trip abroad. When Lex pops the lid of his bottle and swallows three pills raw, the woman turns from her surrogate life to glare at him; she has one brown eye, one green, like the stock of envy has exploded inside her and started to leak out.
By York his stomach's protesting, so Lex drives inside the massive ringing wall, avoiding the crowds with a restaurant hidden by the white cathedral. The food is mercilessly English, a soggy cheese and broccoli casserole, but he's allowed to carry his tray into a courtyard enclosed by half-timbered buildings and populated only by a cluster of men in white shirts at one of the wrought-iron tables.
A good place to get quietly drunk, and he's tempted; maybe he'd wake up not just sober but sobered, this fucking sickness flushed from his system, his brain ordered as a filing cabinet, with obsession tucked neatly at the back. Except his brain hasn't been ordered in years; he's been sick like this since that crash into Clark, and Lex wonders yet again if the CAT scan missed something, some tiny tear in the right side of his brain.
The postcard weights his jacket pocket, and when the men exit the courtyard, breathing beer as they pass, he lays it on the table. The front illustrates a castle's skeleton, a series of interconnected buildings surrounded by a moat, then a defensive stone wall, though the surrounding countryside looks peaceful enough, a few well-ordered fields on the left, farmhouses on the right. Even the two figures on horseback riding over the drawbridge look more like travelers than marauders; there's even a tiny white-clad figure standing in the gatehouse doorway, a porter, maybe or a wife welcoming her husband and son.
The image is a lie, all of it. He's seen pictures of Helmsley castle as it looks today, barely standing, the wall and buildings chewed by cannon balls. Time isn't ice: you can't shove it in the freezer, no matter how hard you pretend. That ticking of the clock? It's the sound of history laughing.
On the flip side, the handwritten note isn't any more honest:
I'm still in Helmsley. Guess you figured that, right? There's just lots of stuff to see around here, so I'm going to skip Italy. Hope that doesn't make you mad or anything. The trip's been amazing so far -- best graduation present ever!
The postcard is dated a week earlier, the fourth one from Helmsley, and they've revealed a progression in Clark's scrawl, an expansive fullness to the script, a meaning the vague words can't hide about what's anchoring Clark in the back-end of nowhere. Lex has measured the fullness and the ambiguity against possible truths, and since it doesn't take a month to put out a fire or pull a kid from a well, he has deduced that Clark has a lover.
Owning his hypocrisy, Lex admits that, yes, he'd sent Clark across the ocean to separate him from his virginity, far from the sad, blind world of Smallville, the Bermuda Triangle of desire, where Clark's not thrown daily over desks and against alley walls, some place new where people see through the layer of crap Smallville's spread on him, where being a million miles past normal is an asset, not a curse. Clark needs that, and Lex wants more than anything to give it to him, confidence neatly delivered by Australian girls on their knees in hostels, Italian boys with a cigarette in one hand and Clark's cock in the other.
Someone in Helmsley is screwing with his plan. Not a girl, since Clark never hid his old infatuation with Lana, not a boy, since they'd travel together for awhile before the other kid got bored with monogamy. It's got to be a man, someone old enough to own a home where Clark could stay, a big bed where he could fuck Clark every night. Someone who could hurt Clark, use him, drain him dry.
Unfortunately, duels went out a few centuries ago. Even if they hadn't, you don't challenge someone for fucking your best friend; throwing down the gauntlet is reserved for lovers and parents, and if Lex shows up with a sword drawn there'll be awkward questions, a lifetime cover of public control blown for...
Lex rubs the back of his head. Leaving's the smart thing, a straight line back home to reclaim his life, and he shoves back his chair so forcefully it nearly falls, then strides from the restaurant, his emotions leashed like the bitch they are. The cathedral's in his face, this anachronistic white elephant, this huge box of other people's history, and he decides to go in, proof that he doesn't need to go home, but chooses to, a model of Cartesian rationality.
First impression: spare and elegant. Then the scattering of tourists moves away, their muted buzz fading, and the rose window at Lex's back throws red and blue patterns on the floor, ruining the clarity. Lex keeps walking, turning right past the choir screen where English kings stand watching him. He finds himself before the tomb of a young man laid out in effigy under a red-painted canopy covered with tiny twigs of broom, arms folded across his chest.
William of Hatfield, a sign announces, born just before Christmas in 1336, younger brother of the Black Prince. He wears only a short tunic that bares his long legs and looks asleep rather than dead, like this is a bed, not a tomb, like someone will be coming along any minute to kiss his pretty mouth, to push apart those long legs and fuck him hard...
The problem with history is that you think it's outside yourself when it's really running like blood under your skin.
The A19 is the quickest way to Helmsley and takes Lex through a Turner landscape, past decaying abbeys under a sky a dozen shades of blue. The colors ripple at every blink and the sheep look like fallen clouds, less Turner, he decides, than Dali after a bender. Just outside Thirsk, where he turns right onto the A170 for the last leg of his trip, Lex careens to a halt as a shepherd encourages a dozen sheep across the road; up close, with their muddy fleece and nervous bleats, they're more like politicians caught with underage hookers. Fantasy and reality rarely converge, which could be why Lex is obsessed with Clark.
The thrumming in his head starts again with the engine, the adjective-machine in overdrive. Transparent. Pathetic. Obsessive. Undisciplined. Then the big one steps in, sucks them all down, leaving only the single pulse. Jealous. Jealous. Jealous. The wheels pick up the beat, the rush of wind through his open window, while the birds in the sky overhead seem to spell it out with their wings.
Lex sees the east castle tower first, then the fields give way to houses, and suddenly he's in the center of town, so fast his lungs seize up. With a country this small there's no time to adjust before you slam into your destination; he misses the expansiveness of America, the space to plan revolutions. He's forced to look for Clark at once, and adjusts his expression in the rearview mirror just in case Clark sees him first. The concerned friend, not the sexually pathological freak. The light gives his eyes a green cast.
Helmsley's panopticon layout suits his purpose, a ring of three-story stone buildings containing a market square, perfect for scoping out transplanted eighteen-year-old heroes. It's the end of market day, and under the bleary gold sun of late afternoon everyone's relaxed, moving in slow motion between the stalls: middle-aged women in untidy skirts, farmers with faces like the pockmarked stone of York cathedral, a couple of kids chasing a yapping border collie. No Clark.
In reconnaissance-mode, he opts for the post office instead of the pub,
snags a parking spot in front, and walks in, toning down his imperial stride.
A man with teeth like corn chats with the postmistress, both so old they
might be original inhabitants of the town, even the world, Methuselah and
his shrunken raisin of a wife. They fix identical crinkled
blue eyes on him as he approaches.
"Hi," Lex says. "I was wondering if you could help me."
When they don't reply, Lex figures it's because they're unused to bald, American strangers bursting in on them, then, realizing they don't understand him, repeats his words more slowly.
"American," the old man tells the woman. "Wants our help."
"Are you lost, young man?" She speaks equally slowly. Her pink lipstick has bled into the wrinkles around her lips, and her smile radiates.
"I'm looking for a friend of mine. He's staying with someone in town, but I'm not sure where. He's tall, also American, dark-haired--"
"He means the Kent lad." The old man has obviously assumed the role of interpreter. "The one staying with Lupin."
Lupin. The name says it all. "Can you tell me where Lupin lives?"
"Wants to know where he can find Mr. Lupin, love."
The woman's face brightens, glowing like a new coin. "Oh, he's a lovely one, that Mr. Lupin. Clark's a dear boy as well. He saved little Elizabeth Lambeth when she fell from that tree. And so polite for an Amer--" She breaks off, turns pink as her sunset mouth, then adds, "You can find them on Old Mill Road."
"Lupin lives behind the castle, so follow Castlegate, then turn left at Old Mill Road." With his cane, he points through the back of the building, nearly toppling a stand of dusty brochures. "Lives in an old farmhouse. The third one in."
"There are rose bushes leading to the house," the woman says. "Pretty yellow ones. Old Mrs. Lewes planted them years back, and they've done quite nicely."
"Yellow roses. Can't miss ‘em."
Hardly the setup for a den of iniquity, an image further dispelled when Lex reaches the house moments later, a small stone cottage squatting beside an enormous elm, the castle visible through the leaves. A car sits in the driveway, a blue Mini old as the couple in the post office, and he pulls in behind it, his eyes on the curtains, which don't twitch. The roses have attracted bees, which ignore him as he walks toward the house, possibly because he's moving so slowly.
There's a small porch, a few steps in need of paint that lead to a white door. The lion-head knocker makes a heavy thud when Lex drops it. Silence at first, then something else, the sense of stirring inside, and under his suit a line of sweat rolls leisurely down his back.
The door opens, and a man stands there in a white shirt unbuttoned to the waist and black pants that have seen better days. His feet are bare. He's older than Lex imagined, close to forty, pale as he is, somewhere between handsome and ugly, with light brown and gray hair that falls almost to his shoulders, blue eyes that study him calmly.
"I'm looking for Clark."
"You must be Lex," he says kindly, like he's been expecting him, like this is perfectly normal. "I'm Remus."
He leads Lex into a tiny livingroom threadbare as himself, with white walls, mismatched furniture, and unsteady piles of books, more monastic than iniquitous. Not a single velvet Elvis, only a few unframed Escher prints and an antique map of Yorkshire, Lex notes, as Remus ushers him into a frayed red armchair.
"You must want some tea."
When Lex nods, Remus adds, "Right," and leaves the room.
A few seconds later, Clark tears in. "Lex! I thought it was you. Sorry I took so long. I was sleeping, and I can sleep through an earthquake."
Clark's wearing jeans and a green t-shirt, and, like Remus, nothing on his feet. His hair's a mess, and Lex knows he's been in bed with Remus, emphatically not sleeping, knows that he has interrupted them, would know it even if Clark wasn't flushed, would know it even if he hadn't smelled Clark on Remus when he passed him in the hall. Then it all blurs together as he stands to be squeezed against Clark in a bone-crunching hug, like one of them has returned from the dead.
"It's so good to see you," Clark says as he steps back. "Only five weeks, but it feels like forever."
"I know what you mean." Lex's hands are shaking, and he sinks back into the chair, pressing them flat against the armrests.
Clark stares down at Lex like he's looking for clues, then beelines for the couch, which creaks ominously as he drops onto it. "Wow. I can't believe you're here."
"You must be wondering about that." Lex studies the silver-framed pictures on the table beside the couch. One shows Remus about Clark's age, wearing a school uniform as he sits in a field with another kid, dark-haired and handsome. Something about the other kid's face reminds him of Clark.
"You've always been a good friend to me, Lex." He leans forward, hands on his knees. "I know you're here to make sure I'm okay. And I am. I'm great."
"I can see that." And he can: there's been a subtle shift in Clark, an internal ordering that translates to an external smoothness. Nothing slick, just a more adult confidence, a new layer of gloss. In Remus' place, Lex would've ignored the knock at the door. "How did you meet Remus?" Lex finally asks.
"I can show you later. Where, I mean. If you're staying for awhile. You are staying, right?"
"I won't be here long, Clark. Now that I know you're doing fine."
"Oh. Because I was kind of hoping--"
"Here's the tea."
Remus, his shirt now buttoned, carries a laden tray to the coffee table. He sits beside Clark on the couch, not too close, less general discretion than the kindness Lex sensed before. Remus is clearly no wolf, a failure as an object of jealous hatred, just a nice, observant guy. Exactly what Clark needs -- and wants, judging from the slight angling of Clark's body toward him.
"No sugar," Remus tells him, passing Lex a chipped blue mug. His fingers are long and thin, the knuckles rough with healing scrapes. "Unless I'm wrong..."
"No sugar." The tea is scalding and a little bitter, pooling
hotly in his stomach, and in any other place Lex would feel better.
But in his mind he's seeing those long, thin fingers on Clark's naked body,
and he takes another burning sip.
Clark grabs the glass of milk from the tray, drains it, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. "I talked with my mom on the phone the other day, and she says you've been by the farm a lot."
"Just making sure the hired help is picking up your slack."
"She likes you, you know. My mom. She worries about you, too. She thinks you don't eat enough."
"With you gone, there's a backlog of pie. At least that's what she says." After she plies him with food, Martha lets him go into Clark's loft when her husband's not around because ‘I can pretend that Clark's here.' She's not alone in that.
"I think she wants to adopt you." Clark suddenly grins, and it's like a sucker-punch because the smile is borrowed; it belongs to Remus now.
"I should probably go." When Lex leans forward to put his cup on the table, he nearly misses the edge, catching it just in time. A few drops fall to the floor's scarred surface, and Lex nudges them with his toe.
"Nonsense," Remus says. "You've only just arrived. At least join us for supper. There's a decent place in town, The Black Swan, and we'd intended to go anyway."
"Come on, Lex. You can't go yet. Please. It'll be fun."
Fun. Lex almost laughs. Today already ranks up there with his summer trapped on an island, with the electro- shock his father forced on him. And now he's going to spend the night watching Remus try not to touch Clark, trapped by Remus' politeness. A bastard would've been so much easier. "How can I refuse?"
The Black Swan doesn't look like a torture chamber.
Just off the market place, a ten-minute walk from Remus' house, it's a wide brick building with ivy creeping between white-painted windows, and an equally benign interior: the dining room is like a thousand others in the country, instantly forgettable except for the grandfather clock over Remus' shoulder, which hiccups every five minutes. It doesn't bode well for the food.
The tables are round so Lex isn't set apart, not visibly the third wheel, and he plays the small-talk game without any obvious gaffes, asking the right questions and giving the right answers, glad that he's not like the grandfather clock with his guts exposed. A good Armani suit hides a multitude of sins.
Because he's been awake for over twenty-four hours, the room acquires the wavering, oddly-lit quality of a dream, and sometimes after he blinks his eyes act like spotlights. He can count Clark's eyelashes, the strands of grey in Remus' hair, the flowers in the curtains, the ridges in his asparagus, and he worries that he's staring too hard, that his eyes are giving the game away, because he always comes back to Clark.
"I used to teach," Remus is saying between bites of scallop. He eats economically, each slice of knife deliberate, and must be the same in bed with Clark, fucking him with exact strokes.
"Why did you stop?" Lex asks this with barely-concealed eagernenss. Clark, after all, is half Remus' age, and maybe there's more to Remus than good manners.
"Nothing sordid with the students, I assure you. It's simply that..." Remus' knife skids over the plate, and he frowns at the noise.
"Remus gets sick sometimes," Clark says quickly. "A leftover childhood thing. He needs to take it easy."
"Not quite this easy, perhaps. I worked for awhile with some friends at...English Heritage, trying to ensure that mistakes of the past wouldn't be repeated, but a friend of mine....Well, he died, and everything seemed futile after that. No matter how hard I tried, nothing would ever change. So I came here about a year ago. I work at the castle now, doing some upkeep on the grounds."
The combination of honesty and elision in Remus' answer reminds Lex of Clark, and as always he receives it as a challenge. "What was he like?"
Remus doesn't even hesitate, offering a not-unfamiliar list of adjectives. "Impatient. Intense. Arrogant. More loyal than anyone I'd ever met. We were like brothers. There was a fight, then I didn't see him for years."
"Remus and Romulus," Lex says.
"No founding of nations, but yes. We even joked about that--Remus and Romulus. Everything was epic with him."
"So you came here, and then you met Clark."
"Yes. He was...a surprise. You can appreciate that, Lex. Clark has told me how you met."
"It's always a car crash when you meet Clark," Lex tells Remus. "Everything changes."
Clark leans forward, elbows on the table in the best farmboy tradition. "Um, guys? I'm sitting right here, you know."
"We haven't forgotten. You're rather hard to miss." Remus gives him a slow smile. "My point, in fact."
While Remus is careful to hide the gesture, Lex can tell that he rests his hand briefly on Clark's thigh under the table. "Was it your fault?"
"Sirius' death?" Remus' smile fades. "No. Yes. I could've done something. I don't know what."
Picking at wounds is petty revenge, and Lex swallows his jealousy with a chaser of beer. Then he offers a truce. "I know what that's like. My brother died. Julian. When he was a baby."
"And you think it was your fault. That you should've protected him, even if that was impossible."
Because Remus' voice has thinned, like a layer of paint sloughed off, Lex doesn't deny it. "Yes."
"You know," Clark says, looking between them while tapping the end of his fork against his bottom lip, "I can't decide if you guys really like each other, or if I should be ducking for cover."
"What do you think, Lex?" Remus' tone is light again, but he stares at Lex without blinking with eyes the same blue-grey as Lex's shirt.
"You're not what I expected."
"You are," Remus says. "But then Clark speaks of you often."
"Wish I could say the same." Lex's words have a dull serrated edge, like the knives at the table.
Clark pushes away his emptied plate. "It's just....I didn't know what to tell you."
The honesty throws Lex even farther from his well-intentioned path. "You mean, ‘how to tell me.'"
"That, too. I knew you wanted me to meet someone over here--"
Lex looks at him, surprised.
"--but I don't think Remus was what you had in mind."
"That's what I like about you, Clark," Lex says. "You're unpredictable."
"You're the one who flew halfway around the world to check up on me, Lex."
The look that Clark flashes Lex undermines the teasing delivery, a new curiosity edging out the usual acceptance. Lex wants to blame Remus for these small changes in Clark's perception, these new questions about motivation, except that they've clearly been in place for awhile. Lex, who prefers to see himself as opaque, tosses out an innocuous response. "You do have a habit of throwing yourself into dangerous situations."
"I've never been called a ‘dangerous situation' before," Remus says, grinning. "I rather like it."
"Lex sees himself as my big brother. My over-protective big brother. Everything's a dangerous situation to him."
"He did send you on this trip." Remus folds his napkin and places it on the table. "Alone."
"And here he is, checking up on me."
"You're right," Lex says, and rises stiffly to his feet. "I shouldn't have come. I'm sorry."
He's about to walk out when Clark grabs his arm. "No, I'm sorry, Lex. I really am glad you're here. I'm being a jerk."
Remus also rises. "I think that I should be the one leaving. You two obviously need to talk."
"No," Clark and Lex say together.
"Then why don't we all go?" Remus maintains his reasonable tone. "Though it would be shame to disappoint the other patrons, who seem to find us extremely entertaining."
Clark drops Lex's arm, and the three of them leave the dining room for the lobby. Even in July there's a fire burning, ad the black beams overhead hang too low. While Lex pays the bill, Clark disappears in search of the bathroom.
"Not entirely unexpected," Remus says thoughtfully. "But still a surprise to see in action. Is it always like that? Perfectly normal, then a step from flying china?"
"Sometimes. Clark and I have a complicated history. And I made it worse by showing up here."
"I don't think that's the problem."
"I guess you and Clark never fight."
"Only once. When I suggested one night that you were in love with him. Apparently he doesn't--"
"He doesn't what?" Clark is back, the hair around his face damp and curling like his head's been under the tap.
"Doesn't always see what's right in front of him," Remus says, opening the door to a pastel night.
"Maybe not," Clark replies, somewhere between sheepish and teasing, "because when I turned the corner and saw you guys, all pale and gloomy, I thought I'd hit the ghost-jackpot."
When Remus laughs, an old woman hobbling past in the opposite direction smile at him. "Pretty calm approach for someone who thought he'd seen two ghosts."
"What're ghosts compared to my best friend and my...you talking about me? Now that's scary." Clark fakes a shiver. "Hey, Lex. Remember when we thought your castle was haunted?"
"The ‘poltergeist' who didn't like Victoria."
At her name, Clark wrinkles his nose. "The poltergeist wasn't the only one."
"What did it turn out to be?" Remus asks from Clark's other side.
"The brother of this crazy girl who was crushing on Lex. Their mom was his housekeeper, and Amy built this shrine to him and everything. It was weird."
"Thanks, Clark," Lex says.
"Not weird about the crush. I know a lot of people who have a thing for you. Even Chloe thinks you're hot, and you know what she's like. It's just weird that she'd collected you. With your watch and the pictures and everything."
"Better pieces than nothing at all." Remus looks at Lex, then points toward the castle on their left. "Look at that place. Mostly bits of stone now, thanks to Cromwell and his men, but we still love it because it brings the past closer."
"Hey, can we go in? Lex hasn't seen it yet, and he's all about history." No one can be as irresistibly eager as Clark, who's practically wagging his tail.
"Interested, Lex? I have a key."
A refusal means back to Remus' for his car, then a night in a hotel picturing in newly-graphic detail all that Remus will do to Clark in bed. "I'd like that."
"Good," Clark tells him. "Because it would be embarrassing if I had to drag you in. Small towns are funny that way."
"No dragging necessary."
It's a good thing Clark rations his biggest smiles; they always twist Lex up, like he's string to Clark's cat.
"About the collecting," Clark says. "It's different with people. You end up with these pieces that don't fit. Like Frankenstein. Something big and green and scary, not Lex at all. I'd rather have the real thing. I mean, if I wanted someone I couldn't have." Clark is the first one at the gate, keeping his back to them while they catch up.
Remus pulls out a dog-shaped pewter key ring and carefully selects the key, which slides easily into the lock. "That still leaves you without what you want, Clark," he says over his shoulder.
"I'd find someone else."
"You're still collecting the person, just in a different way."
"No." Clark shakes his head firmly and takes Remus' hand. "It's not like that at all."
Lex feels a sudden affinity for Cromwell and his cannonical enthusiasm, the cathartic satisfaction that had to come from blowing the castle to pieces.
With Cromwell's spirit at their heels, the three of them walk quietly beside the moat until they arrive at the gatehouse, guarded now by a few iron statues of medieval warriors. As Lex waits for Remus to unlock this final door, he recalls the postcard, the tiny white figure who stood here watching the two riders.
"Welcome to Helmsley Castle," Remus says. "Or what's left of it."
"My favorite part's the east tower. It looks fine from this side, but the whole back's missing. Like one of those fake fronts in a Western." Clark's already bounding off, glancing over his shoulders to make sure they follow him.
Clark's right about the tower, which is gutted, leaving only a row of empty arched windows that climbs to the top, the sky a darkening blue through them. "Too bad," Lex says. "The view from the top would be amazing."
While Clark sits on the waist-high remains of the crumbling wall behind them, Remus stands beside Lex, one abraded hand half-shielding his eyes as he stares up. "It is."
A ladder placed in the hollowed basement would reach the center window; a man could grip the broken window edges to reach the crenellated top, wide enough for him to stand and contemplate his past. Unconscious bait for a guy allergic to locks and unsaved people. "This is where you met Clark."
Remus nods. "I was lucky. He wouldn't have noticed me otherwise. Not exactly in his league."
While it's offered as simple fact, Lex disagrees, yet isn't sure he wants to give that up, or even how to explain it, the sense from some angles that Remus' mostly ordinary face masks...Not his true self, because Lex believes in the surface one, but his purified form, what Remus would look like if he was this castle before history debased it.
"You're wrong," is all he says.
Remus just gives him a long unreadable look, then turns abruptly and walks away.
The dismissal stings a little, and Lex leaves the shadow of the tower to explore the rest of the site, his eyes on the cracked stone lines in the grass to avoid a second, more literal, misstep. He's calmer by the north tower, then defiant by the manor house, and his mood doesn't improve as he passes the southern gatehouse: Remus sits beside Clark on the wall behind the tower, one arm around him, whispering in Clark's ear, the town rising behind them, red roofs, stately elms, and the pinnacled church tower, so fucking bucolic that Lex's emotional barometer rises to an ugly mix of annoyance and jealousy.
Clark doesn't even hear him approach, too caught up in whatever pornographic fantasy Remus is creating, his head tilted toward him, but Remus does, waving him over to Clark's side. But even as Lex joins them Remus continues to whisper. Lex can't make out the words, just the low rumble, and wonders if he can convince Remus to climb the tower again, distract Clark while Remus does a swan-dive--
"I can't," Clark says. His hands are clenched into fists. "What if..."
More whispered words from Remus, then Clark slowly turns toward Lex. His face is a shock, flushed, wide-eyed, and brutally hopeful, and Lex forgets how sharp the stone is under his palms, that he hasn't slept for a very long time, that they're in some broken-down old castle where Clark fell in love with somebody else. Everything is liquid now.
"Lex..." Clark swallows, then licks his lips. "Lex, is he right?" He puts his hand on Lex's thigh, then stares down like he can't it's there.
When he looks up, Lex kisses him. It's slow and soft at first, then slow, soft and wet as Clark opens his mouth for Lex's tongue. He's invested so much energy in this mouth, listening to its truth and lies, watching its twists and turns, sometimes waking from dreams where it's been on him, and now it is, finally. And the furious, crazy need welling, that threatens to choke him if he can't have Clark now, can't have him forever...
That's why he's never done this before. Too late now, and he doesn't care anymore, not when Clark's his, all his, and he pushes his tongue deeper, ready to fall inside him, his arm snaking around the strong curve of Clark's waist--
Where his hand bumps into Remus.
Remus, who's taking Clark away from him in too many ways. Remus, who's sitting jammed up against Clark like it's his right. To add insult to injury, Remus cups Clark's chin and draws him away, giving Clark a kiss of his own.
The jealousy's sick and deadly, and Lex deals with it not by killing Remus, who deserves life at least for engineering this, but by sliding his hand under Clark's shirt, stroking his back, by bending to Clark's throat and licking him there. Hot skin, so much hot skin, and it tastes like the sun.
Clark makes a sound, and it's not enough; Lex wants Clark's mouth back and hooks his fingers in Clark's hair. The slightest pressure, and Clark's his again, ready for him, his eyes half-closed like the sun's too bright, although it's only a pink-orange smudge on the horizon.
"Lex." Clark sighs and leans into the new kiss.
This time it's Clark's tongue darting into Lex's mouth, more confident now, and Lex is the one shivering at the smooth thrust. His hands tangle in Clark's hair as Lex tries to draw him deeper while the heat slams straight into his cock. He's vaguely aware of Remus, whose own hands are under Clark's shirt, his mouth at Clark's neck, and he lets it happen for Clark's sake because at least he's got this kiss.
Remus' turn comes too soon, and, partly to remind Clark that he's here, partly to satisfy his need, Lex reaches between Clark's legs and strokes him through his jeans. Clark arches up, giving Lex fuller contact with his hard cock, and the world swivels into darkness. When it blinks light again, Lex is on his knees, his mouth open, hungry, hungry, hungry, aching for the first taste--
And Remus stops him, touches Lex's cheek, while Lex swallows a growl.
"Not here," Remus says. Calm. Sane. Like kissing Clark isn't a goddamn miracle. "Not like this."
Lex shakes his head, swearing under his breath, but Remus is right. Fucking rational Remus. It'll be over like lightning, and, no, that's not how he wants it. And he's still reeling from how much he does want it, wants to blow Clark when he's spent his life with others greedy between his legs; standing's an effort, the ground too spongy, and he straightens only through an act of will.
Clark hasn't moved, leaning back with his shirt shoved up to his neck, his jeans undone, so confused and beautiful that Lex reaches for him again, like there's a magnet hidden under Clark's skin.
"Lex." Remus is on his feet, his fingers hot on Lex's shoulder, gentle enough that Lex doesn't punch him. "We have all night." Still holding Lex, Remus grasps Clark's hand and pulls him up. "Are you okay?"
"I can't tell. But that's good, right?" Clark sways a little, while Remus tugs his fly up and his shirt down. "I think I'm drunk. First time ever." He touches his mouth, peering at Lex. "We kissed, right? That really happened?"
"Is it going to happen again?"
The rush is back, and Lex takes a step closer. "Yes, Clark. If you want."
"I want. A lot. Only..." Clark looks at Remus. "I know what you said, but--"
"No more thinking," Remus says, a little sharply, then brushes Clark's wayward hair from his forehead. "No more thinking. No more talking. Let's go."
They walk without touching, without words, and night falls at last as they clear the threshold of Remus' cottage. As the front door clacks shut and the light flicks on, Lex has Clark against the wall, their bodies colliding, and Clark gives over the same soft pliant mouth that's been teasing Lex for years. Then Clark moves, and it's like they're dancing until Lex feels the hands at his waist -- an accidental, necessary touch as Remus, insinuating himself behind Clark, reaches around to pull Clark's t-shirt over his head.
Get used to it, Lex tells himself, or the night will turn into a war. Instead of fighting, he helps Remus, sliding his foot behind Clark to step on the back of his shoe. Clark catches on, kicking one off, then the other. His socks follow, then Lex unbuckles his belt, and Clark wriggles out of his jeans; Remus takes care of the boxers, pushing them down over Clark's hips until they pool on the floor.
Clark's hard, not just his cock but his whole body, sleek muscle and bones that curve and extend with organic, Gothic precision. Lex, greedily taking in the line of his shoulders, the arc of his hips, the length of his cock, remembers to move, to breathe, only when Remus catches around Clark's waist and kisses the back of his neck.
"Wait," Clark tells them both. "Not fair that I'm the only naked one."
Remus goes first, guiding them with a trail of discarded clothes into the bedroom, and while Lex curses the clothes he's wearing -- so many damn buttons, stupid Windsor knot that's resisting his awkward fingers -- he lights a couple of candles beside the bed. Votive candles, because this big bed, with its rumpled green sheets and brass headboard, is the site of Clark's first fucking.
"Nice sheets," Lex says, absurdly aware of the cold wooden floorboards under his bare feet.
"They remind me of water. River water." Clark comes to him, his eyes reflecting candlelight, and helps Lex with his tie, with the buttons on his shirt, until there's nothing left but skin. Then he shakes his head a little, says, "Lex," in this quiet, stunned voice, and passes his hands over Lex's collarbones.
The coil tightens inside Lex, ready to launch him at Clark, but the bed creaks, and they both turn to see Remus settling there, a tube of lubricant now on the bedside table. His body matches his personality, all straightforward, clean planes, right down to his cock. He's watching them intently, very still, then a breeze ruffles the curtains at the window and the moon peers into the room; when the silvery light hits Remus, he shivers and for a second the lines of his face seem to shift.
"Come here," he says in a low voice. "Now."
Lex looks away, back to Clark. "Lie down. Beside him."
"You're not leaving, right?" Clark kicks Lex's discarded clothes under the bed. "There. Now you have to stay."
"I'm staying." Lex gently pushes Clark forward, where he lies beside Remus.
As a plan for control, it's not a raging success: lying naked on his back is clearly Clark's destiny, William of Hatfield come to life, facts not missed by Remus, whose hand is already on Clark's hip, his face buried against Clark's neck. Lex restrains the urge to throw off Remus and instead moves to Clark's other side, where the press of his cock against Clark's warm thigh distracts him. Clark makes a soft, satisfied sound, and fastens his arms around Lex's neck, pulling him down.
Tongue and skin and the floating thickness of Clark's hair...
That's all it takes, and Lex is lost. The simplest things with Clark go too deep; a look is a kiss, a kiss is sex, and sex is going to snap Lex in two. He leaves Clark's mouth because there's so much else to cover, tastes the curve of his throat for awhile, rubs Clark's nipple with his thumb, making it so stiff, this tiny perfect circle, that Lex has to taste that, too. Above him Remus kisses Clark; Lex can see the slide of their tongues, hear the wet sounds, and, God, he hates it, separating them with a tug of Clark's chin, shoving his own tongue into Clark's open mouth.
He drowns there, would keep drowning there if Remus' hair wasn't tickling his chin like the fur of a cat. Remus has claimed Clark's other nipple, teasing it with his tongue and teeth, and it also swells and tightens for him. It's hard not to feel betrayed.
Clark says, "Hey, me," and licks the scar on Lex's lip. "Always wanted to do that."
He licks again and again, like the scar is Lex's cock, and the haze comes back. Lex takes Clark's bottom lip between his teeth and bites; it's one of the juiciest parts of him, peachy and full, and Clark clings to him, his hands locked behind Lex's head, then unlocking to stray over the exposed hollow.
"Always wanted to do that, too," Clark whispers when Lex's moan frees his mouth. "Touch that kind of curvy space right here. It always makes me think of naked things."
Lex traces Clark's lips with his finger, then his tongue, and it's almost all right that Remus is there. Easy to forget when Clark's licking him back before a long full kiss, pushing his thigh into Lex's cock. Then Clark breathes an "Oh," into Lex's mouth, his eyes going wide as he twists against the sheets.
Remus has his fist curled around Clark's cock, stroking him. "Touch him, Clark. Like I'm touching you." And he returns to Clark's wet nipple, licking it, while his hand never stops moving.
Hard to be furiously jealous when Clark's hand is on him. Hard to be anything but willing, because Clark's not tentative at all, just curious, squeezing, rubbing, caressing. Lex bites Clark's shoulder, sucks it hard, and reaches down. Fuck Remus. He needs to touch Clark. Needs it.
With Remus' hand in mid-stroke, Lex captures the head of Clark's cock, feels it damp against his palm, the way his is against Clark's, then brings his hand to his mouth, licking the stickiness. When it's wet and clean, boring with his own taste, Lex returns his palm to Clark's cock, gliding it over the swollen skin. Clark thrusts up into him, squeezing Lex's cock at the same time, and they both groan.
When Lex opens his eyes, Remus is kissing a trail down Clark's body, stopping with his chin on Clark's hipbone. "I'm going to suck him if you don't," he says to Lex. Remus has more will than God, or maybe it's just that he can afford to be generous. "Unless you're willing to share. For Clark's sake."
It's a challenge Lex can't refuse, not when it means getting his mouth on Clark's cock. The thought makes him dizzy, like waking up too suddenly from a dream; he's only been this thirsty once before, when his wife left him to rot on an island and the only water came from the rain, falling in murky brackish pools. "You want that, Clark?" he asks, lips against Clark's ear, pushing his cock deeper into Clark's grasping hand
Clark blinks a few times, swallows a few more like he's forgotten how language works. "It's just...I do, so much, but it'll be over fast, and I don't...Can you make it last? A long time? All of it?"
"No promises, but I'll try."
Remus helps, no longer jerking off Clark, only circling the base with his fingers, and while he continues to do obscene things with his tongue on Clark's hip, an almost canine fascination with the bone, Lex untangles himself for his trip down Clark's body, encouraging Clark to fold his wrists behind his head. It's like the cathedral at York, full of secret places and interesting angles, strong enough to last centuries, and Lex explores it with religious fervor.
Easing back Clark's head, he bites his throat; Lex has already learned that Clark likes the sting of teeth and alternates between nips, licks and kisses on every inch of him. He can't resist another turn at Clark's left nipple, though with Remus now busy with Clark's thigh the other one's free, and while he sucks one Lex lightly pinches the other. Clark's collarbones are next, just the tip of Lex's tongue sliding across, then down his side, making Clark squirm, then squirm even more when he rubs his cheek at his waist.
At Clark's hip, he suddenly appreciates Remus' enthusiasm: the position brings him perilously close to Clark's cock, long and straight as the rest of him, thick and gleaming at the end, designed for sucking. Its only flaw is Remus' hand.
Lex tracks the length with a wet fingertip, slow enough to savor Clark's reaction, the heavier pulse of blood. A kiss to Clark's hip, a sweep of his hand over Clark's thigh, and Lex is ready, fever-heat-sweat-down his back ready. He's hovering, breath already connecting, when Remus, with a slight flick of his wrist, offers the prize, and Lex doesn't hesitate, just accepts this, his first taste of Clark's cock.
The smoothest thing ever as it slides fruit-ripe into his mouth. Clark whimpers and raises his hips, keeps them raised as Lex licks him, inhales the light secret smell, lets the thin salty smears dissolve on his tongue in whorish worship. Lex is as hard as Clark, and when his own cock brushes Clark's thigh as he leans over him, it's so intense that his eyes close; he sucks like that for awhile, shutting out everything except the thick weight of Clark in his mouth.
"Can't share?" Remus asks.
The challenge. Fuck. Another pass with his tongue, then he draws back, placing his hand above Remus' on Clark's cock. "It's yours," he says.
"That's not what I meant." Instead of sucking, Remus only licks the tip, his eyes on Lex.
Lex moves closer, cautious as an animal, and licks the other side.
"Oh, wow," Clark says, and boosts himself on one elbow. "You guys together...You look so amazing."
Turning Clark on is hardcore incentive, so Lex locates some unused space in his psyche, stores half the seven deadly sins there, and goes for it. Together with Remus, he gives Clark what better be the hottest, wettest, most perverse blowjob of his life, now and forever. And Clark watches it all, sees their tongues meet over his cock, on it, around it. His face grows more flushed, and he's breathing so hard that Remus pets his thigh, murmuring, "It's all right, Clark. Just relax and enjoy it."
They keep each touch light, balancing Clark on the edge, while Lex becomes used to the hot contact with Remus' tongue, even seeks it out until they're kissing each other as much as Clark, who watches hungrily and makes appreciate sounds. Remus was right all along: better pieces of someone than no one at all, and his mouth, while not Clark's, has been on him, so every kiss of Remus is a kiss of Clark. Besides, he likes Remus, likes the feel of his tongue, the warm exactness he demonstrates in everything he does--
A touch of his cheek breaks through the reverie.
"Lex," Clark says quietly, "I was thinking...Maybe you could change positions. Flip around, so I could do what you're doing to me."
He can't be jealous; Clark is the center, and he has to know, but there's this little ache in his voice when he makes the suggestion, and Lex can't refuse him. Remus takes over while Lex straddles Clark, moving between Clark's legs to suck Clark's cock with the same deliberation he does everything else. It's unexpectedly hot, and when Lex's cock slips into Clark's mouth he can't hold back the moan. As Clark holds his hips and sucks noisily, Remus is generous again, pulling off Clark's cock and holding it for Lex, who's bending down Clark's body.
When Lex accepts it, locked into Clark, locked around Clark, panic flares: he can't decide if he's going to come or die. Doesn't help when Clark moans around Lex's cock, or when he sees Remus gently lift Clark's balls, wetting them before taking each one in his mouth. It's all for Clark, and his jealousy stays mostly buried as he fucks Clark's mouth and Clark fucks his, though it surges back when Remus slicks his finger and Clark arches as it's eased into him.
This must show in Lex's eyes because Remus says, "To be fair, you can have him first."
The words soothe the jealousy, but charge his lust, and Lex is glad, fully glad for once, that Remus is here; alone with Clark, he couldn't satisfy him, not with his thighs already shaking, the pressure building in his balls. He sucks Clark harder, deeper, getting off on the fullness of Clark's cock in his mouth, the power of controlling Clark's pleasure. He could become addicted to this, to Clark's cock, could live off it for days--
If Clark wasn't sucking him with equal enthusiasm. Lex can almost see his orgasm building, and carefully extricates himself, moving until he's back on his side next to Clark, until his mouth's where his cock was, kissing Clark while he strokes him, still wet from Lex's tongue. Remus remains busy between Clark's thighs; he must add another finger because Clark's whimpering again, the kiss turning even wilder, no direction now, just hot chaos.
He's grateful when Remus asks, "Lex, do you want me to...?", and Lex breaks the kiss long enough to say, "Yes."
The lube's warm as Remus spreads it over Lex's cock, and Lex can't hide the pleasure at having those sure hands on him, thrusting into them as he thrusts his tongue into Clark. Remus responds, leisurely coating him, adding more than necessary to the head, under it in deft circles, down the shaft all the way to Lex's balls, then up again, before starting over again.
Lex finds himself duplicating on Clark's cock the actions of Remus' fingers, and melts into the symmetry. No wonder Clark's in love with Remus; Lex is practically there himself, his cock stiffer than it's ever been. More lube, more precise stroking, and Lex begins to float...
Then Clark shudders, his eyes rolling back like he's seeing the face of God, and begs, "Now, Lex. Now, because I'm going to..."
Remus and Lex keep their rhythm, moving into place so smoothly it's like flying, with Lex between Clark's tensed thighs, Remus kneeling beside Clark, his hand on Clark's cock. They're ready, all ready, and it's going to be--
"Fast," Remus says to Lex. "Fast and hard. That's how he likes it. Don't hold back."
There's no other way, not with Clark's eyes fixed on him, that wide pink mouth curving into a smile. He holds Clark's legs, takes a deep breath, and rocks into him. Right into him, no awkward pauses, no questions, no waiting, just that one rocking thrust and Lex is inside, the smoothest, tightest, heart-skipping penetration in the world. In the history of the world.
And the noise Clark makes, high then low, hits Lex like a cannon, explodes what's left of his control. Clark's always had the ability knock him off his axis, but this? Lex isn't sure the moon's hanging in the sky.
No trouble giving Clark what he wants: being inside him triggers some primeval gear in Lex's body, something savage and barbaric, the truest part of himself, and he rams into Clark, fucks him until his brain shuts down, until it's just cock and ass, heat and sweat, just the two of them rutting like animals, Clark thrusting up every time Lex slams down. This bestial part of him notes Remus at the periphery, the competition, and he'd rip out Remus' throat if he tried to stop this, if he did more than stroke Clark's cock.
Harder, harder, pounding into Clark, the bed shaking like the earth's ripping apart, like the world's falling into the ocean. It's never been like this; no one else could take this without breaking, but Clark loves it, moaning and writhing, begging for more, calling Lex's name over and over again, praying to him, because Lex is a god, or turning into one, his skin and bones reordering from the power, the exhilaration, of fucking Clark.
But it's a lie. Lex isn't immortal, not omnipotent, and this is too good to last. His cock's this side of combustible, lewdly full and used to the edge of pain, the need to come starting to scream under his skin, behind his eyes. There's a trembling in his thighs that threatens to spread until he's shaken apart, broken in a thousand ecstatic pieces. He can continue only by imagining the future without Clark, picturing death and pain and loneliness with every thrust.
Remus saves him. And breaks him.
He's been gentle with Clark's cock, toying with it, but now strokes him quickly, hard and fast as Lex is fucking him, and Clark's already crying out, his thighs a vise around Lex, every beautiful muscle in his body clearly defined as he contorts against the sheet. He's frozen for a long moment, then Lex shoves himself deep, deep as he can, and Clark cries out again, then comes, splattering his own chest and Remus' busy hand.
While Lex grits his teeth, pleasure like a wolf at his heels, Remus dips his finger into a pool of come above Clark's navel, then slides it into Lex's mouth, saying, "Taste him."
The second Lex does, the second the salty-cream taste of Clark registers, the orgasm tears out of him, spinning from the base of his spine, through his balls, and straight from his cock into Clark. It lasts an age, a few seconds - - he can't tell, can't do anything but pour himself into Clark and say his name, repeat it for every burst of come. Lex doesn't move even when he's drained, denying the future by staying still as stone.
Finally, Remus puts his arm around Lex's shoulder and guides him down to Clark's side, his head cradled on Clark's shoulder. Dazed, his bones dissolved, Lex thinks it's kindness at first, until Remus takes his place between Clark's legs. With his stiff cock in one hand, Remus raises Clark's leg with the other, and enters him.
Lex is too tired to fight, to do more than hold Clark's wet, spent cock, to watch Clark's profile. He can feel the rhythm of Remus' thrusts through Clark, hard and steady, hear his breathing change. He doesn't expect Clark to respond, not after what they did, but Clark, though his cock stays soft, rumbles with satisfaction, spreads his legs wider.
A physical reaction, that's all, Lex tells himself. It doesn't have to mean more than that. It doesn't have to mean that Clark's wanted this all along, Remus inside him, fucking him in that precise, determined way, that Lex was foreplay, synecdoche.
His head begins to ache, the old spot at the back, and even when Clark turns his head to kiss him, the pain never quite fades. His only satisfaction comes when Remus does, because Clark's face is hidden from him; Lex is the only one who can see Clark's green eyes as Clark licks the scar on Lex's mouth.
When Remus collapses beside Clark, Lex refuses to share, pulling Clark against him, hooking his arm around Clark's waist. Remus has Clark forever, so let him sleep outside the circle of two. Nice or not, Remus is the enemy, and for the rest of the night Lex wants only to pretend that he's won the war, not debris on the sidelines.
He falls asleep still kissing Clark, and dreams of a grandfather with frozen hands.
Lex awakes at dawn to a glass of orange juice. It stands, condensation dripping, on the bedside table, and for a second he's back in Smallville. Except that there's a warm body pressed against him, and the hand draped across his chest belongs to Clark, who's breathing deeply. Without awaking him, Lex, his throat dry, reaches for the juice, drinks it while still on his side. Then, quietly as he can, he rolls over to face Clark, who mumbles something warm and sleepy, throwing his arm around Lex.
He has to leave, doesn't belong here in someone else's bed, with someone else's lover. But he's weak, just like his father says, and stays dangerously long, studying the sweep of Clark's lashes on his cheek, the curve of his lips.
Sentimental. Pathetic. Desperate. Needy. Jealous...
When the list of adjectives is big enough to fill the room, Lex gives Clark the softest kiss he can, then slips from the bed. Clark stirs, moving onto his back, but stays asleep, allowing Lex to gather his clothes from beneath the bed, to dress furtively in the murky light. The last thing he does before leaving the cottage is to cross Clark's arms over his chest. Remus will be coming along any minute to kiss his pretty mouth, to push apart those long legs and fuck him hard...
But Remus is sitting on the front steps, a mug of tea clasped in one hand; with the fingers of the other he absently flicks the chipped paint. He looks tired, his eyes grey and hollowed, but he offers Lex a wan smile. "There's more tea in the kitchen."
"Thank you," Lex says, leaning against a support pillar. "For giving me last night. It makes leaving easier."
"You're both so bloody stubborn. Do you realize that? It's a wonder you haven't killed each other yet."
"That's why I'm taking off. Going to Rome for awhile. You're good for Clark. Better than I am."
"Good? This is how good I am, Lex: I knew from the start how Clark felt about you, and I didn't care. The past year's been hell, and I needed him. Not just because he saved my life, or because he's kind--he reminded me of Sirius, so I used him to help me forget. And part of me thought that if he slept with you, he'd be free. I was wrong."
"You're not wrong."
"He wants you. He always has. You think leaving will change anything? Especially now? Every time I take him to bed, he'll be thinking of you."
"Clark chose you, Remus. And he made the right decision."
"This is really the most ridiculous conversation," Remus says, shaking his head. "I blame these stupid things." As he did last night, Remus gestures at the castle behind them. "People see a castle, or bloody live in one," he adds, giving Lex a pointed look, "and suddenly it's 1336, chivalry alive and well. If we continue this conversation, one of us will challenge the other to a dual."
"I thought you liked reminders of the past."
"Sometimes the past needs to shut up and die peacefully."
"I'm not going to change my mind," Lex tells him.
"Do you think I really want you to?"
"Then why go through this?"
"For the same reason you're leaving: I want to be good enough for Clark."
"You already are." Lex has one foot on the stairs when Remus stops him.
"Before you go, Lex, I have a favor to ask. In ten days it's the anniversary of Sirius' death--could you leave this for him on the Palatine Hill?" Placing the mug beside him, he reaches into his pocket for a coin.
It's hot on Lex's palm, this tribute to the dead, a little dull, and he rubs his thumb across it. "Sure," he says.
After all, he and Sirius have at least one thing in common, and Lex keeps the coin in his hand as he hurries to his car.
A hotel, a flash of a credit card, and Lex sleeps for three days.
When he wakes up, Rome is empty. The tourists are ghosts on the edge of his vision, no more alive than Trajan, Vespasian, or Caesar, and as they move from temple to basilica, forum to palazzo, none realize that they're stepping in the shit of history. When Lex wanders through the Piazza Navona, the Fontana del Moro spitting water at his back, it's like walking in quicksand, the earth ready to swallow him up and spit him out.
He anchors himself the Roman way, with a bottle of Torre Ercolana, drinking it steadily at a sidewalk cafe, and kills a few more hours puking behind Santa Maria della Pace. The next day it's the Forum and a clear bottle of Frascati; the Vestal Virgins stare down disapprovingly as he spills his guts in their garden. He goes thematic two days later, Castelli Romani, then a trip to the Palazzo Senatorio, where a guard shakes his head pityingly as Lex leans into the bushes near the steps.
Back at the hotel there's a message from his father, predictably vicious. The hangover has left Lex masochistic, so he returns the call, receiving a scathing lecture on responsibility.
"I'm taking a vacation," Lex tells him. "I'll send you a postcard." Dear Dad, fuck you. Love, Lex.
But he avoids wine after that, goes shopping instead, is fitted for suits, loads up on ties and shoes. He eats, too, saltimbocca and filetti di baccala, then spends the next two days on the phone, organizing his American life, which includes a call to a realtor. The Smallville portion of his life is over; he needs to cut all ties with Clark because the truth isn't just that he's bad for Clark, but that Clark's bad for him.
The thing in his head, the tear in his brain -- it's Clark himself, and Lex is tired of it, tired of hurting and wanting, of trying to be someone else. He handed Clark his life that day on the bridge, and it's time to take it back.
So, on the tenth day, armed with Remus' coin, Lex goes to bury the dead.
This will stop the dreams, the furtive indulgence in memories. It will leave him whole, and he walks with determined steps up the Palatine Hill. The Palatine, after all, was the home of emperors and poets, of Augustus, Cicero and Catullus, the site of Rome's foundation. Power, control, world-dominance -- everything he intends to pursue without the sense of fragmentation.
It's a little demoralizing to see what's left of the original settlement: just a few holes in the ground marking the supporting posts of Romulus' original colonization. He tosses the coin into one, catches himself making a wish, and steps back quickly, but this feels incomplete. About to leave, he remembers an epitaph from a grave in Padua, and whispers it under his breath: "I was not, I was, I am not, I care not." Appropriate or ironic -- either way, he's finished.
The exit takes him out a different way, near a grove of trees and the remains of Cybele's temple. There's a bench in the shade, a good place to avoid the sun and the crowds, so Lex goes to it, waiting for the sun to die down and the triumph to set in. He doesn't have to wait long, and looks up as a tall figure blocks the light.
"Remus," Lex says, already so near defeat the bench feels made of water. "You fucking bastard."
"Hi to you too, Lex."
"Did he send you?"
"He didn't even want me to come. Not at first, anyway."
"But he's here with you."
"No room in my suitcase." Clark gives a small smile, and settles beside him on the bench. "Actually, Remus is back in London. At Sirius' place, with all these other people who were pretty happy to see him. I've been helping him move."
"You shouldn't be here."
"Why aren't you with him?"
"He asked me to stay. I almost did. Then I found this." Clark reaches into the pocket of his jeans and pulls out a folded postcard. "You must've left it under the bed."
"Jeez, Lex -- you think I came here just to give it back to you? It got me thinking, that's all. About us."
"There is no ‘us,' Clark. There never will be."
Clark continues like he's not even listening. "You're my best friend. I've always said that. You've always said that, and that's part of the problem. I believed you. That everything you did was because we were friends. Just friends. I mean, sure, sometimes I wondered. Chloe and Pete even said things to me about you. You know, that maybe you had a pretty gay idea of best-friendship."
"Did you hear what I said, Clark?"
"I'm choosing not to listen." He actually has the balls to smile, like this is an ordinary conversation, like they're back in Smallville talking about action movies, although his eyes are unnaturally bright. "I've listened to you way too much. More of the problem. See, Lex, you're full of shit half the time. You fly to England because I stayed in one place for a month, and I'm all, ‘Oh, guess that's because we're friends,' and you're all, ‘Yes, of course, Clark.' And, you know, that's mental. Remus said from the start that you were in love with me--"
"I'm not in love with you, Clark." To his shame, Lex stumbles over the lie; it's a waste of breath in any case with Clark on a verbal rampage. There's something admirable about that rampage, the sheer force of will it takes to march through a minefield without even looking at the ground. If Clark doesn't shut up soon, Lex will have to kiss him.
"--and I wouldn't believe it. Because you would've told me, right? Except we're in the restaurant, and you're giving Remus these looks like you want to see him served up as the next course, with you doing the carving--"
"--and then at the castle, you're kissing me, and then all the other stuff at Remus'--"
"That's lust, Clark. It doesn't mean anything."
"--and I thought, ‘This is one weird friendship.' But then you left. That hurt, Lex. You had to know that night how I felt, and you acted like you didn't care."
"It's not a matter of caring or not caring."
"Then I found the postcard. And it was like this big flashing neon sign, and I remembered every single mental thing you've done for me. And there's been a lot."
"Listen to me, Clark. We can't be together. We're not good for each other." Lex is desperate, and sounds it. He's losing, his resolve crumbling like a castle wall. Goddamn Clark for knowing too much, for talking to him like no one does, for absorbing the light so that the sun seems to shine from him. How is Lex supposed to fight that?
"I don't even know what that means. ‘Good for each other.' Like my parents? You think they don't fight? Sometimes it's a war zone at the farm, Lex. You're just not there to see it." Clark places his hand on Lex's, big and warm, securing him there.
Tensing, Lex prepares to batter Clark with his logic, to separate him from his illusions. But his goddamn brain, in league with his mouth, has another idea. "You could be right."
"Of course I'm right." Clark has the nerve to look smug. Beautifully smug. "Look, can you just admit it already so we can go get some food? I'm starving. Besides, the sooner we eat, the faster we get to the sex."
"I...You..." Lex sighs, a hiss of breath that leaves him strangely relaxed, as relaxed as he can be around the force of nature that's Clark Kent. "You're a hard habit to break. And..."
"I'm not a habit; I'm a lifestyle choice. And what?"
"And my hotel has good room service." If Lex is going to lose, he may as well lose in style.
Clark's grin is bigger than Rome. "I was hoping you'd say that."
"We'll just take it slowly. See what happens."
"You know what's going to happen, Lex. All that epic stuff. Learn to love it, like I love this." Clark slips his hand behind Lex's head, touching the hollow. "That crazy brain, inside and out."
It's quicksand -- Lex knows this, but as they walk down the hill, his head is clear and the ground solid under his feet.
Quicksand. (c) Thamiris, May 2004
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