by Pun

Notes: Thank you very much to my supportive betas: Nerodi, Philtre, Rhiannonhero, and Starcat. All remaining mistakes are my own.

Dedication: For the women who Cry Havoc. You are as always, my support, my inspiration, my sanity in this crazy fandom world.

"It's a completely different feeling when the person likes you back," Clark said.

The heavy silence that followed proved the pointed reference had hit its mark, but Lex didn't respond.

Lex stood on the second level of the library looking down at him, in what Clark had come to call `distance mode'. Clark had seen 'distance mode' a lot in the months since Lex had ended their brief relationship.

Distance mode was Lex walking away from Clark, not letting him too close like he was afraid Clark would try to kiss him or touch him without permission. It was Lex rejecting Clark, giving no's where there used to be yes's. Distance mode was Lex calculating every movement, every glance to broadcast the same message: "It's over, Clark." A litany of "It's over, it's over" transmitted by the swing of Lex's hips as he turned to walk away, by the glances that no longer lingered.

Distance mode made Clark feel like shit. Like his insides had been laid out on the Memorial Day parade route.

But then again, Lex sounded hurt when he said, "I'm a little surprised to see you've moved on so quickly." Clark thought he was talking about them, even though Lex covered by asking, "What happened Lana?"

It gave Clark hope.

When Lex first ended the relationship, hope wasn't a possibility. Clark was crushed into a thousand pieces, and Lex had been sure to grind them under his heel. He'd lectured Clark on the difference between lust and love, making it abundantly clear which he thought had passed between them. The worst part had been when Lex said he'd never really had romantic feelings for Clark at all, that he saw him as a brother.

"But if you only thought of me . . . I mean, then why did you? Why did we?" Clark had asked. Not very coherent, but Clark could hardly think straight.

"Why did I have sex with you? You're very attractive, Clark, and a good friend, a good person. I was flattered by your admiration. I let myself get caught up in it. I'm sorry. I'm the adult. I should have been more level-headed. It's natural to mix up love and lust at your age." But Lex didn't sound sorry. He sounded relieved.

Clark was completely humiliated, realizing that Lex just saw him as a naive little kid. All he had wanted was for the conversation to be over. He could barely speak let alone argue, and he had lost all faith in his sense of reality anyway. If Lex had no romantic feelings for him then Clark didn't know what was true anymore. He was in a complete daze.

It wasn't until after Lex had left the barn that night that the paralysis of hurt and humiliation wore off. He began to argue with Lex in his head. At first, it had been easy to believe that he was a big, dumb kid who had thrown himself at Lex, but that didn't really make any sense. Sure, Clark had kissed Lex first, but it was after months of provocation and flirtation, most of it initiated by Lex. Clark was a Kansas farm boy. He didn't just wake up one day with the idea to seduce his best friend. Clark never would have leaned in for that shy, awkward first kiss with anyone, let alone with another guy, if he hadn't been sure it would be reciprocated.

Clark wanted to say all this to Lex, but as usual Lex had been one step ahead of him. In the weeks following the break up, Lex avoided being alone with Clark as much as possible, making it abundantly clear that the subject was closed. Despite Lex's assurances that they'd stay friends, Clark could tell he was losing him further. So he did the only thing he could think of. He backed off. He asked Chloe to the spring formal and talked about girls around his ex-boyfriend as much as possible.

The plan had worked and Lex had been slowly letting Clark back into his life. Despite frequent retreats into distance mode, all the little signs that had originally told Clark how much Lex wanted him had been beginning to reappear. Until Lex met her.

That stupid doctor was hanging around more and more. Clark couldn't understand what Lex saw in her. Sure, she was pretty, smart, sophisticated, but Clark didn't trust her for one minute. He was convinced there were hidden secrets behind her pretty face. There had to be. There had been with all the others. He was determined to find hers and expose them to Lex.

Clark burst into Lex's study. The sharp gaze that greeted him as Lex looked up from his papers was enough to freeze him in his tracks a few feet inside the doorway, but not enough to stop him from saying what he was there to say.

"Lex, did you know Dr. Bryce's father is some big, hot shot plastic surgeon in Metropolis?" Clark blurted out, his voice high and thin, a little breathless.

"Yes, Clark, Stanley Bryce has a high profile. I'd heard of him before I met Helen."

Clark realized it was obvious to Lex that he'd run all the way to the castle only to bad mouth Dr. Bryce's father. He felt foolish, but Lex's smooth, dismissive tone, calculated to intimidate, irritated Clark, making him still more determined to convince Lex that his supposedly perfect girlfriend was really bad news.

"But did you know that he was drummed out of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery? He was giving journalists free surgery in return for favorable articles about his practice." Clark tried to sound more casual, but he couldn't mask his disapproval. "That's really unethical."

"I thought you believed that the sins of the father shouldn't be visited upon the offspring. She's a hardworking, caring, small-town doctor. Besides, she doesn't even speak to her father anymore because she deplores his business practices."

"Well, what kind of person doesn't speak to their own father?" Clark took a few more steps into the room and sat down in one of the armchairs as he spoke, looking Lex in the eye.

"Frankly, I can see the appeal," Lex replied dryly.

"But even you speak to your dad, Lex."

"I speak to him, Clark, because it's the only way to keep track of what he's planning." Lex quirked his eyebrows in the gesture that always showed he was pleased with his own cynicism.

"Well I don't think anyone should just turn their back on the man who raised them," Clark was annoyed at himself for sounding so sullen. As usual, nothing was going as planned.

Lex got up from his desk and walked over to the bar. His hand hovered for a moment over the bottles then dropped decisively to his side. Lex spun on his heel, his gaze intense, his voice a razor, "You know, this sulking is really wearing on my nerves. You are obviously bound and determined to think the worst of this woman. What is this really about? Why do you dislike Helen so much?"

"It's not that I don't like her," Clark lied, flushing. "I just think you need to remember to be more careful."

"I need to be careful?" Lex asked, the slight increase in volume and raised eyebrows betraying his irritation at this advice.

"Yes, you keep getting involved with trash," Clark blurted before he could think better of it.

He'd heard girls in the hall using the term "trashy" to describe Miss Atkins. He thought it fit, but he hadn't meant to say it out loud.

"I fall for trash?" Lex emphasized the word, allowing it to carry its full weight of ugliness.

If Lex didn't look and sound so angry Clark might have felt some satisfaction in at least getting a reaction. But the flash of Lex's eyes caused a queasy feeling the pit of Clark's stomach. "I mean, I didn't mean to--" he stuttered.

"No, no, don't take it back. `Trash' is a very descriptive word." Lex's lips curled upwards in a grimace. His voice was like a sheathed sword, tone deceptively mild, but with a palpable menace hidden below the surface. "I admit my tastes don't run so much towards virginal fairy princesses.

"It's true, I could never follow the virtuous example you've set and spend all my time mooning over an asexual being who feeds on admiration but will never let herself be touched," Lex continued sarcastically, his hand brushing over his scalp, belying his growing agitation. "She'll keep pushing you away until she thinks you might actually leave, and then she'll throw you just enough bait to reel you back in.

"And you'll fall for it every time, too. Unless you've fled to the arms of Chloe." Lex snorted in derision, "A girl with a compulsive need to know everything and the most secretive guy on the planet. Now there's a match made in heaven."

The volume of Lex's voice began to rise steadily as he continued, "And really, while I'm applauding your romantic choices, let's not forget your tryst, in my Ferrari no less, with the transient slut who blew in and out of town in the time it took to blow you."

Clark hoped he had finished, but Lex had one more barb to throw, "And should we even mention your most recent soul mate? Kyla, the attempted serial killer?"

Unable to sit idly any longer, Clark jumped up from his chair, not caring about the loud splintering crash as it tipped over and hit the floor. It could go right through the floor for all he cared. His face had been growing hot during Lex's rant. Now his entire body felt hot and flushed all over as he stalked forward towards the object of his rage. In his fury, Clark shouted, "Fine, Lex. I guess I'm just an idiot with shitty taste."

Clark continued to stomp forward, breathing hard. He stopped a few inches from Lex's face and asked more softly, but no less aggressively, "But if I have such shitty taste what does that say about you? Huh?" Through clenched teeth he asked, "What exactly does that make you?"

Lex did not recoil from Clark's menacing bulk: instead he froze, and his gaze sharpened. It was hard to believe a human being could be that still, but it was not the static stillness of indecision. Clark recognized in Lex the kind of stillness in the stance of a barn cat about to pounce. In the ensuing silence, some part of Clark's brain managed to wonder if a cornered rat's stomach did flip flops too.

Terrified that he'd gone too far and really lost Lex forever, Clark had just enough time during the drawn out moment to begin to deflate and recoil. He'd just started to take a step back when Lex finally spoke, freezing Clark in his tracks.

Lex's voice was low, and not demonstrably angry, but it still contained a note that made Clark's stomach clench tighter as he said, "Me? I'm easy. I'm the biggest mistake of all."

Lex turned away from Clark, crossing to the far window and gazing out. When he turned and spoke each bitter word sounded bitten off and chewed thoroughly, "I'm so twisted from years of emotional mind games with my father that I'll do anything to avoid acknowledging that I might actually be in love with you. I can't possibly admit that, because everyone I've ever loved has found it easier to die than be loved by me."

Lex's words left Clark reeling, unable to get his bearings. For a brief moment his body obeyed the overpowering instinct to go to Lex. He swayed forward a step only to fall back, unsure how to close the distance between them. Lex had just said he might be in love with Clark, but it had been nothing like he'd imagined. The words contained no tenderness and Lex's body still radiated distance, mouth a hard line, shoulders tense.

So Clark stood there and waited. The room was silent and motionless but for the clock ticking on Lex's desk and the dust motes floating in a shaft of sunlight behind Lex's shoulder. Clark felt there must be a right answer. He searched his mind for the magic words that would unfreeze the moment, unfreeze Lex, but they eluded him.

Clark hadn't realized he was holding his own breath until Lex exhaled and lowered his gaze. "Does that answer your question, Clark?" he asked softly.

It was a small thing, so small it could have been a figment of Clark's imagination, but the miniscule falter and lift to the way Lex said his name was enough. Clark's long, decisive strides carried him across the room in seconds.

Before Lex could back away or raise his arms in defense, he was kissing Lex. Kissing him like he never had before, with no hesitation and no request for permission. He wrapped his arms around him and kissed him hard, their teeth clacked together and Clark's tongue pushed its way deep inside, tasting blood. He wanted to put all his warmth and longing for Lex into the kiss, but the months of frustration and hurt were in it too.

Clark kissed Lex like he was trying to get through to him, like he could pour his whole being into the kiss. Because there was no right answer, and Lex would always doubt his words.

But he broke the kiss anyway to tell him, "I love you, Lex. I want to be a part of your life. Please let me in."

Lex's arms were trapped awkwardly between them, not holding Clark but not pushing him away either. Clark could see the conflicting emotions playing across Lex's face. Lex looked down at his hands, then looked up into Clark's eyes and said hoarsely, "It's really not so nice in here. It can be pretty--pretty dark."

"I've never been scared of the dark," Clark answered, searching Lex's face for a sign that he understood.

Lex's eyes looked moist and shiny, but it may have been a trick of the light. When Lex swallowed hard Clark kissed him again. He was less rough this time, but no less urgent.

During the months of their separation, Clark had dreamed and prayed for even one last kiss from Lex. Now he wondered how something he'd wanted for so long only made him ache worse once he got it. Then relief and warmth flooded through him as Lex's hands slid up his chest and threaded through his hair, grasping tightly.

Clark broke the kiss and looked into Lex's flushed and open face. It welled up inside of him; he had to say it again, "I love you."

"Is that your answer to everything?" Lex asked. But all the harshness was gone from his voice, and Clark could feel the tension in Lex slowly uncoiling.

"You love me too."

"It isn't always enough," Lex responded with a small, rueful smile.

"But you don't deny it."

Lex snorted lightly, a ghost of a smile traced his lips as he asked, "Would it do any good?"

"No," Clark replied, a huge, freeing grin spreading across his face as he closed in for another kiss, "none at all."


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