Notes: For Dolimir, who requested Clark/Lex. Summary: Futurefic. Clark has the realization over the holiday season that his "friend" means more to him than he ever knew when he realizes they've known about his secret for years. Minor reference to Shattered.

By: NiteLite
E-mail: NiteLite5@aol.com
LiveJournal: http://www.livejournal.com/users/xnitelite/
Rated: PG-13
(Word count: 3,745)

 

A Change of Seasons

Hovering over the penthouse, in the chill night air, Clark knows why Lex is always alone during the holidays.

Which would be something of a surprise to the general public, considering the number of functions he's seen attending, but Clark knows that when the lavish parties are over and the glad-handing is done, Lex sheds his date and returns to his penthouse to be by himself.

From high above, Clark can see inside the spacious quarters Lex has called home for the past few years. The living room is tastefully decorated with lights, wreaths and a tall spruce tree; a small pile of neatly wrapped presents is tucked around its base. All the trappings of the season are up yet none of the brightness seems to touch Lex. Once he's alone, his smooth smile disappears, and he either broods or works late into the night.

It's a busy time of year for Clark as well. At work, Lois always complains about the number of social events that they're asked to cover during the holidays. But as Perry points out, it's a good time to catch up with the movers and shakers of their city. People are mellower and therefore more inclined to talk and share juicy tidbits of information. Clark doesn't mind. It's the one time of the year he's guaranteed to see Lex in person.

Last night, he attended a charity benefit for Metropolis' needy children. Both he and Lois had received invitations, but Lois had already made plans to attend the gala at city hall.

"Party with the kiddy set? Not this time," she'd said to Clark as she gathered her coat and got ready to leave the bullpen. "Sure you wouldn't rather be with the adults?" Her new midnight blue dress matched her eyes, and she winked at Jimmy when he whistled as she made her way to the elevator.

Lois can make heads turn, but so can Lex. At the children's benefit, people looked up at Lex's entrance, instantly eager to be seen with him, fawning like groupies. From a corner, Clark watched Lex move from sponsor to sponsor clapping shoulders and chatting, the picture of charm and ease. Afterward, in front of cameras, he helped hand out gifts to the dozens of children that attended. Some were orphans, some had suffered abuse and several had medical conditions. Lois would say it was nothing more than a blatant publicity ploy on Lex's part to maintain a "human" face on his growing LexCorp empire.

"Like he really cares about these kids?" she scoffed once.

Clark doesn't bother to argue. She wouldn't listen anyway, being highly suspicious of all things Luthor. But of all the more high-profile charity events Lex could appear at, he always makes a point of attending this one. His presence is enough to guarantee a continuous flow of donations while LexCorp takes care of all the medical treatments that are needed. And only Clark knows the significance of the foundation's name, Ryan's Friends.

It's easy to hide himself among the other reporters busily raiding the food tables. He picks up a few hors d'oeuvres and tracks Lex until he finally leaves with his bodyguards and his date. He doesn't know her name, nor does he care to find out. She's only there for the evening and when he follows, Lex predictably drops her off at her place and continues home. By the time Clark finishes his patrol, Lex is in bed, asleep. But the suitcases lined up by the closet make him frown. He flies back to his apartment to think.

The next day, Clark makes an effort to leave work early and finishes patrolling by ten. Looping around the penthouse, he checks to make sure that Lex is in. He is. He's sitting in his leather armchair, holding a snifter and staring into the fireplace.

Clark turns and lands in an alleyway, careful not to jostle the items he retrieved from home earlier. He does his insta-change act in the dark doorway of a closed shop. Back into his usual street clothes, he slips his glasses on as he makes his way across the street to the LexCorp building.

One of the security guards sitting at the main desk looks up as he approaches. Clark shows them his ID and what he's carrying. When he asks to see Lex, the two guards exchange wary glances. The shorter one pulls out a notebook and flips through a few pages before picking up a phone and dialing. He speaks quietly into the receiver and waits for an answer. Just as Clark resigns himself to the fact he'll have to find another way in, the guard raises his head.

"Go ahead. It's the last elevator on your left."

The elevator ride to the eightieth floor is as smooth as glass. Clark swallows and tries not to fidget. He hasn't felt this nervous since high school. Since Lana. He clamps down on the memories. Some things are better left undisturbed.

The elevator stops and slides open with a quiet whoosh. Clark walks down the carpeted hallway toward the penthouse entrance. The inner wall is painted in a neutral color. Panels of glass cover the outer one. Below, lines of cars make red and white trails through the city. He sees a square buzzer by the door but decides to knock instead. Just as he raises his hand, the door clicks and opens.

Lex stands in the entryway. He's in casual mode, which for Lex, consists of a sleek sweater, the color of fine merlot, over a pair of dark gray slacks. His eyes are as piercing as ever and his demeanor even chillier than the temperature outside. It's been a long time since Clark's stood this close to Lex, and the feelings he's kept tamped down suddenly surge painfully against his ribs.

They stare at each other for a long moment. Then Clark's glasses decide to slide down his nose and he awkwardly pushes them up again for the umpteenth time. It might be his imagination, because Lex's expression doesn't change, but his posture seems to thaw just the tiniest bit.

"This is a surprise, Clark. What brings you here?"

Hearing that silky voice up close sends a tingle down Clark's spine. He steadies himself and holds up a large basket. The handle has been wrapped with red ribbon and instead of clear cellophane covering everything, a dark green cloth napkin has been neatly tucked over its contents.

"Thought I'd bring you some homemade holiday cheer."

It's lame, but at least it piques Lex's curiosity.

"They're from my mom," he quickly adds, hoping that by mentioning her, Lex will think twice about refusing the basket. He sends a quick prayer of thanks when his strategy works, and Lex continues to hold the door open.

"Come in."

He follows Lex into the living room. Although he's scanned the penthouse from the air more times than he'd care to admit, Clark's impressed by the luxurious interior. There are bright dashes of color everywhere, and the furniture is a mixture of classic and modern pieces in chrome, leather and glass. It's everything his apartment isn't: sophisticated, open and tidy. Yet it feels vaguely sad.

"Wow. Very impressive, Lex." Clark stares across the room at the large windows. Long garlands have been draped over each one, and in the reflection, he sees Lex standing behind him. When he turns his head, Lex quickly looks away and shoves his hands into his pockets.

Even though things between them feel as fragile as newly formed ice over a pond, Clark can't help but smile. "Here you go." He hands Lex the basket then takes a step back and shrugs off his jacket as if he'd been asked to stay. He drops it over the back of the nearest chair. The hell with waiting for permission. It's taken him a long time to get here and he's not about to leave.

He heads for the fireplace and pretends to warm his hands. Carefully keeping his back to Lex, Clark listens as the basket is set on the coffee table. He hears the creak of leather as Lex sits on the sofa.

When he glances over his shoulder, Lex has folded the cloth napkin back. Underneath are oatmeal raisin cookies, pecan brownies, large, fat muffins, scones and a jar of his mother's prize-winning apricot preserves. Nine gingerbread men piped with white icing sit on top. They each have a loop of thin red ribbon attached to their heads.

Lex lifts one up, inspecting it. For an instant, he looks lost in thought, reminding Clark of all the times Lex had stood in the Kent kitchen, watching his mother pull trays of fresh-baked cookies out of the stove to cool.

"Smells wonderful."

"Mom says you're supposed to hang them on your tree."

Lex nods then carefully returns the gingerbread man to the basket, treating it like a piece of fine china. "Would you like something to drink?"

"Sure."

He nods toward the row of crystal decanters on the side table. "Scotch? Wine? Cognac?"

"You wouldn't happen to have some eggnog would you?"

Clark trails after Lex into the kitchen. It's large and well appointed with all the modern designer amenities--granite topped counters, oak cabinets and a stainless steel refrigerator. But Clark gives them only a perfunctory glance.

He can't take his eyes off Lex. Lex, who moves like no one else Clark's ever met. He walks with a casual grace that's both familiar and disconcerting. All lean lines, Lex looks as desirable as ever.

He opens the fridge and rummages around, eventually pulling out an unopened carton. Setting it on the counter, he gazes uncertainly at the cabinets overhead, opening one then another. It's obvious he doesn't spend much time in his own kitchen.

Squinting slightly, Clark walks over to join him. "How about this one?" He opens a cabinet to show a shelf full of glasses.

Lex gives him a half-smile. "Had a feeling you'd find them."

"I thought you had a housekeeper."

"I gave her the week off, so she can be with her sister. Sure you wouldn't like some brandy to go with that?"

"No thanks. I'm good."

In the living room, Clark sips his eggnog. Thankfully, Lex has the regular kind and not the low-fat version. Clark's always liked the sweet, creamy taste, and his mother was hard-pressed keeping enough eggnog around during the holidays. He tries not to gulp it down too fast.

Lex looks amused. "More?"

"Please."

After refilling Clark's glass, Lex takes one of the chocolate chip muffins from the basket and sits down. He tears off a small piece, popping it into his mouth. He chews thoughtfully.

"I'd forgotten how much I miss your mother's baking." Lex licks his thumb and parts of Clark's body take notice. He shifts in his seat and crosses his legs.

Lex asks about his parents. They're doing fine. With the increased demand for fresh, organic produce, his father's been hiring on extra help. Including one of Pete's cousins who stops by after school to track their orders online.

Clark doesn't ask about Lionel. He and Lois have been covering Lex's battles with his father for some time.

After a few moments of silence, Lex leans back. "So, what exactly do you want, Clark? Aside from catching up on old times."

Clark rolls his empty glass between his palms. "I wanted to see you."

"Any particular reason?"

"I wanted to catch you before you go away again."

Lex stiffens slightly.

"Last year you were in Hong Kong during Christmas. And the year before that, you were in Sydney. I figure you have plans for this year as well."

"Keeping tabs on me? I'm touched."

Clark takes a deep breath. "I want to give you something this year."

"Don't tell me. Another basket?"

Lex can goad all he likes. Clark will take whatever shots Lex wants throw at him. This is far too important for him to mess up.

"Just cut to the chase, Clark. It's late and I'm tired."

Clark slowly peels his glasses off and tucks them away. He's given a lot of thought to what he wants to tell Lex. But he needs to say something first and it boils down to three little words.

"I fucked up. And I want you to know how sorry I am."

Lex blinks. It's obviously not what he was expecting to hear. "What are you talking about?"

Remembering his failures makes it hard to speak around the lump in his throat. "For not being there when you really needed me." For not saving you.

Lex doesn't say anything and after a while lets out a long exhale. "It was a long time ago. And from what I understand, you weren't exactly yourself that summer."

No, he wasn't. Uncaring, callous and greedy, the memory of running amok in Metropolis has always haunted Clark. Not so much for what he did, but more for what he didn't do.

People say that Lex is cold and calculating, but Clark knows that underneath, Lex would go the distance for his friends. Had he known that Clark had gone missing, he would've searched high and low for him. Yet when Clark finally heard that Lex's plane was reported missing after the wedding, he'd merely absorbed the news and gone on as if nothing unusual had happened.

"What's going on?" Lex's tone is softer. "Why all the apologies?"

Clark lifts his head. "It's the least I owe you."

He hears Lex sigh. "It doesn't matter. Like I said, it's all in the past. We're two different people now."

Yes, they're different. Lex is older, his mask more firmly in place, but Clark still sees the intense, frighteningly smart and vulnerable young man he knew back in Smallville. As for Clark, getting older has meant coming to terms with his origin and abilities, coupled with the knowledge that he now knows exactly what he wants.

"Maybe. But you know what Karr says. The more things change, the more they remain the same."

Lex taps the sofa with his fingertips. "I suppose some people believe that. I don't."

Probably not after all he's been through, but Clark senses an opening. "I think it's true. In fact, I can prove it."

Lex looks up cautiously. "Really? How?"

Clark prays he doesn't screw this up. He rises from his chair and flashes Lex a confident grin. "I'll show you."

Even though Lex's expression is guarded, Clark can tell he's intrigued. Lex folds his hands neatly on his lap. "What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to prove that you've been right all along."

"About what, exactly?"

"Me."

Finally, he's got Lex's full attention. But after a few seconds, Lex slumps back. "You don't have to prove anything to me."

Clark uses his most persuasive smile, the one even his mother succumbs to on occasion. "C'mon. It'll only take a minute."

Lex's eyebrow lifts. "A minute? That long?"

"Smartass."

He watches Lex shift and lean forward. "Like I said, I'm tired, Clark."

Meaning he's tired of all the half-truths Clark's been giving him since the day they first met.

"I know you are," he says slowly. "That's why I'm going to be honest with you."

Lex looks at him askance. And waits.

Clark stands by the basket on the coffee table. "There were actually a dozen gingerbread men." He pulls one out and holds it by the loop of ribbon. "But two broke on the way over here, and one, I'm afraid, got eaten."

Lex shakes his head. There's a look of irritation and resignation in his eyes. "Very funny. Are you done now?"

"Hardly." Clark turns quickly, reaches down and snags Lex by the wrist, yanking him easily up off the couch.

Lex is not amused but Clark gathers him in anyway. He feels solid and warm and smells even better. 

"Don't." Lex tries to back away, but Clark merely stands with his arms around Lex, not squeezing, but not letting go. And after a few seconds, Lex stops and reluctantly puts his palms against Clark's chest where they curl into fists. Clark can feel the tension vibrating inside him.

"Relax."

Contrarily, Lex's fists tighten. But it's the look in Lex's eyes that tears at Clark. They're bleak. Few know of the trials Lex has endured and the damage he's suffered over the years. It's the kind that doesn't show on the outside. Most of it Clark blames on Lionel. The rest, on himself.

He splays his hands lightly against the small of Lex's back. "How's this for honesty? I've always cared about you."

Lex lets out a small, disbelieving huff.

"And I'm sorry for all the lies. I was young, and my parents were trying to protect me."

"I realize that, Clark." Lex sounds weary. "I can't say that I blame them."

His parents had always done their level best to keep him safe and protected. But they couldn't shelter him forever. It had taken someone like Lex to show that it was okay not to play safe. That taking a gamble every now and then wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

Like Lex taking a chance on friending a young high school student.

"I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. I was hoping that you'd stay in Metropolis this time. Spend Christmas with me."

Suddenly, Lex is very still. And quiet.

Clark takes another deep breath. "And I want to celebrate New Year's with you. Maybe watch it from here."

He snugs Lex closer. This time Lex is not quite so tense. "Then there's Valentine's Day and Easter. And for the Fourth of July," he peers into Lex's face, "I'd like it if you'd come back to Smallville with me. We could have a picnic by the lake and watch the fireworks at night."

Lex's fingers are relaxing. Clark continues. "I want to carve pumpkins with you for Halloween and hand out candy to the kids. And for Thanksgiving, you'll have dinner with my parents. And we'll eat turkey 'til we're stuffed." He pauses. Lex is staring back at him. Intent and focused.

"And next Christmas, I'm going to help you decorate the tree."

Lex sucks in a startled breath and Clark tilts his head, instantly ready to reassure him, except that Lex is already calming. This despite the fact they're floating a foot off the ground.

He tightens his hold as Lex winds his arms around his neck. They drift closer to the tree as Clark holds up the gingerbread man. "Here."

Lex takes it and carefully hangs it from the one of the branches near the top. Clark floats them around to the other side.

"You should also know that I'm an alien and not a meteor mutant."

Lex nods and reaches out to straighten one of the ornaments. He's being strangely quiet. Clark stares at him suspiciously.

"Wait a minute. How long have you known?"

"That you weren't exactly from around here? A while, I suppose. Why? Does it matter?"

It figured. Over time, Lex had put two and two together and come up with infinity and beyond.

"You could've said something."

"So could you," he points out. "Then I decided that it was best to stop asking questions. To let all of it go. That you'd be better off without me in your way."

Clark sighs. "I'm sorry. I wish now I'd told you sooner."

"Doesn't matter."

"Yeah, it does." Clark descends until they're both standing in front of the fireplace. "I should've trusted you."

Lex shakes his head but doesn't move away. "I thought back in Smallville that I could protect you and your secrets. But I know now that it wouldn't have worked. Not with someone like my father around."

Clark doesn't hate many people, but he hates Lex's father. Lionel should've been the one incarcerated at Belle Reeve, not Lex. He brushes Lex's cheek with his fingers. "I just have one more thing to tell you."

Lex closes his eyes and exhales softly. "If you're referring to all the moonlighting you do to protect the local citizenry, I'm afraid you're too late."

Clark stares. "You know about that, too?"

Lex opens his eyes and smiles. It's a genuine one this time and warms Clark. "It wasn't hard. Even Chloe has you figured out."

He drops his head against Lex's neck and moans. "I am so dead." Lex's hands slide around him. His touch feels fantastic.

"I wouldn't go that far. Although we both agree your color scheme could use a little work. I know a designer..."

Clark raises his head. "Don't even go there."

Lex laughs, and the sound is the most wonderful thing he's heard in years. Before the last chuckle dies away, he's swooping down for a kiss. It's quick and gentle, and startles Lex a little. He draws back, licks his lips and smiles. There's no mistaking the invitation in his eyes, and when Clark kisses him again he feels like he's finally arrived home.

When they stop, Lex draws away but hangs onto his hand.

"So, you'll stay in Metropolis?" If he doesn't, Clark is going to have to resort to Plan B--burn Lex's passport and keep him locked in the bedroom.

Lex leads Clark back to the basket where he pulls out more gingerbread men. He hands one to Clark. "I'll stay. There's only one problem though."

"What's that?"

"I didn't get you anything."

"Don't be an idiot." Clark tugs at Lex and kisses him again. It's nice, slow, lingering and deep. When he pulls away, they're both breathless. Lex's eyes are as dark as the night sky, and for once, his expression is bright and untroubled.

"This is all I've ever wanted, Lex. Just you."

Lex hauls him in and kisses him back so sweetly, he could kick himself for not doing this sooner.

"So, is there anything else you'd care to tell me?" Lex drawls. "While you're still in a confessing mood?"

Two things immediately spring to mind, but he's going to hold on to the first one for just a little while longer. At least until he's reasonably sure that Lex will believe him when he tells him that he loves him. As for the second one...

Clark gently pulls Lex back into his arms. "You're never going to be alone again," he whispers.

~ The End ~