This kind of thing, Clark reflected as he peeled one of Lily’s arms off from around his neck, only happened to him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of tissues and handed them to her, smiling tightly and didn’t most girls wait until they were with their friends to cry about rejection?
But, no, not in World o’ Clark. Yay for him.
“Listen, Lily, I think you’re a really great girl and I –” he started, wincing when his words only made her cry harder.
“What is it? What’s wrong with me? Why don’t you like me?” she asked disconsolately, looking up at him as tears streamed down her face. “I know I’m not very smart, but I –”
“It’s not you, really, I *swear to God*,” Clark assured her, unable to stand the catch in her voice. He liked Lily, he really did. She was sweet, and her self-esteem was tragic and he hated the idea of hurting her, but there comes a point, he’d learned, where you had to stop turning a blind eye and actively *say* something when you noticed how someone else felt. This, at the very least, Clark had learned from Chloe.
“Oh, yeah,” she scoffed tearfully, “like I haven’t heard *that* before.”
“No, no, it’s really true this time, because –,” and *god* it even sounded like a lame line to him but how could he make this more believable? She was looking up at him, eyes watery, and it struck him, and he smiled triumphantly before proclaiming happily. “Because I’m gay.”
“You’re gay?” Lily echoed, eyebrows rising.
“Yes. I’m gay,” he said, nodding firmly, and it was only half a lie, because, you know, he did like guys, too. “Very gay.”
Lily pushed dark hair out of her eyes and sniffed. “No you’re not,” she whispered shoulders slumping dejectedly. “But it’s sweet of you to try to…make this easier.”
“I am *too* gay!” Clark protested loudly, as she started to cry again. “I’m flaming! I’m gay, gay, gay!”
“You check girls out all the time, Clark,” Lily said glumly, her small body shaking with tears. “You dated Lana all freshman year.”
“I was experimenting. You know, in the closet and everything, but I’m *gay*, Lily. I’m a *big* homosexual. Honestly.”
She opened her mouth to protest but he cut her off. “I even have a boyfriend. And we sleep together -- a lot.”
“Oh yeah?” she asked, looking up, slight, cautious hope starting to show in her eyes.
Clark realized this was all a little insane, but that hope made it worth it because Lily was really a great girl and she’d worked so hard to gain *any* self-confidence at all in the year that Clark had known her. She was one of those fragile people that Clark just felt the intense desire to protect from everything, up to and including himself, but that didn’t extend to dating her when he had no interest. And if telling her that he was gay was a way around that without causing any problems, then by God, Clark was willing to take one for the team. Or switch teams, as the case may be.
“Then why haven’t you told anyone about it? Is it a secret?” Lily continued, thin brows crinkling over her nose.
“Uhm, no it’s kinda…new,” he extemporized. “But very serious.”
“Are you in love?” she asked, wiping away an errant tear.
Oh hell, why not, he thought, shrugging. “Yeah, I think I am,” he said, trying to sound sincere.
She sighed gustily. “That’s nice. Do you mind if I ask…who?”
“It’s uhm…,” Clark cast around for possible answers to the question, frantically. Lily knew all of his friends, and knew that he wasn’t big on dating strangers, and the only person that made any sense at all was….and oh, how ironic.
“Lex,” he told her, with a tight smile. And now this was all even less of a lie, because, oh yes, he was very definitely in love with Lex. Unfortunately.
But, on the upside, that was good because he really wasn’t any better at lying than he had been in high school.
“I thought so,” she said a sad smile turning up the corners of her mouth. She hugged Clark again, resting her head on his shoulder, and he tentatively hugged her back. “I’m sorry for throwing myself at you, then.”
“Hey, no problem,” he said, patting her back. This had really been easier than he’d figured it would be – he was impressed.
“Are you happy?” Lily asked, drawing back and blowing her nose quietly. “With Lex?”
“Yup. Very happy,” Clark answered with a tight smile. “Worlds of happy.”
“I’m glad,” she said, quietly. “I…you two are good for each other. I mean, I was never sure if you two…” Lily trailed off, drawing a deep breath. “Anyway, I’m glad you’re happy.”
“Thanks.” He stood, hoping to end the conversation because exploring his most privately held fantasies with Lily and pretending they were reality in order to keep her from being hurt was just *too* surreal.
Taking the cue, Lily nodded, brushing her hands over her legs and straightening out her shirt. She turned at the door, worrying a tissue in her hand, nervously. “Uhm, since you guys aren’t secret and all…I’d…I’d really like it if you’d both come to my birthday party tomorrow night. It would be…it would be really nice to see you together. You’ve been alone too long, Clark, and I’m really happy for you.”
That was sweet, that was *very* sweet and it very definitely didn’t leave him a graceful way out, either. He nodded, smile getting even tighter. “I’ll try,” he said noncommittally. “Lex might have some kind of…thing that he has to do.”
“It would really mean a lot to me,” Lily pressed, looking up. “No matter what, you’re my friend, Clark. And, I don’t hold any hard feelings.”
Clark couldn’t fight that, not when Lily did that puppy-dog thing with her eyes. “We’ll be there,” he said, sounding defeated even to his own ears.
“Great, see you then,” she called out, waving as she left.
God, he thought, blowing out a long breath and collapsing back onto the bed. He loved Lily like a little sister, but this was above and beyond the call. Going out on a faux-date with Lex -- if Lex agreed -- would be *hellish* because…because he wanted it so much.
And how did he even begin to explain the situation to Lex?
“Hey, Lex, you know how I’m a complete and total pushover who’s always doing stupid things to avoid upsetting people? Yeah, so, I may have accidentally told someone we were dating, and also, will you go with me to her birthday party? If you could act like we’re in love, that would also be great.”
Right. This was going to go well.
It helped that Lex was in a good mood when Clark got to the penthouse.
“Clark,” he said, a welcoming smile curving his lips. “Do you know how to put one of these together?” Lex asked, gesturing at the box in front of him. On the cover was a photograph of a model car – something that looked old, expensive and as though it could go very, very fast in the right hands.
“No, but I know that spending too much time around the glue makes Pete giggle like a girl,” he offered helpfully.
A pale eyebrow curved up. “I thought the slogan was ‘just say no.’”
“We had an intervention after the first year of D.A.R.E.,” Clark said, settling down. “What’s with the model building?”
“It’s my day off. Someone suggested it to pass the time.” Lex shrugged, gesturing at all the tiny gray pieces of plastic. “It’s mind numbingly boring.”
“Then don’t do it,” Clark suggested, laughing.
“Yes, but I’ve started already,” Lex said, as if that explained everything, studying the instructions intently.
“And if you don’t finish the world will end?” Clark teased.
“Undoubtedly,” Lex responded, distractedly. He held up a piece of the model. “Does this look like a bumper to you?”
Clark shrugged, shifting in the chair. “You’re the car expert.”
Lex snorted. “According to my insurance agency, I’m the car *demolition* expert. So what’s up?”
“Not much,” Clark said, and it was really now or never, wasn’t it? “Except, hey, what are you up to tonight?”
“Nothing of any importance, other than building this Aston Martin.” Lex looked up, quirking a brow quizzically. “Why? Have anything more interesting in mind?”
“Maybe,” Clark hedged. “Actually, I’m kind of going to a party, and hey! Do you wanna be my date?”
Lex’s head shot up, and his eyes sharpened. “Date?” he repeated carefully, studying Clark with the same intensity he’d been leveling at the model parts just beforehand.
“In a manner of speaking,” Clark said, squirming. “See, here’s the thing. I, kind of…well. I told this girl I know that we’re dating.”
“We being who?” Lex asked, and yeah, *all* of his attention was focused on Clark and it was kinda…well, hot was a given, but he’d never really gotten the ‘Lex is intimidating’ thing before. He did now.
“We being you. And me,” he said slowly, before hastening to add, “She uh, kinda came on to me, and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so I told her I was gay and – ”
“That you were dating me,” Lex finished smoothly, sitting back in his chair and folding his arms. He let out a small laugh with an edge to it that Clark didn’t entirely understand. “Of course you did.”
“It…well, I couldn’t really make someone up. She knows everyone *I* know and…well, Pete’s so obviously in love with Chloe that she never would have bought that, and she knows you and I are close and, well. It just seemed like the thing to do at the time,” Clark mumbled, looking down at his hands.
“I see,” Lex said slowly.
“Anyway, she’s kind of having this party tonight – it’s her birthday – and I…I kind of told her we’d come,” Clark finished, helplessly, still studying his hands where they lay on his knees.
“Let me guess: it seemed like the thing to do at the time?” Lex asked, and the edge that Clark didn’t get was still there. Like Lex was pissed and amused all at the same time, and what was *that* about?
“Kinda, yeah,” he agreed, chancing a glance up at Lex, who was still favoring Clark with the full weight of his undivided attention. “Uhm, I really didn’t think you’d mind.”
And Lex laughed again, loud and hard and all kinds of confusing. Clark was *not* understanding this reaction. Not even a little bit.
“No, no, I don’t mind at all,” Lex told him, when he’d stopped laughing. “No, by all means, I would *love* to be your date tonight. What time should I pick you up?”
“Uhm, around eight, I guess,” Clark said quickly. “I really appreciate this, Lex, thank you so much. I owe you big time. If there’s anything –”
“Don’t worry about it,” Lex waved it away, a small, not entirely happy smile curling his lips. Clark didn’t get *that* either, and was about to ask, when Lex turned back to the model in front of him. “I guess that means I’m going to have to get this done sooner than I’d thought.”
“Guess so,” Clark concurred, and he had this feeling, this niggling feeling, that there was some kind of subtext going on that he’d missed. He *hated* it when Lex did that – had conversations that didn’t mean what they seemed to mean. He always got lost in them, not because Clark was stupid, but because Lex was so damned *smart*.
“Are we casual, or are we serious?” Lex asked him, without looking up.
Clark frowned. “Come again?”
“You and me,” Lex asked again, hands busy arranging and rearranging the bits and pieces of the toy. “Serious or casual?”
That edge again – sharp enough to cut, and Clark wondered who it was meant for. He cleared his throat, and the pattern on this carpet was certainly a lot more fascinating than he’d remembered, he thought as he trailed his eyes over the curves and hoops of color.
“I,” he said, voice faltering briefly. “I told her we were in love,” he forced out, and knew that his voice didn’t sound normal. Not at all.
If Lex noticed, he gave no sign. Instead, he just nodded. Clark thought he heard Lex mumble something that sounded like, “Good,” but he might have just imagined it.
This was a hideous parody of everything Clark wanted, and he couldn’t go through with it.
It was a bit inconvenient that he only realized this *after* they’d gotten to the party, when Lex’s hand was entwined with his, and Lex was favoring him with small, warm smiles, and his eyes were soft, and his voice pitched low. It was so…almost real. So close to exactly *right* and yet, so, *so* wrong. When the night was over Clark was going to go home all alone and Lex was going to go back to the penthouse and maybe tomorrow night Lex would be out with a debutante instead of Clark. And Clark *hated* debutantes, for oh so many reasons.
“Clark!” Lily called, hurrying across the room when she saw him. She gave him a brave little smile, and hugged him. Lex didn’t let go of his hand; instead Lex moved closer to Clark, eyes flickering with something like naked jealousy and the man could have won a goddamned *Academy Award* for the performance he was putting on.
If Clark hadn’t known that it was all an act, he would have thought Lex Luthor was a man entirely devoted to his date.
“Hi, Lex,” Lily said, smiling shyly. “How are you?”
“I’m fine, thank you. Happy birthday, by the way,” Lex said, smiling with a tad less warmth than he usually reserved for Clark’s friends.
“Thanks, and thanks for coming,” she said, missing the cool attitude that Lex had given her entirely. “Listen, I just want to say…I’m really happy for you. You…you make Clark happy. Or, you better,” she amended, her small, round face becoming fierce. “Or else.”
Instead of laughing, the way Clark did, Lex nodded, soberly. “I wouldn’t hurt him,” he said, voice throbbing with earnestness.
False earnestness and it was getting harder for Clark to remember that, but if he didn’t then he was going to get hurt tonight.
“Hey, guys, don’t worry about me,” he cut in, smiling brightly. “But, it’s nice to know you both care.”
“Of course we do,” Lily said, rolling her eyes. “You’re like this big teddy bear, or something. Totally without *any* self-preservation instincts. It’s up to us to look out for you.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Lex said, turning to give Clark a look that, even though he knew it wasn’t real, made something very much like happiness race through Clark’s entire body. “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let it come to that, either.”
Clark laughed, shakily. “Thanks,” he said, looking down. He was blushing, and he knew it, and Lex smiled a little.
“Always,” Lex said, holding his eyes.
“So do either one of you want a drink?” Lily asked, breaking the tension.
Clark could have kissed her. But that would really have undermined the entire point of this little exercise in masochism.
“Yeah,” Clark said, just as Lex responded, “Please.”
He wasn’t the only one feeling the tension, then. God, poor Lex. This was probably not *at all* what Lex wanted to be doing on a Friday night.
“Great, I’ll be right back,” Lily said with a wave and a smile as she pushed her way through the crowd of people toward the kitchen.
“So,” Clark said, nervously, searching for something to say.
Lex’s thumb stroked over his fingers. “Hey, calm down,” Lex said in his ear. “You’re awfully tense.”
“Yeah, just…bad at lying, you know,” he said without thinking, and then winced when Lex shot him a look.
“Yeah, I know,” Lex said, and his tone spoke *volumes* and Clark blushed again, this time even *more* uncomfortably.
Lex tugged on his hand. “That’s not calming down. That’s getting more worked up. Just…relax, okay?”
“Yeah, relax. Right,” he said, plastering a smile on his face. “Sounds good.”
Lex rolled his eyes and pulled Clark over to a couch to sit. “You’re going to make everyone here think I’m a bad date.”
“No, no, I just – ” Clark sputtered, and Lex put an arm around his shoulder, fingers lightly toying with Clark’s collar.
“Clark. Stop it.” Lex commanded. “I mean it. Everything’s okay.”
“Is it?” Clark asked, turning to look at Lex with raised eyebrows. He studied Lex’s features – the silvering blue of Lex’s eyes, the curve of his lips, and found nothing there but gentle amusement, and concern, and when Lex nodded, he was comforted.
“It is,” Lex confirmed. “Now,” he continued, leaning back, his thigh pressed alongside Clark’s. “I need some advice.”
“Yeah?” Clark asked, letting his head fall onto Lex’s shoulder because…it just seemed right. And easy, and dammit, he could *do* this. He really could.
It’s not like he had to *act* or anything. No, the acting would come later, when they were back to being just friends.
And Clark was looking forward to that about as much as he was looking forward to his economics final. Maybe less.
“Yeah,” Lex said, fingers abandoning Clark’s collar in favor of toying with the curls at the base of his neck. “I’m thinking about getting a dog. I just don’t know what kind.”
“You’re getting a *dog*?” Clark asked, incredulous, and he didn’t bother to hide the shiver that ran through his body at the feeling of Lex’s cool fingertips on his skin.
“A big one,” Lex told him.
“What, like a pit bull?” Clark laughed.
Lex wrinkled his nose. “Something a little more refined is what I had in mind. Like an Irish setter or a greyhound.”
“I can see you with an Irish setter, but maybe – ”
“Hey, Clark!” called a familiar voice. “Lex!” And there was Chloe, waving frantically as her blonde head bobbed toward them. Clark began to stiffen, and sit up, but Lex’s fingers in his hair tightened, like Lex wanted to hold him in place, and this was all Clark was ever going to get of this. He knew better than to waste any of it, so he let his head fall back to Lex’s shoulder, and told himself he was imagining things when he thought he heard Lex sigh, relieved.
“So it *is* true!” she crowed, jubilant, when she came to rest in front of them. “You’re dating.”
Clark opened his mouth to hedge, but Lex cut in sharply.
“Yes,” he said definitively, smile too bright as his teeth glinted in the light. “We are.”
“It’s about *time*,” Chloe said with a roll of her eyes as she plopped down onto the coffee table across from them. “The whole dance of sexual tension between the two of you got old back in Smallville.”
“Mm, indeed,” Lex said, brushing his cheek against the top of Clark’s head, while Clark forced himself to take deep breaths.
He *hadn’t* expected Chloe. And even if he had, he wouldn’t have expected this kind of a response from her. What did she mean, dance of sexual tension?
“What are you doing here?” he asked, perhaps not as politely as he could have.
Chloe’s eyes widened, startled. “Wishing Lily a happy birthday,” she said. “You know, like everyone else here?”
“Right,” he said, nodding. Lex’s fingers were still slowly stroking his hair, and Lex’s thigh was still pressed against his and this was getting more and more surreal by the second. Clark was beginning to think that maybe going out with Lily would have been a better choice, after all.
“Besides,” she teased, “I heard that you two were making your debut as an open couple. Do you honestly think I would miss this? Not likely!”
“Of course not,” Clark said, smiling weakly. Debut as a couple…he wished. Fervently.
“Then again,” Chloe continued, grin turning wicked. “It wasn’t like you two were fooling anybody. You were just…so obviously in love with each other. Even from the start.”
There should be hand signals for moments like this, Clark thought hysterically. Hand signals that meant ‘Shut up *now*.’
“Yeah, from the start,” Lex said, favoring Clark with a smile that warmed the cold, silver streaks of his eyes. Clark smiled back, found himself leaning in instinctively, pulled by the tender timbre of Lex’s voice and this was just –
All *wrong*. Clark couldn’t do this; he wasn’t strong enough. He pushed up off the couch, muttered something that may have been an apology and may have been an expletive and brushed past Chloe, past a group of faceless people onto the porch.
He gulped in a couple of breaths of cool air, and swallowed, hard.
Lex didn’t love him. Not like that, and Clark knew it, and he was okay with it. Kind of.
He certainly had had enough time to get used to the idea, and this was just…this was just Lex being Lex, and doing his best to help Clark out. Lex always did that because he was a good *friend*.
Emphasis on *friend*. Because that’s *all* Lex was.
“God, get it *together*, Kent,” he told himself, voice breaking. He leaned his head against the cool, white wood of the railing as he sat down.
“Clark?” Lex’s voice called, soft, concerned. He stood impossibly straight, body vibrating with tension. A thin line of worry marred the smooth, white skin of his forehead, and Clark smiled weakly, trying to look like he was okay.
“Yeah, I just…I can’t do this. I’m sorry, I was wrong to even ask,” he said, looking back out at the empty street, eyes lingering on the orange light cast by the street lamp. “I should have known better.”
“I’m sorry that I made you uncomfortable,” Lex said, expressionless as he took a careful step forward. “I thought you wanted it to be convincing.”
Clark laughed – high, thin, hysterical. “Yeah, it was that. Convincing, I mean. I don’t think anyone in there is unconvinced.”
Lex nodded, slowly, hands in his pockets. He looked down at the tops of his shoes, like he expected to find the right words written on the expensive leather. “Clark – ” he began, but Clark cut him off.
“I thought I could do this, but, it hurts too much. I…I’m sorry, Lex. Please, just…go home. Or stay. Whatever you want, I’m going to…I think I’m just going to sit here a while longer.” Clark looked down at his clasped hands, the knuckles going white. If he’d been gripping anything other than himself, he’d probably have crushed it by now, he reflected in a kind of detached, crazy way.
“What do you mean, it hurt too much?” Lex asked, voice suddenly sharp, eyes burning in the dark. “Why?”
“God, Lex,” Clark protested, sitting back, and gulping in the night air. “I…isn’t it obvious?”
“Isn’t *what* obvious?” Lex pushed urgently, take the last few steps to stand in front of Clark. He squatted down on his haunches, face drawn tight, intense. “Clark, I need you to spell it out for me. There can’t be any misunderstandings here.”
He fixed his eyes on the streetlight, unable to look at Lex and a small breath escaped Clark’s lips. He could hear himself speaking as though he were far away. “I’m in love with you, Lex. Just like Chloe said, I kind of always have been.”
As the words left his mouth, he felt a sensation in the pit of his stomach – as though he was falling.
Lex’s fingers on Clark’s chin forced him to look down. “Chloe’s a smart girl,” he said, and his voice was ragged – like Lex was forcing himself to speak by some kind of super human effort.
Clark just nodded, and breath caught in his throat. Lex couldn’t be…was he?
“She was right about more than just you,” Lex continued, thumb stroking slowly over Clark’s lips. His eyes met Clark’s, and he was wrong if he’d ever thought they were just blue. They were every color, swirling, burning, incandescent in the gentle light.
“Ever since the start, Clark,” Lex murmured.
“Lex?” he asked, and his voice wasn’t ragged, but it was quavery, barely audible, and Lex smiled – a quicksilver stretch of mouth into a curve of promise. The air was charged, electric, and Lex leaned forward, nipping at Clark’s bottom lip.
“I love you,” he whispered, pressing soft kisses to Clark’s jaw. “Always have.”
He turned his head, and finally, he captured Lex’s mouth with his own. He kissed Lex the way he’d always wanted to – soft and passionate, tongues and lips and teeth and so damned much *need*. Kissed him for what might have been hours, while his fingers brushed over Lex’s cheeks, feeling the solid bone beneath the smooth skin.
They broke apart, and Clark made an inarticulate sound of protest, resting his forehead against Lex’s.
“Do you,” Lex began, voice raspy before he cleared his throat. “Do you want to go back in?”
Clark laughed, twining his fingers with Lex’s. “I’m not strong enough for *that* either,” he said, standing.
Their eyes met, and Lex brought their clasped hands up, kissing Clark’s hand. “Have anything more interesting in mind?” Lex asked, echoing his question from earlier.
“Yeah,” Clark answered, grinning over his shoulder as he pulled Lex toward the car. “I’ve got a couple of ideas.”
“I can’t wait,” Lex murmured, and neither could Clark, because the smile Lex gave him showed up every other smile he’d ever seen on Lex’s face – and Clark couldn’t wait to see more.