by Pearl-o

Metropolis isn't that far away, really. Clark could run there and back every afternoon, without even thinking about it. It would only take a few minutes, and then he'd be in the city. Easy as pie.

But his parents would get upset, and he wouldn't be able to explain why he was there to anybody, or do anything there, and he's trying to be more careful about his powers, these days. Figuring out when it's necessary, and when it's not. Trying to stick to that.

When he goes to Metropolis these days, he takes the bus.

The first few times, Lex offered to send a car or the limo to pick him up, but Clark's dad has enough problems with his visits anyway, without shoving it in his face. Besides, the bus isn't so bad; it's air-conditioned, and the seats are kind of comfy. And after the first trip, Clark learned to bring a book along to read; it keeps everybody from striking up conversations with him. The first trip, he'd talked with an old guy, who'd fought in World War II, and rambled on to Clark about various battles; a nice middle aged woman who reminded him of Pete's mom, and gave him a piece of hard candy; and a pretty girl about Lex's age, who Clark was pretty sure had been flirting with him. At least, he'd been pretty sure she was flirting until she put his hand on his thigh and stuck her tongue in his ear. After that he'd been completely sure.

Lex had laughed his head off when Clark had told him. He'd almost choked on his water -- served him right, too, Clark had thought. Getting molested on the bus was serious business.

This trip, though, Clark keeps his nose in the book and doesn't make eye contact with anybody. In the corner of his mind, he hears the stops -- the ones he almost knows by heart by now -- being announced. The three hours pass more quickly than he had expected.

Lex doesn't pick him up at the bus station, but Clark didn't think he would; Lex is a busy guy. There's a driver there waiting when he debarks. He takes Clark's bag, and guides him to the car, and calls him 'sir'. He's not much older than Clark, and Clark just mumbles "Thank you" and hides in the back seat. He thinks the man's name is Isaac -- he's seen him around before, one of Lex's people who do assorted unnamed things for him -- but he wouldn't swear to it.

The car is slick and black, inside and out, and Clark slides back on the seat and looks out the window at the endless streets, all sharp and smooth and glittering; he doesn't really know them, but they're in that place in his mind where they're almost, but not quite, familiar.

Clark's mom is from Metropolis, and Chloe, too, and a few of his cousins still live here. But Clark thinks that maybe it's always going to be Lex's city, for him.

When they get to Lex's apartment, Maybe-Isaac tells him that his stuff will be put in his room, and that Lex ('Mr. Luthor') will be home in an hour or two. He also says Clark should make himself comfortable, but Clark knows that's improvised, because Lex doesn't think of Clark as someone who has to make himself comfortable. He's not that sort of guest.

Clark doesn't know what to say, so he just nods and ducks his head a little and says 'Thank you' again, and stands around awkwardly in the sparkling foyer till the Isaac-guy leaves him to go attend to ... something important, probably. Then he makes his way over to the room off of Lex's study.

This is Clark's favorite room. It's not like any of the rooms at the castle, or like any of the other rooms in the apartment, so maybe Lex keeps it just for him. It's big, colorful, cheerful, the way his mom would decorate if she suddenly had lots and lots of money -- big fluffy chairs and carpet softer than Clark's bed at home. He grabs a Coke and sprawls out to watch cartoons on the huge TV.

Two episodes of "G.I. Joe" and three Looney Tunes shorts later, Lex arrives. Wile E. Coyote has just walked off a ledge, and he's standing on thin air. Any second now he's going to fall.

Clark doesn't turn to look when he hears the door click shut, but he grins. "You know," Lex says from somewhere behind him and to his right, "I never really cared for Road Runner cartoons. The coyote is supposed to be a genius, but he keeps on buying from the same inferior company, anyway."

"Well, it's not like LexCorp was around then to help him out," Clark says, and he turns his head around quickly enough to catch a glimpse of Lex's half-smirk as he walks over to an end table.

Clark skims the paper every night. There are profiles in the business section, once in a while, with tones ranging from gushing to cynical. There are pictures taken at fundraisers or expensive parties, and society pages and gossip columns that use words like "wealthy" and "dashing" and make Lex sound like he just stepped out of a Jane Austen novel. There are articles about LexCorp, and those usually don't have pictures, but there are quotes, sometimes.

Lex looks good in all the photographs, smooth and together and untouchable. They don't show the rhythm of his walk, though, or the shadows in his face, and here in front of Clark, he looks smaller, and wearier. It's subtle. Clark wonders how many people would be able to tell the difference.

"How was the trip?" Lex asks. There's a vase on the table, and he strokes the flowers, running his fingers lightly over the petals. "I trust your virtue is still intact."

Clark swings his legs off of the arm of the chair onto the floor, and sits up. He wipes his palms on his thighs. "It was okay."

"So what do you want to do this--"

Clark crosses the room, and he's kissing Lex before he can finish the sentence.

Eager and sloppy and desperate. He feels Lex's hands settle on his head and tangle in his hair, hold him still and take control, make the kiss slower, more thorough, more patient.

Two months. Two months with just a few short phone calls, Clark self-conscious with the knowledge of his parents in the next room; just a series of confusing and elliptical emails from Lex, and Clark always feels like he's failing some kind of test when he writes his replies. Two months, and six weeks before that, and two months again and again, and these tiny little weekends sprinkled between. It's been almost a year since Lex left, and Clark still finds himself waiting and expectant whenever he sits in his loft at night.

Lex pulls away slowly, and when Clark opens his eyes, Lex is watching him carefully. Appraising.

"I was thinking more along the lines of a movie or a baseball game, but I think we can fit this in."

Clark's hands are on Lex's arms, and he rubs them lightly and looks down and away. "Sorry," he says.

"You don't have to apologize."

Clark never knows what he's apologizing for, but it seems like Lex always does.

"I don't know what we should do," he says. "It doesn't matter."

"I'm sure we'll figure something out," Lex says, and he smiles slightly, and Clark needs to kiss him again, rub against him, till neither of them are thinking about everything else. Lex's mouth tastes faintly of orange juice, and expensive chocolate. When he's home, Clark forgets how Lex's hand feels on the nape of his neck, how Lex's throat feels against his teeth.

He shouldn't be surprised each time by how different it is, the awkwardness he feels, because things change when people go away. He thinks of Lex as his best friend still, but it's not the same when he doesn't see Lex in town getting coffee, when he can't run over to the castle every day, when he doesn't have him to go to whenever he wants to talk.

Clark goes down to the castle sometimes, but it's empty, now, dead. He broke into it once, a few weeks after Lex left, slipping in through the gates and wandering through the rooms and halls. It was depressing, everything packed up and gone away, and he felt guilty afterwards.

And maybe part of the problem is that they don't have that everyday friendship there to distract them, because it lets other stuff make itself much more important. He's here, kissing Lex now, wrapping himself around him, trying to leave no room in his mind for all the questions left unspoken between them.

Lex doesn't ask about Clark being extra-strong, or extra-fast, or extra-anything; he doesn't ask about anything Clark can't explain. Clark doesn't ask very much about Lex's work, not when it makes Lex's expression change and makes him look away. He doesn't ask why Lex went away, and he doesn't ask what's going to happen next.

"I missed you," Clark says quietly, and he drags his teeth over Lex's earlobe. "It's not the same."

"Mmm," Lex says, rumbling. "I'm glad you're here, Clark."

It's not like Clark expects more from him, anyway. Lex gives him what he can afford to give.

Clark hasn't told Lex yet about hearing from Met U, but he's going to be here for school, starting next fall. He's not going to Metropolis because of Lex, no matter what his mother or Chloe are thinking when they give him those looks, but he can't help but think that maybe it will make things change again, change the pattern they have now.

Maybe it will be like it was before Lex left, easy and right and there. Natural then, simpler in retrospect than it really could have been: sitting over bad coffee at the Talon, Lex teaching him to fence in the castle, necking in Clark's loft or stretched out in Lex's mammoth bed.

Maybe if Lex had stayed, their friendship would have fall apart. Maybe the only thing that's kept this steady is the distance, and the effort they've both had to put into keeping it. Maybe Clark being in Metropolis will break the fragile balance.

Clark moves back far enough to see Lex's face. Lex's eyes are watching him closely, large and dark, and his arms are wrapped around Clark's waist.

"Your guy told me to make myself comfortable," Clark says, meeting his gaze.

"And have you?" Lex tugs him closer again, so their bodies press together.

"Yeah," he says, and it's close enough to true.


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