Indirect Exposure







The late afternoon sun was still hot, burning bright and clear in the sky. Picnic blankets and lawn chairs were spread throughout Hensell Park. Families and friends visited each other at the community gathering, while awaiting the sun to set. The Smallville Fire Department checked and rechecked their equipment. The Parks and Recreation Department Coordinator revised the order of the fireworks to be lit later that night.

On the far side of the park, tables were set up, displaying local arts and crafts for sale. BBQ grills were cooking chicken, hamburgers, and brats. Children screamed and laughed, playing in the playground and running through the park. Frisbees floated freely in the air, over the heads of sunbathers catching the last few rays. A pick-up game of tag-football was getting underway, the last of the players dividing into teams.

Lex was having a good time at his first attendance to the Smallville Fourth of July Fest. He and Clark had arrived a little after noon, claimed a spot to spread their picnic blanket in the shade of an old oak tree, and ate brats for lunch. They had perused the arts and craft tables, stopping at each, more to chat with the sellers than to shop. Finally, they had returned to their blanket and chatted with each other and anyone who stopped to visit. All in all, it had been a wholly pleasant day.

Until now.

"Clark, no."

"Yes."

"No." Grabby hands were batted away, only to have them return immediately.

"Lex, you said you were going to play."

"No, you volunteered both of us." Lex smacked the fingers that had successfully unbuttoned another button on his shirt. "Cut it out."

Clark paid no attention to the swats. "Lex, my parents aren't here and I really want to play, for once."

"So play." Lex started re-buttoning his long-sleeved shirt from the bottom, as Clark slipped another button from the placard at the top. "I'm quite happy to just observe."

"Forget it. I'm not letting you sit there and watch us like your own private porn movie."

"I... actually hadn't thought of that."

Clark snorted. "Yeah, right."

Lex leveled him with a look. "Sadly, Clark, my life does not revolve around watching half-naked teenaged boys getting sweaty with each other."

"That's because you're usually participating in the sweaty-making." Clark flashed him a wicked smile. "Like you are now."

Lex was going to throttle Clark. The boy had a stubborn streak worse than Jonathan Kent's, and that was saying something. Once Clark got an idea, he pursued it with a single-minded intensity that Lex would be impressed with, if it didn't lead to him doing something he normally wouldn't do, like play tag-football. Some people would say he gave in to Clark out of love. Lex knew better -- he was just whipped. He was also about to lose his shirt.

Lex batted ineffectively at Clark's paws again. "Clark, I don't want to take my shirt off."

"Why? Will you sunburn?"

"No. I'll... freckle."

Clark's brows rose. "You'll freckle." A fiendish grin appeared.

Lex's chin raised in defensiveness. "That's right. I don't burn, I freckle. Even indirect exposure makes me freckle everywhere but my face and head. Don't you ever wonder why I'm always wearing long-sleeves?"

"To make me want to see you naked?"

"Merely a side-benefit," Lex said, "but the real reason is, because of the freckles. Everyone will know that I was a redhead."

Clark stepped forward, invading Lex's space, and cupped him through his trousers. "I already know you're a redhead," he murmured devilishly.

"Clark!" Lex back-stepped quickly, looking around to see who was watching. "We're in public."

"Hello, 18 now, remember?" Clark said. "I can touch you in public if I want."

Lex took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "Right. I forgot." They'd been hiding their relationship for so long (two years, four months, three days, six hours, and approximately eight minutes) that it would awhile for Lex to fully relax, despite the reason for attending the Fourth of July Fest together was to make their relationship public.

Clark stripped off his own shirt and dropped it on their blanket, near the makeshift playing field. "Shirt off, Lex. If you don't play, then the teams are uneven and it would be unfair to make someone else not play." He jogged off towards the tag-football players.

"What do I care about fairness," Lex muttered, unbuttoning his shirt. He'd known he was going to be removing it the moment Clark had told him they were playing football on the "skins" team. The protesting was just to make sure Clark didn't know that Lex was completely under his thumb.

*****

Clark watched with a hidden smile as Lex neatly folded his shirt before laying it on the blanket. Clark knew he'd get Lex to take if off. Lex couldn't resist when Clark wanted something, though Clark didn't take advantage of that fact.

At least, not much.

Lex looked extremely naked as he joined the group. His baldness made his stark paleness stand out, especially in contrast to the tanned high school and college-aged students they were playing with. Clark made sure to give Lex a beaming smile to help counter any embarrassment Lex felt (though Lex would never show it, or admit it).

"I very much suck at this game," Lex announced bluntly to his shirtless teammates. "I can throw the football and that's about it."

"Then you can play quarterback," the unofficial captain said. He went on to make a few suggestions for gameplay, consisting mostly of "catch the ball and don't get tagged."

Clark was excited. He never got to play in any pick-up games over the years he'd been coming to the Fest. This was the first year he'd come with someone other than his parents and it was turning out to be more fun, he felt guilty to admit. It was the truth, though, mostly because of Lex -- who was, indeed, freckling before Clark's very eyes, as they played tag-football.

Not every redhead freckled in the sun, but very few non-redheads did. If Clark didn't know first hand, he would have guessed Lex's pre-bald hair color was red. However, Clark would never have pictured Lex with the orange-red hair of a clown, which was his natural color. It was difficult to picture Lex with hair, period. The baldness, in Clark's entirely unbiased opinion, was part of the reason Lex was attractive. And now, freckles!

The tag-football game went on for over two hours, before exhaustion set in. The "skins" won, thanks to Lex's unerringly accurate passes for a guy who claimed to stink at the game. Clark hurt not a single person while playing, not even accidentally. After having to control himself in the heat of high passion, controlling himself in the heat of a football game was a cakewalk.

A sweaty, panting Lex collapsed gracefully onto the picnic blanket. He dug out a bottle of water from the mini-cooler resting on the corner of the blanket and drank half of it immediately.

Clark flopped down beside him, happily non-sweaty or tired. He pillowed his head on his hands and looked up at the lush foliage shading their picnic spot. The fireworks later would be in the south sky. Clark couldn't wait until the sun set. "As soon as it gets dark, I'm going to play connect-the-freckles with my tongue."

Lex choked on his water.

Clark laughed at Lex's reaction, then sputtered as the oh-so-mature 24-year-old dumped the remaining bottle of water on Clark. "I think you need to cool off," Lex commented unnecessarily.

Clark sat up, wiped his hand over his face, and shook his head like a dog. Lex laughed as he was sprayed with water droplets from Clark's hair. They shared a grin that spoke volumes about their intimacy.

Clark raked his fingers through his damp hair, trying to comb it, as Lex set the water bottle aside and lay back on the blanket. Lex crossed one arm over his eyes, the other hand resting on his stomach, and comfortably bent one knee.

Clark half-smiled, wondering if Lex would fall asleep. Doubtful, since they were in public, but Lex looked very relaxed. It wouldn't last, though, if Clark's parents showed up.

Clark wrapped his arms around his knees and began people-watching. Jonathan and Martha had said they'd be at the park around suppertime, though they wouldn't be joining him and Lex. Clark had hinted broadly to his folks that morning that he was bringing Lex to the Fest as a date. Although Clark didn't think Jonathan and Martha had caught on, it was the first time that he revealed to anyone that Lex was more than just his best friend.

Turning over to lay on his stomach, Clark started to carve his and Lex's initials with his thumbnail in the oak tree. Clark was 18 as of July 1st, which meant he and Lex didn't have to keep their relationship a secret any longer. Clark was glad. Keeping secrets from loved ones had a way of blowing up, as Clark had discovered. He and Lex'd had a bitter, bitter fight after Lex had learned about Clark's abilities, when Clark had been forced to expose himself in order to save Lex's life. Their relationship was actually stronger because of the fight, but it was not something Clark ever wanted to go through again.

Clark finished the heart around the initials, shifted on the blanket, rested his head on Lex's abdomen, and looked up at the canopy of leaves. Lex tensed briefly, but relaxed again when Clark murmured, "Love you."

Lex began petting Clark's hair in response, otherwise not moving from his position. They stayed like that, lying in companionable quiet, as the sun slowly set in the sky.

*****

"Chloe's birthday party is tomorrow night," Clark said, his thumb lazily stroking Lex's stomach beneath his re-donned shirt. "Want to be my date?"

"A date date?" Lex was leaning against Clark's chest, sitting on the blanket between the other man's legs. Clark was using the oak tree as a backrest, as they waited for the fireworks to begin.

"Mm-hmm." Clark brushed his lips against the shell of Lex's ear. The darkness hid them from prying eyes, and Lex allowed Clark more liberties than he was comfortable with in public.

"I don't know, Clark," Lex said, toying with the frayed edge of Clark's shorts. "I wasn't invited and I'd hate to draw attention away from the birthday girl by being your date."

"It's up to you," Clark said. "After today, everyone pretty much suspects that we're together, like we'd planned. Being my date would just confirm it."

Lex glanced at the families around them, although they were hard to see in the dark. The families had been there all day, unintentionally observing Lex and Clark, as they ate and talked and enjoyed themselves. Anyone who walked by their blanket saw the same things, including Clark using Lex as a pillow. Clark was right. If the people at the park didn't suspect, they were willfully blind or avoiding them, like Clark's parents.

"Will you still go to the party without me?" Lex asked.

"You know I will," Clark said. "It'd just be more enjoyable with you there."

"Sweet talker." Lex tapped Clark's knee. "Let me think about it."

"Okay, freckle-boy."

Lex shifted, craning his neck to glare at Clark. "Hey, no making fun of the freckles."

"No can do." Clark grinned rottenly. "You kept your freckles a secret, Annie, and you know the penalty for secrets."

"Don't call me Annie."

"Whatever you say, Opie."

Lex scowled. "Keep it up and I won't love you any more."

Clark lowered his head and whispered, "Liar," before claiming Lex's lips in a kiss.

In brilliant shades of silver and gold, fireworks lit up the night.

And the only two who could see them were too busy to care.





End



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