Exile (eks’il’) n.: 1. one who is expelled from home
The pickup truck bounced along a non-existent road between rows of cornstalks taller than the vehicle. The stalks whipped the sides with solid, unforgiving thumps. The headlights cut through the inky darkness, but there was nothing to see besides corn and grill-fodder bugs.
Lex Luthor held on to the armrest as the truck jolted repeatedly. The seat beneath him squeaked with every bump over the downed stalks and upturned dirt. There was a strong possibility of his going through the roof of the cab, in spite of his seat belt.
Dressed in black slacks, a comfortable dove gray sweater, and a long black coat in deference to the cool October weather, Lex peered out the bug-spattered front windshield, wondering where they were heading. If he hadn’t had such intrinsic trust in Clark Kent, he’d be worried about a re-enactment of a horror movie and the abrupt end to his exile.
He glanced sidelong at his odd-hour kidnapper. Clark wore a bulky red sweater, brilliant blue undershirt, and worn jeans, a far cry from the dress code Lex was used to. Nearly everything about Clark was different from what Lex was used to, and it drew him in more so than the finest coke he had a few months back.
Clark caught Lex’s eye and his toothpaste smile was bright in the dim cab. Lex’s lips curved responsively in a genuine smile - yet another change in his newly banished life. His smiles had always been carefully planned to get what he wanted, or a drug-induced side-effect. Reflexive amusement was rare, a bi-product of his “poor little unloved richboy freak” upbringing.
The freak had been booted from home, which was why he was in Smallville. His father’s exiling Lex was supposed to force him into adulthood and away from his self-pitying, destructive behavior. But it was his brush with death and rescue by the boy beside him that had given him a new beginning, one that included true smiles and late-night rides in pickups.
The truck emerged from the cornstalks into a fallow field. Clark drove a short way onto the open ground before stopping. He parked, killed the headlights, and shut off the engine. “We’re here,” he said before getting out of the cab.
Lex followed, closing the passenger door with a wincing echo. He looked around, but the noise disturbed nothing because there was nothing to disturb. They were alone in the middle of nowhere and Lex had to admit he was somewhat uneasy.
Lex rounded the back of the truck, subtly getting closer to Clark. The moon was bright enough to see by, once his eyes adjusted to the night. Clark had the tailgate lowered and was flipping back a tarp covering the bed. The first thing Lex saw under the tarp answered his question as to why they were there. “I don’t think we can see Ms. Lang’s house from here.”
Clark ducked his head at Lex’s droll comment. “I don’t-- I mean--”
“Of course not,” Lex said graciously.
Clark’s sideways grin was sheepish. “I do look at the stars, too.”
Lex’s lips quirked and he leaned on the tailgate. Clark removed the tripod and began setting up the telescope on the ground. “Why are we out here instead of your loft?” Lex asked.
“Ambient light,” Clark said, mounting the scope to the tripod. “It’s too bright by my house, even out in the fields, and I really want a clear view tonight.”
“Falling stars to wish upon?”
“No.” Clark looked excitedly at him. “It’s 19P/Borrelly’s comet.”
Lex knew little about astronomy, but it was obvious that this comet was important to Clark. “Tell me more.”
A flash of surprise crossed Clark’s features before the excitement returned tenfold. “The 19P/Borrelly is a periodic comet with an orbital period of roughly 6.82 years. Its AU is 1.358 and tonight the magnitude will be at approximately 9.6, which is visible to the naked eye, but with my scope it’ll be very clear. I’ve been coming out here for months, tracking the comet, and over the next few nights it’s as close to earth as it’s going to get.”
“And you decided to share this comet milestone with me?” Lex said.
Clark’s face fell and he looked away. “I thought you might find it interesting.”
Clark had misunderstood, taking Lex’s disbelief as disinterest, but Lex felt like a heel anyway. “It is interesting, and I’m honored you asked me to view this event with you.”
“It’s not that big of a deal, Lex.”
“It is to you.”
Clark was flustered by his sincerity, and Lex smiled to himself as the fifteen-year-old fiddled intently with the telescope. Lex pushed up onto the tailgate, seating himself, and lifted his gaze to the night sky. “Quite a lot of stars up there. How will you find your comet? And don’t tell me it’ll be the one that’s moving.”
About to answer, Clark’s mouth clacked shut and his smile seemed to glow in the dark. Lex had the juvenile urge to kick him. “Clark…”
“Sorry.” He clearly wasn’t. “I’ve calculated its right ascension and declination.”
“Which means…?” It wasn’t often Lex didn’t know something academic. He couldn’t decide if it was a good feeling or bothersome.
“Longitude and latitude in the sky,” Clark said. He became even more animated, leaving the telescope to join Lex sitting on the tailgate. “Calculating in a and n, plus its inclination, I can pinpoint where the comet will be once the earth completes its rotation.” He glanced at his indiglo watch and then gestured at the sky. “It’ll be visible in the north sky at about 3:45 a.m.”
“What’s ‘a’ and ‘n’?”
“Axis and average daily motion,” Clark answered. He launched into complicated mathematical equations, which Lex followed easily. The terms were new, but calculus was a snap.
Clark had obviously never spoken with anyone face-to-face who understood the complex maths and was able to do computations without a calculator. The surprise and delight written plainly on his features proved that, and Lex bet his expression similarly reflected the pleasure of discovering that “farmboy” did not equal “simpleton.”
Lex had liked Clark immediately from the beginning, for his refreshing guilelessness and forthrightness. But finding a brain beneath the aw-shucks exterior cemented their new friendship in his mind.
“Hubble expansion has effected orbital paths, and e has to be calculated with time and degree of past astronomical maps, compared with the stars’ position today.” Clark lay back on the truck bed and pointed at the sky. “See Centaurus?”
Lex’s neck hurt from craning it looking up and decided Clark had the right idea. He lay back and pillowed his head on his hands. The truck bed was hard beneath his back, but the position was more comfortable for stargazing.
Lex laughed silently as Clark continued his explanations. He never thought he’d see the day he was on his back in a pickup without nakedness being involved. Or being in a pickup at all. His eyes drooped as Clark slid into some of the mythological tales behind the star patterns, which Lex had learned long ago. The cadence of Clark’s voice relaxed him and he found himself drifting as he half-listened to stories well known.
He must have fallen asleep, because a slow blink had changed his position in the bed of the truck. He was curled on his side, arm folded beneath his head, facing Clark. The sun crept over the sides of the bed, splashing across Clark’s peaceful features. He was asleep, too, stretched out on his back with his hands folded on his chest and his long legs hanging over the tailgate.
Lex hadn’t slept beside another person without drugs being involved for some time, not since boarding school, at least. Lex marveled at the novelty in the blush of morning, feeling more relaxed than he had in a while.
Clark stirred, blinking open his eyes and staring blankly at the blue sky for a moment, before he turned his head. He saw Lex, half-grinned sheepishly, and croaked, “Morning.”
“Morning,” Lex murmured, otherwise unmoving. “We missed your comet.”
“It’ll be back.”
“Then so will we,” Lex promised. His lips curved in a soft smile. “If only to get another good night’s sleep.”
Clark laughed bemusedly, morning rust coloring the sound. Lex let his eyes drift shut complacently. He felt truly content. Perhaps being exiled to Smallville wasn’t a bad thing, after all.
Exile (eks’il’) n.: 2. one who separates himself from his home voluntarily
19P/Borrelly was visible in July-Sept 2001, though I moved it to October in the story
AU - astronomical unit, how far away the comet is to earth; the distance from the earth to the sun=1AU
e - orbital eccentricity
p - orbital period; 19P/Borrelly is 6.82 years, so it should be visible again in 2007-2008