No Longer Friends








Prologue



Lex Luthor terminated the call and set the cell phone aside. He removed his Palm Pilot from the breast pocket of his suit coat and made an entry for the last full week in March: Colorado with C.K. He paused, before adding two more words:

Spring Break.

Lex made a sound of derision. Spring Break. It conjured up images of perpetually drunk males trying desperately to get laid and bikini-clad females acidly shooting them down, or perpetually drunk snowbums and ski-bunnies, in this case. In either way, it was a ritual that Lex never participated in while in college because he was never invited on any Spring Break trips.

Bring out the violins, Lex Luthor was ostracized by other college students for being bald, rich, a genius, and not giving a damn. Lex had spent his Spring Breaks in Metropolis, alternating between clubbing and pissing off his father. From what he could remember, between the drugs and alcohol-induced blackouts, he had a fun time all by himself.

It seemed like ages ago since Lex had a Spring Break. At twenty-four, he'd been running the LuthorCorp. Fertilizer Plant No. 3 for three years, exiled to Smallville where there were no clubs and pissing off his father meant hiring workers when Lionel Luthor wanted them fired. Lex was an adult now, striving to be a greater businessman than dear old dad, and working adults didn't have Spring Break. Yet, here he was, electronically sending his updated calendar to his secretary so she should reschedule all his appointments during the last week in March.

"Clark Kent, the things you get me to do..." Lex sighed, tucked the Palm Pilot away, and pivoted on his chair to look out the leaded glass window at the estate gardens. The snow was slowly melting, as the Kansas weather grew warmer. In a few weeks, the gardeners would be planting new bulbs and cultivating the perennials. Spring was just around the corner, very welcomed after a long, cold, Clarkless winter.

It was amazing how much more miserable the Kansas winter was with Clark gone. Lex's one true Smallville friend had gotten a scholarship and grants to attend Kansas State-Messing, four hours away by car. He had a part-time job, too, which had kept him in Messing a majority of winter break. Lex had probably seen Clark a total of six times since he started his freshman year of college. Lex used to see him six times in a week.

Clark e-mailed Lex often, especially in the beginning of the school year, but it wasn't the same as seeing him in person. Lex missed Clark, more than he ever though he would, and Smallville wasn't the same without the teen's presence. In fact, Lex was planning to ask his father if he could return to his own schooling and finish his graduate and doctoral studies. He'd play the age card if he had to; Lionel wouldn't want an heir who was still uneducated at thirty.

Lex touched the tips of his fingers together and rested them against his lips. Spring Break. A ski trip to Colorado with some club Clark was in. Knowing Clark, the club was probably some sort of community service-type group, and Lex would be surrounded by do-gooders or tree-huggers for ten days. He'd have to put a lock on his wallet, though he knew Clark hadn't asked him to go because he was Lex Luthor, junior billionaire.

"Come to think of it, why did Clark ask me?" Lex questioned the empty study. Surely, Clark had other friends he'd rather invite. Unless he had, and Lex was the last on the list.

The violins started playing again, and Lex rolled his eyes. Clark, in his wonderful honesty, would have told Lex if he'd asked others first. And since Clark didn't have a girlfriend, Lex, apparently, was the primary invitee.

Lex started to feel a bit smug. Clark had asked him, not a new friend from school, not old friends Chloe or Pete, or the unrequited love-turned-good-friend, Lana Lang, to go. There were no high school girlfriends pining away. As a matter of fact, Clark had only one girlfriend all through high school. Lex remembered hearing nothing but "Jenny, Jenny, Jenny" coming from Clark's mouth for the entire month and a half they'd gone out together early in Clark's junior year. Lex also remembered thinking that he never was as young and wondrous as Clark had been during his first relationship.

The puppy-eyed innocence was what had drawn Lex to begin with, having never met anyone like Clark Kent before. The power to corrupt that innocence was at Lex's command, yet the few attempts he'd made had been buffered and, instead, some of Clark's goodness had rubbed off on him. Their friendship was a fairly close one, and Lex had forced himself to bury the real attraction he had for Clark. Smallville wasn't Metropolis, and the rich bachelor only seduced farm boys in gay porn films.

Lex chuckled to himself. As if Clark Kent, the wholesome Boy Scout, would ever be gay. Lex shook his head, pivoted the chair, and reached for his phone. He had extra work to do, if he was going to be free to go to Colorado for Spring Break.



Part One



"Lex!" Clark Kent, eighteen-year-old freshman at Kansas State-Messing, KSM as it was called, bounded over to Lex like a kangaroo as Lex emerged from the terminal of the Messing municipal airport into the early morning cold. Lex was the recipient of an enthusiastic hug and a megawatt smile that made him wish he was wearing sunglasses.

"Clark, you're way too chipper for six o'clock in the morning," Lex told the raven-haired teen as he took Lex's ski bag.

"That's because you're here!" Clark bubbled with boyish glee.

Lex didn't stop the amused smile from curving his lips. "My helicopter pilot doesn't share your enthusiasm for such an early flight."

"But he still brought you." Clark bounced again. "This is going to be such a cool trip."

Lex just shook his head as he and Clark stored his bags in the trunk of a rusted brown Honda Civic hatch-back. It was interesting to see Clark fold his lanky form behind the wheel. "I hope this isn't your car," Lex commented.

"No, it's my friend, Callie's." Clark turned off the hazard lights, checked the mirrors, and pulled into the early morning terminal traffic. "She let me borrow it upon penalty of having to do all her papers between now and senior year, if I damage it."

"Ouch. Stiff penalty for this rust heap," Lex said.

"At least she has a rust heap. I'm stuck borrowing cars, hitching rides, or taking the bus." Clark wrinkled his nose. "Public transportation leaves much to be desired."

Lex didn't offer to buy Clark a car, or give the truck still sitting in his garage back to him, though Lex could and would in an instant.

As if Clark knew what Lex was thinking, he said, "Make me an offer in another year, and I'll probably take you up on it."

Lex laughed and relaxed back against the cracked vinyl passenger seat. The Messing landscape passed quickly by, outside the window. On the radio, a local station hummed static-filled alt-rock music. The heater pumped hot enough air that Lex could unzip his black ski jacket.

"Tell me more about the trip," Lex said. "You e-mailed me the basics, but I want to hear more first hand."

"Well, um, let's see." Clark changed lanes, bypassing a semi-truck. "A KSM alumnus runs one of the small ski resorts in Aspen. I guess it's been in the family forever, because the tradition of going there every Spring Break started when Mr. Blair was at KSM." Clark pulled in front of the semi and signaled to exit the freeway. "Anyway, the group gets a cabin for free for the week and the school provides us with a van. We only have to chip in for food and gas, and our own ski rental and lift passes."

"It sounds like a good deal," Lex said. "How many are going?"

"There are eight of us, including you." Clark shot him a happy smile. "I was the odd-man when sign-ups closed, so I asked if I could invite you to make it an even number. Scott, our faculty advisor, said yes, and here you are!"

"Here I am," Lex echoed warmly.

KSM was a relatively small State university, covering only two miles of the City of Messing. Clark navigated through the streets to a mostly empty parking lot on the south side of campus. It was Saturday and Spring Break had officially started the night before, so the lack of vehicles wasn't surprising.

Clark took Lex's ski bag again and Lex carried his own sports duffle towards a faded brick building. A dull, whitewashed sign proclaimed it to be Avery Hall. On the street in front of the building was parked a blue passenger van. Clark opened the rear doors without hesitation and fitted Lex's bags inside the fairly cramped baggage hold.

"Is this your dorm?" Lex asked as he and Clark headed into the warmth of Avery Hall.

"No, I'm in Kreske, way out in Siberia," Clark replied with a general wave of his hand northwards. "Avery is one of the student union buildings. Maybe when we get back, I'll give you a campus tour."

"I'd like that," Lex said truthfully. He was interested in learning about the place Clark was living at for the next four years. If there was upgrading or new facilities that Clark felt were needed, LuthorCorp might make a donation to the school.

They approached a group of six gathered on burgundy sectional couches, looking both excited and sleepy at 6:30 in the morning. "We're back," Clark announced unnecessarily, rousing the ones with their eyes closed. "Lex, this is Gregory, John, Ronnie, Bec, Scott, our advisor, and his better half, Claudine." Clark pointed around the semi-circle as he introduced his friends. "Guys, this is Lex."

Gregory, dressed in an orange sweater that made the neatly groomed brunet look like a traffic cone, conducted the others in an abuse-group, "Hi, Lex!"

One side of Lex's mouth quirked in his 'faintly amused rich boy' smirk. "Nice to meet you all."

Scott, a close-cropped blond Adonis who looked no older than the others, clapped his hands on his jean-clad thighs and stood. "Well, now that we're all here, let's not dawdle. Powder your noses, girls. We're not stopping until lunch."

As the rest stood with good-natured groaning and headed for the restrooms, Scott picked up a clipboard and stopped Lex. "Lex, I need you to fill this out before we can leave."

"What is it?" Lex asked as he took the clipboard and pen.

"Standard 'you won't sue the school if you die' paperwork." Scott smiled a disarmingly white smile. "Just give it back to me when you're done."

Scott walked off, and Clark shifted anxiously on his feet. "Will you be okay here by yourself for a few minutes?" he asked. "I have to run Callie's keys back to her."

Lex waved him off. "Go ahead, Clark. I'm fine."

"Okay. Be right back." Clark jogged away, and Lex perched on the arm of the sectional to fill out the paperwork.

Scott returned with the red-haired Claudine on his arm just as Lex was affixing his signature to the page. Claudine, Lex noted, was as tall as Scott, well over six-feet, though as thin as a reed. She was very color-coordinated in a plum cashmere sweater and matching slacks. A wispy scarf, plum with white gardenias, was tied around her neck. She studied Lex openly, as Scott glanced over the information on the clipboard, her dark brown eyes measuring. Lex had the feeling that, while Scott was the advisor, Claudine was the matriarch of the group and protective of her charges.

"I see you're twenty-four, which puts you a few years younger than Claudine and myself," Scott commented. "It's reassuring to have another adult on the trip, just in case."

"You're older than I?" Lex sweet-talked Claudine. "Here, I thought Scott was robbing the cradle."

Claudine's laugh was throaty. "Very charming, Lex," she said, her voice a deep alto. "We're going to get on just fine."

Scott frowned. "It says that, in case of emergency, contact your secretary."

"Susan Mallory, yes," Lex said.

"Shouldn't we notify your family first?" Scott questioned.

Lex smirked self-deprecatingly. "My father is fourth on the list of people for Susan to call, after security, the press secretary, and my attorney," he replied. In truth, his father was fifth on the list; Clark Kent headed it, but Scott and Claudine needn't know that fact.

Clark returned, and he and Lex made a quick trip to the restrooms before joining the Spring Breakers at the van. The girls, Ronnie and Bec, took the first bench seat, and Gregory and John took the rear, leaving Lex and Clark in the middle. Clark allowed Lex to sit by the window. Scott was driving and Claudine was in the passenger seat of the school van.

Claudine looked back at all of them. "Is everyone ready?" At the chorus of yeses, she smiled. "Then, watch out, Colorado! Edith is on her way!"

The van pulled away from the curb. Lex glanced questioningly at Clark. "Edith?"

"It's what we christened the van," Clark informed him. He added, half over his shoulder, "Somebody wanted to call her 'Priscilla.'"

"What?" Gregory said innocently. "I think Priscilla is a lovely name."

"And I think someone's seen that movie one too many times," John countered. He folded his arms on the seat back and leaned his pointed chin on his thin wrist. Next to Gregory, John looked about twelve-years-old, with white blond hair falling into his piercing blue eyes. "Greggie has a thing for Hugo Weaving. When we went to see the re-showing of the Lord of the Rings at the Vic, he kept yelling: 'Sing for me, Mitzi!' at the screen. He almost got us kicked out."

"No, you almost got us kicked out with your screaming, 'Just screw him already, Frodo!' every time Sam and Frodo had a scene together," Gregory stated.

"You know you thought it, too," John said with a roll of his eyes.

"True. But I didn't proclaim my hobbit lust to the entire world."

"Gods, do you two see sex in everything?" Ronnie asked, turning in her seat to join the conversation. Her blond cheerleader looks apparently came with a brain. "The Lord of the Rings was a book about the greatest friendship of all time. The members of the Fellowship were like brothers."

Gregory shrugged his broad shoulders. "They say incest is best."

"Gregory!"

Clark snickered, a laughing grin on his face. Lex was surprised that Clark wasn't blushing at the topic, but he had been in college awhile now and these were his friends.

"Ron, you know Gregory could see an orgy in a pile of rocks," Bec said, also half-turning on the bench seat. She was pale and goth, with short spikey black hair, kohl-lined amber-colored eyes, and a nose ring, as different from Ronnie as night to day. She had a slight lisp, and Lex caught glimpse of a tongue ring when she spoke. "It's one of the reasons we keep him away from our Zen rock garden."

Lex's ski jacket, which he'd draped on the seat between him and Clark, chose that time to emit a muffled trilling. Five sets of eyes focused on him as he extracted his cell phone.

"It's seven o'clock on Saturday morning, Lex." Clark's voice held a hint of annoyance.

"And?" Lex said flatly. He pressed a button and answered the call. "Lex Luthor."

Clark shifted on the seat, scrunching down, and sulked. The others were obvious in their listening to Lex's phone conversation.

"Lex, I understand you're taking a vacation," Lionel Luthor said without preamble, his smooth tone coming clearly over the cellular.

"Good morning to you, too, Dad," Lex responded boredly. Clark stiffened, and his suddenly worried gaze sought Lex's. "Or is it afternoon where you are?"

"Don't get cute, Lex," Lionel said. "It says on your calendar that you'll be in Colorado for ten days."

"Yes, and I plan to take a few extra days after the trip, too, to spend time with my friend." Lex gave Clark a reassuring partial smile. Clark relaxed slightly.

"So, you're planning to leave my plant in someone else's hands while you're shacking up with the Kent boy."

Now, Lex tensed, hating that his father knew who he was with in spite of telling no one. Then, he remembered his calendar entry, and silently cursed himself. "First of all, it's my plant, and I have confidence enough in my employees that they can handle things for a few days," he bit out. "Secondly, Clark's eighteen now, and I can do whatever the hell I want with him."

"Ooh, Clark, you go, girlfriend!" Gregory teased quietly from behind Lex.

Clark blushed, and sent an evil glare over his shoulder.

"Well, you've certainly put my mind at ease," Lionel said, the derision evident in his voice. "I hope your confidence in your employees proves true. Enjoy your holiday."

Lionel ended the call without a word of goodbye, and Lex sighed heavily. He glanced at Clark as he powered off the cellular. "Have I mentioned recently that I really don't like my father?"

"I don't like him, either," Clark said vehemently. "He's... hairy."

Lex snorted. "Hairy? That's an insult I haven't heard before."

"Well, it's true," Clark grumped. "It's like he's trying to prove he's not follicle-ly impotent."

Lex laughed at that, without reserve, earning one of Clark's blinding smiles. "Does this mean that I'm the follicle-ly impotent one?" he joked.

"No, you're--" Clark abruptly blushed brilliant red, ducked his chin, and mumbled something.

Lex leaned closer to Clark. The other four leaned closer, too. "I'm what?" Lex asked.

"I think he said that you're sexy," John supplied, when Clark didn't answer.

"It could have been 'pretty'," Ronnie said.

Bec looked critically at Lex. "He's too stark to be considered pretty."

"Commanding?" Gregory tossed out. "Enthralling? Devastating?"

Clark squirmed, cheeks getting even darker red.

Lex was very curious now. "Clark?"

"Perfect," Clark admitted, almost inaudibly. He plucked at the frayed knees of his jeans. "You're perfect."

Lex was pleased and embarrassed all at once. He covered his reaction with a bad joke. "I already knew that; I am Lex Luthor, after all."

Clark sent him a sideways grin.

"Oh! You're that Lex Luthor?" Ronnie said. "The heir apparent to LuthorCorp?"

Lex's defenses automatically came up. A polite, distant mask descended over his features. "One in the same."

"I've read you're one of the world's Most Eligible Bachelors," Ronnie said. She suddenly swatted Clark's knee. "Clark, you dog!"

Gregory started barking and howling. John soon joined in. Bec smirked evilly, and Ronnie laughed. Clark continued to blush and twine the fray around his fingers.

Lex was utterly confused.

Before he could ask, however, the radio sputtered to life, someone shouted "K-Pop!" and, to Lex's amused horror, the group started singing along to the song on the radio.

*****

They stopped around noon for lunch. It was roughly an eight-hour drive from Messing to Aspen, and they would arrive around 5:30 PM at Blair Downs Ski Resort. They were planning to stop at a grocery store outside of Aspen to purchase food for the week. Before lunch, Ronnie had drawn up a dinner/clean up schedule for the week so everyone had a turn cooking and washing the dinner dishes. Breakfast and lunch was fend-for-yourself, and so the grocery list included cereal and sandwich makings. Naturally, hot cocoa mix was also on the list.

After lunch, Claudine took over driving and Scott became the navigator. Clark was asleep beside Lex, his head tilted back and mouth wide open. Gregory and John had also succumbed to slumber, the warmth of the van and full stomachs aiding the Sandman.

Lex tapped the scroll down button with the wand for his Palm Pilot. He'd downloaded several reports to read while on the trip. Running a company, even if it was only a single plant in a vast corporation, meant that his responsibilities didn't stop while he vacationed. He hadn't lied to his father; he was confident in his employees' abilities to keep operations running smoothly while he was gone. But it was still his plant, and he was happier knowing that he'd done things to his own satisfaction.

Lex became aware of someone staring at him, and he raised his head. The cheerleader, Ronnie, gave him a small smile over the back of the seat. "Must be interesting reading," she commented. Beside her, Bec was lightly bobbing her head to the music playing over her headphones.

"Only if you find waste management fascinating," Lex said, marking his spot on the e-page.

"Ah, the glamorous life of the rich and famous," Ronnie said. "Now I know it's all a load of crap."

"In my case, literally." Lex quirked a grin.

"How in the world did you and Clark meet?" Ronnie shifted on her seat, resting an elbow on the back of it and propping her cheek on her closed fist. "I know you own the fertilizer plant in Clark's hometown, but you definitely don't run in the same social circles."

"I hit him with my Porsche," Lex replied drolly, "or the guardrail next to him. We're still debating on the truth of what happened. The only certainty is, that he saved my life, bringing me back from a watery grave."

"Poetic."

"Thank you."

"It still doesn't explain why you and Clark are friends," Ronnie said.

Lex glanced fondly at Clark. "How could I not be? Clark is--" He struggled for an adequate description. "Clark is--"

"Clark," Ronnie supplied. "Clark is Clark. He's his own category of wonderful."

Lex's sharp gaze settled on her. "You sound rather fond of him."

"I am." Ronnie looked softly at the sleeping 18-year-old. "He's the Prince from fairy tales that I didn't believe existed."

Lex smiled tightly as the familiar knot of jealousy formed in his gut. "I'm sure Happily Ever After won't be too difficult to attain."

"Maybe." Ronnie's tone suddenly took on a warning quality. "He believes in love before sex, and almost everyone his age just wants to sleep around. Someone trophy hunting could really hurt him."

"Luckily, Clark has friends watching out for him, then," Lex commented, a warning in his own tone of voice.

"He does," Ronnie agreed, eyes narrowing slightly. "Very good friends. Our group is small, and we're pretty close knit."

"Some closer than others, I bet," Lex said smoothly, but with a hint of acid.

Clark stirred, and the conversation ended. Ronnie turned front again and picked up the paperback she'd been reading.

Clark turned his head, opened hazy blue eyes, and peered at Lex. "Stop working," he ordered groggily, ineffectually swiping at the Palm Pilot in Lex's hand. "Vacation. Fun. Relax. Nap."

"I am relaxed," Lex lied. The talk with Ronnie had left him tense. She was obviously interested in Clark, which meant Lex should do his friendly duty and push Clark in her direction, especially since she seemed to genuinely care about him. Lex ignored the bitterness he felt.

"You nap some more," Lex told Clark. "We won't be stopping for another hour, at least."

Clark gave him a tired smile, closed his eyes, and drifted off again. Lex watched him sleep for a long time, before returning to his report.





Part Two





Blair Downs was, as Clark had said, a small ski resort in Aspen, Colorado. But it was nothing like Lex expected.

It was an exclusive resort for the ultra-rich; the kind of resort the Luthors would chose if they skied in the States. The idyllic retreat was nestled within the Rocky Mountains, near Aspen proper. The late-March weather had cooperated and left a pristine blanket of snow coating the sloping roofs and porch rails of each of the six darkly wooded chalets.

Bill Blair, the KSM Alumnus, met them personally and showed the travel-weary group the cabin they'd be staying in for the week. Richly paneled in pine with blonde hardwood floors, the cabin had four bedrooms, three upstairs and a master bedroom on the main floor; three full baths; and a Great Room with the kitchen separated from the dining area by a chest-high breakfast bar. Large glass picture windows ran the full length of the main room, revealing a breathtaking mountainous vista.

Scott and Claudine commandeered the master bedroom. The three bedrooms upstairs were divided between the others. Clark and Lex occupied the room at the top of the stairs. Matching twin beds were pushed against opposite walls, a colorful throw rug on the floor between them. A small closet, a single dresser, and matching nightstands provided space for their clothing and personal items.

Clark lounged on the bed, watching Lex unpack. It was the first time they'd been alone since leaving KSM. He'd changed into a faded red rugby shirt, with worn elbows and a fraying hem and neckline. The shirt looked as though he'd gotten it from Goodwill, completely opposite to Lex's sharply tailored amethyst crew-neck sweater.

"So, do you think you can survive with my friends for a week?" Clark asked, his head propped on his open hand.

"I'll manage," Lex replied. He glanced at Clark in the mirror above the single dresser and put on his matchmaker's hat. "They all seem fairly normal. Ronnie is especially nice. Attractive, too."

"Yeah, Ron's cool." Clark flopped onto his back and pillowed his head on his hands. "She helped me through a really rough first semester."

"Oh?"

"You remember me complaining about Dr. Tanksley, right?" Clark said.

Lex nodded. At the beginning of the school year, every Tuesday and Thursday like clockwork, Clark would call Lex, unhappy about the professor's treatment of him. Lex never learned what exactly Tanksley said to Clark, other than it was hurtful. For an honest boy, Clark could close up like a clam when he was upset and was a master at changing the subject. The phone calls tapered off, however, by mid-October. Now Lex knew why: Ronnie.

"Tanksley's a real jerk." By the way Clark's jaw tightened, it was an understatement. "I dreaded going to his class. I told you that attendance was mandatory, so I couldn't skip, and I couldn't drop because the course was required. There was nothing I could do but tolerate his abuse, but it made me more and more angry and depressed."

Lex hadn't know it was that bad. If he had, he would've had Tanksley fired, blacklisted, and bankrupt, just to start. Of course, Clark probably knew what Lex would've done, which was why he kept quiet.

"Our group had a meeting on a particularly bad class-day," Clark continued. "I usually don't complain, but that day everything came pouring out." He took a deep breath and exhaled quickly. A quirky smile replaced his tense expression. "It turned out everyone had Tanksley war-stories, either first or second-hand. Ronnie sort-of adopted me after that and helped me survive through the semester. We met after every Tanksley class and she let me talk her ears off about the prick's vitriol that day."

Lex had turned around mid-explanation and leaned against the dresser with his hands in his pockets. "It sounds like you and Ronnie are close."

"We are," Clark said. "She's the best. Bec is great, too." He grinned wickedly. "She has a tongue ring."

"So I saw." Lex pushed off the dresser and went to put his empty sports duffle under the bed. He said casually, "Ronnie likes you, you know. She called you a prince."

Clark started laughing. "As in 'Charming,' or 'The Artist Formerly Known As'?" He rolled off the bed to his feet. "Though, either way, I look horrible in ruffles."

Lex chuckled as he followed Clark out of the bedroom and downstairs. John and Gregory were seated at the breakfast bar, pouring over an open newspaper, while in the kitchen Scott prepared dinner. None of the women were around.

"What's going on?" Clark asked, affectionately tugging at the tab on the back of John's green shirt, as he and Lex joined them at the counter.

"I need to get laid," John declared bluntly. It was very disconcerting to hear that coming from the bow-shaped mouth of someone who barely looked old enough to be in high school, though only Lex seemed to think so.

"The poor boy hasn't gotten any in a week," Gregory said sotto voce.

"It's horrible," John said, giving Clark a doe-eyed look. "If I don't have sex soon, I might as well take your vow and stay a virgin until marriage."

"John, neither one of us are virgins," Clark pointed out.

"Besides, unless the law changes, there's no marriage in the future for you," Gregory added, patting John on the shoulder.

"Wait, wait. You're not a virgin?"

Three sets of eyes focused on Lex at his astonished question. Gregory and John snickered. Clark gave Lex an odd look. "Lex, I'm eighteen."

Lex nodded as if that explained everything. His world, however, had shifted a step to the right. The innocent farmboy wasn't innocent any longer. Why did that seem wrong?

He wandered over to the darkly cushioned couch and sunk into a corner. He stared at the filmy white curtains covering the windows. It was very possible he was in shock.

Clark took a seat beside Lex, concern marring his brow. "Lex? Is something wrong?"

"I thought you didn't believe in sex without love," Lex blurted.

"How do you think I made that decision?" Clark replied, leaning forward, his forearms resting on his thighs. "I know how great sex can be if you care about the person you're sleeping with. Sex without that emotional attachment is so... empty."

"I wouldn't know. I've never had sex with someone I cared about."

"You haven't?" Clark sounded appalled. "Never?"

"Clark, you're the first person I've even remotely liked for who you are, not what you can do for me," Lex said. "Obviously, we haven't had sex, so the answer is: no, never."

"Geez Louise, Lex, that's terrible!"

A laugh bubbled in Lex's chest. Clark was speaking frankly about sex -- without blushing! -- and he still used the phrase 'Geez Louise.' Lex's world shifted back a half-step towards normal.

"Have I mentioned that I've missed you, Clark?" Lex said.

Now Clark blushed, bashfully pleased, and Lex laughed some more.



*****



The Skiers Lift was a bar that catered to the Ivy League sons and daughters of the rich. It was the type of establishment that Lex would have frequented during his college years, if he hadn't been into a heavier, darker scene. Most likely, over half of the well-groomed sweater set knew who Lex was, and Lex probably had met a quarter of them at some point in time, at one of his father's functions. However, no one approached him in the polished low-lighted bar. Lex suspected it was because his table companion dissuaded them.

Bec was a delight, though, Lex had found. Her gothic punk look came with a wicked tongue that could cut a man down at twenty paces. Her observations of the other Spring Breakers at The Skiers Lift caused Lex to almost choke on his drink several times.

Clark and his other friends were on what passed for a dance floor, proving that white boys can't dance unless they were wearing tights. They'd been flopping around like epileptic monkeys for nearly an hour, their drinks forgotten on the table where Lex and Bec sat. The more intoxicated of the bar's patrons were dancing, as well, to the jacked-up jukebox playing pop music.

A slow song began to a chorus of 'boos', and several people wandered off in search of more alcohol. John, with his driver's license pinned to his shirt, and Gregory headed towards the restrooms, leaving Clark and Ronnie on the dance floor. Scott and Claudine had stayed at Blair Downs, allowing the "children fun-time without supervision." Clark had been charged with driving the van, as he was the only one not old enough to drink, though it was highly doubtful he'd be carded.

On the dance floor, Clark held up his arms in invitation, and Ronnie accepted. They began a gentle sway, chatting to each other with smiles and laughter.

Lex took a swallow of his drink, washing away the bitterness in his throat. It appeared as though Clark might not need his help with Ronnie, after all. "They look good together," he observed.

"Who, Ron and Clark?" Bec glanced at the dancing couple. "They are both very pretty, I'll give you that. Ron's always having to fight off the guys when we go out. It can be extremely frustrating."

"I'm sure Clark will put a stop to that," Lex said, signaling for a refill of his drink.

"He has, many times," Bec agreed. "It's sickening how much of a sweetheart he is, and how genuine. Ronnie's smitten with him. If I didn't know better, I'd be jealous as hell."

"Smitten, huh?" Lex looked unhappily into his empty glass. Clark definitely didn't need his help, if that was the case.

"Yeah, especially since that cruel hazing during finals last term." Bec made a sound of anger and disgust. "God, why are people such damn cretins?"

Lex didn't comment on the rhetorical question, instead inquiring, "Ronnie was hazed? I though she was a senior, like you."

"Not Ron, Clark," Bec corrected. She gave him a quizzical look. "He didn't tell you?"

"This is the first I've heard of it," Lex said. "Unless you're referring to Dr. Tanksley's treatment of Clark."

"No." Bec shook her head. "While Clark was taking one of his finals last semester, someone broke into his dorm room and spray-painted everything. Clothes, books, bedding, floors, walls-- the works."

Lex cursed adroitly, and Bec agreed with him. "Of course, anyone else would have been visibly and vocally upset, but not Clark," she continued. "He never said anything. The only reason we know about it is, because Scott is informed of any on-campus hate crimes by campus security." She smiled faintly. "At our end of term meeting, Clark received a lot of clothes as Christmas gifts. He, naturally, blushed and stammered and tried to refuse everything."

"That sounds like Clark." Lex looked towards the dance floor. A new song had started and John and Gregory had claimed Ronnie to dance. Clark was winding his way to the table.

Happy and slightly disheveled, Clark dropped onto one of the stools around the table and gulped down the remainder of his soda. Lex realized, as he watched Clark guzzle his lukewarm drink, that the faded red rugby shirt probably had come from Goodwill as he'd thought earlier.

"Having fun?" he queried blandly. He buried the hurt he felt that Clark hadn't told him about the hazing. On top of Clark's not sharing about how bad the Tanksley situation had been, Lex was starting to wonder if his and Clark's friendship was drifting apart.

"I'm having a blast," Clark replied. "You should come dance."

"Not upon penalty of disinheritance," Lex said.

Clark pouted at him. He actually pouted. Lex folded like a bad hand in poker.

Bec was also not immune to the Clark Kent Pout, and she rose from her seat with a grumble. Clark beamed at both of them, but before they could move from the table an exclamation of surprised pain drew their attention.

John was being assisted to his feet by Gregory, while holding his cheek. Ronnie was standing aside, arms folded and glaring at a lanky blonde in a yellow sweater-vest, who in turn was massaging his fist.

"Aw, heck," Clark said. He sighed heavily. "Lex, get our tab, will you? We'll figure out who owes what later. Bec--"

"Right behind you," Bec anticipated his request.

Clark passed her the van keys with a thin-lipped nod, and together they pushed through the circle that had formed on the dance floor, both presuming Lex would do as asked. Lex did, of course, and perched on the chair-rail along the bar in order to see over the small crowd.

Clark stepped between John and Yellow Sweater-Vest, preventing John from striking back if he got loose from Gregory's hold. "Guys, we're leaving," Clark addressed his friends, even though he was staring hard at Yellow Sweater-Vest.

"Don't you mean 'girls'?" Yellow Sweater-Vest sneered.

Clark said nothing as Bec prompted Ronnie, Gregory, and John towards the door.

"What's the matter, fag, does your boyfriend have your tongue?" Yellow Sweater-Vest continued to provoke. Clark turned to leave, still not replying to the taunts, once his friends were clear of the circle. Lex began to call a warning, but swallowed it back when Clark caught the fist aimed at his face.

Lex saw Clark's fingers tighten. Yellow Sweater-Vest's eyes widened and he tried to pull his hand free. He couldn't.

Clark took a step closer to Yellow Sweater-Vest, his voice a low rumble in the sudden quiet, as the jukebox changed disks. "I would be wary of who you called a fag. Not everyone finds it a compliment."

Yellow Sweater-Vest paled and whimpered.

A new, raucous song suddenly blasted from the jukebox, making everyone but Clark jump. Clark released Yellow Sweater-Vest's fist and cut his way through the small crowd.

Lex hopped down and followed Clark out of the bar. The night air was cold and caused Lex to immediately shiver. His ski jacket was in the van with the other winter coats. Clark seemed unaffected by the biting weather, though it was possibly because he was still hot under the collar.

Clark stopped abruptly just before they reached the van, with its engine running and the others inside. He looked at Lex, self-consciously running his fingers through his dark hair. "I'm sorry you had to see that."

"Clark, you were sticking up for your friend," Lex said. "I would've done the same for you, though I probably would have decked the guy for insulting you."

"I'm sort-of used to it." Clark smiled with shy mischief. "But thanks for offering to defend my honor."

Lex chuckled, then shivered hard. "C'mon, Fair Maiden, into the van before my sword freezes."

Clark's eyes swept down and Lex would've sworn Clark was checking out Lex's sword, but then he said, "You do look cold. What are we doing standing out here?"

Clark didn't leave the parking spot right away once they were warmly ensconced inside the van. Instead, he turned and looked into the back seat at John. Ten seconds later, John exclaimed, "It wasn't my fault this time! He was giving off all the signals. He was wearing a yellow sweater-vest!"

"All in favor of John buying the next first round?" Clark said, raising his hand.

"Aye!" Three hands went up.

"All opposed?"

John huffed.

"Okay, then," Clark said, facing front. "Fight averted, no one got hurt--"

"Hey!" John protested.

"--much," Clark amended, "and this freshman declares that the word-of-the-day is 'fag.' Everyone say it with me now--"

"Faaaaaag."

Lex arched a brow at Clark as laughter bubbled from the back. He had no clue what was going on. It had to be a group thing. Clark grinned a cheeky grin, put the van in gear, and pulled out of the lot.

John mumbled, "He was wearing matching yellow socks, too."



Continued