There were times Clark wondered when the world had shifted out of orbit. He supposed it happened when Lex crashed into him with a car at sixty miles-per-hour. Ever since then, things had gotten progressively crazier. In the past month alone, he’d fought a split personality for control of his body; Chloe had returned from the dead and then showed up in the loft wearing little more than a jersey and a smile; Lana had returned from Paris with gothic drama and a boyfriend in tow; Lois buzzed constantly in his ear like an annoying gnat; Lex was attempting to rekindle their friendship and refusing him tore at something deep inside; he was fighting with his father about playing football and trying to grasp hold of a bit of normality; and now, he was bruised and aching from practice in a way he should never have been, and Coach Teague – the guy who’d given him a chance on the field – was beating him up.
The first punch to the stomach was a complete shock. Clark doubled-over in pain and surprise, gasping. A hard elbow in the back sent him sprawling, knocking into produce boxes piled at the jog of the loft stairs. The splintering of the wood reverberated in the barn.
He didn’t know what was going on, other than the fact that he was getting his ass kicked. Whatever he’d drunk at football practice had made him vulnerable to injury, something becoming abundantly clear with each punch.
Teague grabbed the front of Clark’s red plaid flannel, lifting him slightly off the floor, and punched him in the face. Clark’s head whipped with the impact, jaw exploding in agony. Twice more Teague slammed his fist against Clark’s face. Clark felt blood spill from his mouth.
Teague picked him up and shoved him against the rail of the stairs. Clark grasped onto the old wood, his knees shaking. Why was this happening? What had he done?
He turned towards Teague to ask and received a fully drawn swing in response. Teague’s knuckles connected with Clark’s nose and the crunch echoed in his ears. Clark was slammed backwards, through the rail, and sailed to the ground below. The impact knocked the wind from him. He gasped for air, but couldn’t breathe. White spots danced through his vision.
The dark gray hood of Teague’s sweatshirt shadowed his features as he came down the stairs. Clark blinked rapidly and tried to move, to defend himself from his Coach gone crazy. A malevolent smile curved Teague’s lips, as he stood over Clark. He raised his foot and—
—a body smacked into Teague, slamming him into a support post. His head knocked into the solid wood and he dropped to his knees.
Clark closed his eyes tightly and opened them again. A man in black stood over him, facing the other direction, a halo ringing his head. He stared, disbelieving what he was seeing. He heard the scrabble of Teague fleeing the barn, and the man turned and leaned down. “Clark.”
“Lex?” The halo shifted above a familiar bald head, an optical illusion caused by hanging light.
“Are you okay?” Lex lowered to a knee and lightly touched Clark’s jaw. “Who was that?”
“I- I’m not sure,” Clark said, wincing as he sat up. Teague seemed like such a normal guy, and a good coach. Clark wasn’t going to accuse him of anything until he figured out why he’d got an unprompted beating.
Lex’s mouth tightened in the corners, but didn’t call Clark on the lie. He slid his hand behind Clark’s shoulders, supporting him. “We should get you to a doctor.”
“I’m fine.” Clark pressed his fingertips against the sides of his nose and grit his teeth at the shooting pain. He was never drinking anything at football practice again.
“If this is fine, I’d hate to see what you consider hurt,” Lex said. He handed Clark a handkerchief taken from his pocket.
Clark dabbed his bloody lips with the handkerchief. He grimaced at the metallic taste in his mouth. “What are you doing here?”
For a moment, Lex looked like he was the one who’d been punched, but his features smoothed into aloofness. “I wasn’t kidding about making amends and beginning again.” He stood and offered Clark a hand.
Clark’s hesitation in taking it was noted coolly, making him immediately feel like an ass. He gripped Lex’s hand and grunted as he was pulled to his feet. The aches and pains from practice had nothing on what he felt now. He wrapped an arm around his bruised stomach protectively and hobbled over to a stack of canning crates. He sat gingerly.
“Is the first aid kit in the same place?” Lex asked, picking up something from the tool bench.
“Yeah.” Clark glanced at it. “What’s that?”
Lex looked at the blue folder in his hands, and then handed it to Clark. “It’s every file I ever had on you.”
Clark stared at the black and purple LuthorCorp logo on the corner of the folder. He heard Lex climbing the steps to the loft. He hadn’t expected this, didn’t know if he wanted it. The folder felt like a time bomb in his hands. He swallowed, grimacing at the metallic taste of his own blood. “How do I know you don’t have a copy?”
“You don’t.” Lex’s voice drifted down from the loft. “But it’s the truth.”
The truth. Something they both kept from each other until their friendship became foul and poisoned. “Lex, if this friendship was so important, why’d you lie to me for so long?”
“I don’t know, Clark.” Lex returned downstairs, sans coat and carrying the first aid kit. He set the kit on the crates beside Clark, pushed up the sleeves of his crew-neck shirt, and opened a sterile wipe. “There’s a darkness in me that I can’t always control.” Standing partially between Clark’s bent knees, he began swiping gently at the cuts on Clark’s face. “I’m starting to think that it’s my curse, why every relationship I have ends badly.”
The antiseptic stung and stank. Clark’s fingers curled around the edges of the folder, repressing his pain. He studied Lex’s face, the set of his jaw, the lines of concern marring the corners of his eyes. “We all have a dark side,” he said quietly.
“Yeah,” Lex’s lips turned down in a grimace, “but I can feel mine creeping over the corners. Your friendship helps keep it at bay. It reminds me that there are truly good people in the world. I’m not willing to give up on that.”
“I don’t know if I can be your moral compass, Lex.”
“‘All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle’.” Lex met his gaze, slowly lowering his doctoring hand. “You’re my light, Clark. Without you in my life…,” he trailed off.
Clark’s heart squeezed tight in his chest.
Lex shook his head and smiled self-deprecatingly. “Ignore my mawkish sentimentality.”
“I don’t mind,” Clark said quickly. Lex really wanted their friendship back; that was obvious. “At least you didn’t call me a candle.”
Lex chuckled, tossed the used antiseptic wipe aside, and took a strip of butterfly tape strips from the first aid kit. “Candles melt and their wicks burn out.”
“Hey, I melt.” Wait, that hadn’t come out right.
Lex’s lips twitched. “I’m sure you do.”
“I mean, I could. With the right kind of, um…” Clark was digging a hole for himself. He should shut up.
“The right kind of ‘um’.” Lex was clearly amused. “I’ve heard that’s potent stuff.”
“I’m talking about kissing and you know it.” Clark scowled with embarrassment, looking down at the folder in his hands. He rolled it into a tube, perhaps to whap Lex with it.
Lex taped the butterfly bandage on one of Clark’s cuts and then he felt Lex’s warm breath against his skin. Clark was about to lift his head, when a soft press of lips caressed his forehead.
A tremor went through Clark, caused either by panic or something else. He raised his chin. Lex’s face was a whisper away.
Lex opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again and licked his lips. Clark’s focus shifted to Lex’s lips, the overhead light shining in the moisture, before returning to Lex’s eyes. Lex’s nostrils flared slightly as he inhaled unsteadily. He drew slowly closer to Clark, his head tilting slightly, their gazes unbreaking. Clark’s heartbeat pounded in his ears. He could see flecks of silver in the blur of Lex’s eyes.
Lex closed the faint distance, his mouth settling against Clark’s like it had always belonged there. Clark’s eyelids fluttered shut and his lungs tickled with his shaky exhale. The folder twisted in his sweaty grip.
Abruptly, Lex pulled away, their noses bumping, sending a spike of pain through Clark’s temples. Clark bit back a yelp and opened his eyes, to see Lex rubbing his neck, gaze averted. Lex turned to the first aid kit and began moving items around resolutely. If it weren’t for the redness of Lex’s ears and that he kept rubbing his lips together, Clark would’ve believed his half-assed excuse.
“I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. My joke may have gone a little too far,” Lex said. “I hope my mistake doesn’t ruin our chances of starting over.”
“Maybe this is us starting over.” Clark was as surprised as Lex by what he said, but he went with it. It felt like the first truth between them in a long while.
“You don’t mean that.”
Clark shrugged and immediately wished he hadn’t. His response was laced with a hiss. “What we had before didn’t work. Maybe it’s time to try something new.”
Lex’s concern for his well-being returned swiftly, and he took the bent folder from Clark’s hands and set it aside. “We should get you to the house. Are you sure you don’t want to go to the doctor?”
“Clark, I can’t,” Lex interrupted, and Clark thought he saw pain flash across Lex’s features. “Every relationship I have ends badly, I told you that. And I can’t lose your friendship.”
“Then, maybe we ought to redefine what friendship means.”
“What about Lana?”
“Lana has a boyfriend.” Clark caught Lex’s wrists in his hands. “But this isn’t about her, it’s about us.”
“Clark…,” Lex implored, a desperate edge coloring his tone.
“Tell me it didn’t feel right when you kissed me,” Clark said. “Tell me you didn’t think that’s what’s been missing from the beginning.”
Lex swallowed, his focus shifting back and forth between Clark’s eyes. Long seconds passed, and something more painful than the beating Clark had received lodged in the center of his chest.
“There’s no going back,” Lex said finally, his voice as rough as gravel. “‘Friendship often ends in love; but love in friendship — never’.”
A grin stretched Clark’s lips. “We’d better work our hardest to make it, then.”
Like a light in the darkness, acceptance brightened Lex’s face with his slow smile. “I’ll hold you to it.”
“Deal.” Clark slid his hands up to Lex’s shoulders and urged him closer. He couldn’t predict what the future would bring, or how they’d get through it with their collective secrets and lies, but he felt as if he’d been waiting for this to happen for a very long time.
Their lips met, and the world seemed to shift into place.