Thanks to LaT and the Spike for betaing.
Clark hadn't really seen Lex since the incident at the plant.
Practically speaking, that wasn't too surprising. After all, Clark had been grounded for a week afterwards ("Just because you can save lives doesn't mean you get to ignore right and wrong, son") and then he'd been busy with getting ready for the holidays. He couldn't help thinking it was weird, though. No matter how busy he'd been, Lex had somehow always managed to run into him before, at least once a week since they'd met. Which, now that Clark thought about it, might be sort of weird in itself, but it was the way it was, and he'd gotten used to it, the way he was used to mutant cows and two-headed chickens. Just another part of Smallville life: freaks and explosions and the billionaire's son who seemed to think it was fun to hang out with a high-school kid
Maybe Lex had already gone back to Metropolis for Christmas, but Clark didn't think so. He might not be a criminal mastermind, but he could do some math. Earl had said the explosion happened six months ago. In other words, before Lex had come to Smallville. He really hadn't known about it. But Lionel Luthor would have, and Lionel Luthor had been there when Lex went into the plant. He hadn't told Lex, and Lex had nearly gotten killed. Clark didn't know what usually went on between Lex and his dad, but he figured that was enough to cause a fight that would make the one he'd had with his dad over the football team look like nothing. No, he didn't think Lex would go to the city early, if he went at all. Which only made it more weird that they hadn't met up since. Not to mention made Clark want to see him more. Clark had needed a friend during the whole football thing. Maybe Lex could use one, too.
Clark looked up at the castle. Mostly dark, but there was one light showing, from a room he didn't think he had been in. He shifted his bag on his shoulder and rapped at the door. The servant let him in, took him to the study, and then disappeared.
It was a long time before Lex came in. (Was Clark remembering wrong, or didn't he usually turn up right away when he came over?) "Clark," he said, in a strangely dull voice.
"Lex. I haven't seen you around in a while, so I decided to swing by and see how you were."
"Busy." Lex glanced down at his left hand, and Clark could see that he held something in it, hidden beneath his fingers.
"With the plant and stuff. Sure."
Lex laughed shortly. "Among other things."
"Earl left a pretty bad mess to clean up, huh?"
"Not all that bad." Lex leaned casually on a table that held his laptop, looking down at the screen. "I did find something down there, though."
"Oh, nothing big. Just this." Lex turned to him abruptly and tossed whatever was in his hand at Clark. His football reflexes kicked in, and he caught it without thinking, only to feel a deep, chilling sickness sear through him.
Lex had thrown him a tiny chip of meteor.
Clark dropped it, trying to make it look like an accident, and took a step back. "What's that?"
He could tell that Lex hadn't been fooled. "That's a very interesting question, Clark," he said, coming forward and picking it up from the floor. "It seems to be just an ordinary fragment of mineral. But I think," he tossed it in the air and caught it himself without looking away from Clark, "I think it might be more. Much more."
Clark concentrated all his efforts on not looking petrified. He wondered if it was ever going to get any easier. "You're studying it?"
"Yes. I was just up in the lab looking at it. It's really fascinating."
"Well, I'm sorry I interrupted you, but I thought you might be going home for Christmas soon and I wanted to give you your present before you left." Anything to change the subject, and maybe distract Lex.
For what seemed like the first time since he'd brought out the fragment, Lex blinked. "You did."
"Yeah." Clark reached into the bag and took out the present. He'd wrapped it himself, though now, looking at the uneven corners, he almost wished he'd let his mom do it. "Here." He held it out to Lex.
Lex slipped the fragment into his pocket and took it, his expression completely unreadable. "For me."
"Yeah. Merry Christmas."
Lex looked down at it for a minute, then unwrapped it slowly. He opened the box inside and lifted the hat from it. It was a deep purple with lots of little cables. "A hat?"
"Yeah. It's qi--qiviut." Wow, that was a hard name to say. "The underdown of a musk ox, from up in Alaska. Mom says it's really, really soft, so it won't make your head itch, but it's also really warm, so you won't get cold, either."
"Your mom...knitted this for me?"
"Uh-huh. I bought the yarn"--he'd had no idea one little light bundle of thread could cost so much--"she knitted it, and my dad...well, my dad didn't say anything about it." Clark grinned, hoping he wasn't blushing. "They're really grateful, Lex. And I...I'm just glad you're my friend."
He wasn't sure what he'd expected Lex's reaction to be, but it hadn't been that sudden flash of pain over his face, like he'd punched Lex in the gut. The expression was gone so fast, though, that he couldn't be positive he'd even seen it. "I...see." Lex carefully put the hat back in the box, closed it, and held it back out to Clark. "I can't accept this."
Clark was startled. "What? Why not?"
"The Kents won't take gifts from me. How can I take any from them?"
"That's not true," Clark protested half-heartedly.
"Oh? I still have the keys to the truck, Clark. Would your dad let you keep it if you came home in it?"
Stuck. "Uh, I guess not."
Lex pushed the box into his hands. "I rest my case." He paused. "Although...there is one thing I'd take from you, Clark."
"Yeah?" he asked hopefully. "What's that?"
Lex's eyes were suddenly boring into his face, steady but with a flicker of...something else...behind them. "What truth, Lex?" he asked, and hated himself.
"I think you know, Clark," Lex said, stepping nearer. Clark started to feel the meteor sickness come over him again, and backed up, but Lex continued to advance on him with every sentence. "Why I'm alive. Again. Why all the weird things have been happening in Smallville. Why my father has been running experiments using the material that's been found in the meteor fragments around town. Why you can't seem to get near those fragments without getting sick. If you want to give me something, as my friend, give me the answers I'm looking for."
"I--I can't, Lex," Clark stammered, now standing with his back against the wall. He'd never felt the meanness of lying before, the way it seemed to be shutting out Lex and his white, suddenly...desperate face. Yeah, desperate, though he never would have expected to think of Lex that way. Desperate, even though Lex probably meant to seem in control. Almost like Lex was feeling the meteor sickness, too.
"You mean, you won't."
"I mean, I can't. I don't know, Lex. It's all as weird to me as it is to you." He forced a smile. "Really."
"Right." It was as if Lex had deflated, right in front of his eyes. He turned and took a few steps away from Clark. "Go home, Clark," he said, over his shoulder. "Go home to those loving parents of yours and leave me alone."
"C'mon, Lex--" He took a step towards him, reaching for his sleeve, then recoiled, remembering the fragment.
Unfortunately, Lex had seen that, too, and now faced him squarely. "It takes a little more than a hug for me to get over betrayal, Clark," he said flatly. "Or a gift of winter accessories. Just...leave. Go peddle your mom's handicrafts at the church bazaar. They're not wanted here."
Clark was about two seconds away from punching him when he realized that he'd probably split Lex's skull open if he did. And that Lex was watching him, like he expected to get hit, like it was the ending to the conversation that he wanted. Clark took a deep breath. "Okay. Fine. I'm out of here."
He was so mad it took him an extra five minutes to find the way out of the place. He was almost at the door when he thought he heard...something. A strangled, unhappy noise. He looked back, and his guilt wasn't enough to keep him from using his X-ray vision. Lex was still in the study, but now he was sitting on the couch, his head in his hands. His shoulders were shaking.
Clark couldn't go back. He couldn't take advantage, not with the powers he couldn't even admit he had. He desperately wanted to do...something, though. Anything to show that he wasn't being as bad a friend as Lex thought. No, not just as Lex thought, as he actually was. He almost put the package on one of the tables in the hall, but in the end, he just couldn't. It was too much like a parting gift on a game show or something. Sorry you didn't get the truth, Lex, but you do get this lovely handknitted hat from Kent Farm...
"Just because you can save lives doesn't mean you get to ignore right and wrong." Yeah, right, Clark thought as he left the castle. It was starting to seem like it meant you had to.
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