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Title: Between Spaces
Author: jenn (jenn@igg-tx.net)
Fandom: Smallville
Category: Clark, Lex, pre-slash, coda
Rating: PG-13
Series: Spaces #1
Spoilers: Hothead
Summary: Clark meditates on the death of his coach. He's not alone.
Author Notes: New fandom, new characters. I'm playing fast and loose with canon.
Archiving: Don't care, just inform.


Smallville had the largest per capita number of cemeteries in the state of Kansas.

"Ashes to ashes..."

Random fact you picked up playing on the net instead of doing that overdue research paper. Clark had always had a weakness for trivia, and the internet was a nirvana of useless information. Useless, *interesting* information, like Smallville had an unusually large number of weird records and facts going for it that put it in Guinness World Records a few more times than someone might consider normal, if one was counting. Which Clark was. Even beat out Metropolis for strangeness. Go figure on that one. Three guesses on why.

First two don't count.

"...and dust to dust."

He'd been to dozens of funerals over the years--the burial of friends, cousins, acquaintances that you couldn't avoid in small-town life. Standing twenty feet from the open grave, his parents close behind, he thought about the fact that this was the first time that the minister's words didn't move in him, reverberate like they should have.

He wasn't quite sure of anything anymore, except the curious numbness that seemed to inhabit his head like an unwelcome visitor, asking him why he and his family had come to this. No matter the social implications of missing the funeral of a prominent member of the community. His mother had laid out the suit on his bed and his father had fixed his tie, and he hadn't asked, even once, why, knowing what they knew, what his mother had washed out of his clothes the night of the fire, hiding her tears beneath the roar of the dryer. This was life. You go to the funerals of those who die in the community. That was how it was, how it had always been done, world without end, amen.

Everyone and their great aunt had showed up for the funeral of the legendary Coach Arnold. The football team was to the left, though Trevor was notable in his absence. Lana was ducked beneath Whitney's arm as if she wanted to disappear inside him--he'd seen her reddened eyes when he'd first crossed the unnaturally thick green grass, and it hit him like a betrayal. Chloe and Pete were somewhere, and he'd guess Chloe's camera was out and ready for action. Nothing was sacred to her. In this case, he couldn't quite work up any indignation.

Coach's wife, Olivia, was dropping her flowers in now--a thin, washed-out woman who Clark couldn't remember seeing above half a dozen times in his life. Not that Olivia Arnold had ever been all that visible in Smallville social life, and the don't ask/don't tell policy of a close-knit community was always in effect, making obvious things invisible, like wives that rarely left home. He did notice she wasn't wearing sunglasses, though, and it reminded him he'd never seen her eyes before today, even on the cloudiest or stormiest days in Smallville. Not something he'd thought about much, until this last week, when a lot of things started piecing together.

Big eyes, dark, and not as reddened as one might expect after losing a spouse. He wondered what the town gossips would say about that. He knew what they were saying about her house being sold and her plans to move to Metropolis, but that had been blamed on the Luthors and their insatiable hunger for the land. She'd gotten screwed in the bargain, it was whispered, though no one could so much as quote a roundhouse figure of what she'd gotten. She certainly didn't talk about it.

Just the assumption of guilt, that the Luthors wouldn't pay fair market value without a gun to the back of their heads while they wrote the checks.

Lex had been amused when Clark had told him what was said, lips turning up in that half-mocking smile that was directed as much at the town as it was at himself. She would have given it to me for nothing, he'd answered, pen in hand as he signed yet another of the endless numbers of papers and documents that seemed to make up Lex's life. She would have paid me to take it off her hands.

Made sense, Clark supposed, looking at her now as the minister finished the service, the tilt of her dark head and the long fingers hidden beneath soft black gloves. Maybe Clark's eyes were the only ones sharp enough to know the wedding band was missing beneath.

The minister was done, and God, Clark was glad.

People were coming forward now to offer their condolences to the widow, and Clark watched Lex approach, all expensive dark grey suit and liquid grace, reaching for Olivia's hand with perfect natural poise, watching the stain of color break across her cheeks, dark eyes turned down instantly as he leaned close to speak a few words that no one else could hear. Clark looked away quickly--that charm was famous in Smallville now. Lex was cleaning up the family's reputation for snobbery one rural family at a time, picking up admirers like other people picked up burrs on country roads. Weird, but true, and even if Clark didn't look at Lex, he knew everyone else was. He was just that kind of person, name and unusual appearance aside, the kind who attracted attention, who you felt long before you saw. He'd felt Lex enter the cemetery with the cool crawl of skin down his back, the knowledge that those eyes were fixed on him before anything else, and wondered if anyone in his life had ever given him that intense focus that seemed to melt the rest of the world into something grey and insubstantial, unreal in the face of that calm regard and that slow smile that asked him questions he wasn't sure how to answer yet.

Yet.

"You ready, son?"

Still thinking, Clark looked at his father and nodded slowly, allowing himself one last glance back, as Lex stepped away from Olivia and the clear grey-blue eyes found his effortlessly, as if he'd known Clark had been watching the entire time and hell, he probably did know. A quick quirk of the lips before he turned away, eyes fixed on the grave for an eternal moment without expression, before walking back to the new Jaguar that had replaced the Porsche--or hell, maybe Lex kept a fleet of cars for the purpose of backup in case of accidental dunking. Dark purple, rich, stretching out under the trees like a sleeping panther. Chloe, in an unusual burst of inspiration, had called it sex on wheels.

Too true for Clark's peace of mind, in too many ways to count.

"Yeah, let's go."

*****

Post-funeral wakes were really just excuses for high-alcohol-content parties with the added attraction of excess being understandable, given circumstances. In the kitchen was quite an interesting variety of bottles and a terrifyingly complete assortment of casseroles and desserts. Small town rules--tragedy or triumph, bad or good, people needed to be fed back into complacency and status quo. There had to be logic in that somewhere, but hell if Clark could work it out.

"God, you're gettin' tall, Clark! Already bigger than your old man, huh?"

Dear God. Clark tried to hunch a little, felt his father's hand on his shoulder as once again, they went through the entirety of the growing-up-so-fast routine that Clark had been subjected to since the end of his last growth spurt. A short, gawky kid replaced by a very tall, even more gawky adolescent, and puberty, don't let anyone tell you differently, was a special form of hell just from the amount of talk about it, as if growth were some sort of new trick that no one had ever seen before. Clark smiled at Pete's father as the two men talked around his shoulder about football and other things that Clark wasn't allowed to do.

Just damned annoying, any way you looked at it, and Clark managed to disappear without either noticing. He was getting better at it every day--he had a fantasy that one day, he'd be able to get through an entire day of school and never be noticed.

Ah, dreams.

Getting a brownie from the table and a can of soda, he slid out the back door and into the cool pearl-grey dusk of the porch, dropping down on the step to think. Inside the house, the entire football team was in the living room, watching a--surprise, surprise--football game, and doubtless Chloe was hiding behind the couch, taking notes on whether or not steroids were involved in Whitney's truly amazing sudden increase in mass and speed. Pete was no where to be found. Probably upstairs with his mother as Olivia showed off her husband's trophies from his college days. He knew he wasn't up to either of their speculation, today of all days--Clark, what happened, why didn't you play, were you in the building when it burned, what really happened there?

So many secrets, so damn little truth.

"I see you made your escape," came a voice from behind him, and Clark looked up to see Lex pushing the screen door open with one elegantly gloved hand. Jacket casually tossed over one shoulder, shoes that probably cost more than Clark's entire wardrobe picking up dust from the front porch. White sleeves rolled back to his elbows, looking for all the world like he just stepped out of a Metropolitan cocktail party and not a Kansas farmhouse, but never less than perfectly at ease.

Without invitation, Lex dropped on the step beside him and glanced around.

"Pretty area."

"What are you going to do with it?" Clark asked. He felt rather than saw Lex's grin.

"No idea, really." From some magical place within the jacket, Lex pulled out a small bottle, untwisting it and taking a drink. "Your father's looking for you."

Clark had a sudden and inexplicable urge to run. Well, maybe not inexplicable, but God, how many observations on growth can you take in under thirty minutes anyway....

"If it makes you feel any better, my father used to drag me out into cocktail parties to show me around," Lex said, and not for the first time, Clark wondered if his face was really that easy to read. God, probably. He couldn't even lie about brushing his teeth to his own mother. "It'll only get more embarrassing the older you get, if that's any consolation."

"Thanks."

"Free advice from a Luthor is to be treasured--usually we charge for it." Another self-mocking smile as he took a drink and there was a little sigh as he looked around again. Clark kept his gaze straight ahead, but having excellent peripheral vision was a wonderful thing for keeping Lex in sight.

"Bored with the wake already?"

A slight hint of a smile curled Lex's mouth.

"Let's say my tolerance for being my father's son is lower than usual today." The jacket's sleeve brushed Clark's shoulder lightly as he shifted it into his lap, running gloved hands absently over the fabric. "You hated Coach Arnold, didn't you?"

Clark blinked, straightening without even meaning to, and knew he'd given himself away at the funeral. He couldn't possibly be that transparent. No one was.

"Not that great a guy," he said noncommittally. "We didn't get along." All true.

"He didn't get along very well with many people, so you aren't the first." There was something dangerous in Lex's voice that made the hairs on Clark's neck rise.

"You knew him?"

"Dad did--played under him in high school." Well, that was...unexpected. Clark would have expected Lionel Luthor to be--well, not quite so. Real. Not the eternal, unstoppable, terrifying Lionel of local legend, but suddenly just a student in Smallville High School. Playing football. Enough to make you re-evaluate your perceptions there. Images of Lionel twenty years younger and out on the playing field, getting filthy in the mud going for a tackle--no, that just didn't fit at all. Made his head hurt to even try. "They talked a lot. Lots of influence on how to turn a kid into a man and all that crap." Another tiny Lex smile of memory, more bitter than anything Clark had ever felt even on his worst days, and Clark wondered on that.

"There's a scary thought."

"Yeah, my mother thought so, too." A glance around the yard again, before Lex stood up. "Come on--your father'll track you out here too. I want to look around at what I apparently have to do something with." A gloved hand was extended, and Clark hesitated fractionally, before taking it and letting Lex pull him to his feet. Flesh warm beneath the soft wool and holding on a fraction too long, enough so Clark's heart skipped softly before resuming normal function. Meant nothing. Couldn't.

"Didn't your father have some idea?'

"I'm sure he'd have many ideas if he knew about it." Lex shrugged as he chose the direction--oddly, angling between the barn and the old, unused stables where Coach Arnold's father had raised some of the best horses in the county, years and years before Clark had made his unusual descent into Smallville.

"Did it without telling him?"

"You inspired me, Clark. Freeing myself of the parental yoke and so forth." The bottle was back, and Clark watched him take another drink, then glance at him speculatively. "Try it."

"I'm not--"

"Trust me, I'm aware of your age." Something in his voice dragged Clark's gaze up, but he couldn't quite meet those eyes, see what was in them. "Drink some anyway." And the bottle was in Clark's hand without him really being aware of how, and he checked the label. Whiskey--didn't fit with the expensive suit and the platinum Rolex riding Lex's wrist, the graceful walk of someone who was totally secure both with their bodies and with themselves. Someone who looked completely out of place walking over straggly fall grass and by decrepit barns, yet never uncomfortable. Clark wondered if he could just spend one day watching Lex move, breathe, somehow learn how Lex did that, made living life look so damn effortless. Taking a drink, he almost choked at the rough burn, then got it down and handed it back, catching the edges of Lex's amused smile through tear-blurred eyes.

"Funny."

"Packs a punch." Lex took another drink like it was water, then screwed the lid back on and tucked it into his jacket over his shoulder. "What did he do to you?"

Blinking, Clark came to a stop and realized they'd gotten far enough from the house that he could barely hear the people inside anymore. The stables rotted structure blocked his view, though he could almost guess his father by now was looking around outside, wondering where he'd gotten to, as there were certainly friends waiting to comment on the breadth of Clark's shoulders and his good teeth. That was enough to make him almost smile as Lex leaned back against the rotted wooden back, seemingly unconcerned about white shirts on wet, filthy wood. Clark's mother would have been appalled.

"Nothing. Just a hard coach." Set the players on fire if he got in the wrong mood. Explaining that would have been damn interesting.

Lex's head tilted a little in perfect disbelief.

"So there was nothing about being locked inside a sauna for awhile."

How the hell--

Lex grinned, revealing rows of perfect teeth. Could be a good commercial for toothpaste. Damn.

"Small town. I pay well for interesting information. I noticed that there was no police report filed, however, so should I assume that this information is--wrong?"

"I have no idea where that story came from." And it was true. Him, dad, and the coach. They were the only ones who knew. Anything. And Clark was the only one that knew everything.

"Probably from the estimated cost to fix the sauna that's on my desk right now, from a rock thrown from the inside through the window and the rocks that burned holes into the floor." A pause, smile widening a fraction. "Luthor owns a few other businesses around Smallville."

Of course. And he didn't know if he should ask if Lex usually perused the repair contracts around town or there was a special purpose for checking out this one. Probably shouldn't ask. Stupid when you already knew the answer anyway.

"Probably some sort of accident from the fire."

Lex's head tilted. He didn't have to say he didn't believe Clark--he projected it the same way he did his charm and his energy. Thick and inescapable and unmistakable. "Interesting accident."

Clark had no idea what to say to that--there must be a thousand reasons WHY that would happen, but not one would come into his head, and he knew his own limits on lying, after all.

"What did he do to you?" Clark asked, pushing by the silence that stretched between them. No one else would see how Lex's wide shoulders hunched just a little, the flicker of something very old and very raw that somehow broke through the practiced composure, flaring dark and vivid against all that cool control. Then it was gone, as if it had never been.

"After years of English boarding schools, Dad thought I needed a course in being a man. You know how that goes. Hunting, fishing, camping out in godforsaken temperatures with a sleeping bag and a knife. Survival training, so I'd know where I came from." An elegant shrug of his shoulders and a glance around the land surrounding them. "Coach didn't endear himself to me that summer."

No, Clark supposed he wouldn't, and tried to imagine Lex stalking animals in the woods; Lex outside of his office, his car, his expensive home and two thousand dollar suits. It just didn't work. But there was more--he could almost feel it, just below that cultured surface, something that moved in the darker spaces of the mind, something that took a cold pleasure in owning the land that Coach Arnold had once walked.

Clark knew it was in himself too, and tried to ignore it, but God...God, that player in the locker room, Chloe in the building, the principal in his car, his dad on the floor. Clark hadn't killed Coach Arnold--but that didn't mean he wasn't glad he was dead. Beyond words to describe, because nothing else could have stopped him. In the real world, people couldn't start fires when they lost their temper. Only in Smallville, and Clark got the distinct impression that this whole thing would have been neatly swept under the carpet in small-town fashion, just like Coach's wife, and that would have been....

Unacceptable. Dad, Mom, Chloe, Pete, his family and friends, targeted by a man who never forgot a grudge.

Oh yes. Staring at the dirt, he knew he'd never be able to say it out loud, that he was glad Coach had died in that fire. But that didn't mean he didn't feel it.

Lex's expression was all cool unreadability again, that intense focus that Clark still didn't know what to do with, all those possibilities that flared to life in the spaces of his mind that hadn't ever been occupied until he'd pulled this man from that car a few weeks--only weeks?--before.

"What are you going to do with the farm?" Clark asked softly, and felt rather than saw Lex move, all that easy grace like a cat, coming to stand beside him, cool and buoying, a presence that seemed to block out the worst of the memories of the heat and the fear and his father helpless in the next room, Clark his only possible protection.

"Level it." Clark looked down at him and the grey eyes were hard, meeting his, and this time, there was no facade of composure. Raw, unhealed, unforgiving hate that Clark's soul echoed just as surely and just as powerfully, and knew it showed on his face, too, knew Lex felt it. Nodding, he forced himself to look away and the gloved hand touched his shoulder, almost as insubstantial as a breeze, but warm through his thin shirt, sinking into his skin. He remembered Lex in the cemetery, watching that grave with the intense concentration of someone creating a memory to cherish and hold against the cold nights to keep them warm. Yes, Clark understood that too, another thing he could never say, but felt just as absolutely.

"Want another drink?" Lex's voice was soft in his ear, warm like the hand on his shoulder, like the bottle that had rematerialized in his hand. Perfect understanding and no judgement for what they both knew was true when they'd looked on that grave.

Clark nodded slowly.

"Yeah, I would."

The End


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