Title: Caveat Emptor
Author: Victoria P. [email@example.com]
Summary: Let the buyer beware.
Rating: NC-17 - sex, language
Disclaimer: All Smallville characters belong to Tollin-Robbins, Warner Bros. and DC Comics; this piece of fan-written fiction intends no infringement on any copyrights.
Spoilers: Cool, sort of
Archive: Lists, Muse's Fool; ask and ye shall receive
Feedback: Feed the monkey! Pet the monkey!
Notes: Thanks as always to Jen, Pete, Dot, and Meg, who have followed me through myriad obsessions now. Also, thanks to Jenn, because it was during a chat with her that this plot bunny was born. She's a bad influence. Does no one see that? *g*
"For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Mark 8:36
* * *
Clark stared at the spreadsheet. He closed his eyes, rubbed his forehead, and looked again.
The numbers hadn't changed.
He sighed. Years of drought and the recent recession had combined to put the Kent farm in a hole so deep even he wouldn't be able to dig them out.
He had swallowed his dream of going to Columbia and settled for Metropolis University, which had offered him a partial track scholarship, but the money in his college fund hadn't been enough to pull the farm through.
"Clark," his mother said, entering the kitchen, "you're up early." He gestured silently at the pages in front of him and she sat down. "It's not going to change, hon."
"There's got to be something--"
She shook her head, and he noticed the gray strands beginning to invade the red of her hair. "Your father and I will worry about it. You just--"
"Buckle down and do well in school," he interrupted mockingly. How often had he heard that speech over the past few years? "I'm not a kid anymore, Mom. I need to know what's going on around here. I can quit school -- try out for the Sharks. Lex would get me in."
Martha sighed in exasperation. "How many times have we had this conversation, Clark?" she asked, echoing his thoughts a moment ago. "Your dream is to be a reporter, not a running back."
"My dreams don't mean a hell of a lot if I've got no home to come back to," he argued, rising. He towered over her.
She stood as well. "Don't let your father hear you talk like that. It'd break his heart. You know how hard he's worked -- we've all worked--"
"If he had just let Lex--"
"Don't even go there, Clark. That was three years ago. It wasn't going to happen then, and it's not going to happen now. You know how your father feels --"
"So, his feelings are more important than the farm?" he asked before he could stop the words. He dropped his eyes at his mother's gasp. "Sorry."
"I know you find it hard to understand --"
"You're right. I do." His father might hate Lionel Luthor, but he and Lex were still friends. "You always taught me there was no shame in asking for help."
She reached up and cupped his cheek. "There isn't. But whatever Lex offers you -- it won't *be* help. Not in the sense that you mean. There will always be a price attached, and that kind of help isn't worth a dime."
He nodded, acknowledging her words, even as he thought, <We're not worth a dime right now, so I don't think we should turn our noses up at Lex's money.> Her eyes clouded over for a moment, and he wondered if she could tell what he was thinking. He had a lousy poker face. And he truly believed that things were different between him and Lex. They were -- friends. Though that sometimes didn't seem like a strong enough word to describe their relationship. Not that they had a relationship, per se, he quickly backtracked, not like he and Megan had had a 'relationship.' Three years of denial had trained him well.
"Be careful, Clark," Martha said, breaking him out of his reverie. As he walked out the door, he knew she wasn't talking about the drive to school.
He spent the day thinking about it. After discussions with his economics professor and several bank loan officers during the week that followed, he was more convinced than ever that Lex was the only one who could really help him. Help *them*.
And maybe, just maybe, he could stop feeling like Lex saw him as someone who needed to be paid off. He knew Lex hated to be indebted to anyone, and he hoped this would remove that shadow from their friendship.
So, when he found himself playing pool that weekend with Lex at the castle, he ran through the different ways he could ask for what he -- what his family --needed.
Finally, just as he worked up the nerve to say, "Can I ask you a favor, Lex?" Lex said, "I have some news for you."
They laughed. "You first," Lex insisted.
He said it again, his voice a little stronger, a little less shaky this time. "Can I ask you a favor?"
"You can always ask, Clark," Lex replied, then took a long pull off his beer. "You don't ask, you never receive."
Clark looked down at his hands, ashamed all of a sudden that it had come to this. "Nah. Forget it. It's nothing."
Lex circled the table until they were so close, Clark swore he could hear Lex's heart beating. He felt his own heart begin to race at Lex's nearness. "Obviously, it's not nothing, or you wouldn't be so uptight about it." He put the cue down and leaned one hip against the table. "You need the limo to impress the flavor of the month?"
Clark flushed at the reminder of his unlucky love life. He always seemed to long for girls who turned out to be so much -- less -- than he thought they'd be. And there was the secret he had to keep. It was hard to be intimate when you had a huge honking skeleton in the closet. He couldn't ever imagine saying to Megan, the girl he'd just broken up with, "You know, I'm from another planet. And I rescue people in my spare time." It was like something out of one of the comic books Pete used to buy when they were kids. He had a secret identity, for Christ's sake. How ridiculous was that?
"...U2 is in town next month."
He realized Lex was still talking while he'd zoned out to contemplate the mysteries of dating when you were a super-powered alien.
"No, Lex. Nothing like that." His hands tightened on the pool cue and it was only by exerting great control that he didn't snap it in two from tension. "I--we -- well, I really, would like your help to bail out the farm." The words tumbled out, rushed together, as if by saying it fast, Lex wouldn't understand and the awkward moment would be over.
Lex slid his hands into the pockets of his custom-tailored Armani trousers. Clark knew those pants had probably cost more than his whole wardrobe.
"How much do you need?"
"A hundred thousand," Clark replied, unable to look Lex in the eye.
Over the years, he'd never asked Lex for anything he himself wasn't completely willing and able to give in return to any of his friends. His friendship with Lex had never been about money, and he suddenly felt nauseated to have put them on that footing.
He fumbled with his knapsack, caught between leaving and forgetting he'd ever said anything, and pulling out the papers to show Lex the calculations he'd made.
Lex's voice stopped him. "Okay."
"What?" he said.
"I said, 'Okay.' You owe the bank, right?" Clark nodded. "I'll pay off the loan, interest free. I'll make the repairs your father deems most urgent, and even kick in a little money to get him a new thresher."
Clark swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. Everything he needed was being handed to him. He licked his lips. Mindful of his parents' continual warnings about how Lex never did anything that didn't profit him somewhere, he said, "What's in it for you?"
There was a flash of something Clark couldn't identify in those gray-blue eyes -- pain? anger? -- but Lex had his expression under control quickly. He took a sip of beer and looked Clark right in the eye.
"You are." There was no mistaking his meaning. They'd danced around it for years, the odd attraction, the occasional frisson of lust when one touched the other. And now Lex was laying his cards on the table.
"Do you? Do you really, Clark?"
He put down the beer bottle and was suddenly there, once again invading Clark's personal space. He ran his thumb over Clark's lips, and then they were kissing.
It was what he'd always imagined; his hands came up to stroke that sleek skull, gently, aware of his own strength and Lex's hidden vulnerability.
Clark was drowning in the sensation of Lex's mouth on his, tongue gently seeking entry and sliding along his teeth. He whimpered, feeling desire uncurl in his belly, his cock growing hard as he ran his hands over Lex's smooth scalp.
And then Lex pulled away. His eyes were guarded, though a quick glance down told him Lex was just as turned on as he was.
"I'll take care of everything with the bank, Clark. Go home."
Clark was speechless. "But -- You --"
"Go home," Lex repeated, implacable. "Don't worry. I always collect my debts." As Clark walked out, he heard Lex say, "My lawyers will be in touch soon."
It was three days before he heard from Lex again -- a brief message on the answering machine. "Be ready tonight at eight. Wear a suit."
A few hours later, he came down the stairs to see his parents dressed up as well. They all stared at each other for a few seconds, then Martha said, "Oh, Clark, you look so handsome in that suit. Look, Jonathan, our little boy is growing up."
This had been happening a lot lately. Chloe speculated that Martha was going through the Change. Clark didn't like to talk about it all. Such blatantly female things still made him uncomfortable.
He stood now under their warm regard, and said, "Fundraiser with Lex." He prayed they wouldn't ask any questions. He didn't think he'd be able to explain to his parents that he was going to prostitute himself to the son of their worst enemy in order to save the farm.
Fundraiser. He snorted. He was turning out to have an unexpected aptitude for puns.
His father opened his mouth to say something, but once again, Martha beat him to the punch. "We won't wait up, then. Have a nice time." And she pushed Jonathan out the door before he could ask any questions.
It wasn't until he was sitting on the porch waiting to be picked up that he realized he didn't know where they were headed. He hoped he didn't run into them while with Lex. That would be more than awkward. Even though he didn't believe, deep down, that Lex was going to hold him to his promise.
Which should have relieved rather than disappointed him, if he thought about it.
He heard the car before he saw it, the long, black limousine cutting through the dusk like a shark. He didn't wait for Joachim to get out and open the door for him; he slid into the dim leather interior and saw Lex, brandy snifter in hand, looking at him. Lex wore a smile that could only be called predatory, and Clark's stomach flip-flopped.
"Nice suit," Lex said.
"It should be, for what you spent on it."
That won him a warmer smile, and Clark recalled the day they'd spent at the castle, getting measured. He'd never had a custom-made suit before, but Lex had insisted. It had been his high school graduation present.
One of them, anyway.
A paid internship at the "Inquisitor" had been the other.
Lex's hand on his knee jolted him back to the present. He looked at the long fingers with their well-manicured nails. Lex's grip was strong, but not coercive. The phrase, "iron fist in a velvet glove" ran through Clark's mind as Lex said, "Brandy?"
He hesitated. He rarely accepted Lex's offers of alcoholic refreshment, and he had a feeling he might want to keep a clear head tonight.
"You're tense," Lex said matter-of-factly. "It'll take the edge off."
There was that. He nodded, his throat dry as Lex's hand moved briefly up his thigh before leaving his leg altogether for the brandy decanter. He watched, fascinated, as Lex poured the rich, golden-brown liquid into the delicate glass.
Gentle, graceful hands, and was he insane for suddenly feeling jealous of inanimate objects?
He took the snifter from Lex, who dragged one finger across the back of his hand, sending shivers of anticipation down his spine.
He took a sip, closing his eyes as the smooth burn slid down his throat and warmed his chest.
"God," he heard Lex whisper. He opened his eyes to find Lex's enigmatic blue eyes staring at him, lids heavy and pupils dilated. He licked his lips and took another sip as Lex's hand returned to his leg, higher up on his thigh this time. He felt his cock twitch in response. He realized he was holding the brandy in his mouth, and let it slide down his throat. Then he leaned in to taste Lex's mouth.
Whisper soft, their lips met, and nothing had ever felt so good as kissing Lex; it was even better than he remembered. Lex tasted of brandy and breath mints and something indefinable that made his breath hitch.
Lex licked at his lips and Clark opened his mouth eagerly, already aching for more.
The kiss grew fierce, tongues dueling as they learned the taste and feel of each other. Once again, Clark felt compelled to run his hands over Lex's scalp, which drew a low growl from him. Lex pulled his lips away and Clark grunted in protest, but Lex was already nibbling on his jaw, gently biting and licking his way up to Clark's earlobe, which he bit lightly, then sucked on, earning him a moan.
Clark's hands were everywhere, trying to imprint the feel of Lex on his fingertips, memorize the taste of his skin and keep it on his tongue forever. He moaned when Lex undid his zipper and thumbed the head of his penis through his boxer shorts. "Lex, please." He sounded pathetic, but he didn't care. "This is going too fast." As soon as he said the words, he knew it was a lie.
Lex knew it as well. "Is it?" he asked, his hands stopping, and Clark moaned again, grabbing at Lex's shoulders. Lex grinned. "I didn't think so." He slid his hand into Clark's shorts, just as the car came to a stop.
"Tiburon Galleries, Mr. Luthor," Joachim said through the intercom.
"Shit," Clark muttered, and Lex laughed. It was a sound that made Clark's heart turn over, and he knew, suddenly, that however this ended, at least for tonight he'd somehow made Lex happy.
"Let's go, loverboy. We can always finish up later."
As they entered the gallery, Lex was immediately pulled away by one of his drones. Clark vaguely recognized the man, but couldn't recall his name. He moved into the room, uncomfortable amidst the high society and big business types. Cameras flashed as Lex shook hands with an older man in a gray chalk stripe suit.
A waiter proffered a tray of hors d'oeurves and Clark smiled, taking a stuffed crab leg. The waiter winked and walked away.
People swirled around him, but Clark didn't pay them any attention. His mind was stuck on what had happened in the car, and what he knew would be happening on the ride home. It was no longer a question of desire. He knew he wanted Lex, even under these circumstances. Hell, maybe the only way he'd ever have allowed himself to act on his feelings for Lex would be under duress. He could always claim he *had* to, even though he knew that Lex could never force him into anything he didn't want. Sure, Lex was in great shape, but he was no match for Clark physically.
So, he just had to relax and enjoy the ride.
He wasn't sure he could do that.
He took a flute of champagne off the next tray that passed by, and stared blindly at the canvas in front of him. He couldn't have said what he was thinking when he felt the hand on his arm.
Turning, he looked into the brown eyes of one of the most beautiful women he'd ever seen. She was looking at him hungrily. He grinned.
He never could explain his luck in attracting women. His complete and utter failure with them in high school had turned into an astounding success rate once he'd hit college.
"Interesting piece," she said, her eyes slowly sliding over his body.
"Yeah," he said. He knew nothing about art, but he also knew she wasn't talking about the painting on the wall. He rubbed his thumb around the rim of the glass in his hand, and her smile widened, showing even, white teeth.
Then Lex was there, his hand on Clark's shoulder. "Daphne."
Daphne inclined her head. "Lex. How utterly predictable."
"You never were able to keep up, were you?" he answered.
"There are some times when speed isn't a man's best friend," she said.
"Oh, I don't know," Lex replied, his hand now idly stroking Clark's hair where it brushed the collar of his suit, sending shivers down his spine. "There are some situations where getting in and out quickly is far better than sticking around for the ending, which is invariably a disappointment."
And, exerting subtle pressure with his body and his fingers, he steered Clark away from the woman, who wore a distinctly sour expression.
"Old girlfriend," Lex said.
"I have to talk to a couple more people, but then we can get out of here."
Clark nodded. "I'll just--" he held up the glass of champagne.
"Not too much," Lex warned. "I don't want you passing out. I've got plans for tonight." And then he was gone.
Clark wandered the rooms, fascinated by the interplay of all these famous --and looking-to-be famous -- people, more suited to Los Angeles or New York than Metropolis, yet they'd all shown up at the mere hint that Lex would be here.
He didn't understand that kind of power. He understood busting through granite with his bare hands, running faster than a speeding train, even the feeling of well-tempered steel shattering as it met his impervious skin, but he had never been able to fathom how Lex, with a mere glance and a raised eyebrow, was able to command obedience, if not loyalty or affection.
He watched as Lex, in a rare unguarded moment, allowed himself to study the room. Lex stood on the balcony, the entrance to which was roped off, of course. King Lex surveying his subjects.
<And what does that make me?> Clark thought, suddenly bitter. <Bought and paid for, just like the rest of them.>
He was angry. Angry at the weather for not cooperating; at the government, who paid lip service to helping small farmers, but invariably poured subsidy money into farms that were already prosperous; at the banks, which refused to refinance the Kent mortgage or loan them any more money; at his parents for not taking the deal Lex had offered three years ago; and at Lex for making him whore himself to save his family. And most of all at himself, for accepting Lex's terms.
He put the glass he'd forgotten he was holding down on a tray before he could break it, and pushed his way through the crowd. He was done with this charade.
He wanted Lex. He could finally admit that, to himself if to no one else. But he wasn't going to be some plaything, used and discarded quickly, like Daphne or Victoria or any of the multitude of others Clark knew existed in Lex's past.
He realized his mother was right, much as it galled him. The farm wasn't worth his self-respect. That Lex would even ask it of him made him wonder if she'd been right about everything else, as well.
He was at the door when he felt a hand on his arm.
"Perfect timing," Lex said, flashing a grin. He didn't smile in return, and Lex's demeanor changed instantly. "Did something happen?"
"No. And it's not going to, either." Clark shook his hand off and walked out.
Lex sighed, running a hand over his scalp, and followed.
Joachim was there, opening the door to the limo, but Clark walked right past. Lex leaned against the car, arms folded across his chest.
"What's wrong, Clark?"
Clark stopped. He thought he heard pain in Lex's voice. Maybe he was hearing what he wanted to hear. He turned. "You. Me. This." He waved vaguely at the space between them.
Lex nodded. "I agree that there's way too much space separating us, Clark, but if you get in the car, I'm sure we can fix that."
Clark moved closer, hands unconsciously fisting. "You know that's not what I mean."
Another smile from Lex, this time showing teeth. He inclined his head slightly, all business. "I see." He straightened. "Get in the car, Clark."
And Clark found himself in the limousine.
"How do you *do* that?" he blurted, before he could stop himself, and for a moment they were back to being Clark and Lex, friends -- nothing more.
"Years of selective breeding." Clark snorted. "Don't laugh. Close examination of the Luthor bloodlines will show that we're related to some of the most powerful families in history."
"A modern-day de Medici."
"Someone's been studying."
"This isn't funny, Lex."
"Oh, I don't know. I can think of a few people who'd find it hilarious that I had to pay over a hundred thousand dollars for your sweet, farm-boy ass."
"Fine. Don't pay it. I don't want your money."
Lex raised an eyebrow. "You're going to let the bank foreclose on Mom and Dad because of your *morals*?" Clark didn't respond. "I'm sure that'll be a great comfort to them while they're in the homeless shelter, collecting welfare." Still, Clark said nothing. He couldn't focus with Lex so close. He wanted to kiss him. He wanted to turn back the clock to two hours ago, before he'd started thinking about what he was really doing. "Everyone's got their price, Clark," Lex purred, his lips so close to Clark's ear that his breath raised goose bumps on his arms.
He closed his eyes and bit his lip, clinging to the last vestiges of his anger. "Not me." He heard some papers rustling.
"Well, okay then," Lex said. "I guess I can rip this up." Clark's eyes flew open to see Lex holding a manila envelope. He could make out the word "Lansing" in the return address.
"The deed to the farm, free and clear. In your father's name, of course." Lex shrugged. "But if you're going to renege on our deal--"
"No. No. Wait."
"What is it, Clark? Yes, or no?" Lex stared at him for a few seconds, then laughed. "Oh, no, loverboy. You want me to force you into it, so you can say I *made* you do it." He shook his head. "It doesn't work like that. You'll fuck me because you want to, not because you didn't have a choice."
Once again, Clark was startled at the way other people seemed to read his thoughts so easily. Well, only his mother and Lex. Which made him laugh. That eyebrow arched again, in question.
"You remind me of my mother sometimes," Clark said, still laughing.
Even the famed Luthor sangfroid was tested by that remark. It took Lex a moment to get his expression under control. "Okay," he said finally. "Not exactly the image I'm going for, Clark, unless... Is there something about your mother that I should know?" That got him a playful whack on the shoulder, and then they were kissing again. In the rough velvet glide of Lex's tongue on his, Clark could forget that he was nothing more than a plaything, bought and paid for with the deed to his parents' farm.
He slid down on the buttery soft leather and was vaguely aware that Lex was unbuttoning his shirt and pushing it -- along with his jacket -- off his shoulders. His own fingers fumbled with the buttons on Lex's shirt, wanting to see and feel and taste all that pale, toned skin.
He was lost amid the sensation of Lex's lips and tongue and fingers, so good, so much *more* than it had ever been with anyone else, including the one time he'd gotten to put his hands up Lana's sweater, and hadn't *that* been a disappointment? No startling revelations, no lightning or fireworks when they'd kissed and he'd copped a feel.
Not like this, now with Lex. Lex didn't even have to touch him anymore and he thought he could come just from *thinking* about Lex's hands on his body. He only hoped he didn't start floating. He hadn't with anyone else, but this was *Lex*, the embodiment of every secret fantasy he'd had since he was fifteen.
He heard rather than felt his zipper being opened, and he opened his eyes to see Lex on the floor between his knees, a sheen of perspiration covering that sleek, bald head. Lex kissed his stomach and swirled his tongue around Clark's bellybutton, and all he could think was that this was backwards. He was supposed to be the one on his knees. *He* was supposed to be the one making Lex feel like this. Lex wasn't the sort to efface himself to anyone, and yet, and yet...
He lost his train of thought as Lex's hand found his cock and began pumping him, slowly at first, but forcefully, with enough friction to make his hips jump off the seat.
"Lex," he moaned. Lex looked up at him, smiling, and it was a real smile, shining through those enigmatic eyes. Then he bowed his head and licked lightly at the head of Clark's penis, one hand squeezing his balls, and Clark stopped trying to think, and gave himself over to sensation.
Lex had a talented tongue, and he put it to good use, teasing Clark until he was whimpering and begging, his hands frantically rubbing the top of Lex's head, loving the feel of the slick skin beneath his palms, so different from anyone else he'd ever been with.
He felt the tension spiral up from the base of his spine, and he knew he was going to come. "Lex. Lex," he grunted, trying to pull out so Lex didn't have to swallow. None of the girls he'd been with had wanted to, and it seemed only polite-- and then Lex sucked hard and, "Oh, God. God, Lex," he moaned, trying to control the way his hips jack-hammered. Wouldn't do to injure Lex. Oh, no.
Lex swallowed greedily, and, when Clark was finally done, moved up and kissed Clark tenderly. "Clark," he whispered, licking at his lips, so Clark could taste himself mingled with Lex, and it was enough to get him hard again almost immediately. Lex laughed, feeling it. "To be eighteen again," he murmured.
"Like you're so ancient," Clark responded, nuzzling Lex's neck, hands reaching for his fly, amazed at the feel of Lex's hard, hot flesh beneath his hands, so similar to his own and yet so different. He eased the zipper down and raised his eyebrows. "Going commando?" And then, "You're a *redhead*?"
Lex swallowed hard, obviously caught up in the way Clark was stroking his cock. "Yeah. Why?"
Clark smiled. "No reason. I just figured-- I mean, not that I'd wondered or anything, but--"
"Of course not," Lex ground out, always in control, even with Clark slipping down between his knees, pressing kisses on his taut thighs. "But yes, I did manage to sprout hair somewhere."
"I'm glad," Clark murmured, licking gently at the crease that joined Lex's leg to his body. Lex shuddered. Clark pressed a kiss to his abdomen. "I like it." Lex merely grunted in response and gripped the edge of the seat tightly.
Clark was a little tentative, but he knew what he liked, so he licked and sucked and stroked Lex's penis, enjoying the spicy-salty tang of his skin, before focusing in earnest, trying to make Lex come the way Lex had done for him.
Lex's breathing was harsh and ragged, and Clark remembered vaguely that he'd been asthmatic as a child. He eased up slightly, sliding Lex's cock out of his mouth almost all the way, and simply swirling his tongue around the tip.
He looked up to see Lex's eyes locked on him. There was something incredibly urgent in those blue eyes, a feeling that Clark knew was reflected in his own, even if neither of them said the words -- tonight or ever. It was deeper than lust or sex or even friendship. They were connected somehow, and this was the ritual that would bind them together forever. What Clark didn't know was if they'd be lovers or enemies come morning.
Lex's whole body tensed, then, arching like a bow. Clark tried to relax his throat and take as much of him into his mouth as he could, scraping his teeth delicately along the pulsing vein on the underside of Lex's cock. The hands in his hair tightened almost painfully, but it was good, because Lex was coming, in Clark's mouth, and Clark was happier than he'd ever been, that he'd done this, given Lex this pleasure.
"Clark," Lex cried hoarsely, trying to pull out of his mouth. "Fuck."
Clark let him go after swallowing as much as he could; Lex ran his thumbs over Clark's cheekbones, and Clark returned to the seat, kissing him deeply.
"There's so much more we need to do," Lex told him, nibbling on his earlobe before sliding his lips down Clark's neck. "So much I want to show you."
Clark simply nodded, allowing Lex to take the lead for the rest of the night.
The car had been parked in the Luthor garage for a very long time before either of them realized they were home. When Clark finally got out, hours later, he'd completely forgotten the manila envelope that had fallen to the floor of the limousine.
Lex, however, hadn't. He stepped out of the car, envelope in hand. Clark wondered how he managed to look elegant even with his trousers wrinkled and stained, and his shirttails hanging loose and rumpled.
"Don't forget this," he said. "You've more than earned it."
Clark, his gorge rising at Lex's callous, careless words, turned and swung, knocking Lex down easily. He barely managed to pull the punch so he didn't break Lex's jaw. Then he bent and picked up the envelope.
Deliberately tearing it into small pieces, he said, "Fuck you, Lex."
He walked away. Only his supersensitive ears allowed him to hear Lex sigh and say, "You already did."
When Clark came down for breakfast the next morning, his parents were giddily dancing around the kitchen.
"What's going on?" he asked, grimacing.
"Well, Sleepy, I'm glad you finally decided to join us," Jonathan said. "You got in late last night."
Clark grunted. He hadn't slept once he'd gotten home. All he could think about was how Lex had used him. And how he'd used Lex. Now, they were going to lose the farm, and it was all his fault. If he'd just been able to swallow his pride... He downed the glass of orange juice his mother poured out, trying to wash away the taste of guilt and regret.
She looked him over critically. "Sleepy? More like Grumpy, I think. Are you okay, Clark?"
"Fine," he said. "You two are in an awfully good mood, considering we're going to lose the farm at the end of the month."
They began waltzing again. "Oh, no, we're not."
Clark almost choked on the eggs he was wolfing down. "We're not?" he squeaked. "What? How?"
"That's where we were last night, while you were out gallivanting," Martha said. "We didn't want to tell you until it was official." She pulled away from her husband and took a folder off the counter. "We have been granted a reprieve."
"A new lease on life," Jonathan added.
Martha handed the folder to Clark, who opened it slowly.
There was a letter, dated the previous Saturday. "You've known about this for a week?" he asked incredulously.
"No, son. Just since Wednesday," Jonathan said. He nodded toward the letter. "Read it."
Clark read it.
"The Lansing Foundation for Farmers' Aid is pleased to present Jonathan and Martha Kent with the deed to Kent Farm, as well as a check for fifty thousand dollars. All outstanding debts and mortgages have been paid.
"The Lansing Foundation, founded in 1991, in honor of James and Carol Lansing's daughter, Margaret, is dedicated to helping America's small farmers keep their land."
"I don't understand," he said.
"What's to understand?" Jonathan asked. "It's completely genuine. I had the lawyer and the bank check it out-- even went on the Internet to research them. It's legitimate, Clark."
"And last night?" He started at his mother's words. "We had dinner with the executive director and his wife. Lovely people. Paid for everything. Then, with dessert, they presented us with the check."
His head was spinning. If he hadn't been sitting down, he would have fallen. "Oh, God," he said, clapping one hand over his mouth and running for the bathroom.
"Clark! Clark? Are you all right? Clark, honey, let me in," Martha called as he rested his head against the cool tile of the bathroom floor.
Bought and paid for, he thought, recalling the date on the letter, before he'd even asked.
He knew his friendship with Lex was over. It was no longer any different from any of Lex's other relationships. Clark had used him, blamed him, convicted him based on who he was, instead of what he'd done, and been ready to hate him for forcing him to choose between his family and his ethics, his pride and his desire.
And all the while, there had been no need. No need at all. Lex had already done it, saved the farm, anonymously, out of friendship. Clark had been the one who'd put a price tag on love.
He lay there and wept.
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