Lex sips at his spoon and thinks, it's amazing how chicken and corn soup can change a person. He's born again, baptised with aromatic amber, seeing the world with gleaming clarity and a hint of coriander.
"It's not a tactic," he says mildly, "and I don't care whether or not it you believe it. As my employer, you need to be notified of these matters, so consider yourself informed."
Clark is staring in disbelief, spoon halfway to his open mouth. Lionel stands over him, soup untouched, going purple in the face. Lex feels a tingling sensation he suspects might be happiness.
"Marry?" Lionel shouts, voice rising an outraged octave as it traverses each word. "That's the most absurd thing you've ever bothered to try on me. Alexander Joseph Luthor? Marry? A Kansas schoolboy?"
"Lex!" Clark shouts, jumping to his feet as well. "Were you planning to ask me about this?"
Lex flashes him a smile Clark will know is an act. "Can we talk later, Sweetheart?"
With a loaded look on his face, Clark sits down.
"... the most preposterous," Lionel is saying, "outrageous--"
Lex leans back in his chair and watches his father perform.
"--most insolent and crass manoeuvre, and if you think I'll let the threat of this scandal manipulate me into--"
"Around here, Dad," Lex interrupts, "you don't sleep with somebody unless you have honourable intentions. I've been sleeping with Clark for three months, so it's time we got engaged."
Lionel's hitting the roof with his voice now. "You wanted to be president! You wanted to rule the world! And you expect me to believe you'd marry"--the word almost shatters the chandalier--"a teenage boy?"
Lex smiles happily and studies his spoon. Light fragments into a pale rainbow around its edges, melting into the golden broth. "You think I can't do both? Dad, you might want to brush up on your Greek history."
"Never mind the presidency!" Lionel flings an arm out, Pa Capulet in full flight. "What on earth could make you think I'd let you sign half your fortune over to some pimply flannel farm-jock?"
Now Clark is pissed at Lex and Lionel. "And what makes you think I'd have him as a father-in-law?"
Now Lionel is pissed at Lex and Clark. "I realise you have limited options for company here in Smallville, but I will not have the Luthor heir--" his gestures are at reaching fever pitch "-- running off to Vermont with this loutish inbred redneck."
Clark shows his steel. "Like you could stop us."
"Oh, so that's how it is!" Lionel hisses at Clark. "You'll never see a cent of my money."
"I'll never touch your filthy money!"
"You obviously have no scruples about laying your hands on my son, so don't--"
Lex stands up and puts an arm each around his father and Clark. "Isn't this wonderful? Two minutes after the announcement, and we're already behaving like a proper Luthor family."
"Whatever this stunt is intended to do," Lionel declares, trying to storm out with the last words behind him, "you're never going to succeed."
"Bye, Dad!" Lex calls out, "We'll be in touch about the arrangements."
As the carved oak doors thunder shut, Clark throws his arm off, almost dislocating his shoulder. "What in hell was that about?"
Lex gets down on one knee. "I was going to change the Kansas law before asking, but Clark, will you marry me?"
Without waiting for an answer, Lex buzzes his housekeeper and requests dinner be served. He can't wipe the grin off his face.
"Lex," Clark hisses. "I can't, I'm grounded, I need to get home."
"Much as I'd love to continue this farce," Lionel sneers, "I have a dinner date in Metropolis."
"Unthinkable," Lex tells him, leading the way to the dining room. "You wouldn't pass up an opportunity to berate me on my management style, denigrate my strategy, pry into my finances, lament my destruction of the company limo, and rehash my multitude of past sins against the Luthor name." He pulls out his phone and dials. "Mrs Kent? Yes, he is, that's what I'm calling about. My father's here, and I would appreciate it if Clark could stay for dinner. Of course, yes, as soon as we're finished. I understand. Thank you." By the time he's finished, the soup is on the table. Lex pulls out Clark's chair for him.
Clark's eyes clearly communicate murder as he sits. Lex takes the seat beside him, offers his father the head of the table, and waits expectantly.
"I will make time tomorrow," Lionel promises icily, "to lecture you on your behaviour. Right now, I have more pressing things to attend to than the indiscretions of a junior manager."
"That's too bad," Lex says blandly, and takes Clark's hand. "I was planning to announce our engagement over dessert."
Clark's eyes are narrowed in anger. "Don't play games with me."
"I'm not." Lex kisses Clark's hands, the knuckles, the fingernails, the pad of his thumb. "This is the best day of my life. I love you. Marry me."
"Love you love you love you," Lex insists, thinking about soup and being given a chance; kissing his wrist, his arm, until Clark sighs, annoyed, and pulls away.
Realisation dawns on Lionel's face. "You're high on something."
Lex stands up and brushes his hands. "I'm high on life."
"I'm calling a doctor."
"I'm being obnoxious, Dad. Surely you can recognise that tactic when you see it."
"Oh, so this is all a distraction from your dwindling cash supply." Lionel storms into Lex's office and starts looking for files. Lex inserts himself between his father and his desk.
"My cash supply is not dwindling. It's diversifying."
"Into a run-down theater? I think not."
"Actually, I think so." Lex would close the folder on his desk, but there aren't any open. He puts his pen into a drawer, instead. "Now that we've dealt with business matters, why don't you stay for dinner? Clark's mother sent over some chicken and corn soup. It's delicious."
"What about all your plans? You could never be president with me. It's--"
Lex feels lighter than air. He feels like dancing. He feels like flying. He takes another mouthful of soup. "You'll be the First Gentleman, Clark. You're smart, beautiful, modest-- you're perfect for the job. By the 2010 election we'll be together nine years. We'll get two labradors and call them Rusty and Patrick, and the press can take heart-warming photos of us jogging with them."
"Lex, be serious."
The smile on his face is coming from somewhere deep inside. "I'm very serious." If the tingling is happiness, maybe the warmth is serenity. "I can do this. It's going to be a lot fun."
"You've lost your mind."
Tasting soup that is so warm, so sweet, Lex laughs. "No, not at all. I've finally found it."
Clark looks more worried than a sixteen-year-old should ever have to look. Lex takes his hand and tugs him down into his lap. He's heavy, and Lex thinks that's as wonderful as everything else has been tonight. "You don't have to tell me your secrets, ever. I don't care anymore."
"And if you want, you can have a pre-nup saying you'll never get my money. Although I'd rather just give you the whole lot."
"I could even change my name. Lex Luthor-Kent? Lex Kent?"
"Stop it. Just stop it."
"Clark, I'm serious," Lex whispers, pulling him close. "For the first time in my life, I'm happy." He has to take a deep breath, because this is Clark, not his father, and Clark matters. "I want to feel like this for the rest of my life."
"Oh," Clark says, blushing. "Well. Okay."
Clark grins. "Yes."
"Do you want to be disinherited? Do you want to be alone in the world? Is that it?"
Clark's thigh is a coiled spring under Lex's hand, and he pats it gently. "Maybe you didn't notice, but I'm actually not alone." Beside him, Clark actually relaxes a little, and squeezes Lex's fingers. Lex looks up at Clark's tense mouth, his worried eyes, and he's pretty sure he's in love.
Lionel is pacing the floor, the image of stern-but-distraught fatherhood, hair flaring precisely in time with his steps. He stops. He considers. He turns on a booted heel and gestures gracefully toward Clark. "Do you mean to say," he pauses for effect, "that you would put a toyboy before your own family?"
"That would depend," Lex says slowly, deliberately, dropping an arm around Clark's shoulders, "on who you mean by my family."
"Lex, come on," Clark interrupts. "Don't do this."
"Don't do what? Tell my father what my priorities are?"
"Oh, yes!" Lionel throws his hands in the air. "Please, Lex, tell me just how ungrateful and disloyal you really are!"
Clark frowns at him. "I think you both need to calm down."
Lionel whirls on Clark. "You need to stay out of matters that don't concern you, boy, or didn't your mother teach you to mind your own business?"
"Too bad she taught me to respect my elders, or I'd tell you what I really think," Clark snaps, over the top of Lionel Fucking Luthor Himself. Inside, Lex does a little giddy dance of glee. He's definitely in love.
Lionel loses his temper. "I have heard enough! This ends. Now. It's over. Lex, you're coming back to Metropolis, immediately." He stands there, glowering, as if he expects Lex to do exactly what he's been told.
Lex loses his composure. He throws back his head and laughs.
Lex chooses the 1999 Audi to drive Clark home. It's the closest car he has to humility, and the only one that doesn't complain about obeying the speed limit. He needs the drive, needs to clear his head of the last showdown before facing Jonathan Kent, and the wind against his face is refreshingly cool. Beside him, Clark is silent and tense, and Lex grows slowly uneasy as they pass field after field of dark corn.
"There are a lot of things I need to discuss with you," Lex offers cautiously. "A few things I need to ask your forgiveness for. A couple of things I'm angry with you about."
Clark nods, but doesn't say anything.
"It's not going to be easy, and really, Clark, I'll understand if you want to change your mind or--"
Suddenly turning, Clark smiles, and it lights the inside of the car. "I don't want to change my mind."
Lex studies him, confused. "But you look worried."
"You're taking me home."
"We have to face them sooner or later. I'd rather do it sooner."
"I'm grounded, Lex." Clark rolls his eyes in agony. "We won't be alone again until I'm ninety, and you're taking me home?"
"Ah." Lex pulls the Audi over and puts the top up. "Sorry, my mistake."
"Clark, don't move," Lex says, sensing an imminent disappearance. "Don't go anywhere. Sit down."
"That's okay," Clark stutters. "I really need to get back to my deliveries."
"You do that-- Clark, is it?" Lionel swirls his Scotch and studies the colour. "I'd hate to keep you from your job any longer than my son already has."
Clark is edging toward the door. "Stop," Lex commands, crossing the stage to Clark's side and turning to face his father. "Dad, meet Clark Kent. Clark, you've heard all about my father."
With courtesies to be made, Clark is no longer out of his depth. He holds out his hand. "Pleased to meet you, Sir."
Lionel parts his lips and shows his teeth. "I'm sure you are. Now if you'll excuse us, my son and I have some very urgent matters to discuss."
Lex takes Clark's hand and leads him back to the couch; picks up their abandoned mugs and hands one to Clark. After taking a slow mouthful, Lex raises his eyes to meet his father's. "Anything you can say to me, you can say in front of Clark. And if it's the Sanctity of the Luthor Name lecture, I can even recite it to him myself, and save you the time."
"Don't think just because you're out of Metropolis that--"
"--people will fail to notice my behaviour and judge you accordingly. Really, Dad, you could have just sent a memo. 'Say ten 'Hail Luthors' and perform an act of Callous Economic Rationalism.'" Lex imitates his father's scotch gesture with his soup mug. "I would have got the message."
"No," Lionel insists, "you clearly haven't got the message, or you wouldn't be holding hands with a common farm labourer in front of your father in the Luthor Ancestral Home!"
"Oh," Lex pats Clark's knee. "Clark isn't a labourer. He's a junior at Smallville High."
Lionel manages not to react. "He reeks of garlic. Do the locals even wash around here?"
Lex shrugs, squeezing Clark's knee hard to keep him sitting. "You're the one who sent me here."
"And I wanted," Lionel raises his hands in faux bewilderment, "to bring you back."
"Maybe I like it here," Lex says, putting his feet on the coffee table, his head on Clark's shoulder, and smiling.
He does like it here, he realises, and the smile becomes real. He likes Clark, and he likes the town, and he likes his new outlook on life. It's funny, he thinks, tasting the fresh soup Clark's mother spent all day making, and feeling warmth spread though him wherever his body touches Clark's... it's funny that he always knew there was more to life than being a Luthor, but never managed to find it until now.
Lex kisses Martha's cheek on the way in. "Thank you for the soup. You have no idea how much it meant to me."
Jonathan is on his feet, almost as purple as Lionel. "You gave this son of a bitch my soup?"
Martha and Clark turn on him with identical innocent looks. "I did make an awful lot," she says blandly. "And I'd hate for Lex to think we'd treat him any differently to a girlfriend of Clark's."
"Somehow," Lex says, leaning against the kitchen arch, "I don't think you'd ever need to send Clark's girlfriend soup after you busted them making out on the couch."
"Clark, it's okay. I'm not exactly Kent family album material, I know."
"Oh, Lex," Martha tells him. "It was a shock, we didn't mean to--"
"Yes, we did." Jonathan thumps his fist on the table. "He's half your age--"
"--and if I'd known you had these sorts of designs on my son I'd have run you out of town before you unpacked your damn suitcases."
"Dad, we're getting married."
The table shudders and skids under the force of Jonathan's fist.
Lex sighs. "Somewhere in the future, Clark, there existed a far more opportune moment to tell him that."
Theoretically, Lex knows that now is not the time for it, but Clark is warm against him, and smells as good as Clark always smells, except kitchenier. That's reason enough to make time. "Hey," he says, and catches Clark's lips in his own when Clark smiles.
"Hey yourself," Clark says, and Lex's smile is swallowed up by him. "I'm in a lot of trouble," he adds, shrugging his shirt off. "I'm seriously grounded."
"Mm," Lex agrees, because Clark tastes as edible as he smells. "Big trouble." He gets his hands on Clark's skin and touches greedily. The hard silkiness is addictive, and everything about Clark is both hard and silky. "I'm in a lot of trouble too," he tells Clark. "If you're grounded, I'll die of starvation."
"I'll bring you food," Clark offers, and Lex tears himself away for long enough to shed his own shirt before diving in again. He tastes... nourishing, and Lex can't get enough, Lex will never get enough, Lex has been starving for so long--
There's an ominous boom, the doors burst inwards, and the room is suddenly filled with the Prescence of Lionel Luthor. Clark is suddenly on the other side of the room, beet-red and eyes wide like an alien abductee in a beam of blinding light. Lex sighs and pulls his shirt back on.
"Son," Lionel declares, tossing his gloves onto the mantle and reaching for the scotch, "we clearly need to have another talk about the Luthor family reputation."
"At sixteen? In Kansas? That's damn unlikely."
"Oh, honey, don't you think this is premature? You're much too young to marry anybody."
"A Luthor? In my family? Over my dead body."
"And I hate to think of you running off to Hawaii and having some kind of--"
"This is clearly a ploy by Lex to--"
"Obviously we're not getting married right away. I'm not pregnant." Clark picks up a pen from the mantle, and puts it into a drawer. "Now that we've dealt with your concerns, why don't we watch the game? It's on in five minutes."
Lex pours himself a mug of soup, and one for Clark, and leads them upstairs to his den. "Does this mean she forgives me for the Couch Incident?" he asks, waving the mug.
"I don't know about forgiven, yet. We had to talk about it. And..." Clark toys nervously with Lex's fingers.
"C'mon, let's get this over with."
"I ended up telling her everything."
"Ouch." Lex staggers, like he's been shot. "So I might be forgiven for the Couch Incident, but not, say, three months worth of Barn Incidents?"
Clark shakes his head, despondent. "Sorry."
"It's okay, I don't regret it. And your father?"
"Don't worry, Mom took away his shotgun." Clark peeks up.
Lex lets himself be drawn closer. "That's promising," he grumbles darkly, "but I wouldn't put it past him to find another one."
Clark breaks down and groans, burying his face in Lex's shoulder. "Could that have been any worse?"
"Well," Lex tries to be philosophical. "If you'd been more naked than me, and I'd been on top..."
"Or it could have been my couch and my father."
Clark grins, and staggers. "Ouch."
The television reigns. As the first commercials come on, Martha invites Lex to help her with the dishes. The Kent men remain silent, staring at an advertisement for Tampax like their dignity depends on it.
"Did Clark tell you he's grounded?" Martha asks sweetly, filling the sink. She hands Lex a dishcloth and Lex silently prays he won't make a fool of himself with it.
"It was mentioned once or twice."
"He's grounded for exactly as long as he's been lying to his parents."
Taking the first dish from the rack, Lex mentally runs through the ream of wrong answers he could give to that. It is harsh and Clark did have reasons and ... and they all know it. Lex sighs. "So, three months, give or take some teen angst and Luthor trust issues."
Martha puts a hand on her hip and looks him in the eye. "Give or take how much? When should we have been told, Lex?"
There's a right answer to that one, and Lex hesitates a long time before giving it. "When Clark started to feel there was something he should tell you about." That earns him a cool, evaluating stare. "I said he could if he wanted to. Two months ago."
"So he's grounded for two months." Martha takes a red pen in her sudsy hand and circles a date on the calendar. It looks depressingly far away.
"Can I see him at all?" Lex asks, and is revulsed at how needy he sounds. That's his father's voice in his head, though, and when he quashes it he can hear the Kent voice in his head congratulating him on his openness.
"During the day. And at night, in the house, if we're home."
"Then I guess you'll be seeing a lot of me." A part of Lex is livid at being tested again-- because both the Kent and Luthor voices in his head know that's what this is. But Lex's own voice is calm, because this is a fair test, and a test he intends to pass.
"Are you planning to tell your father?"
Lex grins suddenly at the lightness of memory-- an impotent Lionel Luthor, entire forests failing to fall at his command. "I already have. His displeasure knows no bounds."
Martha looks concerned.
"He's going to make things very difficult." Lex shrugs. "But I'm used to it, and Clark might surpise him." He chooses his words carefully. "My father doesn't bother getting to know his enemies unless he thinks they're a threat to him."
Martha nods and puts the last of the cutlery away. "Go sit down. I'll make some coffee."
Putting the tureen on the gleaming kitchen benchtop, Clark blushes and shuffles his feet. "Mom said she made so much, you should have some."
Unable to resist, Lex dips a finger in and tastes it. Flavour steals across his palate, wholesome but also thrilling. Warm chicken, sweet corn, exotic spices. He tastes again, with three fingers, and catches Clark's eyes on him.
"Lex, that's--" Disgusting, his face says. Tempting, his body says. Lex beckons him closer.
"It's very good soup. Very good." He dives in for another taste, then hesitates. "It's not poisoned, is it?"
Bashful, Clark shakes his head. "She spent all day making it. I helped."
"Your father didn't get near it?"
"No. He spent all day chopping firewood into matches."
"Better than chopping me into matches." Swirling his finger through it, Lex realises the soup is still hot. He takes another sample. It's rich, subtle, deep. There are hints of a thousand things, in just the right amounts-- bacon and garlic and tomato, chives and coriander. He can taste celery and onion and carrot and bay leaves in the stock. "Your mother really did spend all day making this, didn't she?"
Clark nods. "It's Dad's favourite. And I think," he shuffles his feet some more, "I mean, we talked about-- Mom wants him to give you a chance."
Jonathan is carving a block of pine with meaningful strokes of a very large knife. He doesn't seem to be aiming for any particular shape, and doesn't seem to care that the wood shavings are falling on the rug where Lex is lying. Clark's lips are resting in a contented smile, and Jonathan glares from him to Lex. "You'd better not think this changes anything."
"Oh, it changes everything," Lex tells him, staring up from the crook of Clark's arm. "Can I call you Dad?"
The knife slips and carves a gash into the sofa. Martha gives Lex his first Look, and Lex suddenly understands why Clark is so earnestly well-behaved. He's going to be seeing that Look in his mind for weeks.
In contrast to Lionel, Jonathan shows his outrage an octave down. "I am not your father."
"No, thank God." Lex smiles, for what feels like the thousandth time, and the first. He's been given the only thing he ever needed-- a chance. "Unlike my father, I think you'll eventually like me."
Jonathan's lips almost twitch as he gouges another piece of wood. "I doubt it."
Lex whispers loudly into Clark's ear. "At least my mother-in-law is nice."
All day, Lex has been dreading this visit, and when he hears the doorbell, he waves the housekeeper away. Lex has been dreading this visit since he first laid his lips on Clark's, knowing that it was unforgivable in Jonathan Kent's eyes. He's ready to be calm, ready to firm, willing to be reasonable but prepared to stand his ground. He's going to give this everything he's got, even though he knows it's hopeless, because if Jonathan won't give him even the chance to prove himself, Clark is going to get hurt.
Lex readies himself and then opens the door, but it isn't Jonathan. It's Clark, looking sheepish and nervous and hot. He's carrying a big earthenware tureen, and brings a heavenly smell with him as he steps inside.
Lex lifts the lid and inhales cautiously. "This is an interesting turn of events."