Burning the Midnight Oil.


Lex woke up to the sound of pencil scratching softly across paper. He opened his eyes and lifted his head, a little confused about his surroundings until his sleep-fogged brain cleared and he realized that he was on the couch in Clark's loft.

He must have fallen asleep after sex, which was something that he never did until he was sure that his partner was asleep as well, and sometimes not even then. But in this, as in all things, Clark was the exception that proved the rule- not only did Clark wear him out more than any other lover ever had, Lex had quickly discovered that he would fall deeply asleep when Clark was holding him, and sleep even better than he did at home alone in his own bed.

It must have been Clark's absence that had drawn him out of slumber, and he sat up slowly, looking around to see where he'd gone. He didn't have far to look- Clark was at the desk in the corner, hunched over whatever he was working on, an open textbook at his elbow and three or four more piled haphazardly by the lamp.

"Hey," he said softly, and Clark turned, not at all startled to see him awake, and smiled at him. Of course, Clark probably noticed his breathing change the moment he'd started to wake up, and would have also been able to hear every shift and sigh, not to mention him actually sitting up.

"Hey," Clark said back, turning his chair. "You crashed."

"I know," Lex said. "What time is it?"

"Two something in the morning," Clark said. "You were sleeping okay."

"I always do, with you here," Lex said, a sad and sappy truth. He'd been back from the island for almost four months, and he still heard the ocean in his sleep. Except when he was with Clark. It was the reason that he'd show up at the barn more nights than not, and Clark was always waiting for him. Lex had given up being embarrassed by it, and had decided just to be grateful that Clark was there for him, and that Clark didn't need that much sleep anyway.

Hence the current hour of the morning. "What are you working on?" he asked. Clark blushed and turned away, a sure sign that it was yet another secret that he'd kept hidden till now. Lex's curiosity hadn't been satiated by Clark's bigger secrets, and he suspected that he would never stop wanting to know everything there was to know about Clark. Another sad and sappy truth.

He got up and padded barefoot across the cold floor to peer over Clark's shoulder. Clark didn't try to hide what he was working on, just sighed and let his head fall back to rest against Lex's chest.

Lex blinked at the complexity of the math on the paper in front of him. "They teach you this in high school?" he asked, slightly incredulous. He hadn't learned this till almost… grad school…

"Um, not exactly." A suspicion entered his mind, and he glanced at the titles of the four other textbooks. All college-level math, and all of a level that Lex hadn't quite gotten to before his exile to Smallville. What was Clark doing with them?

"And you're doing college math why, exactly?"

Clark closed his eyes. "Because I was past calculus by the time I was in seventh grade?"

Lex stared down at him. "You're not just an alien, you're a prodigy. How the hell did you get so good at math?"

Clark opened his eyes, looked at Lex for a second, and then pulled Lex down into his lap. Lex made a noise of protest that he refused to admit was a squeak, but Clark soothed him with a hand stroking down his spine and explained, "I just wanted to be able to look you in the face for this conversation, you know?"

Lex was loathe to admit that he did know, but it was Clark, so he subsided without too much grumbling for the undignified position. "So?"

"I think it's just a Kryptonian thing," Clark explained. "Since we were obviously a space-faring race, we had to be good at math and science, right? So I figured that we just have a natural aptitude for it or something. Either that or I'm just weird. More weird."

"You're not weird," Lex said automatically, the oft-used reassurance falling from his lips by force of habit, but he was still focused on Clark's unexpected talent. "But you're not that great at math in school," Lex said slowly. "You barely pull a C."

"And you know that how?" Clark asked, one eyebrow arched. Lex winced, but Clark just laughed. "It's okay, Lex. I already knew you were obsessive."

Lex made a face at him. "I prefer 'interested,'" he said loftily.

"You would."

"You still haven't answered my question," Lex pointed out.

"I'm sorry, was there a question?"

"There was an interrogative statement," Lex said. "So answer."

Clark apparently decided to stop dancing around it. "I kind of act stupid in some of my classes," Clark said. "It keeps people from suspecting anything."

"The same way you trip over your own two feet all the time and are constantly late for everything and act like a hick farm kid," Lex said, getting it. "Even though you're the most graceful person I know and from what you've told me about your summer in Metropolis, you're anything but a hick farm kid."

"I'm still a hick farm kid," Clark said quietly. "The person I was there- that's not me."

"But you can't unlearn what you discovered there," Lex said. "Trust me, I know."

They were silent for a minute, before Lex gave himself a mental shake and roused himself from his thoughts. "So you act stupid in math, because you're a math genius," Lex said. "Why English, though? You get straight A's in there."

"Because I'm not good at it," Clark said.

"You can read at super-speed," Lex said, since he'd witnessed such an event once or twice since Clark had told him his secret, and it was still awe-inspiring. Running faster than a speeding bullet was one thing- reading a several-hundred-page novel in a matter of minutes was quite another.

"Reading quickly doesn't mean that I understand what I'm reading," Clark said. "And interpretation is something else altogether. I have to work at it."

"That's why you want to go into journalism," Lex said. "And here I thought it was Chloe's influence."

"It is, a little," Clark said. "But writing… It's taking events and finding the right words to show them the way you want people to see them. Math is simple- you follow the right formula and you will always get the right answer. Writing is more than that. It's a connection from the writer to the reader, and it means something."

Lex wasn't sure that he entirely understood, because writing anything but memos was never going to be one of his talents, but he nodded anyway. It didn't matter why it meant something to Clark, only that he knew that it did. Knowing more about Clark was swiftly shaping up to be one of his life's ambitions. He thoughts sometimes that he could actually take his entire lifetime, and still not know everything about him.

"So how do you do it?" he asked suddenly, a minute later. "Take college math while you're still in high school, I mean."

Clark pointed to the computer on the other side of his desk and tried not to look too amused. "There's this cool new thing called the internet-"

Lex backhanded him casually on the bicep. "I know that," he muttered. "But there's no way that you can take everything online. And don't you have to have a certain number of credits before taking some of these? And what about the fact that you're still in high school? And how do you pay for it, anyway? "

"I run in to Metropolis when I have to meet with any of my professors," Clark said. "But most of the stuff really is online. And my parents had no idea how old I was when they adopted me, so they guessed and said I was six- which means that according to my driver's license, I'm eighteen. And yeah, normally I'd actually have to have graduated to take these, but I took a bunch of tests and got special permission. And a scholarship."

"And how do you find time to do all the work?" Lex asked. He well remembered just how much work there was to some of those classes, and he thought that Clark might be even more advanced than he'd been.

"Well, you know I don't need much sleep," Clark said with a shrug, as if it was no big deal. Lex thought that it was a very big deal indeed.

"So, wait. You get up, do chores, go to school, come home, do more chores, do homework, then stay up and do the real work? And yet you still find time to spend with me, your friends, and to save Smallville from the meteor mutant of the week?" Lex shook his head in disbelief. "I don't know how you do it. I mean, your parents must-"

"Mom and Dad don't know," Clark said quietly. Lex wasn't sure he'd heard him right.

"Your parents don't know about your college courses?" he asked, just to make sure. Clark nodded. "For God's sake, why?"

"I don't think Dad would understand," Clark said. "Mom might, because Mom understand almost everything, but Dad… Well, he's pretty cool about being able to see through things and lift trucks and set things on fire with my eyes, but somehow I'm not sure he'd be able to get me being good at math because I'm an alien. So I didn't tell them."

"I thought you told your parents everything," Lex said. Clark shook his head, gave him a smile with edges.

"Not everything," he said. "Not you."

"I know," Lex said. "But your Dad would kill me. I think I'd like to avoid another encounter with his shotgun, if I could."

Clark sort of glared off into the distance at the reminder of Desiree. "Did I ever mention how much I hate it when you get married?" he said, almost idly. "Because I really, really do. Don't do it again, please."

Lex laughed and pressed his cheek into Clark's bicep. "I think I can manage to avoid another trip to the altar," he said dryly. "Until they make gay marriage legal, anyway."

Clark didn't say anything, but it wasn't a rejecting sort of silence. Just thoughtful. Clark knew how Lex felt about him, how Lex wanted every part of him, and if he'd had a problem with it, he probably would have made it clear before now. He probably wouldn't have answered Lex's every question, told him every detail, wouldn't have welcomed him so thoroughly into his life, into his heart, into his bed- well, couch. He wouldn't have sat up every night, doing his math homework and watching Lex sleep, just because he knew that Lex needed it.

"You know, I never thought about it," he said thoughtfully. Clark tilted his head at a questioning angle when Lex didn't continue.

"What's that?"

"How complicated your life is," Lex said. "The way you have to check yourself all the time, just to look normal. The way that you keep parts of yourself hidden from everyone."

"Everyone but you," Clark interrupted, and Lex rewarded that with a quick squeeze of the hand he held captive within his.

"Everyone but me," he agreed. "But honestly, what was it like for you growing up? How hard was it to learn to act like everyone else?"

"Hard," Clark admitted. "But I did have my parents, and they helped a lot. Plus the farm made it easy to practice my powers without getting caught. I had a lot going for me." He wasn't really smiling, though, when he said, "but yeah. It was hard. I was lucky I never screwed up too much, got noticed. My greatest fear was always that someone would come for me."

Lex knew what he meant, and he couldn't even imagine that kind of weight on the shoulders of a child. Well, maybe he could. Lionel was in many ways more terrifying than any specter of pain.

"I think that's why I fell for you, you know," Lex said. Clark quirked an eyebrow at him.

"What, because I had a complicated childhood?"

"No. Well, yes. But not like that."

"Then like what?"

Lex looked at him, all seriousness now. "You were always so damned pretty, and so clearly a good person, and anyone would have fallen for you. But for me… It was when I really started talking to you, and I realized that for some reason, things weren't as easy for you as I thought they were. I didn't know why, not like I do now, but I knew that you didn't feel like you-"

"Fit in," Clark finished. "I never knew that you noticed that. Not that soon, anyway."

"It was… familiar," Lex said, and Clark nodded with instant comprehension.

"You didn't fit in during high school either."

"God, no," Lex said. "Can you imagine? I was bald, and more than a little scrawny, in a very high-end private school. And I was Lionel Luthor's son. I had no friends. I'm pretty sure that no one was more miserable than me."

"I wish I'd known you, then," Clark said, pressing a kiss to the top of Lex's head. "I would have been your friend."

Lex smiled up at him. "I know you would have," Lex said. "Even if it was just because you felt sorry for me."

But Clark shook his head. "No," he said. "You're the most amazing person I know. You're brilliant, and care about things like Alexander the Great and other ancient history that no one but you can ever even remember, much less understand. You keep yourself in great shape because you like to be healthy, not because you want to look good. You care about this town, not just because I live here but because it's your home, too. You're loyal to the bone, and love to the ends of the world. Why on Earth wouldn't I have wanted to be your friend?"

Lex almost couldn't speak. And when he did open his mouth, the confession he'd never intended to make spilled out.

"I love you," he said, his voice shaking. "I know I've never told you before and I don't know if it's what you want to hear, but I love you. Because I think you mean what you just said."

"I do," Clark said. "And I love you too. You have to know that."

And when he really thought about it, he did. Because Clark never would have told him the truth if he hadn't loved him.

"I know," he said, and Clark smiled at him before tilting his head down to kiss him softly on the mouth. Lex wrapped one arm around his neck, digging his fingers into Clark's too-long hair, and held him there for a much more leisurely kiss.

Clark was panting slightly when he pulled back, but he was still smiling, and Lex did what he always did when Clark smiled like that, like Lex was the only person in the world- he smiled back. He couldn't help it. Clark just brought it out in him.

"You're the only person who really understands me," Clark whispered, and Lex hugged him tight and whispered back, "Me, too, Clark. Me, too."

They sat like that for a long time.