Saturday, 22 October 2005

Word count: 3,341

Lex appeared in one aspect of the initial wave of advertisements, though when watching them all together it was hard at first to understand they were all selling the same product.

"Advertising is so derogatory these days," Lex's business partner, some guy who was only a bit older than Clark but had done a lot in that little bit extra time and Clark kind of hated him without knowing him for that reason alone, had said. "Every single company we approached gave us these regurgitated, stereotypical ideas – a man with his wife on one line and his mistress on another, a woman using it to look up recipes while she's chained to the stove: it was all crap. In the end me and Lex went the same way as building the thing, and just did it ourselves."

A pretty boy on the phone in the nightclub while loud music droned on, stopping when he flipped the phone shut; an 'at the movies' advertisement playing on screen while the camera panned back, and back, and back until it became clear the movie ad was on the horizontal screen of a mobile phone, which flipped shut, displaying a simplified version of the LexCorp logo on its case.

"It's not really a mobile phone with extras – which is what everyone is saying it is. It's more of a storage and media device with a phone built in. The difference lies in how good the media is and the simplicity of the phone part."

"Yeah. We hate phones. We keep wrecking them because we don't treat them with the reverence they're designed for. That's why we made one that's indestructible, making a phone for us rather than changing ourselves to suit the phone."

"Excuse my partner," Lex had said, "he is quite often unaware of how full of it he is."

"And by 'full of it' Lex means 'full of love for this product'!"

"Next interview, I'm locking you in the car."

Pete quite liked the ad Lex was in, and Jonathan, which bugged Clark. The ad involved Lex getting pinned on the ground in some back alley and beat up by some random thugs, while the ringleader attempted to reverse over Lex's hand in a black convertible. Lex pulls his hand away, but the phone gets run over. The ringleader then cackles and makes some off the cuff comment about defenceless rich-boys. Lex looks up at him, flips open the phone, and hits a speed dial button: "Security," he says with a smirk. The ringleader looks momentarily horrified, before a large black shape tackles him. The ad ends with Lex on his back, propped upon his elbows. He tosses the phone in the air, catches it, and grins.

"All advertising is dumb, because it's impossible to cater to what the population wants: you have to work with majority and averages. Thankfully I've spent some time working with the public relations people at LuthorCorp, otherwise Adam and I would have never been able get the marketing angle just right. I've been taught how to run a business the right way," and Clark could just imagine the accompanying flash of teeth that would be smile if it wasn't so sharp, "and I owe my dad a lot for that."

Pete said it was a good ad because it followed the cool-ad formula – sexy cars, violence, and a cool product. Jonathan had watched the making of documentary on the LexCorp website, and commented that he always respected men who did their own stunts. Clark suspected they both just liked watching Lex get beaten up. He had a mental image of them sitting on the couch in the dead of the night, eating popcorn and watching the ad over and over again, in slow-motion, freeze framing the impacts, and cackling. He made a mental note to share that with Lex, see if he could recreate that small, amused grin from the advert. But Lex wasn't around much.

An mp3 player, a palm pilot, multiple sim cards, a portable entertainment system, an indestructible mobile phone –

"Not quite indestructible," Clark had read in an interview, an article really, at the launch party and someone had been standing next to Lex and taken down what he'd been saying without Lex knowing it was an interview – which was kind of wrong, but it made Lex sound so… so Lex, less Luthor, "just mostly. You can do just about anything to this and it'll still work, maybe not perfectly, but close. It's microwaveable, impact resistant, water resistant – though not water proof. I took it deep sea diving and it was a little buggy for a while after, but I think that's more a corrosion thing than anything else –"

Chloe was making a scrap book for Lex to sign when she saw him next, documenting the success of his first venture into electronics. She was quite taken with business!Lex, doubly so when her dad brought home a small box from the plant, with one phone for each of them. The gift of convenience, from Lex. She was like his gospel.

"The best part, really, is the multiple sim cards. I've got my personal number and my contact number in the one phone now. And it takes more, so when I need to get a business number I still have just the one phone, and I managed to get our answering service to forward calls to it as well when the land line rings out."

Clark had been sent one too, but hadn't been able to figure out how to use it since he, in what was apparently typical male form, refused to read the instruction manual. And he was kind of scared he'd break it if he handled it too much.

Lex did drop around eventually, looking slightly exhausted from the drive back from the city, and he spoke charmingly to Clark's parents – but it was small talk, and sounded painful, as if Lex hadn't quite managed to shake the salesman off - while Clark was cleaning himself up from chores, perhaps taking longer than necessary.

His mom was organising food, and Lex probably had some coffee. Lex always had coffee. When he drank scotch, he still smelt like coffee, like it was burned into his pores. Chloe's favourite picture had Lex sitting with his hands clasped on the table and some coffee that looked ordinary – but probably wasn't, because it was Lex's coffee – by his elbow. She said it contained her two favourite things: sexy men and caffeine. No one had really known how to respond to that.

Clark dried his hands, zipped into his room, and then thumped down the stairs. "Come on prodigy," he said, "show me how to use this thing." Lex smirked at him, sat down at the table – coffee never far from reach – and talked Clark through it.

In ten minutes the phone part was fully functional. In fifteen Clark could navigate the thousands of menus – "It's four Clark, it's not that hard" – and by the end of twenty Lex had hooked his own gadget to Clark's and transferred something like seven hours of mp3s between the two.

"They can also share battery power, so if yours goes flat you can hook it up to Chloe's and steal her juice."

Jonathan watched the whole procedure quietly, assimilating himself with the concept of Clark's new toy. "And these things are supposed to be indestructible?"

"Not completely," Clark replied.

"But I haven't been able to break one," Lex said, "and I've been dropping it out of windows and throwing it under trains."

"Did you really take it diving?"

"Kind of." And Lex looked slightly embarrassed. "It fell overboard and I jumped in after it."

Clark looked at the sleek phone in his hand, heavy enough so it felt reassuring, twenty three gig of storage space, colour LCD screen, and with the kind of sophistication that all but murmured Lex's name. If Lex had handled his friend like he did the phone, Clark would probably have done more then murmur.

Clark had seen a snippet of an interview on some dumb entertainment news show, Lex and Adam sitting on this solid red sofa, Adam all mismatched and looking like he just got out of bed, and Lex looking all sleek like he'd been specifically designed, and Clark thought it was weird that they didn't look silly like that, side by side. Adam was telling the story of how Lex poached him away from the grasps of other companies, how Lex paid less but it was worth it because he actually cared about what Adam came up with.

"The thing about Lex is, he would have done this on his own. He was blowing phones up and tinkering before I came along, I just made it all happen faster." And Lex had curved the side of his mouth up "Also," Lex added, "One of the great benefits of co-design is the ability to blame anything that doesn't work on the other half." And Adam had laughed and Lex had kept the side of his mouth curled up, and Clark wasn't really that surprised when Chloe told him girls were taking the full page pictures from interviews and sticking them up on their bedroom walls.

But this was the kitchen, not some chat show, or Chloe's bedroom, or a page in GQ magazine, it was just Lex and Clark and his parents, and Lex was smiling at Clark like that now, happy to be there. And Clark wondered if he could somehow capture this moment forever, and stick it on his own bedroom wall – better than anyone else's captures, because it was real.

Lex was only spending occasional days in Smallville now. He'd been worried when he'd first been dumped there that he would never leave. Now, he confided in Clark, he was worried he wouldn't have time to change his socks before he was whisked away again. Jet setting off to London and Rio and New York and Sydney for launches and media junk and just plain being seen around the place.

"It's a shame school's on, otherwise I'd ask you to come with me."

And Clark felt the burn of envy and irritation and bitterness in the back of his throat, because that would have been so cool. "Next time you'll just have to wait until spring break before you release some trinket that revolutionises the way we view technology."

"You got that out of a magazine, didn't you."

"Chloe keeps quoting it. She gave a talk in media on your… thing."

"My thing?"

"I keep thinking it's a phone, but then you make this big deal about how it's not a phone and whenever I call it one Chloe looks at me like I kicked a puppy."

"Don't worry Clark. I'm not much of a dog person anyway."

Things had been starting to clam down, and Clark and Lex were able to e-mail each other over their not-phones, since Clark had used up all his bandwidth downloading music to put on his not-phone. Lex had gotten him one of those iPod download credit card things, "Keeping my farm boy honest." Clark was looking forward to when Lex would be coming home to Smallville. He'd been watching the news when he saw the clip. Adam had collapsed at some technology expo in Australia, and he and Lex were being rushed back to America.

Clark went outside and kicked some rocks into dust.

As always, Chloe was the one with all the information Clark didn't want to hear. "Apparently he's got some liver disease or something, and it'd been getting worse but he was ignoring it. Dad called Lex last night to see if he was okay – "

And Clark was glad Pete was around, because he asked the questions Clark would if he wasn't afraid of looking stupid. "You dad was asking after Adam?"

"No, after Lex, you thicko. But yeah, and apparently he rang halfway through some bust up between Lex and Adam."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Lex was totally pissed at him."

"Why?"

And Chloe had given Clark a long look, like he was mentally disabled. "Because they're friends."

And Clark had felt a strange sense of relief when she said that, though he wasn't really sure why.

It was all over the news though. Lex and Adam played it up a bit, doing interviews from the hospital room with Adam stretched out in that hard white bed and Lex in his dark suits, with his feet up on the pristine sheets. Reporters went nuts asking Adam what it felt like to have reached such success and then have to face his own mortality and junk like that, like he was three breaths from dead or something. "Are you kidding? Give us a few months and we can upgrade this thing with an organ replacement function."

"In a range of colours," Lex had added dryly.

No one asked Lex what his thoughts on illness and death and dying were. It struck Clark as strange that the media was being so respectful. Then it occurred to him that making Lex mad had never benefited anyone, and the media probably knew that.

Clark was spending more time in the Talon or at the Torch office these days, or running from one to the other to get coffee orders or ask Lana if she'd seen Chloe. Lana joked that they should move the Torch office into the apartment upstairs, and Chloe had responded that Lana should set up a coffee cart in the hall outside the Torch – coffee and convenience all wrapped up together. It was a bit weird that those two were getting on these days. But Whitney's dad was sick, and Lana probably needed someone to talk to.

At the Talon Clark's desk faced away from the Wall of Weird and Chloe's Pile of Lex, which was just the stack of printouts and articles and pictures she'd snipped out of all her magazines and newspapers to be stuck in her scrapbook at the end of the week. It was what she did with her Friday nights. It was always an intimidating stack by Wednesday at least.

"You know, it's because of people like you that people like Lex need security guards."

"He's right Chlo'. A few years time you'll be doing community service because someone'll bust you being Little Miss Super-stalker."

"I'd love to see that children's book. Do you think Adam'll get a liver donor soon?"

And Clark had gone to reply, but his not-phone had informed him of new e-mail by chirping loudly – Clark had recorded Smallville's dawn chorus as soon as he'd figured out how. It was note from Lex, saying he wouldn't be making it home that weekend.

Clark worked his guts out over the next day, and the weekend, and into the next week. He spent more time then ever before on his school work, earning him several full marks in Friday tests, and an essay that 'surprised and delighted' his English teacher and put him in Chloe's bad books for stealing her place at the top of the class until he agreed to go snooping with her after school. He spent time with Chloe digging up info on Smallville's freaks, and looking at plant samples from areas that were meteor rich. Mostly because it was so boring Chloe refused to do it, and it gave him an excuse to keep away from the actual sites.

Clark worked so hard around the farm his mom had to pull him aside and gently ask him to slow down so his dad could keep up. He spent some time hanging out with Pete, and Whitney who was also desperate to keep busy. They played console games ranging from the original Donkey Kong, to Grand Turismo, and then Resident Evil when it looked like they'd all be spending the night at Pete's.

By Tuesday there was a lull in Lex and Adam in the papers, and Clark had used up all his distractive energies and had resorted to eating cookies and moping in the kitchen until his mom took pity on him. "I saw Lex in town today."

"Oh?"

"Mmm. We had a chat at the gas station. He'll be in town for a few weeks, recuperating."

"Ah."

"I'm surprised they let him out so soon though."

"What? Let him out from where?"

"Hospital. He donated some of his liver."

And the curtains fluttered as Clark sped off.

The mansion didn't seem as… lived in as it once had. Kind of empty, like it had been the first time Clark had snuck in and nearly gotten skewered, like it thought Lex didn't love it anymore. Empty, all the way through. Lex wasn't in his office, and Clark was getting slightly panicky before he ran into Lex in the hall.

"Hey Clark, long time no see. I was going to drop by and see you tomorrow."

And Clark really wanted to have something snappy to say, something really cool and witty that was all intelligent and high class while still having some kind of underlying intimacy – in a 'friend' way. But his throat was like cotton as he stared through Lex's abdomen.

Lex followed his gaze and twitched his shirt up, showing off his pale stomach with a slice of pink hurt and clear stitches.

"Why didn't you say you were going to do… that?"

Lex offered him a small smile. "I didn't realise it was that big a deal."

"You don't have a liver. How are you going to drink scotch without a liver?"

"They only took a bit of my liver."

"You're Lex! You don't do anything but drink scotch! You need all the liver you can get."

"I'm flattered you think so highly of me."

"I bet the only reason your liver's good enough to donate is because it's been so soaked in alcohol it counts as preserved."

And Lex was leaning against the wall, "It'll grow back. And I drink too much anyway," smiling and trying to look cool and calm. But really he looked tired. Clark remembered all the photos of Adam throwing his arm around Lex's shoulder, and felt a knot of something hot in his stomach when he realised how weird it would be for him to do the same.

Lex and Clark walked through the silent building, back to the room with the model of Troy and sinking into the long couch there, their backs each against an arm rest, facing each other with Lex's bare feet on the cushions as he explained the whole process. "So then they grow my liver in this dish full of hormones and liver food until it's big enough to put in Adam. Then, they dope Adam up, stretch him out, cut his liver out, then they put mine in and stich him up. Then he spends the rest of his life on immunosuppressants so his body doesn't decide my liver is some invading infection and try to kill it off."

And that made it a bit harder for Clark to feel weird about Adam and Lex sharing internal organs. "So he's gonna have a rough time then?"

"He's been on medications and diets and everything that might work for years now. A pill every day is going to seem like a picnic by comparison."

"Did you know he was sick?"

"I didn't know he was this sick."

"It's good of you to help."

"I didn't do it because it was a good thing to do."

"I know."

Lex looked down and tugged at a loose thread by the cuff of his shirt. When he looked up there was a small smile on his face. "He'll be staying here for a while when he gets out."

"Ah."

"I think you'll like him."

"Sure."

"Please be nice."

And Lex had these grey eyes that could look really big and pitiful when he wanted them to, and now Clark knew why Chloe hated his own puppy-dog look.

"Alright."