Sufferance
by Jessie

Summary: Jonathon and Lex have a talk. Ever so slightly AU, with a dash of Chloe/Lex.

Rating: PG13

Disclaimer: Smallville does not belong to me. No profits are being made from this story and no copyright infringement is intended.

Archive: Just ask first please. Otherwise, you can find this story at fanfiction.net or at my homepage, Idea no. 8 (http://www.angelfire.com/home/ideano8)

Author's Note: The idea for this story came to me about a week before the season premiere, and I promptly sat down and wrote it all out in about an hour, but didn't get around to editing until just now. Meaning, I wasn't taking into account the events of the season premiere when writing this, so just disregard certain parts of that episode (namely, the handshake between Jonathon and Lex) for the time being. It's not a big deal, but I think the story makes more sense if you do.

Feedback would mean the world to me. Please let me know what you think of my work.

***

Sufferance, n.;
1. the capacity to endure pain, etc.
2. consent, permission, etc. implied by failure to prohibit

*

He's looking over his shoulder again.

Jonathon swallows. Clears his throat. "Am I keeping you from something?"

Lex turns his head back around to face the other man, almost startled.

"No," he says, after a moment.

Jonathon has trouble believing him.

"I'm not quite sure what you're after here, Lex, but…"

The younger man shakes his head. His suit looks even more expensive against the barn yard back drop. Jonathon can't imagine wearing anything pricier than jeans, and thanks God for it.

"There's something about this place, isn't there?" Lex clasps his hands together. Squints in the sunlight. For the briefest moment Jonathon wishes he'd had a better seat to offer the man than a bale of hay. He imagines that suit won't stand the straw and dirt much longer.

"I don't know what you mean."

"This town. It has a certain charm." He chuckles in that way that seems so familiar, when it shouldn't. As if he smiles and laughs all the time, when really the action is rare. "I suppose I've developed a bit of a soft spot for things that have tried to kill me."

There's a pause in the already stilted conversation.

"If you're here to reminisce, Clark should be back from school any moment now."

There is just the smallest of smiles on the rich man's face, before the usual thin-lipped frown returns. Jonathon brushes his hands on the sides of his pants, uncertain whether it's the dirt and grime from a day's work that he's attempting to wipe away, or the feeling of shaking a Luthor's hand.

"I came here to talk to you, actually."

"So you've said."

Lex leans forward. "I realize that the two of us aren't on the best of terms."

Jonathon shifts on his own bale of hay. He notices that the barn still needs to be swept. Clark must have forgotten that morning.

"Is it an apology you're looking for? Or forgiveness?" The tension increases slightly. He wants to kick himself for asking this. He wants to throttle the man in front of him. He wants Clark to be less absent-minded. The list goes on.

"I won't apologize for something I didn't do."

And suddenly, he just wants to hold a civil conversation with another grown man.

Jonathon nods his head. "Fair enough." He decides he must be a simple man after all. Lex glances over his shoulder again. "What do you want to talk about then?"

Lex looks back. "I'm still debating how best to phrase this."

"You seem distracted."

The younger man nods his head. Takes in a breath.

"To tell you the truth, I'd envisioned this meeting going somewhat differently."

"And how is that?"

Italian leather shoes scrape against the dirty floor as Lex shifts his weight. It's not anxiety that makes him this way, Jonathon thinks. Not nerves or emotion. Not fear or discomfort.

He used to think that it must be money. As if wealth were as much an affliction as love or hate. Now, he isn't certain. Doesn't think he wants to be.

Breathes in.

"What would you say if I told you that I'm not leaving?" His tone of voice doesn't change, and neither does his expression or the way he holds himself, but the air is different. The lighting. Something.

Jonathon's always had trouble defining these sorts of things.

"Smallville?" He asks dumbly. Because he can think of nothing else to ask.

"Yes."

"Why?"

"There are several reasons."

Neither knows exactly where to go from here. They look at each other. Look any where but at each other. Finally settle into that increasingly familiar pattern of cool glances and cold stares.

"Who else knows?"

"You're not the first, if that's what you're asking. But I thought I should tell you. In person."

"Why?" He's been asking this question far too often recently. He used to be able to let things go. Used to be able to take things in stride. Not anymore.

"Because I know how you feel about me. And I know how you feel about your son, and about this town. I know…" He pauses, as if not wanting to go on. But there's nothing in his eyes to reflect this. It's just a guess. It's always just a guess when it comes to this young man. "I know that I'm not ever going to prove to you that you're wrong about me. Who knows; maybe you're not. I've thought about it."

Jonathon shifts uncomfortably. He's never liked these kinds of conversations. He's never liked the man in front of him. But he listens anyway.

"It became one of the reasons that I was returning to Metropolis. The possibility that you were right. The likelihood of it."

"I'm still not sure what you're after here, Lex." He's repeating himself, but can't help it. Doesn't want to help it. But his tone of voice is softer this time around. A little more understanding, even if he really doesn't. Even if the best he can do right now is pretend to understand.

Maybe it'll be enough.

Lex just smiles, smirks, and shakes his head as if to say, "I'm not sure either." But he doesn't say the actual words, and, instead, glances over his shoulder yet again.

"Clark'll be happy. That you're staying, that is."

"Yes. I imagine he'll be the only one." Something about his face gives away the truth. Gives away the fact that this last statement is a lie.

Both men realize it at the same time, and look up with the same suspicious expressions.

"What are some of your reasons for staying, then?" The question seems the most natural course to take. Jonathon's never been any good at heavy dialogues, but natural he can do. Natural he knows.

Lex appears on the verge of smiling. Or getting up. Or doing something other than answering the question out right.

Instead, he straightens.

"As surprising as it may sound, I've come to appreciate this place."

"So you were saying. I assumed that that was one of the reasons you were leaving it."

Lex does smile this time. As if impressed. As if to say, "score one for Kent Senior." Then leans forward. Lets elbows rest on knees. Draws in a short breath before speaking. "I've come to certain realizations since then."

"Since when?"

"Since I decided that this town would be better off without a Luthor in its midst."

It's here that they both stop. Lex glances over his shoulder. Jonathon remembers that stack of paperwork on the kitchen table. He tries to imagine what Martha must think to see that gaudy sports car in their drive way, and to have not yet heard any yelling. Not yet, anyway.

And then the conversation picks up as if it never stopped. Jonathon wonders about the phenomenon, but gives up on an explanation almost immediately.

"I've done a lot of good here." Lex seems to be waiting- almost asking- for a response. For the farmer to agree with him.

"So some would say."

"Some." He says the word without emotion. Shakes his head just enough to be noticed. "I'm staying because I think I can continue to do good, Mr. Kent. More good. I'm staying because there are those who would benefit from it."

"Do you mean the workers in that plant of yours?"

"And others."

"Clark?"

"He doesn't need me."

"You're his friend."

Lex cocks his head ever so slightly, as if surprised to hear the words. "I am. I suppose that counts for something, doesn't it?"

"You're asking for my opinion?"

"I'm asking for your permission."

Silence.

Cool glances. Cold stares. Sunlight from high over head coming through the gaps in the walls and ceiling. Must be about two o'clock, he thinks.

"Asking for my permission to stay in Smallville?"

"No. For something else."

He's trying to figure the younger man out. It won't work, and he knows this from experience. Knows this from instinct too, and intuition, and good judgment, and common sense. But does it anyway.

It doesn't work.

"You've never needed my permission in the past. And I can't imagine why you'd need it now."

"I'm having trouble with the concept myself."

"This is why you're here?"

His tone of voice is steady. Unwavering. "Yes."

Jonathon takes a moment to contemplate the frustration of it all. The unfairness. He puts a hand to his temple and wonders about how simple things *could* have been.

"Get it out then. While I'm still willing to listen."

Lex smirks. Then speaks. "One of my reasons for staying…" He glances over his shoulder again, but more subtly this time. "I have a feeling you won't like it. But… maybe you'll understand."

"Is it about Clark?"

Lex purses his lips. "No."

Jonathon lets out a small sigh of relief.

"It's about one of your son's friends."

And Jonathon's mind is immediately filled with visions he wishes he'd never had. Visions of the Lang girl and the Ross boy into God knows what kind of illegal activities, with only Lex to thank. Of the Sullivan kid and the Fordman jock lying dead in a ditch somewhere- or something equally as dramatic- because a certain bald billionaire could only buy his way out of so much before whatever evil doers he was involved with started taking out those around him.

He's seeing the whole lot of them in one dire situation after another, all courtesy of one Lex Luthor.

But he bites his tongue. Redistributes his weight.

"You'll have to be a little more specific, son." He says.

"Gladly, Mr. Kent." He straightens his back. Whatever kind of wild child he may have been in the past, all that any one sees now is the businessman. "One of the reasons that I've decided not to leave Smallville, is that I believe your son is not the only one who would miss my presence."

Jonathon still doesn't understand. But he realizes that he's always been a little slow on the uptake.

"Are you telling me that one of the reasons you aren't returning to Metropolis is because you may have made another friend here?"

Lex smiles a little, seemingly at the absurdity of it. "Yes, I believe I am."

Jonathon wets his lips gingerly. "What is it you need my permission for?"

"If I remember correctly, the last time I made a friend in this town, you took it personally."

"Clark is different. You know that."

"And how different is Chloe?"

This brings the conversation to a dead halt.

Lex sighs. "I don't know why, exactly, I felt compelled to come here. But something in me did. Something in me still wants to prove to you that you're wrong about the kind of man I am."

"Does Gabe know?"

"That Chloe and I are friends? Yes."

Jonathon stares down at his shoes for one, long, silent moment. He attempts to regroup. To sort a few emotions out before looking back up, because he doesn't know just what all of them may mean and doesn't know how he'll handle seeing Lex Luthor's face without having them sorted out first.

He looks back up. Lex stares.

"Well, I'm not her father, Lex. If he says it's all right that you…" But the younger of the two men interrupts.

"It's your consent I'm looking for right now. I want to know that this is all right with you."

He still doesn't fully understand. He imagines that the subtext of the conversation is what's really important, but has never been very good at deciphering subtext.

"Why?"

"You've met my father, Mr. Kent." He says, by way of an answer. Then continues. "And out of every one in this town, yours is the opinion I most value. I know you may take some issue with that fact, but it's the truth. And I'm asking you..." He pauses. Presses his lips together firmly for just a moment. "…To give me a sign that I'm moving in the right direction. This feels like the right direction. Chloe feels like the right direction."

They stare at each other.

Lex takes in a breath before asking, "Is it?"

And Jonathon is at a loss. He wishes, quite suddenly, that Martha or Clark were here to deal with this. Or to help him deal with it, at least. But no. He's on his own here. Lex wanted to speak to him and him alone.

He *wanted* to. Perhaps there's something to be said for that.

Perhaps not.

Jonathon fights the urge to say "no" out right. To send the man away with a harsh word and a cold glare. Fights it because he knows it's what his wife and his son would want him to do. And because he's suddenly thinking of Chloe. For reasons he doesn't yet understand.

He's thinking of how much he's always enjoyed her visits to the house. And what a good judge of character he's known her to be. He's thinking how impossible and crazy it sounds that she would trust her friendship to someone who didn't deserve it. How ridiculous it seems that she would let any one take advantage of her.

And he's still fighting the urge. Fighting so hard that he hardly notices the time that passes, or the sound of a car pulling up in the drive.

When he snaps out of it, there's Lex. He's looking over his shoulder again.

And the young man smiles. One of those rare, full smiles that Jonathon had assumed belonged to his son and his son alone; but apparently Lex Luthor has picked up more from Clark than the Good Samaritan impulse.

"Is that Clark?" Jonathon asks, for no particular reason. Perhaps just to fill the silence.

Lex turns his head back to face him. "No."

Realization suddenly crosses the older man's face. He is a father after all. And he was once a twenty-something. He was once the one with the thousand-watt smile. Though the Luthor heir manages to tame his own smile rather more smoothly than he ever could.

"Okay, Lex." Jonathon nods his head sympathetically. Even if he doesn't really feel that sympathy. Even if this another one of those areas that still needs work, and he has to pretend for a bit longer that everything is under control. He sympathizes. He understands.

Or he will, anyway.

"If that's all you need from me, than I'm willing to give it."

Lex's eyes widen a little in what can only be surprise. "Are you certain?"

Jonathon nods his head. "You have my permission."

So much is left unsaid in that statement. So much that neither should have been able to decipher it all, but do anyway. Despite differences. Despite everything.

A car door opens and shuts. Lex stands and offers his hand. Jonathon is surprised to find himself standing and taking it. Maybe he shouldn't be. But the moment passes.

"It's been a pleasure talking with you."

"And you." The formality doesn't mean anything, but is enough to give them pause. Rarely does either say anything they don't mean.

But Lex is walking away now. And Jonathon is standing there, in the barn, watching. Something inside of him is certain that he's just made one of the bigger mistakes in his life. That this will come back to haunt him and that there must be a special place in hell for all those enemies of evil who, for just a moment, gave into the urge to stop holding a grudge.

He takes a step forward as Lex disappears behind the doorway, then stops at the sound of a voice. A young girl's voice. A stubborn, frank, and optimistic young girl's voice.

She's telling the Luthor son off. She's telling him to be nice to her and maybe she'll forgive him for making her drive out here to meet him, when weren't the plans to find a good cup of coffee?

The young man laughs a little. Tells her he'll make it up to her. That they can take his car now, and the coffee will be his treat. That he's sorry she's upset.

And he is. Sorry.

It's strange.

Jonathon purses his lips. Doubts, for just an instant, that he was wrong. Because maybe he wasn't. Maybe he did the right thing.

Maybe that overly expensive suit wasn't completely ruined by the dirt and grime of a barn.

The girl is laughing now. At what, he isn't sure. He missed whatever punch line there might have been. But he's beginning to understand, and that's what's important. He thinks that maybe that means something. Two friends in the course of two years.

There really is something about this town. He's never doubted it. But now, he thinks, maybe he appreciates it a little more.

And he wipes his hands on the seat of his pants, this time knowing that it's not the handshake he's wiping away.


The End.