by C.M. Decarnin
Beautiful fields, in neat yet individualized squares and rectangles of every shade of green, rows of windbreak trees here and there, sweet roads in long straight lines leading in from loving homes and farms, bringing everything that was fruitful and wholesome in to the more and more closely clustering houses, trees in their yards looking, from above, like cute green cones and powderpuffs dotted around the grey and dull red and slate-blue roofs. The patchwork country slid together thrillingly into the town that gave the whole area its name, land whose flat bleakness was itself excitement to one who could see its subtleties.
From up here, it was breathtaking.
He could see the Talon, knew its plain exterior held a jewelbox of unique design. The feed store, full of exotic smells and textures that brimmed with the promise of fecundity. The Quonset hut where neighbors piled shelves with compassion and called it, as if it held a vault of priceless treasure, the Food Bank. The high school with its buses cuddled nosed toward it like orange puppies feeding. Every single building and home had its purpose and its plan, its myriad bonds uniting it into the community indissolubly.
Many of the ties led out to the fertilizer plant. People worked there, brought the money they created out of "waste" here into town, spreading it with joy and the special wisdom of desire through every door...
He had seen this once before...
He had flown like this.
That time he'd been alone.
Now he had excitement like his own, Clark's breath and sparkling eyes, his smile, high color; warm flannel tight against him, arms holding him secure, his own arms wrapped around his flying lover. Clark had brought him along, on this flight of wonder and beauty, to see this place as it was.
To see it as Clark saw it.
Smallville. Where everything Clark loved, everything he'd ever known, was gathered.
Including Lex. To Clark, Lex was a part of Smallville.
He had wanted to give Clark more. Widen his horizons, show him the world.
Never understanding until now how unbelievably rich his world already was. How much Clark had to share with him; and would give him without stint, in coinage Lex had never known existed. A world economy undreamed of on Wall Street. Futures trading like you wouldn't believe.
Lex laughed, and Clark laughed with him. He swooped in a huge circle, over the town, and they looked down at the tiny people walking obliviously hither and thither, miniature cars zipping along streets to the heart of things and back out again, important matchbox trucks trundling to the county road. Clark gained altitude and again he could see the quilt of green surrounding the exquisite embroidery of town life. Gleams of silver thread marked the river, a straight black seam was the railroad arrowing for Metropolis. Dogs and children, a skedaddling cat, a horse, a herd of cows -- town gracefully opening out into country, that was, in actual fact, the heart and meaning of the place. The country, forgotten by almost all, was what the nation survived on. So important it was nearly frightening, when you realized the sweeping wheatland, hay, clover and corn and sorghum and soy, was so marginalized in most people's minds it might as well have been part of the era of the cowboys, vaguely quaint, suitable for a Christmas card; a line in the stock quotes, a flyover joke. He should try hard to remember, no matter what happened.
Clark would remind him how much he owed this place. The exhilaration of being held in his arms. It would always remind him.
Soft as pillows, warm as bedclothes...
With a huge pang of denial he felt the beautiful dream break open, instead of Clark and sky he was wrapped in snuggly flannel of autumn, and -- Clark.
Clark's arm was around him and his arm was around Clark's waist, Clark's sleeping breath warm against his forehead, Clark's body warmth a comforting cocoon, his shape a luxurious support. He smelled so good, like hot bread and melting butter, jelly made from elder-flowers, a spicy edge like a waft from hot coffee -- so good you could eat him --
Oh god, they were naked.
Shock and delight, brush of arousal.
Naked, touching, together. Swaddled in softness.
Flying. Smallville. Clark. Clark taking Lex with him, sharing his flight and his life. No trace of Lex's ancient or recent fears of flying, and Clark, too, confident and loving, almost smug in how much he could give to Lex. It was so sweet! The smile they'd shared. How beautiful, and perfect, and meaningful everything was. Because of Clark.
He wanted to live in that dream.
Though this one would do in a pinch.
Smiling maniacally, trying not to laugh and wake Clark up, he started to place himself in time and context. Why was it okay for them to be asleep? At least it wasn't night -- not morning? -- good, no, they had cuddled down in the afternoon, he remembered now, after a kind of make-up sex. He'd been a dork about Pete. It had hurt that someone else had more of Clark's confidence than he did. But there were circumstances. These things happened. He knew Clark placed sweet faith in him. He couldn't think why he'd got so bent out of shape.
Clark had so forcefully unbent him.
He giggled, he couldn't help it, and Clark stirred luxuriously closer, making snuggling sounds. Lex hugged him with an arm and leg. Why were they here, again? Oh yeah, the Kent parental units gone on a giddy trip to the bright lights of Grandville, not to be back till dark.
Bliss. One day he would wake up just like this all the time.
His future a mountain range of precious gems, traversed by roads of ivory and gold. In velvet night the headlights like diamonds and taillights like rubies streaming up and down the happy domain they shared with all the lucky people alive at the same time they were, even animals in these hills miraculously tame, like the young deer that came right up to him, and nuzzled him, his cheek and then his mouth. He had an impure thought, and sure enough, the beautiful young deer put its tongue in between his lips and he was suffused with instant naughty lust. Even as his mind was working on a calculation involving age of consent in fawn years, his body was trying to mate with a single-mindedness that, as he woke up and found himself humping sneaky Clark's thigh, was pretty embarrassing.
Clark pulled his tongue out of Lex's mouth long enough to smile. "Who knew you were a sex machine even in your sleep," he teased.
The hot, saturated lust of dreams had ebbed away with consciousness, to be replaced by an ache of horny, lonely longing. He clutched Clark to him tightly. He nuzzled in under his cheek and murmurred, "You have no idea how I love you." The warmth and softness over implacable muscles. Arms closing around him. His young, loving alien. His one beloved. His dear...
Okay, okay, he informed his childish subconscious. I get it.
"Oh! I had the most amazing dream!"
"I know." Clark tittered pruriently.
"No, before that. We were flying over Smallville. You were flying, carrying me in your arms. We could see everything. It was wonderful. How it all fit together. And we smiled at each other."
Clark kissed his cheek, and kept kissing down the side of his face.
"It was about how much I had to learn from you."
Clark pulled back, puzzled. "Me?"
"A whole other template on the world, Clark. Things I had no idea of."
"From me." He looked dubious, as if searching his mind for something Lex might not know.
"A whole other way things work. I really only got a glimpse of it. Just enough to know it's there. I mean of course I knew the theory, but I had no idea. Interrelationships working in whole other directions than expected. For reasons that are off the charts."
Clark looked baffled but charmed.
"But the best part was being there with you. Flying together."
"Like we were always going to be together."
Incipient frown-vees appeared between Clark's brows. "You thought we weren't?"
"No, it's not that. Or. Well. You're young. You could change your mind."
"So are you and so could you."
Lex reached up and stroked Clark's hair back from his face. "I don't think so," he said softly. His whole being longed to shield Clark's youth and happiness from all doubt or harm. "You are the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me. Or ever could."
Clark's fingers were sliding over the naked skin of his back, a sensation as if Clark were speaking to him, crooning tactile code. "I love you, Lex. You're my world. I'll always love you. You make life... shine." Suddenly his gaze seemed to look deeper. "Does it bother you? My... floating?"
And it pinpointed the thing that had been dragging at him, anxiety and newfound inadequacy, fear of Clark's difference as something that would take him away. "Not now. But..." The stroking hand became ever more gentle, as it glided down over his buttock. "I was afraid if you could do all these things I can't do, you'd leave me."
"Leave you for someone who can fly, huh?" Clark smiled. "Even if there were another alien, they wouldn't be you. You really underestimate your own super-powers."
"Oh, I have super-powers? And what would those be?"
"Super-sexiness. Super-brilliance. Super-" He paused. "-Lexitude. Super-tycoonicity. Super-studaciouness. To name only a few. Most of all, super-lovability."
"Ah. That's always the quality people notice first in me."
"If you weren't around people who'd felt so much of your father's shadow on their lives, it would be. You're used to having that big strike against you before everyone even meets you. You're always expecting it."
"Clark, if I were in the remotest jungles of New Guinea, where they'd never heard of LuthorCorp, and they took a vote on Cuddliest Newcomer, I still don't think --"
"I find you cuddly," Clark said determinedly. "And on a related topic, I got the impression we were going to have sex a minute ago. And yet, we aren't."
"I had to tell you my deeply significant dream."
"You're being ravished even as we speak." And Lex's big smile turned into a fake bite at Clark's neck as Lex thrashed himself up onto Clark's undefended body. "Grahhh!"
Warm limbs closed around him. "Save me," Clark crooned.
Then Lex gasped at a warm kiss under his ear, and a long hot lick. "G... hhh."
Squirming of warm legs under and around him, and torso unimpeded by his weight -- Lex was reacquainted forcefully with the concept 'naked'. Touching each other, without anything between them. Freedom. Defiance of everything. Daring to take Clark, who had turned out to be -- sweet, sweet God, everything he had ever wanted and more, everything he could never have dreamed of. Who was holding him so gently yet inescapably, against so -- much -- flesh --
"Say something to me," Clark bade him, in his most low-in-the-body, do-me-now voice.
Lex nuzzled his face up against Clark's ear and murmurred, "You're so wholesome. You're like vitamins and minerals."
He felt cheek muscles move against his, and heard the smile in Clark's voice: "I'm willing to be convinced that that's dirty sex-talk to a Luthor..."
"I don't understand how you can fly."
"Me either, honey."
"It's no more impossible than running faster than bullets and throwing tractors. But it seems more impossible."
"We can't really ever fly over Smallville like that. At least, not without our Groucho Marx noses."
"And no matter what you say, that would definitely take some of the romance out of it."
"We'd be incognito. That's romantic."
"I thought we were going to have sex here."
"You started it."
"I started it?"
"Vitamins and minerals?"
"Wholesome can be sexy."
"Of course if you want me to talk dirty to you..."
Clark just looked at him, rather demurely, but expectantly.
Lex moved himself sideways so he could get his hand down on Clark's hip joint. His fingertips sought soft. Wrinkly. Silky-nested. He felt Clark's muscles slowly paralyze under him.
His fingertips tracing out the shapes of sac, cord, sac, trailing cushy roundedness; his voice wafting at Clark's neck and shoulder. "Testicles can be regarded as analogous to ovaries. Interesting how it all ended up on the outside. You might assume then that the penis, lying where it does, matches up with uterus and vaginal canal. But I like to think --" He slowly let two fingertips follow upwards on the underside of Clark's cock, which was becoming extremely attentive. "-- that when I do this, it's like drawing fingertips up the inside surfaces of a woman's labia."
Clark clutched him; gasped, "Oh fuck, Lex."
"You know what I'm talking about I see. How if it's dry it kind of catches on your fingertips like real silk. But if it's wet --"
"Oh fuck. Oh God." Tiny bucks and wrenches were grabbing Clark's body under him.
"-- it slides --" The tip of Lex's forefinger ringed the top of Clark's foreskin where it was letting his cockhead out for a gander.
"-- very slippery --"
Clark's hand came down and formed Lex's around him. His voice, anguished, moaning, "No -- No. No ---"
"-- and then you can go right in..." And Clark got nonvocal. Gasping almost silently. Quietly Lex reached for the lube, under his pillow where he'd left it. Pulling his hand from Clark's gently, he slicked up.
He loved this. Loved it when Clark went so deep he could no longer speak, when all his darkest desires were right there, revealed at the surface like some exotic new black and gold skin for Lex to touch. He pushed his hardness down between exquisite hindcheeks and Clark raised his thighs and locked his legs around Lex's back, breathing out deeply, writhing slightly, as Lex slid in; then, a religious-sounding gasp as he followed through with a thick slide into his depths. Hands were clutching at Lex everywhere, letting go, and slipping to new positions, to desperate little sounds of breath and need. It had Lex breathing pretty hard himself. His cock was sending him messages of thanksgiving and praise, straightening his spine.
Clark responded under him with a slight kicking motion as he withdrew; green eyes focussed far away inside, mouth stretching longer, a little open. "You're so mine," Lex whispered, filling him, mouthing close onto his collarbone and the base of his throat, the heat between them like a third being, caressing both. His hip muscles took over the rhythm, doing Clark with lengthy anguishing strokes and passion while he just enjoyed, stretching and twisting on Clark's mindless bucking and thrusting. Selfish, selfish. What could only be described as little howls were coming out of Clark's mouth. Grinning rapaciously, Lex clutched between them with one hand, onto Clark's cock, lifting up just enough to let his hand move. Clark's eyes flew open, shocked blank, and closed again as his mouth opened on a sharp "Ah!" of protest at the hard ecstasy. Oh god, do that again, Lex prayed, and Clark did, when Lex's cock and hand slid in unbearable synchrony. Clark was arching under him, and it was so fucking hot it put Lex into a helpless gallop, taking everything, cock burying and burying and burying into gorgeous pleasures, exacting from Clark utter surrender, an endless groan opening into the most helpless sounds Lex had ever heard. His hand gripped harder and Clark shot, mewling despairingly. Clark coming, he had made Clark come by riding him, stiff and infernal intrusion into his darkest soul, and his unresisting body; he was in possession, Clark was giving him everything. Hot pulsed through him everywhere, arrowing deep into Clark, muscles seized and he came.
Black. Heat. Paralysis. He was the one possessed. Pleasure being torn out of him. Through him. Clark's hands slid down his arms beseechingly, and he shuddered in the midst of coming; hands caressed over his hips with the touch of adoration and his head turned, open mouth twisting in the agony of bliss. His head turned the other way, and then back again, the slightest movement bringing him off in waves, Clark's worship bringing him back to his lover in defenseless, total need, clutching at him, gasping to say "Clark" with no voice; Clark undulated under him, and he cried out as if he were going to start bawling, defeated by ecstasy. Collapsing on Clark with hungry arms catching around him, Clark's voice spilling wordless thanks like balm over him, Clark's panting chest soothing him as if he were a rowboat rocking on the waves of those heaving breaths. Two hands petted his head, and down his spine.
No words could express how good, how perfect, how sexy, how matchless his lover was.
Still he should try to tell him.
"Nnnnnn," he began.
Clark kissed his naked head. Then a warm hand cradled the back of his head, his neck, with indescribable kindliness. Lex turned his lips to meet the inside of Clark's wrist, wordlessly.
He shouldn't go to sleep again. It must be almost time for them to get over to the farm, so Clark could milk and do his other chores. Milking was usually Jonathan's job, since it couldn't be done at superspeed anyway. When Amanda's brother had poisoned their herd, the whole farm had been in danger of losing its organic status, but it had been shown that only one low-lying spot, where the curious cows had drunk, had been contaminated, and that had been scraped out practically down to bedrock. Lex had sent earthmovers and simply replaced all the topsoil in the home pasture where the cows had died, reseeded it, and bought a new herd, taking care to purchase from organic sources at every step, and the board had recertified the farm, after wary debate. Jonathan hadn't exactly apologized for his bitter words, but then, Lex hadn't exactly been uninvolved in the disaster. The country, Lex remembered from his dream. The farm.
In so many more ways than one.
Home of the one thing he loved.
"So are you going to teach me how to milk a cow today?" he challenged.
He felt Clark rise up and look at the clock, and groan. Lex prodded with a forefinger. "Trust me," Clark mumbled, "you already know."
Lex snickered into Clark's chest, and again felt the beloved hand smoothing over his head. Clark kissed him, here, there, as Lex just lay, loving it. Finally Clark stretched, and started making getting-up movements, but saying, "Someday I'd like to find out what it's like to just sleep, for two days on end, with nothing I had to be doing, nowhere to be..."
Lex filed the thought away. The only hard part of course would be prying Clark from Jonathan's protective hands. And then keeping his own hands off, to let him sleep. Though it could be Clark would include a little nookie in his definition of "sleep". Since it wouldn't call for getting out of bed.
He wondered what kind of dreams Clark had. If he, Lex, would be in Clark's dreams. The thought of himself embraced by Clark's sleeping mind was unexpectedly breathtaking.
"Oof," Clark hinted.
Lex stayed tenaciously blanketing him. "We could do it later. Milking by moonlight. It would be romantic."
"Lesson One. You always milk at the same time every day. Morning and evening. Day in, day out. Year after year after --"
"What about Daylight Saving Time?"
"Just over to the farm. No one will see us. You can fly below their radar."
"I can't fly, Lex. I can barely wobble through the air."
"We'll wear our disguises."
"We don't have disguises." Clark's voice was soft with infinite patience, with admiring love; wonder, happiness, worship, peace.
"We need to get you a disguise. Like Batman."
"Or Warrior Angel."
"Was that caustic? You shouldn't try to do caustic. You don't have the life experience."
"Why does my world suddenly seem to revolve around bovines."
"It's the risk you take getting involved with a farmer. Wait until calving season."
"There's a season?"
"Up. Up up up. On your feet."
"Say 'Assume the position.'"
Clark stole a kiss, hot and surprisingly randy-making, lingering on his lips with a soft, questing mouth. Lex started to embrace him meaningfully; but he felt an alarming surge like an elevator and suddenly Clark was standing, carrying Lex across his arms.
He set him upright.
Lex was smiling wildly.
Clark didn't do things like that very often. It took Lex's breath away.
They were standing up naked.
He let his eyes start making love to warm, real, unendingly astonishing anatomy.
"Get dressed now," Clark reminded helpfully.
"We'll need one more after we do the chores."
"What's this 'we'?"
"You'll be bored if all you do is watch."
"Watching you and bored do not even coexist in the same universe, Clark."
Clark smiled lovingly into his eyes, and cooed, "Nice try."
Lex had never been more sincere in his life, but he smiled back helplessly. Clark looked around, spotted his underwear, walked over and picked it up, and put it on. Lex watched, hypnotized. Clark found one sock and stood on one foot to put it on; then was obviously using his X-ray vision to locate the other one -- under the bed -- then padded in sock feet to where his jeans had landed behind a chair. Lex loved the part where he had zipped up and was fastening the snap, his hands both there just below where the softly-breathing skin of his waist showed bare. A sigh went out of him when Clark rolled the t-shirt down over the last of the visible torso. With a feeling like the lights coming up in a theater, he decided he'd better dress.
Didn't he still have hiking boots somewhere?
Picking the least designer-looking of his jeans, and a pullover no one in Smallville would stigmatize as Versace, Lex stood up from tying his bootlaces to find Clark watching him, fascinated.
Clark just smiled. "Ready?"
"To the Cowmobile!"
The cows were waiting for them.
Lex had never been in the business end of the barn before. Except for a couple of loose-boxes, Clark's Fortress end was only used for storage and garage-work, though of course the whole barn announced its animal population with the redolence that took Lex straight back to his childhood summers at the ranch. The milking room was walled and ceiled, painted off-white and floored with concrete. Like another world.
They walked down the line of empty stanchions and Clark showed him how to work one. Lex pictured himself leaning in over tossing cow horns to lock the top ends shut. Then he tried to picture how Clark was going to have to bulldog each enormous beast to wrestle its head through the bars in the first place. More vivid ranch memories of men leaping and throwing and hog-tying, cattle bellowing and bawling and carrying on. The ranch hands only had to do that once or twice a year; Jonathan did it twice a day. No wonder he looked worn for his age.
Clark scooped a bucket of mealy feed out of a bin and started walking down the long trough in the floor, pouring a little pile in front of each wall-less stall. At the other end he rolled open a huge door, and walked out toward the fence where the forbidding-looking animals milled impatiently. "Wait here," he said over his shoulder. "Keep out of their way." Picturing himself running like a cartoon character with horn-points menacing his ass, Lex nevertheless could not resist watching from the corner of the door as Clark strode fearlessly over and swung the gate open. Of course fearlessness was easy when you were invulnerable, but still he looked so sexy --
Cows were suddenly coming right at Lex. All of them. Instead of catching them one at a time, Clark was just releasing them in one big melee for the barn. Too late Lex realized there was really nowhere to hide. The cows weren't running exactly, but marching at a good clip, pushing and shoving a little amongst themselves.
Stanchions. He was supposed to trap them in the stanchions. Maybe Clark was figuring on super-speed to keep them from escaping, running riot through the barn. If so, he was taking his time about it, closing the gate again in a leisurely manner while the herd -- was nearly on top of Lex.
He dodged back and posted himself beside the first stanchion. Clark would not let them trample and gore him, Clark would -- Maybe Clark hadn't really thought this through. Clark wasn't there; as the first beast, shooting breath out of its nostrils, came through the door.
It clumped straight forward, turned without a pause into the first stall and thrust its head through the bars of the stanchion, giving Lex hardly a glance, and began to lick with a long, strong, curling tongue that had a bluish underside, and snuffle at the little mound of feed. He could feel its body heat and count every hair.
Behind it, the other cows paraded, each one left-turning into a milking stall like so many clockwork toys on rails. Heads poked through to Lex's side of the stanchions one by one.
Gingerly Lex reached over and yanked the bars together into the locked position. The cow's deep narrow neck had plenty of room, but her broad, horned head couldn't pull back through. Feeling ludicrously manly, Lex moved around to the next stanchion and closed it.
Through the closed door to an adjoining room he could hear Clark messing around very fast with water and equipment. There were clanking sounds as he wheeled out big tall milk-cans and paraphernalia on a steel cart. Lex walked back from closing the last stanchion. He got his first glimpse of a milking machine. Clark rolled the trolley it was on up behind the first two cows, then washed his hands at super-speed at a small sink, and made Lex wash his.
"So... I'm not going to learn to milk?" he offered, looking up at Clark from the mass of rubber tubing.
"Sure you are." Clark shot him a little grin as he sat down on a low stool. "Just let me get these two started first. Hand me that container with the liquid in it."
Clark reached under the cow and Lex could see him dunk each teat into the solution, leaving it there for a few seconds before moving to the next. "Now hand me a cloth from that wet stack there. Now one from the dry stack." Carefully Clark wiped and dried each teat completely, and discarded the cloths into a bucket. "Now that little cup thing." He squirted a bit of milk from each teat into the cup, rolling it a little between squirts to examine the contents. "Okay, pass me the -- um, that thing with the four steel tubes hanging down there? Yeah, that one." Dexterously, he attached a tube to each teat. He repeated the whole laborious process with the cow on his other side, attaching the second set of tubes, then hopped out and handed Lex a very sterile-looking pail from the trolley as he switched on the machine. The milk, Lex realized, was going directly into one of the tall metal cans. Clark cocked his head a little as if listening, and then, satisfied, picked up the dip, clean cloths, and another stool, and led Lex down to the seventh cow in line.
"This is Mollie. She's really patient and gentle." He set the stool in place for Lex and squatted down himself.
Lex sat gingerly.
The cow's udder was huge.
"How much milk is in there?"
"Mollie? Well, you got us top milkers, Lex. She'll give fifty-five pounds a day this time of year -- eighty-five at her peak. It would be even more if we weren't doing everything organic. Okay, first you do the dip." Having watched twice, he was able to do it pretty competently, wiping with the antiseptic-soaked cloth afterwards. "Now get it good and dry. You never want to milk wet, it spreads germs." Clark milked for the squirt test. "The udder has four separate sections, so we have to check each one for any sign of infection."
"They never do all this stuff in the movies."
"The movies don't have the Department of Agriculture on their ass." Clark smiled to show he bore them no ill will. "Okay, go to it."
Lex put the bucket under the udder and took hold of the nearest two teats. Clark reached under and guided his hand warmly. "Use your whole hand, like that, not just thumb and fingers. It's a lot easier on the cow."
"Experiment," Clark said, standing, laying a warm hand on Lex's shoulder. "I've gotta get back, it's not good to let the machine run past the last of the milk. See you in a few minutes." There was a zipping sound, a speedy hand-washing sound again by the sink, and Lex was alone with Mollie.
"Good girl," he tried conversationally.
Trust me, you already know.
Suddenly the bucket rang tinnily with a thin hard stream of milk hitting it.
Okay, that was a little bit... disturbing. But, whatever worked.
Replicating his success was spotty at first, but he concentrated and got the exact sequence of pressures and pulling down to a system. By the time Clark appeared at his shoulder again he was getting milk at every squeeze. Mollie seemed unperturbed.
"Wow," Clark said. Lex could tell he was genuinely impressed. "You've really never done this before?"
"Applied science," he said serenely.
Clark bent down and Lex felt lips on his head.
"Back in a bit," Clark promised, and sauntered away down the row of hindquarters.
Lex had a sudden certainty that Clark would finish the entire line before he milked his one cow. How many gallons was fifty-five pounds of milk? Wait, that was per day, divide by two milkings -- couldn't be that different from water, maybe a little heavier because of the solids, say eight point five pounds per gallon, so around three and half gallons per milking -- That didn't sound nearly so vast.
I'm milking a cow.
Set against the steel and glass, paper and numbers of his existence, that was nothing short of bizarre.
Yet it felt so natural.
He was so different with Clark, did, thought, said things he'd never imagined he would. The world had become unpredictable, and so had he in it.
Milk wasn't coming out much any more, so he reached further under to get hold of Mollie's far teats. The extra inches made it more comfortable to shift closer and turn his head against her flank. Cautiously, he let his head lean right on her. She didn't seem to mind. He picked up his rhythm again around the soft, warm flesh.
All the pathways the milk would take after it left this farm. Fitting into the vision of his dream, just one of the many threads that wove the Kents' integrity into Smallville. How valuable they were! Like so many other good people, whose labor and kindness held the town together. Warp and woof. Money was an ephemeral; work and love were the eternals. Lionel. God how wrong could one man be? Could you be that wrong and still be -- the idea glimmered into being for the first time -- really sane?
He wasn't sure if it was the concept or suddenly becoming aware of Clark there beside him that put him off his stroke.
"I need to finish her off with the machine while she's still letting down," Clark said gently. He had Lex stand in the aisle holding the bucket of heavy milk while he reprepped Mollie and started the machine. "They only let down milk for a short time, and the machine can get the last of it faster, so we don't end up leaving milk in the udder."
For the first time it occurred to Lex that letting him milk by hand and upset the cow's routine was probably not something a strict dairy operator would look kindly on.
While Clark finished the line of cows, he showed Lex how to take the milk cans, with their peculiar mushroom tops, into the other room, drop a quick-cooling device in, and set them in the cooler for the organic dairy truck.
"There," Lex said with an air of finality when the last can was done.
Clark looked at him innocently. "All done but the clean-up."
An hour later Lex was absolutely certain no dairy product could possibly be worth this. His face ran with moisture, his hands were swollen from hot water and disinfectant, his back ached from leaning over huge sinks. Clark had showed him how to start after they released the cows. Then he'd heard scraping and shoveling sounds -- the cows were not housebroken. Then a gigantic hissing. Looking through the window in the milk-room door, he saw Clark in galoshes and a rubber apron actually washing down the entire floor with a steaming-hot high-pressure hose. After a time he joined Lex again, speeding through more cleaning -- even the milking stools got disinfected and set on shelves -- and showing Lex how to hang the rubber tubing so it would drain completely. All the cloths they'd used went into a washing machine. There seemed to be endless details as to what one could and could not do, and where, and in what order. Then they had to clean the room itself. It was all like some kind of hideously industrial-strength housework.
"Wouldn't it be easier to raise organic beef?" he finally suggested, wiping sweat from his forehead.
Clark made big sad eyes. "You want to eat Mollie?"
"Oh correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't it just last Thursday you called a Big Mac with extra ketchup 'nature's perfect food'? Seriously, this is a lot to go through for a little milk."
"Tell me. I usually do all the clean-up, since I can do it so fast. But then there's growing organic hay, driving all over creation to get all the right organic products, and you wouldn't believe the bookkeeping, not to mention inspections and repairs, and calving. It's way more work than the vegetable gardens and the orchard. I don't know how much longer Dad is going to be able to do it. But he says he likes it. And we do get a rest for a couple of months when they go dry."
Lex noticed it was dark out. "Don't you put them inside at night?"
"But -- I mean, Clark, they're --" Just go ahead and say it. "Really expensive."
"We haven't had much rustlin' around these parts for like --" Clark leaned toward his face and raised his voice. "-- a century."
"But. Don't jocks and frat boys come out and -- tip them over?"
The smile on Clark's face was completely under the surface, just sparkling in his eyes. He gave a quick glance around to make sure everything was done. "You know how I said Mollie was really patient and gentle?"
"You're telling me she has limits."
"And the weight, speed, and home advantage. Also: horns."
"I noticed a couple of them didn't have any horns."
"Oh." Lex felt his scrotum tighten fractionally.
They were walking out through Clark's part of the barn, faintly lit by porch light across the drive. "So how much money did we just make?"
"Oh, about three dollars and twenty-five cents."
"A gallon? No, it must be per can. So that's --"
"Three twenty-five total."
Lex stopped in his tracks. "What?"
"Net. Pure profit."
Lex felt as if he had walked into a wall.
The work Clark had been humming through for the past two hours.
That Clark and his father did every day. Twice. In between all the rest of the work of the farm.
He worked twelve-hour days himself, it was how you got what you wanted.
But he lived in a castle and drove seven cars.
The work the Kents did was what gave people food to eat.
"Of course that's because the organic dairy gives us a better break than the big guys would. And, we have really low overhead, no milk-line set-up or air-conditioned tractors." Clark was looking at him out of the corners of his eyes. "Otherwise it would only be around a dollar-eighty."
The beauty of the fields and green pastures. And Clark, flying over it.
As if showing it to him for the last time!
He knew Clark was telling him the truth. Waiting to see what he'd make of it.
Luthor Tower. Lionel electric when the 1996 farm bill knocked the fuck out of price supports. Just in time for the fabulous Asian market collapse. Industrialists scrambling comically; while farms where they worked like this went under by the hundreds. Clark so solid yet angelic in his arms.
...who could fly.
Lex felt a scalding tear brim up on each lower eyelid. He stood as they spilled hot down his face.
He knew the chicanery and politics behind it all like the back of his hand. It was what he'd been raised for.
Only one office in the land would ever have a prayer of changing any of what he was seeing.
"Hey." It was the softest he'd ever heard Clark speak to him. "Lex." Clark had turned to face him, and there was flannel in most of his field of vision, hands taking hold of his arms gently. Just then, outside, where it had been very dark for some time, there was the flash of headlights turning in off the road and the crunch of tires in the driveway.
Clark's head turned to look out the barn door, and he carefully released Lex, and moved away a step, biting his lip. "Timing as perfect as ever," he murmurred, still looking at Lex with concern.
He stubbornly didn't want to move, but at the last possible second swiped the single tear-tracks off his cheeks with the cuffs of his pullover. The truck doors had slammed and footsteps were crunching toward the barn. The lights came on.
"What are you two doing standing here in the dark?" Jonathan asked, unusually jovial, setting a cardboard box down on the shop table.
"We just finished milking," Clark answered.
Clark smiled. "Yeah, Lex is a natural. You should've seen him."
"Hi, Lex," said Martha, with groceries in her arms.
"I'll get the rest of those, Mom."
"Thanks, sweetie. Did you get your dinner?"
"Pretty soon. How was the restaurant?"
"It was good. Lex, it's just warmed up tuna casserole, but you're welcome to join Clark."
His heart hurt, the invitation was so unexpected, and so warm. "Thanks, Mrs. Kent." He glanced at Clark, who looked hopeful, and complicated, and smiled questioningly. And Lex held back the graceful excuse that was on the tip of his tongue.
She gave Clark a significant look. "You boys come inside to eat. It's too cold out here to sit up in that loft." He realized she was reminding Clark, who probably stayed out here in all temperatures, not to freeze his guest to death. He shivered suddenly.
Jonathan was unloading things from his carton, and Clark led Lex out to the pickup, out of the bright light.
"There are perks," Clark said, looking at him carefully. "We get homemade butter and real cream any time we want."
Lex had seldom felt worse about himself in his whole life. He lifted one of the grocery bags up over the side of the truck. Clark glanced at the barn door and stepped closer to him.
"It's got to change," Lex said forcefully. Nothing compared to the force he felt inside.
Clark's eyes, in the lights from the barn and the house, looked uncertain; limpid and questioning, holding Lex's searchingly.
"Every fucking thing," Lex growled, gave Clark
the grocery bag and reached to pull another one out of the truck.