The End of the Beginning

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)


Author's Notes: Thanks to Livia, Beth, kaly and Rae, who each gave me a kick in the ass to help me get over my new-fandom anxiety (and insecurity of other sorts). And to kaly again, because she helped me beat into shape those parts that were negatively influenced by the insecurity. And to Beth again, because when I was sick and tired of editing this story she put up with me and pointed out the weak bits (and provided solutions, for which I am eternally grateful). And here I thought my brain came with the story...

Timeline: Set after "Hot Head" but before "X-Rays".


Clark stood on the steps of the Luthor mansion, his backpack slung over one shoulder, and stared at the door. "I can't believe I'm doing this," he muttered to himself, but didn't turn away.

The door opened while he hovered indecisively. Lex raised an eyebrow. "Any particular reason you're lurking on my doorstep today, Clark?"

"I wasn't lurking!" Clark protested defensively.

Lex turned and beckoned Clark to follow him inside. "Lurking, hovering, waiting, take your pick."

Clark shifted the backpack on his shoulder and did his best not to gawk as he was led through the seemingly endless halls of the mansion into a sitting room. The furniture all looked too expensive to actually use, but when Lex sprawled in an armchair, Clark managed to sit on a leather couch without feeling like he was perching. At length Lex shot him a prompting glance and he realized with some embarrassment that he hadn't answered the question. "Well...I want to ask Lana to dance at the winter formal tomorrow. She's going with Whitney, but I think she'll let me have one dance."

"And this brings you to me why?" Lex seemed more amused than anything else, so Clark pushed on.

"I don't know how to dance. Well, I know how to dance, but just the way everyone around here dances. I want to be able to dance with her. I thought you might know something like that, since you didn't grow up around here..." He sighed. "That made no sense."

"No, no," Lex said, "I think I understand. You want to have a...special dance for her. Something different. More formal, maybe?"

"I don't know about formal," Clark frowned.

Lex smiled and leaned forward a little. "Women like formal dances, Clark. Trust me."

"Like what?"

"Like...the waltz."

"The waltz."

Lex nodded firmly. "The waltz."

Clark hesitated. "Well...could you teach me?"

Lex grinned and stood. "What do I have a ballroom for if not for ballroom dancing? Sure, I'll teach you."

"Thanks!" Clark beamed up at him. "Uh...now?"

"Unless you have something better to do."

Which Lex undoubtedly did. He was twenty one and already running part of a company. What was Clark doing wasting Lex's time? Ballroom dancing lessons?

Clark shoved the doubts aside. If Lex had time now, he had time now. "Now is fine," he stood. "Lead the way."

The ballroom was huge, even larger than Clark had expected it to be. Dust motes floated through the air. Some had settled to form a thin veneer on the floor. Clark sneezed. Lex's mouth twitched into a self- mocking smile. "You can see how much use I generally have for this room."

"This place is so big," Clark looked around the ballroom, though it was the house in general he was referring to. "If I lived here, I bet there'd be rooms I was never in at all."

"Actually," Lex said, "I've never been in most of the rooms in this place." Clark glanced over at him, surprised. "I really haven't lived here very long, Clark. I've had too much to do to waste my time exploring."

"I don't mean to waste your time," Clark withdraw quickly, and literally took two steps backward.

Lex rolled his eyes and stepped forward to halt Clark's retreat with a hand on his arm. "I offered, didn't I? You are not a waste of my time." Clark fought down a blush, inexplicably pleased.

"Where do we start?"

"Well, normally the guy is the lead and the girl is the follow. But," Lex furrowed his brow, "you're going to be leading, so I'll have to teach you from the following position. Which will be a little bit awkward, but not too bad. Here," he stepped forward until they stood bare inches apart and clasped Clark's right hand in his own, "we keep this hand at shoulder height." Clark nodded mutely. He had to tilt his head down just a little to look into Lex's eyes at this distance. Lex turned to lift Clark's other hand, "This hand," he said, and placed it on his own back just below his shoulder blades, "goes here. And I rest my left hand on your upper arm." Lex followed his own instructions.

Clark stood frozen. The hand that held Lex's felt unusually warm. It made him want to wipe his palm on his jeans, except that he didn't want to break the grip. Under the splayed fingers of his left hand, Lex's back was a pleasantly warm, solid expanse of muscle that rippled minutely every time Lex turned to check their dance posture.

"Clark."

He broke out of the moment of distraction, hoping it hadn't lasted too long, and refocused on Lex. Who was looking up at him now. Their faces tilted just so, the perfect angle for...

"Clark," Lex said, "you're tense and floppy at the same time."

"What?" Clark frowned and glanced at their arms.

"You're all wound up," Lex explained, "but at the same time your arms are...hesitant. Don't be afraid to grip your partner. The top line," his eyes traced the length of their arms from his own jutting elbow to their clasped hands, "has to be firm." Firm, Clark made a mental note, and fought down another blush. He adjusted his arms appropriately, which had the effect of pulling Lex a couple of inches closer.

Lex smiled. "Perfect."

Clark fought the urge to lick his lips. "What now?"

"Now, the basic-"

"Basic what?" Clark interrupted.

Lex visibly took a moment to reorder his thoughts. "Most dances have one step that everything is built on," he explained, and glanced down at their feet. He used his own feet to nudge Clark's into position. "There. To start off with, our feet should line up. When the lead - that's you - steps forward, the follow - that's me, or Lana - steps backward, and vice versa. We should be moving together, like one person."

"Right," Clark said, staring downward.

"Clark," a puff of warm air brushed across Clark's lips. He looked up, wide-eyed. "Don't look down," Lex said, apparently oblivious.

"Right," Clark repeated, and caught himself just before glancing down again.

"So, the basic," Lex went on. "You step forward with your right foot." Clark flexed his fingers as he shuffled his foot forward, nearly stepping on Lex's left foot as it moved back. "Okay, then move forward and left with your left foot." That was accomplished without any missteps. "Good, now move your right foot over next to your left foot, and that's it. Got it?"

"Got it," Clark affirmed, though he was actually more than a little bit scared. What if he stepped wrong? Or stepped too hard? He'd been stronger than most kids his whole life, but recently his strength - along with everything else, it seemed - had been increasing in uneven and unpredictable jumps. He was having to learn to compensate all over again.

"Okay," Lex said, "lets give it a try."

A moment later they stumbled to a halt in a tangle of legs and feet. Cursing, Clark slid one arm all the way around Lex's back just in time to keep him from falling. The movement pressed the full length of their bodies together. They froze for an instant, wary of any movement that might unbalance them. In that moment, Clark closed his eyes, senses overwhelmed by the warmth of contact, the slight musk of Lex skin, the smooth curve of neck so close to his mouth...

"Well," Lex said dryly, still clinging to Clark's shoulders with both hands, "that could have gone more smoothly." They carefully disentangled themselves and stepped back from each other.

"I'm sorry," Clark said, shaking his head. "I'm...clumsy, I guess."

"Either that or I'm not a very good teacher," Lex dismissed the explanation. "Try again?" In answer, Clark held up his arms. Lex smiled and stepped into them. "All right, remember, forward with the right foot first, then the left foot. And don't put your left foot down directly beside your right foot. The forward- and-left movement is all one movement. Okay, go."

Clark forced the myriad distractions of warmth and skin and nearness to the back of his mind and managed to complete the step successfully, if not smoothly. He couldn't help it - he broke out into a broad grin.

Lex chuckled. "Well, that's half the basic!"

Clark's smile turned rueful, "Well, onward then."

"The other half is exactly the same, but with opposite feet. Forward with your left foot, then forward and right with your right foot. Then move your left foot over next to your right foot."

"I'm thoroughly confused," Clark admitted. How was he ever going to manage this with Lana? Particularly with that rock around her neck...

"Well, at least you have the beat right. I don't know what I'd do if you had no sense of rhythm."

If Clark's sense of rhythm was good, there was no evidence of it in the next hour. The two of them tripped over each other again and again. At one point Lex admitted sheepishly, "It's not all your fault. Just because my instructor insisted I learn both positions doesn't mean I'm used to following."

By the time they managed a turn around the ballroom without mishaps, Clark had begun to wonder if some of his own blunders weren't intentional on some level. The jocks might call him a klutz, but he wasn't usually this awkward. But holding Lex so closely, hands clasped, the play of muscles under Clark's palm...it was all very distracting. Every time they stumbled, the press of Lex against him, the soft chuckle in his ear tempted Clark to hold on...just a little longer.

When they at last managed to move together smoothly, that was better. They almost glided over the hardwood floor of the ballroom. Their hips pressed lightly together, a teasing kind of contact that was somehow the key to the dance. "Don't be afraid to touch me," Lex said, "If you hold yourself back I can't tell what you're going to do. If someone were watching, they shouldn't be able to see light between us."

Clark nodded and settled Lex more firmly against him, biting the inside of his cheek to stem his reaction to the sudden flush of heat that rushed through him.

Eventually, they had to step apart. "I don't want to confuse you with reverse turns and spin turns," Lex said. "After all, you're going to have to teach Lana before you can really dance with her. Stick to the basic."

"Thanks, Lex," Clark said as he lifted his backpack to one shoulder. He turned at the door of the ballroom and glanced back at Lex. "Um. How do I get to the front door again?"

Lex laughed. "C'mon, I'll show you," he said, touching Clark on the arm as he passed him. Clark smiled and followed Lex through the halls and rooms of the mansion.

***

The next night found Clark back on Lex's doorstep. He looked uncertainly at the large, heavy doorknocker and opted to use his knuckles instead.

Lex opened the door himself. "Clark," his eyebrows rose, "aren't you supposed to be at the winter formal, waltzing with Lana?"

"Yeah," Clark sighed. "Can I come in?" Lex stood back and let Clark brush by him.

"Did something go wrong?" Lex closed the door behind Clark and led him into a den. A fire burned in the fireplace. Clark settled himself in an armchair, mindless of both the leather and the wrinkles he was putting in his dark blue, carefully presses slacks. The jacket draped over one of his arms matched the pants.

"Not wrong, exactly," Clark ran a hand through his hair. "I was sitting on the sidelines with Chloe and Pete, working up the nerve to ask Lana and watching her dance with Whitney. They were out there practically grinding to some song," Clark frowned and glanced up at Lex, "and suddenly I just couldn't imagine holding her like I...like that. I got kind of embarrassed about asking her to do something so...old-fashioned, and I chickened out."

"Just because the waltz has history," Lex sprawled on the couch across from Clark, "doesn't make it bad. Or out-dated. Did you know that it was the first dance in which partners were allowed to touch?"

"Really?"

Lex nodded. "Scandalized the lords and ladies of the time. Imagine, touching your partner! It was considered wickedly seductive."

"It does have more finesse than most dancing today," Clark mused.

"That's putting it mildly." They smiled at each other for a moment. Lex sat up straight after a moment. "We can't let your lesson go to waste, now can we?" He stood and held his hand out to Clark, "May I have this dance?" His mouth twitched up at the corners.

Clark laughed. "Isn't that my line?"

"These are liberated times, Clark. The follow is allowed to ask the lead to dance."

"In that case," Clark took Lex's hand and stood, "I accept."

Somewhere between the den and the ballroom what had begun as a joke grew serious. Lex ducked out of an awkward moment to put on some music. It was a slow song with a heavy beat. Appropriate, Clark thought a little ruefully, for a beginner.

Lex returned to stand in front of him, smile fading in favor of a sudden, inexplicable tension. Clark watched as doubt crept into Lex's eyes, then quickly stepped forward and put one hand on Lex's back, holding the other up at shoulder height. Lex arranged himself in the dance position.

Clark paused only a moment before beginning the dance. Lex's body fit against him smoothly. Their steps were so well timed that they didn't even bump knees. They glided across the floor, bodies moving the music. Clark felt his whole body growing warm, though whether from the exertion of the dance or from Lex's presence in his arms, he wasn't sure.

Lex was so tangible, so real. So much more than a dream.

Clark's steps slowed as he studied Lex, who seemed to be concentrating on a point somewhere over Clark's shoulder. Gradually the dance eased to a close. Lex turned his gaze on him and in that moment it seemed only a continuation of the dance for Clark to tilt his head forward, closing the sliver of space between them. His lips brushed Lex's, a moment of contact barely long enough to register softness and warmth and a spark of something else.

Wide eyed at his own actions, Clark pulled back. The taste of Lex clung to his lips. After a moment he realized that he was still holding Lex, though the formal dance position had relaxed into something almost like an embrace. He stepped back reluctantly, steps short and slow, his hands sliding around Lex's back. Clark resisted the urge to run a hand through his hair and opened his mouth to apologize, explain, something...

"Didn't I tell you you had a good sense of rhythm?" Lex preempted him, smiling a little. "Most people can't move that well after one lesson."

Swallowing the words on his lips, he settled for, "Thanks," instead.

They walked together from the ballroom, shoulders brushing, quiet but not quite uncomfortable. "I'd ask you to stay awhile..." Lex began as they passed through the den. The fire had burned down a ways, but still warmed the room.

"...But I have to be getting home," Clark finished, and shrugged. "It's all right. I'm the one who showed up on your doorstep in the middle of the night. I ought to thank you for letting me whine." They reached the door and stopped. Clark put his hands in his pockets, uncertain for a moment.

Lex opened the door. "No thanks necessary. You interrupted an incredibly boring evening."

"We may not be Metropolis," Clark said as he stepped out into the night, "but there are things to do in Smallville, you know."

"But not a lot of people to do things with. Not for me anyway."

"You're new in town. Give it time." With that, Clark headed towards the gate.

Behind him, Lex called out, "If you ever want another lesson, I'm willing to oblige."

Clark turned and walked backwards, hands in his pockets. "But who would I dance with?"

Lex just looked at him, an odd little smile quirking his mouth, and shut the door. Clark stopped and stood there for a second, confused. Then...

"Oh." He blushed and, after a moment, smiled and resumed his walk home.

--End--