lambourngb: Kirk in bomber jacket (screwfate created by astreetelf)
[personal profile] lambourngb
WIP Amnesty day, and boy do I have a lot of them! Remember first season? Remember when the SV fandom was just getting started, and there was just 20 or so stories in the archive, and the shining jewel among them was Te's "Project" series? That's when this was written.

Title: Lessons in Popularity
Author: Lambourn
Series : Number #4 in the Lessons
#1. Lessons in Compassion
#2. Lessons in Cruelty
#3. Lessons in Conspiracy
Spoilers: Up to and including "Cool"
Rating: PG-13 at this point, my muse left before it could turn R
Pairing: Clark/Lex

Author’s notes: It's been nearly two years since I've written in this universe. My love for Smallville has followed an ebb and flow of interest, as has my writing. If Smallville was a three hour event, maybe it would look like my "Lessons" series.

Disclaimer: I did not Pass Go, I did not collect any money for this.

Summary: "Or am I standing still with the scenery flying by? Am I standing still, out of the corner of my eye was that you passing me by?"

* * *


"I’m confused, Pete. There’s a perfectly nice, *warm* cafeteria we could be sitting in and eating our lunch, but yet we’re outside on a cold wooden picnic table losing feeling in our extremities. Why?" Chloe brought her two gloved hands together, rubbing them briskly together.

"Freshmen eat inside." Pete answered, biting into his sandwich.

"News flash! We *are* freshmen."

"Exactly, which by definition makes us terminally uncool." Pete grinned, and turned to Clark. "Back me up, Clark. All the popular people sit outside for lunch, we’re moving up the social food chain just by proximity."

Hearing his name, Clark glanced up from his geometry book. The proofs for a 45-45-90 triangle left his head as he tried to figure out what he missed. "What?"

"Left hanging, again." Pete sighed.

Chloe smirked. "At least this time he stood you up for Math, and not for someone with the initials LL."

For a brief irrational moment Clark thought she meant Lex, and froze. It took a precious few seconds before he connected the LL to Lana Lang. Right. That was because no one knew about Lex, yet. If he were clever enough, it would be in the category of ‘never’.

"I don’t know if that’s a compliment, Chloe," Pete observed wryly.

"Sorry guys, the first big cumulative exam is coming up, and if I don’t study, I’m going to fail…" Clark trailed off lamely, wondering if he really was neglecting his friends too much. Between doing extra chores to help keep the farm costs down, and stealing a few moments to see Lex, he had to really think about the last time he had spent quality time with his friends outside of school, and without having to stop another Smallville oddity.

Pete laughed. "It’s bad enough you tested out of Algebra and left Chloe and me behind, but now you’re betraying our slacker pact by studying."

"You know Pete, if you spent the time Clark does on math, you’d be in his class. His class with sophomores. Doesn’t that move Clark up on your ‘food chain’?" Chloe pointed out too reasonably.

"Sure Clark gets points for having classes with upperclassmen, but let’s remember he’s in the Math Club. That’s one step forward with three steps backward."

"Hey!" Clark protested. "I’m sitting right here, you know."

Pete laughed again. "Sorry, we’re used to you spacing out by now."

"What’s wrong with the Math Club? I’ll have you know, math is fun." Clark stated, kicking Pete under the table teasingly.

"Spoken like a true geek," a new voice commented.

"Lana." Clark felt a smile come unbidden as scooted over on the bench to make room for her. He ignored Chloe as she rolled her eyes and faked a gag from the other side of the table. "Are you saying it’s not cool to be smart?"

Lana laughed in her soft whispery way, and lifted a copy of Dostoevsky in her defense. "Would I be carrying this around, if I was worried about that?"

Chloe lifted her eyebrow at the title. "Crime and Punishment, heavy stuff. Not your typical trashy pom-pom novel. Aren’t you supposed to be into V.C. Andrews and Christopher Pike?"

"Actually, I read in YM that Russian Classics were in this year."

Clark ducked his head, trying not to laugh. Pete owed him ten dollars now, after betting that Lana would never out-snipe Chloe. "Where’s Whitney?" he asked, before Chloe could fire back.

"Behind you, Kent." Whitney replied smoothly, and squeezed into the seat between Clark and Lana. "I heard you were the one to see about Mr. Gershman’s geometry exam. You have him fifth hour, right? With Kevin?"

Clark thought for a moment, trying to place who Kevin was. "Kevin Shelley, receiver, right?" He kicked Pete under the table, noticing his friend was not doing a good job of hiding his amusement. So he wasn’t lucky enough to have Lana sit next to him on her own at lunch, big deal.

"That’s the one. Think I could borrow your notes?"

"I heard that the exam is going to be twice as hard as the last one, to make up for all the football players who cheated on the last math test." Chloe put in, her mouth twisted with cynicism. "Sure you don’t have an advance copy like last time, Whitney?"

Whitney bristled, as Lana turned to look him in the face with a shadow of doubt in her eyes. "I didn’t cheat on the last test."

"I just figured you had the right connections." Chloe replied smoothly, before standing up to gather her books. "I guess my source was wrong." She pulled on her fuzzy red retro-coat. Her clothes were almost as loud as her opinions. "I’ll catch you later guys, I’m losing feeling in my feet from the cold."

Clark hid a wince at the typical Chloe Sullivan conversational sabotage. He’d figured out early on, that whenever Chloe felt insecure, she felt a need to attack or ridicule others. Most of the time it was funny, but sometimes Clark could see through the mask of cynicism. If people were pissed off at her or her editorials in the Torch, then she felt validated and knew she wasn’t ignored.

Pete watched as Chloe walked away, and shook his head. "I know some of the guys on the team had the test, but I know you weren’t one of them, Whitney."

"Thanks," Whitney muttered, and brushed a lock of blond hair from his eyes. "My own parents didn’t believe me, when the story broke. Like I would do anything as stupid as cheating and screw up my chances for Kansas State."

"Kansas State? They’ve got a really good football program there." Clark commented, impressed and unwillingly feeling some sort of empathy for Whitney. He hadn’t really thought about how the cheating scandal had affected the rest of the team, until now. His own parents had always believed in his honesty, he couldn’t imagine them not. ‘Reputation falls in the gutter a lot faster than it climbs out,’ Lex had once said to him.

"If by really good, you mean, the best, yeah, you’re right, Kent." Whitney laughed, and leaned back against Lana with a smile. "I had scouts from University of Miami talk to me, but my parents didn’t want me that far away."

"I can’t blame them." Lana grabbed his hand, and squeezed it. "Although it would be nice to go to Florida for spring break or the summer."

"That’s still a year away, right?" Clark asked, trying to ignore the picture the two of them would make on the bench.

"Clock is ticking. I mean, I set a record at Smallville, but across the country there are guys just like me, with better grades, applying to the same schools I want to apply to." Whitney shrugged, with only a trace of nervousness. "It’s going to come down to SAT scores and community service hours for me, especially if I want a full ride."

The end of the lunch bell rang as Clark stood up. He pulled out a sheaf of notes from his notebook, and handed them to Whitney. "Here, just get them back to me tomorrow, so I can study, okay?"

"I can give them to you tonight, if you want."

Lana tilted her head at the confused look on Clark’s face. "The bonfire? At Crater Lake? I thought Pete told you about it."

"I did." Pete spoke up, shouldering his backpack on. "I think you were off in parallelogram-land at the time. I think I asked if you wanted me to pick you up after Chloe, and you replied something like, ‘yeah, okay, lunch is good’."

Clark blinked and then nodded dumbly, not remembering. "Right, so, everyone is going to the lake tonight?"

Whitney laughed, putting an arm around Lana. "Where have you been, Kent? It’s the ‘Thursday before Friday’ party."

"Right." Clark nodded. "I must have mixed it up with the ‘Wednesday after Tuesday party’. So I guess everyone will be there?"

Pete sighed. "Everyone who is anyone at this school."

"I don’t think anyone will mind if you come, Kent." Whitney winced, as Lana drove her elbow into his side. "Ow, hey, I was just kidding."

Clark grinned, and punched Pete’s shoulder playfully. "It can’t be that exclusive, if Pete’s invited."

"Hey!" Pete protested with mock hurt. "Lana, you can hit Clark for that."

"With pleasure." Lana replied, giving Clark a shove in the hallway.

Clark was halfway through class before his smile finally faded. He realized at lunch just how nice normal could be. Friends hanging out with friends, pretty girls sitting near him, and not one word about the usual Smallville freakiness. He superstitiously tapped his knuckle gently against the desk.

Hopefully nothing would happen to screw it up.

* * *

Chloe slammed her locker shut, taking a perverse satisfaction in the force in which the metal shuddered. She turned sharply to face Clark, holding her books against her chest in a defensive posture. "Looking for Lana?"

"Actually, I was looking for you." Clark replied, giving her what he hoped was a conciliatory smile.

"You found me." She raised her eyebrow, as her eyes narrowed. "Which, I must say, is a little bit of a surprise, considering how you usually bolt for parts unknown at the end of school."

"Unless I’m completely clueless here, you’re mad at me."

"I’m not." Chloe replied automatically, and stopped, seeing Clark’s disbelief. "Okay, I’m a little ticked off that you never have time for Pete and I these days. When you are there, you aren’t really *there*, like today at lunch. Completely oblivious to me." She rushed to add, not wanting to sound too selfish, "and Pete too." Cause it wasn’t all about her. It wasn’t. Okay, so maybe it was a little about her. "Until Lana Lang and Whitney came over, that is, and suddenly they get your undivided attention."

"So how can I make it up to you?"

She studied his sincere expression, and sighed, feeling anger recede. "How about hanging out with us instead Lex Luthor for a change? I know it’s a total drag having friends who don’t drive hundred thousand dollar cars and have million dollar castles, but could you like, make the effort to act like it isn’t?"

Clark opened his mouth to protest, and stopped, seeing the sparkle of humor in her eyes. He smiled, "okay, okay, I’ll make the effort." He stopped, and gently grabbed her hand, "you know I don’t really think that, right? It doesn’t matter to me how rich or popular my friends are, it just matters that they are my friends."

It was disconcerting having a conversation with "Earnest Clark Kent" especially with his warm hand covering hers. She swallowed, and joked weakly, "okay, so prove it by going by hanging out with us at the party at the lake tonight. And when I say hanging out with us, I mean that, no ditching us for Lana."

"It would be my pleasure"-

His words were cut off as a red-shoulder and lettered jacket-clad body shoved past Chloe in the hallway. A highly emotional voice followed the player, "you’re an asshole, Sean Kelvin! Find another girl to fuck with, one who doesn’t mind your pencil dick!"

Giggles erupted from the various couples in the hallway at Jenna Barnum’s words, even Clark had to hide a smile.

"Hey, Jenna, relax. You’re a pretty girl, I’m sure you’ll find another boyfriend, one that doesn’t mind constant clinging." Sean noticed the crowd gathering, and smiled lazily. "A guy who doesn’t mind getting the cold shoulder when he doesn’t call you at least five times a day. Talk about co-dependent."

Jenna flushed as tears came to her eyes and bolted for the girl’s room.

Sean’s smile grew wider, and whispered loudly to Trevor Chapell, "Girls like Jenna, they only want one thing, commitment. It’s all life-or-death. Not they most stable of girls either."

Chloe turned away from the drama with a frown, "men are pigs."

"Hey!" Clark protested, holding his hand to his chest in wounded manner. "Don’t judge us all by a dog like Sean. There are a few guys out there who aren’t all bad."

"Yeah, they’re just beating down the door to talk to me, too." Chloe observed bitterly, watching Sean exchange high-fives with a few members of the popular crowd. She tucked a stray wisp of hair behind her ear, and shifted. "Listen Clark, I have to run. I’ll see you tonight, that is, if you can convince your parents to let you go."

* * *

"You’re going where?" Martha Kent asked suspiciously, after hearing Clark’s request. "There’s a study party at the lake?"

Jonathan turned the taps to wash his hands and shook his head. "Now I know things have changed since I was in high school, but I have a hard time imagining that the number one drinking spot has been converted into the hotbed of good study habits."

"Dad, you know I don’t drink. And okay, so some kids are going to let off some steam. That’s healthy." Clark finished drying the supper dishes, and leaned against the kitchen wall. "You know all those things you worry about, like if someone found out about me? Wouldn’t it be nice for one night to worry like every other parent for stuff like underage drinking and too much pizza?"

"So this is a favor you’re doing us? We get to worry about normal teen behavior instead of super strength and meteor rocks?" Martha narrowed her eyes in consideration. "Who all is going to be there?"

"Pete, Chloe, kids from the football team." Clark paused and then said the name he knew
both of his parents were waiting to hear, "Lana."

Jonathan turned to his wife. "I don’t see the harm in letting him go. He’ll be hanging out with kids his own age."

Clark frowned slightly. The age comment was definitely aimed a his friendship with Lex. Crap. Lex, he was supposed to see Lex tonight.

"All right, you can go, Clark, but no drinking, no drugs, and be careful about the lake, because it’s dangerous. I also want to see a very good grade on your Geometry test after attending this study session."

"Thanks, Mom." Clark kissed her cheek, and gave his father a hug. He sped out the door to the end of the driveway, catching the shouted ‘don’t be late’ from his mother.

The weather was unseasonable cold for early November. For the first time this season, his father had to go out and chip ice out of some of the pasture troughs for the cattle.

Clark caught sight of Pete’s headlights and sighed. He didn’t have enough time to speed over to the Luthor Mansion and still return in time for his ride. As fast as he was, even his gifts were subject to time constraints.

"Climb aboard the social mobility…" Pete paused searching for a catchy name before giving up. "Mobile. Tonight we are freshmen, but tomorrow we might be-"

"Still freshmen?" Clark teased.

"Not as desperate for approval by our peers," Chloe finished, unlocking the backseat door for Clark.

"I think you’re aiming a bit high for Pete, Chloe." Clark observed, sliding his tall frame into Pete’s hand-me-down compact car.

* * *

"You’re sick." Michael Hoskins stated matter-of-factly as he surveyed the recently acquired Tibetan chest. "Completely and totally sick."

"I know." Lex ran his gloved hand along the finish of the chest slowly. "I couldn’t resist buying it when I was in Metropolis last week." He chuckled, catching the expression of revulsion on Mike’s face. "Do you think my father will like it?"

"Please tell me you’re not giving your father a chest that once, as recently as two weeks ago, held a woman’s dead body. Or at least tell me that I’m allowed to sign the card…" Mike stepped away from the innocuous piece of furniture, and switched his attention from the chest to the colorful slips of reinforced paper on Lex’s desk. "What’s this? Tickets to Radiohead?"

"You know, I’m probably the only businessman who wouldn’t fire you for snooping on my desk."

"You can’t fire me, Lex, you wouldn’t have anyone to do your dirty work."

Lex smirked, and lifted an eyebrow. "There’s always Roger Nixon."

"I’m going to ignore that, considering he doesn’t have the letters behind his name to do any adequate investigation, other than a paper trail. The man is far too obvious to get anything really accomplished."

"Thought you were going to ignore that."

Mike glared briefly at Lex in irritation. "Speaking of ignoring, Radiohead concert in Metropolis." He continued mildly, "My daughter wanted tickets to go, but apparently she was out of internal organs to sell. I guess it’s good to be the king, or at least, be related to him."

Lex settled behind his desk, and removed the tickets from view. He didn’t like the expression on Mike’s face, having a vague inclination of some sort of verbal trap being laid before him. "The tickets aren’t for me, they’re for Clark Kent."

"A gift? I thought his parents didn’t allow him to accept gifts from you."

"This one, when paired with his dream girl, will make it very hard for Clark or his parents to turn down," Lex replied in his own mild tone. The tickets were the perfect ruse for remove Clark while he made contact with his parents.

"Now I’m confused." Mike wrinkled his brow, "correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you … uh seeing Clark? Why would you set him up with his ‘dream girl’?"

"I’m not seeing Clark Kent." Lex stated firmly.

"You’re a great liar, Luthor, but you’re going to have to practice some more if you want people to believe you when you say that. Try again."

Lex fairly growled at Mike, "I repeat, am *not*, seeing Clark Kent. He’s a friend, nothing more." He read the disbelief in the engineer’s eyes and sighed. "All right. I wouldn’t say I’m ‘seeing’ him. We just … hang out together." Occasionally make out, but did that really need to be said? It wasn’t like they were in a relationship. "We share certain…recreational activities. He’s fifteen, and I haven’t forgotten that. So no, it’s not serious."

It wasn’t serious.

Nothing at fifteen was serious, as Lex remembered. As exuberant as Clark was sometimes, there wasn’t a moment that Lex allowed himself to think that their relationship was built out of permanence.

He liked Clark. He was attracted to Clark. He had a lot of fun with Clark. That didn’t mean that in ten years he was going to be with Clark. That didn’t mean that he had any right to expect ‘forever’. To risk his freedom in the face of jail time was one thing, to risk his heart was quite another.

Lex harbored only one illusion in his life; the illusion that one day his father would put aside a scolding or a lesson, and just look at him the way Jonathan Kent looks at Clark. Proudly. Since this was a fairly large illusion, there wasn’t any room for any more, like love.

Mike rested his forearms on the back of a chair, and rubbed his eyebrow thoughtfully. "The background checks and the investigation is just for curiosity sake? ‘Cause, you know, I kind of figured that was on the serious side."

"Do you think I’ve crossed the line? I’m not deliberately delving into his life, but he did hit me with a car, Mike. Tina Greer used my likeness to create a public affairs nightmare by robbing that bank. Don’t you think I have the right to know what happened? How it happened?"

The outer door to the office opened briskly, as Rose strode in, her arms filled with files. "I have the bank statements from the past ten years and loan application that the Kents have just submitted. I also have the crop yields and profit margins that their farm has produced in relation to several of the other surrounding farms."

"Now that, Lex, is crossing the line." Mike observed wryly. "Tell me how their financial well-being has anything to do with what happened on Loeb Bridge or the bank robbery?"

Lex sent a glare toward the engineer, before addressing his assistant. "Don’t you knock anymore, Rose?"

Rose treated the question was being rhetorical, and set the files on his desk. "You know, the last time I pulled this type of records was when Lionel was looking to purchase the Ross Brothers Creamed Corn plant."

"Thank you for your commentary, Rose. As for you," Lex turned to Mike, "their financial well-being, and the town’s finances concern Luthor Corp’s business practices. I can’t very well let my father lay-off workers from the plant, when the surrounding farms are in going under."

"Your father has a lot to do with why the farms in Smallville are struggling." Rose stated, shuffling the papers before producing a chart in front of Lex. "Fifteen years ago, there were buyers from all over the country interested in the volume of corn this town produced. The main interest was from Walter & Brunson, they were responsible making Smallville important in the eyes of the agricultural circles. At one time, twenty percent of the corn from the state was grown."

"And then?" Lex prompted, his mind already guessing the next step.

"Your father purchased controlling interest in the company, and shifted it’s interest to Iowa’s corn fields. As I remember, he also had a strangle-hold on the local economy, because few businesses were willing to become involved in what was termed Lionel Luthor’s ‘backyard’. It was only a matter of time before most of the farms were facing foreclosure and bankruptcy. Even the plant that the Ross family owned was struggling."

Mike nodded thoughtfully. "Makes sense, made the pickings ripe for purchase. I never understood why, prior to the LuthorCorp moving in, that Smallville wasn’t more commercial, just based on it’s proximity to Metropolis."

"Good old Dad, squeezing the economic life out of a place before he claimed it." Lex mused softly, thinking of how his father applied the same techniques on his son. It wasn’t that long ago that Lionel had carefully stacked the deck, insuring Lex had one choice: exile in Smallville. Take the position, or take a demotion. Go to Smallville and let the Board of Trustees and the deans at Yale forget a few rather shady encounters, or stay and face the Metropolis press after his father released the photos.

Lex could figure out why Lionel had forced his hand, but what was the vendetta against Smallville? Why seek to conquer the

***


That's all I have. I stopped in the middle of the sentence 2 1/2 years ago, and never went back to it. I do have a long outline, and but the muse left me, never looking back. *sigh*

It's kinda painful to read this, because it was so long ago, and my writing I believe has improved.
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