DISCLAIMER - Not mine, I couldn't afford the motor and household insurance bills. I promise I'll scrub them down and give them back to DC comics, the WB and anyone else who does own a slice of them when I'm done with them. Story, such as it is, copyright Karen Colohan, July 2003.

Author's notes - Digitalwave requested a Clex ficlet with one of them having to take care of the other, and the caring could be emotional rather than physical. This is actually totally not what I set out to write, but it's what my Lex Muse wanted, the pushy bugger.

Lex knows what it feels like to lose a brother. Julian was only a part of his life for a very short while, but it was one of the happiest times that Lex can recall. It was, perhaps, the only time that he really felt as if he were part of a family and Lex can still remember how much it hurt to have that taken away from him when Julian died.

It's not quite the same for Clark. He's always known that he was loved by his parents and been a part of a tightly knit family. Nevertheless, Lex can see the shadows of a familiar pain in Clark's eyes. It's been there ever since Ryan lost his fight for life.

It's true that he and Clark weren't related by blood, but there was never any mistaking the bond that grew between them. Lex knows that Clark saw Ryan as the kid brother he'd never had and his death has left Clark adrift and hurting.

At the moment Clark is sitting on the couch in Lex's office. His shoulders are slumped and he's uncharacteristically silent: he's the very picture of misery.

When he arrived, Clark had told Lex that he'd been meaning to come by and return the Warrior Angel comics that Lex had lent Ryan. Watching him wander listlessly around the room before slouching down onto the couch, Lex has the distinct feeling that was just an excuse.

Clark looks like he needs company more than anything and maybe he wants to be around someone who understands what he's feeling. Lex is glad that he told Clark about Julian, so that he knows they have this in common.

Lex retrieves two bottles of water before walking across to sit beside Clark on the couch. He holds out one of the bottles, but Clark simply shakes his head and turns his attention back to the small pile of comics in his lap.

For all that he's told Lex he's here to return them, Clark seems very reluctant to let go of them at the moment. The tips of his fingers keep brushing across the brightly illustrated covers, tracing the lettering over and over.

Putting both bottles down on the floor at his feet, Lex turns until he's facing Clark where he sits.

"If you'd like to keep those, you can," he offers.

Clark's head jerks up sharply. "I couldn't do that, Lex. I know how you feel about your collection."

In spite of his words, Clark's hands tighten on the comic books almost possessively.

"It's okay, really," Lex assures him with a smile. "If you'd like them, they're yours."

Clark glances down at them and then back at Lex.

"Thanks," he says finally, his voice sounding a little unsteady. "I would like to keep them. He - Ryan really liked reading about Warrior Angel and Devilicus, you know."

"Yes, I know." Lex is glad that Clark is finally talking and he doesn't want him to shut down again. "Ryan and I had a few discussions about them too. I was able to fill him in on a few of the rarer issues - you have one of them there." Lex reaches across and carefully pulls issue sixty six out of the stack on Clark's lap, smoothing the cover reverently with his thumb. "It was good to find someone I could share my interest with. It's always more fun that way."

"Maybe you could tell me about them sometime too," Clark suggests tentatively. "You know, now that I have a few issues of my own."

"I'd like that, Clark," Lex replies. "I have a feeling that you'll like Warrior Angel. He reminds me a little of someone that I know."

Clark manages a slight smile and then surreptitiously dabs at his eyes with the back of his hand.

Lex quickly looks away, giving him at least the illusion of privacy. Clark is one of the strongest people he knows - and Lex doesn't just mean his physical strength - so it's painful to see him hurting like this. And while Lex isn't usually given to overt displays of affection, the desire to reach out and pull Clark into a reassuring hug is strong. He resists, but when he settles himself more comfortably on the couch, Lex makes a point of sliding closer so that his thigh is pressed against Clark's.

"I really miss him, Lex," Clark says suddenly. "I tried so hard to help him and it was all for nothing."

"No, Clark, that isn't true," Lex insists fiercely. "Ryan was being held against his will by people who cared nothing for him as a person and were only interested in using him. But you went out on a limb for him when he asked for your help. Thanks to you, Ryan had the chance to be part of a real family before the end. You made the last days of his life happy, Clark, and I think that meant everything to Ryan."

"He still died, though." Clark's green eyes shimmer with unshed tears. "Whatever I did, it wasn't enough."

"Believe me, Clark, you did a lot."

Lex finally succumbs to temptation, sliding his arm around Clark and drawing him close. Clark seems happy with the arrangement, curling against Lex with a soft sigh.

"Most people would have stood by and done nothing," Lex continues, "but not you. That's not the kind of person you are. You save people, Clark..."

"I didn't save Ryan." Clark's voice is muffled where his face is buried against Lex's neck, accepting the comfort he offers.

"No one could have prevented his death, Clark." Lex's fingers carefully stroke the dark, silky hair spilling over his shoulder. "But you did save Ryan. He died knowing that he was safe and that he was loved. If you'd done nothing he would have been alone and afraid."

Lex's hand stills for a second and then resumes its gentle petting. "I think I understand how Ryan felt about what you did for him. You did something similar for me once, after all."

"I saved you and you're still here." Clark's voice is very soft.

"Yes, Clark, I'm still here," Lex agrees, tightening his hold on the boy in his arms.

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