Title: Favoring Fire - Episode One
Authors: Beth and Nomi
Disclaimer: The characters of "Smallville" are owned by Tollin/Robbins, Millar Gough Ink, Warner Bros., and DC Comics, not by us.
Challenge: First line: "You've got a cocksucker's lips, Clark, did I ever tell you that?"
Summary: Can America help Lex find the perfect mate?
Notes: We need to thank Julian Lee for her prodigious help editing this piece. She showed no fear in the face of story that grew all out of proportion. Also, thanks shouted out to an lj-user, getmeout, for helping brainstorm names when we ran out. Finally, this is dedicated to Celli Lane, without whom we would not be writing in this fandom.
"You've got a cocksucker's lips, Clark; did I ever tell you that?"
Clark started choking on his milk as his eyes nearly bulged out of his head.
Chloe inclined her head toward the image frozen on the plasma screen in front of them, "Just look at you, Clark."
"Chloe!" Clark spluttered milk falling everywhere. His eyes immediately went to Lex, who was still consumed enough by his phone call to have not reacted to Chloe's words. The towel that smacked Clark in the side of the head after he'd turned back to Chloe, however, clearly indicated that Lex had at least caught Clark's reaction.
"It's true!" Chloe insisted. "And I'd bet that I'm not the only one who feels that way."
Clark pointedly remained staring at his now half empty glass of milk while he blindly wiped up the mess. He couldn't look up - if he looked at Chloe, he'd turn even deeper red. And he couldn't even begin to imagine what Lex might be thinking.
"What way, Chloe?" Lex asked, returning to the sitting area. "As for you, dare I ask what Chloe said to make you react like that?"
Despite his ongoing telephone conversation, Lex had heard Chloe's comment but declined to respond, preferring to see how this might play out amongst his guests. Tonight was the beginning: the video tape of his first episode on the reality show "Single Millionaire" had landed in his mailbox this morning, and Lex had invited Clark, Chloe, and Pete over to watch it with him in preparation for its airing on national television in five days. It was the arrangement Lex had made with the producers: he agreed to participate in the show if and only if he got first view of the episodes and veto power over any potentially damaging content.
It was bad enough, Lex thought, that he'd been through the ordeal that was "Single Millionaire" to begin with. But once his father had begun sending "appropriate" women to Lex as potential spouses, Lex realized his father wanted him to settle down, become a more suitable heir to LuthorCorp than he was now. It would happen on Lex's terms, however. So he had auditioned for "Single Millionaire," half hoping he would pass muster with the producers and half hoping he wouldn't.
The one redeeming factor of the whole process had been Clark's presence. After all, when Lex was told to bring along his closest friend to act as confidante, Clark was the only one he considered bringing. It wasn't as if he had hordes of friends to choose from.
Clark's being in college was a boon, too - his summer break coincided with the taping of "Single Millionaire," leaving him free to be available for whatever the show - and Lex - demanded.
Of course, Lex and Clark knew what they had experienced over the course of the time they were living in the "Single Millionaire" mansion, but Lex knew that so-called reality shows actually contained very little reality. He was simultaneously eager and trepidatious to see how his experiences jibed with and differed from what was presented to a national audience.
And, ultimately, since his perception of the whole process was slowly shifting, he was eager on some level to see whether he could pinpoint when, during the series, his views began to change.
But that was for later. Right now, the videotape was frozen on a tantalizing image - Clark's lips, closed around a drinking straw. Chloe was right about those lips, though Lex would likely have phrased the sentiment differently.
"Hey, Chloe," Lex said, turning his attention away from Clark, who was still attempting to stammer out an answer to his previous question. "Where are we in the broadcast?"
"Oh, they're on the introductions still. I paused the tape when your phone rang, so we haven't moved much beyond what you had seen."
Lex looked back at the television screen, trying to place when this particular footage might have been filmed. The producers had sent a cameraman to follow Lex and Clark around for about a week for - the claim went - "background material." Why they needed so much background information on Lex - already one of the best-known men in America, even without this television show - was not made completely clear. Clark, too, was uncomfortable with the extended publicity; while his internship at the Planet had necessitated Clark's becoming more comfortable with publicity, he was still uncomfortable in front of the camera.
"Ah," he said, finally placing the source of the footage in question as being from an evening out for pizza and a movie.
"What, Lex?" Clark said, finally able to look Lex in the eye again.
"I just figured out where that shot came from. That's all."
Clark turned back toward the screen, saw the freeze-framed image still remaining there, and blushed again. "C'mon, Chloe. Unpause it and let's watch more."
Chloe sighed but complied, allowing the show to continue running. As this was the first episode, the bulk of the hour was taken up with the introduction of Lex and Clark, the arrival of the original twenty-five women, and the first night's "get to know you/get to dismiss you" party.
And as the episode played out, Lex found out just how correct he had been in his assessment - women he had found interesting but not sufficiently so to keep them past this first threshold were immediately cast in a negative light; he figured it was so that the audience would be happy when he dismissed them. And those that in fact remained through later rounds of the competition were depicted in this introductory phase as being the perfect potential companion for a moneyed young man - poised, elegant, and demure.
Ah, it was amazing what some creative editing could accomplish, Lex thought.
"Twenty-five beautiful women, one eligible bachelor -- who can say what will happen this season on 'Single Millionaire.'"
Clark fidgeted at the show's opening. "Our bachelor this season is Metropolis' own -- Alexander 'Lex' Luthor, sole heir to the Luthor fortune. Mr. Luthor has a bad-boy reputation, but he assures us that he has reformed and is ready to settle down with the right person. He is accompanied on this journey by his close friend, Clark Kent. Mr. Kent is a young reporter with a local newspaper and has been a friend to Mr. Luthor for the past decade. We have been assured that no one knows Mr. Luthor and his preferences better than Mr. Kent. We are in for a fun season where these women will find out what it's like to be squired about by a fabulously wealthy man and to have a chance to win his heart. I'm your host, Mark Michaels; stay with us for more of 'Single Millionaire.'"
"Damn, Clark. How'd you get this gig?"
"I asked him to do it, Pete," Lex answered for Clark.
"I would have done it -- in a heartbeat, man," Pete said.
"I'm sure you would have, but I don't think I could compete with you." Self-deprecation didn't particularly suit Lex, but it had the desired effect on Pete, who was suffused with pride.
Clark sat quietly watching the interplay and staring at the screen as the women were introduced. Everyone was pretty quiet, except for Pete's occasional exclamation about the beauty of one woman or another.
As the initial introductions were completed, the party portion of episode began. Clark remembered how strange it was to attend a party where the entire focus was trying to capture Lex's attention.
Watching it now, Clark could see that some of the women that he had never had a chance to talk to were practically draping themselves on Lex - and he suddenly understood why some women had been eliminated. He noticed that almost every woman Lex chose to move on to the next round had sought Clark out and had talked with him sincerely, women Clark had found interesting and had commented to Lex about.
Lex watched the interactions between Clark and the women very carefully. He hadn't been provided the opportunity to see these conversations before, but, remarkably, they were quite similar to the way that Clark had described them.
He grimaced as the camera zoomed in on that one woman, Sheila, who had spent her few minutes with Lex draping herself over him and rubbing his head. It looked even worse on tape now than it had when it was happening.
"That one's gone," Chloe remarked.
"Why do you think so, Miss Sullivan?" Lex smirked.
"Oh, come on, Lex. Subtlety is what works with you. That woman couldn't be more obvious if she rented a billboard."
"There is that," Lex admitted.
"I don't know, man. She's awfully fine."
"Not Lex's type," Clark said flatly.
"Really? What's my type, Clark," Lex asked, curious.
"Watch and see."
Lex studied Clark's face -- there were no clear signs about what he was thinking. Lex was hoping that through watching Clark's reaction, he would get confirmation of his final choice, but right now there was nothing. Early days, Lex, he reminded himself.
As the party wound down, the host appeared and called Lex and Clark out of the room. They were led to a room with photos of all the women they met and told to deliberate.
Interestingly, the producers elected to block out the discussion that Lex had had with Clark -- instead they played music while showing the two men involved in the discussion.
Lex watched Clark lean forward and stare with intensity at the screen while waiting for Lex's decisions. Clark had not accompanied Lex back downstairs to make the choices, and though he knew Lex's choices, he hadn't seen the order Lex had chosen in, or the selection ceremony itself.
"Ladies, Lex will be joining us in just a few moments. Tonight, he will choose fifteen of you to continue on and spend more time with him. Of course, if you don't feel a connection with Lex, please feel free to reject his offer. The choice is yours."
The camera shifted to show Lex poised at the top of the stairs, waiting for his cue. He looked calm and focused, and he was prepared.
"Hello, Mark," Lex said smoothly. "Ladies."
"Lex, whenever you're ready."
Lex smiled at the assembled women, most of whom were fidgeting nervously as they awaited his pronouncements. "Ladies, I have chosen, with the consent of the producers, to alter the plan here, slightly. Instead of the roses or champagne that the other bachelors have used, I've chosen to offer these gifts."
All of the women seemed more excited than they had even moments before at the prospect of the wrapped, and thus mysterious, gifts. Clark watched the Lex on the screen carefully draw out the tension of the moment by seeming to choose on the spot; he knew that Lex had made definitive decisions before he had left the room.
"Oh man, Lex," Pete moaned as he watched one particularly beautiful woman slide into the waiting limousine. "How could you let *that* one go?"
"It takes more than looks to catch my eye, Mr. Ross," Lex said archly as the other man began to squirm in his seat.
"Besides, she was more interested in Lex's bank balance than what he likes to do with his free time."
"My copious free time, Clark."
"Whatever," Clark replied, barely resisting the urge to stick his tongue out at Lex's oft-repeated reminder.
"Next time on 'Single Millionaire,' the women move into the mansion, while Lex and his friend Clark settle in to our luxurious bachelor pad. The women will go on group dates with Lex, while Clark gets to know the women left behind."
The end credits rolled while several images popped up on the screen: Lex with groups of women doing rather un-Lex like things and women opening their gifts and finding deceptively simple gold bracelets, while Clark appeared to be constantly in the pool.
"Well, what do you think?" Lex asked the assemblage.
"I don't think they showed the honeys enough," Pete grumbled and then grabbed his shin when Chloe kicked him -- hard.
"That's gonna leave a mark," Clark quipped.
"I still can't believe you agreed to do this." Chloe looked from one man to the other. "Either of you."
"It wasn't so much agreement as it was self-defense. If I can't find a suitable, non-homicidal mate this way, I think even my father might give up the quest," Lex replied grimly.
"And I couldn't let Lex do this alone. He picked his last two wives by himself, and we see where that led, don't we?" Clark grinned gamely. Lex didn't look as relaxed or as confident as Clark had hoped he would after this whole experience. He eased over next to his friend and nudged him gently in the shoulder. "You okay?"
Lex quickly shook his head to communicate to Clark that he didn't want to talk about things until the rest of his guests had left.
With the entertainment over, and Lex clearly desiring some privacy, Chloe and Pete were quick to vacate the penthouse. Once his other friends had left, Clark went over to the kitchen and retrieved two bottles of water.
"You want to talk about it?" Clark made himself at home on the couch and waited for Lex to do or say something.
Lex grabbed one of the bottles of water and sipped it as he started pacing the living room. "What did you really think about that?" Lex asked, inclining his head toward the television again.
"Well, I'm mostly happy with our choices, though I think we made a mistake with Leslie." Clark grimaced. "I had no idea she was so, um, conniving."
"Well, that's one word for it, anyway," Lex grinned. "So, what are you doing tomorrow night?"
"I donno; you got plans?"
"You're a college student and you don't have plans on a Friday night?" Lex's incredulous tone was only partially artifice. While he was glad to hear that Clark had no plans, he was honestly surprised that Clark's schedule was clear.
"Well," Clark said, a slight blush working its way up his cheeks, "I wasn't sure how tonight would go, and I was leaving the evening free in case you needed to go out and smash things...you know, in case you were so angry at how the episode had been put together."
Lex grinned. "And you thought I might need you to help me 'smash things'?"
"Actually, I thought you might need someone to bail you out once you'd been caught smashing things." Clark smiled back at Lex. "So my weekend is free, for all intents and purposes. I have to finish an article I've been working on that has a Monday deadline, but that's about it."
Lex stopped pacing and sat next to Clark on the couch. "So you're enjoying your internship?" he asked.
"So far," he said. He paused a minute, then hesitantly continued, "They've um...they've asked me if I could do an article on what it was like to be on the show. You know, sort of a puff piece, but something that might show them my skills when it comes to writing human interest stuff." Another pause. "Not that I have any skills at that...and not that I want to do it. But..."
"But if you do it, there's a chance they'll give you a full-time job at the paper after you graduate, and if you don't, you'll be labeled uncooperative."
"Yeah," Clark said. "Something like that."
Lex sighed. "Well, I don't really like the idea, but I'm willing to go along with it. At least with you doing it, I know I'll be able to trust the veracity of the final article."
Clark sighed. "I'm at the mercy of my editors, though. They might decide they want something flashier than what I give them. You know, before we did this, I thought television was so glamorous. Now, I think it's just annoying. Look at tonight's episode - how much of what they showed really happened?"
"It all happened, Clark."
"Yeah, but not the way they showed it. If that's how you're always treated by the press, no wonder you're so camera-shy."
Lex held up his hand. "We really don't want to get me started on a rant about the media and truth and what truth means. Let's figure out, instead, what we might do with all that free time you've left for me to smash things, since I don't actually feel the need to smash anything."
"Actually," Clark said sheepishly, "I kind of promised my folks I'd help with some of the big projects they want to have done before the winter. Between school and going away for 'Single Millionaire,' there are a lot of things that have piled up for me to do. I'd asked my dad for an extra day or so in case you were in rough shape, but since you seem to be fine with everything, I think he'd prefer it if I could tackle some of those chores over the weekend." He paused. "I'll be heading back to Smallville tomorrow, and it would be great if you could come over for dinner tomorrow night. I'm sure my parents would love to have a quiet evening with just you as a guest."
"That sounds good," Lex said, simultaneously relieved that he'd have some time tomorrow to tend to business and disappointed that he wouldn't have a day alone with Clark this weekend.
"But starting next week?" Clark said, "I'll be sure to block Friday and Saturday for you, even if there's still winterizing to be done at home. I'm sure my parents will understand. After all, they can't expect me to come home every weekend, can they?"
Lex was less sure, but he didn't contradict Clark. "That would be lovely, Clark." There was a lot Lex needed to think about, and he suddenly realized that it would be easier if he was alone with his thoughts for a bit. But he didn't want Clark to feel as if he was being dismissed. He looked at his watch. "Don't you need to get back to the dorms? I don't want your class work suffering because you're spending time with me."
"No Friday classes, so just that article to work on before I head to Smallville." Clark looked closer at Lex. "But you look tired. You're right - I should head back to the dorm, and you should get some rest. I know you've been busy still trying to catch up with everything that got set aside while we were away."
Lex sent a silent thanks to Clark's parents for raising him to be so conscientious of his friends' needs. "Now that you mention it, I am feeling tired. I hate to cut this short, but..."
"But if you keep working, you'll be up all night."
"Exactly. And I'll see you tomorrow night at your parents', if they agree to having me over."
"They'll be fine with it, Lex; trust me. But I'll double-check and call you tomorrow afternoon, just to be sure." Clark gathered up the glasses and other debris left from their evening gathering.
"Clark, I've got staff for that."
"Sorry - conditioning, you know?" Clark put the glasses back down, but he still put the trash into the bin rather than leaving it for the staff to clean up.
"Sounds like that psychology class you're taking is sinking in."
"Something like that," Clark said.
"So..." Lex said, "I guess I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah," Clark said. "See you."
Lex walked Clark to the penthouse's door, waiting while Clark collected his bag and jacket. "Good night, Lex."
"Good night, Clark."
As the door closed behind Clark, Lex realized it was still an odd feeling to have to bid Clark good night at the end of the evening and have him leave, rather than having him just go to his own bedroom. In the six weeks they'd been living at the "Single Millionaire" penthouse, Lex had gotten used to Clark's presence and, while the dorms at Met U were close, it wasn't the same.
Ah, well, Lex thought. He'd see Clark again soon enough. And it would be good to have a meal with his parents again, away from the cameras. and the hype, and, yes, the women.
"Hey, mom?" Clark started as he came through the door of the Kent house on Friday.
"I hope you don't mind, but I invited Lex to come for dinner. He just seemed to need to connect with something real, something separate from that show. And you and Dad are the most real people I know."
"Sure, honey," Martha replied. "It will be nice to have just Lex here, without the TV-related entourage."
Clark shuddered, remembering the last meal they had all had at his parents' table. "True." He picked a muffin out of the basket on the table and took a bite. "I'm going to go out and see what Dad wants me to do."
"OK, honey. Lunch will be ready in about an hour; please tell your dad when you find him."
Clark found his father out near the barn, watching the cows graze.
"Hey, Dad," he said as he approached. "Mom says lunch will be ready in about an hour."
"Thanks, Clark." Jonathan hugged his son and then asked, "How's school?"
"So far so good this semester."
"And how's Lex?"
"He's fine; you'll see him this evening at dinner."
Clark started walking the fence line, checking for rotting posts and fraying wire. Where necessary, he made adjustments and made a couple of mental notes of posts he'd have to replace. Jonathan walked along with him, taking notes as Clark identified problems. Other than Clark's commenting on repairs and Jonathan's acknowledgements, there was no conversation. Clark found the work soothing, real and normal compared to the memory of the chaos of filming "Single Millionaire."
"Hey, Dad," Clark asked as they returned to the barn, "are you planning to watch the show?"
"Your mom and I weren't sure you'd want us to."
Clark thought for a moment about some of the events over the course of the filming and decided that perhaps there were some events he'd rather his parents not witness, especially given how they'd play out on TV. "You're probably right."
He cocked his head. "Mom's calling; lunch is ready."
"Then let's not keep her waiting; if she's got Lex coming for dinner, I can only imagine that she's itching to get started cooking enough to feed him for a week. Ever since he relocated to Metropolis, she's under this impression that his staff won't feed him. As if the Metropolis staff is somehow inferior to the staff he keeps here in Smallville."
"And it's the same staff," Clark said, smiling. He was thrilled by the fact that his parents had, finally, not only accepted Clark's friendship with Lex but had essentially adopted him as a second son.
"So things are getting back to normal?" Jonathan asked as he and Clark began heading back to the house.
"Seems like it. I'm back in classes and have the Planet internship; Lex is back doing deals and making money hand-over-fist; and the show's gonna start airing this week. So once that's over with, life will be just like it was before."
"Are you sure, Clark?"
"What do you mean, Dad?"
"Well," Jonathan said, "doesn't the airing of the show mean that, in a couple of weeks, Lex will have to make his final decision on who he's going to marry? Or, at least, have a serious relationship with?"
"Well, yeah," Clark said. "That was part of the point, right?"
"And you're happy for him, right?"
"Yeah," Clark repeated. "Some of those women, I tell you, were kinda scary, but I liked one of the final two a lot; I hope she's the one Lex chooses." The fact that, almost from the beginning, it was obvious that Delia had disliked Clark as much as he disliked her made Marnie even more of an attractive prospect for Lex from Clark's point of view.
While Clark knew that Lex would take his opinion into consideration, in the end it was Lex's decision and it would be Lex who would have to live with the consequences of that decision. So Clark had been quiet about his reservations toward Delia; it wouldn't be fair to Lex to influence him that way. It wasn't anything in particular that he hadn't liked; she just didn't go out of her way to befriend him like many of the other women did. Clark couldn't fault her for wanting to spend time with Lex.
"Lex didn't tell you?"
"The producers wouldn't let him. Something about concerns that the final decision would leak to the papers and then viewership would be down for the final episode."
"Well, you'll find out soon enough. For now, you shouldn't worry about it." Jonathan opened the kitchen door and gestured for Clark to precede him.
"I'll try not to," Clark said. "After all, Lex is stressed out enough by the prospect of the show starting. I don't want to add any more stress."
He hoped, though, that he'd get a sense from Lex as the show aired as to what Lex's final choice would be.
As Lex pulled into the long drive up to the Kent farmhouse, he thought about the differences between this visit and his most recent previous visit. This time it would be just him and the Kents. Calm, relaxed, no one asking him to do specific things or say specific things because it made better television. The producers of "Single Millionaire" claimed to provide "reality"; Lex knew, for certain, that this meal was going to be more real than almost any other aspect of his day.
The whole day had been surreal. Between the phone call to the "Single Millionaire" producers to assure them that he was willing to have the episode air as he'd seen it on the videotape, the conversation with his father in which Lionel made it clear that Lex's participation in the reality show would not go over well with LuthorCorp's more staid - Lex would say boring - board members, and a meeting with Gabe Sullivan during which Lex had to reassure his employee that Chloe would not drop out of college and sign up to be on a reality show, this was definitely a day that Lex had no desire to repeat any time soon. Dinner with the Kents would be the perfect antidote for the craziness of the rest of the day.
Lex pulled the Porsche up to the side of the house, turned off the ignition, and just sat in the car for a moment. He could already feel the tensions of the day seeping away. There was something about this house, about the people who lived here - and Clark, who seemed to carry the spirit of this house with him even when he was away at school in Metropolis - that was palpably normal. An island of sanity amongst the seas of insanity.
The front door opened and Clark emerged, impatience written all over his face. Lex rolled down the window as Clark approached the car.
"C'mon, Lex. Dinner's going to be ready in five minutes, and the table still isn't set."
"What, you haven't set the table yet? I'd have thought your mom would've had you do that by now."
"Well," Clark said, blushing slightly. "I know how much you enjoy it, so..."
Lex undid his seatbelt and opened the car door. "Thank you, Clark." As he got out of the car, he continued, "Are you sure this isn't just an excuse to get out of having to set the table, though?"
"Admit it, Lex. Every once in a while, you actually enjoy not being waited on."
"Every once in a while," Lex conceded. "But you must admit that even you got used to having the 'Single Millionaire' staff catering to us."
Clark blushed. "I did. But I know it wasn't real; I can't live that way all the time." He started heading toward the house but stopped when he realized Lex wasn't behind him. "C'mon, Lex. Dinner's almost ready."
"I'll be there in a sec, Clark." Lex stood by the car for another minute, thinking about what Clark had said. But then he shook his head, as if to clear it of whatever wayward thoughts were there, and followed Clark into the house.
"It's good to see you again, Lex," Jonathan said as Lex came through the kitchen door.
"Thank you, Jonathan. It's good to be here. I feel like it's been much longer than it really has been."
Martha put down her spoon and came over to give Lex a welcoming hug. "Hi, Lex."
"Hi, Martha. Thanks for having me."
"You're always welcome here; you know that." The Kents had come a long way since they would look at Lex with suspicion and automatically assume that he had a hidden agenda. Since Lex and Clark had become close, Martha and Jonathan had made a concerted effort to understand what Clark saw in Lex, and they came to see the true Lex under the business artifice.
"I do, and I appreciate it. Dinner smells wonderful, by the way."
"Thank you," Martha said. "Clark's waiting for you; he's left the table unset because he said you really enjoy it."
"I think it's just so he can get out of doing it himself," Lex said with a smile as he headed off to find Clark.
Over dinner, the conversation was light, with no mention of the filming of "Single Millionaire" or the upcoming airing of the first episode. For that, both Clark and Lex were thankful. Instead, the Kents let Lex and Clark steer the conversation to topics such as what classes Clark was taking this semester, whether Lex was going to invest in the newest Internet telephone venture, and whether this year's Smallville Crows basketball team had any chance of making the championship now that their star player had graduated.
Over Martha's home-made apple pie, Lex decided to bring up the subject of the show, figuring they'd avoided it long enough.
"As you probably know, 'Single Millionaire' starts this Wednesday."
"Yes, Lex. We know," Martha said.
"I was wondering..."
"No, we're not planning to watch it," Jonathan said, anticipating Lex's question.
Lex wasn't sure whether he should be bothered or relieved that the "Single Millionaire" escapades as presented by the show's producers weren't going to be witnessed by the Kents. On the one hand, he was disappointed that they apparently didn't have an interest in the show. On the other hand, however, he was relieved that they would not form a negative impression of him based on his actions on-screen.
"We just have one question," Jonathan continued. "There's nothing we're going to hear from the sheriff about, right?"
"Nothing whatsoever," Lex said. He realized that he didn't know all the details of the time Clark had spent alone with the women, but he was confident that while there may have been some risqu moments, nothing actually prosecutable had happened.
"Then we're content to not watch it. We just wanted to make sure that, if we were going to have to defend Clark in any way, we'd be prepared."
"Dad!" Clark exclaimed.
"I'm just kidding, son," Jonathan said. "I couldn't help it - you sounded so worried earlier that your mom and I might watch the show."
"Well, that's a relief," Lex said.
"What, that we won't be watching?" Martha asked.
"No, that Clark won't have to worry about jail time." Lex pushed back from the table. "This has been wonderful, but I should be heading back to Metropolis. I've got a breakfast meeting tomorrow morning, even though it's the weekend."
Lex stood up, and Martha and Jonathan got up as well. Clark began to collect the dishes as his parents wished Lex a good evening and saw him out. He couldn't figure out what was keeping him from following Lex to the door; that would have been his usual pattern, but something held him back this evening.
"Good night, Clark," Lex called from the doorway. "I'll see you back in Metropolis this week. If not before, then Wednesday night."
"OK, Lex. See you then."
Clark felt awkward, and he was very glad when his parents didn't push the issue. Instead, when they returned from seeing Lex to his car, they helped Clark clear and wash the dishes without conversation.
The rest of the weekend passed unremarkably, with Clark working on the farm through Sunday morning and then returning to his dorm at Met U on Sunday evening. He managed to put the subject of the show out of his mind for while he was at home, but now that he was back at school, he was beginning to worry more about it.
As soon as he had unpacked, he picked up the phone.
"Hi, Lex. I'm back at the dorm."
"That's good. But I'm assuming this isn't just a call to check in."
"You're right." Clark paused, unsure how to phrase what he wanted to say.
"What's going on, Clark?"
"Lex, look. I'm just...I don't know if we want to watch the show as it actually broadcasts."
"You've already seen it; you know what's going to happen."
"Yeah, but...that's part of the problem. I'm not sure I could face watching that again. Once was enough, you know?"
Lex thought for a minute then said, "OK. Why don't the four of us go out instead? Get pizza, see a movie. Stay as far away from televisions as we can."
Clark smiled, even though he knew Lex couldn't see him. "That sounds perfect. I'll check with Chloe and Pete to see if they're in, but I assume they'll say yes."
"Pete will be disappointed."
"Pete will be overruled." By Chloe, both men added silently.
"Then we'll meet here, at the penthouse, at about 7."
They hung up, and Clark called first Pete and then Chloe to lay out the new plan. While Pete sounded somewhat disappointed at the thought that he'd miss the opportunity to ogle all 25 women one last time, he understood that - having seen the episode once - there was really no reason to watch it a second time. As for Chloe, she had no problem with the new plan, figuring that any situation that allowed her to eat food Lex was paying for was just fine.
Clark was glad to have time with his friends that did not have the show as a central focus. He needed some time to prepare for viewing the next episode - as the show had proceeded, his behavior had become less and less like what his friends would expect from Clark, and he wondered if he should mention that to them ahead of time, or if it would be less awkward to just let the episodes play out on screen.
He was still debating that question as he headed to his classes Monday morning. Not until late Wednesday afternoon did he come to any conclusion. Whatever happened would happen, and he wouldn't attempt to influence Chloe or Pete at all. It was simpler that way.
Women selected for the next round: Amy, Caroline, Delia, Frances, Jennifer, Kylie, Lauren, Lindsey, Marnie, Monica, Stacy P., Stacy S., Stephanie, Valerie, Veronica
Women eliminated this round: Adeline, Allison, Barbara, Donna, Kate, Lorinda, Lucy, Mary, Sheila, Sherry
Click here to go to episode 2.