Summary: If you can do this, you must be morally old enough for a drink.
Spoilers/Warnings: adult themes.
Notes: with thanks to mskatej for beta reading.
Original story: Art Appreciation by danceswithgary
The day his father’s mug shot made the front page of the papers was the day in Lex’s mind that a new part of his life began. In this new part of his life, Lex would run for office. He had once had something akin to a vision of himself in the White House, surrounded by corpses – which he did not precisely believe, but he supposed his mind was bringing that up to remind him that there were things he would need to take care of. It was too early to reveal this to anyone else: there was a great deal to consider, and much positioning to do.
It was first both imperative and regrettable to clean up certain peccadilloes.
There was a car whose seats were almost certainly contaminated with traces of cocaine and semen, which would need to be reported stolen and then found by police, burnt out in a vacant lot.
There was a research project running out of Mexico, funded by a shelf company from which he would need to divest, in turn funded by a Bahamas bank account which he would need to empty into a Swiss bank account, and then close; then the Swiss bank account could go anonymously to charity.
Other sundry financial affairs were mostly divestments: for instance, there was a holding in an international military contractor operating in the Third World that would never pass the front-page-of-the-paper test, for all that Lex would maintain the would-be junta he was effectively arming was far preferable to the incumbent one.
He would also, he decided, take one last class and then that would be it. He’d empty the apartment, put the work in deep storage – burn it, maybe?
The last class needed to really count. In the city Institute for Fine Arts’ brochure, Classes Open to the Public, was something so perfect, and so too much, it was like the fates were mocking him.
The Heroic Nude
In the tradition of the world’s greatest art, capture the beauty of the ideal male form in poses reminiscent of classical statuary. Tuesdays at 6pm.
Alex Joseph, which was the name Lex used to enrol for his classes, had his own car, a beaten-up station wagon that he would have to shuffle out of stack parking in the cramped basement garage of his pastel stucco apartment building. It was awkward to know what to do with the generic black SUV Lex would drive to get over there; he just hoped by now that people were used to it sitting there on the street earning tickets all night.
The apartment had plain white fibreboard walls with dark faux walnut cornicing, and decaying 60s fittings. Lex found he liked it, obscurely. He liked hanging art in it.
Alex’s clothes were a delicious array of things otherwise forbidden to Lex: a paint-stained hoodie with the hood worn up over a beanie; baggy jeans; sneakers. There was a series of cheap long-sleeved t-shirts worn as undershirts, and he had even bought Alex his own sweat socks.
These were actually the only clothes Lex had ever owned that he’d really been able to wear in, to mark with the shape and touch of his body. The socks had yellowed slightly and gone bald at the heel and toe; the undershirts were a touch grey under the arms from deodorant, and no longer entirely sprang back when washed from the way his shoulders stretched out the seams. Washing, such as it was, occurred infrequently. Lex had never waited for change in his life and was initially flummoxed by the three quarters required for the laundry room – he finally had to come back another day, after asking his staff for coins and silently daring them to ask why.
His hoodie was actually getting a little rank – he had exercised Alex Joseph’s unemployed art student’s prerogative of never washing it at all. If this weren’t his last hurrah, he might need to give in. It was visibly splattered and smudged with every medium known to traditional fine art. It smelled of graphite, turpentine and human body, though not in a gross way: more like a bed where someone has been sleeping for a while. It had gone a bit dark at the cuffs and back of the neck, where it touched his skin. Putting it on was strange for a moment: it was so dirty that the fabric felt heavy and oddly cold; like he was climbing into another living creature’s shucked and discarded carapace.
He turned up late to class, which he found useful because it was rude and made the instructor standoffish.
The class was in one of the downstairs studios on the first floor of the Institute’s flagship building, a tall white Georgian edifice that looked imposing from a distance but mildly decrepit up close. Inside the decline of public funding was evident: the parquetry floor was dull with wear, and the wall in one place bore a student’s graphite-smudged hand print. Lex, one the city’s leading philanthropists, would never draw attention by donating money here.
Class was in session already, behind a closed door with the peep window battened shut, and Lex knew the drill by now: he knocked to respect the model’s privacy.
A man, tall, gaunt and effete, presumably the instructor, put his head around the door.
“I’m here for the class,” Lex said. “Sorry I’m late.”
“Well, you’ve missed the gesture poses, but come in,” the man said, and let him around the door. “We have an easel for you here.” He showed Lex to the – less desirable – back corner, shuffling past people and saying, “Excuse me. Excuse me.”
By the time Lex had sat down, he had already gleefully concluded that this was going to be everything he had expected and more. The class was wall-to-wall middle-aged men. There were a full four guys in a turtleneck and spotlessly pressed sports jacket; three grey ponytails with denim jackets; and even two balds-with-ponytail. One of the latter had a denim jacket with a rainbow patch on the shoulder, as if things needed to be made any clearer. The model, whom Lex had just glanced at so far, was pure porno beefcake for hire, far too conventionally attractive for an art model. Lex would have laughed, but he suspected Alex Joseph was less of an asshole than him.
Lex got his charcoal out. He preferred to not really look at the model until he was ready to draw: he liked to make the first stroke at the moment of first impression – there was a truth in that line. “Alright,” the instructor announced, “for those who came in late, we have about five minutes left for this pose. So you can just use that time to make an impression, like you would for the gesture poses, or you can wait for the next pose.”
Lex lifted his charcoal and looked.
Every empty follicle on his body prickled.
He was a sick fuck.
His hand was still in the air. Trying to put it on the page was like pushing the wrong ends of two magnets together.
He just needed the model to move a little, to turn his head back around a little.
Even a little movement would surely dispel the illusion that Lex was looking at Clark Kent.
The model was not going to do that. There was five minutes of this pose to go, and he was going to continue to sit exactly like that. Or rather, recline like that: he was doing Zeus at a feast, lying on a chaise in the Roman way.
Lex was not looking at Clark Kent’s sleek Christmas ham of a naked thigh. He was not looking at the kidskin drum of his belly, concave in repose; his bicep you could bite like an apple. Above all, he was not looking at the hooded, blunt-nosed animal of his cock, sleeping gorgeous and pink and fat on his thigh.
The model was a big beautiful brawny dark-haired boy with a lantern jaw, eyelashes like boot-brushes, hands like catcher’s mitts, limbs the length of Texas, cock far too big for a classical statue – and it was just unfortunate, just really fucking unfortunate that he was the spitting image...
The five minutes was up. The model sat up and accepted a robe from the instructor.
It was Clark.
It was intolerably, irredeemably certainly Clark. The moment he moved, Zeus was gone. He was Clark: the shoulders rounded a little, the eyes went down – always a certain intrinsic apology in the body language. Now he was standing with the robe on, talking to the instructor.
Now Clark was turning back to the chaise, glancing into the class and – now with his robe half open – seeing Lex.
Clark flinched. It was a palpable, bodily flinch.
Lex was on a train to hell, and there was no bell cord.
Clark would think he was stalking him. That he’d come here to mock him. That he was going to threaten to tell everyone, and blackmail him.
That he was some big queer (which he kind of was), and all these years he’d been... Jesus.
Was it even possible for Lex to be more of an asshole?
Now it was time for Clark to take his robe off and pose again. He did it, visibly more hesitant that before.
He was going to have to sit there naked, the poor bastard, feeling like Lex was violating him. No, Jesus, he had the pose wrong now – the legs were awkward. The instructor was approaching him and murmuring a query. Clark looked stricken for a moment, then quelled himself. The instructor helped him adjust his legs.
Lex wanted an Undo button for the entire last five years of his life.
The class may have gone on for an entire geological age of the earth. At one point Lex tried to draw a curved line that represented the way the fleshy part of Clark’s inner thigh swelled out where it was compressed by the chaise. He seemed to have forgotten everything he knew.
The instructor came up behind Lex and told him, “Just try to let the work flow. There are no errors in sketching. Any line is just one line of many. Let the lines flow.” He took up Lex’s charcoal and started oversketching the single line Lex had done. Lex thought for a moment he was going to do him violence.
Lex waited on the bench outside the studio after class, pretending carefully and sightlessly to be looking at his phone, until the instructor had left.
“Clark?” he shouted through the door.
There was a pause. “Yeah?” Clark sounded like an angry Jonathan Kent.
“Are you decent?” Lex shouted. “Can I come in?”
“I guess so.”
Lex opened the door. Clark was coming out from behind the dressing screen, in his jeans with bare chest and feet. And Clark was big and barrel-chested and adult these days, and angry, and okay, was Clark going to beat him up? Bizarrely, Lex felt quite sanguine about it. Clark was striding towards him.
Clark had stopped, a contemptuous ten paces away, and folded his arms.
“I didn’t know!” Lex said helplessly. “Clark, I didn’t know. I’m so sorry.”
Clark looked sardonic.
“I do classes sometime. It’s a little embarrassing. It’s kind of like this whole...” Lex touched the beanie on his head. “Secret life.”
“You have a secret life,” Clark said. “Taking art classes.”
“You have no idea how freaked out I was when I saw it was you,” Lex said.
Clark’s stance had softened. He was... actually smiling, and okay, Lex was totally off his game here because he didn’t have a clue how that had happened.
“Well, the feeling was mutual,” Clark said. He looked sheepish. “As you may have guessed.”
“Yeah,” Lex said. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright,” Clark said.
“Thank you,” Lex said. “That’s a weight off my mind.”
They looked at each other.
“You’re wearing jeans,” Clark said, with a laugh.
Clark and he had not spoken in months, had argued last time they spoke, in the same bitter way they always seemed to now, all guilt and resentment and accusation and counter-accusation, and this was weird because now they were sort of just grinning at each other aimlessly, and it was such a relief.
“Do you want to go for a drink?” Lex said. “I figure if you can do this, you must be morally old enough for a drink.”
“Tell that to security,” Clark said.
“Forthington Street is far too bohemian for security,” Lex said.
“Is that near here?”
“It’s a block over!” Lex said. “You work here and you don’t know Forthington Street? Clark, you need to live a little.”
Was that too far? Lex feared the detente might break at any minute.
No. “I pretty much just commute back to the dorm,” Clark said. “The library closes at ten, so... Is it nice?”
“The best place to get a pretentious microbrewery beer in half the city. Come on.”
He watched Clark put the rest of his clothes back on.
“You have big feet,” Lex said, as if he were drunk already.
“Yeah,” Clark said, grinning.
“So you’re making money to help with college?” Lex asked.
They were sitting in a bar full of 1950s furniture, men in head to toe black, and women with asymmetrical hair and skirt hems.
“Yeah,” Clark said softly. “The farm isn’t doing so well, so...”
“I understand it was a bad season for everyone,” Lex ventured. “We were selling fertiliser discounted.”
Clark grinned. “Yeah, my dad wouldn’t buy it – he’s stubborn like that.” He swigged his beer. “I feel bad that I’m not there to help,” he said at last.
“Clark, parents want their children to get an education,” Lex said. “That’s what they’re working for – for you. You don’t have to feel bad. That’s what parents do.”
“Maybe.” Clark was peeling his beer label.
“So are you enjoying it?” Lex asked, into the silence.
“The Institute? Kind of. I mean, the money’s good. It’s kind of embarrassing.” He looked up, and shifted in his chair.
He was completely gorgeous.
“I mean, obviously. For, um, obvious reasons.”
“Yeah,” Lex said.
“I have this agent guy? And he was totally like, you’re hopeless, hopeless. Only queers will book you! He’s Russian, right – it’s kind of crazy. But then he got me this job. Which was cool, but... I mean, he was kind of right. When I see the guys that come to these classes...”
“Yeah,” Lex said.
“So, uh,” Clark said, “why did you pick it?”
“I think we need another beer,” Lex said.
“I am so,” Lex declared, “committed to my art, I even drink boxed wine while I’m pretending to be an art student.”
They were back at the apartment. Clark was leaning on the chipped kitchen bench with a smile that could swallow the whole sun, while Lex squirted said boxed wine into small, cheap glasses.
“You,” Lex said, “do not seem to be drunk enough.” He pushed a glass at Clark.
“I’m doing fine,” Clark said. His smile got even more glorious, if that were possible, and he bolted the whole glass of wine down in one shot.
Oh god, Lex was really outrageously drunk: he had no idea what he was going to do or say next, and part of him was ecstatic about it.
He threw his own glass back as well. “This place is like this whole fantasy of a different life,” Lex said. “It’s so embarrassing. I never thought anyone would come here. I’m getting rid of it soon.”
“I think it’s cool,” Clark said.
“Don’t humour me,” Lex said, and oh Jesus, now he was going to be maudlin.
“I’m not,” Clark objected, a little whiny. “Give me the tour, anyway!”
Lex showed Clark the mould on the bathroom ceiling that looked like the state of Alaska, and his Ikea shelves he’d put together himself, full of a truly indulgent number of art books.
“Man, I could learn a lot from these,” Clark said, running his finger along the spines. “But where’s your art?”
“Don’t ask me that,” Lex said.
“I want to see it,” Clark said.
“No,” Lex said.
“Yes,” Clark said.
“Yes. Come on, it has to be this door you didn’t show me into.” And okay, Clark was pulling him by the wrist, and Clark was really strong, and shit, this was really going to happen.
And then they were in the storeroom and Clark was looking at all his work. There were oils on canvas in a rack, and pastels and drawings in hanging folios.
Clark looked carefully at each one. It was excruciating.
“You’re good,” he said at one point, “you’re really good. I mean, not that I have any taste.”
“Nonsense,” Lex said. And maybe it wasn’t necessary to touch Clark to make that point, but he couldn’t identify an incentive to stop.
Clark had stopped flipping through the work. He seemed to be kind of trembling. Lex had never seen him tremble before. It was distressing.
“And naked men,” Clark said. “You like naked men.”
“Yeah,” Lex said. He took Clark by the arm and petted his inner elbow.
“Have you always...?” Clark looked terrified.
“Yeah,” Lex said. “Oh yeah.”
Now Lex was running his fingers through Clark’s hair. “What about you?” Lex asked. “Do you like naked men?”
“Yeah,” Clark said. Clark looked completely abject. Lex had to kiss him.
At that moment, all of Lex’s possible futures shattered into glittery powder.
A little bit later, they were lying on the drop sheet on the floor. They were both naked now, which Lex felt was a tremendous improvement. He had been half-napping with his head on Clark’s belly for some time. Clark was yet to complain, by which Lex judged that Clark was either incredibly tolerant or made of steel.
“Lex,” Clark said. “I don’t think you should get rid of this place.” His belly jumped under Lex’s ear as he spoke.
“Why not?” Lex said.
“Well,” Clark said. “I can’t have sex with you in my dorm room. I have a roommate.”
“You have a point,” Lex said.