Lex came up with his birthday formula a long time ago. It wasn't even specifically a birthday thing. He just realized that he could just buy people, with things. He was almost always the richest kid in a group of rich kids. He could have the best parties and the people who came liked him best. He could spend the most money on gifts and the recipient was most grateful to him.
As he grew older, he realized that this didn't actually work for everything, first at Bonnie King's fifteenth birthday party, when she was much happier with the cheaper necklace her boyfriend got her than the expensive earrings Lex did.
Of course, that was because they were dating, and Lex got that love was a problem. Or a difference. He hadn't really grasped the whole from-the-heart thing, because surely an expensive present from someone you love would be better than an inexpensive one. It was purely logical.
He thought that until he met Clark Kent.
Clark Kent, from the beginning, was a problem. His father, of course, wouldn't let him take expensive gifts, so even if his happiness could be bought, Lex wasn't allowed to.
But birthdays, he thought, must be different. That would be the reasonable way. Birthdays were not his way of saying thank you (well, at least, they weren't supposed to be), so he didn't have to hold back. That would be what a reasonable person said in Lex's world.
Jonathan Kent was far from a reasonable person about thoughtful gifts, so Lex asked him.
"Lex," said Jonathan Kent, in that voice he had that told Lex he was somewhere between slime and pond scum in Clark's father's world. "Can I help you?"
"I wanted to talk to you about Clark's birthday."
"What about it?"
"I thought he might be interested in having his party at my house."
"Look, Lex. I don't know what you're playing at here, but Clark doesn't need any fancy presents from you. Not for saving your life, and not for his birthday. So why don't you get him a nice card and leave it at that."
Lex got the nicest card he could, and slipped a $100 bill in, which Mr. Kent did not find. Clark thanked him politely, but Lex could tell he'd gotten better presents.
Well, there was always next year.
Either luckily or unluckily for Lex, he and Clark were in zombie summer camp for Clark's next birthday. Luckily, of course, Jonathan Kent had no control over what Lex got for Clark.
Unluckily, he couldn't get that much.
"No cars," said the boy who worked at the camp store.
"I can pay."
"Nothing bigger than me."
Lex looked at the boy. He was small and light.
That was inconvenient.
In the end, he bought Clark an espresso machine for the hotel. It was very expensive, and Clark thanked him, but he kept saying how great it would be for the hotel.
Lex wanted something good for Clark.
There was always next year.
Lex wasn't surprised when Kon rejected his birthday present. He was sort of surprised when Kon didn't do it personally, but let Buffy throw it on the ground in front of him.
"That was a very expensive DVD player," Lex commented mildly. "And a gift."
"For Kon's birthday," said Buffy, loathing evident in her voice.
"It's not Kon's birthday."
"And he doesn't want it."
"I don't see why not."
"Because it's from you."
She said it in such a simple way that Lex was taken aback. Of course he'd known the reason, but he hadn't thought she'd just come out and say it.
"It was meant for the two of you to enjoy."
"I kind of enjoyed breaking it," she shrugged, turning to leave.
"Buffy," said Lex. She turned back, looking impatient. "How was it as a gift?"
Lex had taken Kon as a travel run. After all, Kon hated him. Clark rather liked him, and Lex was realizing he more than liked Clark, so if he could find a present that Kon liked, then Clark should be no problem.
"As a gift?"
"I'm not a very good gift-giver. I'm trying to improve."
Buffy sighed. "So this is actually about...?"
"Right. What does Clark want?"
"I don't know."
"Did you try, I dunno, asking him? I know it sounds crazy."
"I want it to be a surprise."
"DVD player is kind of generic. He's not going to hate it, but he's probably not going to love it."
"I see. How do you usually shop for Kon?"
"He doesn't like birthday presents."
"For Christmas, then?"
"Whatever I think he'll like. It depends what we're talking about."
"And he isn't offended?"
"If he is, he doesn't tell me."
"Just get him something from the heart. Or similar Hallmark card sentiment. Don't worry so much."
Lex considered this. Buffy took the opportunity to leave.
"Thank you!" he called after her.
She gave him the finger over her shoulder.
In the end, he settles on a card again. Not because he thinks that Clark doesn't deserve better, but because Clark is dense and needs things written out for him, and he thinks adding something would take away from the message.
It's a simple message, too. Clark needs a lot of help, generally.
Clark--happy birthday. All my love, Lex
Looking it over, he thinks it's still probably not clear enough. But he'll work on it.
Jonathan Kent is going to kill him.