Actions

Work Header

Corner of the World 44: Boxed

Work Text:


Corner of the World 44: Boxed

by Serafina

http://www.piekric.slashaholics-island.com/index.htm



"They never learn, do they?" Lana mused as she made a grande mocha for the handsome stranger who'd entered the Talon about five minutes ago.

It was late Friday afternoon, so the Talon was crowded. Clark was sitting in his usual seat in the corner, working on Lex's laptop. Lex and Mr. Townsend were at the movies, which was lucky, because the last time a "stranger" had mysteriously wandered into the Talon--drawn, Lana had been assured, by word of mouth and a luckily timed road trip--it'd been a Sunday morning. Clark and Lex had been on their normal date and sharing a cinnamon roll, looking very much in love. Luckily, Chloe and Chad had also been in the Talon. Within seconds of the stranger gravitating towards them, Chloe and Chad had pulled up seats and a Scrabble board. Mr. Townsend had arrived five minutes later and joined them.

The stranger left without a story.

Tonight, though, there was no Lex in sight, and the stranger was clearly on the prowl. After thanking Lana with a drawl that was pure Scarlet O'Hara--and she did have a hard time not cracking up over it--he sort of drifted around the place. His eyes were continually drawn to Clark, but he took his time about getting over there. He studied the walls, and the games on the shelf, the books and magazines Lana was slowly bringing in and placing around the shop. He said hello to a few people who happened to crossed his path, and ignored the fact that a group of cheerleaders were trying to catch his eyes.

And finally, finally, he wound up next to Clark's table.

"Mind if I sit down?" he asked with a smile. He closed his fingers around an empty chair at the next table. "It looks like the only seat available in the house." Then, before Clark answered, he turned the chair around and straddled it, wrapping his arms around the back.

"It's an empty table," Clark said indifferently, not taking his eyes from his computer screen. His fingers flew over the keyboard, the black-blue of his nail polish catching the lights dully. All his attention seemed to be on his work.

It was a bad idea to approach him when he was like this. Focused. Driven. Intense. He'd been like this for about a week now, ever since the whole thing with Kyla. Ever since Whitney ...

Lana swallowed and pushed the thought aside.

He was different now. Clark. Quiet, more quiet than he'd even been in the beginning of the year. He barely spoke at school unless they were in class, and even then, most of the time, he was scribbling in his journal, only coming up for air when a teacher called on him.

But ... it was just quiet. Somehow, it was different than before, like last year after whatever had happened to him happened. There was less pain in it, even less than there'd been right after Ryan had died. All there was, was quiet. A deep ... sadness of some kind. Something. Lana didn't have the words to explain it.

Most days when Clark came to the Talon, he was like this. He brought his journal or Lex's laptop and sat, writing. Yes, he talked to people a little. To Lana and Theresa, and, of course, Chloe and Pete. But, after he got his coffee, he sat down and lost himself in his writing. He was so focused and driven. Intense. Nothing got through to him, no one except for Lex. All that mattered was his work, and the rest of the world simply didn't exist.

Except ... Mr. O'Hara, or whatever his name was, got through. Even as Clark continued typing, his eyes moved from the screen and to glance at the reporter from under his eyelashes. Clark's cheeks went slightly pink and he swallowed.

Lana frowned and looked at the reporter. She didn't get it. He wasn't bad looking, but the woman who'd been here on Sunday had been all long legs, short skirt, and blond hair. This guy was all red hair, freckles over pale skin, and hazel-green eyes. He was about Lex's height, maybe a little heavier, and okay looking. But nothing special.

"So," the reporter said, taping his fingers lightly on Clark's table. "This is a nice place, huh?"

Clark, who was obviously trying very hard to keep his eyes on the computer but failing, shrugged. "Yeah, it is. Lana puts a lot of work into it."

"Lana?"

Clark nodded in her direction, typing. "Her."

"Ah." He barely spared her a glance. "And what about the owner?"

"Hmmm?"

"The owner? Did he help much? I mean, the decor is fascinatin'."

An evil smirk crossed Clark's face and he glanced up at Lana.

She narrowed her eyes at him, knowing he was going to say something disparaging. His dislike of the Egyptian motif had come out sometime in the second "interview," which had ended with her storming off in tears. Clark, of course, had gone after her, and the reporter hadn't gotten her story, but Clark did admit he thought the room was rather busy.

"Well," he said, lowering his eyes again. He was smirking. "The manager has some interesting ideas of what constitutes a comfortable and relaxing coffee experience."

Lana stuck her tongue out at him.

"The owner gave her free rein." Clark looked up. "How did you know the owner was a he?"

The man didn't even seem flustered as he said, "Sexist assumption, I assure you. Did I offend?"

Clark shook his head. "No. But it is the twenty-first century. Even in Smallville."

The man laughed. "Point taken." Now he sounded a lot more like Val Kilmer in Tombstone, and his eyes ran over Clark's frame slowly, lingering in places. "I'll be more careful from now on." He looked up again, meeting Clark's eyes, and something seemed to sizzle in the air between them.

"I'm glad." Clark's voice seemed to be lower now, and Lana shivered at the tone.

Oh, God, they went from informal interview to flirting in less than two minutes. Lana hadn't known Clark could flirt.

"So, is this to translate the hieroglyphics on the walls?" The reporter picked up a book that was resting on Clark's table. "Linguistics; rather heavy reading for a boy your age."

Clark reached out and took hold of the book. He didn't, however, pull it from the reporter's grasp.

Their fingers were almost touching, and Clark was looking at the reporter with a strange kind of intensity that made Lana's stomach do slow flips. "A boy my age?"

The reporter's lips curved. "Well, you are young, aren't you?"

"Too young to be talking with strangers, maybe."

"Strangers?"

"I don't even know you name." Clark leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table.

The man's smile spread over his face slowly, and he moved his seat closer. "Grant Robinson."

"Clark." He cocked his head. "But, then, you knew that, didn't you?"

"Maybe." He released the book and turned the chair around. As he pulled it so he was seated properly at Clark's table, he asked, "How did you know?"

"That you're a reporter?" Clark shrugged. "It wasn't hard to figure out. You're not from around here and you're interested in talking to me. Two very clear indicators."

"Surely you don't mean to tell me that you're unpopular."

"It's Friday night, and I'm all by myself writing. What do you think?"

Grant arched and eyebrow and didn't reply. "What are you workin' on? Homework?"

"No. It's an essay. I write essays sometimes."

"About what?"

"This one is about uncertainty and mourning without closure," Clark said. He sighed. "Well, it's supposed to be. It's actually not much about anything. But a friend of mine is missing in action, and dealing with it's hard." He looked up at Grant. "I don't suppose I can convince you to write an article about him."

"On him? No, sorry," Grant said. He actually did sound sorry, which meant he was either a really good liar, or ... maybe he wasn't exactly what he appeared. "However, I am interested in writing about you."

Clark smiled tightly. "Why am I not surprised?" He sat back, suddenly very cool and distant. His eyes returned to the computer screen.

"Actually, I have a feeling you may be." Grant leaned forward. His fingers almost brushed against Clark's arm, but he simply hovered over it instead. "I'm not after some sordid story about you and Mr. Lex Luthor. I don't work for a paper or a tabloid. I work for Queer Youth magazine and ..."

"Shut up!" Clark hissed, grabbing Grant's arm. His eyes were wide, jaw tight.

Grant blinked. "I'm sorry?"

"I'm not .... I mean, you can't ..."

Heart hammering, Lana pulled away from the counter and approached Clark's table. Her hands were shaking, and palms felt damp, but she managed to make it to them before Grant opened his big stupid mouth again.

"Hey," she said, voice quavering only a little.

Clark looked up, panic still in his eyes. They only got wider as Lana leaned down and kissed him.

The kiss was two steps away from awkward. Lana didn't quite know what to do, or how to take control of the kiss. Clark was holding her arms a little too tightly. When his mouth opened, his tongue sloppily moved over her lower lips, and she shivered.

He tasted like coffee.

Lana tried to kiss him back, but she was terrified he'd take it too far and really try to French kiss her. Whitney used to kiss her with a lot of tongue, and Lana had hated every minute of it. It never fit in her mouth right, and Clark was so much bigger.

She moved her mouth against his tentatively, then pulled back. They'd been kissing for long enough, and Lana figured they'd made their point.

"What did I do to deserve that?" Clark asked with a grin when they broke apart.

Still trembling, Lana returned the smile and sat in his lap. "You looked upset. Should I break out the sign?" She looked at Grant.

"The sign?" he repeated, now all Southern gentleman, proper and reserved.

"The we reserve the right to refuse service sign," Lana replied.

Grant's eyes flicked to Clark's.

"No, that's okay. I think Grant gets it now." Clark kissed Lana's head. "I guess I didn't mention she was my girlfriend, did I?"

"You are a man of surprises, Clark Kent." Grant raised an eyebrow. "Unless, of course, you happen to summer in Egypt."

That brought an unexpected laugh from Clark. "No, I don't. I think you'd understand me better if you stepped out of your black and white world."

"Really?"

Clark nodded and cleared his throat. Deliberately glancing at a group of jocks congregated at the counter, he said, "You're not from a small town, are you, Grant?"

Lana could see Grant got it by the way his jaw clenched as he looked at the group. "No, I'm not. Ironically." He rubbed his eyes. "Is there somewhere quiet we can go to talk? Either now or some other time?"

Clark studied him for a moment. Lana held her breath as he did; she still didn't trust Grant, and she was terrified at what she'd done besides. She didn't want Clark to go anywhere with this man, and she wanted to talk about what the kiss was supposed to mean. Were they going to pretend to go out now, like Clark said, or was it all for show, and why had she acted before she thought? And why ...

"When the back table opens up, we can talk there," Clark said, nodding to his normal table in the corner. "Until then, you can tell me what's wrong with this essay." He turned the computer screen to Grant.

Grant sighed and nodded, glancing at the table. Apparently, the girls there looked close enough to leaving to mollify him, because he pulled the computer to him and began reading.

"You gonna be okay?" Lana asked, fingers tentatively playing with the hair at the nape of Clark's neck.

"Yeah." He nodded and pulled her hand away. "We'll talk later?"

"I think that's a good idea." Then, just because she wanted to, she kissed him lightly on the lips. Heart pounding, she rose and walked away quickly.

A cold feeling of dread doused her when she walked behind the counter. She couldn't believe she'd forgotten. She'd just acted on impulse and now, suddenly, it hit her:

Lex was going to kill her.


"So?" Clark asked after he and Grant had settled comfortably at their new table. "What's wrong with it?"

Grant sighed and shook his head. "Nothing, really. Although, compared to what else you've written ..." He trailed off.

"See, exactly. It's not good like everything else." And then his mind caught up with him. "Wait. What else I've written?"

He laughed and reached into his bag. "Yes, your other stuff." Clipped together were Clark's articles he'd written for the Torch, a couple of essays Chloe had posted online for him, and the literary magazine. Grant put his hand on the pile and said, "It's wonderful."

Clark blushed at the compliment. "Thanks. How did you get it?"

"A friend of mine works for a tabloid. When he was gonna write a story about you and Mr. Luthor, he dug around. Apparently, you're a hard boy to find information on, but he did manage to get your writing. After you and your friends scared him away, he left them out one day, and I read them."

"So you decided to go for the story," Clark said darkly. He had the irrational urge to snatch his essays away from Grant and shield them. Shield himself.

He sat back and crossed his arms over his chest tightly.

Grant's eyes gleamed at Clark, scanning him briefly, but he didn't comment on Clark's closure. Instead, he shook his head and said, "Like I said, Clark, I work for a magazine, not a tabloid. And my interest is in you, not you relationship with Mr. Luthor."

"Right."

"No, I'm serious. You're .... Well, why don't I tell you what I want?"

"That would help."

He nodded and moved closer to the table. The palms of his hands pressed together as he leaned towards Clark, color heightened. "I want to write a story about growing up queer in a small town. I want your experiences, your feelings, frustrations, anything. And, most of all, I want your voice." He put his hand on the stack of Clark's papers.

Clark swallowed. "My voice?"

"Yes. Your writing, your words. Excerpts from your essays, and quotations on particular subjects. I think your story has the potential to reach other boys your age who are struggling with the same things you are."

Not the same things, Clark thought morosely. He bet that none of them had been almost raped by their boyfriend's father and, oh yeah, hadn't found out they were telepathic, gay aliens sent to earth in a meteor shower.

But he didn't say that. Instead, he simply asked, "What do you mean, the same things?"

"First off, let me apologize for assuming you were out," Grant said, looking earnest. "When I first decided to do this story, I figured you were probably still in the closet, and planned to approach you more discreetly. But the nail polish threw me, as well as your looks. Did you know there are no real clear pictures of you anywhere except the Torch website? And those aren't exactly the best quality." His eyes ran slowly over Clark again and he said, "Nothing I've seen does you justice, and I suppose I was distracted."

Clark flushed, feeling as if he was burning from the inside.

Grant grimaced. "Sorry. That was inappropriate of me. "

"It's okay," Clark whispered.

"Clark, there are young men all over the country going through similar experiences as you. Struggling with sexuality, with attraction to a forbidden sex. They have to hide relationships, search out safe places for encounters, figure out how to be safe with each other, how to deal with parents and girls and bullies and disapproving adults and peers. We all go through it to some degree or another, but the experience is so isolating that we don't realize how common it is. My job is to make sure young men such as yourself know that they are not alone, that there are others out there dealing with the same issues they are. I want to tell your story."

"What makes you think my story is interesting to tell?" Clark licked his bottom lip and nervously tapped his fingers on the table. "Is it because of Lex?" He winced at forgetting to be formal about Lex, but right now his head was full of the image of Chad as he crossed the quad the other day. Someone had dumped a soda on him and then a group had laughed as he walked past them. And then there'd been a note taped to Chad's locker, and his car had been covered with shaving cream the day before break, and nothing like thatever happened to Clark. Never. Chad wasn't even gay, and Clark was, yet Chad got all the harassment, and it was wrong.

Grant sighed and sat back in his chair. "Look, about Mr. Luthor .... I'm not out to make any accusations against him. If he comes up in the article, fine, but as the entire thing will be anonymous, it won't be that big a deal."

"People will know," Clark said, shaking his head. "You'll say something like billionaire or older man, or ... or ... something specific about our ... situation, and people will know."

"I won't give clues, Clark. My purpose is not to expose a scandal. I'm writing a story to help queer youth. Besides," he added in a different tone. "I don't believe there is a scandalous story in your relationship with Lex Luthor."

Yeah, right. "Yeah, right. Everyone does."

"Not me. Clark, it's not that uncommon a story. Plenty of people would recognize it. I do. An older man comes into your life at a critical point of your sexual development. Maybe you knew before. Maybe he was the first to make you aware of your orientation. Whatever it was, you became friends, maybe more. Perhaps he simply mentored you through words and support, but, even if it was through action, it doesn't matter. Not for my purposes. You'll only tell me what you feel comfortable."

Clark licked his bottom lip again. "You recognize it?"

Grant nodded. "I went through the same thing. I was sixteen, and he was, uh, twenty-five, I think. I met him in a coffee shop down the street from my house. He helped me through my first disastrous relationships, taught me safer sex techniques, blow job methods, all that sort of thing. After my seventeenth birthday, he was the first man I, uh, let ...." He trailed off meaningfully, eyebrow raised.

"Uh-huh," Clark said flushing. He lowered his eyes, feeling overheated. Clearing his throat, he asked, "But, you, uh, don't think Lex and me ..."

"Well, I don't know. Personally, I'd guess that, maybe he showed you a few tricks. But I think it's your Marine is who your heart is devoted to. Which is why, incidentally, this essay is so bad." He tapped the computer screen. "You're too close right now, and the pain is too deep. You're trying to hide in words, distance yourself from your feelings in them." Grant shook his head. "Grief isn't like that." He looked down at the essays he'd clipped and extracted on carefully. Sliding it across the table to Clark, he looked at him seriously and said, "You have to feel first, Clark. You know that."

Tears rose to Clark's eyes as he gazed down at the piece he'd written about Ryan. It was too much, too soon, and he wanted Whitney back home now. Safe.

"Here, Clark."

Clark looked up; Grant was holding a napkin out to him. He took it, feeling stupid, and just held it. "We weren't," Clark said, "I mean ... he loves me. I don't .... I was in love with someone else when he came out to me, and I just .... I miss him. I'm terrified. He's missing and no one knows what happened, and I'm so scared and .... But I don't ..." He swallowed hard.

Grant was quiet. He reached out and gently touched the back of Clark's hand with his fingertips. When Clark finally looked up, he said, "And that's something people can relate to, as well."

He tried to say something, but failed. His grief was to deep. So, he sniffed and swiped his eyes with the back of his hands, feeling incredibly stupid.

"Take your time," Grant said. He pressed his fingers into the back of Clark's hand again, and was sitting back when a fierce volcano of anger boiled in Clark.

Clark gasped and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to fight the overwhelming tide of emotion back.

"What the hell is going on?" Lex demanded, storming up behind Clark.

Oh, shit.

He lifted his head and turned. Tears were blinked away, and Clark quickly tapped down on the bond to keep Lex from spilling into him too much.

"Lex," he said, but Lex wasn't looking at him. He had his arms crossed over his chest and he was giving that look to Grant, the one that meant that Grant better check his bank accounts and phone company, because his life was about to be erased.

Grant rose and smoothed his shirt. "Mr. Luthor, hello. I'm Grant Robinson." He held out his hand.

"Of what publication?" Lex asked as he took the hand, more to hold threateningly than to shake, it appeared.

A smile touched his lips. "Queer Youth."

Lex's hand tightened on Grant's, and his mouth opened.

/It's okay/ Clark interjected quickly. /We barely talked about you./

Lex gave him a quick glance, disbelief written in his posture. But he closed his mouth, and took a measured breath. As he composed himself, Mr. Townsend stepped next to Lex and asked, "Didn't you write an article for the Advocate a few months ago?"

Grant's eyes gleamed with a new interest. He did that same full body scan he had of Clark, only slower and with more heat. "Why, yes I did," he said, lips curving into an appreciative smile. "I'm flattered that you remember."

"It was a great article. It really got me thinking about a lot of issues." His smile was warm, and body language inviting.

"Wonderful. I'm glad you've written something worthwhile to read," Lex interrupted. "What are you doing here?"

Clark bit back a sigh and sent a ^wave^ of reassurance at Lex. "Lex, it's nothing. We were talking about Whitney and I got upset."

"Whitney?" Obviously not what he'd been expecting, and Clark smiled at him tentatively.

"Yes," Grant said. "I do want to do an article about Clark and his experiences growing up gay in a small town. It'd be completely anonymous; I'd never use his name, nor anyone else's. I wouldn't even name the town."

"Why Clark?" Lex asked suspiciously.

Grant picked up Clark's essays. "Because of his writing style. Simple, pure, well-read and well-written. I plan to weave snippets of his essays in with the main body of the article. If it goes off as planned, it should be very effective."

"Will he get paid?" Mr. Townsend asked.

Grant's eyes flashed to Mr. Townsend's, and again that smile curved his lips. "Well. I suppose it's negotiable."

"No," Lex said. "Absolutely not. You're not."

"Lex."

Lex looked at Clark, eyes narrowed.

"It's not your decision," Clark said. "It's an article about me, not .... It's my decision to make." And if there was any doubt in anyone's mind about their relationship, now it had to have been eradicated, but Clark didn't care. The truth was, he was intrigued by Grant's proposal, and wanted time to think about it. He turned back to Grant. "I need to talk to my parents. And I'm still not sure, besides." He hitched a shoulder. "Is there anyway I can call you tomorrow?"

"Of course." Grant reached into his bag and pulled out a piece of paper. He scribbled a couple of numbers on it. "The top is my cell phone; the second is where I'm staying in town. The cell is probably your best bet."

Clark took it. "Thanks," he said as he folded it. He stuffed it into his pocket.

"Thank you for considering this." Then his eyes turned to Mr. Townsend. That small, sexy smile graced his face again, and, for an instant, Clark was insanely jealous of his teacher. Then he came back to himself.

"I was wondering if I might interest you in a drink," Grant drawled, head tilted as his eyes traced Mr. Townsend's face. "Something other than coffee?" More private, his body language said.

Mr. Townsend grinned. "I'd love to. I know a nearby bar where we can go." Then he glanced at Lex. "If you don't mind."

Clark could tell Lex minded, but he only said, "Not at all. We just saw a Star Trek movie. There's not much to deconstruct," he added wryly.

"No. But I liked it."

"And I thought the Romulan chick was hot," Lex countered.

Mr. Townsend laughed. "Right. I'll see you later, then."

"Have fun." His tone sounded suggestive, and Clark fought the urge to glare at him. Mr. Townsend was an adult; he could do what he wanted.

So why did it bother Clark so much?

"Bye, Clark." Mr. Townsend smiled at him, then tugged Grant's sleeve lightly, leading him from the Talon.

"Bye." Clark watched them go darkly.

"What's wrong?" Lex murmured, standing closer.

"Nothing. I'm fine." He tore his eyes away from the retreating forms and turned to Lex. "You're angry with me."

Lex clenched his jaw. "No. Not exactly. But I don't want to discuss it here." He rubbed his forehead. "Can we go home?"

"Uh, yeah." A horrible awkwardness invaded his stomach suddenly, and he glanced over at Lana.

She was steaming milk for a drink. When Clark's eyes fell on her, she frowned. After a moment, she glanced over, as if feeling him watching her. Her cheeks darkened when their eyes met, and she turned away.

"What was that about?" Lex asked. He was standing over the table, saving Clark's document on the computer. But, as usual, his keen eyes missed nothing.

Oh, crap. "Um, it's a really long story."

"Really?" One eyebrow arched and Lex got that pissy look that he got when he knew Clark was hiding something from him.

Be calm. Be not-guilty. Act like everything was okay.

"She helped me out of something earlier. Grant basically announced to the Talon that I was gay, and I started freaking out, and Lana came over to pretend to be my girlfriend."

Lex went perfectly still, a mask falling over his face. "Did she now," he said flatly.

"Yeah. Lex, really, it's not that big a deal. Okay? Let's just go home and get some rest. Then we'll talk about all of this. Please?"

He exhaled slowly, eyes closed. /You know this is something I've feared since the moment we got together./

/What, Lana pretending to be my girlfriend so a bunch of jocks wouldn't jump me and break their hands trying to beat me up? That's a weird fear./

"You know what? Fuck you." Lex picked up his laptop and pivoted on his heel. Before Clark could stop him, he stormed behind the counter, right up to Lana. "You do anything to fuck with his mind, you die," Lex said softly, but with great intensity.

Lana blinked and lifted her chin almost defiantly. "I would never do that. No matter what you think of me, I wouldn't."

"You better not." Lex gave her the stare of death for another moment, before turning away and all but flouncing out the door.

"Sorry about that," Clark said as he passed the counter. "I'll call you tomorrow."

"It's okay. And, okay." She smiled tentatively. "Night."

Lex was waiting for him in the car, his hands clenched tightly around the wheel. When Clark got in, he said tersely, "I know, I know. I was totally out of line."

"Yeah, you were."

He made a face, obviously unhappy with being agreed with so readily. "She's going to fuck you over, Clark," he said, the words seeming to be torn from him. "Even if she doesn't think so, she's ... Lana. And she has no idea what the hell she wants."

Clark put his hand on Lex's thigh. "But I know what I want."

Lex turned to him. "No, you don't. I mean, yes, you do. But you have this need to protect people, Clark. To comfort them, and she's going to take advantage of that. I don't want you to get hurt."

He sighed and leaned into Lex, unheeding of the fact they were in town where anyone might see them. Their lips touched, very briefly, before Clark rested his forehead against Lex's. "My feelings for Lana aren't strong enough for me to get tangled up in confusion. I won't be hurt, I promise. Not unless you make this more difficult than it has to be."

"I don't want to. But I'm .... I'm sorry, Clark," he whispered, threading his fingers into Clark's hair.

"It's okay." He turned his head and kissed the inside of Lex's wrist. "But you owe Lana an apology. Not," he continued as Lex opened his mouth to speak, "right now. But later. Right now, we're going home."

Lex nodded silently. He kissed Clark lightly before pulling away. The car started, and they drove home in silence.


Lana was still agitated when she got home. It was bad enough she was so confused over her decision to kiss Clark, but the fact that Lex was involved .... He insisted on seeing her as some sort of Jezebel or something, out to steal Clark away from him. It just wasn't true. She liked Clark, but she didn't want him. Most of the time. But, even when she did want Clark, she wasn't about to steal him away from Lex.

Not that she could. Their love was like something out of a book or something. It was something Lana could only dream of, and even in pretending to date Clark, she wasn't sure if she could even touch it.

Which was good since she didn't want to. She cared for Clark too much to ever hurt him like that.

And, the truth was, despite their troubles, Lana ... sort of liked Lex too. At least enough to recognize that there was a deep streak of hurt that ran through him, and Lana didn't want to add to that.

Luckily, Lana was leaving town in three days to spend Christmas in Metropolis. She'd been looking forward to it anyway, since she missed Nell, but now the city looked like a safe haven. For all of them.

The door to Chloe's room was open, and the light was on. The rules Gabe had laid out for them, via Mrs. Kent, were if they went into each other's room at night, they had to keep the door wide open. And no going in after bedtime, if at all possible.

It was well before bedtime (well, Chloe and Lana's; Gabe tended to retired around eleven), so Lana stuck her head into Chloe's room. "Hey."

Chloe looked up from the book she was reading. "Hey. How was work?"

"Okay. Uh, there was another reporter there." She entered Chloe's room and sat on the edge of the bed. "He was gay, and flirting with Clark."

"How did Clark take that?" Chloe asked warily, closing her book.

Lana shrugged and traced the pattern on Chloe's quilt. "Fine, actually. He even flirted back. Until, uh, the reporter announced that he worked for a gay magazine. Clark got upset about that, especially because Roger Hartman and the rest of the football players were there."

"Great. Did they say anything?"

Lana swallowed. She shook her head and said, "No. But they were looking, so I, uh, went over and kissed Clark. And acted like we were going out."

There was a beat of silence before the bed began shaking.

"What?"

"Lex is going to kill you," Chloe giggled. She shook her head and doubled over, quite happy at Lana's predicament.

"Yeah, the thought had occurred to me, too," Lana said dryly, not really seeing the humor. If Chloe had been in the same position, Lex wouldn't have been nearly as threatening. But, then, he liked Chloe, so it was all very different. "But, except for some threats about hurting me if I hurt Clark, it went okay." She sighed and stretched out on the bed. "I was just trying to help, but now I'm wondering if I made the right choice."

"Have you talked to Clark about it?" Chloe laid next to Lana.

"Not really, there wasn't time. The thing is, I'm pretty sure the reporter knows Clark is gay, even with us pretending. He's from some gay teen magazine. Clark actually seemed to like him. They spent most of the night talking."

Chloe frowned, running her fingers lightly through Lana's hair. "Huh, that's weird. I'd think Clark would be really leery of any reporters, even if they are from a magazine. Everyone's just out to exploit him anyway."

"Maybe. I hope this man doesn't. He seemed to feel bad for almost outing Clark." Lana sighed. "I just hope he doesn't turn out to be a jerk."

"Me too. But, even more than that, I hope that you don't end up getting hurt."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, well, Clark isn't really going to be your boyfriend. And even though you're just pretending, it probably isn't going to be easy. One of you might get too attached, or lines will get blurred, and .... I'm just afraid that something is going to happen to hurt you all."

"It won't happen. I really like Clark, but I know we're not meant to be together. But he still needs me right now, since you're with Chad and can't ... protect him." Lana shrugged. "So, for now, until everything blows over, I'll pretend to date him. I can do it right now." She licked her lips, breath hitching. "Especially right now. With Whitney ..." Her voice broke.

The hiccups stopped and Chloe pulled Lana into her embrace. "I'm sorry," she whispered into Lana's hair.

Lana sniffed and rolled into Chloe. "I want so badly to believe he's okay, but it's so hard."

"I know."

"I just wish .... I wish there was a way for him to know that I'm thinking of him. And that I do love him, and want him to come home and be safe. And ..." She trailed off, tears streaming down her face.

Chloe just held her, stroking her back gently.

Gradually, Lana's tears abated. She snuggled into Chloe's embrace, feeling drowsy and wrung out. "I'm glad we're roommates," she said softly, rising and falling on billowy clouds of sleep.

"Yeah," Chloe said, kissing her softly to sleep. "Me too."


"Do you ever wish we could run away?" Lex whispered. He was lying on his side, facing Clark. The sheets were pooled around their waists, and Lex was stroking Clark's stomach, watching the patterns the moonlight made across his perfect skin.

Clark stretched with a contented sigh before rolling to face Lex. There was a sleepy look on his face, and his hair was tousled. He looked so beautiful, it made Lex's heart ache.

"Where would we go?" Clark asked. He rested his hand on Lex's hip, lazily stroking him through the sheet.

"I don't know." He shrugged. "Somewhere quiet. Secluded. A cabin on top of a mountain. A deserted island. Anywhere. Just away from the people and the press and everything else."

"And no one else to distract us."

"None. We'd be alone. Not even room service. Just you and me."

Clark touched Lex's bottom lip. "Won't you get tired of me eventually?"

Lex bit his thumb gently. "Never."

That earned him a kiss, and then Clark settled back down, one arm stretched so his fingertips brushed against the headboard. "I don't think I want to be sheltered like that. I don't want to hide. Not you, not our relationship. If it were up to me, I'd take you to Metropolis on the busiest day of the year, into some situation with thousands of TV cameras and reporters and just ... kiss you. Right there in the street."

"And two hours later, you'll be exposed for what you are."

"Maybe. But maybe all they'll find is that I'm some farm kid from nowhere who was lucky enough to snag the most perfect man in the world."

A shadow fell over Lex, and he tried to smile but failed. "I'm not perfect."

"To me you are. Even with all your flaws, you're perfect."

He swallowed hard, eyes closing. "I'm not good enough for you."

"You are for me. Everything about you. All made for me." His hand drifted down Lex's chest, caressing lightly as to raise goosebumps over his skin. "And I really do want the world to know."

"After you're eighteen .... And only after I know I can protect your secret."

"Babe, I know you. It's never going to be enough. No matter what you do, you're always going to be afraid. So am I. But that's not going to stop me from living my life, okay? We'll find a way."

He moved into Clark, arms wrapping around his neck and chest. "I just don't want to lose you."

"You won't."

"Clark," Lex whispered, feeling a terrible despair welling in him. "Why did you talk to that reporter?"

"Is that what this is about?"

He didn't answer the question. Instead, he wrapped himself more firmly in Clark's embrace.

"Lex," Clark breathed, lips brushing against his earlobe.

"They make it so sordid and dirty," he finally said. "They're already trying, and no one will ever understand. I don't want anyone to be able to take what we have away from us."

This time, Clark rolled Lex onto his back and kissed him deeply. "They won't be able to, Lex. They can sling all the mud they want, and try to make you look like a dirty old man, and me look like some money grubbing kid, or whatever. We know the truth, and Mom and Dad and Chloe and Lana and Pete and anyone who knows us knows the truth." He cupped Lex's cheek and gazed at him lovingly. "What we have is beautiful."

"I know that. But no one else will. That reporter .... God, Clark, why did you talk to him?"

Clark sighed. "Because he was cute and I liked his accent," which didn't make Lex feel any better at all, but at least it was honest. And it didn't have anything to do with one teenage boy's quest of romance in the form of a headline that read, "I was Lex Luthor's Teenage Lover."

"I can't believe you trusted him."

"I didn't say anything about us to him. We mostly talked about Whitney. He read my essay about Whitney, and then we talked about the article he wants to write. He said he didn't even care if we'd slept together, because he bets that you just sort of helped me come out and he didn't think it was that big a deal." Clark shrugged. "There's something likeable about him, okay?"

"Mark certainly seems to think so," Lex said a little sulkily.

Clark went dark on him.

Lex pulled away. "Why does that bug you so much? That Mark and Grant went off together? I thought you liked him."

"I do. I like my teacher, Mr. Townsend," Clark said, stressing the word teacher.

He propped himself on his elbows. "Don't pull that on me, Clark. You're fine with the idea of your teacher hooking up with Whitney." Then, when Clark made a face, he said, "Okay, not fine, but you were resigned to the idea. Why the anger?"

"I don't know." Clark propped himself up as well, looking troubled. "It's just, Mr. Townsend said he was interested in Whitney. And I know Whitney's missing, but .... It's just so soon."

"Clark, Mark and Grant aren't getting into a relationship. I mean, it's possible they might, but I doubt it. It's just a one night hook up."

The confusion was evident on Clark's face, and he gazed at Lex with a strange sort of blankness.

"It's called cruising. You've done it. When you were on the meteor rock."

"Right, but I was high."

"I've done it."

"But that was before you met me. You haven't done it since, right?" He didn't sound suspicious, just curious and confused.

Frankly, Lex was finding Clark's show of naivete a little annoying. He couldn't be this dense, he knew the way the world worked. "No, I haven't. But people do. When they are and aren't with someone, it just depends on the boundaries of the relationship. And Mark isn't with Whitney, so why does it matter?"

Clark shook his head. "I don't know. It just does. I mean, shouldn't he be ... mourning or something?"

"Maybe he is. We all act differently."

"I don't go out and have sex with someone else!"

Lex raised his eyebrow. "No, but you have intense, if brief, sexual fantasies about every pretty face that walks by you." He urged Clark onto his back and then kissed his collarbone. "I'm sure Mark's confused. He hasn't really talked about it, and I'm not really in the mood to try to draw him out."

"You're still upset with him," Clark said, running his hand up Lex's spine. "Because of the thing with Lionel."

"I can't trust him."

"Not that you ever did."

Lex sighed and rested his head on Clark's chest. "I'm so fucked up."

"No, you aren't." Clark kissed the top of his head. "You're tired. It's not the same thing."

"No, I'm fucked up."

"You're tired," Clark repeated. "Sleep."

"But ..."

"Sleep." He pulled Lex away so he could kiss him, then rested their foreheads together. "Close your eyes, baby."

"But ..."

Clark kissed him again, and Lex complied. When they broke apart, he rested his head against Clark's chest and listened to him breathe.

Warm hands pressed against his back, firmly at first, then with decreasing intensity. Clark's breathing slowed, and features grew slack and carefree. Moonlight tangled in his hair, and his mouth parted slightly.

Lex watched as Clark drifted into sleep and envied him. Sleep, he knew, would not be so easy for him.


"So, do you come here often?" Grant asked, rolling his beer against the palm of his hand.

Mark swallowed his scotch and soda and bit back a smile. He'd actually been fed that line last time he was here. Of course, he'd driven here with Grant, so it wasn't a line so much as conversation.

"Not really," he answered as he glanced around the bar. It was small, consisting of three sections: the main bar, which was packed with tables, chairs, an elaborate sound system, and the world's smallest dance floor, the patio, and a small back room that contained a pool table, dart board, and more tables. Grant and Mark were currently in the back room, shoved in a corner. "I actually don't get out much," he added.

Pale red eyebrows quirked. "Oh really?"

He tried not to flush. "No. I moved back here to be with my dad, whose health isn't the best. Most of the time I stick close to home, just in case."

"Is it that bad?"

Mark nodded. "It's his heart. He's been doing pretty good lately, but it's still a concern."

"So no overnights with Mr. Luthor?"

It'd been so long since he'd thought of Lex like that, for a moment, Mark actually thought Grant was talking about Lionel Luthor. But then he realized what Grant was getting after. "Oh, Lex and I aren't involved."

"Oh no? Because I heard he doesn't share his conquests lightly."

Mark snorted his drink up his nose. "I'm not Lex Luthor's conquest. The man hardly knows I exist, for God's sake."

"It didn't look like that to me."

"We're friends. And barely that. We've recently had a falling out of sorts." And it really bugged Mark, to suddenly be the enemy when he knew he'd done the right thing. He hadn't taken the money, and Lex was angry with him anyway. Being friends with Lex was a lose, lose situation.

But Mark liked him. Beyond that, Mark really liked Clark, and didn't want to hurt him, so he was willing to put up with it, at least for awhile longer.

"Friends?" His tone was suggestive.

"Yes. Friends."

Grant nodded and took a pull on his beer. "So, the rumors are true, then. Lex Luthor played the part of over-protective lover perfectly back there. He and the kid ...."

"Look," Mark said, voice sharp. "Did you ask me out for drinks or because you wanted to pump me for information? Because, if it's the latter, I'm not interested." He started to rise, but Grant caught his wrist.

"Mark, I'm sorry. I'm here for you, really." He tugged Mark up as he rose, and then backed him against the wall. "I really am what I said: a reporter interested in writing a story about a young man, growing up gay in a small town. That's it." Then his lips were on Mark's, and they were warm and wet and his teeth tugged just right on Mark's lower lip. "Anything more," he whispered, breath hot against Mark's skin, "is just me digging for good gossip."

"Oh," he breathed. He tugged Grant back, sucking his bottom lip between his own.

The kiss grew hungrier. Grant pushed him against the wall roughly, hands rucking up Mark's shirt. Smooth hands ran up his back, skin on skin and, God, it'd been so long. Too long, and, shit, he was hard already.

He tore his mouth away. "How far away is your hotel?"

"Ten minutes?" Grant panted, biting and sucking on his neck. His hand slid over Mark's cock. "But it'll seem like less, I promise you."

This time, all he was able to do was whimper. Trying to pull himself together, he grabbed Grant's hand and dragged him out of the bar.

He was finally getting lucky.


The dark, heavy drapes of sleep parted, and Clark stirred. There was a strange clicking sound that disturbed him. It was strange and rhythmic, and very familiar. What was weird was how the bunny was typing on the computer, but ....

Clark opened his eyes, awareness suddenly flooding him. "No," he groaned when he saw Lex. "No, no, no."

Lex was wearing Clark's flannel shirt, the sleeves rolled up over his wrists. The computer illuminated his face, emphasizing the dark circles under his eyes. Without looking at Clark, he said, "Go back to sleep."

Clark sat up, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hand. His head felt heavy, but he shook it away. "You need to stop working, Lex. It's," he paused as he checked the clock, "three in the morning." He tried to tug the computer away from Lex. "You have to sleep."

"I'm fine." Lex tugged the computer back. "Just a little longer."

"No." Clark yanked the computer away and climbed out of bed. He sped into Lex's office and hid the laptop in the bookshelf, hoping the no one would look there. Not even Lex. Then, he ran back.

Lex was just now reacting, climbing out of the bed. His eyes were narrowed, ears red as he shouted, "Clark!"

Clark caught him easily and lifted Lex into his arms. "Back to bed," he said. He carried the struggling Lex and laid him down. "Have you been working since we went to bed?" Clark stretched out next to Lex, making sure to tangle their legs together. One hand resting on Lex's stomach easily pressed him into the bed, and Clark slid his other arm behind Lex's shoulders. It couldn't be all that comfortable, but at least Lex was laying down.

He nodded without speaking.

Clark sighed and touched his cheek gently. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing, I'm fine. I ..." He broke off at Clark's look and sighed. Any energy that had remained in his seemed to drain away, and his body relaxed. "It's too much."

"What is?"

"Everything." He closed his eyes and his teeth sank into his bottom lip.

Clark moved his arm from behind Lex's neck so he could stroke the side of his face. "Can you give me one thing that's too much? Just one?"

His cheeks stained red. "I don't know what to get your father for Christmas."

That hadn't been what Clark had been expecting, and he couldn't help laughing. He stopped, though, when Lex's eyes opened and fixed him with a glare.

"Sorry." He swallowed the last of his laughter. "You don't know what to get ... Dad for Christmas."

"I don't. And I only have five days, but I keep drawing a blank. I don't know what to do, and I can't decide if getting him nothing would be better. But that just seems so ... wrong. I mean, I like your dad a lot, and he deserves something good, but anything I can think of, I know he'll reject."

"Like?"

"A new truck. A new tractor. A nice suit. A ... weapon of some kind. I remember him saying how much he likes those old samurai movies, and I know where I can get him a sword or something from it. Or .... God, I haven't the first clue." He rubbed his eyes. "He's going to hate me."

"No," Clark soothed, rubbing Lex's stomach. "No more than he already does."

Lex made a rude gesture with his hand.

"Sorry, baby." Clark took his hand and kissed it gently. "Why don't you get him whatever you got him last year? He seemed fine with it."

Blue eyes opened and latched onto his. "Last year, I got your parents a bottle of wine from my personal collection, a basket of cheese and stuff from France, and flowers. It was so ... impersonal and stupid and, besides, I already got your mom something."

"Really? What did you get her?"

"A first edition book of poetry by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and ...." He broke off, blushing furiously.

"What?"

"Nothing. I'm probably not going to give it to her anyway."

Clark kissed the tantalizing skin of Lex's neck gently. "Please?"

"It's stupid."

"No, it's embarrassing, which isn't the same thing. You could never be stupid." He nipped gently, and Lex shuddered as the teeth closed over his skin. "Please tell me."

His fingers threaded in Clark's hair and tugged. "Perfume," he whispered so softly Clark almost missed it. "I got her perfume."

"Oh, Lex," Clark breathed. There was no need to ask what sort of perfume; if Lex was this embarrassed, it could only be the same kind as his mother had worn. Which, really, broke Clark's heart to know that Lex loved Martha that much, but was still so terrified of looking stupid.

Clark kissed him very, very softly, just the light touch of lips on lips. "She's going to love it. I promise. Give her the perfume."

Lex sniffed and kissed Clark back. "I'll think about it."

"It's not stupid."

"Yes, it is. I feel like a child, but I was in Metropolis, and I walked past the shop Mom always bought it from, and ... and I remembered going with her. She would sniff through bottles, and ask me to smell them, too. Every time, she always acted like she couldn't decide on what she wanted, just because she knew how much I loved being in the store and smelling everything. And then, finally, she would take the bottle from the shelf and sniff and make a big show of it." His cheeks grew a deeper red as he said, "I'd always ask for her to put some on me, even when I was too old. She always would." Lex licked his lips. "I couldn't resist buying your mom some."

This time, the kiss was deeper, and Clark sucked on Lex's upper lip before releasing it. "Give it to her."

"Yeah," Lex breathed. "Maybe."

That was the best Clark was going to get, so he let the maybe slide. If Lex didn't give the perfume to Mom for Christmas, Clark would find a way to get it to happen. In the meantime, he turned his mind to the issue that was bothering Lex. "Uh ... how about getting Dad a toolbox?"

"A what?"

"Toolbox. Something to keep his tools in. His is all rusted and broken. He'd appreciate a new one."

Lex shook his head, looking distinctly annoyed. "I can't get him a tool box for Christmas."

"Sure you can," he said patiently. "It's not super fancy or expensive, but neither is dad. Sometimes it's not the most expensive or elegant present that counts. I mean, it can be nice to get something mind-blowing and everything, but sometimes, it's the little things that count. And, I know it's cliched, but it's true. Especially in Dad's case." He kissed Lex's forehead. "Get him the toolbox."

Lex made a face. "He'll hate it."

"No, he won't."

"He'll think I'm cheap."

"He'll think that you put thought into your present and decided to get him something he really needs."

"But it's not like I can just walk into Fordman's and buy something."

"Why not?"

Lex looked at Clark as if he'd grown another head. "Because I'm Lex Luthor," he said indignantly. Then he added, "Besides. Someone's bound to tell your father if I do." He sighed. "I'll have to get something from Metropolis."

Clark smiled and kissed him again. "That sounds like an idea."

Lex sighed again and closed his eyes. "Am I blowing everything out of proportion right now?" he asked.

"A little." He rubbed his thumb against Lex's forehead. "But you're tired. If you would go to sleep ..."

"You kissed Lana," Lex interrupted.

He bit back a sigh. The truth was, he'd hoped that they'd already settled this. Apparently, they hadn't. "I did," he said evenly. "It meant nothing. I thought you trusted me."

"I do. I swear, I do. But things are just so fucked up, and I ... was planning on asking Helen to the LexCorp Christmas party."

Clark's heart froze. God, he hated how he reacted to Helen's name, but he couldn't help it. Something about her just bugged him.

He climbed onto Lex, straddling his hips. He didn't say anything.

"As my date," Lex added unnecessarily.

He swallowed hard and took a deep breath. His heart was pounding as he pinned Lex's wrists to the bed. This wasn't good. Clark had to close his eyes and exhaled slowly before he was calm enough to say, "So do it."

"You don't understand ..."

Cark caught his lips again. His tongue entered Lex's mouth slowly, twining around his. It slipped against his upper pallet, scraped, over his teeth.

"I understand," he said when he pulled away. "You're afraid of yourself. But I'm not."

"You can't ..."

"I trust you." He cocked an eyebrow. "I trusted you with Victoria."

Lex snorted. "Right. After you'd fucked me so hard I could barely walk, you trusted me."

Clark's face twisted and he leaned in. Lex gasped out loud as Clark sank his teeth into his neck. Teeth, lips, and tongue worked at the spot until Lex was moaning, blood rising to the surface under Clark's unrelenting mouth.

"That was then," Clark whispered. His tongue bathed the mark he'd just made with rough strokes. "I was new to this. I was young."

"It's only been a year. Not even quite."

"You said yourself I'm a man. I've grown." He captured the bruised skin between his teeth and bit again. "Give me this maturity. I need to be closeted to protect you. Maybe you should too."

Lex was silent a moment, and still under Clark's ministrations. Just when Clark was about to say something, Lex said, "Lana knows about us. Helen can't."

Clark bit Lex hard enough to break the skin. "Don't let it get that far," Clark breathed.

"I don't trust myself," Lex admitted, eyes closed. The words tasted like failure.

Clark's tongue bathed his Adam's apple. "I do."

He exhaled shakily. Clark could tell Lex was near tears, which was bad. It'd been awhile since he'd been this overwhelmed, and it was frightening to see.

Clark bit him sharply, causing Lex to inhale and open his eyes.

"This is a test, Lex," Clark said, holding the eye contact steadily. It seemed to calm Lex, just enough, which was good. What Clark had to say wasn't going to be easy; in fact, it felt as if he were tearing his skin off, but it had to be said. "But, to me, it's not a test of your faithfulness. I know I have it, freak-outs about Helen before notwithstanding. I trust you. And I'm willing, when we're both awake and ready to deal with this, to sit down and work out boundaries."

"What do you mean?"

Ignoring the way his stomach twisted, Clark replied, "You've told me that I can sleep with Whitney. I don't want to, but seeing as you're willing to share my body like that, I can assume that it's okay with you if I kiss him next time I see him. Or to sit and cuddle him until I'm sure he's okay."

Lex nodded.

"Those are the boundaries for me and Whitney. I know how far you're willing to let me go with someone else before you feel hurt and uncomfortable. And that helps me. So we should do the same for you and Helen."

The expression on Lex's face was one of immediate guilt and contrariness. It made Clark want to bite him again, but Lex would just interpret that as a good thing. Clark had him well trained.

"Let's ..." Lex's started, but Clark covered Lex's mouth with his own. He didn't want to talk about this anymore. Lex needed sleep.

"Not now," he whispered. "Sleep."

"But ..."

"Sleep." Then he ^pushed^ at Lex, who was already teetering on the brink. It didn't take much to make Lex fall. The curtain of sleep dropped over him like lead, and, a moment later, he was snoring lightly.

Clark sighed and climbed off Lex. Once more, he pulled his beloved into his embrace and rested his cheek on top of Lex's head. Sometimes, Clark felt as if his entire life was a lie, and the only bit of truth in it was Lex. And yet, they had to hide, as if there was something wrong with being in love.

Just like, deep down, Clark secretly felt that there was something wrong with being an alien. Even though it was easier to accept now, and he was curious to know his history and lineage and everything, there was still that seed of doubt. What if ...

He pushed it away. There was nothing wrong, and he knew it. It was just the rest of the world that didn't realize it. And, until it did, he and Lex had to find ways to make themselves safe.

So ... Helen. And Lana. And rules.

He sighed and closed his eyes. One day they'd figure this all out. Somehow.


The guilt hit Mark the moment he opened his eyes. Shit. Shit, shit, shit, how the hell was he supposed to cover this up? This wasn't some blow job in the bathroom of the bar. It wasn't a quick hand job, or a frantic fuck or anything he'd done since moving into his father's house.

This had been ... sex. Real sex. Prolonged and often. Three times, in a bed with talking and laughing and teasing going on in between. It'd been fantastic.

Worth it, too, Mark told himself firmly. He'd deserved last night. Besides, he was twenty-seven years old. An adult. His father wasn't entitled to know everything about his life.

Shit, if Dad found out, he'd kick Mark out.

He bit back a sigh and glanced over at Grant. He was still sleeping, looking cool and collected even after the night they'd had. Mark envied him. Grant was going to get to wake up, take a leisurely shower, and not have to worry about people knowing he'd had sex last night. Mark, on the other hand ....

Oh, fuck this. He was twenty-seven years old. There was no reason to feel guilty about anything he'd done.

Careful not to wake Grant, Mark climbed out of bed. He managed to keep the shower down to ten minutes, although the water was blissfully hot. When he got out, his fair skin had turned pink, but it faded as he dressed.

As fast as he'd showered, he dressed even slower. He had no idea what he was going to say to Dad. Yes, he'd called him before going to the bar, explaining that he was going out with friends and wouldn't be home. But what if Dad asked where he'd been? Was he supposed to make up some elaborate lie? Or just avoid what'd happened?

God, he wished that his father wasn't so damn homophobic. It made life uncomfortable.

Mark knew his fate if his father was to find out he was gay. And yet, despite the guilt and fear--and the anger at the guilt and fear he was feeling--he couldn't regret his decision to go home with Grant.

Biting back a sigh, Mark sat on the bed and touched Grant's cheek gently. The man was gorgeous, and Mark had always been a sucker for an accent. Especially a sexy one, like Grant's.

"Hey," Mark whispered. He bent over and gently kissed the perfectly shaped lips.

Grant stirred. A smile lightened his face, and sliver-gray shone from underneath ginger eyelashes. "Up already?" he drawled in a gravelly voice.

"Yeah," he said softly. "I have to go."

"So soon?" Grant caught his hand and delicately bit his index finger. "Can't I persuade you to stay?"

Stomach clenching, skin burning, Mark forced himself to pull his hand away. "Sorry. It's Dad; I just need to make sure he took his medication and doesn't need anything."

The pretty eyes opened fully, and Grant sat up. "At least you said good-bye," he said, voice flat and sullen.

"Don't be like that," Mark said. "Of course I'm saying good-bye. I had a great time last night." He took a deep breath. "I'd like to see you again tonight."

Grant immediately perked up. He placed his hand on Mark's thigh and asked, "All night?"

He hesitated. God, he wanted to stay all night again. He could feel his interest rising as Grant stretched, the sheet dipping lower on his naked hips.

Mark forced himself to look away. "I'm not sure. I'll have to see how Dad is."

"Why don't I pick you up tonight around seven, and you can decide then?"

"No, that wouldn't work. I'm, uh .... My father doesn't know. About me. And I'd hate to have to introduce you as a friend, and, well, I guess. I guess it'd just be too awkward. I'd rather just get together without having Dad hang over me."

Grant frowned. "You're not out?"

"Not to him, no." He shrugged, trying to make light of it. "He's from Smallville, has the small town mindset. Plus, he's sick enough. He doesn't need the strain of a gay son on him."

"I'm sorry." Grant took Mark's hand again and kissed his palm. "It's must be hard."

"Thank you, but it's fine, really. I'm not in a relationship with anyone, which helps a lot. And as long as I don't stay out too many nights without explanation, I think it'll be fine."

Grant nodded, lacing their fingers together. For a moment, he was silent as he caressed Mark's fingers, thumb stroking up and down his knuckles.

Mark's eyes fell shut and he swallowed hard. He wanted to stay. It's been so long since he'd slept with anyone, and Grant was so good in bed. His mouth, and the way he'd gripped Mark's hips. The strength of his thrusts as he'd driven into Mark, the feel of Grant's mouth on his back, breath on his shoulder, teeth scrapping across his backbone.

Reluctantly, Mark pulled away. "I'll see you later?"

"Very well. Do you want to meet at the Talon at seven?"

"That sounds good." Quickly, Mark leaned over and kissed Grant. Then he grabbed his jacket and left.

Grant was staying at a small motel on the outskirts of town. Mark didn't recognize anyone as he left the building, and he was glad. He really didn't want the news getting back to his father that he'd spent the night with a strange man. Lex was hard enough to explain.

Speaking of, Mark better call him later today. He knew it was wrong, and he should be angry at himself, but he was really interested to see what Lex had uncovered about Grant. He knew without a doubt that Lex had run a search, which was wrong and unnecessary, but ....

Mark really wanted to be able to trust Grant. Not with him, of course, because he was a consenting adult that Grant was free to betray. But if he was lying to Clark about what he wanted, Lex wasn't the only one Grant would have to watch out for.

But, despite his curiosity, Mark really did think that Grant was who he said he was. It wasn't just that he was trusting; he'd read Grant's work, after all, and Mark really did believe you could tell about someone by the way the wrote.

Like Whitney. His letters revealed so much about his character. He was young and impulsive, but there was a deep, almost philosophical side to him, too. His spiritual side was evident in the awe and reverence with which he wrote of his religion and, even though Mark wasn't religious, he could appreciate it in others. Especially since the way Whitney talked about God was like He was a friend. Someone Whitney talked to and trusted, went to for help and found solace in what he'd found. God didn't control his life, but was, instead, a presence who comforted.

If only there was a way to make sure Whitney's God was still comforting him right now. If only there was a way to make sure he was still alive.

Mark sighed as he climbed into his car. It was stupid to miss someone he'd never properly met, but at least there was some precedent. History was sprinkled with lovers whose main form of communication before they'd finally met was correspondence. Even though it was the twenty-first century, Mark was enough of a romantic to hold hope for him and Whitney. After all, Whitney's last letter had been .... Hope inspiring.

You have no idea what your letters mean to me. How close I feel to you, even if we've never met face to face. I know you're someone I can trust, someone I can go to when I'm in need. I know this is strange to say, but I feel as if I've found a home in you.

As far as he knew, that had been the last letter anyone had received from Whitney. There was no way to be sure, of course. It felt wrong to ask Clark; he was upset enough, and asking Lana was too complicated.

It bothered him that he hadn't even had enough time to get a response off. He'd still been carefully crafting his reply when Whitney went MIA. And Mark, unsure of what he was to Whitney and what Whitney was to him, felt at a loss.

Of course, he'd been feeling that way a lot. It was hard being so close to what seemed to be a strong, healthy relationship between two people he liked and not have anything for himself. Back home, there'd always been someone Mark could go to, either for sex or companionship or something. In Smallville, he was at a loss. He really didn't feel comfortable with any of the other gay men in town, not the way he did with Lex. And it was such a hassle to drag his butt out to the bar for an anonymous hook-up.

And he didn't want anonymous hook-ups anymore. He wanted a relationship. He wanted what Clark and Lex had, and yes, he felt weird being envious over a student, but it was just as weird as having fantasies over someone he could look up in the yearbook (and not have it be dirty and perverted) and Smallville was like that.

It was almost too bad Grant wasn't sticking around, Mark mused as he pulled to a stop in front of his house. Grant seemed normal; he could use a little bit of normal in his life.

"I'm home," he called as he entered the house. He entered the living room. "How are you feeling?"

His father was sitting in his recliner, half asleep. He hadn't gotten out of his pajamas yet, and he needed to shave.

Mark tried not to sigh as his father opened his eyes. "Where were you?" he asked, rubbing at his eyes. He glanced at the television, then the clock before returning to Mark.

"I was out with a friend, remember? I called."

"Yes, I know you called," Dad snapped. He had the attitude of someone who'd forgotten and was angry about it as he added, "I just wanted to know where you were out. Who were you with, that sort of thing."

He shrugged and tossed his jacket on the back of the couch. As he went into the kitchen for some juice, he called back, "I went to a bar with a friend."

"Who? Luthor?"

Mark bit back a sigh as he poured himself juice. "No. Lex and I went to the movies, and then I met up with another friend."

"Oh." There was a brief pause before he asked, "Did you meet anyone?"

"What do you mean?" He went back into the living room.

"I mean, did you meet a girl? Were you out with a girl last night, and that's why you won't tell me where you were? Because it's about time, if you ask me."

Mark shook his head. "No, Dad, I wasn't with a girl."

His father grunted. A moment later, he said, "You should get a girl. Boy your age, single. It's not right."

"Dad, I've got too much to do right now. I couldn't throw a relationship into all of it. Besides, how would I take care of you?"

"I'm not a child."

"I know. But still, I don't know if it'd be fair to anyone." Mark leaned his head against the doorjamb and sighed. "Do you mind if I go out again tonight? All night, I mean?"

Dad sighed. "That's fine. And go out. I hate to think I'm ruining your social life."

"Dad you're not ruining my social life."

"But you're saying you can't have a relationship because of me."

"Maybe I'm saying I don't want a relationship right now, and it has nothing to do with you," Mark said. "I've got a lot on my plate, and romance isn't something I particularly need."

Dad scowled at the television. "This place could use a woman's touch."

Then why didn't you ever remarry, he wanted to ask, but he held his tongue. Instead, he said, "I don't know. I kind of like our bachelor pad the way it is."

But Dad was shaking his head. "You're too young. You should have someone."

"I have you."

"Oh, fine. That's right. Blame me for not having anyone, that's just wonderful. I'm the cause of your misery."

"I'm not miserable," Mark said, heart sinking. God, life was so much easier when his parent knew about his social life. He used to be able to take Mom and whoever he was dating out to dinner, or go out together, and even have them both over to watch television. He couldn't do that with Dad, and it drove him crazy. "I'm perfectly happy with my life right now. I don't need a relationship to make my life complete. I've got work and friends." Well, friend. And that friend was angry at him, but whatever. "It's fine, Dad. Look, I met someone from out of town last night. They're probably only going to be here for a few days. That's who I was with last night and, if it's all right, that's who I'll be with tonight again."

"So you did meet a girl." This seemed to please Dad so much, Mark simply said, "Yeah."

"Is she pretty?"

He clenched his jaw and continued to lie. "Yeah. Gorgeous blue eyes, red hair."

"Nice tits?"

"Dad!"

"What? Can't a man live vicariously through his son?"

He shook his head; Jesus, this was hard. "Look, I've got some papers to grade. Let me get to that, and then we'll go out and have lunch. How does that sound?"

Dad picked up the remote and flipped channels. "Fine. That sounds good. You can tell me more about your girl before you take her out tonight."

"Okay." He swallowed, hoping he could come up with some good information about this girl before he took his father out. "I'll be in my room. Call if you need anything."

His father was so engrossed in his program, that he didn't even acknowledge Mark leaving.


"I can touch her arm, but nothing else," Lex said, spearing a piece of bacon. Clark watched as he brought it to his lips, lightly licked the grease, then set it back on his plate.

Clark rolled his eyes and dropped his pen. He picked the discarded piece of bacon and held it against Lex's lips. "You need to be serious."

"I am serious." He made a face when Clark pushed the bacon inside his mouth, but chewed it dutifully.

"No, you're not. If you're going to date Helen, you have to touch her. So, holding hands is okay." Clark wrote 'hold hands' on the paper in front of him. The paper was titled, What Lex Can Do with Helen. There was a similar one for Clark, only with Lana's name on it, at Clark's insistence.

Lex was not being cooperative. He hadn't been since he'd woken up. Clark had been insistent that they stay in bed until at least ten-thirty; Lex was exhausted. He'd agreed, so Clark felt safe in zipping home to do his chores.

When he'd arrived back at the mansion, Lex had been in his office, working. Clark hadn't spoken as he lifted Lex and carried him back to his room, where they remained until nearly eleven.

They were still in bed now, eating breakfast. Rather, Clark was eating breakfast, and Lex was trying to find places to hide his food. So far, he wasn't doing very well.

Lex swallowed the bacon Clark had force fed him. "I don't hold hands in any case. It's too ... touchy."

"You hold hands with me."

"That's because I like you."

Clark looked at him, eyebrow raised. "You mean to tell me that, before me, you've never dated anyone you've liked."

The eyes rolled and Lex picked up a wedge of toast. "No. I mean .... Well, mostly no. But I haven't like anyone enough to be romantically girly and walk around swinging our linked hands like we were five." He started to casually drop the toast on the floor, but Clark quickly sped to pick it up.

"You have a very weird view on what's romantic, and what's just plain silly," he said, handing the toast back.

Lex just shrugged and sullenly ate his toast.

"Fine, but I'm still writing it down. Just to let you know that's it's okay. Same with putting your arm around her." Clark wrote that down on both papers.

"I can kiss her on the cheek," Lex said.

The tip of the pencil broke. Without saying anything, Clark got another pencil from the pile he'd put on the breakfast tray. "And the lips." His voice was steady as he said it, but he could feel the pencil giving under his fingers.

"Not the lips."

Clark bit back a sigh and tore a piece of pancake. "Lex, if you're going to date her, she's going to want to kiss you," he said, striving for reasonable. He dipped the pancake in syrup and popped it in his mouth. "And I'm not saying you have to. I'm saying that it's an option."

"You're just saying it because you want to kiss Lana."

Clark felt his nose wrinkle. It would have been a fair accusation in the past. Even after he and Lex had first gotten together, there'd been a part of him that had still wanted to kiss Lana. Now, though, it wasn't so important. Their kiss yesterday hadn't been terrible. In fact, after the initial awkwardness of it, it'd been kinda nice. And she felt good in his arms.

She didn't feel like Lex, of course. No one was like Lex. But holding Lana felt ... nice. Like holding a good friend.

But that didn't mean he wanted to kiss her. That desire had faded along with the last of his virginity. Kissing her now would be part of the act.

"I won't kiss Lana much," he finally promised. He wrote, "kiss on the lips" on his paper.

"Clark." Lex put his hand on Clark's forearm.

He looked up.

There were lines around Lex's eyes, and he looked pale.

"Lex," Clark said softly. "We need to ..."

"No, I know." He offered the ghost of a reassuring smile. "But, ah, we need to define what a kiss is."

Clark looked at him a moment, trying to see if he was serious. When it became obvious that he was, he set the pencil down. "Okay." Clark took the tray off their laps, and turned to Lex. Placing his arms around Lex, he said, "A kiss is ..." He leaned over and pressed his lips against Lex's.

As kisses went, it was tame. But, it was them, so it was also perfect. It reminded Clark of their first kiss: lips pressed together, their breath mingling with one another, warm skin brushing together. Their lips were hardly moving, their hands only touching fabric as they clung to each other.

And then Clark moved his lips, captured Lex's upper lip in his own. He sucked gently and pulled away, the taste of Lex in his mouth. "That's a kiss."

"What about this?" Lex leaned in, mouth parted. His tongue entered Clark's, not staying, hardly touching, just a slick, shy presence in Clark's mouth.

Clark tried to follow Lex, but he pulled away too soon.

"Well?" Lex looked earnest. Serious. Not shaken and needy like Clark was feeling now.

He forced himself to speak. "That might be a little teasing." It came out in an almost steady voice.

"Then what's the limit?"

"What do you mean?"

Lex sat back and reached for his orange juice, which was on his nightstand. The glass shook as he lifted it to his mouth, and Clark was gratified. His own skin felt hot and tight; he didn't want to be the only one.

"How long am I ... are we allowed to kiss them like that? So it's not a tease?"

"Do grown-ups make out?" Clark asked, surprised.

Lex's look was venomous.

He lifted his hands and said, "I'm just saying, it's a little weird to think of you and Helen sitting on the couch making out."

"Maybe that's because you're forgetting to put yourself in there." Then he grimaced. "No. Don't put yourself in there. But you know what I mean."

Clark picked up his pencil and chewed it. This was a lot more complicated than he'd thought.

"Well," Lex said after a moment. "I can't think of any scenario in which I'd be alone with her for an extended period. The point is to be in public, not behind closed doors. The longest would be on a trip to or from Metropolis, and I'll use the same excuse there that'd I'd use anywhere else."

"Which is?"

Lex swallowed some more orange juice and then set the glass down. "I'm not comfortable with public displays of affection. What's more, I'm trying to counter my reputation as a playboy and a womanizer. As a party-animal who can't be dignified in public with the person he's dating. And, really, sex in a limo isn't all that great."

"I'd beg to differ," Clark murmured.

Lex ran his leg up Clark's. "With you, anything is great."

Clark just smiled and took Lex's hand in his. "Are we done?"

"No below the jaw kissing," Lex said, nodding at the list.

Clark dutifully recorded it.

"No pet names, no declaration of emotion, no breaking plans with each other to go out with them unless it's a business thing, or a reporter is lurking around."

He added all of it, and then looked up. "No worrying about what the other is doing with their date. We call each other as soon as we get home. We keep the bond open at all times, and talk to each other the moment things get uncomfortable."

"I'm not good at that. Talking, I mean."

"Neither am I. We learn." He picked Lex's hand up and kissed his wrist. "And we discuss modifications as they come along."

Lex nodded. After a moment, he shifted so he was sitting in Clark's lap. "I love you," he said. "I wish we didn't have to do this."

"It's not forever." Clark stroked Lex's back and kissed the dark purple bruise on his neck lovingly. "In just a few years, we'll be able to live together in the same house or apartment, wear each other's rings, and not care what anyone says."

"Unless I want to run for president."

"You want to lie about our life for office?"

Lex shook his head. "No. But I do want to make the world a better place."

"That won't come from lying, Lex."

"You sound just like your father, Clark."

Clark bit him, causing Lex to gasp out loud and arch. "You do," Lex insisted, voice strangled. Clark bit him again, and Lex cried out. His fingers dug into Clark's shoulders.

Clark released the skin, licked it lovingly, and then pulled away. "This is too hard, Lex. I know you want to be president, but ... I'm sorry, you're going to have to figure out how to do is as a man in a homosexual relationship. That's just the way it is."

There was a smile on Lex's face and he caressed Clark's cheek.

"What?"

"Nothing. It's just you make me feel ..."

"Loved?"

He shook his head and laughed. "No. You make me feel like I actually have a future."

A feeling, both happy and sad, rose through Clark's chest. Unsure of what to say, he cupped Lex's cheek in his hand and said, "You're eternal, Lex."

And it was the right thing to say, because the lines that had etched Lex's face eased and he lowered his head on Clark's shoulder, holding onto him in contented silence.


The Kents' house had never looked so menacing. It normally was so beautifully bright and cheery. Welcoming. Lana always knew that, no matter what her relationship at Clark was at a given moment, she could go to the Kents and find a place to be safe. A place to make amends and feel like she was part of an extended family. It wasn't like the Sullivan house, which was becoming more and more like home every day. The Kent house was like .... Safety.

Not today.

But, she had to go in. This thing she'd started with Clark wasn't going to disappear, and she needed to find out now where they stood. And what they were going to do. And what Lex was going to do.

She parked the car in the driveway and took a deep breath. Her palms were slick and heart climbing through her esophagus and into her mouth. It was awful.

Clark appeared suddenly from the barn. He was whistling, dirt streaked across his cheek and shirt, and walking easily, arms swinging at his sides. At least he didn't look like the world was falling apart around him. That had been the point, right?

His head swung towards her, and his face broke into a grin. "Lana!" His trajectory changed, towards her now.

She forced her hands to unclench from the steering wheel. "Hey, Clark." She climbed out of the car and tried to smile at him.

His smile grew. "Calm down, Lana. Everything's okay."

"Easy for you to say."

"No, really. I talked with Lex and explained what happened. He's grateful. Really."

Lana narrowed her eyes. Grateful didn't sound like Lex. Spoiled, haughty, and snobby, maybe. Grateful? No.

"I'm glad," she finally said. "But, uh .... So where does this leave us?"

"Let's go get some lemonade or something," Clark said, avoiding the question. He put his hand on her shoulder.

Something bright and happy uncurled in Lana's chest. Despite her worry, she grinned and tilted her head back into the sun. Laughter bubbled in her throat, and she thought about singing because, for the first time in a really long time, Clark Kent had voluntarily reached out and touched someone that wasn't Lex.

Oh, yes, he'd touched people before. Even her. But only when it was necessary. Or when he needed physical comfort now. And even then, most of the time, it was Chloe who was reaching out when Clark needed it. Overall, Clark was a fortress. A bastion. An untouchable tower that one dare not breech unless it was shaking.

And now, for no reason at all, he'd reached out and touched her. And was still touching her. The warmth of his hand seeped through her cardigan to the skin beneath. She'd never realized how big his hands were. Large and comforting. Much bigger than Whitney's and, sadly, the one hand on her shoulder made Lana feel safer than Whitney's arms around her ever had.

But neither made her feel as safe as Chloe, she thought quickly, feeling a pang go through her. Comparing Whitney to Clark felt like betrayal. Comparing them both to the girl who, at times meant the world and at other times scared her to death, felt right.

"Where are your parents?" Lana asked as Clark guided her into a seat at the kitchen table.

"Dad's out in the field, and Mom's making deliveries for Mobile Meals."

"She still does that? I mean, even now that she's working for Lionel Luthor?"

Clark nodded as he pulled a pitcher of lemonade out of the refrigerator. "It's really important to her. Volunteering. Plus, she really cares for all the people she delivers to. She sits and talks to them for at least a half an hour. Knows everything about their lives." Clark sighed as he poured. "I kind of wish I could do it, but I feel so weird. So much ... sickness and death. I really don't want to get close to someone, only to have them die on me."

Lana rested her chin on her hand and kicked her feet under the table. "Yeah," she said softly. "I remember it felt a little weird last year, when we did the volunteer hours at the retirement home. I mean, besides the whole mutating man thing." She grimaced. "But, at the same time, I can see how it's really rewarding, if you do it a lot. It builds a sense of community, and lets people know you care." She sighed and reached out to the display of flowers in the center of the table. Rubbing the petals of one of the flowers between her fingers, she said, "I know that when I'm old like that, I hope people care enough to visit me."

An indescribable look passed over Clark's face. He set the lemonade in front of her, eyes shielded. "Do you want a snack?"

"What do you have?"

"Cookies, pie, or some sort of ... pudding thing."

"What kind of pudding thing?"

"Whitish with raisins in it."

She made a face and shook her head. "Cookies, thanks."

"That's right, you don't like raisins."

"Not in food, no. I always feel like I'm biting into bugs." She shuddered.

Clark laughed and put the cookie jar on the table. "Help yourself," he said, taking a cookie out for himself.

"Thanks." She pulled one out and took a small bite. It crumbled in her mouth, the dry crumbs sticking together into a gummy substance. "So, uh," she said, clearing her throat. "What's going on?"

"Um, well. I guess that's up to you." He put down his cookie and looked at her. "I'm sorry about Lex last night. I don't know what exactly was up with him. I mean, he way overreacted, you know? But, he was also upset about the reporter, so when I told him .... I'm sorry."

"Thanks. But, uh, how do you feel about it? I mean, I sort of came over and kissed you without you asking, and I've been worried that ..."

"No. No, it was okay," Clark assured her. He reached out and took her hand. "I'm really grateful. I mean, Grant wasn't fooled at all, but the rest .... I guess people talk about me. Speculate. And right now, they're leaving me alone, which is good, but I'm afraid any anger or whatever at me being gay is going to leak to some reporter sometime. Maliciously, you know? And I know those jocks are giving Chad a hard time right now, so I am worried. So when you came over and pretended to be my girlfriend, I appreciated it."

Lana smiled and turned her hand over in Clark's. She liked the way the weight felt over her hand, the way his covered hers completely. "So. You want to keep pretending."

"Well .... I'm a little worried. It's not exactly fair to ask of you."

"I'm volunteering," she pointed out, a flare of anger igniting inside her. She was so tired of being protected, and of people forgetting that she had her own mind. After all, she was the one who'd crossed the room yesterday. She was the one who had kissed Clark, had sat in his lap, and had let people think she was taken. No one had forced her to do that. What's more, no one and nothing could make her keep pretending unless it was something she wanted to do. It had nothing to do with Clark asking. Lana wanted this to be her idea, her decision, without anyone trying to protect her.

"I know," Clark said. "I know you're offering. But, still ..."

"Clark," she interrupted, an edge to her voice. "I'm not exactly looking for a boyfriend right now. Guys are ... demanding, okay? They want a lot of attention and get annoyed when your attention is in other places. And, right now, my attention is mostly on the Talon, on Henry, and on school. And friends, which is why I want to do this for you. You're a really good friend, and I want to help you out. If you don't want to pretend we're together, that's fine. But don't act like it's going to be some huge burden for me."

Clark studied her a moment. His eyes were dark and unreadable, as was his expression.

It was hard not to back down or look away, but Lana forced herself to meet his gaze steadily.

"Okay," Clark said after a moment. "So. We're dating."

Oh, that caused a weird flutter in her stomach, but she ignored it. "I guess we are. Is Lex going to kill me?"

"No. He's not, really." He picked up his lemonade. "So, uh, how do we do this, anyway?"

Ah, logistics. The hard part. It was so easy to get sweepingly romantic, to swoop in and rescue Clark from the vultures without any thought of the consequences. So ... perfect to imagine they could pretend to have a relationship, to imagine the rest of the world slowly fading away until they didn't notice Clark anymore. But ... the reality was going to be a lot harder.

"Well. Chloe asked if we wanted to go on a double date with her and Chad tonight."

"Really?" He cocked his eyebrow.

"Yeah." She picked up a cookie and fiddled with it between her fingers. "Do you want to go?"

He nodded and said, "It sounds like fun." He took her hand again and squeezed it.

"Yeah," Lana said, smiling at him as she squeezed his hand back. "Yeah, it does."


It was extremely rare that Lex found himself with nothing pressing to do. There was always something: LexCorp business, Clark business, reporter business, PR business, chemical formula business .... Something . And, if there was nothing pressing, Lex came up with something. He hated being idle, but, more than that, he'd recently found himself plagued by something akin to guilt when he wasn't working. He'd spent so much of his life not doing anything important, and now he had so many responsibilities, it was almost as if he couldn't take any time off. At least, not any time off for himself. Spending time with Clark was different. That was a relationship. Even spending time with Mark was different. It was business ... somewhat. He could justify it.

But time spent alone not working .... Lex had a hard time justifying that to himself. Snatches of moments were caught throughout the day or week. Isolated incidents in which he could quickly leaf through the latest issue of Warrior Angel or hop online to look at something. More often than not, he multitasked. He'd watch television while running numbers, or listen to music while showering. Books were read late at night, movies watched with Clark. The only thing Lex consistently took time out to do for himself was daily trips down to his relaxation room and exercising.

But time alone without anything to do? It wasn't something Lex did. At least, not in a very long time.

Clark was on a date. Lex had no right to be even the least bit upset about that, but he was human, so he was. Well, not upset. Not even worried, just ... uncomfortable. He was uncomfortable with the whole situation, even though he'd agreed to it, and he didn't like that he was uncomfortable. It was necessary, at least for right now. Besides, Clark wasn't attracted to Lana, not really. Lex knew that.

Even still, Lex decided to treat himself and take the night off. He ended up at the Talon with a stack of magazine (GQ, Scientific American, and Wired) and an issue of Warrior Angel hidden in each one.

There was a fresh batch of Martha's pie in stock. Lex ordered a slice and even had whipped cream on it. It was pumpkin pie, which wasn't his favorite, but it was still delicious.

He was deep into his second Warrior Angel comic and wondering why he didn't indulge in this more often, when a throat cleared above him.

He reluctantly pulled his eyes away, feeling as if he were being torn. Devillicus had just poured tar on Warrior Angel's wings, and he'd kidnapped the kid that'd been hanging around Warrior Angel for the past few issues. Lex had a feeling that the kid was being introduced as a sidekick (his parents had been killed when he was a child, and his last remaining relative had been possibly kidnapped by Devillicus. Warrior Angel had rescued the kid, Joel Presage, who was actually sixteen, and then, out of sympathy, looked after him under the guise of Gabriel Phim, his secret identity). Anyway, Joel had been kidnapped and tied to a vat of acid rigged with dynamite, and the situation looked grim.

To top it off, Devillicus was taunting Joel with the possibility of what was beyond the curtain, and Lex knew it was the body of his uncle, and he knew that this was the way Joel was going to come into his powers or whatever and ....

He really didn't want to look up. But he had to, because the throat clearer wasn't going away.

"Oh," he said, trying to hide his frustration at the interruption. "Helen. How nice to see you." The words sounded forced. Mouthed. With any luck, she wouldn't notice.

"Am I interrupting something?" she asked in lieu of a greeting.

Lex forced a facsimile of a smile onto his face and said, "Not at all. Care to join me?" He carefully slid a napkin inside his comic to hide his place and closed the magazine. Then he pulled his briefcase off the table.

Helen sat gracefully, setting her mug in front of her. One hand was wrapped around the porcelain, her manicured nails glinting from the light overhead. She was dressed casually in a crimson V-neck shirt and tight black jeans, hair swept into a half ponytail so curls tumbled enticingly down her back. Her make-up was simple: a little blush and lip color, and, all in all, she looked gorgeous.

Maybe Warrior Angel could wait. Lex knew everything would work out. And he was pretty sure that someone on a message board said that Joel was definitely going to be a sidekick. And it would still be there when Helen left.

"How are you this evening?" he asked.

"I'm good. I have the evening off, finally. This week's been kind of hectic."

"Oh?"

She nodded. "A bunch of emergencies, and an outbreak of some kind of flu. Just one thing after another, you know?"

"I know exactly what you mean. I've had weeks like that. Years even." He quirked a smile at her, then took a sip of his drink. "Any big plans for tonight?"

"Ever notice how you can't make big plans in this town?" Helen retorted, cocking her head. "I mean, come on, what am I supposed to do? Get dressed up and go down to the Wild Coyote to be drooled on? I don't think so."

He couldn't help but smile. "Where would you prefer?"

"For what? To be drooled over? I'd rather skip that whole ordeal, thank you." Helen shook her head. "I generally try to avoid bars, if possible."

"You don't drink?"

"No, I drink. I just hate how when I got to a bar, everyone assumes I'm there to be social, when, usually, I'm just there to get a drink."

It was a problem Lex could sympathize with. He, too, was always in the public eye and the only way he could go into a bar and not be bothered was to be somewhere far from Kansas. And, even then, it depended on how hungry the tabloids were.

It was something that, no matter what she thought, Helen would never understand. She'd grown up wealthy. Her father was a prominent plastic surgeon who'd catered to the rich and famous. Consequently, Helen had grown up in that world. But she'd only been on the fringes, and her father had never been in the public eye the way the Luthors had been. Helen might find herself unconvinced and annoyed by the attention; Lex generally got mobbed.

"It's only here I can sit and not be bothered," Lex said, glancing around. Because it was true. He'd been fair game at the Wild Coyote, but here, he was an island.

"Am I bothering you?" For the first time in their association, Helen looked uncertain. Her fingers tapped lightly on her mug, and she shifted in her seat.

Lex shook his head and drummed his finger on his magazine. Yes, he wanted to finish his comic book, but it could wait. "No, it's fine. I've, uh, been meaning to call you."

"Yeah," Helen said. She caught her bottom lip in her teeth momentarily before saying, "I've thought about calling you, too."

"Thought about." That wasn't at all encouraging.

A flush touched her cheeks. "Yeah, thought about." She sighed and rubbed her forehead. "It's complicated, Lex. You're complicated. And I don't quite know what I want to do about you."

And Lex thought he was high maintenance. It would seem that they were both lucky Lex's heart was happily engaged otherwise; he and Helen would drive each other crazy if they were free to get involved.

Lex sent a quick thanks to Clark's dearly departed parents for sending Clark to him. It was obviously some part of a deeper design to keep Lex on the track to greatness. Then he turned his attention back to the woman he was sitting with. "It doesn't have to be complicated," he said.

"Lex ..."

"It doesn't. Or, at least, I don't see why it would." He leaned forward and shrugged. "I don't know about you, but I'm not exactly looking for anything in particular right now. The very least would be we could grab a cup of coffee now and then. How complicated is that?"

Helen shrugged. "It sounds not very, but then, it's you."

This wasn't worth it. He'd find another date for the Christmas party. Helen insulting him was getting really old, really fast.

Lex sat back and flipped his magazine open. Turning his attention to the article presented, he said airily, "Then uncomplicate your life, Helen. It was nice talking to you."

Helen didn't move. And she didn't say anything, which was fine with Lex. His eyes were busily skimming the article, but he was really considering his options for a date for the LexCorp Christmas party. The last thing he wanted to do was bring in some Metropolis socialite and give the town the impression he was too good to date the ladies of Smallville. But, on the other hand, he didn't feel as if asking out a local would go over very well. There was that fine line Lex was treading, and as much as he didn't want to think of himself as lord of the manor .... In some ways, that's what he was. There was a chance that asking out someone from Smallville could be considered inappropriate, unless Lex did a through check to make sure no one related to her was in any way connected with LexCorp or LuthorCorp.

The problem was he only had four days. The idea that he should take someone hadn't occurred to him until a couple of days before, and Lex was seriously behind schedule.

"Look," Helen said, breaking her silence. She almost managed to startle Lex who, while aware of her presence, had forgotten she was there. "I'm not trying to insult you. My life is complicated, too. And the idea of us ...." She trailed of and shrugged.

He looked up and arched a cold eyebrow. "Us?" Lex repeated. "Let me reassure you, Dr. Bryce, that there is not, and never will be, an 'us'. The reason for my persistence in talking to you is that you are an interesting woman with a clever turn of mind. There aren't many like you in town. I'm not interested in a relationship, per se, but, rather, conversation with someone intelligent. I'm sorry that is too complicated for you. Now, if you'll excuse me." He smiled tightly and looked back down at his magazine.

Helen sighed and rubbed her forehead with the heels of her palms. "See? You're complicating it right now! How was I supposed to know you weren't trying to get into my bed?"

"You could have asked," Lex said, turning the page.

"Fine. Lex, are you trying to get into my bed?"

Lex didn't even look at her. "No."

"Really?"

"Yes, really. Sorry, Doctor. You're pretty, but my primary interest in you is not your body."

"But your secondary interest is," she said almost triumphantly.

Lex didn't deign to answer her.

Helen managed to stay quiet for at least two minutes after that. Then, she sighed and said, "I'm sorry. I misjudged you."

He simply shrugged. "I'm used to it."

"So I see." Her nails clicked on the table as she drummed them lightly. "Um, I'm totally free tonight. Would you like to go to a movie or something?"

"No, thank you." He wondered if he should drop the freeze. Not that he was particularly happy with her right now, but there was a point when pride became stupidity. Or worse.

"Well, then, how about ..." Helen looked around the room, bottom lip caught in her teeth again. Then she dropped it. "How about a game of chess?"

Lex looked up. "Chess?"

Instead of answering, she rose and crossed the room. Along the back wall, by the counter, was a shelf full of game boards. Most of the games were in use tonight, but there was one chess set left. When she returned, she said, "My father and I used to play for hours. Do you play?"

"It's a game of war," Lex answered, but she didn't understand. Rather than enlighten her, he simply nodded in affirmation.

She grinned. "Good. Then I look forward to whipping your ass."

Lex only smirked in response.


The movie had been a pleasant distraction to take Clark's mind off things. Despite his easy happiness with Lana that afternoon, Clark had spent most of the day brooding. Brooding over the List, brooding over Grant's proposal, brooding over Whitney and his essay and everything. In fact, when he'd finally gone to Chloe's to pick her and Lana up, he felt as if he were standing directly underneath a rain cloud.

The movie helped change that. It was pleasant sitting in a darkened theater, Lana on one side of him, Chad on the other. Lana held his hand the entire movie and, once, even rested her head on his shoulder. And Chad .... Well, the bucket of popcorn was between Chad and Clark and their hands kept brushing. Okay, so maybe Clark kept trying to brush hands with him, but what could he say? Chloe's boyfriend was currently Clark's guilty crush.

Afterwards, they went to the Talon, talking over each other about the movie. Clark was in the middle of giving his impression of the villain when he caught sight of Lex and Helen sitting together.

His steps faltered.

They were sitting in the middle of the Talon, in plain sight, a chess board between them. Neither one was talking as their keen eyes stayed glued to the board. They looked ... intense. Helen's lips were pressed into a thin line, eyes narrowed. Lex's face was more serene and carefully composed. Very little of what he was thinking was coming through, and Clark couldn't help but shiver. It'd been awhile since he'd seen that particular mask. Lex wasn't angry or hiding, he was just acting.

No, that wasn't right. Because the face Lex was wearing right now was his own. Lex was just cooler right now. More subdued.

Disconnected, that was it. He'd disconnected from his emotions.

Which was good. Clark guessed. He didn't know. Lex had gotten comfortable with Mr. Townsend pretty quickly. Maybe not completely. Clark knew something had happened between them, and, even before that, Lex was uncertain on how to deal with having a friend who didn't appear to be asking anything more than access to Lex's occasional company.

But Helen was an entirely different story. She was a woman, first off, who Lex may or may not pretend to date. So that was added pressure. Plus, Lex genuinely liked her, and Clark was well aware that that wasn't something that happened to Lex often. So he wasn't sure what to do.

So, maybe a little disconnect was a good way to go about it. For now.

"What do you all want?" Lana asked. She released Clark's hand and started for the counter.

Chloe caught her. "You're off tonight," she laughed. "And we're on a date." She looked at Clark.

Clark made a face at her. "Lana, can I get you something to drink?"

Lana blinked, and then made a face. She was obviously uncomfortable at giving up her right to make drinks, but she went along with it. "Um, okay. I guess, hot chocolate with a shot of caramel?"

"Okay."

"Thank you, Clark," Lana called as Clark made his way to the counter.

Chad took Chloe's order and then fell in step besides him. "So, you and Lana, huh?" He glanced up at Clark from under his eyelashes.

"Yeah," Clark said, ignoring how his heart sped up when those eyes fell on him. Chad really was too pretty. Maybe Clark could convince him to stop wearing the make-up. It drove him insane. "I've had a crush on her forever. I just sort of never got around to asking her out until now." He glanced at Lex as he passed their table; Lex looked up and gave him a small, secret smile.

Clark held his eyes a moment, then broke contact. When he glance back at Chad, Chad had a strangely bemused expression on his face.

"Uh, right," Chad said. He glanced at Lex, then at Clark.

He couldn't hold back the blush and was happy when Theresa came to the counter. "Hey, Theresa," Clark said, trying to ignore Chad's look.

Theresa's face seemed frozen in a stony expression. "Yes?" she asked in a clipped voice.

Uh-oh. "Um, how are you tonight?"

"Fine. What do you want?"

Shit. Clark rubbed his eyes and glanced back at Lex.

Lex shrugged and rolled his eyes.

"Uh, a hot chocolate with a shot of caramel and a regular coffee?"

"All right." Without taking Chad's order, Theresa went to get the drinks ready.

While she was working, Clark shifted uncomfortably and pulled his wallet from his pants. "What would you have done, Chad? I mean, if you knew a girl liked you. Would you go out with another girl?"

Chad shrugged. "Did you ever tell Theresa there was no chance for the two of you?"

"Yeah. Once or twice."

"Then, yeah, I would have dated the girl I liked. You don't owe Theresa anything, right?"

"Right. I guess."

"Clark ..."

"Hey, pretty-boy," someone said from behind them.

Chad paled and turned. "Roger. Hi," he said, eyes somewhere in the vicinity of the football player's collarbone.

There was a cadre of football players facing them, led by Roger Hartman. He was the quarterback of the football team, now. A senior, he was huge, with too many muscles and too little brain. He was practically a stereotype of himself, but he managed to inspire his group of friends to do anything he asked of them. In short, he was a great ringleader.

Clark moved closer to Chad, stopping just short of putting his arm on Chad's shoulder. "Hey, guys. How's it going?"

Roger raised his eyebrow. "What, you two on a date? Your billionaire sugar-daddy dump your ass, Clark? Or did you decide you wanted to fuck someone prettier?" He roughly rapped his knuckled on Chad's jaw.

"Hey." Clark stepped in front of Chad. "That's enough. We don't want any problems."

"Oh no?" Roger stepped into Clark's space.

"No. We just want to get back to our ladies and have a nice evening," Clark said evenly. He looked into Roger's dark eyes, breathing slowly. The last thing he wanted was for Roger to get him too angry and try to punch him and wind up with a broken hand. But Clark had to take that risk; he had to protect Chad.

"Your ladies? You mean your beards?"

"Oh, please," Chloe snorted. She stepped besides Clark. "Like I would date anyone just so he could cover up that he's gay. And, between you and me, if what I heard is true? Chad is more the man than you are." Her eyes flicked down to Roger's crotch, and then she shot a glance at Lana, who was next to her. Chloe giggle nastily.

Lana froze a minute before she joined in. Her giggles were less enthusiastic, but they got their point across.

Roger went white. "Yeah?" he said, stepping away. "Well, Kent, from what I hear, your new girlfriend is completely frigid and isn't likely to thaw out anytime soon. It'd be easier to pry queer-boy's legs open than Lana Lang's; she like super glued them together, or something. Course," he added derisively, "that's probably what you want, you fucking faggot." He turned to his friends. "Come on, guys. We're outta here."

Clark only was able to breathe when the door had closed behind the jocks. "Thanks, Chloe," he said.

"You're welcome. We're going to the bathroom, okay?" Chloe had Lana by the wrist.

Lana was trembling, tears on her bottom lashes. There were bright spots of color on her cheeks, and she almost looked like she'd been slapped.

"Take your time," Clark said. He put his hand on Lana's shoulder as she passed and squeezed it.

She didn't looked up.

When they were gone, Clark turned to Chad. "You okay?'

Chad, who was also very pale, said, "Yeah, I'm fine. Uh, can you get my drinks?" He handed Clark the money and left before Clark could answer.

"Sure," Clark called after him. Then he turned back to the counter.

Theresa was looking at him, eyes still narrowed. "At least you didn't get into a fight. So you're not a total jerk."

"Thanks," Clark said wryly. He handed Theresa the money for his and Chad's drinks, and waited as she got the change.

While she was working the register, he glanced back at the bathrooms. Avoiding the girls' restroom, he X-Rayed the boys'.

Chad was the only occupant. He was hidden in a stall, fully dressed, leaning against the side. His eyes were closed, bottom lip captured in his upper teeth. In his hand was an unfastened safety pin and he was dragging it over his skin, blood welling from the cut.

"You okay?" Lex asked from besides him.

Clark switched his vision back and gave Lex a wan smile. "Oh, yeah. I'm fantastic." He turned to the counter and rubbed his eyes. "This sucks."

"I know. I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault, ba ... Lex." Shit; he couldn't believe he almost slipped like that. "Look, did you turn up anything on Grant?"

"No. Nothing, he's clean. He's not affiliated with any tabloids, he works for the magazine he says he does, writing exactly what he said he does. He also writes freelance for magazines such as the Advocate. He hasn't been contacted by anyone about you, and he doesn't seem to know my father. Why?"

"I just .... Maybe I should do the interview."

Now it was Lex's turn to sigh. He rubbed his eyes wearily and rested his head on his hand. "It's up to you."

"If I have to live through this, Lex .... Has that ever happened to you?"

"On occasion," Lex said, nodding slowly. "But I've lived a fairly blessed life, and haven't been the victim of overt hatred like that. Not because of my sexuality."

"And it's not going to get better."

"Probably not." Clark could feel Lex's eyes on the side of his face. /I wanted to protect you from all of this, angel. You don't deserve to be hated./

/No one deserves to be hated because of who they love/ he replied vehemently. /This is all such bullshit./

Lex didn't answer.

"Hey," Chloe said, coming up from behind Clark. She have Lex a tight smile as she put her arms around Clark's waist. "I think the evening is a bust. Lana can't stop crying, and I don't think she wants to talk to anyone."

He nodded and turned. "I'll get Chad and then we'll go, okay?" /I'll call tonight./

/You're not coming over?/

/Probably not. I spent the night last night, and Mom and Dad are starting to make noises about me spending too many nights over./

/I understand. I love you./

/Me too./ Clark glanced at him with a small smile. Then, he left for the bathroom, mind churning as he wondered how he was going to go about solving this whole mess.


"Metropolis crisis hotline. This is Aaron. How can I help you?"

Clark swallowed hard. "Uh, I, uh, think a friend of mine is cutting himself."

"I see. That's not good."

"No."

"Tell me about it. How did you first discover this?"

He rubbed his forehead, trying to figure out how to say he'd seen Chad cutting without, well, revealing that fact. Before he'd decided to call the hotline, Clark had done some research online. Most self-injurers were really good at hiding what they were doing. And, to be honest, Chad was good, too. The only reason Clark knew for certain was because he kept using his X-Ray vision to spy.

"Well," he said, "I, uh, one day I saw some marks on his wrists and arms."

"Marks?"

Clark frowned. The voice sounded familiar, like he'd talked to this person before. He'd never called the hotline, though. Chloe had given him the number ages ago, practically begging for Clark to call, but he'd never worked up the nerve. Telling what had happened with Lionel to a stranger was too uncomfortable a thought.

"Yeah," he finally said. "Like old cuts and a few new ones. He, uh, wears long sleeves a lot, and I know it's winter, but they go over his hands sometimes. And he wears cuffs, too, and--" Clark broke off abruptly as he got it. "Aaron?"

"Yes?"

"No, I mean, you're Aaron. Aaron Wolf."

"Yes, I am. Do I know .... Shit, Clark!"

"Yeah." He blushed and smiled. "I forgot you did the hotline."

"Almost my one year anniversary." There was a smile in his voice when he said that, but when he spoke again, his voice went softly sympathetic. "How are you holding up?"

Clark knew what Aaron was referring to. The night after Lana had told Clark about Whitney, Clark had called Aaron in tears. He'd needed to talk to someone who hadn't known Whitney. Lex had been wonderful, of course, and had held Clark, comforting him through the night and most of the next day. But an inner compulsion had driven Clark to tell someone else about Whitney, quickly, to get him into someone else's consciousness before he disappeared completely.

That someone had been Aaron. They'd talked for almost two hours, with Aaron always knowing exactly what to ask next.

Clark cleared his throat, feeling tears burning behind his eyes. "I'm okay."

"Have you heard anything about Whitney?"

"No. Nothing." He took a deep breath. "I'm so scared that he's dead."

Aaron was silent a moment. Clark wondered what he was thinking, if he'd ever lived through uncertainty like this before. When they'd last spoken, Aaron had just let him talk, he hadn't offered any personal anecdotes. "I'm sorry, Clark," he said after a moment. "Really."

"Thanks," Clark said softly. His thoughts lingered on Whitney a moment before he forcibly pushed it away. "So, uh, how are you?"

"Good. Fine. Lonely, but otherwise good. I'd like to see you sometime soon."

"Maybe I can come to Metropolis over Christmas vacation."

"I'd like that."

He hesitated awkwardly, unsure of what he was supposed to say. After a moment, he said, "Sorry it didn't work out with Kyle." Kyle was some guy Aaron had dated briefly. Aaron had e-mailed Clark a few weeks ago to tell Clark they'd broken up.

"Que sera sera," Aaron responded. Then he sighed. "It's better we're not together anymore. I'm going through stuff right now and the timing for a relationship was wrong. But that's cool. There are other guys. Speaking of, you still with your boyfriend?"

"One year plus and going strong."

"Damn. I mean, I'm happy for you." There was a smile in his voice. "But, uh, about your friend. The self-injurer. Do you want me to transfer you to someone else to talk about it?"

"No," Clark assured him. "It's better to tell you."

"That's cool. But I have to ask, purely from a friend standpoint, and because I hate pretending I'm counseling a friend when I'm counseling the one in trouble .... It's not you, right?"

As if he could injure himself, Clark though morosely. "No," he said. "He really is a friend of mine."

"Thank goodness. Not that that's in any way professional, but .... Uh, anyway, how long has it been going on?"

"I first noticed it a couple weeks ago. Actually, a friend of mine noticed it first. He wears these cuffs on his wrists, and one was loose. When it slid back, she saw a few cuts. And then I talked to him the next day, and when he got upset, he started scratching the back of his hand. He actually drew blood."

"Were you talking to him about your suspicions about him?"

Clark shook his head, guilt twisting his stomach. It'd been so obvious then that Chad was upset about the jocks giving him a hard time at school. He'd told Clark he was being harassed, and Clark had ignored that fact. He hadn't done anything about it, and now the problem was only getting worse. "No," he finally said. "No, I figured it'd be bad to just confront him like that or something. We were just talking. Painting our nails."

"You wear nail polish?"

"Sometimes, yeah."

"Cool," Aaron said sounding admiring. Then his voice switched back to the calm, comforting, yet business-like tone he'd had a moment before. "So, you were talking, he got upset, and then he started scratching himself. Has he done that before?"

"Not that I've seen, but we're not all that great of friends. I mean, uh, before he started dating ... a friend, I didn't know him all that well. He's one of my literary magazine people, one of the most enthusiastic. He's, uh, a Goth, and wears make-up and stuff. Some of the guys are giving him a hard time. Harassing him and stuff. And, I think they're beating him up. Every once in awhile, he shows up with bruises on his face."

"And you don't think he's giving himself the bruises."

He thought about it a moment. Because he supposed it was possible, except, "No. He told me how he used to get in trouble for getting beaten up. And that he was still being given a hard time. And." Clark swallowed, a fresh wave of guilt overtaking him. He should have done something sooner. "Tonight, we went out. A group of us. He was with his girlfriend, I'd taken a friend who was a girl. Like a date, but not really. Anyway, these guys came up and started giving us a hard time. Chad got all upset and disappeared into the bathroom. He was a lot calmer when he came back out. I think he cut himself," he added, probably unnecessarily.

"Was he bleeding?"

"A little, yeah." Chad's wounds had still been oozing blood, but not bleeding profusely. But still, the damage had been done, and Clark wanted to stop it. Stop Chad from continuing to hurt himself. But he didn't know how to go about it. "What can I do? I'm really worried about him."

It sounded as if Aaron was shuffling through papers. He was silent a moment except for his tongue, which clicked softly on the roof of his mouth. "Well," he said finally, "unfortunately, there's no way for you to stop it. If Chad chooses to deal with his problems through self-injury, he's going to continue doing it until he wants to stop."

"How do I make him want to stop?"

"You can't," Aaron answered simply.

Clark's stomach sank. "But I want to help," he said, voice a whisper.

"You can help him, Clark. But you can't stop him. The only way to stop self-injury is for the person to make the choice. It's all on him. Your job is to let him know that someone who cares for him is there."

"And how do I do that?"

Aaron cleared his throat. "Well, I would start by getting him somewhere you can talk comfortably. Tell him that you're worried about him, and you know that he's been hurting himself. Make sure he knows that you're not judging him, you're not angry or disgusted or anything. Tell him that you're there for him when he needs someone to talk to. And then be there."

"But what else?"

He sighed. "I don't know. Try to convince him to get help. Do you have a school psychologist?"

"Not one I trust," Clark said flatly.

"Okay," Aaron laughed. "Uh, you can give him the number to the hotline. And maybe look for some alternatives to self-injury."

"Alternatives?"

"Yeah." More paper rustling. "Like, uh, squeezing ice instead. Or taking a shower--a hot or cold one. Eating something hot. Or destroying something. Anything that will distract him from the pain he's feeling inside without hurting himself, so he can get control over his emotions. There's other ideas online, if you want to look."

Clark rubbed his eyes and laid back on his bed. "Yeah. I think I will." He sighed deeply. "I want to help him get help, but the psychologist at our school sucks. He's always giving me a hard time, and I really don't think he'd understand what Chad's going through."

"Is there any adult you trust who might be able to help?"

Mr. Townsend, Clark thought uncertainly. But with something like this? And, while Clark trusted him, he wasn't so sure Chad would. But, on the other hand, Clark wasn't going to be enough. And he already knew that he--or he and Chad, rather--would have to talk to Mr. Reynolds. Chad had the right not to get harassed at school, and Clark bet he could get Lex to threaten a law suit against the school for ignoring the needs of the students.

If Clark and Chad could prove Chad was being harassed.

"You got really quiet," Aaron said softly. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Clark replied quietly. "I think I'm okay. Thanks for your help."

"Anytime." He cleared his throat again, and pages ruffled. "I, uh, I'm glad you called. I mean, I'm glad I was able to help you."

"Me too." He licked his lips. "So, uh, do you want to get together during break?"

"Yeah, I'd like that. How about I call you tomorrow so we can set something up?"

Clark smiled and stretched out in bed. "I'd like that," he said. He rubbed the bridge of his nose. "We'll have to go clubbing again."

Aaron's laughter was rich and deep and washed over Clark comfortably. "Definitely," he said. "Anything to get you back into that green shirt."

Clark felt his cheeks heat. "Um, yeah." He cleared his throat and shifted. Despite not knowing Aaron all that long, he had a very good idea of the look in Aaron's eyes as he'd said the last. The image caused a flush to sweep over his body, and Clark was forced to close his eyes against it.

"Uh, look," Aaron said after a moment, his voice, which had been roughened with something like desire a moment ago, back to normal. "If you call me, make sure you call my cell. And don't e-mail me until after the new year."

"Why not?"

"I'm kind of in between residences right now, and don't have access to a computer all the time."

"What happened?" Clark asked, distressed.

"Nothing. I got evicted. It's cool, Clark, I'm moving in with a group of people on the sixth of January."

Clark sat up. "And until then?"

He could hear the shrug over the phone as Aaron answered, "I'm either at a shelter, or crashing at a friend's."

Aaron sounded fine about it, but Clark knew he wasn't. Even though neither one was in the habit of discussing serious issues with each other--frantic call about Whitney notwithstanding--Clark was aware that Aaron's life had been tough. And the fact he was out of a home ... again ...

"What about Christmas?"

"I'm Jewish."

"Okay, but .... Are you going to be with anyone for the holidays?"

"Clark, I'll fine. Really. I'll probably volunteer here that day. The calls are low volume, but they'll need someone."

His heart pounded. "Come here for Christmas."

"Clark ..."

"It'll be fine. Come up the night before if you want. Come tomorrow. My parents would be happy to have you." He hoped. "And it'll be cool. We'll get to hang out, you'll have a place to stay for more than a night."

"Clark ..."

"Please," Clark interrupted. Aaron was in trouble. He couldn't go on living in other people's homes, not know where he was going to be sleeping the next day. Especially when there was room on the farm. Not when Clark could help. "You have to come. Or I'll come to the city, hunt you down, and drag you here."

Aaron sighed and laughed at the same time. "Fine, Clark," he conceded. "I'll come down."


There was no way in hell that warm brownies and ice cream were on the approved late night snack list, but Lex didn't care. For some reason, this was an ice cream night. Even though the weather was freezing, and the promise of snow was in the air, Lex was craving vanilla ice cream. Besides, he was an adult and could eat what he liked. He couldn't sleep, Clark was at home, and Clark had invited an interloper to what would have been the perfect Christmas; Lex deserved to indulge.

Lex was scooping a large spoonful of vanilla ice cream onto his brownie when he heard the door open. Startled, he turned.

"Anne," he said when he saw the petite blonde woman standing in the door.

"Mr. Luthor," she said, cheeks going pink. She pulled her robe tighter around her and crossed her arms over her chest. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were up."

"It's okay. Just getting a late night snack."

"More like early morning," she replied wryly, crossing the room. She brushed passed him, cheeks redder than before, and went to the refrigerator. As she pulled out the milk, she said, "I can't sleep either."

"Damien giving you trouble?"

"Well, you do know what a pain in the neck he is. Always complaining." Anne rolled her eyes, but still didn't quite meet Lex's. "No, I'm just .... Sometimes I have trouble sleeping. Warm milk usually helps me." She glanced at Lex's snack from under her eyelashes. "Apparently, I go light."

He laughed self-consciously and looked at his sundae. "It's been a stressful night."

"Oh?" Anne leaned on the counter, finally raising her eyes to his. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Lex studied her a moment. He hadn't talked much to this woman, but he knew that Damien trusted and liked her. She was also competent, and cheerful, and put up with Lionel beautifully. What's more, she'd never, according to security and his own observations, snooped through anything that he hadn't set up specifically to be snooped through. Her curiosity was healthy, but, thus far, not exploitative. Plus, she was pretty, with soft blond and brown eyes. Her face was small and ... sweet, somehow.

A face people took too.

He leaned towards here, elbows on the counter, mimicking her posture. "I had coffee with a woman tonight. I'd planned to ask her to the LexCorp Christmas party, but she seemed ... disinclined to accept."

"Did you ask her?"

"I barely got her to sit down and have coffee with me."

Anne's lips formed into a sympathetic moue. "I can't believe that, Mr. Luthor."

He shrugged lazily. "Well, she has her reasons. Still, it puts me in a bind. I only have three days now to find someone to go with me." Lex shook his head. "I'm pretty much resigned to the idea that I'll go alone. It's a shame, though. I've invited a reporter from the Daily Planet to help drum up publicity."

"And you need a date because ..."

"It looks good. Especially in light of the tabloids trying to make me seem like some pervert."

"Because of those pictures with your friend. Clark. Right?"

He nodded and traced the tiles of the counter with the tip of his fingers. "Partly. But also because the tabloids have always taken a rather unfavorable view of me, unless I've pulled whatever strings I had within the press. I have none now, so I'm trying to go about it a different way. And that's to present myself to the public as a honorable businessman, capable of having adult relationships."

Her eyes narrowed. "How adult?" she asked warily.

Ah, so she'd caught on. Good. That actually made it easier, in some ways. Lex had been willing to pretend to date Helen without telling her it was for pretend. He liked her, enjoyed spending time with her, and figured it would be the easiest way to have some sort of friendship with her. And, while he was sure there would be things about Anne he enjoyed, it was just easier if she was aware he wasn't actually looking for a relationship.

"I figure what I do or do not do with my date is none of the press's business. Especially what I'm not going to do. I have three days to find a date, and I've put considerable time into redefining myself. I'm not planning on jumping into bed with anyone."

Anne nodded and lowered her eyes. Her tongue came out to gently run over her bottom lip contemplatively.

Lex held his breath as he watched her. Would she go for it?

"Um, well, I don't have any plans that night. And I think Damien was hoping he'd be feeling well enough to go. You know. It's the first big social event of the corporation he's given so much to, and he really wants to be there. Um, if you want, and I understand if you don't, but, uh, I could go as your date." Cheeks rosy, she lifted her eyes.

Yes.

"Well, that would solve a lot of problems. But, you do understand, I'm just talking about this one event. Well, perhaps a few more, if we can stand each other, but I'm really not looking for anything serious right now."

"Oh, I understand. And I think it's better, you know? At least as long as I'm working for Damien. It might get awkward if we try something and it doesn't work out. This is more of a favor. Or two." Anne smiled tentatively.

Lex made a show of thinking about it before nodding slowly. "It might work. Okay, Anne. Will you be my date for the Christmas party?"

Anne smiled sweetly at him, dark lashes batting almost unconsciously at him. "I would love to, Mr. Luthor."

"Please. Call me Lex."


Chloe was dreaming about Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor teaching her how to sail a boat naked when a door creaked. It was enough to bring her to consciousness, because there weren't any doors on the boat. She made a noise in her throat and started to open her eyes, when a weight settled across her stomach.

"Wha?" she muttered sleepily, sitting up.

Warm, wet lips took hers, and a tongue entered her mouth slowly. Two warm hands slid underneath her shirt, caressing bare skin.

Chloe's nipples hardened as someone's thumbs brushed over the tips. She groaned, arching, even as her brain informed her that this wasn't a dream.

She tore her mouth away. When she opened her eyes, her vision was obscured by silky dark hair. "Lana?" she managed before Lana captured her lips again.

She moaned as Lana squeezed her nipples. Her stomach twisted sharply, and fire wound through her veins. Her body grew heavy with arousal as Lana pet her skin, and Chloe could feel her panties dampening.

Lana's teeth closed on her earlobe. "You're so gorgeous," she whispered, voice shaking. "Pretty."

Feeling shaken herself, Chloe ran her hands up Lana's back and gripped her shoulders. "Babe, what are you doing?"

"What I should have done a long time ago." Her lips pressed against Chloe's neck, tongue tracing the vein underneath.

Chloe trembled and arched, despite her brain screaming at her to stop. This was so, so wrong and stupid, and Chloe was not losing another person because of Lana's confusion. But, oh fuck, Lana could light fires with those hands.

"Lana, you need to stop." Gathering her wits together, Chloe pushed Lana off her.

Lana rolled off with a thump, head bowed. Her hair formed a curtain around her face as her chest heaved.

Chloe didn't know what to say. Not one clue. Her dreams used to center around Lana coming into her bedroom late at night to seduce her. Hell, a lot of the times, they still did. They were living together, after all, and it'd always been a lot more plausible that Lana would take advantage of their proximity than come climbing up the side of the house.

But this was wrong. On too many levels, and Chloe had to admit to herself that, had they not run into Asshole Boy and his minions of evil tonight, she probably wouldn't be saying no right now.

But damn if she was going to let her and Lana's first time together while they were both themselves be because Lana felt she had to prove something.

"Lana," Chloe finally managed, throat tight. "You're not frigid. Or a prude. Or anything, okay? Roger's just an asshole who gets off trying to make people feel smaller than him. He doesn't know you."

Lana sniffed. Her hand came up and rubbed along her nose, hidden behind her hair. "Lex said it, too."

"And you already know I think he's an asshole for saying it. He had no excuse. There is no excuse for a grown man to be talking like that to a teenage girl--to anyone." She took Lana's hand. "But, just think how much power you had over him. You had so much power over him, he had to attack you to make himself feel safe." Tentatively, Chloe reached out and took Lana's hand. Lana allowed her to take it, but didn't look up. "Look," Chloe said. "I know I was a little pushy when we were together."

"You weren't."

"Maybe I was. I did want to have sex with you. Or touch you more. And even though I was trying not to scare you, I get that you were a little afraid. Not ready and that's fine. You're the only one who can determine when you're ready to have sex, and trying to be ready because people call you names is as stupid as letting yourself be pressured into it."

Lana took a deep breath. Her tongue came out from between her lips, she licked her bottom lip before asking softly, "What if I am ready?"

Oh, wow that was something Chloe never thought Lana would say. And she really wished her heart and body didn't lurch the way it did, imagining ... imagining Lana underneath her, or on top of her, or besides her naked, fingers probing and tongues tracing and ....

She pushed those thoughts away. Because, as much as she wanted Lana, Chloe just wasn't ready to give up on Chad just yet. Not when, deep down, she didn't think she and Lana had a chance at lasting anymore than she and Chad did.

"Then you're ready," she finally answered. "And that's wonderful. But I have a boyfriend."

Lana looked up at her, eyes shining with tears. "I know, but .... God, I'm so confused." She covered her face with her hands and started to sob.

Chloe's heart broke. "I know, Lana, but .... God, we can't keep doing this." She lifted Lana's hand to her lips and kissed it gently. "I swear my feelings aren't changing, but I really like Chad. And I just .... Every time I'm ready for you, you aren't for me. And it's the same with me. You're so confusing."

"I know," Lana cried. "I know I am, but I can't help it. I'm confused. I ... I want you, and I'm scared, and I'm angry. I hate that people think I'm a prude. I mean, isn't ... isn't th-that part of being a princess? B-being virginal and perfect and f-frigid?"

Don't say yes. Don't say yes. Don't say ... "Uh, not that I know of."

Lana snorted and looked at Chloe wryly through watery eyes. "Right."

Chloe blushed and was glad that the only light in the room was the moon.

"I just feel so screwed up. Everyone is excited about sex but me, and I don't know why. I mean, I am. More than I was. More interested. I get ... horny more than I used to, and I think that's good, but .... You know how the girls talk in the locker room, and I've never .... Parked, or touched a guy's penis, or .... Whitney touched by breasts once, and I freaked out so he stopped. I've never ... never just laid next to someone while we were in our underwear and explored, and never ... I've never even had an orgasm."

Don't say anything. Don't say anything.

Chloe swallowed the words and concentrated on the meaning behind what Lana had said. "You mean .... Never."

She shook her head. "Not unless I came when I was with you."

Don't. "You mean .... Haven't you ever masturbated?"

Fuck. Apparently the moon was enough light to see a blush.

"I've never, ah .... I haven't ..."

"Never?" Chloe had been masturbating since she was a kid. She couldn't imagine anyone not doing it. She'd always thought that it was a myth.

"I tried, once. It didn't work. I don't get ... what I'm supposed to do."

And here it was. Keep being safe, or live down the ultimate humiliation. And Chloe did mean ultimate.

But, then, Lana was feeling humiliated, too. It was the least she could do.

Taking a deep breath, Chloe climbed out of bed. Her secret box was in the bottom of her closet, covered by clothes she'd grown out of years before. She didn't know if her dad had ever found it, but, if he had, at least he left it be. And had never said anything, even though she was legally too young to have bought most of the stuff inside.

She brought it back to the bed.

"Okay. I, uh, bought this earlier this year, but I've never used it. I can't, but maybe you can."

Lana took the object and turned it over in her hand. "What is it?"

Chloe blushed. "It's, ah, a Hello Kitty hand massager."

"What?"

"It's called a hand massager. That's how the Sanrio people marketed it. But I saw it on a website being advertised as a vibrator, so I decided to try it. But I, uh .... It's too cute. And it's Hello Kitty. I just can't."

Lana laughed breathlessly, turning the thing over in her hand again. She ran her fingers over the bright, happy face, then the pointed ears. "And you expect me, to ..." Lana trailed off, blushing. Her thumb brushed over the on-switch.

The vibrator buzzed to life.

"Uh, I only have that and, well. Mine. I can get you a real one, if you like. One without the cat. But, I figured, if this is bothering you now, and you, uh, wanna try. If you want to use a vibrator. You can use, you know. Your fingers. And, well. It's fun. And I've, uh, got stuff." She pulled out a book of lesbian erotica, a book of regular erotica, and a porn video.

"Oh my God, where did you get this stuff?" She took the video from Chloe. "I thought you had to be over 18."

Chloe blushed. "The video I stole from Lex. Well, dubbed from him; I have no idea if he knows. One day I was with them, and we were watching videos and playing some stupid game. Then Lex had to take a call, and Clark pulled a magical disappearing act, so I went snooping. Lex has this huge porn collection, and one of those double VCR things? So I found a blank tape and dubbed that one. It's, uh, a really bisexual one. Both guys and girls. Fantastic." And, yes, Dad, I did set my room on fire with the heat of my cheeks, why did you ask? "Don't tell Lex?"

"Right, like I would," Lana replied, eyebrow raised. She set the video aside and opened one of the books. She squinted, trying to see the print. Then she licked her bottom lip. "Uh, okay. I think I'll, uh, borrow these."

"Both?"

"I, uh, guess. And, uh, take this." She flicked the vibrator on again, then shook her head and turned it off. "Just, uh .... Don't ask?"

Chloe crossed her heart solemnly. "I won't ask, but I'd love to hear about it if you're ever comfortable enough to share. And, if you need something without a cat face."

Lana thought about it a long moment. Then, she nodded and held out her hand, pinky extended.

Chloe linked pinkies, trying not to giggle.

"Thank you, Chloe," Lana said in a husky voice. "You are the best friend I could ever have."

"Yeah," she said, swallowing hard. "You too."


It was three-thirty in the morning and Mark was being brought slowly back to consciousness by the soft sounds of someone suckling. Sensation hit him next, the feel of lips and tongue caressing flesh, consuming and hurting with a pain that danced along pleasure.

He opened his eyes. The top of Grant's head greeted Mark as Grant decorated his skin with dark pink suck marks. Mark's stomach was already covered with them, which was a testament to how exhausted he already was from their love making.

Grant bit just below his ribcage. Pain blossomed out, then pleasure as the sucking commenced. Mark's groin tightened and his cock stirred.

He moaned softly and shifted. His fingers threaded through Grant's silky hair. "You planning to leave me permanently marked?"

Grant laughed and bit him. "Not permanently. Just until I leave."

His stomach tightened at the thought of Grant leaving. "When do you think that'll be?" If he was lucky, Grant would stay until at least Christmas. After the dry spell Mark had been through, he deserved that, right?

"Well, most likely tomorrow." Grant laid his head on Mark's chest and gaze up at him. "Clark isn't going to agree to an interview, even if it is anonymous. He's the reason I came, and if he says no, then I have no reason to stay. I have to move on to my next story."

"It's just a bad time," Mark said, tracing Grant's ear with his finger. "So much has happened to him within the last few months, and now with the tabloids .... I think the idea of the article is great. I think that Clark should do it. But maybe not now."

"No." Grant's fingers ran up Mark's skin, petting. "And I probably jumped the gun. It was just after I saw his essays, and the image of what the article could look like, I got excited. I should have waited, and definitely approached him differently. Perhaps gone to his parents first, or called ahead." He frowned. "I didn't want to go to his parents because I was afraid he wasn't out to them."

"He is." Mark found one of Grant's hands and raised it to his mouth. "It's one of the first things I verified when he ... came out to me. Just because I was worried about him."

"Oh?"

Mark licked Grant's finger and nodded. "He's been battling depression since sometime last spring. Visiting the school counselor doesn't help, and I was afraid that his sexuality, and having to hide it, was at the root of his problem. But his parents know, and are supportive, so ..." He bit a cuticle gently, then said, "I'm not sure they'd be thrilled about an interview with him, though."

Grant sighed and licked a stripe up Mark's chest. "That's why it was going to be anonymous."

It was all well and good to say, and Mark mostly trusted him, but he still had to ask, "Have you ever met Lionel Luthor?"

"Right," Grant drawled. "Like he's interesting to the queer youth of today. His son is, because of his past indiscretions and sheer sex appeal, but the father?" He snorted.

"So, he hasn't approached you?"

"Whatever for?"

Mark shook his head. "No reason. Just wondering." He rolled on top of Grant and kissed him deeply.

Grant moaned and arched underneath him, arms coming almost possessively around Mark's waist. "Please tell me you're stayin' till morning," he said, accent thick and deep.

He thought about it, thinking of the questions his father would ask him when he came back in the morning, and the lies Mark would have to tell. He thought about how he'd be tired all day, and sore. He thought about how painful this was to hide.

Then he thought about how long it had been since he'd slept with anyone before Grant. And how Grant was leaving tomorrow. And the warm, liquid feeling that was spreading through his body as Grant probed his entrance with slick fingers.

Mark gasped as stars burst behind his eyes, and reached his decision. "Yes," he groaned, moving slowly into the fingers probing him. "I'll stay until morning."


The look on Grant's face when Clark told him he was going to do the interview was priceless. The reporter obviously had been set for something else, because in the split second before he really heard Clark, a dejected look crossed is face and he looked down at the pie Clark's mom had set in front of him as if he was unable to meet Clark's eyes.

Then his head snapped up. "I'm sorry," he said politely, shooting a look at Martha, who was washing dishes. "Did you say yes?"

Clark grinned and tried not to laugh. "Yes, I said yes. As long as you can swear no one will know it was me."

"I promise. The release you and your parents sign will only be seen by myself and my editor."

"Release?" Martha asked, walking to the table.

Grant looked up at her. "For permission to use his essays. He retains the copyright, of course, and can publish them at any time." He reached into his briefcase and pulled out a form. "The way this is going to work, Clark, is I'm going to do a standard interview with you. You know, ask you questions about when you came out to yourself, your family, friends, any relationships you've had. And then, more specifically, how you deal with living in a small town, what prejudices do you find, what affects your decision to or not to come out. After we finish the interview, we'll go through your essays and pull out anything that seems to fit. After that, I'll write the article and send it to you. We'll adjust and work on it from there."

Clark nodded. "How long do you think this'll take?"

"I've got it slated tentatively for the February issue. It may be moved back from there."

He looked at his mother, who simply shrugged. "I think that's good. It gets the interview out of the way, but by February, the tabloids should have lost interest in me, right?"

"We can only hope." He waited until Clark signed the form--which he read beforehand, of course, and was satisfied that it was everything Grant said it was--before asking, "Do you want to do it here?"

Clark nodded and took a drink of his milk. "Let's get started."

"All right."

It started out easily enough. Grant asked things like when did Clark realize he was attracted to men and what he did about it. Clark talked about his anxieties on realizing he was attracted to the new guy in town, and how he'd thought he'd lost Lex when he finally told him (without, of course, mentioning Lex's name). He told about his first kiss, all the while blushing furiously and not looking at either Grant or his mother. They talked about Clark's complete inexperience about sex (after Clark had asked Martha to leave them alone), and Clark admitted he'd done most of his research by reading slash fiction.

"Slash fiction?"

"Homoerotic stories about men from TV shows and movies," Clark explained. "They're mostly written by women, and it's nice, you know? Because my introduction into homosexuality focused on men in these intense and loving relationships, instead of just being about sex." He felt his cheeks burn and said, "And it's a lot better than most of the, you know. Porn out there. On the internet. Which I, uh, don't read."

Grant's teeth flashed at him and he drawled, "Right." He looked down at his notes. "What happened after you came out to your friend?"

"Well, we got together," Clark explained. "He was a lot more experienced that I was, but he made sure we went at my pace. For everything. If we were going to do something, you know. He wanted me to tell him exactly what I wanted to he do when we fooled around. He was really great like that. But, getting together was hard, because my parents didn't know."

Grant pursued that line of questioning for quite some time before turning to Clark's gradual coming out to everyone. He asked about Jonathan and Martha's response, and Clark's friends.

"Did anyone ever get violent or angry at you?"

Clark shook his head. "No, not really. Just for hiding it for so long. My friends are all really supportive and .... Well, we're all outcasts, you know? And a tight-knit group. They were willing to accept me, even gay. Same with my parents."

"In light of such positive experiences, why are you compelled to stay in the closet?"

He swallowed and answered, "Because I've lived in this town my whole life, and, well. I was home schooled until I was in fifth grade. When you're in fifth grade is when you start getting sex education. At least the girls. But the boys know what's going on, and they talk. And start calling names and throwing dirt clods and stuff. Hatred is, like, inherited or something, and every fifth grader knows that you're supposed to beat up on anyone who is queer." He smiled wanly at Grant. "Even when you're not really sure what that means. I already have to sit most gym classes out, and last year I was ... picked at the beginning of the school year to be the football teams target. I didn't, and don't, want to make myself a bigger target. But I hate having to lie about myself," he continued angrily. "And I shouldn't have to. People are vocal about what they hate all the time, and it's just wrong. It's wrong to hate people because of religion or color or whatever. But it's not wrong to love, and all I'm doing is loving another person. I shouldn't have to hide."

"Do you plan on coming out?"

"When the time is right, yes. I can't live a lie. I totally understand and respect that, for some people, coming out isn't feasible or ... or what they should do. But for me, I have to. Maybe not now, but I'm not ashamed of my sexuality."

Grant smiled and made a note on the pad in front of him. "You said the football team chose you for their target."

"Yeah." Clark nodded and glanced at the stairs; supposedly, Mom was upstairs, wrapping Christmas presents, but she might still be listening. He hoped she wasn't, even if she was going to read the article eventually. "There's this tradition in town where on Homecoming, the football players grab a freshman and crucify him in a field with an S painting on his chest. Last year, they chose me."

"Crucify?"

He nodded.

"Is this town aware of Mathew Shepard, or do they simply not care?" he asked with anger lacing his words.

Clark shrugged. "It's tradition. I was actually chosen because the quarterback thought I was hitting on his girlfriend. Which I was. Which is funny, because he and I ended up becoming really good friends, and he fell in love with me."

Grant turned off the tape recorder. "This is your Marine?"

"Yeah."

"That's disgusting."

Clark smiled and shook his head. "No, it's .... What Whitney did was bad, but what he's done for me since more than makes up for it. I mean ... he's literally rescued me."

"Rescued you?"

"Yeah."

"It better be good, or I'm not writing about him. I'll do an entirely veiled piece on you and the unmentionable one instead."

Clark flushed and looked down at his milk. "It's good. Whitney is redeemed and becomes a hero at the end. I promise."

"Very well." He turned his tape recorder back on and Clark started selling Whitney they best he could.

"It all started around when Whitney's dad got sick," he said. "But that was just me reaching out. What really changed was the day I got taken away from my parents."

He could see something like anguish pass over Grant's face, probably wondering how Clark was a. going to explain this and b. Grant was going to twist this so no one recognized the story.

Clark gave an abbreviated version of the files being mixed up, but then spent a lot of time describing Whitney's talk with him before hand. "Then we started playing basketball together a lot, and talking. Not about anything profound or deep or anything, but the fact that he was there made the world seem a lot better."

"Anything in particular?"

He shrugged. "Just everything. Life got crazy at the end of the school year last year. That's all. It's when I started writing a lot."

Grant followed up on that line of inquiry for awhile, and asked Clark to read some entries from his journal from that time. There was actually a lot about Whitney in it, especially about the funeral and their first kiss; Clark left out the part about running away, though. It was already too complicated.

At some point, Grant asked, "What's the hardest thing for you about trying to meet other people in the community?"

Clark hesitated. "You mean, other gay people?"

"Yes."

"For friendship or ..."

"Anything."

The room spun as Clark disconnected from himself. Locking his eyes on his hands, he said, "For me, the hardest thing is how afraid I am that people will be attracted to me."

"Oh?" If Grant had been expecting something else, his voice didn't betray it. He sounded as steady and calm as he had the whole time.

Clark nodded. "Yeah. I, uh." He exhaled hard. "About a year ago, actually, less, um, I." Clark stopped talking and chewed on his lower lip. Oh, God, was he really going to do this? He couldn't ....

And then, the words were walking out of his mouth without checking with his brain, and Clark was saying, "I was almost raped." Christ, he couldn't stop talking. "The man who did it basically said that he wasn't sure if he would have done it if I wasn't so, you know. Attractive." Clark bit his lip, then admitted, "He said I was beautiful. He told me if I was a woman, he'd marry me." The tears were standing in Clark's eyes, and he blinked, causing them to roll down his cheeks. "And that even though he didn't sleep with men a lot, I'd be a treat. And I was more beautiful than a lot of the world's beauties and ..." He stopped talking, feeling sick.

"Clark ..."

Clark shook his head sharply and said, "So, uh, it's taken me a really long time to get that if someone's attracted to me that there's nothing wrong with it. I didn't do anything wrong, and they're not going to hurt me. And, uh, that I can stop them from hurting me if they try."

Grant turned off the tape recorder. "Jesus Christ, Clark." He seemed to be breathing heavily.

Tears continued to slowly slid down Clark's face. He didn't move, hardly breathed as he gazed at his hands folded quietly in front of him. God, it felt as if he'd ripped his heart out.

"Clark ..."

"Hold on." Clark rose and ran at a reasonable pace to his room. This wasn't something he'd planned to talk about, but now that he'd started, he might as well see it through. There was a journal underneath his bed where he'd only written about the rape and his reactions to it. He'd never showed it to anyone before.

"Here," he said when he was back. He wiped tears from his face.

With a shaking hand, Grant took the journal and opened to the first page. He started to read.

Clark watched him from under his eyelashes. Never once in the entire journal did Clark write Lionel's name. Lionel was always referred to as HIM, HE, or that bastard. Never by name. Clark was just beginning to be able to say Lionel's name without pain; writing was still too hard.

"That sick fucking sonofabitch," Grant breathed.

Clark nodded and twisted his hands. Maybe this was a mistake.

"I'm going to take photocopies," Grant said after a few minutes of reading. "And insert some of this. They really should be included. Even in your pain, you are eloquent." There was silence a moment, and then Grant said, "Look at me, Clark."

He forced himself to meet Grant's eyes.

"Did I make you uncomfortable that night in the Talon?"

"No," Clark assured him, voice trembling. "I, uh, liked flirting with you. And was kind of flattered. It's getting easier. I don't like telling people, but Mom and Dad know, and my friends. Whitney knows."

"What about the police?"

He shook his head. "There are extenuating circumstances," he said. "I'm dealing with it."

"Have you seen anyone about this? A counselor or something?"

"Not ... really. I ..."

"Does Mark know?"

Clark shook his head.

Grant leaned forward and put his hand on Clark's forearm. "Mark Townsend really cares about you, Clark. I think he's far enough removed from your personal life to be the kind of counselor you need. I know he's not one, but .... Talking to him might help."

"Okay." Clark rubbed his forehead. "Can we talk about something else right now? I want to talk about Aaron."

"Aaron?" He turned on the tape recorder, and, relieved, Clark explained his clubbing experience.

After Grant had wrung every memory and experience from Clark's mind, they turned to his essays. Clark brought the unpublished ones out from his room, and they poured over them. Grant marked a lot of passages that he liked, and Clark forced himself to find some he was proud of.

And then, finally, they were done.

"I'll write the article this week, and then e-mail you the results," Grant said when they were done. "I would like to come back to town next weekend to go over it with you. Is that all right?"

Clark nodded and rose as Grant did. "That sounds good." He shook Grant's hand. "Thank you."

"No, Clark. Thank you." He squeezed Clark's hand. "If you ever need anything, Clark. If you want to talk, or need to vent or anything, please call me. You are ... a remarkable young man."

His cheeks heated, and he had to break eye contact. "Thanks."

Grant squeezed his hand once more and then dropped his hand. "Tell your mother I said thanks for the pie."

"I will. Bye."

Clark watched Grant drive away from the back porch. As his car disappeared down the lane, Lex's approached. Clark waited until Lex parked and climbed out of his car.

"Was that Grant?" he asked.

"Yeah." Clark sat on the top step, watching as Lex approached him.

"Did you do the interview?" Lex stopped in front of him, looking down.

He nodded. "He's going back to Metropolis to write it, then come back next week to go over the interview." He bit his lip then said, "I told him. About Lionel."

"I thought so. I felt you get really anxious there for awhile. I almost called." He sat next to Clark. "You okay?"

Clark put his arm around Lex's shoulders and drew him in. "I'm fine." He kissed Lex's cold cheek, and then pulled Lex into his lap for extra warmth. "I'm glad I told."

"It's improvement," Lex agreed. "I'm glad you can talk about it." He bent his head back and kissed met Clark's lips in a twist.

"Hey," Clark asked, kissing Lex's temple. "Do you know where I can get a hold of a menorah?"

"Why?"

"Aaron's Jewish. I thought it'd be nice to have one for him."

Lex nodded. "I'll look around. Why's he staying again?"

"He doesn't have a home right now." Clark sighed and took Lex's hands in his. They were gloved, but he rubbed them anyway as if to warm them. "We're lucky."

"We have are hardships too, Clark. Don't think that just because we have a home, everything our that's happened--Ryan, Whitney, Dad .... Don't think it doesn't matter."

Clark shook his head and pulled Lex in closer. "No," he said, knowing what Lex was trying to do, but knowing that he didn't get the point. "I mean, we're lucky. We're not alone." He turned Lex's head and kissed him gently on the lips. Then, resting their foreheads together, he said /We'll always have each other./

Instead of answering, Lex kissed Clark. Then, he rested against his body and, together, they watched the snow fall turning the world a silvery white.

Fin.



If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Serafina

The Smallville Slash Archive / FAQ / Search Engine / Quicksearch Links