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Corner of the World 48: Foundations, Part 2

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Corner of the World 48: Foundations, Part 2

by Serafina

Clark didn't know why he was afraid of heights. Of all his insecurities and fears, this one made the least sense. He was invulnerable, so if he fell, it wouldn't hurt. He might be indestructible, and, thus far, he hadn't been killed in any of the falls he'd taken or cars he'd been run over by.

So, this little jump shouldn't bother him.

Except, he didn't like feeling out of control. And, being in the air without anything to hold onto him... that was definitely out of control.

Clark stood at the edge of the Daily Planet and looked at the ground below him. It was so high and what he was doing was so fucked up. The whole situation was fucked up. His mother was being held hostage at the LuthorCorp building and no one could get in.

He'd left Lex trying to negotiate Mom's way out. He'd tried to convince him to go to the cops with the information he had about the terrorists, but Lex had refused.

/I can't let myself get implicated in this, Clark/ he'd said into Clark's mind. They'd been surrounded by cops and that Sawyer woman had been watching Clark like a hawk. If she'd been paying half as much attention to the hostage situation as she was to Clark, she might have gotten Mom out herself already.

/Lex, if it helps Mom.../

/It's not going to help your mother/ Lex had snapped. /It'll just open up a can of worms and become a nightmare for all of us. No, it's better if they don't know. I already spent the better part of twenty minutes convincing your about father this./

/I don't.../

/Dad doesn't want to be forced to bring charges against me. If I tell everyone else I'm responsible, he's going to have to. Either that, or he's going to get to use this opportunity to make himself seem like the better man and.../

/We definitely don't want to let him do that/ Clark finished for Lex. /Fine. We won't tell anyone. But we're also not going to play by their rules./

/What do you mean?/

/I know how to get into the building./

When he'd said it to Lex, Clark had felt so supremely confident and sure he could do this. It was an easy jump from one building to another, nothing he hadn't seen in a thousand action movies. Okay, yes, generally the people jumped from one roof to another, but they were... actors. But actors portraying humans. Clark was an alien. A wrecking ball. He could...

/Come on, Clark/ Lex broke suddenly into his mind. /Do it or I'm going to start throwing up down here. And I don't like throwing up./

/Just keep Lt. Sawyer distracted./ Clark exhaled slowly and rubbed his palms over his jeans. He
backed up, heart pounding wildly. He was shaking so hard that he felt like he was going to fall apart, and then... Then, he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and turned everything off.

When he opened his eyes again, the only thing he could see was the LuthorCorp building. Eerily calm, he moved, faster than thought, faster than he ever had.

The roof under his feet disappeared and...

He jumped.

This was a nightmare. Like something out of Lex's deepest, darkest dreams. Clark, blatantly using his powers to save someone they both loved in the presence of police and reporters onlookers and rubberneckers and, yes, okay, if everything went according to plan, no one would see Clark, but it might... happen. Clark was going to fucking jump off the Daily Planet, and there were thousands of people around.

"Whatever you do, don't hurt any of the hostages. Just stay calm," Lex said into his phone, heart pounding. He was amazed that his voice sounded as calm as it did; he was terrified, both for Clark and of fucking up. It was his job to distract the terrorists, and if he started panicking...

He wasn't going to panic.

"Yeah, well how am I supposed to stay calm, huh?" the man who'd taken over the operation demanded. "I open up that damn vault expecting to find my retirement fund, and instead I find a bunch of files, green rocks all cut up into bars!"

Lex's stomach bottomed out. Green rocks. Files. Fuck. "What else was in there?" Dad had the rocks and files; Lex would bet his right arm that the files were on the Kents and anyone associated with them. There had to be more.

"What's it to you?"

More bargaining, fantastic. Not that it was going to do this bastard any good. Despite what Lex had promised--money and freedom--the only place the terrorists were going was straight to jail. He'd already promised Jonathan as much. "Answer me, and maybe I can help you," he said.

The man sighed, obviously frustrated. Not that Lex could blame him; Lionel had a way of crushing expectation, and Lex was quite familiar with it. "I--just what I told you. Oh, and some metal octagon lookin' thing."

Jackpot. Dad had the key, the search was over. Thank fucking God. "Listen to me. Pack up everything--the files, the bars, the octagon."

"Yeah, then what?"

Lex's heart started pounding with a sudden surge of adrenaline. It wasn't his own. "I know a way out of the building, but first you let the hostages go," he managed to choke out before the most intense wave of vertigo Lex had ever experienced overtook him. He managed to choke out the word, "Jonath..." before pitching forward, smashing his face onto the side of a van.

The press went insane. Cameras flashed, reporters shouted, and everyone turned to him. It was
lucky, actually. Everyone was so concerned with Lex that no one noticed Clark as he crashed through the windows of LuthorCorp towers. Heck, Sawyer didn't even notice until after Lex was hauled off the ground and given a rag for his bloody nose.

"What happened?" Jonathan asked while Lt. Sawyer's team prepared to storm the building. He had one hand on the back of Lex's neck, and the other was holding the bloody towel. His eyes were on the building, and he was really tense.

Lex swallowed. "Clark jumped, I got dizzy. That's all."

"What's going on in there?"

He just shook his head. The shock of pain from hitting his head broke the connection up. It was still there, but he couldn't quite tell...

Lex heard voices from the other side of the line. The man was shouting orders, telling people to find out what had happened. He pulled the towel away. "What the hell is going on up there?" Lex demanded into the phone, heart pounding.

"It sounds like the junk in that safe is worth something to you," the other man drawled lazily. "Tell you what. I want a million dollars and I want a way out of here."

Lex mentally ran through his liquid assets, trying to see how quickly he could get the money.


"You're in no position to negotiate," he bluffed, trying to remember his father's personal identification number for his Smallville Savings and Loans account. Lex had skimmed the bank card the previous day, and Dad, unlike Lex, had billions of dollars at his disposal. Plus, divine justice and all that.
"This is not a negotiation, all right? We get out of here or nobody does."
Seven two eight three seven. Maybe. "All right, listen to me. Luthor has a private elevator. It'll take you to a tunnel that leads to a garage three blocks away."

"Hey, Lionel, you been holding out on me? Is there some kind of secret way out?" Lex heard the man say, voice distant.

Lionel's voice was soft and indistinct in the background at first. Then, suddenly, he was saying clearly, "And whatever that anonymous coward, your Mr. Green, is offering... I'll double it. In exchange for our lives, and the contents of the safe."

Lex was going to fucking kill his father.

"Hmm." The man sounded pleased. "Hear that Mr. Green? Looks like we got us a bidding war."

"Look, no matter what Lionel Luthor is promising you, you can't trust him!" Lex spat out.

The man laughed. "Oh, but I should trust you--somebody who hides his own identity? I think I'd rather deal with Lionel."

"I'll match what he's offering," he said desperately. "Just don't hurt them."

The phone went dead.

"Crap!" Lex snapped his phone shut and shook his head. "Dad outbid me." His nose was still trickling blood; he wiped it away with the back of his hand. "It's up to Clark, now."

"Clark will be fine." But Jonathan didn't sound too sure.

The next few minutes were agony. All of Lex's concentration was focused on Clark, trying to be unobtrusive and yet keep tabs as to what was going on. His stress level was so high, it was hard to get reliable information; he tried to let Clark know about the meteors, but Clark still seemed to be taken by surprised by them.

"It's over," Lex said suddenly. He sat up straighter, eyes falling shut. /Clark?/

/We're all okay. Mom's fine, I'm fine. The rocks are in the safe. Lionel shot the lead guy./


/I'll be down soon./ The connection closed down suddenly.

"What's going on?" Jonathan asked.

Lex shrugged and shook his head. "I'm not sure." And then, "Damien. When did you get here?"

Damien flashed Lex a tight smile. "About five minutes ago. Dominic is arranging a press conference to start as soon as we ascertain if your father is well enough or not. Of course, if he is injured, you could take the spotlight yourself." He raised an eyebrow.

"Sure," Lex heard himself saying with a calm confidence he didn't feel. His eyes scanned the crowd; Dominic was about ten feet away, talking on his phone, typing on his digital assistant, and looking harried. "Sure, I can take the spotlight."

Damien nodded and rolled away leaving Lex and Jonathan to wait nervously.

And, finally, it was over. Sawyer called down that the hostages were safe and the terrorists in custody. One had been shot, but Martha and Clark were okay. Everything was going to be okay.

A few more tense moments passed and then finally--finally--they appeared. The cops were surrounding them, but Martha pushed through and ran straight for Jonathan. And Clark...

Lex's breath caught when Clark came into view. So beautiful. Clark was so painfully beautiful he made Lex's heart ache.

Clark's eyes found his, and his pace picked up. Suddenly, Lex was moving for him, heart pounding and it was all he could do not to grab Clark and hold him.

They couldn't touch. They shouldn't touch because the press was all around them, and...

"Clark. He stopped short in front of Clark, aching to feel his body pressed into his own. "Are you all right?"

Clark's hands came up as if he was going to take hold of Lex. Abruptly, his fists clenched; he stiffened and said, "Yeah." Desire and need and frustration were etched across his face as his eyes devoured Lex.

"I've been worried," Lex confessed, feeling his heart rate sync up with Clark's. He grunted as his body changed rhythms, and then Clark had him by the wrist, his entire hand circling the bones. Clark's other hand was on Lex's shoulder and he was alternately pushing and pulling Lex away as need grew in both of them. "When I heard you'd breached the building..."

"The boy's resourceful, Lex," Lionel said, coming up beside them. He put his hand on Clark's shoulder and rubbed, smirking. "Ingenious, really, the way he managed to break into the building. Absolutely ingenious."

Clark paled, his hands tightening around Lex to the point of pain.

Furious at the intrusion, Lex extracted himself from Clark's clutches and slapped Lionel away. "Dad," he said, voice remarkably calm under the circumstances. "I want you to know I was doing everything I could to secure your release."

"Oh, I'm sure you did a great deal," Lionel purred. He turned, facing Lex and, for a moment, Lex was certain his father could actually see him.

His face turned red with shame.

Then, the illusion faded and Lionel was gazing blindly at nothing. "I'll send someone to the mansion for my things."

"Fine," Lex replied, dully. "I'll help them pack." Victory, at last. Dad was gone. Out of his home.

Why did victory feel so hollow?

"Clark," Dominic said, coming up to them. "Are you all right?"

"Um, yeah. I'm fine," Clark said. One hand snaked out and wrapped around Lex's wrist again.

Dominic smiled at him, and glanced at Lex. "The limo has come to take the Kents away. Martha is needed at the police station for questioning, and then Damien and I felt it'd be best for the family to stay the night in the city."

Lex nodded in agreement. "Check to see if my room at the Grand is available and, if not, open the penthouse. We need clothes, too."

"Damien will take care of that. Mr. Luthor," he said. He turned to Lionel, who had a hard expression on his face. "If you'll step back inside the building, Dr. Pierce is on his way to make sure you're all right."

"I'm fine, Dominic." He said Dominic's name slowly, as if savoring it.

"Nevertheless, I think it'd be best for everyone if you allowed yourself to be examined." He put his arm on Lionel's.

Lionel cocked his head slightly, and then nodded. "Of course," he said, still speaking in that slow, careful voice. "Lead on."

Dominic led Lionel away, leaving Clark and Lex alone in a sea of reporters and cops. "You should go," Lex said softly. He turned his wrist in Clark's hand, fingers brushing along Clark's skin. "I have a press conference, and you should be with your mother."

Clark snorted softly, eyes lowered. "One happy family, right?"

"Are you still upset?"

"A little." He licked his lips. "Lionel had meteors up there. Big blocks of them. And files. On me."

"We knew he did," Lex told Clark calmly.

"It's different seeing them." His throat rose and fell as he swallowed. "Mom told me to burn them."


Clark shrugged. "We couldn't have gotten the files out, Lex. Not with me incapacitated like that."

Lex sighed. "We could have used those files, Clark."

"I know. I'm sorry."

He just shook his head.

"Sir?" Damien said softly from his side.

Lex nodded and pulled away from Clark. "Go. Get out of here, make sure your mother's okay. I'll be home soon."

Clark smiled a little at Lex's choice of words, and he nodded. "Hurry," he said, and then he turned and went to his family.

The press conference started about forty minutes later. Lionel was by Lex's side, much to his disgust. Lex had hoped to take control of everything and make himself the focus but, as usual, his father simply couldn't allow it. Of course, Lex was being punished; he knew Lionel knew who had sent the team in, and Lionel knew he knew. Luckily, he was moving out soon, so Lex's torture would be sporadic.

The conference went well, for the most part. No one knew the reasons the terrorists were in the building, and by silent consent, Lionel and Lex concocted a story about them wanting money. Which was, after all, true. In a fashion. They'd broken into Lionel's safe, which contained nothing but, "some files and research that I've been working on. Nothing of value," as Lionel put it. As to how they got in, well, that matter was being looked in to and would hopefully be resolved in the next few days.

And then, the inevitable happened.

"Lex," one of the reporters called, a smarmy smile on his face. "What exactly was Clark Kent's involvement in all of this?"

Lex froze for the barest moment before responding, "I beg your pardon?"

"The kid who Lieutenant Sawyer detained earlier. The one who came out of the building with Lionel. Clark Kent. What was his involvement and what was he doing here?"

Next to him, Lionel laughed silently. His entire body vibrated with pleasure at Lex's predicament.

Lex allowed himself a moment to breathe and clear his mind. He couldn't get angry or upset; it was, after all, a natural question. This particular reporter worked for the Tattler, one of the publications that had run his and Clark's picture at the cemetery a couple months back. Of course he wanted a follow-up.

"Martha Kent, Clark's mother, is my father's administrative assistant. I believe he was in the city with friends when the news of his mother's situation broke, and came directly here. At this time, I'm unsure how he got into the building; obviously, there's some flaw in the security system that allowed him to enter, and he was lucky not to be injured."

"So, that's got to be awkward," the reporter said, making a note on his pad. "His mother working for your father? It must make for some tense pillow talk."

Lionel seemed to vibrate harder. Lex wished they weren't standing so close together. His father's obvious enjoyment of the situation was throwing Lex off.

"I don't know what you mean," Lex replied carefully, keeping his face as bland as he could. "I've been friends with the family for over a year, since well before Mrs. Kent began her employment with LuthorCorp. I was quite pleased when my father offered her a position, since I knew that she would take excellent care of him while he adjusted to his disability."

"And how does Clark fit into this?"

"He's their son." Then, when the reporter opened his mouth, Lex said, "No further questions. Thank you all for coming." He stepped back and gestured to Dominic.

"Thank you, Lex, Mr. Luthor," Dominic said, stepping in front of Lex and Lionel. "Mr. Luthor has just been through a trying experience, and I know that he and his son need some quiet time to regroup. Any further questions can be directed through either Mr. Walters or myself at a later time. Thank you." Then he turned and, with a hand on Lex's back and one on Lionel's arm, led them away from the crowd and to a waiting limo.

"Thanks, Dom," Lex said after everyone was settled in and ready to go. He ran a hand over his face, exhausted.

Dominic nodded and offered Lex a small smile. "You're welcome." He pulled out his digital assistant and made a note. "Mr. Luthor, I've called ahead to your home. It's been opened and stocked for you to stay the night."

"Thank you, Dominic," Lionel said. He leaned back against the seat and took his sunglasses off. "I, ah, would appreciate it if you went to Smallville tonight and packed my belongings. I want to leave Lex's home as soon as possible so as not to inconvenience him any further."

Lex really didn't like the way Lionel said the word "home." It was too strong, too emphasized and too much a reminder that Lex was there but for the grace of Lionel. At any moment, it could be taken away.

Dominic nodded and made another note. "I'll send someone to start right away."

"No, I want you to do it," Lionel said.

"But... sir," Dominic said slowly. He glanced at Damien, and back at Lionel with frustration written across his face. "I was planning on staying in the city tonight. Damien..." He shook his head sharply and then said, "I came here directly from my flight and haven't had a chance to rest. I also haven't seen my flat since it was vandalized. I would like..."

"Dominic, you aren't even supposed to be here," Lionel interrupted. "You're supposed to be in London. Maybe you shouldn't be telling me where you want to be right now, hmm?"

Oh, fuck. Lex's head slammed into the padded seat of the limo hard enough to make his vision swim. Why the hell hadn't any of them remembered that Dominic hadn't officially quit yet? They were getting sloppy.

"Sir," Dominic said with quiet steel in his voice. And then... nothing.

Lex opened his eyes a crack. Damien had his hand on Dominic's thigh and was squeezing it warningly.

"Yes, Dominic?" Lionel sounded amused.

"I'll go directly after you've been delivered safely home," Dominic said, the steel gone. "You'll be moved out by tomorrow evening."

"Excellent. Does that satisfy you, Lex?"

"Of course, Dad," Lex replied, still as blandly as he could manage. He pulled the compass Jonathan had given him from his pocket and held it in the palm of his hand for a moment. He was actually doing pretty well handling the stress of all this. The guilt over what had happened was incredible, but he wasn't letting it cloud his mind and send him into a panic attack. In fact, he hadn't had trouble breathing all day.

Maybe he could take over the world.

He exhaled slowly and started rolling the compass over his fingers. It was more difficult to manipulate than a quarter; Lex was out of practice and the compass was big and heavy, but with the right amount of concentration, he could make it disappear and reappear.

If only his problems were so easy to manipulate.

"That's very good, Lex" Dominic said after a few minutes of absolute silence. "Especially with something so unwieldy. I haven't seen you do coin tricks in years."

Lex smiled and moved into a particularly difficult drop. Dominic was easily impressed, but it was still gratifying to...

"Ow!" he shouted when Lionel brought his walking stick down on his hand. "Fucking Christ, Dad! What the hell was that?"

Lionel was groping blindly on the floor of the limo, teeth gritted. "Ah!" he exclaimed in triumph, fingers closing over the compass. "What's this?"

"It's a compass," Lex said, trying to flex his fingers gingerly. The pain was incredible, and they were swelling quickly.

/You okay?/ Clark suddenly asked in his mind.

Lex didn't reply as Damien took his hand, eyes watching Lionel warily. He had that hunter look in his eyes, and even though he was sitting across from Lionel and strapped into his seat, Lex could feel the danger radiating from him.

"Where did you get this?" Lionel turned it over in his hand, searching for clues, Lex supposed.

"Jonathan Kent gave it to me," he admitted. He hissed as Damien touched a particularly painful place on his knuckles.

"And you're doing magic tricks with it." Lionel tisked and shook his head. "Honestly, Lex, I don't know where to begin."

"Why don't you just shut up and not say a damn thing?" His ears were hot with shame.

"How can I make you understand that this habit of yours is a weakness? It demonstrates your inability to stay focused on one task. If you have to distract yourself, if you allow yourself to be amused by something as paltry as sleight of hand, people won't be able to take you seriously." He sighed and shook his head. "Perhaps I should be happy that you're demonstrating your weakness so publicly. After all, your employees and your stockholders will smell the weakness radiating off you, abandon you, and then you'll be forced to come back to me. So I win."

Lex swallowed around the lump in his throat and said, "I fail to see why you'd want someone as weak as I am working for your company."

"You're my son, Lex. And I still have much to teach you before you are ready to be on your own."

He snorted and pressed his forehead against the cold window. "Yeah. Whatever."

The limo pulled in front of Lionel's Metropolis mansion and stopped. A moment later, the door opened. "Your stop, sir," Dominic said. He climbed out of the limo and then stooped to help Lionel out.

"Good-night, Lex," Lionel said. He slipped the compass into the breast pocket of his shirt. Then, with a sinister smile, he turned and walked into the house.

As soon as they were on their way, Lex let out a soft cry of pain and doubled over. "What the hell, Damien, I thought you were supposed to be my protector."

"I thought that was Clark," he replied wryly. "I'm sorry," he added softly, testing the extent of Lex's mobility. "I'm very off tonight. I've been sitting too long and my hip started hurting. I took something almost an hour ago, and my mind isn't as clear as it could be. That's why Dominic took over at the press conference. I'm simply not mentally sharp enough." He sighed and pressed the call button for the driver. "Please take us to Metropolis General. Mr. Luthor needs x-rays."

/Metropolis General Hospital/ Lex said to Clark.

/Are you sure you want me there?/

/Please./ He sighed as the limo turned a corner. "Am I ever... not going to let him do this to me?" he asked.

"Perhaps, one day, when you've truly convinced yourself you don't deserve to be treated the way he treats you. Until then, no." He sighed and caressed the abused knuckles with his thumb. "But that's why you have Clark and the Kents and myself. To put you back together after you let him tear you apart."

"Thank you, Damien," Lex whispered. He pulled away and curled into a ball on the seat. A quick ^call^ would bring Clark to the hospital, painkillers would make terrible, shock-inducing pain ease, and a good night's sleep would make the incident fade away to nothing.

Well. He could dream.

"As of this time, we're unsure how this group breached LuthorCorp's security," Lionel was saying on television. "They seem to have had some inside knowledge, as well as keys and codes, but until an investigation is launched, I'm unable to say where they obtained their information." His lips curved and his body seemed to turn towards Lex.

Angrily, Clark switched the television off and flopped back onto the bed. Lionel knew. Lionel knew what Lex had done, but, because he was Lionel, he was going to let it pass. Or, sort of. Publicly, he'd disavow any knowledge of Lex's actions, but privately....

Privately, it was going to be hell for Lex. And there was nothing Clark could do about it, either.

He sighed again and rolled onto Lex's side of the bed. This really sucked, he thought, pulling Lex's pillow to his face and breathing deeply. He wanted Lex here, with him, right now, not back at LuthorCorp Tower giving a stupid press conference. Not with Lionel. After this week, the last place Clark wanted Lex was anywhere near Lionel. He could feel that alien-panic or whatever rising in him, needing to hold Lex, needing to bruise and mark him and to make Lionel know that he had to back the fuck off.

Not that Lionel ever seemed to get the message. It was very frustrating communicating alien desires that you didn't really understand to an unreceptive receiver who was just as dominant as you were.

Clark's stomach hurt.

The entire evening so far was a blur except for one moment: the instant he'd stepped out of the building and seen Lex, standing aloof and pale in the crowd, waiting for him. Their eyes had met and Lex had half run, half walked to him, trying to restrain himself, but failing. And when they got to each other, even though there were cameras and reporters and people everywhere, they had to touch and reaffirm that, after the leap Clark had made, they were both okay.

His lips missed Lex. His arms missed Lex. His body missed Lex. Clark wanted to smell and touch and taste him. But there'd been people watching, and Clark was just sixteen.

And then, Lex had sent them away. They'd gone to the police station, which actually hadn't taken long. The police got an initial statement from Martha and him, and then said they'd be in contact the next day if necessary. Clark had lied about how he got in, saying that he'd gone around the back to the alley and saw a door open. No, he didn't know how the window was broken, maybe one of the terrorists had done it.

Anyway, after the police, they were taken to Lex's apartment instead of the Grand. Clark didn't quite know what to make of that, but when he called Damien, Damien had explained that Lex's room wasn't available at the Grand and, besides, there were only two bedrooms. Lex's penthouse had four, and would therefore cause less speculation on sleeping arrangements. Food arrived soon after Clark hung up with Damien, and Clark had retired to Lex's room, locking himself in. He wanted to give his parents time to make up. Not that they'd really fought badly, but they'd fought and they'd fought about him. Over him. Something. Maybe he hadn't really been the issue, and maybe there was something going on, but the fact remained that Jonathan had gotten angry because Martha had run out on Clark after a nightmare. And, really, it was more important to him that they make up than anything else. More important than for Mom to...

He hated it when they fought. Like, really hated it. It was like the world was coming apart. So, yeah, he didn't need Mom to...

His cell phone rang, interrupting his disturbing train of thoughts.

He checked the number before answering, hoping that maybe it was Whitney. The number was blocked, though, so he simply flipped the phone open and said, "Hello?"

"Hi, Clark, it's Grant," the familiar Southern drawl greeted him.

"Hey." Clark propped himself on his elbows. "What's up?"

"I saw you today on the news at LuthorCorp Towers. I wanted to call and make sure you were all right."

"I'm fine," Clark replied, warmed by the fact Grant had cared enough to call. "I, um, my mom was one of the hostages being held inside the building. I came down to, well. Stand around and see what was going to happen."

"How did you get into the building?"

He flushed, wishing that he'd thought of an answer before leaping off the top of the Daily Planet. "After my father got there, I was able to sneak off and look around. I found a door unsecured in the alley and went inside."

"That was incredibly stupid."

"I couldn't let my mom stay in there alone," Clark said simply. "I had to do something."

Grant sighed. "Always the hero," he said, but he sounded like he was teasing.

"I do what I can."

"So, your mother works for Lionel Luthor, right? That how she was involved?"

"Yeah, she does. But I don't think she will for much longer," Clark said, his gloom returning. Lionel had had files on him. He was watching Clark and refining meteor rocks. He had a safe full of... of things that made Clark weak and sick and Clark didn't know why. Did Lionel know about Clark's weakness, or had it been sheer coincidence?

"Did something happen?" Grant asked. Then he snorted. "I mean besides the obvious."

"It's... complicated. It's just... I have a lot of problems with Lionel, that's all." He bit his lip.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

Clark squeezed his eyes shut. "I think it's better for you if we didn't. It's one of those things where knowing too much could be detrimental to your career and stuff. Lionel's really... vindictive and aggressive."

There was a very long pause before Grant said slowly, "I see. Well, I'll keep that in mind." He hesitated, then asked, "Are you sure you're all right? You sound depressed."

"Just because of what happened. I'll be fine. Thanks." He rolled onto his back and tried not to miss Lex like a limb. "I'm worried about Lex," he said in a sudden rush. "I just left him with Lionel and Lionel's so angry right now. I'm afraid of what he might do, and..." He stopped abruptly, panic making him bite his tongue.

Grant seemed to hesitate the faintest beat before he said, "I'm sure Lex will be fine. They're on TV givin' a press conference."

"Yeah, I know, but... but..." But what, Clark? He asked himself angrily. Lex was sending off serious danger signals? Grant wouldn't understand that; it sounded crazy.

"I know," he said finally. "It's just, last year, something similar to this happened. A hostage situation at the plant in Smallville. Only, it was my class, and then Lex was taken hostage too because he traded himself for us and Lionel was so angry. He beat Lex really badly and I guess I'm afraid..."

"Lex is a grown man, Clark," Grant interrupted gently. "If his father lays a hand on him, he can either defend himself or press charges."

Clark swallowed hard and pressed the heel of his hand into his eyes. "He won't. He never would." Belatedly, he realized that he wasn't supposed to be talking about this. Lex was going to be humiliated when he found out that Clark had told Grant. But, at the same time, sometimes, it got to be too much and Clark had to tell whomever he trusted most at that particular moment.

And he did trust Grant. A lot. Probably more than even Mark in some ways. It wasn't anything that Mark had done, and Clark did go to him for things. He wasn't going to stop going, either, because, at school, Mark was the adult he trusted most.

But that was just it. Mark was a grown-up, Clark's teacher and his mentor. He respected Clark and cared about him, but... he was a grown-up. He viewed Clark as a kid. Not a child, but not a man. Despite the level of trust between them, Clark felt the slight and necessary formality in their relationship. It didn't bother him, but it wasn't always what he needed. Sometimes, he needed someone who wasn't Lex to treat Clark like an equal. To see him as a rational adult capable of making his own decisions and, most of all, not to worry about whether Clark and Lex's relationship was healthy or not.

Grant did that. He never talked down to Clark, was never adult in the way Mark could be. And he didn't seem to have any reservations about Clark and Lex's relationship, even now that he knew that Clark wasn't in love with Whitney and just sleeping with Lex on the side. When Clark
had made it clear that his heart belonged to Lex, Grant hadn't even batted an eye.

"Convince Lex to press charges," Grant said. "That's what you're there for. Help him make the choice that he needs to make for himself and for you."

"For me."

"You can't be the one who always keeps him together, Clark, not unless he takes some responsibility for defending himself. If Lionel is abusing him, or has abused him in the past, you can support him, you can be there for him, but you can't take all his pain. You have enough of your own."

Clark rubbed his eyes wearily. "I love him so much."

"And part of loving someone is helping them make choices that will empower themselves." Grant hesitated a moment then asked, "When you were going through the aftermath of the attempted rape, he helped you find ways to deal with it yourself, right? He didn't take everything on himself and try to coddle you through it."

"No. I mean, he felt responsible for what happened, but, at the same time, he tried to stay back and let me deal with it until I came to him. And then both he and Chloe tried to show me ways to help myself."

"Then it's the same with him. You can't help him until he actually wants help and seeks it out. All you can do is support him."

"I know," Clark groaned. He rolled over and pressed his head into the mattress hard. "I know that. But when he's in pain, all I want to do is protect him and make him all better."

Grant laughed, sounding a little bit bitter. "I know. I know exactly what you mean." Then he sighed. "Ever thought about seeking out a support group of partners of abuse victims?"

"No. I don't like talking to people I don't know." He licked his lips. "I have people to talk to. And there's always the crisis hotline."

"And you can always call me," Grant said.

"You sound like you know what you're talking about."

"My stepbrother was abused. It took us years to figure out what was going on; his mother had custody of him and we only saw him every few months. Once we found out, though, there was a long, drawn out custody battle and a lot of therapy for all of us. So, yeah, I know what I'm talking about."

Clark lifted his head. "There's a lot of that in the world, isn't there? I mean, Lex was... abused, and your brother, and Aaron and... I never knew I knew so many people who'd been hurt by their parents or whatever."

"There's a lot of darkness in the world, Clark. And you left yourself off the list, darlin'."

He blushed, squirming internally. "It was only one time."

"But it's still with you. It still affects everything you do." There was a heavy silence on the other end of the line. "Clark, I went to LuthorCorp Towers today. I wanted to see if I could help, but I couldn't get near you. And, I was still there when you came out of the building."

"Oh?" Clark's heart thudded oddly in his chest as he tried to anticipate where Grant was going.

"When Lionel came out, he was standing very close to you. You were so tense, and then, when he touched you..."


"Grant," Clark said as evenly as he could, gripping his truck. "I'm begging you now, don't finish whatever thought's in your head. Please."

There was a beat of silence. "Mark told me. He didn't realize I didn't know who it was."

Panic burst in his stomach. "Don't let anyone else know that you know," he begged. "Lionel's vindictive and I don't want anything to happen to you."

"I won't say it, then." He cleared his throat. "But, uh, just because it was once, doesn't mean it didn't happen or wasn't important in your life. And it can be stressful being with someone who was abused. Try to convince him to get help, Clark."

He swallowed. "I'll see what I can do."

There was a long silence. Finally, Grant said, "Um, since this subject seems to have been beaten to death, I'll take this moment to inform you that the article is going to run next month and my editor would like a follow-up once your Marine gets back home."

"You do realize that he's not really my Marine, right?"

"Yes, well, apparently he's Mark's Marine, but there's still some lovely tension between the two of you."

Clark's stomach kind of did a flip. "Um, so he told you?"

Grant laughed. "You know how when you fall in love, you just can't stop talkin' about the person you're in love with? I think Mark must have found a million different ways to mention Whitney when we were together last week."

He laughed, too. "Funny. Because Whitney called me, all freaked out about you. Obviously, he didn't have to worry."

"No. He didn't."

There was a knock on the door and then it opened. "Clark, honey?" Martha said, sticking her head in. "Can I talk to you?"

Clark sat up. "I gotta go, Grant. I'll talk to you soon, okay?"

"All right. Take care of yourself, Clark."

"Bye." He hung up and tossed the cell phone on the nightstand. "What is it?" he asked, pulling his legs into his chest.

She closed the door behind her. "I thought we should talk about this morning."

"What about it?" he asked, even though he knew perfectly well what she wanted. He just wasn't sure if he wanted to give it to her.

"Clark, I'm so sorry."

He hitched a shoulder. "There's nothing..."

"Yes, Clark, there is." She sat on the bed and ran her hand over the bedspread. "I was heartless. You were in pain and distraught. I know how you get when you have a nightmare. I'd stayed up all night just waiting for it to happen, waiting for you to need me and, when you didn't.... Well. There was this stupid part of me that was almost hurt."

"Sorry to have disappointed you," he said, stung. She was angry with him for not having a nightmare? "Here I thought that all these years we were working on getting me to not have them so much."

"Well, we were. But I'm your mother and I still want you to need me, as selfish as that is. " Martha sighed and shook her head. "I knew you were going to have a nightmare. All the signs were there. You were overwhelmed and dealing with more than was fair to ask of you. You had Lex's stress weighing on you. I'd watched you all night, and you looked unusually stressed out. Not that I blame you; I was, too. When Dr. Carvey's visit set you off, I knew that a nightmare
had to follow soon. I barely slept all night, waiting, and when your father woke up and saw me waiting, he... Well, he pointed out that you were in a relationship, now. You were with your boyfriend and you didn't really need me. So, when you didn't have a nightmare, I figured he was right."

Clark closed his eyes. Dad was such an idiot. "Mom, just because I have Lex, doesn't mean I don't still need you. When I have a nightmare, I... I feel like a little kid again."

She moved up the bed to him. "I know."

"I mean, I love Lex, but you're my mom."

"I know."

"I mean, Lex... Lex doesn't know. He hasn't really seen..." He licked his lips and looked up at his mother. "I couldn't think when you left. I was so... lonely. I..."

"I know." She reached out and pulled Clark to her. "I'm so sorry, baby. I didn't know what had happened until your father brought you home. I knew he'd left the house, but he didn't tell me where he was going. And then, Lionel called to ask me to go into work, and I... froze." She exhaled shakily. "Clark, I don't think I've ever felt as murderously angry as I was when I heard
that man's voice on the phone." Martha closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Clark could see she was shaking. Her jaw was tight and her cheeks flushed red.

She looked kind of scary, except Clark wasn't scared. Not of her. Never of his mother.

"He was so cordial and flattering. So nice and chivalrous, but all I could think was that he'd violated my boys. He'd broken Lex so badly. When Lex collapsed in my arms the other night, it was all I could do not to lock the two of you in the house for the rest of your lives so I could protect you both. Especially him." Her eyes opened, and a thin veil of tears covered them. "Lionel told me that we had to go to Metropolis for an important meeting, and no matter how I tried to make it clear I couldn't, he kept insisting. Finally, he made some vaguely threatening remark--I can't remember what it was. Something about the farm and the mortgage and our special boy. It threw me. Lionel hasn't threatened me before, and I... Just reacted. And, unfortunately, some of my reaction came out on you."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize, Clark." She took his hands and squeezed. "It was not your fault."

"But if I hadn't..." He trailed off, not sure what to say. If he hadn't had the nightmare, or if he hadn't let Lionel touch him. If he hadn't gotten involved with Lex maybe none of this would have happened.

She kissed his cheek and rested her forehead against his. "I took this job, Clark, to help you. To try and find ways to protect you from Lionel. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I don't think I realized how hard it was to be. Having to play the part of a person who doesn't know what that man did to you, to smile and be cordial and friendly... it's so emotionally draining."

"I know," Clark whispered. "I've done it. And Lex, Lex is always exhausted when he comes back from business trips and meetings and stuff. I know how hard it can be."

"I was doing my best to steel myself for Lionel when I saw you. And I knew that, in that moment, I would not be able to help you, no matter how much I wanted to. I was too distraught myself, and you always pick up on that. Remember when you were a child? If I was upset, it would make everything ten times worse. So, when I saw you, all I wanted to do was get out of there and send someone who really could help. At least, that way, I wouldn't fail you."

"You could never fail me, Mom," Clark said, feeling as if he were the most selfishly stupid person in the entire world. He knew what kind of person Lionel was. He'd experienced it first hand, but he'd never thought of what it must actually be like, emotionally, for his mother to deal with him day in and day out.

"Thank you, Clark," she whispered, leaning heavily against him.

He put his arms around her. She was his mother, and she was his source of comfort, but, in this moment, the roles were reversed. Mom needed him to reassure her. "You need to quit," he whispered, stroking her hair.

"I know."

"You needed to quit when you found out what he did to me."

She laughed and ran her fingers through his hair. "That's when I agreed to work for him. To help you and Lex. To help protect our family."

"We can't play his game, Mom." He clung to her. Nothing made him feel so protected as hearing his mother's heartbeat. The steady thrum seemed to go right through him. Okay, yeah, Lex's did the same, but, still. This was his mom and it was different. "None of us can ever think that we're going to be able to level the playing field by doing to him what he does to us."

"I know that now." She kissed the top of his head. "I'm sorry that I had to hurt you in order to get that."

"You didn't, Mom. It's okay." Clark sighed, feeling everything in him relax. It was going to be okay. Everything was going to be okay.

"Ow!" he exclaimed suddenly, jerking back. "Fuck!"

"Clark!" Martha snapped. "Language."

"Lionel just hit Lex!" Clark snapped, cradling his hand. /You okay?/

Lex didn't answer.

"Is he all right?" Martha asked, taking Clark's hand and caressing it.

He shook his head, still ^listening^ for Lex. "His hand is hurt, and he's freaking out. I'm going to kill Lionel."

"Clark," she chastised gently.

"I knew this was going to happen. I knew I couldn't leave Lex alone with Lionel. I should have..." He broke off when Lex popped into his mind.

/Metropolis General Hospital/ Lex said suddenly.

/Are you sure you want me there?/


"I'm going to go meet him at the hospital," Clark said, pulling his hand away. "I don't know when we'll be back. There's, uh, sheets and stuff in the closet in the room next door, and your bathroom should have, like, shampoo and stuff."

"All right."

/Are you coming?/ Lex asked.

/Yes, hold on, baby. I'll meet you there. And stop calling me./ Clark could feel how much energy it was taking Lex to sustain mental contact, especially when he was in so much pain.

"I've got to go." He kissed Martha and then grabbed his jacket from the bed. "Um... don't worry about the nightmare or anything. Lionel is a monster and he causes chaos in whatever he has a hand in, even when he's not trying. I get that."

She smiled sadly at him. "I just wish I hadn't let that monster fluster me enough to forget my baby."

"You didn't, Mom." He offered her a hesitant smile. "And I know that."

The shrill ring of his cell phone cut painfully through what was a completely dreamless sleep. Lex snorted and twitched, unwilling to open his eyes. The bed was soft and warm, and Clark was pressed against him like a second skin. Reality lay somewhere outside the bed, on the other side of the covers, and Lex wasn't quite ready to deal with reality yet.

The phone continued to ring.

"Lex," Clark groaned into his neck.

He heaved a sigh. Without opening his eyes, Lex reached out with his good hand and fumbled for the phone. Flipping it open, he brought it under the covers to his ear. "'lo?"

"Hey, Lex, it's Mark."

"Hey." He yawned and pressed back against Clark. "Something wrong?"

"No. I've been worried about you. I guess I woke you, though, I'm sorry."


"Who is it?" Clark asked.

"Mark. Go back to sleep." He pulled the covers off his head and sat up. "Don't worry about the time," he said, checking the clock. It was a quarter to eight.

Mark cleared his throat. "You're literally still in bed, aren't you?" He sounded embarrassed.

"I was at the hospital until almost one, and they gave me some kind of super pain-killer. My head is completely fogged." He bit back a gasp as Clark yanked him back down to his side. One super-strong arm snaked possessively around his waist, and Clark draped a leg over his hip.

He smiled and stroked Clark's hand. The whole incident had brought out Clark's alien need to protect Lex, and damn if he was going to complain.

"What happened? You were fine at the press conference."

"Broke my fingers. There was an accident on the ride home." Which was the party line. Limos could be a treacherous place, full of cracks and crannies to break three fingers across the knuckles. No one had questioned him when he gave his story, not even when Clark got there and started fuming in the corner.

"Are you going to be okay?"

"The doctors tell me I'll live," Lex said dryly. Then he yawned. "I'm fine, Clark's fine, everyone is fine. Talk to you later?"

"Yeah, okay. Sorry to have woken you."

"'s'not a problem," he sighed sleepily, and then he hung up.

"What did he want?" Clark asked, pulling Lex underneath him.

Lex didn't open his eyes as he pressed his face into Clark's neck. Clark's body was hot, his skin dry, and he smelled deliciously Clark. "See if I was okay." Clark tasted spicy as Lex licked a strip up his neck.

Clark made a noise deep in his throat and pressed Lex harder into the mattress. "You need to sleep," he told Lex. His teeth closed over Lex's ear.

"Yeah, I know." He raised his head and found Clark's lips. The kiss was anything but restful. "I missed you," he breathed into Clark's ear.

"Me too." Clark kissed down Lex's neck, hands running up and down Lex's side. "Yesterday, when I came out of the building, I wanted to press you against the wall and take you right there."

Lex moaned, arching under Clark. "In front of everyone?"

"All those cameras." Clark was breathing heavily. His tongue scraped wetly over Lex's nipple, teasing it. "All those people, watching me take you. Mark you. Prove that you're mine." He bit Lex gently.

Trying to keep from crying out, Lex bit his lower lip. His fingers scratched along Clark's back. "I am yours," he panted, kissing Clark desperately. "Always."

"I know. I want them to know." He slid down Lex's body, placing wet kisses and sharp bites along Lex's torso and stomach.

Lex writhed as Clark teased him, clutching the sheet with his good hand. His broken hand flailed above his head and wrapped as best he could around a slat on the bed frame. "One day," he ground out, shuddering as Clark's teeth sank into his stomach.

Clark made a sound deep in his throat. His hand ran down Lex's back, worshiping and caressing. His cheek brushed Lex's hard cock and...

The phone rang again.


"Ignore it."

"I can't." He gasped when Clark's tongue slid into his navel. His stomach tightened and cock twitched. But he still picked up his cell phone.

"I have to take it," he said when he saw the number.

"No you don't."

Lex flipped the phone open. "What?" he demanded, tone short.

"Good morning, Lex," Carrie Castle purred over the line. "And how are you this lovely day?"

"What do you want, Ms. Castle?"

"Can't I just..."

"No." Lex grabbed Clark's head and held him. Clark was still trying to lick every inch of him, and Lex needed all his wits. "No, you cannot just call me. What do you want?"

"Testy, aren't you?"

"I'm not a morning person. Forgive me."

She laughed softly. "I see. Well, perhaps one day I'll have the pleasure of learning that first hand."

She was getting awfully aggressive. Ever since he'd formed LexCorp, Carrie had been trying to get into his pants. "Ms. Castle?" He squirmed when Clark managed to slip from his grasp and lick a stripe up Lex's chest.

"I'm just calling to let you know that that there are several juicy pictures of you and your young friend holding hands outside LuthorCorp Towers. There are also a few pictures of the two of you leaving the hospital."


"And, according to my sources, the paparazzi are camped outside your apartment building." She sounded amused. "Good luck getting him out."

"Getting out whom?" Lex replied blandly. He pushed Clark off him and sat up, wincing as he put weight on his left hand.

"Of course," was her dry response. "Anyway, we're running an article about the more personal side of the event, today, speculation free, of course. The boy's name isn't mentioned since we couldn't get in contact with his parents, and there is a strong emphasis on your friendship with the family."

"Which is good, because I am a very close friend of the family." He rubbed his hand over his face. "Thank you for your call. I'll see that you're duly compensated for your diligence."

"I have an idea on how you can pay me back," she said.

He braced himself for another come-on, but all she said was, "How about an interview on the strange and sudden mass selling of voting shares among your employees?"

He sighed silently. "We'll see. Good day, Ms. Castle." He hung up and lay back down. "We're being watched," he told Clark, reaching out to brush hair from his face.

Clark immediately got that deep look of concentration as he x-rayed the room.

"No, angel, I mean by the paparazzi," Lex said, kissing Clark's cheek. "They're camped outside."

"Oh." Clark wrinkled his nose and ran a hand through his mussed hair. He looked so gorgeous
in the mornings, all big, sleepy eyes and overwarm skin that glowed with health. "What do we do?"

Lex rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Act normally. We eat breakfast, shower, get dressed, and then all drive back to Smallville together as one happy family. I already explained last night why you were in the city, and they can't prove we've done anything. If we try to sneak out, it'll only look suspicious." He stretched his neck slowly. "Of course, we'll load into the limo in the garage, but we won't do anything dramatic."

With a predator's smile, Clark climbed back on top of Lex. "Then we have time, right?" he asked in a low, rough voice. He arched his hips into Lex's, cock hard against Lex's thigh.

A renewal of interest stirred in Lex, bringing to life what Carrie's voice had killed. "We have time," he whispered, looping his arms around Clark's neck.

They kissed hungrily, practically devouring each other. This was definitely Lex's favorite part of going through a stressful situation. Sex, while always intense, was never quite as good, quite as all-consuming, as when Clark went alien.

Clark yanked Lex's boxers off his hips. One big hand wrapped around his cock and...

The intercom buzzed.

"Fuck!" Lex shouted. He slapped the button. "What the fuck do you want, Damien?"

"Sir, the paparazzi..."

"I know. They're outside and have pictures of Clark and me. I am trying to sleep."

"I'm sure you are." He sounded way too amused. "Do try to come out sometime before noon. The Kents are getting restless."

Lex bit back what he was going to say and turned the intercom off. With his left hand. Really, really hard.

"Are you all right?" Clark asked with Lex stiffened with pain. "You just went white."

"I'm fine. Just." He held up his hand and exhaled shakily. "Too hard."

Clark sat up and took Lex's hand in his. "I'm sorry," he said, kissing around the splint. "I'm sorry this happened."

"It wasn't your fault," Lex said. He rested against Clark heavily, eyes on his fingers. All five of them were badly bruised and puffy. Two of them were dark purple and three times their normal size. Those two were taped together and splinted. It was going to be a painful recovery.

"I know what you're thinking," Clark said. He moved down so he was lying between Lex's legs, head resting on his shoulders. "And you're wrong."

He shifted uncomfortably, guilty suddenly. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"You think you deserved this. To be hurt. Especially by your father." He kissed the space between Lex's shoulders. "You didn't deserve this."

He squeezed his eyes tightly. "Maybe I did. Your father asked me not to do this. He told me so many times how wrong it was, and I didn't listen. Look what happened."

"But you don't deserve to be hurt. He broke your hand, Lex. He's the wrong one. Especially since you were just retaliating against him. I mean, he bugged your office."

"That doesn't make what I did right."

"Well, no," Clark said slowly. "But it also doesn't mean he had a right to hurt you." Teeth sunk into Lex's shoulder. "Lex? Can I ask you a question?"

"Yeah." He opened his eyes and gazed sightlessly into the distance.

"Why was bugging your Dad's office so wrong?"

Lex frowned. This was obviously some kind of trick question. And one he wasn't quite prepared to deal with. But, then again, he couldn't just not answer. "Well," he said after a moment. "You saw what happened. Because of my actions, your mother got taken hostage."

He could tell by the hot sigh on his skin that it was the wrong answer.



He turned. "What?"

"Well. It's just that it was wrong before it all went to hell. That's all."

Oh. This again. "But he did it to me first."

"I know." Big hands caressed over his ribcage, holding him. "And what he did was wrong, right?"

"Yes," Lex said cautiously.

"And if you'd done it to him without provocation, it'd be wrong, right?"

"Yes. But he did it to me first." He turned around to face Clark. "I couldn't just let him violate our privacy like that, Clark. Can't you understand that?"

Clark nodded. "I do. I completely understand. But don't you understand that there were other choices you could have made?"

"You said you wouldn't be disappointed in me." Lex's heart felt heavy; he swallowed back a lump in his throat.

"And I'm not disappointed, Lex. Really. I understand why you made this choice. And there's a part of me that agrees with it. It's just, we have to learn something from this, and I don't want it to be that if you do something bad, you deserve to get hurt. Or it's only wrong when someone you love gets caught in the crossfire." Clark kissed the bridge of his nose. "It was wrong way before Mom got involved."

Lex closed his eyes, helplessness and rage filling him. "What would you have had me do, Clark?" he whispered.

Clark sighed again. "I don't know. Something else. Something... legal. Ethical. Creative. I mean, if you weren't a Luthor, and weren't bound by his rules, what would you have done?"

He wanted to fire off some flippant answer, but something stopped him. Instead of answering, he thought a moment, trying to find an answer that would satisfy Clark.

Unfortunately, nothing came. "An eye for an eye, Clark."

"The only thing that gets you is two people missing eyes. Two angry people missing eyes." He kissed Lex gently and ran his tongue over Lex's bottom lip. "You know your dad is going to view this as an act of aggression, not retaliation. In his eyes, what he did was perfectly justified. What you did was unnecessary."

"But when he pokes my eye out, he also takes my heart, Clark. What he did, it wasn't just against me. It was against you, too."

Clark smiled crookedly. "And yet I'm still here. And maybe, next time, instead of us both working ourselves into separate panics and being unsure of what to do, we should talk about it and make a decision together. Because if this is our life, and it's our money, then it's our corporation too, right? And I don't want to be involved in a corporation that stoops to illegal and immoral corporate espionage."

The world spun around Lex, even though he was firmly anchored by the weight of Clark's body. "Are you saying... you want to work for LexCorp?"

"No. I'm saying that we're partners. That's what these rings mean, Lex." He found Lex's right hand and threaded their fingers. "We're equals. And, no, I'm not interested in business. I'm a writer. Or something. I don't know; I'm only sixteen. But, me not working for your corporation doesn't change the fact that I'm going to be involved with it for the rest of my life. So I want some input on how it's run."

"You said it was okay. That you wouldn't be disappointed in me if I did this," Lex protested, a terrible pain in his heart. He was aware he was repeating himself, but he hated that Clark had led him on.

"I'm not disappointed in you, Lex." Clark rested his forehead against Lex's. "But when you told me about what you were going to do, you, well, told me. It was a decision that you'd already made, and if I'd thrown a fuss, you would have resented it. And it would have gotten worse and worse, and you'd feel more and more victimized by Lionel and angry at me for not letting you do what you thought was the best course of action."

He closed his eyes. "And I still don't know what else I could have done."

"I'm not sure either. But there had to be other options. They just require a lot of creativity." Clark kissed him. "Tell me that next time something like this happens--and we both know it will--we can talk about it? I mean, we were so busy panicking separately, we never thought to work through this together. And we promised each other that we always would."

Clark was right. He had promised. They'd promised each other. Lex knew who he was dealing with. Not a kid, but a man. A partner. And Lex had completely discounted that.

What was wrong with him?

"Nothing." Clark kissed down his face and bit Lex's neck.

Lex arched, gasping at the painful pleasure filled his body. "Clark," he said raggedly. His fingers threaded through Clark's hair and hooked his leg around his hips.

Clark's tongue scraped wetly on the overly-sensitive spot. Fire spread as he licked over Lex's Adam's apple and into the hollow of his throat.

He wrapped his arms around Clark and lifted his head. Hungrily, his mouth found Clark's and he kissed him. Their tongues slid against each other, searching deeply, teasing frantically. There was no tenderness or sweetness, only urgency and a deep desire to reconnect. To be one.

Cock hardening, Lex rode his hips into Clark's. "I want you," he breathed into Clark's ear. His teeth sank into Clark's earlobe and he tugged. Releasing it, he ran his tongue into Clark's ear.

"Lex!" Clark cried out, body bucking into Lex's.

"Shhh," Lex warned, capturing Clark's mouth. He didn't say or think the word parents, but the implication was clear.

"I don't think I can be quiet," Clark whimpered. "Oh, God, my parents are right outside."

"We can stop," Lex said. He wiggled out of his boxers and tossed them aside.

"Right." Clark reached for the lube tucked underneath the mattress. "I can't."

"Good." Lex pushed Clark over and straddled him. "We should do this every morning," he whispered, lips brushing lightly over Clark's face.

Clark just whimpered.

"Boys?" Martha called through the door suddenly.

Lex jerked, his fledgling erection wilting immediately.

Clark just bit his lip and held his breath, face turning an alarming shade of purple.

Which meant that Lex was going to have to call on years of experience to get them through this mortifying experience. Clearing his throat, he said, "Yes, Mrs. Kent?"

"I'm sorry to wake you, sweetie, but Mr. Kent would like to leave soon. So can you boys get up, now?"

"Sure. Just gives us about fifteen minutes to shower and dress, and we'll be out."

"Thank you, Lex."

Lex sighed and rested his forehead against Clark's. "This is not our morning," he said. "How
much do you want to bet that was intentional?"

"I don't think Mom would do that to us," Clark panted. His fingers dug into Lex's hips and he rocked his still-hard cock into Lex's. "She's not that mean."

"How can you still be hard?" Lex asked.

"I'm a teenager. I have my needs."

He laughed and rolled Clark onto his back. "Let me care for your needs, then." He slid down Clark's body, pulling down his boxers. Pushing back the foreskin, Lex licked Clark's cockhead and swallowing him down.

The taste of oranges burst on Lex's tongue as he slid his mouth down Clark's cock. He closed his eyes and hummed in contentment. He loved the way Clark's cock tasted, loved the way Clark tasted. It was unique and alien and not-quite-of this world. Lex loved knowing that he was the only one who'd had this privilege.

Clark whimpered and undulated his hips. He was obviously trying not to go too quickly, but his entire body was trembling with need.

Lex smiled. He'd love to draw this out longer--and he could, for hours if he wanted--but they only had fifteen minutes. This needed to end and quickly.

Inhaling slowly though his nose, Lex opened his throat and allowed Clark's cock to slide all the way in. His gag reflex kicked in, choking him for a moment. Inhaling through his nose, he relaxed his throat and swallowed.

As soon as Lex's throat closed around Clark's cock, Clark shouted and came. His back arched, eyes squeezed tightly. He was beautiful.

Lex swallowed, slurping his way to the tip of Clark's cock. He hummed happily, kissing the softening member.

"Lex," Clark sighed, body trembling. He rose off the floor, one limp, sated, Clark-balloon.

"Hey!" Lex grabbed Clark's ankle and, keeping him from going too high. "We don't have time." He stood and started walking to the bathroom, leading Clark.

"Lex!" Clark yelped, laughing. His body jerked, the alien-lightness breaking. He fell heavily, managing to take Lex with him.

Laughing, Lex fell on top of Clark. His lips found his lover's, and they kisses passionately. "Didn't you like that?" he asked, snuggling into Clark's always-warm skin. "I was thinking about floating you around at the next Christmas parade."

"Shut up," Clark said, cheeks flushed. He slapped Lex's ass lightly and kissed him.

"Boys, are you all right?" Jonathan called.

Clark started laughing, lips pressed together. His body shook with suppressed giggles.

"We're fine, Mr. Kent," Lex said, putting his hand over Clark's mouth. "Clark tripped." He made a face at Clark, which only made Clark laugh harder.

"Can you please hurry up? I want to get going, soon."

"Yes, sir." Then he kissed Clark's forehead. "You're just a troublemaker, you know."

Clark licked Lex's hand so he pulled it away. "Who sucked off who?"

"Who's the teenager who was in need of being sucked off?" He rose and pulled Clark to his feet. "Let's shower. You know they're just going to keep knocking."

"Almost like they want to keep us from having sex," Clark said, looping his arm around Lex's waist.

"Imagine that."

They went to the bathroom, but Clark stopped at the door and turned to Lex. "Are you going to be okay?"

Lex sighed and gazed up at Clark. "Yeah, I will."

"Even when you have to talk to my dad, and he tries to make you understand that what you did was wrong, and you start feeling horribly guilty and that you're not good enough to be part of our family even though that's bullshit?"

"You know me too well." He tried for a smile.

Clark was serious, his eyes sober as he gazed at Lex.

Lex sighed again. "It'll be hard. I want so badly to be worthy of your whole family, and I feel like I'm always falling short."

"You're not. And we're not perfect; you should know that. No one is perfect."

"You are."

"No, Lex, I'm not. And if you don't stop idolizing me, one day, I'm going to fall so far, I'll never be able to rise again."

"It'll never happen," Lex swore.

Clark pressed a kiss into his forehead. "I hope not. But you have to treat me fairly, Lex. Please."

Lex wound his arms around Clark and held him tightly. "I will. I swear. But you know that it's still hard for me to really get that... that you're not some kid and that it's not going to disappear. Sometimes, despite my best intentions, I still think of you as a teenager." He smiled wryly. "And seeing you as a twelve year old yesterday didn't help."

Clark blushed. "I know. But I saw you at six and don't have that problem."

"That's because you're you. And sometimes, I still need my illusions."

His face softened and Clark kissed Lex gently. "I know. But, just remember, the real thing is always better than the dream."

"Yeah. Especially since the real thing is you," Lex whispered, hugging Clark tightly.

By the time they reached Smallville, the pain from his hand had gone away and the swelling was down. He couldn't swear that he could feel his bones knit back together, but he was pretty sure that it was happening. Not only did his fingers feel different, but Clark was staring intensely at his hand, so he figured that something was going on with his bones.

The trip back was relatively silent. They all made polite small talk, Lex apologized over and over for what had happened until Martha had ordered him to stop, and they listened to music. For the most part, they were all exhausted. Martha kept dozing off, and Lex, who was still on pain medication, could barely keep his eyes open at times. He leaned heavily against Clark, feeling his fingers heal and wondering if they'd made a clean enough getaway from the city.

"I'm going to go check the cows," Jonathan said as soon as they pulled in front of the Kents house. He kissed Martha before he climbed out, and then disappeared into the fields.

Lex helped Martha out of the limo and then leaned inside to talk to Damien. "You go ahead," he said. "My car's here, so I'll be along shortly."

"Very well." His smile was pained and he shifted. "Dominic is at the mansion if you need anything. I must lie down for a bit, and my physical therapist is coming in an hour."

"You going to be okay?"

He nodded. "Of course, sir."

Lex closed the door and stepped back. "Whoa!" he exclaimed when Clark's arms closed around him. "I didn't know you were there."

"Like I'd ever leave you." Clark squeezed him and kissed Lex's ear. "Wanna come inside and drink some hot chocolate?"

"I need to go," he sighed. "There is so much crap to take care of."

"But your fingers are broken. That means you get the day off." He lifted Lex and started walking to the house.

"Clark!" Lex wiggled, trying to get out of his lover's grasp. He laughed loudly when Clark tickled him. He felt like a little kid.

Clark sat on the porch steps and kissed Lex's neck. "It looks like it might rain," he said, looking up at the heavy clouds.

Lex nodded and leaned back against him. "It does." Then he sighed and turned around. "We can't do this. Not right now." He cocked his head in the direction of the road; they'd been followed from Metropolis, despite their escape effort. The last thing they needed was to be photographed on the Kent property making out. "We have to wait for me to stop being interesting again before we can play on your front porch."

"Yeah." Clark released him and folded his arms over his chest. "Unless... Look, I really don't care anymore."

"What do you mean?"

"If people want to think we're together, and if the reporters want to stalk me to get dirt on us, I don't care. I don't have anything to hide. I love you."

Oh, angel, Lex sighed internally. "No, Clark."


"No." He took Clark's hand. "Clark, I want everyone to know, too. Really. And if you weren't sixteen, they would know. I wouldn't be able to stop telling people. I don't want to hide our relationship, even though I want to protect you from the world. I want people to know that I am the luckiest man in the world."

Clark had a pouty look on his face. His lower lip stuck out, and his eyes were dark. "No you don't. You have political aspirations, and I don't fit into those."

"Do not do this, Clark," Lex snapped. "You know that I choose you over everything else. I can live without being president."

"Everyone knows I'm gay!" Clark suddenly exclaimed. "God, do you know what that's like? I've been in the stupid closet since I came out to myself, and everyone still knows. It's embarrassing. It makes me feel like the worst liar ever, like everyone is laughing at me. And it's not like they're just saying that I'm gay because they think I'm weird or they want to pick on me. The ones who are jerks are just using it as an excuse, and everyone else is just saying it because it's true. Why do I still have to hide?"

Lex sighed and fell to his knees in front of Clark. "Clark, you know why we can't be out as a couple right now. I'm too old. You're sixteen. I'm trying to establish myself in the business world, and even though you're over the age of consent, our relationship will still be frowned on. And, even though I've been a good boy for a year, I've still got my playboy-partyboy-slut reputation to deal with and, unfortunately, you fit right into that. So we can't be out together." He took a deep breath and reached for Clark's hand. "It's your life. We've established that you're a mature, rational adult capable of making your own choices. If you decide that you want to come out to the town and at school, then you can." He squeezed Clark's hand and looked down a moment before saying, "But... I'm really... I'm asking that you don't."

Clark met his eyes, looking startled.

He didn't blame Clark for being taken by surprise. Since practically the beginning, Lex had told him that he had no problems with Clark coming out. And, really, he didn't. He was okay with it. It was just that, right now, they just couldn't afford it. Not at this point in Lex's career. "I've been listening harder lately," he said, twisting Clark's ring around his finger. "To the rumors in town. And, you're right. Everyone knows about us. I'm honestly surprised that

you're not hassled more in school. The only reason I can think that you're not is because, somehow, you being the weird kid and me being the outsider makes us somehow... acceptable. You never fit in, so even if people don't like that you're gay, they're not going to do anything about it because, well, they've already accepted the fact that you're different anyway."

"Then why don't you want me out?"

"Because right now, we're the town's secret. They know, but they don't because we haven't confirmed their suspicion. Everyone, well, they, like it like that. If we confirm what everyone knows, it stops being the town secret. Instead of whispering it to each other, they'll talk about it openly. And not only may that lead to you--or us--being harassed, but there's a chance people will start talking to reporters. As long as we're the town's secret, we're safe. The minute we come out, we belong to the world and lose our security." He put his hand on Clark's and caressed gently. "Do you understand?"

Clark stuck his lower lip out further. He didn't look happy. "Yeah," he said sulkily. "I understand."

"What's bringing this on?" With his free hand, Lex pushed aside a lock of Clark's hair. "I know you've wanted to come out before, but you seem really stuck on it right now. Why?"

"I don't know." He rubbed his forehead. "Having Dr. Carvey come to the house and see us is part of it. Having to sneak out of the city in the limo was part of it. Feeling trapped inside the penthouse before we left was part of it. Being what I am, and knowing what I do, and having... secrets that can hurt me and my family and my friends.... Plus there's Whitney and Chad's secrets and it's like... No one around here is honest, you know? And I'm just getting to the point where I feel so stuffed with secrets, I'm going to explode." Clark sighed again and smiled weakly at Lex. "But I'll be fine. I mean, don't mind me. I'm just in a weird mood."

"I understand." And then, even though there was still the possibility of reporters lurking somewhere around the property, Lex kissed Clark lightly. "I'm going to find your dad before heading back to the mansion. I want to get Dad's stuff packed and out ASAP."

"Okay." He lightly bumped their foreheads together. "Say good-bye before you go?"

"Of course." Lex rose reluctantly. He really didn't want to talk to Jonathan right now. Ever, actually. Not now, not after everything that had happened.

He didn't think that Jonathan was ever going to forgive Lex for what he did. Because he was stupid and didn't listen to Jonathan, Martha had been put in jeopardy. Lex wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to forgive himself. If anything had happened to her...

"Hey, Lex," Jonathan said. He looked up from the cow he was feeding and smiled. "I thought you'd be with Clark or headed home by now."

"I wanted to talk to you before I did." He rubbed his injured hand. "Apologize."

Jonathan sighed and set down his bag of feed. "You already apologized, Lex."

"I know. But I wanted to apologize to you."


"I completely disregarded your advice."

"And I'm willing to admit to myself that maybe it was something you had to do." He ran a hand over his hair. "If you learned the right lesson, then... It worked out."

"It might not have. Mrs. Kent could have been killed."

"But she wasn't. I wish she hadn't been in that situation, but she's fine and it's over. We can move on." He crossed his arms and leaned against the fence. "So. Did you learn the right lesson?"

Lex snorted softly and rubbed his nose. "You mean, don't bug anyone's office because it's morally wrong and someone can get hurt?"


"And it's just wrong. There are other routes." He sighed again. "I went through this with Clark
earlier. I get that there were other things I could have done, and that if I want to keep Clark and
not lose myself, I need to start thinking creatively and not... like my father."

He laughed and nodded. "Good way to put it."

Lex managed a smile, pleased that at least Jonathan didn't seem angry with him. Not right now.

"So, um," Lex said after a comfortable moment of silence. "Dad took the compass from me. When he did this." He held up his hand. "I'll try and get the compass back to you as soon as I can."

He frowned. "What do you mean?"

Oh, great. Open foot, insert mouth, and was Jonathan really going to make him explain all this? "I failed, Jonathan. You told me not to bug Dad's office, you gave me the compass as a gesture of faith, and then I... I put your wife in danger. I don't deserve... anything, really, but I figure that I should give you the compass back."

"Lex, it wasn't.... I gave it to you because I believe in you. I believe in your ability to make good decisions and to choose the right path. But, at the same time, it's a symbol. Sometimes, everyone gets lost. Even me." He put his hand on Lex's shoulder and squeezed. "Even Martha. No one is perfect and we all need a little reminder of where we should go. I gave you the compass to help you keep yourself focused when making decisions like this. But I'm not going to stop believing in you because you made a mistake. It was just that, Lex. A mistake. A big
one, yes, and I wish you had followed my advice, but, I'm not going to turn my back on you just because you're human."

It was too much. He'd learned to take this from Clark. Even Martha was okay, because he loved her so much. But he couldn't listen to Jonathan say things like this because... because it wasn't supposed to be him. Lionel was his father for Christ's sake. He should be giving Lex unconditional support and affection. Not Jonathan.

"I've got to go," Lex said abruptly. He turned and walked away swiftly.

"Lex? Lex, wait."

He turned, but continued walking backwards. "My father bugged my office, Jonathan," he said, desperate to get away. "He broke my fingers because I was doing magic tricks. He tried to rape my boyfriend, he's played with my mind, and he's never, ever forgiven me for making a mistake in my life." Then, before Jonathan could answer, he turned and fled as quickly as he could while still maintaining some shreds of his dignity.

"So, it looks like you're back in the hot sheets," Chloe said at the top of the stairs.

Startled, Clark looked up from his computer. He hadn't heard her come in. "Um, hey. What do you mean?'

"There are photographers and reporters all over town. At the Talon, at the Sweet Shop, even at Fordman's. You and Lex are hot, hot news again."

"Oh, good," Clark said flatly. "Is Lana still available to pretend to date?"

She crossed the room and flopped onto Clark's bed. "Only if you're willing to pretend to feel her up. Lana's new gig is that she doesn't want us to mince around the topic of sex, that she wants to be included in every conversation about it that we have, and we stop treating her like a perfect, pink princess."

Clark raised an eyebrow at her, but Chloe just lifted her hands out and grinned at him with amusement. "Hey, I'm just the messenger. When she had that huge blow-up the other day about you talking to Whitney, that's what she told me. I'm just passing on the message."

"But I don't want to pretend to feel her up. She's got girl parts." He made a face and shuddered.

Chloe looked at him a long moment, and then heaved a sigh. "So, you got rid of the bi from your sexuality now, I'm guessing?"

He flushed. He hadn't actually meant to get into a serious conversation about this right now. It was just... fun to pretend the reason he didn't want to feel Lana up was because she was a girl. And, okay, yes, that was part of it, but it was by no means the only reason.

Lex was the reason.


"I don't know," he said, squirming. "I haven't been attracted to a girl for awhile. I liked Theresa and all, but I didn't want her."

"What about Jessie?"

He shrugged. "Jessie was easy. And I was... high. It had less to do with attraction and more to do with availability."

He should have known better than to say something like that, because no sooner were the words out of his mouth, then Chloe had pushed aside his laptop and climbed onto his lap. "And," she said coyly, running her fingers through his hair, "if I were... available?"

Clark tilted his head back, caught her hands, and held them. "You're not."

"But if I were?"

"Why are we even going here, Chloe?"

"Because for years I've watched you pine after Lana, and now you're with Lex, and I've always... had this thing for you. And, yeah, I'm over it, and it's not an issue, but I can't help wondering."

Gently, Clark pulled her hands from his hair. "What's going on, Chloe? This isn't like you. This isn't like us."

With a pissy look, Chloe threw herself off him. "I should have known. I mean, it's pretty typical, right? I'm short and dumpy and weird and no guy could possibly find me attractive."

"That's not true. I think you're very attractive. You're beautiful. I don't know if we'd be together if I didn't have Lex. I mean, I'd still be gay. It has nothing to do with you."


"What is going on?" he demanded, exasperated.

Chloe squeezed her eyes shut. Her cheeks were dark pink and entire body tense. "Chad isn't attracted to me."


"He doesn't want me. At all. I mean, he'll make out with me and everything, and sometimes even cop a feel, but anytime I want to take it a little bit further, he pulls back." Her eyes opened. "At first I thought he just wanted to take things slowly, but I don't think that's it anymore."

Clark sighed and rubbed his eyes. "Well, you've only been dating a couple months. Maybe he does want to take it slow."

"I tried to take his shirt off the other day, and he left. He's a guy, Clark. Guys take off their shirts all the time. I mean, not you, but you're special."

This was fantastic. Exactly what he wanted to talk about. Because he knew why Chad wasn't taking off his shirt, only he wasn't supposed to tell Chloe. He'd barely scratched the surface of it with Chad, and if he broke trust now, Chad wasn't ever going to trust him again.

Plus, he'd probably break up with Chloe.

Clark pulled his toy truck off his nightstand and started rolling it over his leg.

Chloe shot up. "What do you know?" she demanded.

"What?" he asked, startled.

"You know why Chad won't go to second base with me. Why?"

"What makes you think I know, Chloe?"

She rolled her eyes. "Dude, Clark, you've got about ten thousand nervous tells to tip me off. That stupid toy truck is like first on the list. Anytime you know something you shouldn't, or get upset, you pull it out and play with it. What do you know?"

Shit. Stupid truck.

Clark slipped it into his pocket and rubbed his palms on his thighs. "Um, nothing. Really."


"It's not..."

"Tell me, or so help me, I'll go talk to a reporter."

"You will not." He bit his thumb.

"Another tell! What is going on?"

"Jesus Christ, you're like Sherlock Holmes or something!" Clark exclaimed.

"And I'm your best friend," Chloe said. "And that means I can read you like an open book. So tell me what is going on before I sink into a depressive haze of self-loathing and do something stupid like sleep with Cathy."

Clark frowned. "Cathy?"

"This girl from Metropolis who sends me dirty e-mails every few weeks. She's always available and has very low standards. Obviously, if she wants to sleep with me."

"It's not about you, Chloe," he said. "It's not. It's just... Chad has issues. And stuff. And I can't tell you what's going on because I promised him I wouldn't."


"Because I'm... It's not just about him not wanting me to tell you. It's about me being afraid of what will happen to him." Which was probably saying too much, so Clark followed it up with,
"Chloe, please don't ask me. Don't investigate. Just promise to let me take care of it or..."

"Or what, Clark?" she snapped, tensed and ready for a fight.

"Or we might push Chad away, and then something really bad might happen to him." He shouldn't have said that.

Chloe's eyes snapped open. "What?"

Okay, anywhere but here time.

Clark got up from the bed, but Chloe grabbed the back of his shirt and clung. "Clark, please, tell me what's going on."



"I can't," he snapped, whirling around. "Why can't you just accept that?"

Tears rose to her eyes and she blinked rapidly. "Because I think that Chad told you that he's in love with you, and you're trying to protect me."

His heart wrenched, and Clark sat back on the bed. "Chloe, it's not about you, okay? And why would he say something like that?"

"Because. You're you. And anyone who knows you for about five minutes falls in love with you. I mean, you've got Lex, Whitney, Aaron, Jack, Lana, Mr. Townsend, me. Everyone
loves you, Clark."

"That's not true. Lex and Whitney, that's all. Lana loves you. And Chad is... bi in the same way I'm bi. Only, you know. Leaning more towards the straight side." He sighed and put his hand on her knee. "It has nothing to do with you,. None of it. I swear. Chad's got issues and problems and stuff. And he's embarrassed about it."

"I just want to help."

"I know. But right now, I don't think he's ready for you to help. He's barely ready for me to help and if we push too fast and if I break his confidence, he'll pull away and we'll lose him."

"You mean if I push too fast. I'm the one you don't trust."

He held back a sigh. "It's just that, when you're worried about someone, you push really hard. And, although it worked out with me, I'm not so sure how it'll work for Chad."

Her face shut down. "Fine." Chloe stood and grabbed her purse. "I'll see you."

"Chloe, wait..."

"Bye, Clark," she said, and stormed out of the loft.

Well, fuck. Clark fell back onto his bed and squeezed his eyes shut.

It wasn't his fault that Chad had told him not to tell Chloe about the cutting. And it wasn't his fault that Chloe, despite her best intentions, did everything the wrong way. If she knew about Chad hurting himself, she'd only upset him further in her attempts to make him stop. And he didn't need that, not right now. What he needed was someone to make him feel safe enough to at least talk about it. And that's all Clark wanted right now.

He loved Chloe. He didn't always feel safe around her.

His phone rang. "Hello?"

"Were they like gold bars, or chocolate?" Lex asked.

"Gold, Lex," Clark said, annoyed. They'd been over this last night on the ride back from the hospital. Lex and Damien had questioned endlessly about the refined meteors in Lionel's safe, the files, and pestered him on why he burned and didn't steal them. And now it looked like Lex was going to do it all over again.

Stupid Lex.


"Yes! Big, huge blocks of refined meteors all stacked up like the gold in Die Hard with a Vengeance. Why would he make chocolate sized ones?"

"I don't know. Maybe they were easier to carry around," Lex snapped. Then, "Why are you upset?"

"One, we did this last night. Two, Chloe."

"We did it last night?"

"Over and over again."

"Oh. Sorry." His tone was subdued. "I honestly don't remember."

"Well," Clark conceded, softening. "You were drugged."

"I was. So, do I want to know the problem with Chloe?"

"She's just having relationship trouble."

"Lana again?"

"No. Chad. He won't go to second base with her because he can't take off his shirt without her seeing his scars. She thinks he's in love with me, and when I told her it wasn't that, that he had issues, she demanded to know what they were. And I ended up insulting her by suggesting that she was about a subtle as a tornado when it came to helping people, so she took off in a huff."

"He's her boyfriend, Clark."

"Yeah, but... it's not like that. I mean, they've only been dating for a few months. Chloe's still mostly in love with Lana. It's not, like, you know."

"Us?" Lex supplied.

Clark felt stupid. "Yeah."

"Most relationships aren't."

"I know that."

"I don't know if you really do. All you know is us, Clark, and, purposely or not, for better or for worse, you're going to compare every other relationship in your life--and everyone else's relationship as well--to what you have."

"But it's just a high school romance, that's what I mean. You know that most high school relationships don't last, and maybe it's better that they not have sex."

"I agree. But it's not your decision."

"It should be," Clark said, taking his truck out again.

"I see," Lex said slowly, as if he'd just learned something interesting.




"It's just that this is an interesting side to you. I knew you were controlling and possessive, but I didn't realize that you actually wanted to tell your friends what they could and could not do."

His cheeks heated. "I don't. Not really. It's just... She was so upset."

"It's upsetting when you think the person who you're with doesn't find you attractive. It's also upsetting when your best friend--one whom you've tried to help and support--tells you that your help was all the wrong kind."

Clark squeezed his eyes shut. "I didn't mean it like that."

"I know. She doesn't."

"Then what should I do?"

"Obviously, you should apologize to her, but you know that. As for this thing with Chad, I'm not going to tell you what to do, except to say that you know how Chloe is, and she's not going to just let this drop. You can either bring her in on this yourself, or she'll trample through it on her own."

"True," he sighed. "I'll talk to her."

"Good." Lex sighed, and Clark could ^see^ him rubbing his forehead.

"You okay?"

"I'm fine. Slight headache. But my fingers are a lot better. I took the splint off and they don't hurt."

"That's good. I mean, I knew there were okay, though. I watched them growing back together in the limo. It was kind of cool."

"Happy to entertain."

He smiled. "Can I come over for dinner? I want to be alone with you for awhile."

Lex sighed softly, and, the space above Clark's stomach, where he felt Lex always, radiated contentment. "I want to be alone with you. I love how no matter how much time we spend together, I don't get tired of having you over. I've never had that with anyone before."

"I'm sure you'll get sick of me eventually."

"I'm sure I will, too. But only in the brief storms of one of us being so moody, we can't stand each other. And you know what they say about the weather, Clark."

"It can change in a moment," he said, smiling.


For a moment they sat in silence, smiling stupidly, ^glowing^ at each other over their bond.

Finally, Lex cleared his throat. "Can you zip over around seven? Don't bother with the gate, just squeeze through the bars. I'll turn off the alarm, just in case."

"I can get through without setting it off, and I don't want any of the photographers in town to get through."

"All right. I'll see you then."

"Piek ric, Lex."

Clark could hear Lex's smile grow as he whispered back, "Yeah, Clark. Me too."

Lana was pouring herself a glass of juice when the front door flew open. It slammed into the wall as Chloe stormed inside. Her hair was plastered to her face, clothes soaking wet, lips almost blue. But it was the expression on her face that was truly frightening; it was so stormy that Lana wasn't entirely certain the storm wasn't coming from her.


Chloe ignored her and ran upstairs. Lana heard another door slam, followed by really loud rock music.

"Chloe! Turn down the music!" Gabe shouted from somewhere in the house.

Lana sighed and put the juice away. After she closed and locked the front door, she went to the stove and started the teakettle. Maybe she'd always been like this, she couldn't remember, but it seemed that since opening the Talon, whenever a friend was upset, the first thing Lana did was make something to drink.

When the water was ready, Lana made them both a cup of coffee. She flavored it the best she could with cocoa powder and vanilla extract, grabbed some cookies, and headed upstairs.

"Chloe?" she called after softly knocking on Chloe's door. "Can I come in?"

"Just go away, Lana." She sounded like she'd been crying.

"Chloe, please. I've got coffee."

When the only thing that Lana heard was the music, she took that as consent and entered the room.

Chloe was in her pajamas, stretched out over the bed. Her face was buried in her pillow, and her shoulders shook.

"Chloe, what's wrong?" Lana set her tray down and climbed on the bed.

"Clark hates me."

Oh, good. What did Clark do now? "That's not true. What gave you that idea?"

"He thinks I push too hard. He thinks I'm a stupid bitch who can't mind her own business and spreads destruction wherever I go. He thinks that I hurt people more than I help."

Oh. Oh, Clark, you stupid boy.

Lana sighed and stroked Chloe's back. "Is this about Chad?"

Chloe shot up. "How do you know?"

"Because I'm the one who brought all this to Clark's attention," she admitted, folding her hands in her lap. "Who went to him because I wasn't sure if you would be receptive to what I'd seen. And it's not because I don't think you're trustworthy, or that you spread destruction or anything like that. I was afraid that you'd brush it off and say I was jealous or starting to cause trouble, and we'd just gotten to a good place again. I didn't want to let the issue get buried between our stuff."

"You think I'd do that?" Chloe asked in a small voice.

She shrugged and squeezed her hands together. "I don't know. But I do know that when you were dating Justin, Clark said you wouldn't listen to him when he tried to warn you there was something off about him."

"I know but, well, I sort of wanted him to be jealous."

Lana raised her eyebrows. "And you wouldn't have wanted me to be jealous?"

Chloe blushed. "I already figured you were going to be."

"I'm sorry."

"I can't believe you went to Clark instead of me. He's my boyfriend. You totally... If you were dating someone who was in trouble or something, I'd tell you, even if I thought you'd get mad. I actually respect you."


"You know what? Just go. I don't care what you have to say."

"But don't you want to..."

"Hey, if you think I'll just overreact with him or I'm untrustworthy, then why start trusting me now?" Chloe snapped. She turned away and buried her face in her pillow again. "Just go."


"Get out of here, Lana!"

Lana sighed and got up from the bed. Once again, in her effort to make everything okay, she'd managed to screw up yet another relationship. This was just wonderful.

Lex was in a cuddly mood, which was unusual. Not that he was normally cold or distant or anything. In fact, usually when they were together, they were touching or holding each other. But, somehow, this was different.

Clark had come over after dinner to find Lex still working. Which was normal, except the moment Clark stepped into the office, Lex closed up shop. His dinner was waiting for him in his bedroom, and he ate it all without complaining or trying to hide food. Then, he changed into his pajamas, put The Maltese Falcon into the tape recorder, and curled up with Clark on the bed.

It was all very... un-Lex-like.

"Lex?" Clark asked softly, not wanting to break the mood.

Lex's head was pillowed on Clark's stomach, one hand entwined in Clark's. Without lifting his head, he hummed, "Mmmm?"

"Are you feeling all right?"


He wasn't even opening his mouth to talk. Definitely un-Lex-like. It was worrying. "Did you, um, take anything? Like, pain meds or something?"

Lex didn't answer right away, but he seemed to freeze in Clark's lap.

Way to kill the mood, stupid, Clark mentally chastised himself.

Without lifting his head, Lex said very clearly, "I promised you that I wouldn't do drugs. I know the past few days have been insane, but unless Dr. Sutton or Damien give me something, I'm not going to take anything."

Clark let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "Sorry."

"It's okay. I realize I'm untrustworthy."

"No, Lex, you're not." Clark stroked Lex's head. "Sorry. It's just, you're so... super relaxed. And, like you said, it's been an insane few days. Usually you're more worked up than this."

"I'm too tired." He glanced up at Clark and offered a slight smile. "Really, I am. Besides, do you realize that this is the first time in four months that Dad's been gone from this house? He doesn't live here anymore, and it's ... peaceful." His eyes fell shut and he stretched his back. He looked almost exactly like a cat, and it was beautiful. "He's gone, Clark."

Clark's head fell back against the pillows, eyes shut. "Yeah. He is." Of course, gone was a relative term. Even though Lionel's physical presence wasn't there, and the bugs were all destroyed, a part of Lionel was always going to be with Clark.

He sighed and wished he could just get over this already.

Lex rolled onto his back. "That means we can have sex in the halls again." And he smiled mischievously.

"Yeah." Clark kissed Lex's forehead and then gently traced his lips. "So. Speaking of fathers."

Lex's face shut down.

Way to ruin the mood, Clark chastised himself. But he pushed on regardless. "Dad said you freaked out on him earlier."

"I did not freak out," Lex said coldly.

"Well, he said that he told you that he was proud of you and you ran away. To me, it sounds like you freaked out. Why?"

"I didn't freak out." Lex pulled away and rolled onto his side of the bed.

Clark waited for him to go on, but he didn't. He simply pulled a pillow to his chest and continued watching the movie.

Obviously, he wanted to talk about it. If he hadn't, he'd have already changed the subject, or jumped Clark for sex. The fact that he wasn't trying to distract Clark meant that, deep down, Lex wanted to talk.

Clark stretched out on top of Lex. The nape of his neck was smooth and white and felt nice under Clark's lips. He brushed and nuzzled and nipped at it until he felt Lex's muscles relax. Finally, he sighed and turned his head.

"I have a father," Lex whispered. "And it's not that I don't appreciate the fact your dad has finally come around, but..." He sighed again and squeezed his eyes tightly. "I have a father."

Clark kissed the corner of Lex's mouth. His tongue lapped gently at the soft, full lower lip until Lex rolled over and offered his entire mouth to Clark.

"I wish your father knew how to love you the way you deserve, Lex," Clark whispered. He pressed his forehead against Lex's, wondering what else he could say. It hurt Lex so deeply, the fact that Lionel was so bad at being a father. And Clark was torn on the whole thing. On the one hand, he understood feelings of inadequacy when it came to parents. Even though he knew the truth--that his parents loved him--a part of him still wondered if maybe, just maybe, his memories were nothing more than the dreams of an adopted kid who needed to know he'd been loved. If he'd been better, smarter, bigger, faster, better looking... something, then maybe they wouldn't have sent him away.

But, on the other hand, he had his family. His parents. And they were perfect. They loved him, and now they loved Lex, too. They were better parents than Lionel, so why couldn't he accept both their love?

Their lips met again. "I'll talk to him tomorrow. Try to explain," Lex said. His throat rose and fell as he swallowed. "It means a lot to me. His support, I mean. I adore your mother. I respect your father more than anything. I want to want him to respect me, too." He kissed Clark's cheek. "I'll talk to him as soon as possible."

"That sounds like a good idea, Lex. And, remember. I love you."

"Like you'd ever let me forget."

"Marow," Athena proclaimed, jumping onto Lex's desk and scattering papers to the wind.

Lex sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Athena, no." He tried to pick her up, but his splint got in the way. Annoyed, he took it off; he was just wearing it for show, anyway. His fingers were now fine, thanks to Clark and his super healing sperm, but since the news had reported the injury, Lex had felt he should probably keep it on.

But not if he couldn't pick up his cat.

The splint went on the desk. The cat got a kiss on her forehead and was set on the floor. "I'm working," Lex said as sternly as he could.

Guileless green eyes gazed up at him. "Meow?" she asked, swiping her white paw over her nose. She cocked her head.

Lex groaned. She was too powerful for him. Reaching into his desk drawer, he pulled a mouse on a string out and dangled it in front of her.

With a small mewl of triumph, Athena leapt at the mouse, batting it with her paws.

"I am so pussy whipped," Lex groaned, yanking the string from her paws. He shook it and laughed as Athena did a complicated twist in the air, snagging the mouse with her teeth.

"Sorry to interrupt," Dominic said, suddenly appearing at the door.

Cheeks warm, Lex scooped Athena into his arms. "Dominic, come in. Um, it's fine."

Dominic was smiling as he crossed the room. "That's a lovely cat. She's the famous Athena, I take it?"

"Yes." Lex set her on the desk. "What have you heard about her?"

"Only that she's a good model of what will happen if you should ever have children." Dominic reached out and stroked the kitten's tiny head. "Apparently, your child will be the most spoiled in the entire world. And I, for one, am not all that surprised."

"Oh no?" He arched an eyebrow.

"I've always suspected you had a soft spot the size of a black hole." He scratched behind Athena's ears, causing her to purr ecstatically. "You, unlike some Luthors, have a heart."

Embarrassed, Lex rose. His ears stung him. "Thanks, Dominic." He cleared his throat. "So, um, have you finished packing my father's things?

"There's a few items left, but the majority has been packed away." Dominic offered Lex a crooked smile. "Soon it will be as if he were never here."

Lex's lips twitched. "I don't think so. Dad rarely disappears so easily."

Dominic smiled wryly and crossed the room. The piano was still in Lex's office; he'd never gotten around to moving it after Dad had taken over the office a few months back. Lex didn't play the piano well, but he enjoyed having the instrument in his office, Lionel's visits notwithstanding. It gave him yet another way to distract himself when his thoughts began spinning around too quickly.

"Damien is asleep," Dominic said, sitting at the piano. "He had a physical therapy session after lunch, and it wore him out."

"Are you going to stay with him tonight?"

"I think I am, but Aimee is driving down so she can help him." He lifted the cover off the keys.

"I've scheduled three interviews for new nurses tomorrow." He pushed the keys softly and seemingly at random at first, but gradually, it built into a beautifully haunting melody.

Lex crossed the room. "Is something the matter?" he asked, leaning against the piano.

Dominic's gaze was turned inward as he played. For a moment, Lex thought he hadn't heard the question but he finally said, "The last two of your board members sold their voting shares yesterday."

"I know." He pinched the bridge of his nose. "I've been making calls all morning, trying to figure out how this happened." He licked his lips. "I called Dad and asked him to come down here so I could talk to him."

Dominic looked up, still playing. "Did he agree to come?"

"I left a message on his voice mail. So, we'll see. I'm thinking yes because you know how much he enjoys rubbing things like this in my face."

"Yes, of course," Dominic murmured, turning back to the piano. "Your employees called me this morning to confirm that they received the money for their shares. I checked my account and there was a sizable withdrawal yesterday afternoon."

Lex shook his head and placed his hands on the piano. The rage and anger he'd felt when he'd first learned that his company was gone flooded back. "What burns me," he said, jaw tight, "is that I just talked to them. Just the other day. They promised they wouldn't sell no matter what happened."

"Obviously they were blackmailed." Soft, lilting notes ran from the piano. "The money came from my personal account."

"You'll get your Goddamn money back," Lex snapped.

"That's not my concern," Dominic fired back, fingers crashing down in a discordant chord. "My point is that Lionel deliberately set this up to make it look as if I paid them. He used my money, and I had no hand in this."

"I know that. It was that Anthony guy, and I'm not going to blame you for this. Christ, Dominic, you've been in England since all of this started. Unless you've perfected the art of being in two places at once, it couldn't have been you." He stopped and shook his head, realizing what Dominic was probably upset about. It didn't really have to do with the money; it had to do with Dad maneuvering Dominic into a dangerous position.

He forced his expression to soften as he inhaled slowly. When he was calm, Lex sat next to Dominic on the piano bench. "I know Dad's powerful and that he's letting you know that he knows you've betrayed him," he said. "But I promised you in the beginning that I wouldn't let him do anything to you. I'm going to keep that promise, Dom."

Dominic seemed slightly mollified, but he still said, "I'd have more faith, Lex, if you were better able to protect yourself from him."


"You're my employee, Dominic," Lex said icily. "I'll do anything to protect you."

Dominic arched an eyebrow. There was an expression in his eyes that made Lex distinctly uncomfortable.

Avoiding Dominic's eyes, Lex turned to the piano. He'd taken lessons as a child, well into his early teens, but he'd never had a passion for it. Still, his fingers remembered some of the pieces he'd had to play until his teacher was satisfied, and although he wasn't nearly as good as Dominic, it sounded like a song. "Play dutiful drone a few more days," Lex said, fumbling the notes. "Then I'll get you out."

Dominic snorted softly and began playing the same song as Lex, only an octave higher and a million times better. "To where?" he asked. "LexCorp is gone."

Oh. Right.

He stopped playing. "I'll think of something." Lex rose and offered a tight smile. "I always do."

The notes died away slowly, lingering in the air. When they had vanished, Dominic closed the lid on the keys. "I hope you do, Lex, because I can't work for him anymore."

"Believe me, Dominic. I know exactly how you feel." He nodded in dismissal.

Taking the hint, Dominic said, "I'll go see how Damien is," and left the room.

"Damn it," Lex swore softly. He went back to his desk and sat down. Immediately, Athena jumped into his lap.

He still didn't know how he was going to get his business back. Before he could, he had to figure out what Dad had on his employees and how he'd gotten the information. Plus, he needed to scrounge up dirt on Dad to provide the proper leverage to make him give the company back.

This couldn't have come at a worse time, either. The reporters were already on his front porch, waiting for an incriminating picture or two of him and Clark; when the news broke that LexCorp was sunk, they'd be on him like ravenous dogs.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck." The intercom from the front gate buzzed suddenly, interrupting his litany. With a soft growl, he hit it. "Yes?"

"Sir, there's a Dr. Helen Bryce to see you," the guard said.


"Send her through." He lifted Athena off his lap. "Okay, princess, that's your cue to leave. I can't have you ruining my image in front of the doctor."

Athena's paws lightly batted at Lex's face and purred loudly.

Lex's heart melted. "Okay, sweetie. But stay in your basket." Kissed the furry head and placed Athena in the basket on the windowsill. Then, he pulled her favorite sock from the bottom drawer of his desk.

Immediately, Athena rolled onto her back, batting and chewing the sock while purring ecstatically.

Lex sighed and pulled his camera from the desk drawer. "Clark is going to laugh at me," he said, and he snapped a picture of his cat playing with what used to be his sock.

Helen entered his office a few minutes later. Athena was still playing with the sock, but Lex was studiously working, trying to find a solution to salvaging his company.

"Hello, Lex," Helen said. She crossed the room confidently, but there was an expression on her face that belied her steady walk.

"Helen, hello." He closed the computer and rose. "Please, have a seat. Can I get you something to drink?"

"No, thank you," she replied as she sat. "Um, I got this e-mail this morning." She pulled a piece of paper out of her purse and handed it to him.

Without even reading it, Lex knew what it was going to say. Sure enough, it was a letter from the head of LuthorCorp Research and Development, informing Helen that since LexCorp had been bought out and dissolved by LuthorCorp, any further work she did on any of Lex's projects belonged to LuthorCorp.

"Well, I can see that Dad's legal department is still having problems reading contracts," Lex said. He lowered the e-mail and smiled. "I'm glad you insisted on the clause stating that you would retain the rights to your research should anything happen to LexCorp." He watched her carefully, wondering how good at this she actually was.

Really good. Her expression didn't change, and her eye only twitched a fraction. "Well, I do have to admit that I had warning. Your father paid me a visit a couple of days before we finalized the contract, and there were a few things that he said that put me on guard. That's why I asked for the clause."

Lex nodded and returned to his seat. The moment Helen had asked for the clause, he'd immediately become suspicious. Unfortunately, he couldn't quite figure out what had transpired between the two of them. He just knew it was something.

"Well. Lucky you were smart and thought to protect your interests." He rubbed his chin. "What are you going to do now?"

Helen shifted in her seat and crossed her legs. "I don't know. It'll be a shame to lose the access to the mutated children and Dr. Sutton's research. But, on the other hand, I don't think she'll work for your father."

Lex shook his head. "No, she won't."

"So, that leaves me where I was."

"Unless you work for my father. Which, of course, you are legally allowed to do. The only
difference is he won't allow you to publish under your own name or take credit for your findings."

"True." She frowned pensively, looking beautiful as ever. "Will it ruin our friendship if I meet with him to discuss my options? I am, after all, a researcher."

Their friendship, Lex mused. He leaned back in his chair and pressed his fingers together in a steeple. Friendship. When Lionel had approached Mark, Mark had been in Lex's office the next afternoon to tell him what had happened. Helen waited weeks to let him know, and theirs was a business arrangement. Not only that, but Helen knew that Lionel was constantly trying to
undermine Lex's business. And now he had succeeded and...

"Not at all," Lex said mildly. He lowered his hands and traced his fingertips along the desktop. "But I'll have this all straightened up in a week or two. Trust me."

Helen smiled at him. "I trust you, Lex. But I have to look after myself as well." She seemed momentarily mesmerized by the sight of his hands. Then she blinked and shook her head sharply. "I have a name to make for myself."

While Lex was perfectly content to ride on his father's coattails. Sometimes Helen was so single minded that she tended to forget everything around her. It was a fault of hers, and one that he found annoying. Of course, he tended to find it annoying if anyone forgot something simple about him, such as the fact that he was struggling to break free of his father. He remembered everything about everyone else; why couldn't they repay the courtesy?

"Yes, well, I'll help you make sure your name is made," Lex promised. He sat up and folded his hands in his lap. "In fact, Dr. Sutton is on her way here. If you wanted to drop by again..."

"I can't. I'm going into the city tonight." She hesitated, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "Actually, would you like to come with me? Mark and I have tickets for a play, and I have an extra."

How nice; a last minute invite. "I wouldn't want to impose."

She flushed and had the decency to look embarrassed. "No, it's not an imposition. When I bought the tickets, I thought I was going with some friends from the city, but they all bailed. I figured I was going to have to eat the ticket, but I'd love it if you came."

"I'm sure Mark would rather Grant..."

But Helen shook her head. "Apparently," she said, leaning forward, "Whitney is pretty jealous of Grant. He called over the weekend when Mark was with Grant, and when Mark got home, they had a very long and serious conversation. Not that I listened in, but I could tell. Mark told me later that Whitney was trying to be cool about it, but he was worried, so Mark and Grant weren't going to be hanging out as much until Whitney gets back."

Okay, so Helen was a gossip. And in sore need of friends, too. Lex bet that if she wasn't so busy trying to make a name for herself, she'd be at the Talon for hours, watching the soap operas of daily life play out. And then talking to Lana about them because Lana, too, was a bit of a sensationalist.

So was Lex, but he liked to keep his observations to himself. Or tell them to Clark.

"I'd love to come," Lex finally said. "Anything to keep Mark's relationship alive and well." He owed Clark, Whitney, and Mark that much. Not that he thought that Grant was a threat, but if Whitney was uncomfortable, then it was the least Lex could do.

Helen smiled brightly. "Fantastic. Mark said he'd drive, unless you want to."

"We can take the limo. We can even stay the night in the city, if you want to go out for drinks after. Unless you and Mark have to work."

Helen shook her head. "Mark's already taking tomorrow off. Whitney is having surgery today and he or his mother are going to call Mark at some point to tell him how it went. Mark wants to be available. Plus, he has essays to grade. And I'm not working. I'd love to stay there for the night."

Lex rose and walked around his desk. "Then it's a date. What time should I come by to pick the two of you up?"

"Is six all right?"

"Six is fine."

Helen stood and slung her purse over her shoulder. "Sounds good. And good luck with your father, Lex."

He smiled as he led her to the door. "Thank you." He was going to need all the help he could get.

Sometimes, Chloe wondered if she was really a bitch. Like, deep down, or not so deep down. Maybe all her clever snark was nothing more intellectual bitchism and her friends were either too afraid to tell her or too stupid to understand. Because, yes, Chloe had to admit it, sometimes, she wasn't just making observations about cheerleaders or jocks or whatever and having fun poking fun. Sometimes, she was just hurt by the social hierarchy that kept her perpetually on the outside and the intellectual void that made her brain hurt.

Of course, the fact that Clark was actually a million times smarter than she was hadn't escaped her notice, and he wasn't a bitch about it. Then again, he was a boy, and boys were just different. Even when Clark was being a bitch, he didn't bitch about the world in general, just about those closest to him. The ones who had the power to hurt him.

Chloe didn't want to hurt him. Really. He'd been through enough.

But, he'd hurt her, and damn if she was going to put up with that. So, even though there were photographers hanging around the outskirts of the school, and even though he was throwing her puppy-eyed looks and offering to buy her coffee and lunch and help on her English questions, Chloe completely ignored him.

And Lana. She was in on this, too. Besides, Lana was supposed to be Clark's girlfriend anyway, not Chloe. And, since Chloe had left before Lana was ready and then refused to pick up Clark, they'd arrived together on the bus, hand in hand. At least they were being smart about it.

And Lana looked beautiful today, dressed and polished for the cameras. They made a pretty couple. Not as gorgeous as Clark and Lex, but pretty in a traditional sort of way.

"So," Chad said, glancing around the Torch office after school. "Is there any reason that Clark and Lana are being frozen out?"

Chloe winced and sipped her soda. She'd hoped that Chad hadn't noticed. "No," she lied. "No reason. I don't know what their problem is."

Chad laughed. "Well, having the door slammed in your face tends to put most people off," he said. He went to her and kissed her neck. "I know I wouldn't be happy if you did it to me."

"Well," she replied, arching her neck so she could kiss him. "You don't have to worry about that. I'd never do something like that to you."

Chad kissed her, and it was awkward because Chloe was sitting in front of her computer and he was behind her, but butterflies still erupted in her stomach and her skin tingled. When they broke apart, Chloe stood and turned so she could kiss him properly, and Chad was such a good kisser. He held her gently by the nape of her neck and his lips were soft and tongue insistent. She could only imagine how it'd feel in other places, and why....

"Chad," she whispered, breaking the kiss. She rested her forehead on his and wrapped her arms around him. "You know you can tell me anything, right?"

"Yeah, I know."

Which was what she wanted to hear, of course, but.... "No, I'm serious." She pulled away and put her hand on his chin. "You can tell me anything, Chad. At all. I won't freak out, and I won't judge. I want to support you no matter what."

He looked confused, and then a little scared. But the fear was quickly banished, and he smiled. "I know I can tell you anything, Chloe. It's one of the reasons that I... I love you."

Her stomach bottomed out, and Chloe swallowed. Because, she was very, very fond of Chad, and she wanted to hold and protect him and maybe even have sex with him. But she didn't know yet if she was in love.

But she didn't want to hurt him.

"I don't know what to say," she said softly. She kissed him gently. "Thank you."

He blushed deeply, eyes averted.

"No, Chad." She took hold of his cheeks and kissed him again. "Don't be embarrassed. I love hearing that. Especially from you."

"I'd love to hear it from you," he mumbled.

Oh, God. "Well," Chloe replied with a smile. "Stick around for awhile and I'm sure you will."

Chad's eyes sort of focused on her, and he brushed her bangs back from her forehead. "You've been hurt before, haven't you?"

"I'm over it," she assured him, running her hand down his chest. She wanted to see it so badly,

see him without his shirt, maybe see him naked. More than anything, she wanted to see where they could take the relationship. "That has nothing to do with... us." Chloe kissed his cheek and then kissed him deeply. Thrills ran down her spine, and her stomach went soft and squishy. "I'm just cautious about some things. And I want to be sure before I say the words."

"So it has nothing to do with Clark."

Oh, the irony was delicious. She thought Chad was in love with Clark, and now, apparently, Chad thought she was in love with Clark.

"Clark?" Chloe rolled her eyes, even as images of Clark's beautiful face flashed though her mind, and the memory of being held in his strong arms made her skin tingle.

She flushed and shook her head. "No. Not Clark. Really. It's just... words have power, and I'm a writer. I always mean what I say."

That seem to satisfy Chad, because he smiled and pressed his lips against her forehead. "Well, you know what?" he whispered, breath hot on her skin. "I mean what I say, too."

"I'm sorry, Clark," Lex said, tapping his fingers on the railing to the balcony in his office nervously. "I didn't think you'd mind."

"I don't," Clark said. "I've just had a really bad day, and then you tell me this."

He closed his eyes. "What was I supposed to do? Helen invited me out, and she's my friend. Or, I was trying to be friends with her. You said it was okay."

"It is," he retorted in a tone that told Lex is wasn't. "But we were supposed to hang out. Chloe wouldn't talk to me all day, and I've been looking forward to seeing you. I miss you."

Was it romantic or codependent that Lex felt the same way? They'd been with each other all weekend, and instead of growing tired of Clark's presence, Lex only craved for more of him.

He sighed. "Not that I don't want to see you, but don't you see how this works in our favor? The paparazzi is onto us again, and if they see me in Metropolis with Helen..."

"How are they going to do that if they're all here?" Clark asked. He sounded snotty, and, boy, was Lex just loving his moodiness over the past few days. "And I thought you said it was just a small theater, not like the opera."

"It is. And they'll know because Damien called in an anonymous tip." Lex squeezed the bridge of his nose. "I'll sneak over when I get home. To see you."

"It's a school night. Dad'll castrate us. He had that look in his eyes the other day when he caught us fooling around in the living room; I know he's thinking of taking drastic measure to stop us from fooling around at home, which sucks because I'm not going to fool around at your place for a very long time."

"The place is clean."

"Give me a few weeks."

"A few weeks without you? I'll be dead by Tuesday."

There was a beat of silence and then Clark said, "So you are only with me because I can heal you." He only sounded as if he were partly kidding.

Oh Jesus Christ. "Are you pregnant or something?" Lex snapped. "Because your mood swings are driving me insane."

"Sorry to bother you with my mood," Clark said, not sounding sorry at all. "I'm stressed." He said stressed carefully, as if it was a foreign word. Then, as if he needed to clarify for Lex, he added, "I've got things weighing on my mind."

Lex sighed and slid to the floor. "Is this still about the coming out thing?"

"No." His tone changed yet again, softening. When he spoke again, the snottiness was gone and he just sounded sad. "Well, not just that. I'm worried about you, and about Mom, and Whitney, and Chad and now I'm fighting with Chloe."

"And the whole world ends when you fight with Chloe," Lex said. He hit his head gently against the balcony. "Call her and take her out. My treat. Tell her that she didn't do such a bad job on you, and that you appreciate her support, and then tell her about Chad."

"But I promised..."

"Chad needs help, Clark. And Chloe isn't bogged down in her own issues like you are. Talk to her."

"You're probably right."

"I'm always right."

Clark laughed softly. "Arrogant."

Lex smiled. "You need to be arrogant if you want to rule the world by age thirty." A door

slammed downstairs. "Dad's here."

"Okay. Be careful. And have fun at the play."

"I will."

"Don't get too fresh with Helen. You're putting on a show, not asking her to marry you."

"Got it." The door downstairs slammed open.

"Lex!" Lionel bellowed. He strode in purposefully, Dominic in tow.

"Gotta go," he whispered. "Bye." Lex hung up and rose with as much dignity as he could muster. "Hello, Dad."

"Lex. What was so urgent that you needed to call me down here? I'm missing an opera for this."

He slowly descended the stairs until he was on a level playing field with his father. "I am interested to find out how you managed to convince enough of my employees to sell their voting shares to my company."

His smile grew. "I don't know what you're talking about, Lex. Could you, perhaps, enlighten me?"

Of course. Never a straight answer with Dad, only a crooked, twisting stairway that led to nowhere. "Well, it seems a representative from an offshore shell company bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Senatori here. He's been quietly approaching the LexCorp employees and buying up their voting shares."

Dominic cleared his throat nervously. Lex shot him a look, but the man still looked remarkably nervous and unsettled.

"Really?" Lionel said, sounding shocked. "Is that so?"

"I was under the impression they had no intention of selling." Lex approached his father and leaned in, dropping his voice. "What'd you get on them?"

Lionel laughed, the sound rumbling low in his throat and washing over Lex hotly. "Now, now, Lex. Don't be a sore loser." He clapped his hand on Lex's shoulder. "I'm just realigning your priorities. Your attempt to build LexCorp was at the expense of our mutual goals."

He bit his lip and shook his head. "The only thing we share is mutual enmity. Your entire stay here, the entire ... everything, pretending that you were seriously interested in a father-son reconciliation was just a smokescreen to sink my company."

"If you were really ready to run LexCorp, there's no way I could have taken it from you." He put his other hand on Lex's shoulder and massaged him.

Lex felt sick.

"Look at this as an opportunity for us to work together again, father and son."

"When I broke away from you, I swore I'd never be under your thumb again," he said, trying to keep the rage from his voice. He glanced at Dominic, who was looking at Lionel almost fearfully. Lex hoped that Lionel hadn't threatened him with anything too bad.

"It's my hope that you'll stay and rise to the challenge."

Lex snorted. "Your ego wouldn't allow it. I'll fight you on this and I'll win."

Lionel dropped his hands and stepped away from Lex. The smile was gone and the look that replaced it reminded him of why he spent so much time being frightened of this man. "You better have something stronger than words to back up those threats, son, because as of this moment you are just another employee."

He swallowed and lifted his left hand, rubbing the knuckles his father had broken. "I won't come back and work for you, Dad." He dropped his hand and glanced at Dominic. Raising his eyebrows questioningly, he mouthed, "Are you all right?"

Dominic nodded, and mouthed back, "He's not happy with me."


Dominic appeared to think for a moment, and then nodded.

Lex rubbed his neck and mouthed, "I'll take care of it." He turned his attention back to his father. "Dad, I believe you have something of mine?"

"What? Oh, this?" He pulled the compass from his hand and ran it over his knuckles. "The compass from your replacement father."

"He's not my replacement father," Lex said, ears burning. "Give me my compass."

The compass disappeared in a simple drop that Lex almost didn't even see. He gaped at his father, fury roaring through him at the evidence that his father, again, wasn't practicing what he preached.

"Sorry," Lionel said, smiling blandly. "I seem to have misplaced it."

Lex snorted and fought not to roll his eyes. "I'm going to Metropolis. When I get back I want you gone." Shooting a warning look at Dominic, he left the room to get dressed. He had a date with the paparazzi tonight.

Dominic watched Lex go with a sinking stomach. Ever since Lionel arrived, he'd been acting strangely. Formal and dangerous with sudden bursts of cruel humor. He hadn't threatened Dominic, not overtly, and yet Dominic had no illusions about this man.

Still. He had to play dutiful lapdog until he was let go. It was what he did. "I've been buying voting shares?" he asked, turning to Lionel.

Lionel adjusted his sunglasses. "Another employee of mine happens to look much like you, Dominic. As you were in England securing our holdings, I decided to use his likeness for this operation. I knew Lex would feel even more threatened if he thought there was a chance I'd replace him with you." The words sounded mouthed, forced. They were playing a piece neither found any joy in and one they'd played for far too long.

"You never told me you wanted Lex back," Dominic said softly.

"I thought it was assumed."

"You know how much I care about this company." The words tasted like ash in his mouth. "I can't believe you're giving Lex another chance."

Lionel smiled. "You care about this company, do you, Dominic. Care about it so much that you've been fucking Lex's assistant for almost a year and have never given me any information of substance."

He blinked and stepped back. "You know how Damien is. That's why you hired him in the first place. He's a veritable vault. I can't get anything."

"Doesn't sound like a very stable relationship to me. He won't tell you anything, and yet you tell him about LuthorCorp."

"I don't..."

"He lived with you for months. You flew back from London to be with him when he was injured, and again over the holidays, even when your own sister invited you to spend the time with him. And, yet, in all those months, you've never managed to procure any useful information about my son or my son's company. Interesting."

Dominic's heart beat labouredly, and he found it hard to breathe. "What do you want, Lionel?"

"Nothing much. Break up with Damien, stop whatever deal you have going on with Lex, and Victoria gets to stay in the cushy position you've maneuvered her into." He leaned in closely, until his lips were at Dominic's ear. "She keeps her livelihood and her lover, and you keep your health." Blind hands found Dominic's tie and straightened it.

"You... I..." Pain rushed down his left arm and crushed his chest. He managed to stagger away from Lionel a few steps. "I don't..."

"Forgive me, Dominic, I misspoke. It's not your health you need to worry about. Damien's health, however, isn't looking so good."

Oh God. Oh, fuck what was he going to...

"Ah!" he exclaimed when a hand touched his back. He whirled and found Lex standing behind him, looking concerned.

"I forgot my keys," Lex said, voice neutral.

Dominic exhaled shakily and grabbed his left arm. Black spots were flying over his vision, and he felt ill.

Lex seemed to understand immediately. Putting his hand on Dominic's arm, he said, "Dad, you'll have to find someone else to bully from now on. I'm taking Dominic, and don't bother to threaten Damien's life. He'll kill you before you get the chance." Lex smiled at Lionel. "That's why you hired him, remember?"

With that parting shot, Lex led Dominic from the room and down the hall. As he did, he pulled his cell phone from his pocket and punched a few numbers. "Hello, this is Lex Luthor. I need an ambulance sent to my home, please. A friend is having chest pains." He led Dominic into the entertainment room and sat him down. As he gave the dispatch his address, he loosened Dominic's tie. "Thank you," he said, hanging up. "I said I'd protect you, Dominic. You need to trust me."

"I'm sorry." He lay back and tried to breathe; the pain grew more and more intense.

"Don't apologize. Just breathe. Try to relax." He went to a panel in the corner and pressed a button.

"Yes, sir?"

"Your boyfriend is having a heart attack," Lex said, sounding breathless himself. "We're in the entertainment room. I left Dad in the office. An ambulance is on the way, and I need to meet Helen and Mark in... damn, fifteen minutes."

"Don't have a panic attack, then," was Damien's clipped response. The intercom switched off and Lex returned to his side.

"You know," he said, pulling his handkerchief from his pocket. Gently, he blotted Dominic's forehead. "It's a little frightening that Damien chose to fall in love with a man who panics as easily as I do."

He laughed breathlessly. "You don't panic easily. That's one thing I... always admired about you."

Lex snorted. "Please. I panic at the drop of the hat these days. I never used to because I never used to feel." And then, he did the strangest thing. He bent forward, kissed Dominic on the forehead, and said, "I'm sorry."

Dominic found Lex's hand and squeezed. He didn't say anything as he slipped away into unconsciousness.

After he hung up with Lex, Clark sighed and rested on his bed. This sucked. He'd really been looking forward to going over to Lex's tonight. He'd had a bad day, what with the reporters waiting for him outside the school, Chloe not talking to him, and everyone else wanting to know what it was like to be in the middle of a hostage situation. He'd been a celebrity; people he'd never seen before were asking him questions and treating him like a rock star. It actually might have been kind of cool if not for the fact he had to lie about how he got into the building and Chloe wasn't by his side to divert people when their questions got too pointed.

Lana had done her best, really, but she wasn't Chloe. She didn't know.

Not that Clark was willing to admit that Chloe knew anything. She didn't. Chloe just knew what not to ask.

The only thing that had gotten Clark through the day was the thought of seeing Lex again. No,
the mansion still wasn't Clark's favorite place to be, but it was still their place. Clark needed to be there.

But, instead, Lex was going to Metropolis. Sure, Clark could still be with him tonight in Kiptin, but he wanted something now. Something to distract his mind and keep him from remembering the icky, invaded feeling he'd gotten when he'd seen his name written on a file inside Lionel's office.

He could journal it out. Sit down and write his feelings down. Write a story. Write and essay. Or he could kiss Chloe's butt so tomorrow she'd be by his side.

He picked up his phone and dialed Chloe's number.

"What?" she demanded crossly.

"Hey, um," Clark said in as submissive a tone as he could manage, "I was wondering if you'd let me take you out to dinner. Maybe a movie?"

The line went dead.

Okay, so Chloe was out. Lana was working. Maybe Pete.

"Hello?" Mrs. Ross answered the phone.

"Hey, Mrs. Ross, it's Clark."

"Clark, hello! It's been awhile since you've been around. How have you been?"

"Good, thanks. Busy."

"I imagine. I read your magazine. You're a very talented writer."

Clark blushed. "Thank you, Mrs. Ross. Is, uh, Pete home?"

"No, he's out with Emma Rutherford, studying."

"Oh." Right. Pete had been talking about that all day. Emma was his new conquest and, so far, it looked like it was going well. "Thanks anyway."

"Take care, Clark."

He hung up and hit his head on his pillow. This sucked. He wanted to go out for the first time in, like, ever and there was no one around to go out with. Being a loner had its drawbacks. He....


Clark sat up and went to his desk. In the top drawer was a slip of paper Jack had given him a few weeks ago; Clark had meant to throw it away, but something had stopped him. Looked like that impulse might pay off.

Heart hammering, he dialed Jack's number.


"Hey, um, Jack?"

"Yeah, who's this?"

"It's Clark Kent." He bit his lip.

"Clark!" Jack exclaimed, sounding really eager. Clark could almost see him bouncing up and down like a puppy, wagging his tail. "Hey!"

"Hey. Are you busy?"

"No. Do you want to hook up?"

He winced, wondering if the other guys in town routinely called each other for sex. Maybe this wasn't a great idea. "Um, kind of. I'm bored, and thought that maybe you'd like to go to the movies or something. As friends."

"Friends, sure." His tone was immediately subdued. "Yeah, cool. Now?"

"If it's good for you. I can meet you there in like a half an hour."

"Okay. Outside the theater?"

"Yeah. See you there."

"Can't wait." Jack hung up, sounding way more excited than Clark wanted him to be.

But, Clark needed friends. And he wanted gay friends, even if they didn't talk about being gay. He was tired of feeling like the only queer in town, and Lex and Chloe didn't count. Chloe was dating a boy, and Lex didn't have to wonder if the bullies in school were going to suddenly have a problem with his sexuality. Okay, yeah, they still might go after him in real life, but everyone knew only people who were suicidal went for the Luthors. The bullies weren't suicidal.

Not yet.

"Bye Mom!" Clark called, sticking his head into the kitchen as he left.

"Where are you going?" she asked from the living room.

"Movies. I'll be back by ten."

"Is your homework done?"

"Yeah. And I did my chores, too."

Martha nodded, giving him a smile. "Have fun, sweetie."

"I will. Bye." Then he turned and headed off into the night for his da... Movie with Jack.

Chloe was good at a lot of things. Writing, of course, and coming up with really put together presentations. She could sing and hack into almost any database and get weird stains off of dishes and make lounging around in your pajamas all day acceptable to parents. And, of course, Chloe excelled at the silent treatment.

"Chloe?" Lana said hesitantly standing in Chloe's doorway.

Chloe didn't answer, just bent over her books and turned the stereo up.

Lana sighed and tossed her hair over her shoulder. "Okay, fine. Your father went to get some dinner, and I'm running to Lex's to drop the books off." She waited to see if Chloe would offer to glance over them for her. Lana was still having some problems making everything come out evenly, and even though she was understanding what she was doing thanks to her accounting class, the actually doing it correctly still eluded her. Ever since she'd moved in, Chloe or Gabe had been double checking her math before she turned the books over the Lex.

Today it looked as if she was going to get no such help. Chloe looked oblivious to Lana's presence as she worked. The only way Lana knew that Chloe was aware she was standing in the doorway was the angry frown and her flushed face.

"Fine. See you later," Lana sighed.

It was storming when she got outside. Fat drops of rain hit the windshield of Chloe's car, which Lana hadn't asked to borrow, but it was standard procedure at the house. When Lana went out at night, she got to take either Chloe or Gabe's car. It'd be easier if Nell would just buy her one, but Nell was doing her best to pressure Lana into moving to the city. There was an SUV with her name on it, Lana had been told. All she had to do was leave.

Fat chance. Lana liked it in Smallville. It was her home. She wasn't interested in Metropolis. Gotham or New York or San Francisco, maybe. Pairs, Rome, London? In a heartbeat. Metropolis, day in and day out? No. It wasn't exotic enough. She needed... something besides Kansas.

Lana sighed as she drove up the driveway to Lex's. She hated fighting with Chloe, and she hated even more that this was all her fault. If only she'd gone to Chloe instead of Clark...

Well. At least Chloe wouldn't still be angry with her. She couldn't guarantee Chloe wouldn't have ever been angry, though; protests notwithstanding, Lana knew Chloe and Chloe would have been upset if Lana had gone to her with this information before. She would have lashed out.

Just like she was doing now.

Chloe was a nice girl and she meant well. That didn't stop her from being difficult at times.

"Good evening," she said to the butler or servant or whoever it was that let her into the mansion. If it wasn't Damien or Mabel, Lana tended to have no idea who anyone was in this place. "I've come to drop something off for Lex."

"He's out for the evening," the man said, giving her a slow once over.

Lana tugged at her coat uncomfortably, wishing he'd stop looking at her. "I usually just drop it off in his office if he's out. I know my way around."

He nodded. "Very well." And then he turned and left.

Where did Lex find these people? They were all weird.

She climbed the stairs and followed the twisting maze of the halls. When she rounded the corner to Lex's office, she hesitated. People were in the office and they threw long shadows against the wall where light spilled out on the floor. They didn't sound happy.

"I want you out of our lives once and for all," Jonathan Kent's voice echoed in the hall.

"You're jumping to conclusions, Mr. Kent. It was simply a token of appreciation."

Biting her lip, Lana tiptoed closer and peeked around the corner into the study. Mr. Kent and Lionel were inside, facing each other. Mr. Kent's face was dark and frightening. Lionel's was bland, but he seemed... amused. But dangerous.

"Oh, I think it was quite a bit more than that, don't you?"

Lionel's smile grew. "It's all relative, isn't it? I mean, a Roget DuBois watch from me is equivalent to a Whitman sampler from you." His teeth gleamed in the lamplight and he added, "Although, this... token you gave my son seems a bit higher than your normal standards, doesn't it?" He pulled something silver from his pocket and held it for Mr. Kent to see.

Mr. Kent seemed to freeze. "That belongs to Lex."

"Honestly, Jonathan, isn't one stray enough? I let you keep your child, but that doesn't seem to satisfy you. Now it appears you're after mine, too."

"Because you don't have the first clue what to do with a son! You treat that boy terribly. He's suffering and I'm not going to stand by and let you hurt him any longer. I told you what I'd do if you ever laid a hand on him and..."

"And what?" Lionel cut him off, voice icy. "I'll have to deal with you? Well, I already have dealt with you, Jonathan, and I think we know who the stronger man is. Or do I need to teach you that lesson again? Clark is a lovely boy, I'd be happy to send you a tape of an assignation if you'd like. I can arrange to have him taken again, only I might forgo the child services this time and rely on my own methods."

Lana gasped as Mr. Kent raised his fist, face twisted in rage. Her hands flew to her mouth to cover it, and she quickly backed away from the door.

The blow never came; there was no sound of flesh against flesh, no cry of pain. Nothing but Lionel's low, almost obscene laughter. It was like he'd known what Mr. Kent had intended to do, even without being able to see.

"Give. Me. Back. The. Compass." It sounded as if Mr. Kent teeth were clenched.

"Very well." Lana peeked around the corner again and saw Lionel slip the compass into Mr. Kent's breast pocket. "But please understand, Jonathan, that I was never interested in raising a son." He patted the pocket, and then smoothed his hand over Jonathan's chest. "I'm raising a Luthor. I've done everything possible to make this boy strong, and I will not allow you or your son to ruin him."

Mr. Kent's snorted. "We're not ruining him. We're putting him back together." He pulled away. Stay away from Lex, Martha, and my son, or I swear to God, you will regret it."

Lana heard footsteps approaching the door. Quickly, she fled down the hall and hid inside a room. When Mr. Kent and Lionel were both gone, she dropped the invoices off and left, mind
filled with what she'd witnessed.

"So, uh. This is where I live," Jack said as Clark slowly drove down the darkened, rain-soaked street. He pointed to a pocket-sized blue and white house with a neatly trimmed lawn and cat at the window, looking outside.

Clark parked and turned the engine off. "Thanks for going to the movies with me." He ran his hand through his hair and looked out the window. The rain was coming down so hard, it looked like sheets as it poured. It was kind of neat to watch, especially since, if he concentrated, he could speed his vision up to the point the drops seem to hang in midair. Sometimes, his powers were really cool.

"Thanks for asking," Jack replied, drawing Clark's gaze back. He was grinning at Clark, his pretty eyes catching the light of the street lamp. "I was thinking that you weren't ever going to call me."

Clark shrugged, embarrassed. "Well, uh. I've had a hard couple of months, and, well, I'm basically a loner. I guess I just wasn't interested in making new friends when I first met you. But, you know. Now I am." And it was true, kind of. Or something. Clark had no idea what was going on, but he did know that the frustrated, anxious feelings that he'd developed over the last few days had eased after hanging out with Jack. He didn't know if it was just the normalcy of going out with a friend for a few hours that did it, or the fact that he got to hang with someone who he didn't have to hide his sexuality around, but he was a lot calmer than he'd been since Metropolis.

Sometimes, it just helped to know he wasn't alone.

"I see." He licked his lips. "Um, your, like, brother died or something? I mean, I know you don't have a brother, but..."

"Ryan," Clark said softly. "Ryan died. We adopted him just before he did, but, yeah, he was my brother."

Jack punched him softly and awkwardly on the arm. "Sorry, man." He bit his lip a moment. "Um, that Aaron guy. You with him?"

"No, he's with Brian now, back in Metropolis." According to Aaron's last e-mail, they were thinking about moving in together. Clark had asked Aaron to wait six more months. "You don't want to move too quickly and wind up on the streets again," he'd said.

He was waiting to see if Aaron listened to him.

Jack nodded. "Right, I knew that. So, um." He took a few gasping breaths, like trying to work his nerve up or something. "The rumors. About you and Luthor." He hesitated, and added, "And there was that dude who took pictures of us going into the movie. Are you. I mean, are you and Luthor, like..."

"I'm not available, if that's why you're asking all these questions," Clark finally said. His body felt uncomfortably hot, and his heart pounded in his ears.

Jack's face fell. "Oh."

"It has nothing to do with you," Clark assured him, feeling bad. "I think you're really cute. And, if I weren't with someone, I think I'd hook up with you, but... but I am."

"Right." He closed his eyes and shook his head. "There are like no good, available gay guys in this stupid town."

Clark sighed and laid his head against the headrest. "We can go to Metropolis sometime. They've got a club for teens. It's where I met Aaron and a bunch of other cute guys."

His eyes opened. "Really?"

"Yeah, it's fun. We'll go in a couple weeks, okay? You can invite the others, too, so it's like a group thing. I mean, we need to support each other, right? Especially in a town like this."

God, Clark loved Jack's smile. It was huge and bright and made him glow. "Yeah, you're right. Okay!" He unbuckled his seatbelt. "I'll see you tomorrow? Or are you going to pretend that you don't know me, too?"

"I'll be sure to say hi," Clark assured him.

Jack grinned again and kissed him swiftly. Then, he was out of the car and running through the pouring rain to his house.

Clark smiled as he watched Jack enter his house. Then, feeling calmer and more in control of his life than he had over the past few days, he turned the truck back on and headed towards home.

A soft groan broke the silence of the room. Damien looked up from his book. Dominic's eyes were open and he was blinking up at the ceiling.

"Welcome back," Damien said, closing his book. He rolled to the bed and took Dominic's hand. "How do you feel?"

He swallowed and licked his lips. "Tired." His eyes fluttered shut. "Did I have a heart attack?"

"No." Damien raised Dominic's hand and kissed it gently. "No, it wasn't. You had a panic attack and blacked out. Your heart is fine." He kissed the inside of Dominic's wrist. "The doctor said that you simply need to rest, relax, and you'll be fine."

"Fine," he said bitterly, raising the bed to an upright position. "Right." He pulled his hand away and covered his face. "I can't imagine how disappointed you are in me."

"Whatever for?"

"I put myself into the hospital because of a little stress. I'm... weak and stupid and useless. Lionel knew the entire time I was working for you. He knew and he let me think I was getting away with something."

"He didn't know the entire time. I don't think he realized what was going on until around August. A few weeks later, he hired Anthony to impersonate you. And it's not your fault he found out." Tentatively, he rubbed Dominic's arm. "That's what Lionel does. We knew it was going to happen from the very beginning, and the fact that it did..."

"No, Damien," Dominic cut him off sharply. "If we knew from the beginning, it shouldn't have frightened me when it did. I... deluded myself into thinking I was..." He sighed and closed his eyes. "Like you."

Gently, Damien combed his fingers through Dominic's short hair. "You don't have to be like me for me to love you. You don't have to be like Lex for me to love you. You don't have to be like anyone, because I do love you." He took Dominic's hand and kissed it. "If you don't want to do this anymore, then you don't have to."

Dominic opened his eyes and turned so he could look at Damien. "Do what?"

"Any of it. LuthorCorp, LexCorp. We have a position for you once Lex regains his company, but if you don't want it, you don't have to work for Lex."

"What would I do?"

"Well, you could finish your symphony. Devote yourself to your music and try to do something with your genius rather than waste it."

"I'm too old."

"Perhaps. But, at the same time, you've never stopped developing your talents Dominic. You continually work and refine and grow. Perhaps you'll never be famous, but we've enough money between us to allow you the luxury to try."

Dominic sighed and ran his thumb over the inside of Damien's palm. "I'd... have to stay in the city. I couldn't move permanently out here. I can't imagine being able to concentrate so near Lex all the time. And the castle isn't exactly the most conducive for thought."

"It doesn't matter where you live. I can come visit."

"Why do you stay with me?"

Damien shook his head and, very painfully, forced himself to rise from his chair so he could kiss Dominic. "Because I love you," he said softly.

"That's not a reason," Dominic protested. He sat up and climbed out of bed. "It's not a reason at all." He grabbed a chair and pulled it near Damien's so their heads were level.

Damien appreciated the gesture. He took Dominic by the nape of the neck and kissed him properly. "It's the only reason I need."

"Lex. Lex!"

The world shook around Lex. No, wait. That was him. He was shaking.

"Wake up, Lex!"

He snorted and jerked. A pain slashed through his sinuses as he forced his eyes opened; he was disoriented and achy and his head felt like it was stuffed with cotton. Obviously, it'd been too long since he'd gotten decently drunk, because this hang-over felt like a killer.

"What?" he said irritably when he saw Mark bending over him

"Get up," Mark said. He looked like he was going to say more, but Lex pushed him away and looked at the clock. It was only six o'clock, and they'd agreed not to wake until at least ten.

Something was wrong. "Is Clark okay?" he demanded, dread seizing him and making him cold. He grabbed Mark's arm.

Something flashed over Mark's face, and he put his hand over Lex's. "Clark's fine. It's your father, Lex. He's been shot."

Dad was in jail. He was in jail. Orange jumpsuit, no shaving, haggard, hand-cuffs, committed a felony jail. He was in jail for shooting Lionel Luthor, which he didn't do. Clark knew he didn't do it, despite the evidence. Even if someone showed him a video of Dad pulling the trigger, Clark would still know that he didn't do this. It wasn't in his nature.

"Your father will be fine, Clark," Martha said as she drove them home from the jail. She sounded way too calm. More so than she had a right to be. It should be her who was freaking out and Clark comforting her.

But he couldn't. His father was in jail for shooting his boyfriend's father, and Clark didn't know what to do.

"Yeah," he said listlessly, pressing his forehead into the window. He'd been dragged out of bed before dawn by his mother. They'd gotten the call around three from Ethan, telling them what had happened. Clark had been in a fog ever since. "I guess." He closed his eyes and tried to reach out to Lex.

"Of course he will be fine. Your father didn't shoot Lionel Luthor," she said with the hint of a hysterical laugh at the edge of her words. "He would never do something like that. You know your father, he just couldn't." She sniffed and wiped her eyes. "I'm going to call my father when
we get home, just in case. Just so he knows. And maybe he can offer us some advice. I know Jonathan said we didn't need to, but.... I'd just feel better. When do you think you can talk to Henry Small?"

"As soon as I see Lana, I'll ask her," he managed, throat tight. His mind was blocked or something; clouded. "I can't reach Lex. He's too panicked."

"He'll be fine, Clark," she said, turning into the driveway. When she parked in front of the house, she turned to him and squeezed his hands. "Lex is strong, baby. I know you want to be there for him; you will. But, please, you have to take care of your family right now."

He pulled away. "Lex is my family," he said painfully.

She closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them again, there were tears in her eyes. "I know. I know that, Clark. But I'm sure he's with Lionel right now, in the hospital. I know you want to be there with him, but please wait at least until we've got a lawyer for your dad."

Clark sighed and hit his head gently against the window. "Yeah. I get it. I'll take care of it, I promise."

He opened the door and stepped into the soaked driveway. Lana would be at school, and he had no desire to be there today. So, either he could wait or brave Henry Small all by himself.

"What's Chloe doing here?" Martha asked, coming around the truck to stand next to him. When Clark looked at her, confused, she pointed to the road; Chloe's car was just pulling into the driveway, Chloe and Lana inside.

The driver's door opened and Chloe exploded out.

Clark barely had time to step away from his mother before Chloe latched onto him, holding him tight.

"Clark," she said softly, kissing his cheek. "Are you okay?" Her hand pressed into the back of his head, and she held him like she was afraid he was going to disappear.

Well, at least she wasn't still mad at him. "I'm fine." He kissed her back. "What are you doing here?"

"Dad said we could take the day off to make sure you were okay." She looked up at him. "I thought you could probably use the moral support."

"We both did," Lana put in, tentatively putting her hand on Clark's shoulder.

Clark smiled at Lana. "Thanks. Both of you."

"How's your father?"

"Okay, Confused. Not feeling well. He has a really bad headache." Clark straightened, but wasn't quite able to pull away from Chloe's embrace. She was comfortable. "He doesn't remember anything."

"But they're sure he did it?"

"Well, they think so," Martha said. "But he didn't."

"Well, yeah. What do they have against him?" Chloe asked.

Lana shot her a look, but Chloe just shrugged and rubbed Clark's back. He could hear her chastising Lana in her mind, but she didn't say anything out loud, just looked expectantly at Martha.

Martha sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. "Um, they found a gun in his truck that was the same caliber as the gun used to shoot Lionel. He was also registered on the security system
at the mansion, although it was about four hours before the incident. I guess they figured he stuck around or...something, I don't know." She inhaled deeply and said, "I'm going into the house to call my father. Clark?"

"I'll ask." He pulled away from Chloe. He kissed his mother's cheek gently and said, "It'll be okay."

"I know, baby." She kissed him back and went into the house.

Clark turned and looked at Chloe. "So, are we okay?"

Chloe shook her head. "No, we're not. I'm still angry at you. Both of you," she added, shooting a look at Lana. Then she picked up Clark's hand and kissed the back of it. "But this is more important, and I love you too much to let something stupid like being upset over boyfriend stuff get in the way."

"Thanks, Chloe."

She stood on her toes and kissed him lightly on the lips.

Immediately, he felt a little buzzed. He couldn't remember if she'd ever done something like that before. He didn't dislike it. It didn't mean he was attracted to her or anything, but, as a friendship move, it was nice.

"So. What are we going to do to get your dad off?" she asked, taking charge of the situation as always.

"Well, we need a lawyer. One who can take down the Luthors. Lana, me and my mom were kind of hoping that maybe you could ask Henry to represent him."

Lana nodded and dug through her purse. "He should be home right now." Her cell phone appeared in her palm and she walked away, dialing.

"So," Chloe asked as she left. "How's Lex?"

He swallowed and shook his head. "I don't know. I haven't gotten a chance to talk to him. I'm not sure if he's even in town yet, he spent the night in Metropolis."

"Are you going to talk to him? I mean, I know it's a freaky situation, but he's your.... You're like each other's foundations, you know? You support each other and hold each other together. Even right now, you need to be together."

He closed his eyes and nodded, feeling his throat close. "It's just... I can't help hoping that Lionel'll will die. I can't... let Lex know that."

"Even after all that Lionel's done to the two of you?"

"Lionel is his father."

Chloe sighed and pulled Clark back into her embrace. They stayed that way until Lana came over. "Henry can meet us at the Talon in an hour," she said softly. Tentatively, she put her hand on Clark's arm. "You up to this?"

He pulled away from Chloe and swiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. "Yeah. Let's save my dad."

Lex flew down the too-familiar hallway of Smallville General Hospital. Mark and Helen were somewhere behind him, both having insisted on accompanying him to make sure that he was okay. Well, Mark insisted on being there for Lex; he got the feeling that Helen was there more because Mark was doing it.

He turned the corner.

"Lex!" Damien grabbed his hand as Lex--blind with panic--made to pass him.

Lex blinked and caught himself before he fell backwards, thrown off by the sudden change in momentum. "Damien."

Damien squeezed Lex's hand. "Sir, listen to me. You're not going to panic. You're not going to have an asthma attack, you won't pass out, you won't sneak into my medicine cabinet when you go home. There is absolutely no time for it, there's no Clark to pull you back together again, and I'm being stretched thin. Breathe and calm down. Now."

His eyes fell shut automatically and Lex inhaled deeply, like he did when he was practicing yoga. He couldn't say that a wave of peace washed over him exactly, but his mind did focus. When he opened his mind, he felt less as if he were about to break into a million pieces.

"Where's Dad?"

"He's in surgery," Damien said, nodding in approval. "Still in critical condition."

"What happened? I don't understand."

Damien hesitated a moment. "It's... unclear. What we know for certain is at about five after ten, Mabel heard gunshots from your office. She found Lionel on the ground, bleeding. He'd fallen from the library, over the balcony."

"Who shot him?"

"That I'm not sure of."

"Mark said that the news report said that there was a suspect in custody. He didn't say who, and I didn't get a chance to listen to the report."

Damien sighed. "It's Jonathan Kent."

Lex fell against the wall, exhaling hard. No. "No."

"No, I don't believe so either. But he did come to the house after we were gone. According to the report, Jonathan was found passed out in his truck. He had powder residue on his hand and the gun in his possession was the same caliber as the one that shot your father."

"But. But, he's ... He's Jonathan Kent. He wouldn't do something like this. He wouldn't..." A headache pushed behind his eyes. Lex pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to swallow the nausea that rolled through him.

"I agree, but there's nothing we can do about it right now. I've already called a private detective to help find who did this. Until then, all we can't do anything to impede the police's investigation."

"Right." He rubbed the back of his neck. "What do I say about Jonathan?"

"Nothing for now. Don't make any statements, official or un." Damien's eyes darkened. "You know your father, sir. You know that he can make even the best of men do the worst of things. He's manipulated Jonathan before. Perhaps he tried again and went too far."

Lex banged his head against the wall. "This is so fucked up."

"I agree." Damien paused before asking delicately, "Have you talked to Clark?"

His stomach dropped. "No. I can't... you know. Reach him." He tapped his finger against his temple. "We're both too scattered. And I haven't had a chance to call."

"Do it soon. It'll be better for you both." He shifted in his chair. "If you want to stay, a room outside the ICU has been set aside for us."

"Yeah, okay." He ripped himself away from the wall and followed Damien. "How's Dominic?" he asked, brain moving sluggishly.

"Fine. He's back home, hopefully sleeping. He needs it."

"So, the panic attack didn't do any serious damage to his heart?"

"No. But he is thinking that he doesn't want to work for LexCorp in the near future. I agree with his decision."

Thinking about something else was helping the panicked tremors. Even if that something else was Dominic and his problems. "That's fine," Lex said with a casual shrug. "He's always welcome to work at LexCorp, at least once I get it back. But, if he doesn't want to, that's fine, too. Is he going to move into the mansion?"

"He thinks no. I think yes. I don't want him alone in the city after what happened to his apartment, but he thinks he has the situation under control."

"So tell him that he has to move in with you down here," Lex said. "I don't mind."

A smile flitted over Damien's lips. "Thank you, sir. But, I can't force him to live here if he doesn't want to, especially since he's testing me."

"Testing you?"

Damien nodded and his smile grew deeper. "He thinks I'll leave him if he makes a decision I don't agree with, so I have to allow him to make whatever decisions he pleases."

Lex tugged on his jacket uncomfortably. There really was only so much he ever wanted to know about Damien's feelings towards Dominic. The sex part didn't bother him, but knowing that Damien was as fallible and human as Lex was could be a little... discomfiting. He needed a constant in his life, especially right now since the world had turned upside-down.

Jonathan Kent under suspicion for murder. Okay, again, but the first time didn't count. That had been because of a crooked cop. This was.... Well. Lex didn't know what this was. And he wasn't sure he was up to the task of finding out, either.

"Lex," Mark said as he and Damien rounded the corner to the ICU wing. "They told me that you'd probably be here." He went to Lex and put his hand on his shoulder. "How's your father?"

"In surgery. Damien said that his condition is critical."

"Helen went to try and find out more information. I got you some coffee and breakfast." He tugged Lex into the empty waiting room. "Sit."

Lex complied a little dazedly. He accepted the coffee that was pressed into his hand, wincing at how bad it was.

"Sorry about the taste, it's all they had," Mark said, sitting next to him. "I can run to the Talon if you want, get you something decent."

"No, it's fine." He took another sip. "I should.... Go. Work."

"You've nothing pressing," Damien said. "Not today."

Mark glanced at Damien, and for a moment, it seemed as if a message was telegraphed between the two of them. After a moment, Mark said, "Why don't we stay until your father is out of surgery and see how he is, and then, once we know something, I can drive you home?"

He blinked and turned his head. "I can call my limo. You don't have to stay."

"I want to, Lex," Mark said, putting his hand back on Lex's shoulder. "That's what friends do."

"Oh." Lex swallowed and glanced at Damien, who said nothing. "Right. Friends." Then, "Thanks."

Mark smiled, and his smile was tinged by sadness. "You're welcome."

There were cops everywhere when Clark got home from his fruitless meeting with Lana and Henry. They were in the barn and the house, looking through everything. His heart squeezed, but a quick looked proved that they weren't anywhere near the storm cellar and that the lock was still in place.

Maybe Lex was right. Maybe it was time to move the ship to a more secure location. The idea that the police could just... go in there, looking for evidence on his dad and discover what he was was terrifying.

"Mom?" he called, trying not to let any of the officers accidentally brush against him. He was being paranoid and he knew it, but the moment he saw everyone, Clark immediately went into
"no-touch" mode. He was uncomfortable as it was already. "Mom!" And that was not panic in his voice.

"I'm here, Clark," Martha said, coming out of the living room. She sounded and looked tired, but she must have sensed that Clark was freaking out, because she came to him right away and put a calming arm around him.

"What's going on?"

"They have a search warrant. How did it go with Henry?"

Clark shook his head. "He said he wouldn't do it. I don't know why. He just left. What about Grandpa?"

"He said that if we need him, of course he'll help us, but only if your father doesn't fight him every step of the way."

"Do you want me to talk to Dad about it?"

She shook her head. "No, I will." She kissed his cheek. "Thank you, though."

"Mom," Clark said. "Lana said that Dad went to the Luthors' yesterday. She heard him fighting with Lionel about Lex and something. A watch or something."

A strange look flitted over her face. "Lionel gave me a watch the other day. I guess your father found it."

"Martha?" Ethan said, walking down the stairs. "Can I have a word with you?"

She turned to him. "Of course."

"I found this watch on your bedroom floor. Is it yours?" He held up a plastic bag with a smashed gold watch on the inside.

Martha nodded. "Yes, it is."

"From who?"

"Lionel Luthor."

"'To Martha, with deepest affection, L.L.'" Ethan read from the back.

Clark raised his eyebrow at the inscription, but said nothing. It sounded exactly like something Lionel would write, especially to a woman he was trying to seduce. If Lex was right about it that is. It sounded as if he was.

"I was going to give it back," she said wearily. "And I hid it, just in case. I knew Jonathan would be furious if he saw it."

"Well, it looks like he found it."

Clark tuned them out as they talked. He didn't want to listen anymore. To any of this. His father was in jail, his lover's father was almost dead, and Clark couldn't muster any feelings up about it. He couldn't even be glad that Lionel might be dead and gone from his life in a few days. As much as he hated Lionel, he loved Lex more. And Lex was in pain about this.

But Clark couldn't get up the courage to talk to him.

The back door opened and one of the deputies walked in. As he crossed the kitchen, he glanced at Clark nervously. When Clark's eyes met his, the deputy looked away quickly and he cleared his throat.

Clark's heart started to pound.

"Um, sir?" he said to Ethan. "I, uh. Think you need to take a look at this."
And then Clark saw the book in the deputy's hand.

He saw the sheriff take it. And open it. And read.

"Clark?" he heard mother say from a long ways away. "Clark!"

"What's going on?" he heard Chloe say from behind him. The screen door slammed shut, and then there were hands on his back, gently lowering him into a chair that he didn't remember being pulled up.

"Clark?" The sheriff stood over him, the book open in his hand. "Is this yours?"

He swallowed, eyes fastened on the star fastened on Ethan's shirt. "No, sir."
"Really? It's bad form to lie to a police officer, Clark."
"Am I impeding an investigation?"
"How?" Chloe asked. Her hand was on his shoulder, squeezing tightly. "It's just a book. You don't even know if it's real or anything." She sniffed. "It could be mine."

"Is it?"

Chloe fell silent.

The sheriff held the book up and read from the page. "*Just when I thought that maybe He was fading from my life, when I thought that maybe--maybe--I'm over it and ready to move on with my life, He finds another way to violate me. Violate us. He bugged Lex's office--his own son! He's been listening into the most private and intimate parts of our lives, really raping me this time instead of getting close. Only this time..."

"I think that's enough," Martha said sharply, yanking the book away from Ethan. "My God, Ethan, what do you think you're doing?"

"I'm sorry, Martha, but I'm trying to run a murder investigation here. This is some pretty damning evidence, if it's true. And I think I know Clark well enough to know that he wouldn't make something like this up." The Sheriff landed closer to them and lowered his voice. "Martha, if Jonathan found this and then found the watch, well. He went to the mansion and had a heated argument with Lionel. I don't blame him, but murder is murder."

Clark blinked and forced himself to look up at Ethan. "He didn't find that. He wouldn't read it."

"He might not have known what he was reading, son," Ethan said, and he sounded very concerned and fatherly.

"He knew," Clark said hollowly. Dad had seen the journal when Clark was working with Grant, after all.

He blinked, apparently taken aback by that. "Even still, Clark, the fact that this man tried to.... Have you ..."

"No." It was almost a year anyway; Clark doubted he could still press charges.
Ethan nodded and looked at Martha. "Um, anyway. This is going to have to go into my report. It's possible the DA might want to subpoena it for evidence. Don't let it disappear."

"Good-bye, Ethan," Martha said, voice frosty.

The door hadn't even shut before Chloe was kissing the side of his face gently, holding him. Martha had his hand and pulled her chair up to him, gazing into his face.

"Are you okay, baby?"

He wasn't. He was humiliated. Every deputy who was here now knew. And soon, every law enforcer in Smallville would know, and it was all down hill from there.

Everyone was going to know what Lionel did to him.

So much for staying in the closet. Sorry Lex.

"I've got to go," he said suddenly. He ripped himself away from Chloe and Martha and fled the house.

He couldn't be around their sympathy right now. He had to prove his father's innocence.

Pete looked shocked when he saw Clark standing at his car after school, but he took it in stride. A wave of guilt washed over Clark as Pete's expression went from surprise to eager happiness. Clark was a tool. He never spent time with Pete anymore, and it wasn't fair. They'd been best friends since they were five, and now Clark just had no real room for him anymore. Unless, of course, he needed something. Like he did now.

"Hey, Clark," Pete said, slinging his backpack onto the ground. "Didn't expect to see you around. How's your dad?"

"He's hanging in there," Clark said. "But... the sheriff really thinks Dad shot Lionel. I want to try and find some evidence that he didn't, and I was wondering if you could help."

Pete's face lit up. "Yeah, totally. Are we doing some, you know." He snuck a look around and dropped his voice. "E.T. stuff?"

"Yeah." He managed a smile.

"Cool. Let's go." They climbed into Pete's car. "Where to?"

"I want to check out the field where they found my dad. See if there's any, I don't know. Evidence or something that they missed."

"Sounds good." Pete pulled out of the parking lot like he was in an action movie or something. The entire drive out, he was bouncing in his seat, banging on the steering wheel in time with music playing, and talking about school and girls and stuff. He didn't seem to worry that Clark wasn't saying much.

He probably understood. Not that he'd ever had a parent in prison--especially not twice--but he had to get it. And he didn't even have to know about the.... About the book. And what...

"So," Pete said when they got there. "What are we looking for? I mean, the police already checked out the entire area."

Clark blinked and pulled himself together. He felt really hazy right now, not quite present. But he had to help his father, so he forced himself to snap out of it. "Well, we have an advantage that the police doesn't." He switched into X-ray vision and started scanning, unsure exactly what he was looking for.

"You doing the eye thing?" Pete asked, sounding geeked out. "Hey, I need you to check my backyard some time. I buried a jar of quarters when I was 10. I never could find it."

Clark only listened with half an ear as he kept scanning. Softly, almost under his breath, he said, "They found my dad's truck right about here..." as he walked towards the shed. When he got there, he saw the bullet buried inside the wood.

"Did you find something?"

He flinched away, startled at how close Pete had gotten. Trying to control the pounding of his heart, he replied, "Yeah, it's a bullet. We need to get the sheriff out here to dig it out." Quickly, he turned away and went to Pete's car, wanting to put distance between them, just in case Pete noticed the way he was acting.

Maybe Clark did hope Lionel died. Then maybe all of this could go away.

"Hey," Pete said, climbing into the car. Clark hadn't realized he'd actually gotten into the car and fastened his seatbelt until Pete did the same. "I don't mean to rain on your CSI parade, but the only thing that bullet proves is that somebody shot a shed." He started the car and pulled away.

Clark shrugged and pulled his toy truck from his pocket. "Look, the sheriff said he found powder residue on my dad's hand. My dad said he'd never seen that gun before, much less fired it."

"So? What does that mean?"

Good question. "It means that whoever shot Lionel probably drugged my dad and then followed him until he pulled over." Because the headache was real, and the fact Dad was drunk was real. Ethan had found him here, so.... "If that bullet came from the same gun that shot Lionel, maybe we can convince the police that my dad is being framed."

"What if your dad just... fired the gun once he got out here?"

Good point. "I don't know. I think..." His phone rang, interrupting him. "Hello?"

"Hey, baby, how are you doing?" Whitney drawled over the phone.

Clark's forehead wrinkled in bemusement. "Whitney? Are you all right?"

"Oh, man, I am so high right now. They did the surgery on my knee yesterday, and I'm on some kind of pain drip that's just... yeah. Hey, do you know what's up with Mark right now?" he asked, changing the subject jarringly.

"Hey, that's Whitney?" Pete asked, bouncing a little in his seat. "How is he?"

Covering the mouthpiece, Clark said, "High on morphine or something. What's wrong with Mark?" he asked Whitney.

"Hey, that's what I asked you!"

"I know." Clark couldn't help but laugh. Whitney always made him feel better, and right now, he was definitely amusing. Clark needed amusing. "What I meant was, what's going on that makes you think that something might be wrong with Mark?"

"Oh. Okay. Right. Because I thought you were asking me what's wrong with him, and I don't know. That's why I'm asking you because, you know, he's in Smallville with you, and I'm in the hospital here with no one but my mom and... Oh, Mom says hi, by the way. And I think I might have told her that Lionel's a rat bastard, but I don't remember. I feel like I'm talking a lot. Am I talking a lot, because I fell like I'm talking a lot. Like.... Anyway..."

"Yeah, Whit, you are talking a lot," Clark said, cutting him off. "You're asking about Mark?"

"Right. Because I was supposed to call him today. He's staying home from school and everything so I can call him and talk to him about... um, stuff. Oh, because he wanted to make sure I was okay. You know, because I had surgery on my knee. And mom called ... um, when I was sleeping earlier, and now I'm trying to call, but we keep getting his voice mail which is weird because he was supposed to stay home from school so I can ... could? Call him. Because I had surgery..."

"Right." Clark rubbed his forehead. "Well, um, I'm not positive where he is, but he and Lex went out last night and..."

"Is he sleeping with Lex?" Whitney exclaimed. "That's ... that's totally not fair! I mean, Lex is your boyfriend, and Mark is supposed to get with me and... That's it. When I get home, I'm going to sleep with you to punish both of them." He sounded pleased with his solution.

Clark laughed. "No, they're not sleeping together."

"Are you sure? Because Lex is totally being an idiot if they did and I have no problem with doing you this favor, Clark. Really. Because you have a hot body, and your ass is so sweet, I'd just like to..."

"Thank you, Whitney," Clark him off, blushing furiously. "But it's okay. Um, look, Lionel was shot last night, and I think Mark is probably with him."

"Did you shoot him?"


There was a beat of silence, and then Whitney asked in a scared whisper, "Did I?"

"Whitney, you're in Germany. How could you have shot Lionel?"

"I don't know. But weird things happen in Smallville, Clark. Really weird things, and we don't talk about them because we're all... I don't know. Deluded. Or guilty. Catholics have a lot of guilt, you know, and sometimes I feel guilty because I wasn't in town the day of the meteor shower so I missed all the weirdness. I wasn't there when Lana's parents died or any of the other million things happened. I mean, everyone our age was affected by those things except for, like, me. Because I was at a Sharks game. And now, I can't ever play for the Sharks."

Clark frowned and tried to trace the line of thought back to where they'd begun. "Oh, right," he said when he remembered. "Whitney, you didn't shoot Lionel."

"Why does Whitney think he shot Lionel?" Pete asked, pulling down the lane that led towards Clark's house.

"Because he's high." Then, to Whitney. "They think my dad did it."

"Whoa, what?" He suddenly sounded a lot more lucid.

Clark swallowed. "They think Dad did it. They found him drunk and passed out in his truck with the gun. They searched our home for evidence. They found... a watch Lionel gave my
mother. And they found...." Clark's throat closed.

After a minute or so, Whitney said, "Clark? Clark, are you there?" Then, when Clark didn't answer, he said louder, "Clark!"

"Dude, Clark," Pete said, glancing at him worriedly. "I can hear Whitney shouting and you're not talking."

"Pete, stop the car," Clark managed to force out.

He blinked. "What?"

"Stop the car!"

Pete slammed on the breaks, looking spooked. "What's going on?" he demanded.

"Sorry, Pete," he choked out. Clark threw the door open and took off. He ran hard, feeling the wind whip over his face, heart pound. He ran until the human world melted away and the sense of being... home took over him.

"Clark?" Whitney sounded like he was ready to hop the next plane and track Clark down. Or seriously kick some ass on his account.

"I'm here," Clark said hoarsely as he entered the cave. He went to the back and slumped limply to the floor.

"What happened, Clark."

"They found my journal." His voice echoed against the rock walls.

There was a beat of silence. "Which one?"

"The one... the one where I talk about.... Whitney," he whispered in anguish. "Everyone is going to know."

"No, Clark..."

"Yes, they are. I used Lex's name. I said that it was his father who... There are pages and pages of me just... rambling in there. Anger. Hurt. Confusion. I'm such a... and they read it. The sheriff read it. Out loud. No one but Grant's ever..."

"Call Lex, Clark. Or go to him. Right now."

"I can't." Clark pressed his forehead into his knees. "He's so... confused and hurt. His father... and I can't..."

"Clark, babe, just go. Even with his father in the hospital, Lex would want to know. He'd want to find a way to make you feel better. It'll give him something to do, Clark. And he loves you so much."

Clark sniffed and rubbed his nose with the back of his hand.

"Please, Clark," Whitney said softly. "Please, go for me."

A sob rose in his throat, but Clark swallowed it down. "Yeah," he finally said. "Okay. I'll go."

Hospital coffee sucked. It tasted ashy, bitter, and very sharp. It coated Lex's tongue, clogged his sinuses, and he suspected it made him smell bad.

And, it was loaded with caffeine. Seriously loaded. This coffee was the strongest stuff that Lex had ever tasted. It was like roofing tar it was so thick and heady

He and Mark had been stuck in the same hospital waiting room for almost five hours now. Well, Lex had been stuck inside; Mark could come and go as he pleased. In the beginning, Lex had been able to sneak out to use the restroom, or to foray to the nurses desk to pester them for information, but not only was it proving fruitless, but there were enough reporters and photographers hanging around to make it uncomfortable and distressing.

He didn't want to issue statements about his father. He didn't want to talk about Clark Kent. He didn't want to discuss the incident over the weekend and its possible connection to his father's shooting. What he wanted to do was go home, climb into bed, pull the covers over his head, and block out the world.

Unfortunately, Lex couldn't make himself leave. Not until Dad was out of surgery. He had to know his father's chances before anyone else.

The hospital had been kind enough to privatize one of their smaller waiting rooms for Lex. No windows into the hallway, three couches, one table, curtains over the windows that looked over the parking lot. Lex had everything closed off, the television off, and the door shut tight. The room was small; it took him fifteen steps to cross from one side of the room to another. And he'd been testing this for the past fifteen minutes.

"Lex, you need to sit down," Mark said for probably the millionth time. He sounded worn out and tired himself, but no matter how many times Lex suggested that maybe he should go home, Mark refused. "Relax."

"My dad is dying and you want me to relax?" Lex snapped, turning sharply on his heel.

"No. Your father is in surgery and I want you to relax." He grabbed Lex's hand as he passed again and tugged.

Taken off guard, Lex tumbled into Mark, almost falling into his lap. His feet skidded over the floor, but Mark managed to grab him by the belt and haul him up. And then Lex was in Mark's lap and their faces were really, really close.

Lex cleared his throat. "Are you trying to seduce me, Mr. Townsend?" he asked in a throaty voice.

Mark turned bright red and shoved Lex off him. Chuckling under his breath, Lex stood and brushed the wrinkles from his slacks. He knew he shouldn't be joking at a time like this, and he definitely shouldn't be giving Mark a hard time, and yet, it was so easy.

And he was so out of control. He'd practically been injecting himself with caffeine all day, and he wasn't supposed to drink anything with caffeine, his dad was dying, his boyfriend's father was in jail for the crime, his assistant was being pulled between his own boyfriend and Lex's side and Lex just...didn't know how he was supposed to feel.

"Sorry," he finally said. He sat next to Mark and pulled a coin from his pocket and started rolling it over his knuckles.

"I thought your fingers were broken," Mark said suddenly.

Lex stopped the coin, frozen. "Oh." Shit. He'd completely forgotten. "Right." His mind cranked painfully. "They were just... bruised. Not broken."

"Oh." And then. "But there aren't any bruises."

"What, do you work for the Inquisitor or something?" Lex snapped. He rose again and started pacing.

The door opened. "Mr. Luthor?" the doctor said, entering. He looked grave.

Lex bolted up and went to him, heart pounding. "How is he?"

"He came through the surgery fine, but, well. Even though we removed the bullet, the kidney damage significantly slowed his metabolism. He's in a coma."

Lex's heart seized. "What are his chances?"

The doctor's eyes darted away from him. "His higher brain functions are shutting down. If he doesn't regain consciousness in the next 24 hours, he won't make it. I'm sorry. "

The world sort of coalesced around Lex. He could hear Mark saying something to the doctor, but he didn't understand the words. He felt a hand on his back, but everything was superficial, like he was wrapped in cotton.

Dad was going to die. His brain was shutting down and soon Lex was going to be...

He blinked. "Clark." The doctor had disappeared, and now Clark was standing in front of him, his eyes red and shoulders hunched.

"I'll leave you guys alone," Mark said softly. Then, he kissed Lex on the cheek right before he left, which was weird and confusing and Lex would have to talk to him about it later. No one ever just... kissed him like that. Casually. Not friends. Did Mark want something from him or... or what?

"Hey." Clark closed the door. Placing his hands on Lex's shoulders, Clark gently pushed him backwards, further into the room. "How are you doing?"

"I don't know," Lex said honestly. "You?"

"The same."

Lex swallowed. "Any problems getting in?"

He shook his head. "I sped in the back way, and security guards are keeping this floor clear of any strangers. They let me through because, well, they know me."

"Right." Blindly, Lex reached out and pulled Clark to him. His fists clenched in red jacket and well-worn flannel and Lex just tugged, resting his face against Clark's chest. For a long moment, he stood there, leaning against his lover and allowing the smell of home to wash over him.

Clark put his arms around Lex and held him hard. "I'm so sorry, baby." He kissed Lex's forehead, and then raised Lex's chin so they could kiss properly.

A flare of lust rose through Lex. He saw the answering spark in Clark's eyes, and when they kissed again, it was wild. Teeth and tongue battled against each other, scoring marks into Lex's lips and neck. Lex pushed Clark onto the couch and straddled him. Fingers tore at Lex's shirt, buttons popping off, hitting the walls and floor.

"I need you," Lex panted, working at Clark's fly. His hands were trembling badly and he struggled, but years of experience worked in his favor and he felt the button give.

"I don't have anything," Clark replied, and then it didn't matter, because they were on the floor, clothes pooled around them, thrusting and grunting. Flesh dragged against flesh, zippers dug painfully into Lex's skin, and Lex couldn't stop growling as Clark mauled him. Super-strong hands gripped too tightly on Lex's skin, the cheap, rough carpet burned his back and thighs, teeth drew blood at his neck and on his chest, and it hurt, it hurt, it hurt and then....

Lex bit his lip hard as his back arched off the floor. A scream rumbled in his throat and his hands tugged at Clark's hair as his seed gushed in a warm, sticky wave over his stomach.

Clark growled and squeezed Lex's shoulders hard. His eyes were dark blue, unfocused, wild. Hair hung down over his forehead, and his face twisted in pained pleasure as he rutted against Lex's shuddering body, slamming him into the hard ground, making him ache.

Suddenly, Clark's entire body stiffened. His head flung back and a long groan wound its way from Clark's bared throat. A new warmth flowed over Lex's skin, and then Clark's over-heated body blanketed him.

Clark didn't float. There was no rush of adrenaline, no frantic energy, no sudden bursts energy behind Lex's eyes.

There was just... warmth and sweat and relief.

"I'm sorry," Clark said against Lex's neck. He lifted his head. "That wasn't very good."

"It was fine." Lex stroked Clark's hair, needing to feel the strands run between his fingers. Needing to feel anything familiar, really.

"But I don't... I'm not happy. I hurt you. I didn't.... It wasn't the same. Like normal."

"These aren't normal circumstances. We aren't happy right now, and we weren't having sex to feel good, Clark," Lex told him. It seemed as if he was forever explaining relationships and sex to Clark, but, really, that was okay. The whole thing was complicated, and Clark's mind worked so differently from other people's minds "We were doing it to... reconnect. Reassure. Feel." He kissed Clark, trying to make it sweet. The edge was off and Lex felt a little more grounded; he could be sweet. "Thank you for coming."

Clark snorted.

"Not what I meant."

"I know." Clark kissed him, first his upper lip, then lower, very gently. Lovingly. "How are you?"

"Hanging in there. You?"

Clark sighed and rose. He made his face at the sticky mess and glanced around the room. There was a box of tissues on the corner table, which he grabbed. "Okay." He cleaned the mess of Lex first before starting on himself. "Um. Have you heard anything about your father?"

Lex did up his slacks. "Yeah. The doctor was just in. He said that Dad's brain functions are shutting down and... He might not make it." He rose and folded his arms over his chest uncomfortably.

There was a long silence. Clark shifted uncomfortably, fiddling with the hem of his shirt and shifting from side to side. "My father's in jail," he said finally.

Grief pulsed through him. "I know." He swallowed. "I'm sorry."

"Lionel gave Mom a watch. Dad found it and smashed it."

"I didn't realize that Dad had... I'm not surprised."

Clark shook his head. "No." He seemed extremely nervous suddenly. Clark was tugging at his shirt and shifting his weight, eyes darting all over the room. "Lana... said that she saw Dad at your place yesterday. He and Lionel were... fighting."

"Over the watch."

"And you. The compass. Mostly you. She said that a lot of... ugly things were said, and she was afraid they were going to fight. But then my father left, and..."

"And he got drunk," Lex said dully. "He got drunk and realized there was more to say. Then he went back to the mansion, fought with Dad, and shot him." Oh, God. Oh, God, Lionel had gotten to him. He'd gotten to Jonathan Kent and had pushed him too far. Finally.

Over Lex. Not Clark. Not the rape. Not his wife. But Lex.

"No!" Clark snapped. "Dad didn't shoot him."

"I was hoping that too, Clark. But this is what Dad does. Takes good men and pushes them to their breaking point. Destroys them. I'm sorry it happened, but..."

Face twisted in rage, Clark grabbed Lex's shirt by the fistful and slammed him against the wall. "Shut up!" he shouted, shaking Lex. "Just shut up! My father didn't shoot Lionel. What the hell is wrong with you?"

His heart pounded in his throat and back ached fiercely. Clark's eyes were midnight blue and flashing in the flat light of the waiting room.

Lex glared into those alien eyes and something in him snapped. "This is all your fault," he hissed.

"What is all my fault?"

"This. Me. If you hadn't let Dad touch you, then I wouldn't..."

"Let him touch me?" Blood drained from Clark's face, leaving him white and shaken.

But Lex didn't hear him. For the first time, it was so clear. "You made me weak. You made me confused, and if it wasn't for you..."

"All because I let Lionel touch me."

"Yes. You..." Lex grunted as he slammed into the floor. His spine jolted and head slammed into the wall as Clark was suddenly and abruptly gone. Pain screamed through his body, his head swum, and his chest burned with each breath.

Oh God. Oh Godohgodohgodohgod. What had he said? What the fuck had he said? He couldn't remember. Something about it being Clark's fault, but that's not what he'd meant God dammit. Not...

It wasn't Clark's fault, dammit. Not the rape. Not anything. Why...

"Lex!" Mark hit his cheek sharply enough to sting. "Lex, snap out of it."

Lex blinked, eyes focusing slowly on Mark's worried face. "Where's Clark?"

"I don't know. I saw the door open suddenly, but no one came out. No one. When I looked in, you were on the floor, looking dazed."

Dazed was an understatement. "I think I just told Clark that everything was his fault," Lex said wonderingly. It was so unreal, so stupid. He'd never say something like that, never think it.

Would he?


"I told him that he let my dad touch him, but that's not what I meant." He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. "Dammit, I... I meant that.... I don't know what I meant. But I think I said. Said that it was his fault, Dad. Oh, God."

"Jesus." Mark rubbed his hand over his face and swore again. "Look, both of you guys are confused right now. You're not thinking straight." Mark knelt in front of Lex and buttoned his shirt with the few buttons that remained in tact.

"That doesn't forgive what I said. I promised Clark that I would always put him first. And I ... didn't."


"I need to go home." He pulled his cell phone out and punched in Damien's number.

It rang twice, and then Damien answered. "Yes, sir?" He sounded slightly breathless.

"I want to come home."

"Any news?"

His life was over, did that count? "I may have pushed Clark away for good."

There was a long silence before Damien replied, "I see. I'll send the car around at once."

"Thank you." He hung up and closed his eyes. "I won't... I can't live without him."

"It was a fight," Mark said, straightening Lex's collar. "A fight that you had under unusually stressful circumstances. You'll make up, Lex. It'll be all right."

Lex hoped so, but he couldn't muster up any real faith that it would happen.

"Hey," Lana said softly, entering Chloe's room.

Chloe looked up from the pillow her face had been buried in. Her eyes were red-rimmed and splotchy. "Hey." Her nose sounded stuffed up. "Did you talk to Henry?"

"Yeah." She closed the door behind her. "Can I come in?"

"Have a seat." Chloe moved to the head of the bed and hugged her pillow to her chest. "What did he say?"

"He said that he never asked for me to barge into his life." She sat and pulled her legs underneath her.


"Yeah. I mean, he took it back after a moment, but... he said. And I'm sure he meant it in some ways. I feel the same way, sort of." She tucked her hair behind her ears and shrugged. "Even though my dad's dead, I kind of wish that I'd been able to go on thinking that, well. Daddy was my father. Even though I know I'm the one who pursued the whole Henry thing, I..."

"I know. I mean, I get it." She sniffed and wiped the corner of her eyes on her pillowcase. "So, did you call the whole thing off with him?"

"I was going to leave, especially since Henry's wife basically told me that he's going to lose interest, so I'm barging in and doomed to be forgotten. But, he told me what happened with Lionel..."

"Okay," Chloe interrupted, and edge to her voice. "First, is Henry going to represent Jonathan Kent?"

Lana blinked at the sudden change of subject, but realized she was probably rambling about herself when she was supposed to be talking about Clark. "Yes."

"One second." She grabbed the phone and pushed a few buttons. As she waited for whoever it was to pick up, she reached for a tissue and wiped her dripping nose. "Hey, it's Chloe. Lana said that Henry is going to represent Mr. Kent." She bit her lip, then frowned. "No, I haven't seen him. Why?" Her frown deepened. "Okay, well, I'm sure he'll show up. No, I'll go look, you go to the jail and tell Mr. Kent the good news. Bye." She hung up. "Clark's missing."

"What happened?" Lana asked, stomach sinking.

"I don't know. Mrs. Kent doesn't know. He..."

Lana's phone rang, interrupting Chloe. "Sorry," she said, checking the number. Heart picking up, she answered. "Whitney?"

"Hey, Lana, how are you?" Whitney asked.

"Um, fine. Spacey; there's a lot going here."

"Yeah, I know. Clark's dad and everything."

"Oh. You heard." Apparently news traveled really fast, even over the Atlantic.

"Yeah, I called Clark earlier. So..."

"How did your surgery go?"

"Huh? Oh, right. Good. Um, did you go to school today?"

Weird. Lana frowned. "No, why?"

Whitney sighed. "No reason. I'm just, I'm trying to find someone, and I can't. I've been calling everywhere."

"Who are you trying to find? Maybe I can help."

He cleared his throat. "Um. Um. Um, I'm trying to find, uh, Mark Townsend?"

"Mr. Townsend? Why... Chloe!"

Chloe snatched the phone away from Lana. "Hey, Whitney. You might want to try Lex. They went to Metropolis last night, and, from what I can tell, Mr. Townsend's been with him since the news broke." Her brow furrowed, and then she laughed. "Yeah, well. It's been one of those days. Speaking of, did Clark say where he was going when you spoke?" She listened for a moment, and then her face went abruptly and frighteningly dark. "Yeah, I know. I was there when they found it." She sniffed. "Okay, so he's probably with Lex. And I'd definitely check there for Mr. Townsend, too. Do you need the number?" Obviously Whitney did, because Chloe rattled it off. Then she hung up.

"What's going on?" Lana asked, miffed that Whitney hadn't seemed interested in talking with her anymore. "Why is Whitney calling Mr. Townsend?"

Chloe shrugged and rubbed her nose on the back of her hand. "I think they're dating," she said absently. "I think I'm going to run to the Talon and then go to Pete's. I need him to help me on the final touches of the paper."

Lana was still stuck on Chloe's first sentence. "Wait, what?" she demanded, grabbing Chloe's wrist. "What do you mean, they're dating?"

Chloe's eyes went wide and color flooded to her face. "Oh my God. Lana, I..., um. I..."

"How could they be dating? I mean, they're not even in the same country and... Whitney's not gay."

"Yes he is," Chloe sighed, wearily pushing her bangs from her face. "He came out last year, right after his dad died. He fell in love with Clark and came out to him. At some point, he and Mr. Townsend started writing to each other, and from what Clark told me..."

"And none of you ever thought I might be interested in any of this?" Lana snapped.

"Lex did. I figured it was none of my business. It was up to Whitney to tell you."

Lana snorted and got off the bed. "Some friend," she said, storming to the door.

"Yeah?" Chloe said, laughing bitterly. "Well, at least Whitney isn't your boyfriend anymore. I'd hate to think I was keeping secrets about someone you were involved with."

Bitch, Lana thought venomously, but she didn't say it. Her slamming the door was enough.

"Mark?" a soft and unfamiliar voice said above him. Someone shook him gently, and said his name again.

He was too tired to wake up. He, Helen, and Lex had been out until three AM that morning, drinking, dancing, and laughing more than he'd laughed since moving to Smallville. Then he'd spent the entire day at the hospital with Lex, and now he just wanted to sleep.

"Mark, please wake up."

Mark groaned and rolled onto his back, swiping a hand over his eyes. "Where am I?" he yawned, stretching on the thick, satin comforter beneath him. He opened his eyes and found a handsome blond man with lovely blue eyes standing over him.

He blushed and sat up, trying to wipe the sleep away.

"You're in Lex's room," the man said, stepping back. "At his mansion?"

"Oh, right." He'd insisted on staying with Lex after they'd gotten back from the hospital. Lex had been too wound up to sleep, but both Mark and Damien had insisted he stay in his room. Mark had stretched out on the bed beside Lex, watching Dogma with him. Mark had obviously fallen asleep, but he had no idea where Lex was. "Is something wrong?"

"No, not at all." Christ, the man had the most beautiful accent; Mark could feel himself just falling into it. "There's a phone call for you on Lex's private line." He nodded to the phone on the nightstand.

Phone call here? Interesting. "Thank you, um..."

The man blinked and then smiled a self-deprecating smile. "Dominic." He held out his hand, which Mark shook, still rubbing his eyes with his free hand.

"Nice to meet you. And, uh, thanks for the wake-up call."

Dominic's smile grew. "Of course." He nodded to Mark and left the room.

Mark exhaled hard and wondered if Dominic was seeing anyone. Then he remembered that he was seeing someone--sort of--and definitely didn't need an older boyfriend. Even if he was English and adorable.

He picked the phone up and pulled his feet under him. "Hello?"

"Hey," Whitney sighed over the line, sounding relieved. "I finally found you."

"Whitney? What are... Oh, shit! You were going to call me about the surgery. I am so sorry; I turned my cell phone off because..."

"Of Lionel, I know," he interrupted. "I talked to Clark earlier and he filled me in." He cleared his throat. "So, um. How is he, anyway?"

"Who? Lex or Lionel?"

"Either. Both."

"When we left the hospital, he'd made it out of surgery, but his higher brain functions were shutting down. We'll see in the next day if he'll survive."

"Personally, I hope he doesn't. He's done enough damage to the people I love."

Mark blushed, knowing that Whitney was including him in that statement, even though they'd both been careful not to use that word yet. Mark was almost positive that he'd moved beyond the stage of falling in love with the man to being actually in love, wanting to be by his side for as long at Whitney would have him. Even though they'd never been face to face. Even though they'd never touched. Even though there was the age difference, and still the question of appropriateness and.... thousands of other questions problems, the one thing Mark was clear on was that he wanted Whitney. Badly. In a way that transcended anything he'd felt or wanted before.

He cleared his throat. "Normally I'd agree, but Lex is really broken up about all this. And, it is his father, despite all he's done." He rubbed his forehead. "I'm afraid he's going to hurt himself, Whit."

"Do you really think he'd do something like that?"

"I don't know," he sighed. "Normally I'd say no. He's usually so self-possessed and in control of everything, but at the hospital, after the doctor gave him the news.... Everything went straight to hell. Clark showed up, and I thought Lex would feel better, but..."

"What happened?" Whitney asked, sounding extremely alert.

"I don't know exactly. I'm pretty sure they had sex, but when Clark left, both of them looked. I don't know. Destroyed. Lex won't tell me what happened, only that he thinks that he and Clark may have broken up."

"Shit," Whitney swore. "Put me on the phone with him."


"I need to talk to him right now." And then, when Mark apparently didn't move fast enough, Whitney said, "Mark, now. Please."

"What's going on?"

"The sheriff found Clark's rape journal. I told him to go tell Lex, but I think something must have happened. Even Lex Luthor isn't asshole enough to break up with Clark when something like that happened."

Mark's stomach bottomed out and he leapt from the bed. "Okay, hold on. I have to go find him." He put the phone down and left the room quickly.

The mansion was a labyrinth of halls and stairs, but Mark was able to find the office without getting too badly lost. He had been there before, after all; of course, he'd never been in Lex's room, and he took three wrong turns before he found himself at the right door.


Lex was sitting behind his desk, working at his computer. There were still dark circles under his eyes, and he looked pale and drawn, but extremely composed. He didn't look up with Mark entered, instead continuing to type on his laptop. "Yes?" he asked in an even, cool tone.

"Whitney's on the phone and he wants to talk to you."

Blue eyes met his, looking startling against his icy paleness. "He wants to speak with me?"

"Yes. It's important."

With a faint sigh, Lex picked up the phone and pressed a button. "This is Lex Luthor."

Mark watched him carefully as his face froze. His eyes widened and his complexion turned ashen. "Did they take it as evidence?" he asked, voice like ice. He listened a little more, then swallowed. "Thank you, Whitney." He smiled bitterly. "No, he didn't tell me. I stuck my foot in my mouth before he had a chance." He shook his head. "I don't know what I'm going to do. But thank you for calling." He hung up and placed his head on the desk.

Everything just kept getting worse and worse. Mark wondered how Lex managed to bear it all.

His life, for all its privilege and splendor, seemed to Mark one huge tragedy that kept spiraling out of control.

If he'd a book like Lex's life, he'd have set it down long ago and dismissed it as needless melodrama. It was too fantastic to be imagined, only to be lived.

Hesitantly, Mark put his hands on Lex's desk. "Are you all right?"

Lex's shoulders shook in silent laughter. Hysterical, probably, although it was definitely warranted. "I really wish you'd stop asking me that question."

"I'm worried about you." The words sounded lame to his own ears.

Lex had no response to that, but Mark wasn't surprised. Concern for his well being always seemed to take Lex by surprise.

"Lex," Mark said softly, walking around the desk so he was on the same side as Lex. He leaned against it and tentatively touched Lex where his neck gracefully met his shoulder. "You should call Clark."

"I can't. What can I say? I've spent months trying to convince him that it wasn't his fault, and in one moment I undid all of it. I ruined the only good thing in my life."

Mark sighed. Most of the time, Lex acted like a forty year old man and it was easy to forget that he was so young. Twenty-two years old and in the throes of what appeared to be his first love. And, as everyone knew, the first love was the hardest, the most stressful, the most beautiful, and the most heartbreaking.


"I've lost him forever."

"Forever is a really long time," Mark said softly. "And the shock of what happened--and the shock of whatever it was you said--will fade. Once the pain goes away, Clark will realize that you didn't mean it."

Lex lifted his head. "I think I did mean it. Not that the rape was his fault, but... If Clark had left me to die, or if he hadn't given me somewhere in life where I was safe, I never would have gone to his house last year after my father..." He sat up abruptly, face shutting down.

Mark cocked his head. "After your father what?"

And then, it was as if Lex was a completely different person. All emotion was gone from his face, and his eyes were distant and cold. His posture straightened, his head lifted, and when he spoke again, he was all business. "It's nothing, Mark, thank you for your concern." He rose and smoothed his hands down his pant legs. "I think it's time for you to leave. I don't want to keep you from anything."

Nice try. "I'm not leaving, Lex. I'm staying the night."


He stood and crossed his arms over his chest. "I am not leaving you right now."

Lex met his eyes and studied him silently for a long moment. Finally, he quirked an eyebrow. "Very well." Turning on his heel, he left the room.

Mark sighed. Obviously, it was going to be a long night.

"Clark?" Martha called, walking up the steps tentatively.

There was no answer.


Clark sniffed loudly. "I'm up here, Mom."

He was sitting on his bed, quilt wrapped around him tightly. His eyes were bright red and watery, hair mussed as if he'd been running, and skin pale and wan.

"What's wrong, honey?" She crossed the room and climbed onto the bed, taking him into her arms.

"My dad's in jail and Sheriff Ethan found the journal I kept a about Lionel."

Martha stroked his hair. "What's wrong, Clark?"

He pulled away and glanced at her. When she saw the way she was looking at him, he sighed and rested his head on her shoulder again. "Lex and I got into a fight. He said... stuff. That really hurt."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

Clark shook his head. "Can you ruin someone's life by loving them?" he asked.

"I don't think so. I think that love is such a powerful and beautiful thing, only good can come from it."

He rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. "Do you ever wish that you hadn't found me. Or that I'd never come?"

Her heart broke and she hugged him to her tighter. "No, Clark. Never."

"Even if they find Dad guilty?"

"Clark, none of this is your fault." A thought occurred to her, and she asked, "Did Lex tell you..."

"No." But he was very obviously lying, and Martha didn't know what to think. "No, Lex would never say anything like that." He scrubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. "I'm tired, Mom. I think I'm going to go to bed."

"Okay, Clark. Night, honey." She kissed his cheek gently. "Love you."

"I love you, too."


Lex opened his eyes to find Damien next to his bed. "You drugged me to make me sleep, Damien," he said, head stuffed with cotton. "Why are you waking me up at nine in the morning? Is my father dead?"

"Martha Kent is here to see you."

"Fuck." He pushed himself up and rubbed his face. "Where?"

"Your office. Mabel already took in coffee and muffins."

"Tell her I'll be ten minutes."

The quick shower didn't do anything to get the cobwebs out of his brain, but he felt at least coherent enough to put on matching socks. It wasn't until he'd gotten to his office that he realized he was wearing Clark's shirt.

He was about to turn back to his room when Martha appeared in the doorway. "Lex." Her eyes scanned him, her face softened, and she grabbed him by the wrist. "How are you, baby?"

And then, without realizing it, without remembering even moving, Lex found himself in her arms. His face was buried in her hair, and he was breathing her in. Red hair brushed against his face, tangled with his eyelashes, entered his mouth. The feeling of home engulfed him and he felt dizzy.

And then, he was crying.

"Oh, Lex."

"It's not his fault," Lex choked out. "I didn't mean to tell him that it was his fault. It's my fault."


"It is. Jonathan was over here fighting with Dad because of me. It's not Clark's fault."

Martha pulled away and took his face in her hands. "It's not your fault either. Jonathan didn't shoot Lionel. I know it looks bad, but no matter what, Jonathan would never do anything like that. Not even for you." She kissed his cheek. "Please, believe that, Lex."

With a shaking hand, Lex wiped his nose on the back of his sleeve. "I want to. But I know my father."

"And I know my husband." She smiled and then pulled him back into her embrace. "It'll work out, Lex. I promise."

The Talon always did very good business in the morning. Everyone at school stopped by for their morning pick-me-up, and since the Talon's coffee was better than the Beanery's, more kids had taken up drinking coffee since Lana won the show down with the other coffee house.

Clark always had mixed feelings about going to the Talon in the morning. When he was feeling social and centered and generally okay, it was invigorating to stop by. The energy level was high, kids were excited, even if they were heading to school, and being there made Clark feel like he was part of something. Like he belonged.

And then, there were mornings when he didn't want to be around anyone, where he shied away from any touch, and noise pressed against him painfully. Those mornings, he did his best to avoid the Talon because the swirling noise made him feel lost and disconnected.

Clark was lucky. Ever since Ryan had died, Chloe had started taking him to school. She could usually tell what kind of mood he was in and never made him go into the Talon when he was feeling off.

Today he was definitely feeling off. Even with the good news that Henry Small was taking Dad's case, the world felt like it was going to end.

It was all his fault, after all. Everything.

"Four coffees," Clark ordered at the counter. The guy working--Trevor--was a college kid Clark only vaguely knew. He'd played basketball at Smallville High two years ago, failed to get into a four year and went to Grandville community college instead. Nell had hired him right before she left, and it looked like he was working his way up to day manager.

Clark wondered if Lana had a rule that no one over thirty was allowed to manage the Talon. It might make it run more successfully or something.

"Lana said that you're comped this week," Trevor told him as he rung the order up. "Orders from on high."

"You mean Lex?"

"No," Lana said, voice like ice. She leaned against the counter and face him, arms over her chest. "He means me."

Okay. She was royally pissed about something. "What?"

"What do you mean, what?"

Clark sighed and rubbed his hand over his face. "Lana, I'm tired and crabby. Just tell me what's wrong."

"Is there anything you'd like to tell me about Whitney?"

What? "Um, I don't know." He dropped his hand. "What do you mean?"

Lana smiled tightly and shrugged. "Anything you think I might like to know about him? Anything, maybe, important?"

When he stared at her blankly, she added, "Anything about the type of person he's attracted to?"

Oh shit. "You know."

"Yeah," she said, voice clipped. "I do. Chloe let it slip." She stepped forward, eyebrows raised. "How could you never tell me?"

"It wasn't mine to tell," he managed to force out.

She snorted. "Clark, he fell in love with you. And because you never told me, I've spent the past few months wondering if I was a horrible bitch for not wanting to get back together with him when he came home. Thanks a lot." She turned on her heel and stalked away, leaving her accusation to ring in his ears.

All his fault. Everything.

Trevor brought him his coffee. Numbly, Clark took them and left, heading to the prison where his father was being kept.

Henry and Mom were waiting for him just outside the prison. Henry was smiling, but he wouldn't tell them why.

"Wait until we're all together," he kept saying, until Clark wanted to take his coffee away and dump it over his head, lawyer or no. Savior or no.

All his fault.

Finally they got into see Dad. He looked terrible, all hollow-eyed and scruffy and pale. And he was there because...

"I've got another bail hearing set for this afternoon," Henry said. It was, judging by the overly-pleased tone of his voice, the big and wonderful news they'd been waiting to hear. "Now, I'm sure with Jonathan's standing in the community we can have him out by supper."

"That's wonderful," Martha breathed. She beamed and put her arm around Clark's shoulder. "And I just talked with Lex. The doctor told him that Lionel is expected to regain consciousness."

Clark stiffened and looked at his mother. She smiled at him and brushed hair from his face. So she knew. And Dad was looking at him, and he probably knew, too, and God. Why couldn't Lex just keep his big fat mouth shut? This was their business, not Mom and Dad's.

He cleared his throat. "Maybe, if he does, Lionel will be able to ID the real shooter."

Dad raised his eyebrows and said, "That'll be hard, Clark. He is blind."

Oh. Right. "Sometimes, it's easy to forget," he mumbled, looking down.

"Anyway," Henry said, "We're not out of the woods yet. We don't have an alibi to cover you, Jonathan. Everyone else has one that checks out. Lex was in Metropolis with Helen Bryce and Mark Townsend, and both Dominic Senatori and Damien Walters were at the hospital. And Clark was at the movies."

"Why do I need an alibi?" Clark exclaimed.

Looks were exchanged, throats were cleared, and Clark wished he could just keep his big fucking mouth shut.

"Right," he said. He looked at the floor and scuffed his toe. "Um, has anyone checked the sign-in log for around the time of the murder?"

"Sign-in log?" Henry repeated.

Guess not. "To get inside the gate, you either have to sign in with the guard or punch in a code at one of the side entrances. Lex had the gates all on because of the reporters; he wanted to make sure that no one got onto the grounds. So, there must be some record of whoever shot Lionel."

"Why didn't anyone say anything about this before?" Henry asked.

"Maybe the police didn't look hard enough," Dad said. "I used my code to get into the house around six-thirty. Maybe they stopped looking after they saw my code."

Henry pulled a pad of paper out. "You have your own code?"

Jonathan nodded. "The family does. It's so we don't have to go through the gate check every time we make a delivery or stop by."

"I'll check with the sheriff."

Clark rolled his eyes and pulled his cell phone out. Erick was on duty at the gate; he'd tell Clark any information he wanted.

"Luthor Manor, you've reached security."

"Hey, Erick, it's Clark. Can you do me a favor?"

The formalness melted from Erick's voice. "Hey, Clark. What do you need?"

"Can you see if anyone signed in at the gate the other night around ten? I mean, around when Mr. Luthor was shot."

Erick made a sort of noise. "I've been wondering when someone would request the information. I haven't been on since it happened, and I thought it was strange that the police hadn't taken it. No one's touched the info."

"We'd like a copy of it, if possible."

"Want me to look right now and see who signed in?"

He nodded. "Could you?"

"Hold on." Clark could hear keys clicking in the background. While he waited, he pulled the phone from his mouth and told everyone what was going on. He only hoped that this worked; despite the gate and the guards, people had a habit of bypassing the system really easily. Clark would prefer it if Lex were better protected, but...

"Um, Clark?"


"According to the computer, your father signed into the gate at nine fifty-eight that night."

"But it wasn't him!" Clark exclaimed.

"Hold on. Lemme check something," Erick muttered. He was typing again. After a second, he said, "Got it. Clark, you aren't going to believe this."


"I cross checked the location of the sign-in with our surveillance videos. You'll never guess who signed in with your family's code.:

Clark's stomach dropped. "Who is it?" he asked, heart pounding with excitement.

"It's the sheriff."

It ended quickly from there. Henry made a few calls to highly placed people in the legal profession and they swept into Smallville to clean up. Jonathan was released with profuse apologies, Lex made a public appearance to shake hands with Jonathan in front of the cameras. Lionel woke up.

And Clark had to endure hours upon hours of watching the deputies watch him out of the corners of their eyes. Endure their looks and their whispers and their... their knowledge.

Clark wasn't going back. Not this week. Not back anywhere. He couldn't face school, not with
people knowing and Chloe mad about him keeping secrets about Chad and Lana mad about
him keeping secrets about Whitney. He couldn't face Jack or answering questions about the shooting our about Lex. He couldn't face...

"Hey," Lex said softly from the top of the stairs.

Clark turned, arms folded over his chest. "Hi."

Obviously encouraged by the fact Clark spoke to him, Lex entered the room further. "I, um. I wanted to see how everything was. Your father. You."

"Dad's fine. At least he says he is."

Lex nodded and stopped about ten feet from Clark. Which was fine with him. He felt... skittish. Uncomfortable. He was afraid he'd bolt if Lex came too much closer.

"And you?" Lex asked, shifting his weight from side to side.

"Fine. I mean, my father's out of jail. What else..."

"I know what happened, Clark," Lex said softly.

And he used that tone. That rape tone, like his brain was shut off and his hands were on backwards.

Like he was a fucking idiot.

Yeah. Lex knew.

"Oh." It was almost a whisper. "Who told you?"


Of course. Whitney, who'd told Clark to go to Lex in the first place. Whitney, who'd sent Clark to Lex where he could hear how getting molested by Lionel was all Clark's fault.

By Lex's reasoning, it was all Whitney's fault. But at least Clark was smart enough to realize
that Whitney had had only the best of intentions. Then again, Clark wasn't a fucking idiot. Not like Lex was.

Clark ran his hand through his head. "I'll be fine."


"I will be fine."

Lex cleared his throat. "I am so..."


"I am," Lex insisted. "I'm sorry."

He turned away from Lex and squeezed his eyes shut. All the pain that he'd felt when Lex had said those words ripped at him anew and he almost doubled over from it.

"Clark, please," Lex begged him, tears in his voice. "Please, you have to listen, you have to..."

"I can't, Lex." And, shit, now he was crying. He didn't want to, but...

He turned, shaking and sweating and feeling as if he were about to crumble into a thousand little pieces and be swept away into space.

"Clark," Lex whispered.

"It is all my fault," he forced out. "I'm sorry..."


"It is. I always knew it was."

"Clark, it is not your fault. Not like that, it's not what I meant. I was upset. Stupid and lashing out. I didn't mean..."

"It doesn't matter," Clark choked, tears leaking from his eyes. "It doesn't matter if I know it wasn't, Lex, because it's what they are going to think. Small town, small minds." He wiped his eyes. "Sorry I couldn't stay in the closet for you."


"Don't call me that!" Clark shouted. "Don't!"

Lex flinched back and swallowed. "I won't."

Clark dropped to the floor, covering his face with his hands. "I can't... I can't be around you right now, Lex. Go away."

"No. No, Clark, please, let me ... let me make it up to you. Let me do something to make it up. To take the pain..."

"You can't!" Clark shouted. "You can't fucking take the pain away, Lex, and you won't because you're too selfish to." He clenched his fists. "You always need me, but where the hell are you."

Lex flinched back, blood draining from his face. "I... what?"

"It's always me," Clark said slowly, mind turning. "I'm always the one putting you together. Trying to keep you together before you fall apart. And you..."

"He was my father Clark. He was dying."

"Your father tried to rape me. Your father took me away from my family. Your father hurts the one person I love more than anything in the world, and you expect me to care that he was dying?"

Lex rubbed his chest. "I love him," he whispered, coughing wheezily.

Clark snorted. "One of these days, you're going to have to choose between us."

"I have," he said, voice tremulous.

"No, you haven't. Lex, you haven't."

He coughed again and stumbled towards Clark. "Clark, I love ..."

Clark didn't wait for him to finish, couldn't bear to hear the words. He stepped back, mind and body kicking into hyper-speed. Lex seemed to freeze mid-motion, looking pale and perfect, like a statue.

And then, he was gone, flying over the fields, away from his love.


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