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Corner of the World 49: Foundations Part 3

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Corner of the World 49: Foundations Part 3

by Serafina

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



They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Chloe often teased Clark with that tidbit each time his locker refused to open or when he always tripped over the same seat when entering biology. He'd never taken her seriously, of course, because for every three times his locker didn't open right away, it did at least once, and sometimes the chair wasn't in his way so he didn't trip, so it wasn't like he always did things the same way. Except, that is, for one thing. And that was Lex.

Because when it came to Lex, Clark was obviously insane.

It was the only explanation he could come up with. He and Lex had been having the exact same conversation for almost a year. Almost since they first met, in some ways. But nothing changed no matter how many times they went over this. Clark made promises, Lex made promises, but they never stuck. Something always happened, and they ended right back here: Clark feeling stung by something Lex said, alienated and alone as, once again, Lionel managed to step into their lives and come between them.

Lex always let Lionel come between them, and Clark just didn't understand that. As much as Clark loved his mom and dad, in his mind, Lex came first. He was Clark's priority, now and forever. And even though Lex said, over and over again, that Clark was his priority, Clark ... wasn't feeling it. Especially recently.

Lex loved Clark. Clark knew that Lex loved him, adored him, worshiped him. They were forever, soul mates, bonded together for eternity.

They just... didn't work very well sometimes.

Clark didn't know what to do anymore. They couldn't keep doing this, dancing the same dance, saying the same words. It was insane. Something had to change.

Unfortunately, Clark didn't know how to change it.

He sighed and twisted his ring slowly around his finger. He was so tired. No, not tired. Weary was the right word. Tired had been his state last night, after he'd literally run himself into exhaustion. Last night, he'd been so tired, he'd almost fallen asleep on his feet, knee-deep in the ocean.

After he ran from Lex--and God were his parents going to kill him when he went home--but when he'd run away from Lex, he'd just run. It'd been instinctual and fear-driven, and he shouldn't have done it, but he was so angry and frustrated at Lex, that he had to go. He couldn't even stand to be in the same state as Lex, much less the same room. Especially since all they were going to do was the same song and dance of apology and promises that they always did.

So, he'd run. All the way to Texas and into the Gulf of Mexico. The water had slowed him down and, once he was stopped, he realized he was too tired to go on. So, he'd waded back to shore and found a motel. He had slept for four hours, woken to have dinner at the coffee shop downstairs, and then gone back to bed. When the knock on his door woke him up once again, he'd found that he'd been out for almost twelve hours.

Still tired, but not as exhausted as before, Clark had stumbled to the door to find Dominic Senatori on the other side.

"Clark," Dominic had said in obvious relief. He'd reached out for Clark, probably just to put his hand on Clark's shoulder or something, but Clark was gone before the hand landed.

It was a stupid thing to do and he knew it. It was such a blatant use of his powers, such a deliberate flaunting of them. It was wrong and dangerous, but at the same time, he honestly didn't care anymore. Let them strap him to a table and cut him open, what did it matter? Nothing could be worse than the combined knowledge that the sheriff's department knew about Lionel and that Lex blamed Clark for everything. Clark had already been eviscerated.

When he'd stopped again, he was in Metropolis. That pissed him off, just because he was back in the same state as Lex and he didn't want to be. He wanted to be as far away from Lex as possible, only now... now he couldn't run anymore. His shoes were ruined and he was tired and he just didn't have the strength or will to run.

So he was at the docks. Which were disgusting and smelled like brine and salt and dead fish and stuff. But, at the same time, they were secluded and quiet. He was sitting on some netting between some boxes of fishing tackle, and he had a good view of the water. It was calming. If the water weren't so polluted, he might be tempted to find a spot to dip his feet in, but even with his invulnerability, it was just too disgusting to contemplate.

It was nicer to contemplate the pollution and skin-peeling chemicals in the water than Lex and what Lex had said. If only he could turn his mind off. If only he were normal and not a stupid alien. If he were human, he could deal with this like humans did. Like Lex did and was probably doing right now. He could go to a bar and get drunk, or go buy some drugs and get high.

Okay, yeah, when he tried, Clark could get a pleasant buzz off of alcohol, but he had to be in the right frame of mind. He had to be relaxed and in a good mood and right now, he just wasn't. The only way for him to get high was to use a red meteor rock, and Lex and Chloe had the only ones he knew about. The only other way he knew Lex and other people stopped their minds from turning was fucking, and Clark....

If he were normal, he might be able to do it. He could fuck around until he forget why he felt torn apart.

But, Clark couldn't sleep with a stranger. Hell, right now, he couldn't bear being touched by one. When he'd gotten dinner at the coffee shop, the waitress had cooed over him and his bedraggled appearance. When she'd tried to smooth his mussed hair down, he'd jumped and broken his coffee cup. Part of the reason he'd bolted so quickly with Dominic was because Dominic had tried to touch him. He was in major no-touch mode right now, which wasn't surprising, but...

He wanted to get over it. Right now. For once, he just wanted to be normal. He wanted to be like Lex and Mark and Grant and Whitney. He wanted to be able to just... go out and find someone to fuck for a few hours and forget about everything. He didn't want to see Lionel's face every time someone reached out to put their hands on him, or hear Lionel's laughter in his ears when he flinched away. He wanted...

He wanted to prove he could be intimate with someone besides Lex. Not because he wanted someone besides Lex, but because it was normal. But it was more than that. Ever since Lionel, it seemed that whenever he thought about having sex with anyone besides Lex, Clark always pictured himself being hurt or confined or abused in some way. That just wasn't ... healthy, and Clark knew it.

So, okay, maybe wanting to fuck around to help him forget about what Lex had said wasn't exactly healthy, but at least it was normal. At least it wasn't... not normal.

But there was no one Clark could lose himself in. In order for him to be lost in sensation, he needed to be in control yet, somehow, completely out of control at the same time. Which meant it couldn't be a stranger. It just... the thought of a strange man touching him made his stomach turn. As for people he knew, Aaron was too important, and, besides, he had a boyfriend. It would be wrong to use Jack like that. Whitney was in Germany and probably high on morphine. He didn't really like any of the other Smallville guys, and Chloe...

No.

The only person Clark was comfortable enough to lose himself in was Lex, and it couldn't be Lex. Obviously. Not only because was Lex the reason he was feeling this way right now, but also...

Clark was so out of control. Right now, he was fine. Dead, banked, but fine. But the fire, the pain, the rage was there, just waiting. If he saw Lex... if he were near Lex right now...

Lex would get hurt. Clark wantedto hurt Lex, wanted to see the fair skin bruised, hear him cry out, know without a doubt that Lex was hurting as much as Clark was.

Except Clark wanted Lex to hurt more. Because he knew that Lex was hurting, even though his shields up. The space in his chest where he felt Lex's presence was heavy and painful. Clark knew how sorry Lex was, how much he regretted saying it.

Remorse didn't matter. Lex had said it. Lex had, once again, chosen Lionel Luthor over Clark.

Lionel Luthor. Dead man walking.

Clark exhaled shakily and pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. As far as he knew, Lionel was still in Smallville, recovering. He'd woken up, made a miraculous return from the dead because, obviously, Evil never died.

He couldn't stay in the hospital forever, though, and Clark knew that when he was released, Lex would welcome him back into the mansion. Even though Lionel had violated Lex's privacy, taken his business, and dug into Clark's life. Even though he was refining meteor rocks, and had the key to Clark's space ship, and was trying to break up Martha and Jonathan's marriage. Even though Lionel would never, ever love Lex the way he deserved to be loved.

Clark shuddered hard and wrapped his arms around himself. God. It was a never ending series of tortures with Lionel, and Lex just put up with it time and again. Clark didn't know what to do anymore.

His cell phone rang, startling him. His hands automatically pulled it from his pocket and flipped it open, without ever checking with his brain for confirmation that it was what he wanted.

"Hello?" Such a nice, polite boy he was, Clark thought bitterly. Lionel was right.

"Clark." Lex sounded broken, his voice raw and thick. "Clark, please, come home. We can talk. I'm so sorry...."

The phone cracked and then fell apart as Clark crushed it in his hand. Tears were in his eyes, he brushed plastic bits from his palms. Drawing his legs to his chest, he lowered his head to his knees and wept.


The phone line abruptly went dead. Shaken, Lex hung up his phone, wondering what exactly had happened. There'd been a ^flare^ of something--rage, anger, fear--that Lex had barely sensed since Clark was locked off, and then nothing. The phone had cut out completely.

God, he'd fucked up. Truly and completely. And now, Clark wouldn't talk to him. Wouldn't.... acknowledge him, at all. Ever since Clark ran away, Lex had been trying to connect with him. It was stupid, and dumb and he knew Clark needed space, but... but... But this was it. He could lose Clark over this, and he just wasn't willing to let him go yet.

Lex needed him too much.

So, even though he knew Clark needed the space, he'd done everything he could to get Clark to drop his shields. First, he'd pushed through the bond, searching for Clark over the distance. The pressure was too much, and Lex wasn't any good at communicating over a distance over the bond anyway, so all his efforts only got him a nosebleed and a raging headache.

When the headache had subsided, Lex had gone to the meditation room and tried to center himself. He couldn't communicate over a distance any better like that, but nothing was going to stop him from trying. He might get lucky.

And he did. About ten minutes in, he fell asleep. And he was good at talking to Clark when he was asleep. Especially since Clark was asleep, too.

Unfortunately, Clark was too tired to be pulled into Kiptin. Or he was fighting Lex. He couldn't tell. Very soon after he sensed Clark's unconscious form, Damien had woken him up to tell him that Clark had used Lex's credit card and was in Texas.

That had been last night. Dominic had called that morning to tell them that Clark was gone again. And now, Lex didn't know where he was. Clark was too good at keeping himself shielded, and until he used Lex's card again, there'd be no way to track him. Lex had hoped vainly that, even if Clark wouldn't tell him his location, Lex would be able to get a fix while they were on the phone. But Clark had hung up too quickly, and now was hidden in the ether once more.

Lex didn't know when he'd see Clark again. And that wasn't just him being dramatic. Clark was an alien. A super powered alien. No one could make him do anything he didn't want to, and the illusion of control the Kents had was just that: an illusion. Yes, they could always use the meteors against Clark, if it came to that, but they couldn't keep them on him all the time. And if Clark was serious about not wanting to be in Smallville...

Of course, that might not be it at all. It could be worse. Clark could be coming back to Smallville. Only, he wouldn't come back to Lex.

That thought was enough to send Lex across his office to the bar. He poured himself a large tumbler of Scotch and downed it in two gulps. The first glass he barely tasted; the second left a slight tang on his tongue. By his sixth glass, he was just buzzed enough to sip slowly and savor the taste.

Sighing, Lex went to the couch, carrying the Scotch and tumbler. This didn't solve anything, he knew, but it was the only thing that would keep his mind off Clark until he decided to surface again. After all, he didn't have a business to run anymore, and hell would freeze over before he agreed to work for his father. There was nothing to do, nothing that Lex wanted to do. And he didn't handle boredom well, or, at all. Alcohol would help him cope.

Just for a little bit. He wouldn't go overboard. Really.

"Sir?"

Lex blinked, eyes focusing on the nearly empty bottle of Scotch. He didn't remember drinking quite so much, but the alcohol was gone and he was wonderfully warm and floaty.

"Sir," the voice said again.

He turned. Damien was halfway in the room, face dark and eyes narrowed.

"Yes, Damien?" he managed to say without sounding too slurred. He wasn't that drunk, not yet, but he was definitely feeling the affects.

"Dominic's plane is landing in Metropolis soon," he said, rolling further into the room. "We still don't know where Clark is now, so I thought it'd be best if Dominic returned home. But he's ready to move if Clark uses your credit card again."

"If," Lex snorted. "Which he won't, not unless he's desperate. And he won't be, because he has the key."

"The key?"

He nodded. "To the safe deposit box in Gotham. The one with enough money for him to get set up for life." Lex swallowed another gulp of Scotch. "He wears the key around his neck."

"Do you really think he'd use it?"

He shrugged and crossed the room to the couch. "I don't know. Maybe. If he was feeling desperate enough."

Damien came to him. "Do you think he's desperate enough?"

So many questions. Why? Why was he asking all these questions? "I don't know," Lex said again. "I can't tell."

"Perhaps if you weren't intoxicated, you'd get a clearer read."

"And, perhaps if Clark wasn't blocking me out I'd get a clearer read." Lex took another long drink, eyes defiantly locked with Damien's.

Damien simply raised an eyebrow and gazed impassively back at Lex. "You do realize that you have a company to salvage?"

He took another sip. "How?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"How am I supposed to salvage it? I can't sue Dad for blackmailing my board members, I don't have enough money to buy it back because Dad will never sell it to me for any amount, and I can't just... start something else with nothing. LexCorp was just Cadmus and the plant, and I know we still have Cadmus, but... it's not enough." He sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Cadmus doesn't make money, and in order to continue to run it, we have to make money."

"So, stop drinking and think of a way to do so."

"Maybe I don't want to." The words slipped out before Lex was conscious of the thought.

"Don't want to what? Stop drinking or save your company?"

Lex swallowed, feeling cold and shaky. "Save my company," he said, throat parched. "I don't know if that's what I want to do right now. Business." He couldn't remember ever having these thoughts before, but he also knew they weren't come out of the blue.

Silence met his statement.

Lex took the opportunity to polish off his glass and pour another.

"What do you want to do, then?" Damien finally asked softly.

He sighed. "I don't know." Lex sipped his Scotch and looked at Damien wearily. "I honestly have no idea. Right now, I can't think past the fact that Clark's run away. I need to fix things the best I can with him before I can think of myself again. I know it's... stupid and codependent and self-destructive, but..."

"No, I don't think it's any of those things," Damien said briskly. "Of course you want to settle things with your lover. It's only natural. I understand your preoccupation with it." He reached out and wrapped his hand around the bottle. "But perhaps you should attempt to deal with this in a more sober frame of mind."

Lex yanked the bottle back and glared. "I'll deal with this the way I want to," he said. "I'm a big boy, Damien. I'll be fine."

Damien hesitated before releasing the bottle. "Very well." Resignation was clear in his voice, but he hid the disappointment that Lex was sure was there. "I've some business to attend to. Call if you need anything."

"Yeah. Sure." Lex kicked off his shoes and drew his feet underneath him. "See you."

He nodded and then left.

Lex sighed and closed his eyes. For the past year and a half, he'd had a future. For the first time in his life, everything had been clear. Because of Clark, he'd actually wanted to do something with himself. He wanted to be a success in business, to be a good man, to do great things. He'd bought a lab and got to do science experiments in an attempt to further his business and make the world a better place. It was all going so well, and now...

It'd all fallen apart. His boyfriend was gone, his company had been stolen, and it was all his fault. And why?

"Because I want my daddy's love," Lex sneered.

Lionel Luthor's love. Lionel fucking Luthor. His Goddamn father who was supposed to love and protect and... care for him. Look out for his best interests, not... not molest his boyfriend and take his company and break his hand and....

"Fuck!" Lex screamed suddenly. He surged up from the couch and hurtled his glass at the wall.

He'd just ruined his entire life for a man who didn't even care for him. Lex had just lost the best thing that had ever happened to him for, for what?

"For Lionel fucking Luthor," Lex laughed bitterly. "Jesus Christ."


There was so much work to do. Somehow, in the months that she'd been working for Lionel, Martha hadn't noticed everything that she'd let slip. She'd been so convinced she was on top of everything, but now they were halfway through winter and there were still seeds that needed to be ordered, orders that needed to be filled, buyers to be contacted, machinery that needed to be looked over.... the list was endless.

It needed to be done, and yet she just couldn't settle her mind to do it. At least not as well as she'd like to. Ever since Clark had disappeared she'd been running on autopilot. Her body went through the motions, but her mind was on her baby.

When Clark hadn't returned home by the morning, Martha had called around to his friends. She hated this, hated the feeling of deja vu that this gave her. It'd been less than a year since he'd last run away. And now, he was gone again.

Yes, Damien had called last night around two AM to inform them that Clark was in a hotel in Texas. But then, this morning, Dominic had called with the news that Clark had disappeared again. No news on where. Considering last time Clark had been hiding in a cave, the fact he'd gone to a hotel had been promising. But now he was gone again, and Lex had shut himself off from everyone.

She hated feeling so helpless. She hated feeling so unneeded. Clark... needed her, but he also needed time to pull himself together on his own. Lex needed her, but if she went to him now, she knew he'd reject her.

So all she could do was wait. She needed to wait until she knew that Clark was safe; then she could concentrate on Lex.

The back door opened and Jonathan entered. His cheeks were bright red from the chill air outside There was mud on his shoes, and she sighed at the fact that he'd only half-heartedly attempted to knock the mud off. No matter how she tried to train him, he always, always tracked mud on her kitchen floor.

"Hey, honey," he said with an air of distraction. He dropped a kiss on the top of her head and went to the sink to wash his hands. "How's it going?"

"Oh, fine," she replied a little listlessly. "We still don't know where Clark is. And I'm behind on the inventory and am trying to do some ordering blind, and I'm tired and sore and frightened and...."

"Hey," Jonathan soothed, coming to her. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her temple. "Hey, it's okay. It's going to be okay."

"You don't know that. You can't know that." She leaned against him, eyes squeezed tight.

He sank into a chair next to her. "Clark will come back," he said. "He's upset now, he's done something stupid, but he'll come back. He did last time, he will this time."

"I want to believe that, but I'm so afraid... that he's been pushed too far this time." She pulled away and wiped her eyes. "I never should have agreed to work for Lionel."

Jonathan nodded, looking wry. "I think that goes without saying."

"I didn't realize... I thought it would be okay. That I'd be helping us. Helping Clark. But I didn't."

"Well, it helped us some. I won't deny that the money was helpful, and it gave you a chance to be around Lex more, not to mention it gave you an outlet to use your talents in business. I'm glad you got a chance to do that." He rubbed her shoulder. "But, even though I know you meant well, it was wrong to try and do something so underhanded. You were spying on him, and, no, he's not my favorite person and, okay, yes, maybe he deserves something like that, but we shouldn't stoop to his level."

"I know," she said softly, feeling ashamed. "I just didn't know what else to do. I thought that I could protect Clark, and I couldn't. And now, all I want is my baby home and for things to feel normal again. God, Jonathan, I feel so.... so dirty."

He cocked his head and frowned at her. "Is this because of the watch?"

"Yes. No. It's about everything Lionel," she replied. "I thought that I was doing something good. I thought that, if I got close to him, I'd better be able to protect our family, and, instead, I just let him hurt us more. He had files on Clark, and meteors, and information. Pictures and God knows what else. He was trying to tear our family apart, and I just... went along with it."

"Martha..."

"I did," she insisted. "There were moments when.... Lionel was just so charming. So polite and gentlemanly and... charming, and I couldn't help thinking that.... that maybe it hadn't happened. Maybe he hadn't done those things to Clark, because Lionel was so nice and someone that nice couldn't...." Something in her snapped, and she covered her face. "I betrayed Clark."

There was a long silence. Martha felt the weight of her husband's condemnation on her, and she wondered what he would do. Would he forgive her? Ask her to leave? Take Clark from her, although she wouldn't blame him for that, and...

"Don't you think that, sometimes, I wonder if Clark somehow misconstrued the situation?" he asked softly.

Startled, she looked up.

His eyes were bright with unshed tears, and he looked so... so sad. "I do, Martha. There are moments when I look at him and I think that it couldn't have happened. That he was never touched and he's really fine. Or that the strain of the past year in general, the strain of learning the truth, caused him to have a particularly vivid nightmare that he really bought into. And it's not that I don't think Lionel is capable of molesting or even raping him, because I know that he is. I just don't want it to be true, and sometimes, I let myself think that maybe it isn't."

And that was it, she knew it was. She would never doubt her son, but she didn't want this to have happened to him.

"What would I do without you?" she asked, laying her head on his shoulder.

"I'd hate to think what you'd do," Jonathan said, kissing the top of her head.

She laughed shakily and snuggled against him.

"Martha?" he said after a moment. "I have to ask. About the watch..."

She lifted her head. "I only accepted it because I didn't know what else to do. I was never going to keep it. And I don't think he's capable of the sentiments he proclaims on the back."

"I don't know," Jonathan said slowly. "You're a wonderful woman, Martha. I wouldn't be surprised if some of it was genuine."

"God, I hope not." She was about to say more when there was a knock on the back door. "Deputy Hobbs," she said, surprised at the figure on the porch. Martha rose and let him in.

The deputy smiled at her and Jonathan as he stepped inside, taking off his hat; she didn't derive any comfort from the smile. Lately it seemed that the only time they saw anyone from the sheriff's department was when something bad was about to happen to their family. And considering what had happened during the investigation....

But, maybe it wasn't anything bad. Maybe he were only here to issue another apology to their family.

"Good morning, Mrs. Kent," Deputy Hobbs said a little haltingly. "Mr. Kent. I'm here to follow up on the claims made in a journal that was found the other day during.... the investigation of Lionel's shooting."

Yeah. That's about what she thought.

"I don't understand," Jonathan said, standing besides her. "We haven't filed any charges."

Deputy Hobbs nodded. "The sheriff's department is legally required to report any suspected cases of molestation to the OFC. The, uh, journal was pretty clear on what happened, so a report was made. I'm the officer in charge of the investigation."

"Are you taking Clark away from us?" Martha asked. Her lips were numb and her hands were ice cold.

He shook his head. "No, ma'am. Right now, we're just going to investigate the charges to see if there's any validity to them. Once I'm through, I'll file my report with the prosecutor."

"And they'll press charges against Lionel Luthor?" Which was exactly what they didn't want, since there was no way ever to win against him. Not only that, but he'd sue them for making the allegations, even they hadn't wanted them to be made. They'd be ruined financially, and Clark and Lex...

She didn't want to think about what would happen to her boys.

"Not necessarily," Deputy Hobbs said, "although it's definitely a possibility. Sexual deviant conduct with a minor, which is what a case such as this is called when the child in question is Clark's age, is a level five, or person, felony. If the claims are proven to be true, the prosecutor has an obligation to follow through. But, no matter what happens with that, the most important thing is getting Clark help."

"Help?" Jonathan asked.

Deputy Hobbs nodded. "If Clark is deemed to be a child in need of service, the Office of Family and Children will find a way to get him counseling. Most likely, they'll leave him with you and provide a social worker or counselor to help him work through this."

"And if they don't?"

"They'll either put him in foster care or in a residential facility. But that will only happen if he's in danger in his residence. Since it wasn't a family member or resident who did this, that probably won't happen. Now." He pulled a notebook from his pocket. "I was hoping that I could sit down and talk to all of you about it. I'm assuming that Clark's not at school today, not after what happened."

"No," Martha said slowly, glancing at her husband. "He's not. But he's not home right now."

"Oh. Well, when will he be back?"

"I'm not sure." She didn't know what else to say. She didn't know where Clark was, and she didn't know when he was coming home. God, they were going to take him from her if they found out.

"All right, then," he said slowly. "I guess I can start by talking to you two. If you have time?"

"Now would be fine," Jonathan said. He gestured the deputy into a seat at the table.

Deputy Hobbs sat and put his pad of paper on the table.

"Would you like something to drink?" Martha asked.

"No, no thank you."

"All right." She sat next to Jonathan and was gratified when he took her hand in his. "What do you want to know?"

"Um, everything. We know who did it, of course, thanks to the journal--I'll need the journal, by the way. Evidence."

"I'll get it before you go." And maybe pull out any pages that mentioned Lex.

"Thank you. So, um. Who, Lionel Luthor. When. Where. Why it wasn't reported when it happened, what have you done to help Clark deal with this? What have you done for yourselves, that sort of thing."

Martha inhaled deeply and glanced at Jonathan. "It happened last spring. I don't know... if you remember, but Clark was taken away from us for a brief time. A couple of days, actually. They took him from school and up to Metropolis because they thought that he'd been kidnapped. The adoption agency had lost his paperwork, and there was a mix-up and..." She forced herself to stop babbling and get back to the subject. "Lionel Luthor arranged it to have Clark stay with him in the city. This was before the accident, and... While Clark was there, Lionel apparently went into Clark's room and..." She swallowed hard and forced herself to meet Deputy Hobbs eyes. "I don't know all the details. I just know that Lionel did something to Clark. Touched him. Clark says that Lionel was going to rape him, and would have had Lex not interrupted."

The deputy's eyes flickered at the mention of Lex, but he didn't say anything; he simply took notes on the pad in front of him, face warmly comforting. "When did you get Clark back?"

"The next morning. They found Clark's paperwork and realized their mistake."

"And how was he acting?"

A pain lanced through her heart and, for a moment, she couldn't speak.

"He was quiet," Jonathan answered for her. "A little withdrawn. Nervous."

"But, to be honest," Martha said, "after we got him home he was... he was fine. The first couple weeks. I knew he seemed sadder, more introspective, but I thought it was because he'd been taken from us so easily. His sense of security had been shaken, and I understood why he was withdrawing. Then, a few weeks after we got him back, our cows were poisoned and, well, there were other things that were going on in his life, so it didn't seem all that strange that he was quieter."

The deputy was taking notes and nodding. "When did you first begin to suspect something had happened?"

"I didn't really think anything until he told me in September," Jonathan confessed. "I thought his occasional moodiness was just growing pains."

"Mrs. Kent?"

Martha sighed. "I suspected a lot earlier. In May. Right after his birthday, in fact. He'd been getting really ... odd. Always wearing layers and getting upset extremely easily. He seemed more emotional than normal. And then, he ran away. One of the reasons he gave was that a friend of his confessed that they were attracted to him. Clark felt that it was somehow his fault, that he was forcing people to be drawn to him or something. I just thought it was odd. He'd never spoken like that before. I knew that he'd gone through some embarrassing times when he first started growing. He's very introverted and didn't like the attention he got when his body developed, but this felt different. I just couldn't help but feel that something had happened to him, but I didn't press him. Maybe I should have."

"It's not your fault," the deputy said reassuringly. "You're a mother, not a mind reader. And it can be hard for someone close to really get what's going on."

"Thank you," she said softly. She rose and went to the stove to heat water for coffee.

"Of course. Now, Mr. Kent, you said Clark told you what happened?"

Jonathan nodded. "It was in September, maybe October. He was having a lot of problems readjusting to school and we had an argument. It came out then. We talked about it later, a little, but he insisted that he was handling it and didn't need any help. I thought it'd be best not to push him."

"Is that when you found out, Mrs. Kent?"

"No. I found out about a month or so later." She went warm and felt dizzy. "I found out just before I started working for Lionel."

There was a beat of silence, and then, "You started working for Lionel after you found out."

She was the worst mother ever and going straight to hell. "Yes."

Another silence. "Why?"

Martha turned, hand to her forehead. It was aching suddenly, and she was very, very tired. "It's a long story. I had my reasons, but, ultimately, it was the wrong choice."

"Okay." He jotted something down in his notebook. "So, why didn't you press charges?"

"Clark didn't initially because... well, he felt pretty powerless in the whole situation. And when he finally told us, we felt it would be better for Clark's mental well-being not to put him through it. I mean, it's Lionel Luthor, and there'd be media and accusations and... our life would be put up for public entertainment. I don't see how it would help Clark at all."

"All we want is to make sure Clark is okay."

The water boiled; Martha turned it off and pulled the coffee from the cabinet.

"Did Clark run away again, Mrs. Kent?"

She sighed, head thumping on the cabinet. "He'll come back. It was just that after the whole thing with Lionel and Jonathan, and then Lex said something...." Too much, Martha, shut up.

"Mrs. Kent..."

"He's staying with a friend in Metropolis," Jonathan cut in. "He took off without asking, but he called to tell us where he was. We thought it'd be best if he stayed a few days, just because he was so upset."

"I understand. But I am going to need to speak to him as soon as he comes back."

"We understand," Martha said woodenly.

The deputy closed his notebook and rose. "I'll be on my way. If I could just get the book before I go?"

"Of course." Clark hadn't taken the book back after the sheriff had found it; Martha had been keeping it in the nightstand next to her bed. As much as it hurt her, she'd been reading it every day; she had to know what her baby was going through. "Here." She gave him the journal with trembling hands. "He'll need it back."

Deputy Hobbs nodded and took the book. "I'll take good care of it," he promised. "Don't worry."


Lana's teacher was dating her ex-boyfriend. Was reportedly in love with her ex-boyfriend. Whitney Fordman, former quarterback of the Smallville High team, formerly on the fast track to fame and glory, suddenly so very grown up and heading off to war. But he was still Whitney, the boy who used to push her on the swings at the park, and taught her how to dive into the pool head first. He'd been her first kiss, first dance, first boyfriend. And, yes, he'd always seemed a little older than her in an intimidating way, but...

He was involved with her teacher. It was weird. Because, even though Lana knew that Whitney was gay and in love with Mr. Townsend, she still had to sit through class and pretend like nothing had changed. And it'd only get even worse when Whitney came home because then she'd have to sit through class knowing that Mr. Townsend was having sex with Whitney and kissing Whitney and even though she'd never slept with Whitney, yeah, she had wondered what it would have been like. And she had kissed him. If, when you sleep with someone, you're sleeping with everyone they've ever slept with, did it follow that you also kissed everyone they kissed? So, when Mr. Townsend and Whitney kissed, would it be like Mr. Townsend was kissing her?

What must Mr. Townsend think of her? Lana was the ex, and there were always feelings about an ex. Like, before her, Whitney had dated a girl named Charlotte for about three months. Even though Whitney broke up with her months before he and Lana started dating, and even though Whitney swore they never slept together and it hadn't been a good relationship, Lana still had disliked Charlotte. And Charlotte had been really nice, too. Nice, smart, beautiful, and confident. Everything Lana felt that she wasn't.

And now, Lana was an ex. Well, she was Chloe's ex too, but she didn't think Chad knew that, which was good. Lana had already helped break up one of Chloe's relationships; she didn't need to ruin another.

This was different. Mr. Townsend was her teacher and it was just so weird. When Whitney came back, what would it be like? And what had Mr. Townsend thought when Tina came back and pretended to be Whitney? Had he been angry with her? Disgusted? Did he hate her? After all, if Mr. Townsend and Whitney were in love, he must have been expecting... something from Whitney, only to have him go directly to his ex-girlfriend and proclaim his love again. That must have been so weird for him.

Lana was... glad she hadn't known then what she knew now. It would have made things worse, right? Because, then she would have felt awkward and guilty, and he probably would have been resentful and shown his resentment and... and...

She couldn't help, uncharitably, being a little angry at Whitney for his choice. It was so unfair to her, for him to fall in love with someone she had to interact with in a teacher/student relationship every day. Even Clark, who'd fallen in love with an adult, had at least chosen one who was not only young, but who had surprising depths of vulnerability that lately were making Lana see that they were more alike than she'd ever thought before. Plus, Chloe was skilled at taking Lex down a peg when he needed it, so he wasn't quite as frightening as someone like Mr. Townsend was.

But Mr. Townsend was, and would always remain, probably even after she was all grown up and had graduated from school, a teacher. A teacher whom her ex-boyfriend and one of her best friends was dating. She wasn't sure how she was supposed to act around him. She hadn't raised her hand once today in class, she knew that if he called on her, she'd say something stupid, like, "Are you going to have sex with Whitney?"

Because, of course they were going to have sex. Just because Whitney had never seemed to want to sleep with her didn't mean he didn't want to sleep with anyone. Especially a guy, since he was gay. Especially a guy who was really cute, like Mr. Townsend.

They were going to make a beautiful couple, Lana thought wistfully as she discreetly drew in the sketch book she had hidden under her notes. Whitney was blond with the light tan that made him seem to glow, and his eyes were that beautiful shade of very light green that made you just sink into them. And Mr. Townsend had the dark hair contrasted with very fair skin, and chocolate brown eyes that shone when he was excited about something and got so dark they were almost black when he was being serious. Lana knew that the visual contrast between them would be gorgeous. And they were both really nice people.

The only problem that Lana could think of was that Mr. Townsend was so smart and educated. He had a masters degree in literature, had traveled across Europe, always had a book on him, and was sophisticated enough to be good friends with Lex. Whitney... Whitney was sweet, but he wasn't the smartest person she'd ever met. When he'd been a senior, he'd still needed help--her help--with his essays. The main reason he'd been planning on going to college was to play football and when that had fallen through, there'd been no back-up plan. As far as Lana knew, he had no idea what he wanted to do for a living. She only knew what he didn't want to do, and that was run the family store.

Of course, now his options were even more limited. He was missing two fingers, partially blind in one eye, and his knee was shot. Yeah, he could still find work and still go to college, but... everything was going to be so different. She was scared...

"Lana?"

Startled, Lana dropped her pencil. She looked up to find Mr. Townsend standing over her and the class empty.

"I'm sorry," she said, knowing that she'd been caught. She bent down and picked her pencil.

"It's all right," he said with a knowing smile. "I know that you've had a rough week."

"Yeah." She glanced at the board where the homework was written and quickly jotted it down. "But I still should pay attention in class."

"Yes, you should," he agreed. "The great thing about school and work is that it's a place where you can leave your problems for a little bit and concentrate on something else. I know some of your problems follow you," and his eyes flicked to the door that Chloe had exited from, just leaving Lana behind, "but you still need to do your best to put them away as much as you can."

"I'll promise I'll do better tomorrow." She gathered her things together, a hot blush on her cheeks.

"Can I ask what you were working on?"

"Just a sketch," she said, blush growing hotter. "I've been drawing a lot since Christmas. I try not to do it in class, but I couldn't concentrate."

"Shirley Jackson not your thing?"

"Short stories aren't my thing," she confessed. "I like novels and poetry."

He nodded. "Can I see your portfolio?"

"Oh, it's not a portfolio or anything. Just some rough sketches. And I'm not very good."

"That's what you said about your essay writing abilities earlier this year, and yet you're one of my best writers. Come on, I just want to take a look."

Face on fire, she handed him the sketch book.

He flipped through it slowly, looking at the drawings she'd done of the Talon or her friends having lunch in the Torch office. There were a few of Chloe, a couple of Clark, and about six pages of Whitney.

She held her breath as Mr. Townsend stopped turning pages. For a long moment, he gazed at a picture of Whitney. It was one of the few "finished" pieces she'd done. It was a charcoal, all shaded, every detail as perfect as she could make it. She'd drawn it from a picture taken of him a few days before he'd shipped out. He'd been wearing a long-sleeved tee shirt that brought out the hidden depths of his eyes. Even though the picture wasn't colored, she'd worked hard to get the shading and light just right. Whitney had been leaning against a fence post, a small smile on his face and he was gazing off into the distance, thinking.

Mr. Townsend cleared his throat. "This is very good," he said, voice rough.

Lana could feel the glow of pleasure light up inside her. She felt warm and light, embarrassed, but happy just the same. "Thank you."

"It's, um. Very realistic. Or real. Almost like a photograph."

"Thank you," she said again. Then, without thinking about it, she asked, "Do you want it?"

He looked at her, startled.

The blush was back in full force, and she squirmed, wondering what was wrong with her. "I mean... I just... I..." Oh, screw it. "I heard."

"You heard... Oh." His fair skin colored.

"Yeah." She tucked her hair behind her ears nervously.

Mr. Townsend swallowed hard. "Do you, um. Want to talk about it? Or..."

"No." She coughed. "Do you want the picture?"

"You worked so hard on it," he protested lamely. "I couldn't..."

"It's not like I can't draw another one. Besides. Art's meant to be shared, right?"

"I guess."

She took the book back and carefully tore the picture out.

"Shouldn't you sign it?" he asked.

"Wouldn't that be kind of weird? I mean, my signature on a picture of your..."

"Lana, I don't think the situation could possibly get any stranger than it already is," Mr. Townsend said.

He had a point.

Lana took her pen out and signed in the corner. Then she tucked both the book and pen away and handed him the picture. "See you later."

"Thank you, Lana."

She smiled at him, but felt sad. She knew he wasn't really thanking her for the picture. "You're welcome, Mr. Townsend."


Five preliminary interviews with prospective nurses and not a single one was suitable. The search was getting ridiculous. He'd prefer a female nurse, mostly so Lex didn't have problems dealing with her in case he fell ill or got hurt, as he inevitably would. He needed someone strong enough to help him in and out of his chair after physical therapy, someone open minded about homosexuality, and someone with a good sense of humor. But, most of all, he needed someone who was neither star struck nor intimidated by Lex. He needed someone who could deal with Lex.

His phone rang. Grateful for the distraction, Damien picked up the phone as he pinched the bridge of his nose. "Damien Walters."

"Hi," Dominic said. He sounded exhausted. "I'm back in Metropolis. Any word on Clark?"

"No. He finally answered his cell phone, but he hung up before we found out where he was. So, the search continues." He groaned softly as his headache gave a particularly vicious throb. As usual, when one part of his body ached, another chimed in, and his hip gave an answering pulse, sending a dull and exhausting pain through his entire body. How he longed for the days before the tornado when he was whole; now everything was a trial, even something as simple as sitting at a desk and making phone calls. He wished he were whole once more.

Dominic, attuned as ever to Damien's moods, immediately dropped his queries about Clark. "Are you all right?" he asked, sounding concerned. Of course, in some ways, Dominic never stopped being concerned over Damien's health, which was both comforting and annoying. And yet another reason Damien refused to ask Dominic to move to Smallville permanently. He didn't want Dominic to do it only so he could care for Damien. Damien didn't need Dominic to take care of him. That's what he had a nurse for, but he was afraid that Dominic would take any invitation as either a demand or a plea for help. Both were unacceptable.

Damien dropped his hand from his head. "I'm fine. I've a headache."

"I take it things are falling apart there?"

"I expected nothing else the minute I found Clark had run. Lex is drinking away his misery. He's also informed me that he doesn't think he wants to salvage his business, but doesn't know what he wants to do. Plus, I still can't find an acceptable caretaker, and apparently the Smallville sheriff's department has found a journal of Clark's that talks about Lionel's rape attempt and is doing a follow up investigation."

"Did the Kents call you?"

"No."

There was a brief pause. "Did the sheriff's department contact you about your involvement?"

Damien smiled, amused by Dominic's questions. "No."

"Has this been going on for awhile, then?"

"The report was filed two days ago with the OFC, the sheriff's department started the official investigation this morning."

"And you know this already how?"

"Because I do."

Dominic laughed. "Yes, but how do you find out information like that so quickly?"

Damien's smile grew and he leaned back in his chair. "Darling, if I revealed my secrets, then I wouldn't be the enigma I've made myself out to be."

"I don't work for Lionel anymore."

"You really don't need to know, then, do you?"

"I suppose not," Dominic conceded, obviously disappointed and frustrated. "But one day, I would like to know how you always know everything. It can be intimidating, you know, being involved with an omnipotent being."

"As long as I'm not an impotent being."

"Perish the thought," Dom said dryly. "Oh, I wanted to thank you."

"For what?"

"My flat. Dear Lord, Damien, it's perfect. Every bit of it, everything I could ever had hoped for. The color scheme, and the furniture arrangement is exactly how I've always wanted it. And, Damien, the piano." He breathed the word with a sense of wonder and awe, and Damien could imagine Dominic standing over it, touching the polished wood reverently, fingers tingling in anticipation of pressing the smooth, white keys for the first time.

And then the image was superimposed with one of Dominic lying dead across the instrument, cut and bleeding, eyes staring lifelessly into the ether. "Don't stay there," Damien said harshly, more harshly than he'd intended. Concern for Dominic always made him abrupt.

"What?" Dominic sounded absolutely befuddled and defensive, hurt almost.

But his mind wasn't going to change. "Don't stay in your flat tonight. Go to a hotel, check in under another name. Don't stay there."

"But why not?"

Dominic could be so dense sometimes. "Are you that empty-headed? You've quit working for Lionel. He'll be angry and he'll remove whatever protection he had over you before. Your flat was trashed only a few months ago. I can only imagine what he'll allow to be done to you now."

Dominic hesitated. "He wouldn't..."

"Dominic, this is Lionel Luthor we're talking about. You're leaving his employment, and you know he doesn't let go easily. I'm worried about you. Your safety."

"So, now I have a gorgeous flat that you've decorated and made home for me, and I can't stay here." He inhaled sharply. "Tell me, is this for tonight, Damien, or do you think that Lionel is going to be a continued threat?" Dominic's voice was sharp and bitter. Angry.

He closed his eyes. This was not what he wanted to deal with right now, and he hadn't intended to bring it up. He wanted Dominic to arrive at the conclusion that it was better for him to live with Damien on his own. That it was safer...

Or was that what this was really about? Not that Lionel wasn't a threat, but was Damien really acting out of concern, or did he want Dominic with him for more selfish reasons?

"Lionel has a long memory," he finally answered.

Dominic sighed. "He does. But I can protect myself."

"Since when?" The words were cruel, almost thoughtlessly, so, but true. Dominic could no sooner protect himself against Lionel Luthor than he could stop caring about Lex.

"This isn't about Lionel," he said flatly. "This is about you. You don't want me in Metropolis. You don't want me independent. You want me with you."

"Yes, I do. Ultimately." The words didn't sound right, though, as Dominic said them. He didn't understand. It wasn't about control. "But..."

"God damn it, Damien!" Dominic burst out angrily. "Why the hell do you have to manipulate me into this?"

"I'm not manipulating you," he protested. "I want you with me. But I want it to be your decision."

"Why? Why with you? So you can assert your ownership? Lay claim? So I can take care of you instead of Lionel? Why?"

"It has nothing to do with any of that. I want you with me because you are my lover, and..."

"Then just tell me that, Damien. Tell me that you love me and you want me with you. Don't make me guess how you're feeling and what you want!"

What on earth was he blathering about? Why... "I've told you I love you! I've never made a mystery of my feelings for you, never hid them. Are you saying that it's not enough? What do you want me to do, take out advertising space?"

"Don't be stupid."

"Tell me, Dominic, what do you want? Are you saying you're unhappy with our relationship?"

"No! I'm not, I'm just tired of being manipulated."

"I'm not manipulating you! I don't want to manipulate you, I want you to be safe. I'm trying to allow you to make your own decision about this, and..."

"You can give me your input and not influence me unduly. I value your input. And I want to know what you think. I want to know that I'm wanted."

"I do want you. I tell you I want you. For God's sake, Dom, what more do I have to do, ask you to marry me?"

"That would help."

"Fine. Marry me."

"Very well, I will. And I'll go check into a hotel."

"Thank you. Call me when you're there safely."

"I will." There was a pause, and then, "I love you."

"I love you, too." He hung up and then realized what he'd done.

Laughing softly, Damien rubbed his eyes and said to himself, "Well played, Dominic. Very well played."


It was amazing what a little Vicodin and Scotch could accomplish. Not only did they calm the nerves, soften the mind, and dull the world, but it also had the mystical, magical ability to make a place like the hospital seem almost... cheery. The long, beige colored walls looked soft and welcoming, and the stained glass windows made the place look less like a church and more like a thing of beauty.

And that was after only one Vicodin and a bottle and a half of Scotch.

Lionel was climbing carefully into his bed when Lex entered the room. He was dressed in blue silk pajamas that emphasized the long lines of his body. He looked almost emaciated, but, then he'd just had a near death experience, so that was to be expected. Lionel had his hair pulled back in a neat ponytail, and even though he was pale and wan, he could still pull of a level of sexy that Lex would never be able to touch.

Okay, that was just about the worst thought Lex had ever had before. But, then, Lex had a really, really hard time thinking when he was drunk.

His father was oblivious to his presence. Feeling like he was floating, Lex leaned against the doorjamb and hooked one ankle behind the other. "You wanted to see me, Dad?" he asked with as much of an air of insouciance as he could muster.

Lionel seemed to stiffen slightly, as if he hadn't heard Lex come in. He turned, and for a second his eyes seemed to focus on Lex's face. Lex inhaled sharply, drunken thoughts of miracles flashing through his head, but then the moment passed.

"Lex," Lionel said in the sickeningly jovial voice that he used when he wanted something. "So good of you to come." Fumbling slightly, he pulled the thin sheets over his legs and sat back against the bed.

"Well, Dad, you know me. You call, I come." He sauntered in the room, looking around. There were, of course, no balloons or get well cards. Lionel didn't deal with such things. Everything was taken out immediately to be taken care of by his secretaries and assistance. Lionel never knew nor cared who sent him what.

Which was why Lex was surprised to see that the room wasn't devoid of all sympathy presents. There was one left in the room. On the table next to the window was a vase. In the vase was a single, red chrysanthemum.

Interesting.

Lex went to it and touched the petals gently. There was no card, but the vase was expensive. More expensive than a vase from most flower shops, and obviously special enough for Lionel to keep in here.

And really pretty. Lex could almost drown in the color.

"Lex?" Lionel said, sounding like he was far away. "Lex."

"Uh-huh?" he said vaguely.

Lionel exhaled sharply. "You're drunk."

What? Oh. Oh, shit, he'd been caught.

Fighting back the flush of guilt that he could never seem to get over when his father caught him doing drugs, Lex turned back around and tucked his hands into his pockets. "Not at all," he managed to answer blandly. Then, to stave off any more questions, he asked, "What do you want, Dad?"

There was a long silence. Again, the eerie sensation of his father looking and actually seeing him washed over Lex. It wasn't unusual, exactly; Lionel had perfected the art of seeming to be able to see into your very soul even with his sightless eyes. And yet... and yet Lex just couldn't shake the feeling that there was something different.

"What?" Lex finally asked, shifting uncomfortably.

"What did you take, Lex?"

"Nothing."

"Lex..."

"Nothing."

"I can tell when you're lying, Lex," Lionel said sharply. "And I can tell when you're intoxicated. I can also tell that you've imbibed more than alcohol."

"What the fuck do you care, Father?" Lex snapped. "If I'm high, it's none of your business. You've made it quite clear again and again that you don't give a fuck about me or my life."

"Oh, don't do this, Lex. I'm so tired of listening to your sob stories of how I don't care and you're a mess because of my upbringing," Lionel sighed wearily. "You know very well that everything I've done I've done to make you strong."

"Like beat me and rape my boyfriend."

The temperature in the room dropped immediately.

Lex shivered and idly wondered if he should reserve a room in the hospital for himself.

"Don't moan to me about what a cruel father I am, Lex. I never laid a hand on you..."

"Bullshit!"

"That wasn't delivered as part of an overarching lesson," Lionel continued as if he hadn't heard Lex's exclamation. "You're not some victim of abuse, Lex, not some poor, defenseless, battered child with a wicked father. You brought on anything I ever had to deliver, and..."

"So says every abuser since God nailed his fucking son up on a cross," Lex said quietly, resting his head on the wall. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the second Vicodin. He hated swallowing pills without liquid, but he forced himself to do it now.

Lionel snorted. "And now you're Jesus. Wonderful."

"What do you want, Dad?" Lex asked, tucking the bottle away.

"I need a place to stay for the next few days."

"There's a nice bed and breakfast in town. And a motel just outside. Or you could try Grandville; they've got a little more variety."

"Lex..."

"You're not staying with me, Dad." He forced himself to meet his father's blind eyes.

One of Lionel's eyebrows arched. "Very well. Then, point two. How much do you want for Dominic?""

The change in subject was too much for his addled mind. Lex started stupidly at Lionel for so long, Lionel frowned and said, "Lex? Are you still there?"

"Yeah." What had he said? "What do I what?"

"How much do you want for him? What amount of money will it take for you to cut him loose from your grasp and convince him to come back to me. He tendered his resignation this morning, although, considering there's no more LexCorp, I don't know where he thinks he's going."

Lex swallowed. "He's not. I mean, he's quitting. Giving it all up. For awhile."

"Really?" He couldn't sound any more like a vulture if he tried.

"I'm paying him for services rendered, but Damien says that Dominic is taking time off. Maybe work on his music or something."

"And he'll be living with you? In Smallville?"

"I don't know," Lex said while frantically trying to find the off switch in his head; why was he telling Dad all this? "He wants to move to Metropolis and live on his own. Visit Damien, not live with him." God, it was like he was throwing up words or something.

"I see. So, I should ask Damien how much he wants for Dominic."

"And he'll tell you that Dominic's not a whore."

Lionel looked amused. "Right. Of course. Not a whore." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "So, it looks like I'm leaving Smallville empty handed."

"It's no less than you deserve." And then, before he did something stupid like break down and beg his father to love him, Lex left.

He made it around the corner before he stopped. Trembling, he slumped against the wall and tried to catch his breath.

Oh, God. He did it. He'd actually done it. He'd refused to help his father in a time of real need. No one could deny that Lionel was hurt. It'd be much better for him to stay in town, stay in a familiar environment until the shock of almost dying faded. Lex was sure his father was fragile and needed a stable home to rest in.

But it couldn't be the mansion. Lex didn't want him there. He had to make a choice, and he had to choose Clark over Lionel. Clark was his heart, his life. Lionel was...

He'd be Lex's death.

Lex had never, really ever been able to say no to Lionel. He could act out, go against his father. He rebelled with an intensity that sometimes scared even him. He strove and struggled to prove his father both right and wrong, but Lex could never, ever, actually flat out refuse to do what he was told. Never... honestly. Never face to face.

The few times he tried, it felt as if he always gave in.

Not this time. Lionel could do what he like. Close the plant again, threaten the Kents, whatever. Lex wasn't going to give in no matter what. Even if his father almost died because he had to fly back to Metropolis and he asked Lex to take the reins of LuthorCorp, Lex would say no.

Clark was more important. He knew that, without a doubt.

"Lex?"

He looked up. Helen was across the hall, her head sticking out of her office. He hadn't realized he'd come this way, but he wasn't entirely unhappy to see her.

"Hi." He crossed the hall to her office, feeling as if he was going to drift off to sleep any second. "Working late?"

Her eyebrows raised, and a smile crossed her face. "Um, no. I'm actually out of here in about five minutes. Just finishing up some paperwork. What are you doing here?"

Don't concentrate too hard on the blue blobby thing on her desk. "Visiting Dad. I guess he's getting released and needs a place to stay."

"Oh, right. I heard. Is he moving back in with you?"

"No," Lex replied flatly. "No, Dad is just going to have to find other accommodations."

Helen stopped shuffling papers and looked up at him. "Mark told me that your dad bugged your house."

"Well, Dad never has understood the concept of privacy."

"What parent does?" She went back to putting her things away. "Do you want to go out for a drink? I'm almost done."

Lex nodded slowly. Any excuse to drown his sorrows was welcomed, especially since he and Helen were getting along so well lately. He just had to take care not to cross any lines he'd regret.

"Yes," he said. "A drink sounds good."


Clark had been wandering the city all day and was bored. He was also almost out of money. After spending most of the morning at the docks, he'd gone to the science museum and wandered around a few hours, checking out the exhibits and buying lunch from one of the vendors outside the astronomy tower. The three hot dogs and a soda had cost nearly ten dollars, draining his cash. Not that he'd ever had enough cash to spend on a place to stay anyway, but there was a chance now that he'd be stuck eating McDonald's French fries for dinner. Those wouldn't even put a dent in his hunger.

He'd tried a shelter. Aaron had told him where he'd stayed when he'd been out of a home, so Clark had headed there, thinking that it'd be a good experience, just for the night. Maybe he'd get a good essay out of it or something. It'd be good.

Except, it hadn't been. The shelter had been crowded and full of strangers. Half of the strangers had smelled funny, and the other half kept looking at him like he was food. The dinner they'd served had barely been edible, and Clark had been one of the only ones actually doing the dishes afterwards. Everyone else was either lamenting their troubles or watching game shows on the television in the common room.

And Clark was pretty sure that the sheets on his bed had been peed on in the distant past.

He'd left after being there barely two hours. When he'd gone, he was told very coldly that if he chose to come back after curfew, he would not be let back in. In light of the fact that Clark knew he'd actually put work into the place, unlike some of the others, he thought that was harsh, but he didn't argue. He wasn't going back anyway.

But now, he had no place to go.

Well, that wasn't exactly true. He could go home. He could go to Aaron's. He could go to the penthouse and tell Lex, when he inevitably called, that if he tried to come and see Clark, Clark would leave.

But he didn't want to do any of those things. All of it involved seeing people that he knew, and he wasn't ready yet. He didn't crave solitude anymore, but he didn't want to be near people he knew him. Clark needed anonymity. He needed to be able to lick his wounds and heal among strangers.

Which left Gotham. He had two keys to two sources of money in the other city. He couldn't get to the safe deposit box anymore, of course, since the bank was closed, but he could get to the cash at the train station. It'd be easy to run to Gotham, get away from Lex, and get the money. He could even stay there overnight, experience a new city, be completely isolated from anything he'd ever known.

Clark walked down the street, head lowered, deep in thought. He'd been gone from home for almost two days. He should probably call his parents, let them know he was all right. Or call Chloe and tell her... Oh, wait. Chloe was probably mad at him for running away. Lana was pissed at him for not telling her that Whitney was gay, and Pete would want to know what was going on, and Clark really didn't want to get into it.

So, calling someone was out. Gotham was... maybe in.

He'd think about it a little more. Clark checked his wallet and saw he had five bucks. That was at least enough for coffee, maybe a sandwich or something. He'd need strength to run.

Clark stopped at the corner and glanced both ways. There was a coffee shop across the street that was brightly lit and friendly-looking. He could see an older, motherly-looking waitress inside, and knew that, if he was a little short, he could probably charm her into over-looking it. He played sweet so well, and women her age seemed to love his innocence. Everyone wanted to protect him. It'd be fine.

He really intended to go to the coffee shop, honestly. He could practically taste the cheeseburger he'd be able to talk her into selling him, feel the juices running down his chin, feel the paper napkin under his fingers. He meant to go there.

But his feet took him somewhere else. As if they were under someone else's control, Clark's feet led him unerringly to the brightly lit club a few doors down from the homey-looking diner.

The Atlantis.

"Um, hi," he said after somehow pushing his way through the crowd at the door. This was stupid; everyone was dressed in shiny, clubbing clothes, and he was wearing a tee-shirt and jeans. There was mud on his jeans, and a small hole on the hem of his shirt.

The bouncer gave him a once over. "Yeah?"

Clark swallowed and ran a hand through his hair. "How much to get in?" He met the bouncer's eyes, heart pounding in his throat.

The man sort of smirked, ran his eyes over him again, and unhooked the rope. "For a face like that? Free." He leaned forward and whispered in Clark's ear, "Go have fun."

He blinked, surprised, but didn't question his luck. Apparently, the ability to get into places free wasn't just something he could do while on red meteor rocks.

It was loud inside, and crowded. The dance floor was packed so tightly it was a seething mass of flesh; there were people stuffed in every corner, every table, and thronging the bar. People of every persuasion were inside--gay, straight, bi, whatever--were there, dancing, rubbing against one another, kissing.

Clark almost tripped over a couple girls making out. They shot him a dirty look, and he apologized profusely, cheeks hot. They muttered something about stupid straight boys and wormed away through the crowd.

He thought about telling them he wasn't straight and they weren't that hot but, really, what did it matter?

Carefully, trying not to bump into too many people, Clark made his way to the bar. The hyper-sensitivity exposure always brought on was fading, and the feel of other people's skin brushing against his didn't freak him out. In fact, by the time he got to the bar, he almost welcomed the feel of warm, sweat-slicked bodies pushing against him and the musky smells of deodorant, sweat, and colognes that swirled in the heavy air.

"Hey," the bar tendered said when Clark caught his attention. "What can I get you?"

"Rum and coke."

He hesitated an instant, like he realized that Clark was probably underage, but then he just shrugged. "All right."

Clark paid for the drink, but stayed at the bar. He couldn't get drunk, not exactly, but he'd been buzzed before. If he drank enough and didn't try and shake it off, maybe he could feel good for awhile. Just...

He realized he was being like Lex. And he hated when Lex did things like this. It was one of those things Clark could never understand; when you had problems, you were supposed to deal with them, not... use chemicals to make them go away. Not avoid thinking and talking and making it better. No problem was so big it couldn't be resolved, so when Lex tried to avoid his problems by drowning them...

Maybe people were right. Maybe Clark was too young for Lex. He hadn't lived much, even compared to other teenagers his age. Until last year, he'd never even left Smallville. How could he ever have thought he knew what Lex was going through or how he should handle things? What had given him that arrogance, besides being young and full of himself?

How did Lex put up with him?

Obviously, Lex wasn't the only person in the relationship that had to change. The thought made him pensive.

Trying to push the unwelcome thoughts from his mind, Clark finished his drink and bought another.

He and Lex needed to talk. That was obvious. They needed to talk about Clark's fears about their relationship, both the ones he'd had forever and these new thoughts. They needed to talk about the way Lex let Lionel treat him, and all that stuff about abuse Grant had mentioned. Because, the more Clark thought about it, the more he realized that Lex had been abused, even if Lionel hadn't regularly beat Lex. It was a mistake, wasn't it, to assume all abuse had to be seen? What Lionel had done to Clark wasn't visible, but the scars it'd left on him were deep and painful. And that had just been a night, really. Well, there was that time in the car, too, but...

Lex had been living with this for a lifetime. And Clark knew how much pain Lex was in. Maybe there was nothing Clark could do about it; he could only heal the physical stuff. But, at the same time, maybe he wasn't doing what he could be doing. At least, he wasn't doing it the right way.

Of course... Lex might not accept anything else. If he really thought it was all Clark's fault... If Lex really thought it Clark had let Lionel touch him, then...

He choked on his drink and quickly put it down. There were tears in his eyes, and he blinked them away as rapidly as he could.

Oh, God. Did Lex really believe that about him?

"Hey," a woman said, sidling up next to him. "Buy me a drink."

He blinked at her stupidly. "What?"

She smiled, a slick, sexy smile with lots of white teeth made whiter by a lot of red lipstick. "Buy me a drink," she repeated, her voice low and throaty. But not sexy, not really. Not the way Lex was sexy without even trying.

"Um, I don't..."

"Look, gorgeous, I'll make it simple. But me a drink, and there's an excellent chance you're getting lucky tonight." And her eyes did a very slow and very hungry once-over of him.

Gross. "I'm gay."

"What?"

"I like guys. Sorry." He said it as sincerely as he could, considering how repulsed he was by her. She had wrinkles by her eyes, and the skin of her neck was kind of baggy. She looked like she was Nell Potter's age, which was... disturbing.

Her face twisted. "Damn. Okay, well, thanks anyway." She got up and went onto her next victim.

"Dumb move, kid," the bar tender said, plunking another drink in front of him. "She's a huge gossip. In a few minutes, you'll have every guy in the place hitting on you. Don't ever use that excuse unless you're prepared to follow through."

Clark looked at him with a raised eyebrow. "Dude, I'm gay."

He blinked and a look of surprise crossed his face. "Oh. Okay."

Clark was about to say something else, when a heavy hand fell onto his shoulder. He stiffened and flinched back, heart going into overdrive.

"Excuse me," a deep voice that was attached to the hand said.

He craned his neck. There was a man in a security guard's uniform standing behind him. The man was big and thick, and his hand was about the size of Clark's face.

"Yes?" Clark said weakly, figuring it was time to get kicked out of the club for being underage.

"The owner would like a word with you. Please follow me."

It was very easy to follow the guard, considering the man was squeezing his shoulder like a vise. The crowd parted in front of them easily, and Clark almost missed the feeling of warm bodies brushing against him. A little grounding right now would be nice.

Clark's heart hammered in his ears. What was going to happen to him? What was he doing?

He was led upstairs. The music faded to a steady throbbing pulse. It mirrored the throbbing in Clark's veins as he was marched down a long hall to a set of mahogany double doors.

The security guard knocked on the door, adding to the increasing pulse of the air.

"Enter," a voice on the other side called.

The guard opened the door and waved Clark though.

"Leave us."

Clark stood awkwardly in the center of the room as the door shut behind him, leaving him alone with the man behind the desk.

He didn't look at Clark. He didn't speak to him. He just kept his head down, hair partly obscuring his face from Clark's view, dull blond and silver gleaming from the light above. He was writing something, and his pen scratched in time with Clark's heartbeat.

Clark wasn't sure he'd seen anyone with hands as big as this man's. They were huge, with big, blunt fingers that wrapped around the fancy gold pen so it looked as thin as a toothpick. Clark remembered how those fingers had felt against his skin: rougher than you'd imagine the fingers of someone who had money, and... stronger, too. He wasn't like Lex, who was all lean muscles and pampered flesh; this man was raw and rough.

Finally, after a million years seemed to pass, Morgan looked up. "You know, it's against the law to sell alcohol to minors."

Oh. Oh, God, Morgan didn't even remember him. The blue eyes assessing him held none of the warmth or heat they had the night at the opera. They were blank and empty.

His face went inferno hot and he hunched his shoulders. "I'm sorry, sir," he said miserably. "Are you going to call the police?"

"No, I don't think so. Not if you don't cause any problems."

"No. No problems at all, sir." He licked his lips. "Are you going to make me call my parents?"

"Do you think I should?"

Was that a trick question? Was he supposed to say no? Or yes? Or... Shit, was it too late to say that he wasn't underage and it was all a mistake? Except, the tabloids all knew him, and maybe this guy read them, and...

Did normal kids take this long to answer?

"Um," Clark finally stammered. "I'd rather not. I mean, I'd rather you not. I mean..." He took a gulp of air. "Um, I'm sorry to, uh, have put your, uh, establishment at risk. Sir."

Morgan rose from his desk. Slowly, and deliberately he crossed the room. God, he was really... confident. Sure of himself. And powerful. So very powerful. He was exactly the way Clark imagined Lex would be when he was Morgan's age. They both commanded respect and awe with their very presence.

Clark's mouth was completely dry as he watched Morgan approach him. Oh, God, he was turned on and Morgan didn't even know who he was. But Clark's skin was buzzing, and he wanted Morgan to touch him and this was so wrong, but he was here now and it didn't matter because Morgan didn't know him and...

Morgan stopped inches from him, and Clark swore he could feel all the compressed air molecules between them pushing against his skin. They were so, so close, and maybe Morgan did remember him, because they were, like, kissing close, and if Clark just swayed a little...

Morgan laughed softly and reached one of his huge hands up to Clark's hair. Very delicately, more so than Clark would have thought possible, he ran his fingers through his curls, untangling them carefully. "You're not the one who sold alcohol to a minor," he pointed out gently. "You aren't the one who'd get fined. Besides. It would be uncharitable of me to ask you to leave when all you did was respond to my invitation."

Clark's knees went weak with relief. "I didn't think you remembered me," he admitted.

"How could I not? You're exquisite. I could no sooner forget you than... my own name." He did that thing again, where he moved forward too quickly for Clark to react, even with his powers. Morgan's lips landed on the corner of Clark's mouth.

Clark closed his eyes, his entire body was aflame. Why? Why was it so different? Why was it that Lionel Luthor frightened him to death, but this man made Clark think of big bed and soft pillows and being touched all over for hours?

"What brings you here?" Morgan asked, pulling away. His arms were on Clark's shoulders, and he massaged them gently.

"Nothing."

"Nothing?" Lips pressed into his temple.

Clark shuddered. "Um. Not really. I just... saw the club and thought I'd come in."

"I'm glad you did. You know, I saw you on TV the other day. At LuthorCorp Towers. You were just outside, standing next to your lover." Very softly, Morgan kissed him again, this time lower, just above his cheek. "Did you have a fight with him? Is that why you are here?"

"L-Lex isn't my lover."

"Oh, please. Why lie to me?" Morgan kissed the corner of Clark's mouth. "I'm not going to tell anyone, and I certainly see the attraction." He pulled away and combed his fingers through the hair at the nape of Clark's neck. "The Luthor men are powerful, rich, and exude sex."

He made a face. "Yeah, I'll give you Lex, but Lionel's kind of disgusting."

"Really? Is it the age that disgusts you?"

"No." Clark found himself fascinated with Morgan's mouth. He arched his neck into Morgan's caress and took a tiny step forward, into his body "He's just... he's Lex's father. It's gross. And he's an asshole."

Morgan laughed and released Clark. "I'll give you that one."

Clark blinked, missing Morgan's hands. "You, uh, know him?"

"I've met him. I have a small fortune, and, occasionally, Lionel Luthor and I have been in the same place at the same time." He laughed and shook his head. "You haven't answered my question, you know. So, if it wasn't a fight, then why are you here?"

"Um. I just... had to get away."

"Why?"

He shrugged. "I just... needed time. To think. So I came to the city, and then I saw the club. I remembered you were here, and..."

Morgan's smile grew. "I see. So, something back home has caused you to brave the city all alone and seek me out." One arm slid over Clark's upper back. "I'll see if I can make it worth your while."

"I don't..." he started, but Morgan pulled away and went to the cabinet of liquor next to his desk.

"Would you like a drink?" Morgan asked.

"Um..."

With a soft laugh, Morgan poured what looked like a glass of Scotch. "Here, try this. Single-malt scotch, aged to perfection."

Clark made a face. "I don't really... like Scotch."

"Lex doesn't give you any?"

"Um." Well, there wasn't any harm in answering that question; it wasn't like Morgan didn't know they were friends or anything. "He's tried, but I'm just not a huge fan of it."

"Then, obviously, you're not drinking it right." Morgan took a long sip of the Scotch, and then closed the distance between him and Clark. Putting his hand on the back of Clark's neck, he sealed his lips around Clark's mouth.

Startled, confused, and turned on, Clark opened his mouth for Morgan. Immediately, warm, wet liquid flooded his mouth, accompanied by a very skillful tongue that teased the inside of his mouth with practiced ease.

Clark tried to keep back his moan, but he couldn't. His skin burned, and his blood was slow and turgid as it flowed through him. He felt hot and lazy and heavy. All he could do was stand there and let Morgan kiss him.

Gently, Morgan maneuvered Clark backwards. His legs hit a couch and he automatically sank to it. Morgan followed him down, never releasing Clark from his grip. He was kissing Clark over and over again, mouth wet and hot and ... dirty. His tongue traced patterns on Clark's cheeks and neck. Teeth tugged at his earlobe, and God, it was as if he knew every single one of Clark's erogenous zones.

"I don't know why I came," Clark said breathlessly. His hips moved restlessly on the couch, cock hard and aching, begging to be touched. Oh, God, what the fuck was he doing? "Lex is so stupid," he moaned. "He said that... he said that..."

Morgan touched his face. When Clark opened his eyes, he saw the naked desire in Morgan's eyes, the heat in the blue and, God, Clark wanted him. He wanted to be wanted like this, desired for his body and not for anything more complicated.

It was intoxicating.

"It doesn't matter what he said, does it?" Morgan asked, drawing Clark's attention from Lex and back to him.

"I wouldn't be here if he hadn't said it." He felt like he needed to make that clear, like Morgan might be hurt if Clark lied to him.

Morgan smiled. "Well, then I should send him a thank you letter for whatever he said." He took another sip of Scotch and leaned in for another kiss.

Clark's eyes slid closed as more Scotch filled his mouth. He'd never liked the taste before, but now, it tasted just like sex. Like horrible, dirty wrong, submissive-just-lie-there-and-be-violated-in-a-good-way sex.

Oh, fuck, he was so incredibly fucked. He was inside a strange man's office--a strange man who'd never even asked his name--making out with him, letting him pull Clark's shirt up, stroke over his skin, pinch his nipples. He was cheating on Lex with a man old enough to be his grandfather, sucking Scotch from his mouth and shamelessly panting as he humped against Morgan's thigh.

"So beautiful," Morgan breathed, tearing his mouth away. "Such a pretty, pretty boy." He pulled Clark's shirt up more and twisted his nipple.

Clark groaned, head falling back against the couch. Oh, God, what was he doing?

"What do you want? Why did you come to see me?" Morgan scraped his teeth over the nipple he'd just twisted. "Do you want me to suck your cock, to fuck you? Do you want to fuck me?" He palmed his hand over Clark's aching cock. "Do you want me to take you right here?"

"Oh, Christ," he whimpered, arching into the touch. He didn't know. This was wrongwrongwrongwrongwrongwrongwrongwrong....

Morgan had his ear and was teasing it with the tip of his tongue. "Well? What do you want?"

He fisted Morgan's coat, trying to think. "I want..."

Morgan's phone rang.

"Ah," he sighed, slipping his thumb into Clark's mouth. "The life of a businessman."

Clark groaned around Morgan's thumb, sucking it hard as Morgan pulled his phone out.

"Hello?" His voice was smoky and thick; he sounded aroused.

Clark watched as Morgan's lips curled into a smile. He slid his thumb from Clark's mouth and trailed it over his nipples. The air teased Clark, making the nubs ache.

"It's good to hear from you," Morgan said into the phone. "I was worried." As he listened, he bent over and bit Clark's nipple gently.

Clark cried out and bucked his hips.

"I'm glad. You're back in the city, then?" He laughed softly as he worked his way down Clark's chest. "Ungrateful, as always. But, perhaps it's for the best. Less drafty."

Fire radiated out from Clark's navel as Morgan teased the rim with his tongue. Clark whimpered, fingers digging into the sofa as Morgan played his body like he was a toy instead of a person.

"I would love to," Morgan said. He lightly bit Clark's stomach. "But I can't. I'm in the middle of something right now, and it would be rude...." Abruptly, he lifted his head, frowning. "Can't you hear..." He pressed his hand into Clark's aching cock, causing him to shout, startled. "I'm sorry, but it's a very important boy, and...." He frowned. "I know you just went through a bad experience, but.... You do realize who I am talking about don't... Fine." He closed the phone and swore. Then, sitting back on his heels, he said, "I'm sorry, lovely one, but I have to go."

"What?" Clark asked, dazed.

"I do apologize. I'd rather stay and play with you, but duty calls." He stroked along Clark's jaw. "Can I take a rain check?"

"You aren't going to finish?" But he was so close.

Morgan smiled, a gleam in his eyes. "The plans I have for you would take hours. I have minutes. Better to leave you wanting more than to satisfy your lust, only to have you never return."

"I wouldn't..."

"I know how fickle teenage boys are," Morgan interrupted. He rose and straightened his clothing. "Here. It's my cell phone number." He held out a business card. "Call me if Lex ever says anything stupid again."

Disappointed, Clark stood as well, taking the card. "Um, okay." He tugged his shirt over his crotch the best he could. "Is something wrong?" Am I wrong? he wanted to ask, but held his tongue.

"No. An old friend needs me urgently. Stay at the club as long as you like; I'll tell the bar to give you anything you like for free for the rest of the night. Broaden your horizons."

"Thanks." He cleared his throat and then shrugged. "Um, okay. I wish..."

"So do I. You truly are the most beautiful boy I've ever had pleasure of tasting."

Clark blushed. "Thanks. Um, bye."

"Good-bye."

Confused and horny, Clark left Morgan's office. The club was even more crowded than it'd been when he'd gone up, and it pressed against him. It was all Clark could do not to grind against the first available body he found, but the idea of being with anyone but Morgan or Lex was disgusting. Despite Morgan's invitation, Clark thought it'd be best just to go and...

"Hey!" he shouted when a vice-like hand clamped over his wrist. He turned, ready to pull himself away, but found himself frozen by a furious pair of very familiar eyes.

"Come with me," Grant said, voice icy cold and clipped. "We're leaving."


Lex really hated the Wild Coyote. It had to be the worst fucking bar in the entire world. It was small and crowded and smelled sour. The liquor was cheap and tasted awful. Most of the patrons used to work for him, which made things very awkward, especially tonight. He was completely wasted, had taken about six pain pills. Or close to that; he'd lost count. And even though he was no longer sure what he was going to do about his defunct company, he still needed to keep up appearances.

Of course, if he really cared, he just stop drinking and popping pills. But his boyfriend wasn't speaking to him, so a big part of him just didn't care.

Of course, he wasn't sure why the damn bar was open anyway. The owner had just been killed. And kept in the freezer in the back. That had to be unhygienic. And, wasn't it a crime scene? Okay, yes, the crime had been solved, but still.

At the same time, it was the only bar in town. He and Helen could have gone to Grandville for a drink, but, really, what was the point in that? This bar was nearby, open, and convenient. What more could they ask for.

"Okay, okay, okay," Helen said, setting down her beer bottle. "My seventh birthday, and all I wanted was for Dad to be there. And this... doll. Gorgeous, absolutely beautiful doll with great big green eyes and this pretty dark red dress. But that's besides the point. The point is, Dad promised that he'd come. Swore up and down that he'd be there all day for me, breakfast, lunch, dinner. He was going to take me out and spend the day with me."

"What happened?" Lex asked, trying to stay interested. They were swapping bad father stories; currently, Lex was winning, but then, that was a given.

"He didn't show. In fact, he completely forgot."

Lame, lame, lame. Lionel would have shown, but turned the day into a nightmare of torture and lectures. "Too bad."

"He forgot because he was hanging out with his mistress's kid at the amusement park. My mom took me there after he didn't show and we saw him." She snorted and shook her head. "Happy Birthday Helen."

Okay, a little better. "One year, my father forced me to have a birthday party. He invited everyone in my class, even though I asked him not to. I told him that no one would come and then, on the day of the party, I was face with a decorated room with twenty-six chairs, a catered lunch, and no guests."

Her face immediately became a mirror of sympathy. "That's so sad."

He smiled wryly and finished his drink. Round to him. Again.

Maybe he shouldn't be proud of that.

"But I don't know if you win," she continued. "I mean, it's sad, but my dad spent my birthday with another kid. When he'd promised to spend it with me. That was devastating."

"And yet you made it through life without any of the self-destructive tendencies I exhibit."

"Well, yes, but you hardly became self-destructive because of one party. I mean, we're playing individual instances, not life. You'd win, otherwise."

Okay, maybe she was right. He didn't know. "Fine. I'll buy the next round." He picked up his glass and rose.

"Last round, too." She looked at him and gave a heavy-lidded smile. "I'm almost ready to leave."

Those were bedroom eyes, Lex's mind supplied sluggishly. Oh, God, it'd finally happened. Helen had succumbed to his charms and was flirting with him. This was bad. Very, very bad.

"I'll be right back."

Lex managed to get to the bar without losing his balance. His head was swimming, and his vision was completely blurred. Helen and he had been at the Wild Coyote for almost three hours. His goal had been to drink her under the table, but he'd failed miserably; Helen could hold her liquor better than any woman Lex had ever gone drinking with. The only good thing was Lex was managing to keep up with her while maintaining appearances.

He just hoped he managed not to throw up on her shoes before they left. But worrying about vomit was something for the future; right now, it was all he could do to get himself to walk in a straight line and not slur his speech.

"One whiskey and one beer," Lex ordered when the bartender turned to him.

The man nodded and set about to getting their drinks.

"Mr. Luthor," a man next to him said. "What's the deal with you and the girl? You and your boyfriend having problems?"

Oh, fucking God dammit!

Lex turned to him and gazed at him blandly. "I'm sorry," he said as smoothly as he could. "I don't remember your name."

"We've never met. I'm Joseph Quaid. I write for the Weekly Sneak."

Oh. Right, Lex had heard of him. Damien subscribed to every tabloid published in America, and Lex had recently taken to reading them as well. Joseph Quaid made incredibly vicious and pointed insinuations about him, and hadn't stopped once since Lex and Clark had been caught in the cemetery, even when the other tabloids had lost interest. Lex was only surprised he hadn't run into Quaid before now.

"Mr. Quaid," Lex said coolly.

"So, where's Clark this evening?"

"I don't know. I'm not his keeper or anything. He's probably out hanging with his friends or doing homework."

"While you go out with a beard and try to pretend you and the kid aren't hot and heavy every weekend?" The man smiled slimly. "Rumor has it that he spends at least one night a week over at that castle you got."

What a horribly constructed sentence for someone who worked in journalism. Of course, it was a rag, so Lex shouldn't be too surprised. "He and I are good friends. And he's a teenager who needs time away from his family sometimes. I've got seventy-six rooms in which he can hide."

"And how many of those rooms have you nailed him in?"

"You shouldn't end your sentences with a preposition," Lex said tiredly. "And you shouldn't make disgusting accusations and think I won't retaliate."

"Retaliate against what?"

"Slander."

"I'm only asking, Mr. Luthor. I'm not accusing you of anything." The man smiled again.

Was that true? It'd been a pointed question, and...

And Lex really couldn't think clearly enough to figure it out. He'd ask Damien when he got home.

"Who's the lucky girl?" Quaid asked when Lex stayed silent.

"A friend." He took the drinks that were slid across the bar to him. "Excuse me." With a polite nod, he went back to Helen.

"Who was that?" she asked, looking at the reporter.

"Reporter. They follow me everywhere, especially lately. Dad managed to make me newsworthy again." He sighed and downed half his drink.

She frowned pensively. "Does this mean I'm newsworthy?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. They're obsessed with the idea I'm in a relationship with Clark. They might figure I'm cheating on him with you."

"Are you with him?" Helen asked, sounding suddenly breathless. She leaned across the table; underneath, her foot slid slowly up his calf.

Please don't ask me that, he begged internally. Instead, he said something less incriminating, like, "Helen, he's sixteen years old. What do you think?" He gave her a wry and disgusted look at the same time. At least, he thought it was wry and disgusted. It might have been drunk and horny for all he knew. He seemed to have lost the ability to feel his face.

"Sorry," she said, apparently being a good girl and accepting that comment for what it sounded like. "I know you'd never do something like that, but I have heard, like, all the rumors, so..." Her face flushed and eyes dancing, she moved her chair over. "You know. I think I was wrong about you, before." Her hand crept up his arm and she batted her eyelashes at him. "You have changed. You're not the stupid kid you used to be. You're... smart and sophisticated and... responsible."

"Helen..."

"And I know I'm not exactly sober right now, but I don't care. I want you." And then, she kissed him, and it was like Lex couldn't even move. He just sat there as her lips captured his own, and it wasn't that it was a bad kiss or anything, it just wasn't right.

He pulled away, breathing heavily, head swimming. "I'm engaged," he said.

She jerked away from him. "What?"

Shit, what did he say? Fuck, did he just tell her that he was engaged? "No! Not engaged. Involved. Fuck. I'm involved with someone. Seeing them." Fuck, shit, crap, never mix drugs and women, Lex.

"With who? I've never seen you with anyone."

Who? Who, who, who? "Look, it's complicated. It's a... man and he lives in... Gotham and it's really a secret. I almost never get to see him, and when we do, it's private."

She was sitting back, now her mouth hanging open. "A man. You're gay?"

"Bi."

"And you're involved..."

"Yeah. Since, um. Summer. I took a business trip and met him. In, uh, Metropolis, though. Not Gotham. But that's where he lives." He leaned forward and placed his hand over hers. "I'm sorry I lied, but I didn't know you that well. I never thought that... I'm attracted to you, Helen, I am. But I'm in love with my boyfriend. And it needs to be a secret. You understand, right?"

Helen nodded and squeezed his hand. "Absolutely. I... I had a friend in college who committed suicide because he was gay. I wouldn't want to put any more pressure on you about this than you already have. And, hey." She touched his face gently. "If you ever need, like, a date or something. To stave off suspicion, I'm here for you, okay?"

He smiled. This actually worked out better than expected. She actually agreed to what he'd been trying to get her to do for months, now. "Thank you, Helen. I really appreciate it."

"What are friends for?"

Lex wasn't sure if friends were actually for something like this. Yes, Lana was doing it for Clark, but it was on a different scale. Lana might be mentioned in passing in an article about Clark and Lex, but never by name. She'd just be the young lady Clark had been seen with. Helen, however, would be thrust into the spotlight as Lex's girlfriend, her picture splashed all over, and...

Better not tell her. Better just assume she knew what was getting into. It was easier to beg for forgiveness than warn beforehand.

They finished their drinks and headed off soon after. Neither one was in any state to drive, of course, but the limo was always, always at Lex's disposal. Helen made it home safely, made a half-hearted attempt to proposition him again before remembering about his boyfriend, and then disappeared into her apartment.

"Home," Lex ordered the driver, leaning back against his seat. He felt sick. His head pounded and throat ached. His stomach was churning and the world spun around him wildly. He was drunk. But he wasn't drunk enough, because he was still in way too much pain.

He didn't know where Clark was, and he didn't know how to get in touch with Clark. He'd tried, about two hours after he'd called Clark that morning. The phone and ran through to the voice mail. Lex must have left a dozen messages by now, but there was no response.

Lex was pretty sure that Clark had broken his phone. Or just gotten rid of it.

Gotten rid of him.

Oh, God, how had this happened? Why the hell had he said that it was Clark's fault? It wasn't, and Lex didn't really believe it was.

Did he?

Damien was already in bed when Lex dragged himself up the stairs. Made sense; it was after midnight. Still. Little things like time and privacy never stopped him.

"Damien?" Lex said, crawling onto the bed.

Damien was sleeping, eyes shut. He'd recently gotten an orthopedic bed, and the foot and head were both raised slightly. Lex's side--Dominic's side, technically--was flat, and Lex stretched out, facing Damien.

"Damien."

The other man stirred, his eyes fluttering. "Yes, sir?"

"Any word from Dominic?"

Damien turned his head, a frown creasing his forehead. "You smell as if you've taken a bath in alcohol."

"Helen and I went drinking." His tongue felt thick and heavy in his mouth. "I'm a little drunk."

"I think I like it better when you deal with your pain by beating the punching bag in your gym."

"Look, I went out with a friend, okay? It's not like I'm wallowing by myself."

"True." He shifted. "Dominic's in Metropolis, safe. There's been no word on Clark."

"Has Clark called the Kents?"

Damien shook his head. "The boy's run to ground. If he doesn't resurface by tomorrow, I'm asking the Kents' permission to hire a private detective. I'll also ask about bringing police into this, but, to be quite honest, sir, I'm sure he'll be home, soon."

Lex snorted. "I told him that it was his fault Dad tried to rape him."

"I didn't say he'd be home with you, sir," Damien replied bluntly. "Just that he'd be home."

Oh. Right. Because Lex had Fucked Up big time.

He rolled over a moment, lacking the energy to do anything but breathe. His eyes focused briefly on the myriad of bottles of medication on Damien's night table. "How's the search for the nurse?" he asked.

"Paused. Aimee is here, by the way. You should try to be on your best behavior."

"You should get on that. Clark's just gonna come back when he wants to."

Damien paused. "I know."

"Hey." He rolled back over. "Wanna blow me?"

"We don't do that anymore, sir."

"I know, but..."

"Go to sleep, Lex."

He blew out a long stream of air in annoyance. "You suck."

"No, actually. I don't. At least, not you"

"Oh, shut up," Lex groused. And then, he closed his eyes and went to sleep.


The drive to Grant's house was one of the most uncomfortable experiences in Clark's life. The entire time, Grant sat perfectly straight, his hands clenched on the wheel, jaw tight. He was grinding his teeth, and the muscles in his back were stretched tautly. Clark could see a vein in his temple throb.

Clark wasn't sure exactly why Grant was so angry with him. There was no way he could know what Clark had been letting Morgan do to him upstairs. They'd been alone, in a private room. Grant couldn't have....

Unless he has some kind of X-Ray vision and had seen him. Maybe...

Maybe Grant was an alien like him.

Laughter choked Clark, and he shook his head. No. No, there was no way Grant was an alien. Clark was just... crazy.

The silence was killing him. Grant hadn't even turned the radio on. The only sounds were the traffic outside and the low hum of the engine as they drove through the streets of Metropolis. Inside the car, it was stifling.

Finally, Clark couldn't stand it anymore. "Why are you so angry?" he asked softly. His hands were curled in his lap, and he stared down at them, trying his best not to look as guilty as he felt.

Grant stirred. "I'm not angry."

"You're acting angry."

"Well, I'm pissed off, Clark, so forgive me for acting angry."

What? "That doesn't make any sense."

They stopped at a red light. Grant's fingers loosened slightly, and he glanced at Clark. "I'm not angry at you, Clark. Really, I'm not. You just had me worried, and now I'm scared. When I get scared, I get pissed."

"Why are you scared?"

"Why? Why? Clark, there are so many answers to that question, I don't know where to begin." The light turned. "No, wait," he said as he stepped on the gas. "I do know where to start. We'll start with the fact that you're sixteen years old and in a nightclub. How the hell did you get in?"

He shrugged. "Asked."

"You asked." Grant laughed dryly and shook his head. "You fuckin' asked. I'll be callin' the police and advising that they're just letting minors into the club."

"Without cover."

"Of course." He turned a corner and pulled in front of an apartment building. "Why would they make someone like you pay cover? Get out."

Meekly, Clark obeyed. "Someone like me?"

Grant grabbed him by the wrist again, like he was afraid Clark was going to bolt or something. He wasn't; while a part of him was disappointed at being caught, another part was glad. He'd been feeling adrift for the past two days, and now he had someone to take care of him. Clark sort of needed that right now.

Clark was herded into an elevator in silence. Grant was radiating tension the same way Lex did, quiet but strong. Clark almost wanted to turn to him and hug him or something, but he didn't think that would help.

"Do you know who owns the Atlantis?" Grant finally asked, voice quiet. The elevator doors opened, and he led Clark down the hall to his apartment.

"Um, some guy named Morgan?"

"Some guy named Morgan," Grant repeated. He opened his apartment and ushered Clark inside. Then, he locked the door, like he was afraid the people from Atlantis were coming after them to take Clark away. "Have you ever heard of Morgan Edge?"

The name sounded vaguely familiar, like something from a movie or the TV, but he couldn't place it. "No. Who is he?"

Grant nodded. "Morgan Edge." He started to pace. "He's Metropolis's biggest criminal. There's nothing that goes on in this town that he either doesn't know about or doesn't have a hand in. He's rich, powerful, and dirty."

"Oh." Clark ran his hand through his hair. "So, um. I guess Morgan is Morgan Edge, then." He didn't quite know how to feel about that. It wasn't like there was anything good about the situation anyway. Clark had tried to cheat on his boyfriend with a man he didn't know. The fact that the man was a criminal... well, Clark didn't know if that was worse or just... typical.

"Yes. He is. He owns a few clubs in town, but the Atlantis is the crown jewel." Stopped pacing and faced Clark. "And the one thing Morgan is known best for along the nightclub circuit is his attraction to young, beautiful boys," he said, touching Clark's hair lightly. "I saw you taken upstairs, Clark. And I knew it wasn't to bust you for being underage."

He blushed deeply and looked away. "Oh."

"Clark, did he touch you? Do anything? Because we really should file a report, I shouldn't have even brought you here. We should be at the police station. I know a rape crisis center nearby, if you'd rather. We could..."

"I'm fine," Clark said quietly as Grant's panic mounted.

"Clark, if he did anything to you..."

"Grant, I'm fine." Sighing in frustration, Clark scrubbed his hands over his faces. "Look, I met Morgan a few months ago. At the opera. He came on to me, and when I turned him down, he told me that if I ever needed him, I should go to the Atlantis. So... I did."

Grant's eyes widened. "You went to him on purpose?"

Shaking, Clark nodded. "I find him attractive."

There was a beat of silence as Grant digested the information before he asked, "What did Lex do?"

"Nothing," Clark said quickly. Probably too quickly. "Why? Why would you think that?"

"You came to the city to cheat on your boyfriend. The only reason you'd do something like that is because he did something to you. Did he cheat on you?"

Clark sighed and shook his head. "No, Lex didn't cheat."

"Then what did he do?"

"I don't want to talk about it," he said shortly. "Look, sorry to have inconvenienced you..."

"I'm not inconvenienced," Grant interrupted.

"Okay, sorry to have worried you! Sorry that you felt that you had to swoop in and rescue the poor, stupid, rape boy who's just some little kid that..."

"First off, you're not stupid. Second, I don't think of you as a little kid, so just get that out of your head. And, third, I'm not sorry that I saw you, because God knows what would have happened...

"I can take care of myself!" Clark shouted.

Grant took a half step back, like he was startled or something. His face didn't change, though. He had this calm, steady expression, but his eyes were hard and piercing.

He wasn't even listening to what Clark was saying. He was just like everyone else.

"I'm leaving," Clark said. He stormed to the door, but Grant blocked his way. "Move out of my way!" he shouted. He knew he could easily push Grant aside, but a part of him was relieved he'd been stopped.

"Clark, you're drunk, you're upset, and you're not thinking clearly," Grant said in his ear. He had one arm across Clark's chest, the other clutching his shoulder. His forehead was pressed into Clark's cheek as he physically restrained Clark. "You're feeling stupid right now; I get that. Lex is an asshole. You want to get back at him for hurting you. But the fact is, you're sixteen years old, and it's a dangerous city. There are people out there who eat pretty boys for breakfast and will make you wish you were back in that room with Lionel."

Clark clenched his teeth but stopped pushing against Grant.

Grant put his hand on Clark's cheek and pushed hair behind his ear. "I know how angry you are. But you're too smart for this, Clark. You've had your fun. You went drinking, you went to a club you didn't belong in, and you let a dirty old man play with you. And you enjoyed it. Now, you have to let it go and calm down."

"Why?" He blinked rapidly, because, damn it, he wasn't going to cry. Not over Lex. Not anymore. "Why should I calm down? I'm not calm. I'm pissed. I'm.... My fucking life is over, and Lex is stupid."

"You're life isn't over."

"They found my book."

Grant's fingers tightened in his hair. "Who did?"

Clark inhaled shakily, chest aching. The pain was welling inside him all over again and for the first time since he ran away, he felt it. Felt every ache and regret and frustration. He could feel it, overwhelming him, beating into him with the terrible knowledge that everyone knew and it was all his fault. "The deputies. The sheriff's department. They found it while they were looking for evidence. Because they thought my dad shot Lionel, and they found the book and read it. And now they know. Everyone knows." His voice cracked.

"Amazing how you're still living, isn't it?"

But... "But they're going to think that... that I let Lionel touch me."

"Let them. Doesn't make it true." Grant gently guided Clark's head around to look at him. "Look, people are always going think whatever they think. They'll think you're straight because you're tall and muscular and good looking; they'll think you're gay because you're beautiful and shy and have a poetic way with words. They'll think you're a geek because you lug around the computer and wear flannel and sometimes trip over your tongue and your words. They'll think you're sexy because, well. You're sexy. People will think a lot of things, some true, some not. The fact is, Lionel Luthor sexually molested you. The other fact is that it wasn't your fault, no matter who thinks or says it was. Even if it's a deputy. Even if it's the sheriff or Lionel or Lex Luthor. It wasn't your fault."

Clark leaned heavily against Grant, feeling sleepy and pained. "Lex lost control," he said wearily. "He said that it was my fault. No, that I let Lionel touch me. And he's right. I did. I mean, technically, I did just stand there."

Grant made a face and combed his fingers through Clark's hair. "A few years ago, there was a rape case in Italy. The courts overturned the conviction of a man who had raped a girl because the girl had been wearing jeans at the time. The court decided that it was impossible that she'd been raped because there's no way to even partially remove jeans from someone against their will." He shook his head, looking disgusted. "Basically, they completely discounted the psychological factor of the whole thing. Rape is when one person doesn't want to have sex and the other person forces them. And that's what Lionel did to you. You didn't want him to touch you. He used his psychological advantage to frighten you into submission, and then violated you. That is what happened. No matter what anyone else things or says, that's it."

Clark squeezed his eyes shut. "I get that. I do. But I just... deal with it so badly."

"No, you don't. I think you're dealing with it just fine, Clark. It might not feel like it, but you are." He squeezed Clark's shoulder.

"Thanks." He meant it, too, even though his voice was sort of flat. It was just, he'd been over this a hundred times in a thousand different ways. He'd gone over and over that night and the day in the limo, watching his reactions, seeing how he'd done what he could and how it hadn't been his fault, and, yeah, he was superstrong and everything, but Lionel was just plain creepy. And, sometimes, when you were that creeped out, your body just shut down and didn't work right and...

And it wasn't his fault, and he knew that, but maybe that wasn't the problem. It was the fact that there were a lot of people in Smallville he didn't like or trust and he didn't want them to know about something like this. And it was personal and private and family-only, and he just didn't want to share. And it wasn't fair that anyone else thought that they had the right to know or touch the book or think about what had happened between Lionel and Clark.

That was what was bothering Clark the most. He was used to people making judgments about him. They'd always done it and he'd gotten used to it. So, as painful and embarrassing as this was, Clark knew Grant was right. People would think what they wanted to think about what had happened, regardless of the truth.

Clark just would rather they not think about it at all.

He'd rather not think about it at all.

Without even realizing what he was doing, Clark leaned forward and kissed Grant.

Grant started, but Clark put his hand on the back of Grant's neck and made him stay. And he made it a good kiss, too. His tongue slid slowly into Grant's mouth and Grant responded, moving his lips softly against Clark's, fingers combing through the hair at the nape of Clark's neck.

And then, he pulled away, even as Clark was going in for more. "Clark, no."

"Please," he said breathlessly. Grant smelled so good, and he was warm and solid. Clark wanted to bury himself inside Grant's scent and just... forget.

"No," he said again, gently as he untangled himself from Clark's grasp.

Hurt, Clark pulled away and crossed his arms tightly over his chest. "I thought you said you didn't see me as a kid."

"I don't. But this isn't going to happen tonight. You're tired and upset and drunk. I'm not..."

"I'm not drunk."

Grant raised an incredulous eyebrow. "You taste like alcohol."

"I had a drink at the bar, and then Morgan..." He blushed. "But I'm not drunk. I didn't drink enough."

Grant still didn't look like he was buying it, but he only shook his head "Very well. But you're still vulnerable and I'm not taking advantage of that."

"How can you take advantage if I'm coming onto you?" Clark asked.

"I could give in when it's obvious that you're not thinking clearly. Just because you're the aggressor doesn't mean I don't have a responsibility to you as my friend not to let this get out of hand. It's my job to keep you from doing something you'd regret and, Clark? I don't want to become a regret."

Clark wanted to say that he wouldn't, but he knew, deep down, that Grant was probably right. He was feeling stupid right now. Maybe he would regret it, after.

"Fine." He coughed and said, "So, um. I guess I should go."

"No, stay. Stay the night, stay for as long as you need. But I'd like you to call your parents."

"But..."

"Clark."

He sighed and rubbed his eyes. "Fine. Fine, I'll call them."

Grant smiled. "Good. I'll go make up the couch so you have somewhere to sleep. Phone's in the bedroom."

There was a phone in the kitchen, too, but Clark figured that Grant wanted to give him some privacy. He was grateful; he had no idea what he was going to say, and he needed the space to say it.


"Somebody better be dying," Morgan said sharply as he burst into Lionel's room at his Metropolis mansion. The anger, of course, was probably inappropriate considering that a few days ago, Lionel had been dying. But he was fine now, and Morgan had had Clark Kent at his mercy.

Plus, Lionel was at the mansion. Which made sense, given that he was convalescing and blind and needed a very familiar space to heal in. But the mansion made Morgan extremely uncomfortable; it had been Lillian's domain, and Morgan and Lionel had honored it as well as they could, even after her death. Morgan far preferred the penthouse, not only because he wasn't forced to sneak in through the back like a common criminal afraid of being caught, but because, over time, he'd created his own space there as well.

But, tonight, the summons had been for the mansion. And, because Morgan had been worried about Lionel, and because Lionel had been unusually demanding, he'd left Clark. Something was wrong. Even though the reports had given Lionel a clean bill of health, something obviously wasn't right, and Morgan's worry and sexual frustration came out naturally as anger. Especially when he saw how Lionel looked.

He was standing by the window, wearing his dressing robe and pajamas. He looked pale and wasted, and was, Morgan could see, leaning against widow as if for support. He was thinner than he'd been last time Morgan had seen him, and somehow... diminished. But, he was Lionel, and even with the residual visual affects of his near-death experience, he was trying to keep up appearances. His beard was neatly trimmed, hair in a neat queue, and his ever-present sunglasses perched on his nose.

"Morgan," he said calmly, turning. "It's good to see you. Thank you for coming so quickly."

Lionel was so calm, do composed that Morgan's anger renewed immediately. Nothing was wrong. He'd been pulled away from the conquest--or at least the fuck--of a lifetime for nothing.

"I had him in my office, Lionel," Morgan said. "On my couch, hard and humping my leg. I was about to penetrate Clark Kent's lovely assets, moments away from taking that boy. And then you called and interrupted, leaving me in a rather indelicate state. So, I repeat, old friend, someone better be dying."

"Actually, I was. Would you like a drink?" He turned towards the bar at the other end of the room and waved his hands expressively.

"No, thank you, no more for me tonight." Especially since he was due for his medication in about an hour. He didn't need alcohol in his system.

Lionel nodded and leaned back against the window. "You didn't visit me once," he said, voice gently reproaching. "I was on death's door. My brain shut down, and you never even called."

"If your brain was shut down, to whom was I supposed to be speaking?" Morgan asked logically, wondering what Lionel's game was. He was so calm and so very, very controlled. Lionel was dangerous when he was like this, and Morgan didn't want to fall into any mental traps and get caught. "And I could hardly visit you. Smallville isn't like Metropolis. There'd be speculation as to why I was there. Not to mention the fact that Clark might have seen me."

"If I were dead, what would it have mattered? Clark, I mean?" Lionel seemed amused.

Morgan shot Lionel a wry look and sat on the back of the couch. "I know we started this to toy with the boy, but he's too beautiful for me to pass up. Imagine... Imagine if Clark were a woman, Lionel. Imagine the most beautiful woman in the entire world, with the purest, most innocent expression in her eyes coupled with an air of... surprise at the ability to feel passion running through her at your touch. Imagine how she would tremble at just the feel of your breath on her face, and gasp when your fingers barely graze her cheek. Imagine all that, Lionel, and tell me if you could really pass such a creature up."

"No. No, I suppose I couldn't."

"That's Clark Kent for me," he said. "Clark Kent is exquisite, and, for whatever reason, he's attracted to me. And I intend to exploit that."

"Well, good. I need you to. Clark and my son have apparently argued. Now's the perfect time to exploit away."

Another wave of frustration washed over Morgan. "Except for the fact that I no longer have him. You called and interrupted us; I saw someone dragging Clark from the club as I left. Hence my rather strong annoyance at you."

"Well, I'm sorry, but I needed to see you." Lionel stepped away from the window and took a few steps from Morgan, looking at him. "You look like you've lost weight."

"Only about five pounds," Morgan said dismissively. "I had a cold earlier this month that had me bedridden for a few days. But my doctor isn't concerned; I'm still responding to my medications, and my white-cell count hasn't changed. But you, Lionel. Shouldn't you be resting? You just were released from the hospital for multiple gunshot wounds. Your brain, as you said, shut down, and... What did you say?" Morgan asked as he finally processed Lionel's words.

There was a smile on Lionel's face, and the paleness of his complexion was washed away by a sudden glow of color. He unerringly crossed the room to Morgan, slowly, surely, his steps never faltering. "That I needed to see you?"

Oh God. How... "You can see," he whispered.

"I can see," Lionel confirmed. He put his hands on Morgan's shoulders and kissed him gently.

"How?"

"My brain shut down, Morgan. When the higher functions came back online, it fixed the damage done to my eyes last year. I woke up able to see, first blurry shadows, and, as time went on, everything." His teeth closed over Morgan's earlobe and tugged gently.

Morgan pulled his head away. "No biting," he chastised gently.

"It doesn't matter anymore. I can bite all I want." He bit Morgan again.

He pushed Lionel away. "Lionel, what's wrong with you? You just got your sight back, and now you want to play with fire?" He kissed Lionel, and then yanked away with Lionel bit his bottom lip hard enough to draw blood. "Stop it," he snapped, heart thundering.

Lionel stepped away and shook his head. "Trust me, Morgan, when I say it doesn't matter anymore." His voice had changed again, gone completely flat.

"Of course it matters. Why wouldn't it?"

"Because you're no longer the only one in this relationship who is dying," Lionel snapped.

Morgan felt all the blood drain from his face. He was glad he was already sitting, because if he hadn't been...

He'd been so careful. So careful that Lionel had, on occasion, gotten annoyed with him. But Morgan had insisted, he hadn't wanted to.... After all, he was sharing his bed with Lionel Luthor, and one didn't play lightly with that.

When had it happened? Had the condom broke? Had he had a cut? When...

"Oh, calm down," Lionel said sharply. "I haven't contracted HIV, so you needn't feel guilty."

He was lying. He had to be. Why else...

"Morgan." Lionel was vastly annoyed now. "I have a rare liver disease. An incurable one, supposedly," he announced, pacing the room dramatically. "The doctors in Smallville seem to think it's terminal, but I'm fairly certain I saw the Cracker-Jack seal on their diplomas. I'm not worried. Until a real doctor can diagnose me, I'm not... worried."

"I know doctors," Morgan said woodenly.

Lionel nodded and walked back to Morgan. "As do I. I thought, though, with our combined forces, we might find one competent doctor who can figure out how to cure me."

"And if we don't?" He put his arms around Lionel, feeling how thin he already was and wondering how this could have gone unnoticed for so long.

"If we can't find someone to cure me, I'll have to find a way myself. I've already contacted several researchers outside LuthorCorp, and will bring in some I already have. All I need to do is find someone to discreetly find people who've passed on from this disease."

"Fresh, I assume?"

Lionel nodded. "As fresh as can be, even up to a few days before they die."

"I'll start sending out feelers now. Just tell me when you need them." Lionel leaned in to kiss him again, but Morgan stopped him. "Lionel? No biting."

"You're no fun," he complained, but did as Morgan asked.


"He's at Grant's," Martha said, hanging up the phone. She lay back against her pillow and sighed. "He's safe."

Jonathan rolled over and slid his arm over his torso. "I knew he was, Martha. He's our son. He can take care of himself." He pressed a kiss into her arm. "You didn't tell him about the investigation."

"It's two in the morning. He doesn't need to know about that right now. Besides, if we tell him, he'll never come home." She sighed again and pressed her hand into her eyes. "You don't mind I told him that he could stay until the weekend, do you?"

"No. It's probably better he's not here right now. He needs to cool off."

"Yes. He does." She kissed the top of his head. "You'll pick him up?"

"Of course. But that means that you have to pick up Lex tomorrow."

She groaned internally, thinking of the mess Lex was making of himself. Damien had called that afternoon to inform them that Lex had been drinking all day. Patricia Zelner, who ran a shop in town, had seen Lex at the Talon looking slightly intoxicated. There were numerous reports of him and Dr. Bryce at the Wild Coyote, and Martha was certain that today was just the beginning. That was, if they didn't intervene.

As much as she wanted to help the boy, she also wasn't entirely keen on attempting to retrieve him tomorrow. "I think Lex needs a father-figure."

"Good try. But you know that he won't listen to me, not right now. He's already confused enough as it is when it comes to me. If I try to father him anymore, he'll just shut down. He adores you, though. Lex will listen to you." He kissed her arm again and then scooted up to kiss her lips. "He's drugging himself and drinking himself into an early grave. He needs to come home, and he won't follow me. Just get him here. Then I'll talk to him."

Martha nodded. Her heart was aching and her eyes were dry and scratchy. There was so much sadness all around them right now. Clark and his journal being found, the fight with Lex, Clark running away and Lex breaking down.

Everything was falling apart and it'd never really gotten put back together again.

"Martha, it will be fine. The boys will work it out."

"If we can stop Lex from drugging himself to death before they have a chance. Or if we manage to convince Clark to come home. Or..."

"There's no sense in worrying, Martha. There's nothing we can do about it tonight." He slid his arm under her shoulders and kissed her cheek. "Let it go and we'll do our best to fix it tomorrow."

"You're right. It's out of our hands for right now. Clark and Lex are both in good hands for the moment." She kissed his forehead and ran her hands through his hair. "Goodnight, Jonathan."

"Night." He closed his eyes and, within a matter of minutes, was deeply asleep.

It was so easy for him. Even when he was worried, he always managed to sleep. And Martha? Martha was stuck, wide awake, waiting for her baby to have a nightmare even though there was absolutely nothing she could do for him.


"Things will be different now, Clark, I promise," Lex said.

The words rang hollow. "I don't believe you." His eyes were on Lionel, who was lying in the bed behind Lex. There were strings attached to his fingers, and he was moving them slowly. When his fingers moved, Lex moved.

"I'll do anything I can to convince you," Lex said as Lionel tugged at his strings. "I'll spend my life proving my love."

"It's not your love you need to prove. It's your loyalty."

The phone rang.

"Don't answer it," Clark said, heart pounding. He didn't want to know who was on the other line.

Lionel pulled a string. Lex's hand moved towards the phone.

"Lex, don't."

Lex smiled thinly. "It's just a phone call, Clark."

"No. It's not. Lex...."

Without warning, Clark fell forward. His heart was pounding as he jerked awake, face pressed into the warm sheets that smelled strongly of Grant.

It'd just been a dream. Except for the phone, since it was still ringing.

Moaning, Clark rolled onto his stomach and pulled a pillow over his head. He didn't want to wake up. He wasn't ready. It was too early and there were no cows to feed and his life was over, and why was the phone ringing? Why wouldn't it...

"Hello?" Grant's voice was heavy and deep. His accent was more pronounced with sleep, too; it sounded sexy.

Clark snuggled deeper under the covers and hoped that Grant wouldn't notice him. He couldn't quite remember how he'd gotten into Grant's bed, but it was more comfortable than the couch and he didn't want to be asked to leave.

"What?" Grant sounded more alert. Then, he shot up, shaking the bed. "What? Oh, fuck. How did this happen?"

Clark peeked out from under the covers. Grant had his glasses on, and his hair was sticking out all over the place. He looked angry and anxious. Obviously, whoever is on the phone was giving him really bad news.

Grant rubbed his chin as he shook his head. "I see. Um.... Well, it wouldn't hurt, but I'm sure it'll be taken care of by..." He glanced down at Clark, then nodded, seemingly in response to something that was said. "Right, but I'll pass the information along anyway. In the meantime... No, I can do it. I know what's in there better than anyone. I'll call you later." He hung the phone up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed.

"What's wrong?" Clark asked softly, not moving from under the covers. Grant knew he was here, but he still didn't want to come out.

"Nothin' you need to worry about right now, Clark," Grant said. He scratched underneath his shirt and stretched. "You feelin' any better?"

"I guess. How did I get here?"

"I heard you shouting in the other room. When I came out, you were having a nightmare."

Clark closed his eyes. "About Lionel being a spider." He shuddered. He'd dreamed that Lionel had been some kind of huge spider with a thousand eyes and a at least as many arms. He'd been chasing Clark, and no matter where he'd tried to hide, Lionel always saw. And once he caught Clark, he didn't let go, and...

"Hey." Grant was sitting on the bed again, running his hand soothingly over Clark's hair. "It was just a dream, and it's over now. You're safe. And you seemed to sleep a lot better once you were in here. Did you?"

"Yes. Thank you for staying with me," Clark whispered, trying to control the trembling. He remembered Grant suggesting they just switch places, but Clark couldn't bear the thought of being alone. He'd all but begged Grant to stay with him.

Grant squeezed the nape of Clark's neck. "You're welcome. Look, are you going to be okay? I need to run out and get something real fast. Can I leave you alone?"

"Yeah. I'll be fine."

"Do you want coffee or anything?" Grant asked as he rose to dress.

"Sure." He lay back down and pulled another pillow to him. It smelled like Grant, which shouldn't seem weird because it was his bed, except that Clark was used to beds smelling like Lex. Or his parents, but mostly Lex. "Do you want me to come?"

"No, stay. Sleep. I won't be long."

"Okay." Clark closed his eyes and listened as Grant left the apartment. Despite Grant's orders, Clark was waking up rather than slipping back to sleep. It wasn't fair; he could definitely sleep for a few days if prompted. His life was hell, and he liked sleeping. It was good.

Of course, it was embarrassing, knowing that he'd acted like such a baby in front of Grant. He didn't want Grant to think of him like that, and then he had a nightmare and needed to sleep with him, like Grant was his mommy or something.

Of course, it'd also gotten him off the couch and somewhere comfortable. So maybe it wasn't a bad trade-off. Grant's bed rivaled Lex's for comfort. The thread count in the sheets wasn't as high, but they were well worn and soft and smelled delicious.

He wondered how Lex was doing. If he was okay. If Lionel had moved back in with him. If he even missed Clark.

Maybe he didn't. If Lex really thought that Clark had let Lionel touch him, maybe it was his way of telling Clark that he was tired of him. Maybe Lex was too much of a coward to actually break up with Clark.

Clark wondered if he was going to have to give back his ring. It'd been a gift from Lex, a symbol of their commitment and love. If they weren't together, then maybe Clark wasn't allowed to have it anymore.

Well, fine. If Lex made him give up the ring, then Clark wanted the collar back. Okay, yes, technically, Lex had bought the collar and owned it, but it was the symbolism of it all. He was the one who'd put it on Lex. He was the one who'd made it an important and special part of their life. Before him, it'd just been a piece of leather, and if Lex didn't want him anymore, then Clark was taking it back.

But he didn't want to break up. Lex was the love of his life and Clark didn't want to live without him. Ever.

But he also didn't want to go home. He couldn't face them, not anymore. And, maybe he didn't have to go back to Smallville. Maybe his parents would let him live in the city and go to school here. He could live with Grant. Or, even better, he and Lex could live together in the penthouse. Clark could work part time at a coffee place, or maybe the Center or something. It'd be great. A better life for both of them.

"Right," Lex snorted. "Do you know how easy it is to buy drugs in Metropolis?"

Clark sat up and pulled a pillow to his chest. Kiptin was cold even though the fire was burning brightly. Snow was heaped on the tall glass dome of the ceiling, and Clark could practically see his own breath.

Lex wasn't fully corporeal or whatever the word was. He was standing at the foot of the bed, dressed in his tight burgundy top and gray slacks. He was too pale, even for a ghost, but his eyes burned like blue flame.

"You don't do drugs anymore," Clark said, heart pounding. He couldn't exactly avoid Lex in Kiptin, even if he wanted to. They were in each other's minds.

"I did yesterday," Lex said evenly, almost irreverently. Like it didn't even matter. Like it wasn't a huge breach of trust. "I took some more this morning. I'll probably take more later."

Anger like acid burned in Clark's stomach and behind his eyes. "You're such an asshole."

"I know." He didn't even seem upset about any of this. "I know I am. But I don't know how else to deal with ... with what I said."

"Well, that's just the thing, Lex. You don't have to live with it."

"Yes, I do." For the first time, emotion splashed across Lex's face. His voice lost the practiced smoothness and became jagged and raw. "You don't think what affects you resonate in me? You don't think that the pain I caused you doesn't resonate in me. And I have to live with the fact that I'm the one that caused that pain. I can't... I can't believe what I said to you. I can't explain why I said it." He stepped into the bed, which was weird, but Lex was a ghost of himself in a world created by their minds, so it didn't need to make sense. "I told you before that I'd do anything to protect the people I love. To protect my friends. I hurt you. I'm not protecting you, so..."

"So you just want to forget."

Lex shook his head. "I think I want to die."

"You're such a drama queen," Clark shot at him.

Lex flinched, but said nothing.

With a rough growl, Clark buried his face in the pillow. Every impulse was telling him to wake up and run home. Find Lex. Fuck him until they forgot what had happened, hide the pain so deep, they could forget about it for awhile.

But, that was the problem. If they kept ignoring and burying this--Lex's inability to cut himself free of Lionel and Clark's newly realized need to control what Lex did--then it was just going to get worse. They were going to grow more and more resentful of one another until the broke apart.

And Clark didn't want that.

He lifted his head, feeling calmer. "Don't hurt yourself, Lex."

"Clark..."

"You are such a fucking coward, Lex. Why can't you just face up to what you said without trying to hurt yourself?"

"Why did you run away?"

Clark exhaled slowly. "Because I couldn't face the fact that everyone knew."

"Not everyone."

"I know. But it feels like that. And as for you.... It's not what you said. I mean, it is, but... It's your dependence on Lionel's love to define yourself."

"You'd rather I define myself by your love."

"No, I'd rather you define yourself the way I tell you to."

Surprise flashed over Lex's face.

Clark smiled crookedly. "I have issues, Lex, and I realize that. And if I don't face them, I'm going to be as bad for you as Lionel."

"Never."

"I want you to be happy, Lex, but..."

"You do make me happy."

"Then why are you so unhappy?" Clark demanded, voice cracking.

Lex's chin trembled and his eyes shone brightly. "Because Dad doesn't want me to be happy."

True enough. "So why do you fight so hard for his love?"

"Because," he whispered, "if he doesn't love me, it's like I've failed."

"Lex..." But Lex suddenly winked out of existence, leaving Clark alone in Kiptin.

His face was wet when he opened his eyes. There was so much pain in Lex. Much too much, and Clark didn't know how to make it go away.

Feeling sore and heavy, Clark climbed out of bed and went to the bathroom. When he was done, he found Grant in the kitchen, drinking coffee and pouring through what looked like three newspapers and marking them with a highlighter.

"Hey," Clark said softly.

Grant looked up. "Hey. You finally got up."

"What time is it?"

"Almost noon. I figured I should let you sleep."

"Thanks."

Grant smiled, but the smile didn't reach his eyes. He looked worried. "Coffee's warm. There's food in the fridge or cupboards, so help yourself."

"What are you doing?" he asked as he got his breakfast.

"There's, um, a problem that I have to figure out how to deal with."

Clark sat across from him. "Can I help?"

"I don't know. I..." There was a knock at the door. "Hang on."

Clark nodded and watched from under his eyelashes as Grant got up from the table. He moved so differently from Lex; Lex was all contained energy and every movement was careful and controlled. Elegant and graceful.

Except when they were having sex. But that was different.

Grant, on the other hand, moved so he took up space. He was loose limbed and casual. He swung his legs out when he got out of the chair, and his arms swung easily at his sides as he went to the door.

Maybe Clark would go people watching today. He felt like being out with people who were just doing their things. And he wanted to write. He didn't have his laptop, but he did still know how to use a pen and paper. Maybe Grant would know somewhere that was good to....

Clark gasped as the words on the paper in front of him penetrated his contemplative haze. At the same time, he heard Dominic Senatori saying, "Hello, Mr. Robinson, I'm Dominic Senatori, I work with Lex Luthor?"

"Okay," Grant replied guardedly. "Can I help you?"

"This is about the excerpts from Clark's journal the tabloids are using."

*Even now, after what I thought was acceptance, after regaining the ownership of my body and knowing that my mind is my own, I can still feel Him. I feel His hands on my skin and His breath on my face. I feel His laughter ringing in my head, and His eyes on my body looking at me like He owns me. I want to be free of Him, truly, really free, but every time I think I'm over it--over what He did--something happens. A new guy (or girl) will notice me, or I'll have a nightmare, or He will come into the room and, for a terrible moment, I'll be back in that bed with Him, and it starts all over again*.

Oh God. Oh, God, there was more. How did they...

"Clark?" Grant said from his shoulder. "You okay?"

No, he wasn't. He really, really wasn't.

He looked up, mouth dry. "How," he tried to say, but he couldn't talk. His mind had cracked in half and the English language was evading him completely.

Grant and Dominic exchanged glances.

"Clark, we'll take care of this, I promise. I know nothing will change the fact that people have already seen it, but at least take heart in the fact your name isn't in here."

Yeah, but it said Lex Luthor's lover.

"We can sue. Get the papers pulled from the shelves. Queer Youth has exclusive first rights to every passage in that journal." He held up a document that had a bunch of signatures on it. "You, your parents, my editor, and I all signed this document before we began, remember? Every tabloid that published anything from that journal is in violation of this agreement and can be subjected to heavy fines if they don't remove it right away."

Clark shook his head.

"Clark..." Dominic said, reaching a hand out to him.

Clark jerked violently away from Dominic. It wasn't a reasonable reaction, he just didn't want the man near him. It was so stupid; Dominic was probably the meekest, most submissive man Clark had ever met. A couple times, Clark had been really tempted to start ordering Dominic around just to see what he could get the other man to do; he was really afraid that one day, he'd get his hands on red meteor rocks and run into Dominic. If Clark was high, he'd fuck around with Dominic just for fun.

But, at the same time, Dominic was pretty much a stranger. An unknown. Clark could take him easily, it was just...

He didn't want strangers touching him.

"Clark!" Grant exclaimed, startled. Clark had crashed into him when he'd pulled away, and now they were both on the floor in a pile of tangled limbs.

Clark's heart pounded frantically as he tried to remember the human language.

"He's very skittish around me," he heard Dominic saying. "I'll leave this copy here with you and fax the Cease and Desist letters now."

"Thanks, Dominic," Grant said, stroking Clark's back soothingly. "Leave your number so I can call. There's paper on the fridge."

"All right." Clark heard rustling as Dominic went to the kitchen.

He closed his eyes and listened to Grant's heartbeat. It didn't sound like Lex's at all, and it didn't make an effort to sync up with Clark's. It didn't even sound like Mom's, but it was a heartbeat and, therefore, comforting.

Plus, Grant had skin and a smell and warmth and that meant Clark wasn't alone, and...

"It's gonna be okay, Clark," Grant was saying softly. His fingers combed through Clark's hair and he was rubbing circles on Clark's back in steady, sure strokes. "Just calm down. Come back, all right? You're safe."

No, he wasn't.

"Remember what we talked about last night?" Grant asked. "It doesn't matter what people think. They'll think whatever it is they want to, no matter what you do or say. You can only control how you act. You can't let them beat you down with what they're thinking, especially if you're going to be involved with Lex Luthor."

Clark sat up. He was trembling out of control, and his throat was tight and aching. He wanted to ask how this had happened, or what was going on, but the words just wouldn't come. This was so bad; this had never happened before when Clark was so far away from home. There was no Lex or Mom and Dad; even Chloe would be good because Chloe had seen him like this before and she didn't ask questions and...

"Clark, you need to calm down," Grant said in a steady, comforting voice. "I know this is painful and shocking, but it's not the end of the world."

"What... How?" Clark managed to get out.

Grant rubbed his forehead. "According to the different articles, the sheriff's department is following up on the claims made in your journal. They had to do it, Clark, even if you never wanted them involved. The moment they found your journal, the sheriff's department was under legal obligation to file a report with child services. This is a good thing, though. Not that someone sold out, of course, and we're going to do something about this new violation, trust me. But having them file a report was good because, now we can get you help, Clark." He touched Clark's hair gently and said, "You need help, Clark. You do."

"But... how did... the tabloids find out?" God, it was so hard to put together sentences. It was like his brain was frozen; all he wanted to do was lie down and sleep again, and hope everything disappeared when he woke up again.

"Money corrupts," Grant said. "Someone at the department sold the information to the tabloids. Aren't they all hanging around your town anyway?"

He nodded.

"I imagine that someone was promised money if they gave any information on you and Lex to the tabloids. When the book showed up at the office, they took it." Grant sighed and rubbed Clark's neck. "They only used passages that we're usin' in the article, too. The sonofabitch didn't even bother to read it. You never took the Post-Its out, did you?"

Clark shook his head.

"The good news is we can nail them a lot easier than if they'd used other passages. What they published is your copy-written material. And, since Queer Youth has first rights, every single tabloid that published your journal is in big legal trouble."

"It's not enough."

"No. I know. And there's a worse part."

Clark licked his lips. His mind was coming back to him, a lot faster than normal, and he was grateful for that. He still felt like he'd been kicked in the brain a dozen times, but at least he could speak. "Everyone is. They're.... going to know." He stopped, trying to think of the words that he wanted. Closing his eyes, he swallowed, head aching. "That the article is about me," he finished. God, he was stupid. He opened his eyes again. "The one you wrote."

"Yeah," Grant nodded. "People who read it and read this will make that connection." He covered Clark's hand with his. "My editor is willing to pull the article. Our first priority is to protect the boys we write about, not to make money. He's the one who called this morning. When I came back and you were sleeping, he and I discussed what would be best for you. We can pull it, rewrite it, anything that you are most comfortable with."

Distressed, Clark pressed his hand into his forehead. "I can't... Not right now, I...."

"Right," Grant said softly, rubbing Clark's arm. "Right, it's okay. You just need to calm down right now and get your head straight. It's not something that we need to decide right this minute. It's okay."

The tears were starting now. He blinked them back rapidly and hugged his arms over his chest. "Why do people care so much?"

"Lex is news. And Lex's love is news, too. Especially someone so young." Grant cocked his head. "Are you two engaged?" His eyes flicked down to the ring on Clark's right finger.

"No. Why?"

"The tabloids seem to think he is, which, I admit, means almost nothing."

"What do you mean?"

"Take a look." He grabbed the paper from the table and brought it back to Clark.

Clark took it, and his heart started beating faster. On the front page, side by side with the headline Luthor Lover Raped was the headline Lex Luthor Engaged?. And there was a picture of him kissing Helen.

"What did he do?" Clark sighed. According to the article, Lex's mysterious fiancee lived in Gotham, and he was cheating on him with both Clark and Helen Bryce. Then, "I'm a boy toy?"

Grant laughed. "You will be a boy toy when you and Lex are both in your nineties, retired, and eating your meals through a straw. That's what you get for marrying a playboy."

"We're not married," Clark said softly. "I don't make him happy."

"It's not a matter of you not making him happy, Clark." Grant put his hand on Clark's shoulder and squeezed. "I know you do make him happy and that he loves you. But until he comes to the realization that happiness is something that he actually deserves, you won't have much effect on his mental state. Lionel's managed to convince him of that, and until Lex decides to get help, he won't be happy. No matter how much you love him."

Clark closed his eyes and crumbled the paper in his fists. "Lex. Won't."

"He won't what?"

He shrugged, not able to think of the words that he needed.

"Get help?" Grant finally guessed. Then, "Clark, are you okay?"

He exhaled hard, frustrated. "I. Didn't talk until I was. Five? And when I'm upset, sometimes I..." He trailed off stupidly.

"Relapse. You were abandoned, right?"

That wasn't the official story. How had he...

"It was in something you wrote," Grant said, putting his hand on Clark's again. "We talked about it, too."

Oh. Right, he sort of remembered that. "Yeah."

Grant sat back on his heels, looking up at Clark.

Clark felt like a freak.

"All right," Grant said softly. "Maybe you should just rest right now. None of this is going away, and you obviously need to calm down and get your head back together."

"Yeah."

"Do you like to swim?"

Okay, that was a weird question. But, since he did, Clark just nodded.

"There's a pool down the street; I normally go work out around now. It's pretty empty. You want to come down with me?"

Clark thought about it a minute, then nodded slowly. There were probably reporters and things all over the place back and Smallville, but no one knew he was here. And he could forget for a little bit longer and, like Grant said, put his head back together again.

"Yeah."

Grant smiled and squeezed Clark's knee. "Great. Let's go."


Lex opened his eyes and stared hopelessly at the ceiling. After taking four Vicodin and chasing it down with Scotch to deal with his hangover, he wasn't surprised he'd drifted back to sleep.

He had been surprised to end up in Kiptin. Even if he had ended up being a ghost.

Clark had been solid enough. And he'd reeked of another man. Grant. Lex didn't know how exactly he knew, but he knew. Clark was in Grant's bed, nursing a crush, and trying to recover from what might be the most devastating fight he and Lex had had yet.

Lex figured that the information was worth the rest of the Scotch and maybe another Vicodin. Or three.

Even though Clark was so obviously angry about what he was doing, Lex didn't know how else to handle it. Clark was right, of course; it was stupid to do this to himself. It was also stupid to want the love of a man who wanted him to be unhappy. What made it even stupider was the fact that Lex loathed himself for wanting Lionel's love.

It'd only gotten worse since college. Ever since Lex had come to Smallville, he'd wanted to prove himself to his father. Prove that he was worthy. And, for the first time, Lex had felt like he was worthy. Of love and respect and... everything. He was sober. He'd turned the plant around. He'd earned the respect of the town, had found a decent, wonderful person to spend the rest of his life with. Lex was finally going places and...

The thing was, Lex was well aware of the fact that Lionel's attitude towards him had nothing to do with Lex himself. It'd been the same as long as he could remember, whether he was a child at the top of his class or a teenager who'd OD or a young man who'd taken a failing business and made it a marginal success. No matter what Lex did, Lionel still treated him with scorn, condescension, and a thin veil of hatred.

Lex just had to face the fact that his father wasn't ever going to love him. Maybe it was because Lex didn't deserve love, or maybe it was because Lionel didn't know how to love. Whatever the reason, it still hurt.

"What am I supposed to do?" he moaned softly, pulling a pillow over his head.

"Good morning," Martha's voice suddenly rang in the air.

Startled, Lex sat up, dropping the pillow. "What... No, wait!" he exclaimed as she yanked the curtains to his room open. Light flooded in, piercing his eyes, bringing tears to them.

"Hangover?" she asked, not quite unsympathetically.

"Yes," he moaned, wiping away the tears. "I had a rough night."

"That's what happens with you drink and... Lex," she snapped.

Shit. "What?" He was sitting up, barely, and holding onto the bedpost with a tight-knuckled fist.

Martha picked up a pill from the floor. "Are you taking drugs?"

Oh, fucking God, he was out of practice. "Um..."

"Get up." The warmth and friendliness was gone from her voice now.

Swallowing hard, he got out of bed. Martha was looking at him in a way that she'd never look at him before. She looked at him like he'd just kicked Athena or something, or...

Well. He had hurt Clark. But she hadn't looked at him like this right after it'd happened.

"You're taking drugs."

Deny it. Say no. Lie. "Yes, ma'am," he heard himself whisper.

"What are you taking?"

He shrugged. "Vicodin."

"Where did you get it?"

"I've had them. For awhile. Hidden."

She squeezed the pill in her hand. "How many have you taken?"

"This morning? Four." Don't tell her about the alcohol. "And a bunch of Scotch."

Martha inhaled sharply. "Get dressed. And pack your bags. You're coming to stay with us."

"I can't!" Lex said. "There are reporters.... tabloids, they..."

"I know that!" Martha shouted. "I know that there are tabloids, Lex. They published parts of Clark's rape journal, they think you're engaged. I've got a police ring around my farm, and security is working double-duty here. I know that it's not the opportune time for you to live with us, but God damn it, Lex, I will not let you overdose or waste away in self-pity. Get your things packed. I'll get your cat."

Lex nodded and went to the closet.

"Don't bring nice clothes!" Martha said, pulling Athena out from underneath the bed. "You're going to be working."

He swallowed. "I don't exactly have work clothes," Lex said. He started pulling tee shirts and not-work slacks off the shelves and hangers.

"You have the clothes you wore over the summer."

Oh, right.

When he was packed, he went to face Martha again.

"Let's go," she said. She was holding Athena's carrier in one hand, cat already inside, and the bag with all Athena's toys in the other. There was food for her at the Kents.

The journey to the Kents' was silent. Martha was thin-lipped and white-knuckled. Athena was subdued. Lex was...

Sick. The pleasant buzz he'd managed to obtain from the drugs and booze had withered and died under Martha Kent's disapproving look. All that remained was a pounding in his temples and sour bile in his throat.

Disappointing Damien didn't really matter. Yeah, it was nice to have people to believe in him, but Damien was being paid. They weren't... friends, they were... well. Lex wasn't sure what they were. But, as bad as it felt when Damien's eyes turned on him in disappointment, it wasn't like this.

Disappointing Clark was devastating, but something that Lex always knew was inevitable. He hated doing it, but once he got started, he was sort of stuck into doing it again.

Disappointing Martha...

"Christ," he said when he saw the reporters parked at the edge of the Kent property.

"I know. They should, hopefully, be leaving soon. Damien's slapping every single one with a lawsuit at the behest of both Queer Youth magazine and our family. And, from what I understand, Lionel has his own lawsuits against them for the insinuations that were made."

"Is he going to sue you? I mean, Clark? Or..."

Martha shook her head. "I don't think so. I mean, I certainly hope not, but I don't think he would over this. Maybe if this thing with Child Protective Services gets out of hand he will, but..."

"What?" Lex interrupted.

She sighed heavily. "A report has been officially filed on behalf of Clark based on the journal. Deputy Hobb's has been assigned the case; he dropped by yesterday to talk to Clark. Since Clark wasn't home, he just interviewed Jonathan and me. If all they do is recommend Clark see a counselor or social worker, I'll be fine with that, but I'm afraid they'll try to prosecute Lionel and then he'll retaliate against us."

"I won't..." Lex started, but he gave it up. He was in no position to promise anything.

"Mr. Luthor! Mr. Luthor!" he heard reporters shout as the deputies waved them through the barricade. Cameras flashed; Lex blinked behind his sunglasses and turned his head.

"It was so nice not having to live with this," Lex sighed. "It was a nice vacation."

"It'll level off again, Lex."

"You don't know that. This has been my life, all my life, except for when I'm locked away. First school, then college. And when college wasn't enough to keep me out of the tabloids, Dad sent me here. This was the only place that worked." He sighed and leaned his head on the window.

"And why do you think that is?" Martha asked.

He sighed. "Because it's the only place I've ever been that's home."


So, Grant wasn't actually a swimmer. He was a diver. And the pool wasn't exactly empty, but it was empty enough that Clark didn't get too uncomfortable. A few people glanced at him, but mostly, they were all too into their own workouts to really check him out.

Grant dropped Clark off at a lane and then went off on his own business. At first, Clark assumed that Grant was swimming too, but he really hadn't been paying much attention. He didn't get to swim laps often. Usually when he went to Lex's to swim, they ended up fooling around. Not that he was complaining or anything. But he did love to swim, and he couldn't do it anywhere else. The town pool made him feel too conspicuous and the lake made him sick.

So, it'd been awhile since he'd been able to swim. And Clark loved to be in the water. It was soothing. His arms sliced through the water, cool wetness washed over him, his heart beat in time with his movements, and everything else just faded away. Being submersed in water made him feel... normal. Graceful. Not that he felt like a total klutz on land, but...

Well, yeah, okay. He did. Although, had been noticing lately that whenever he was out of Smallville, he felt a little bit less like he'd been put together the wrong way. It probably had something to do with the meteor rocks; they were all around the town, after all. Maybe they didn't cause him pain all the time, but maybe it did affect him in other ways.

He must have done about a hundred laps before he finally came up for air. He wasn't breathing heavily, of course, and he felt a lot better than he had since the whole thing had begun.

Clark wiped water from his face and looked around. There were only four other people swimming, and Grant wasn't one of them.

A momentary panic squeezed his heart. Had Grant just left him? With only a suit and, yeah, okay, his clothes were in the locker room, but....

He turned around in his lane so he could see the diving pool.

Grant was on the platform, eyes closed, arms out. As Clark watched, Grant raised onto his toes and leapt from the platform. He twisted, went into a kind of pike thing, and then entered the water with barely a splash.

Wow. Two things were hotter than that: Lex naked except for the collar, and ... well, Lex.

But that was... Grant in a Speedo with this body like... and diving from a high dive and doing flips and stuff and....

When had Clark walked over to the diving pool?

"Hey," he said when Grant climbed out of the pool.

Grant flashed a smile and grabbed a towel off the ladder. "Hey. Come over to give it a try?"

"Me?" Clark said, alarmed. "No. No. No, I didn't." He looked up at the platform and shook his head. "No."

"Afraid of heights or something?" Grant laughed, clapping Clark on the shoulder.

"Yeah, kind of." He looked up again and blinked hard, feeling dizzy.

He laughed softly and squeezed Clark's shoulder. "I promise you won't get hurt."

"I'm not afraid of being hurt. I'm afraid of..." He stopped. He didn't know what he was afraid of. It was one of those illogical fears, and he knew it, and he leapt from the top of the Daily Planet and survived, but...

"Obviously you're someone who doesn't like losing control," Grant said softly.

"What?"

"Well, fear of heights can be due to a lot of different things. Falling from a high place when you were young. Vertigo. Whatever. But I have a feeling that, in your case, you just don't like feeling out of control. Especially considering your background."

Clark frowned. "What does that mean?"

Grant's hand slid down his arm until it locked around Clark's wrist. Walking backwards, he dragged Clark after him as he said, "You were abandoned by your mother when you were, what? Five?"

"Three. I mean, that's how old my parents thought I was."

"Right, but you were abandoned, unable to speak, and living with people you didn't know. You're gay, which makes you an outcast. Shy, which contributes as well. You told me about the scarecrow thing, and I know about your big moment of loss of control."

"I've never liked heights," Clark objected, realizing that he was letting Grant pull him to the platform. "It's not something that just happened after Lionel."

"I'd be surprised if it was. I get the feeling that you've never really felt like you're in control of your life. And I think that's where your fear of heights comes from."

"Maybe," Clark said doubtfully. He looked up at the platform; immediately, his heart started pounding.

"Come on," Grant said softly, almost in his hear as he leaned forward to Clark. "It'll be fine. You don't even have to dive; just jump. One jump into the water. It's fun."

Clark closed his eyes, at little intoxicated at the deep, richness of Grant's voice and the adrenaline running through him at the thought he might do this. "You're trying to peer pressure me," he joked weakly.

"Trust me, Clark. Would I try to make you do anything that'd hurt you?"

Slowly, drunkenly, he shook his head. "I don't think so."

"It's a pool, Clark. All you're doing is jumping in."

He exhaled hard and nodded. "Right." He could do this. Really. He'd jumped off the roof of the Daily Planet, he could jump into a pool.

The question was, why should he?

Grant released Clark's wrist and pulled away. "Come up after me," he said, turning around. "I'll help you jump."

Okay, that sounded bad, but now Grant was climbing up the ladder and, sadly, Clark's vision wasn't super like the rest of him. If he wanted to keep watching Grant's ass, he'd have to follow him.

Okay, he was thinking of jumping. He just wanted an excuse.

Heart pounding in his ears, Clark followed Grant up the ladder. He had to keep his eyes up to keep him from looking down and freaking out. He watched Grant's calves bunch and loosen as he stepped; he admired Grant's ass in the blue swimsuit. He tried to ignore the fact that the only thing keeping him from slamming into the ground were his fingers, wrapped around the rungs, hardly able to let go and reach for the next.

And, finally, he was on the platform.

"Oh, God," he whispered, feeling sick. It was too high, and there was nothing to hold onto. Okay, a lie, because he was clinging to the railing for dear life, unable to take a step towards the edge of the platform. "Grant," he keened softly as he realized he was stuck. He couldn't jump off, he couldn't climb back down the ladder; he was trapped.

"Calm down," Grant soothed. He stood behind Clark, and God, was there even room? There must have been because he was behind Clark, one arm around Clark's waist, the other trying to gently pry his fingers from the railing. "You're fine, Clark. Just fine. Nothing's gonna happen to you. You'll be fine."

"I don't think I will be."

"You will." He stroked Clark's arm. "Please, Clark. Trust me."

Clark swallowed hard, trembling. "Okay." What was he doing? He didn't trust Grant. He didn't trust anyone. Everyone lied, everyone was untrustworthy, and they...

He let go of the platform. Immediately, Grant's fingers threaded through his. "Good, Clark." Then, still with one arm around Clark's waist and the other holding his hand, Grant led him to the edge of the platform.

The panic choked him again as he looked down at the pool. It was like a million miles away.

"It's only ten feet, Clark. And easy distance."

"Right." Clark licked his lips and inhaled slowly, trying to calm himself.

"Do you want to know a secret?" Grant asked, voice suddenly all low and Doc Holliday-ey.

He shuddered and it had nothing to do with fear. "Yeah," he managed in a whisper, throat tight.

"I'm afraid of heights, too. Always have been; it's a control thing, but also an old injury. My father accidentally dropped me out of a tree house when I was a kid."

"But you're a diver."

"I am. Because there's just something about it, Clark. Something about that moment just before I dive when my mind shuts down from panic and I just know that this time, I won't be able to do it. Then, the adrenaline surges in me. I get lightheaded and euphoric. And I dive. I always do it. And when I'm in the air, falling, twisting, somersaulting, well. It's the only time I'm really free."

"Free from what?"

"Everything." Grant gently untangled his fingers from Clark's and took a step back, hand still on Clark's back. "It's only a few seconds, but each dive is an eternity in which you don't have to think, you don't have to worry, you don't have to... be anything but yourself." Grant gave Clark a light shove and stepped back.

Clark was completely alone now at the edge of the platform. He looked down at the water, his stomach churning. Every limb felt light and his head spun, because he couldn't do this, and he'd never be able to. He'd be stuck up here forever and people would see him and laugh and the owners would threaten, but he couldn't get down, he couldn't jump, he couldn't...

And then, he was flying.


"Chloe," Lana said softly, knocking on the stall in the girls' room. "Chloe, come out of there. Lunch is over, and we have an assembly. Remember? "

Chloe sniffed loudly. "I don't want to go." Her nose sounded stuffed up, and her voice was thick with tears.

"Chloe..."

The door opened and Chloe, eyes bright red and swollen, appeared. "Clark's life is splashed across the tabloids, Lana. Everyone knows."

"And everyone is angry as hell," Lana replied patiently, even as a shiver ran through her. She'd never seen so much collective anger in her life, nor the results of it. Already, there were reports of rocks being thrown at reporters' cars and the sheriff's department being egged. The football team had disappeared second period; when they came back an hour later, there were whispers of photographers being beaten up and more property damage being done.

There were some, of course, who'd made comments about Clark. Snide remarks about his willingness to do Lionel, and insinuations about incestuous threesomes between Lionel, Lex, and Clark.

Those who dared speak badly of Clark had been attacked. By jocks, no less. Because, it was one thing to be gay and open for harassment about it by the people in town or guys at school. It was another thing for outsiders to expose it to everyone, especially more outsiders. Smallville protected their own, even when their own was a shy, geeky, gay outcast.

And as for Lex... people were warming up to him. He tried so hard to be good for the town, to treat his employees with respect, and keep Smallville safe. He was becoming one of them.

Chloe wiped her nose with toilet paper. "I just can't stop crying," she said. "I want to protect Clark, but I can't, and I don't know what to do."

Lana sighed and put her arms around Chloe. Kissing her gently, she said, "Cry all you want today. But, when he comes back, be what he needs you to be. Strong. Supportive. There for him. Like you always are."

"I don't think I can."

"Of course you can, Chloe. It's who you are."

Chloe leaned against Lana and rested her head on her shoulder. "I just wish I knew everything will be okay."

"It will be," Lana promised, knowing that she was telling the truth. It would be okay because it had to be. Anything else was unacceptable.

"Come on," she said, pulling away. "We need to get to the assembly. I want to hear what the administration has to say about all this."

Chloe smiled wryly and wiped her eyes. "Yeah. Reynolds will be particularly interesting, especially since everyone knows that he doesn't really like Clark."

"And right now, that's a cardinal sin. Today, everyone likes Clark." She laced her fingers through Chloe's and started walking.

"I think that, most days, everyone likes Clark," Chloe said thoughtfully. "But he's so shy, everyone just gives him his space."

Lana thought about it a moment, and then nodded. "Yeah, I think you're right." She squeezed Chloe's hand. "You gonna be okay?"

"Yeah." Chloe leaned in and kissed Lana's cheek. "Thanks."


Whenever Lex fucked up, Lionel had pulled out his special brand of torture to punish him. Dinners with daughters of important men. Banishments to crappy apartments or small hick towns. A new tutor to teach him something else he didn't want to know--history, philosophy, games from Ancient Greece. Feats of strength. Smacks across the face, the occasional paddling. Selling his favorite horse, his computer, or, the worst punishment, giving away his Warrior Angel collection to grubby orphans.

Yes. Lex had always believed Lionel excelled at punishing him. No matter how Lex steeled himself not to care about anything, forcing himself to pretend he wasn't hurt by Lionel's actions, Lex always, always was.

But, until now, Lex had never known real pain. It turned out, his father was an amateur, a child. He knew nothing about true suffering. Nothing at all.

Dear Lord. Lionel Luthor needed lessons in torture from the Kents.

"Lex, you almost done?" Jonathan called.

Lex, struggling with a wheelbarrow full of feed, grunted. His foot hit a muddy patch, and he slipped, narrowly avoiding smashing his face on the cold metal of the wheelbarrow.

Again.

"Almost," he called back. He got back to his feet and continued on the line. "You know," Lex muttered to himself, "the cows do fucking feed themselves. That's what they do all day. Just stand in the stupid field, eating."

"What was that, Lex?"

"Nothing, sir." Still grumbling under his breath, Lex continued down the line, shoveling feed into the trough. Apparently, after this, he was going to get the pleasure of mucking out the stables and bailing hay. And this was after the morning, where he'd had to fix a fence, and that had meant heavy lifting and, God, Lex had thought he was in shape, but obviously working out in a gym was nothing compared to manual labor.

Finally, the bag was empty and the trough ended. Groaning, Lex turned and leaned against the wheelbarrow, rubbing his shoulders.

"Something hurt?" Jonathan asked, coming up to him. He was pulling off his gloves, a sort of smile on his face, like he was enjoying this.

"Yeah. Everything." Lex didn't try to keep the bitterness from his voice.

"Good." And the fucking bastard clapped Lex on the shoulder hard enough to draw a groan from him. "Pain means your alive."

"Oh, fuck you," he said without thinking.

"Watch your mouth, son." Jonathan's hand became less bruising suddenly, and he gently massaged Lex's sore shoulder.

Lex coughed and rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand. He could feel dirt sticking to his sweaty skin, but he couldn't bring himself to care. "Sorry." He closed his eyes and swallowed, mouth sticky with dried saliva. He felt as if he'd been wrung out, he was so hot and thirsty.

"Need something to drink?"

"Yeah."

"Let's go."

Lex followed Jonathan wearily to the house, wondering if he'd be able to take a shower and a nap. He was disabused of the idea quickly, though, when Jonathan said, "Do you think you'll be able to handle mucking out the stalls on your own, or will you need help?"

He sighed. "I'll be okay. I used to do that sort of things on our farm in..." Damn, he was so tired, he couldn't remember where the farm had been. "Anyway, that was before my mom died, but I can do it."

"Good." They walked in silence a few more steps before Jonathan said quietly, "I'm proud of you, you know."

Lex did a double take. "What?"

Jonathan was looking straight ahead, his eyes distant. "You don't have to be here. You could be at home, or in Metropolis, or anywhere. You didn't have to come with Martha, but you did. And then you stayed, even though we're working you to the point of exhaustion, which is, of course, deliberate. You don't have to put up with any of it, but you are. And I'm proud of you for that."

"Well, what can I say?" Lex replied flatly. "I'm a glutton for punishment."

Jonathan stopped and turned to face Lex. "No." He put his hand on Lex's shoulder. "That's not what this is, Lex. It's not meant to be a punishment, just an alternative. You haven't been thinking clearly; you're upset, I understand that. You also have no ways to cope with being upset other than to get intoxicated. So, we brought you here to give you another way."

"Work myself to death?"

"At least it's honest. You're actually accomplishing something, and you can be proud of yourself when the day is over."

Lex snorted, but he knew what Jonathan was saying. And maybe Jonathan wasn't wrong or anything, but it was so much easier to think of himself being punished than... cared for. He didn't deserve to be cared for, didn't deserve love.

He blinked rapidly and swiped at his frozen nose with the back of his hand again.

"Can I ask you a question, Lex?" Jonathan asked softly.

"Sure."

"Do you think that Lionel is capable of love?"

"Aren't all humans?"

"I don't know. I always thought so, but there are people in this world who simply don't seem to be able to express love in such a way that it seems like... love. Lionel strikes me as one of them."

"He only wants me to be strong."

"Indulging your weaknesses with money doesn't seem to foster strength to me. Constantly trying to break you down isn't love. You can't build a strong man by battering at his defenses."

"Then how do you build a strong man?" He looked up at Jonathan. "With love?" Lex sneered the word love, trying to make Jonathan hurt as much as he was hurting.

Jonathan didn't even blink. "Do you think Clark is a strong person?"

Fuck. "I guess."

"We've never done anything to try and make our boy feel small. All we've ever wanted was to make him feel as if he could accomplish anything. And that's all we want for you." Jonathan stepped into Lex and put his hand on Lex's shoulder again. "Look, I know you have a father. I know you want that father to love you. But you have to ask yourself if that father is worth it. Look what he does to you, how he makes you feel. You deserve so much better than that, Lex. You deserve better than Lionel." Jonathan reached into his pocket and pulled the compass out. "Always remember that, son." Then, after pressing the compass into Lex's hand, Jonathan turned and entered the house, leaving Lex with a lot to think about.


"Oh wow!" Clark exclaimed as he and Grant left the pool. "That was... that was..." Words failed him and all Clark could do was wave his hands around expressively.

Grant laughed and nodded. "Yes, it is like that. Here." He tossed Clark a towel and picked up one himself. "I told you you'd be fine."

"Yeah." Clark blushed. "And, what, it only took me ten times before I was able to get up there by myself." It'd been a little embarrassing. Okay, scratch little; it'd been completely embarrassing. He'd been exhilarated after his first dive--and he had actually dove, not jumped--and ready go up again.

Except, he'd frozen halfway up. Completely freaked. Grant had had to come up and urge him the rest of the way, not once but quite a few times. Each time, Grant had acted like he went up to help Clark on his technique; he'd actually done it, too. At first, they worked on Clark's form as he just did a regular dive; then they moved up to a pike until, finally, Clark was doing a single, slow flip in the air before landing in the water. Grant was a fantastic teacher, and even though diving scared the shit out of Clark, he still... liked it.

No. Loved it.

"Everyone moves at his own pace, Clark," Grant said as he toweled himself off. "The point to remember is not that you needed help to do it, but that you did it. And you're good, too. Does your school have a diving team?"

"I think so. I mean, yeah." He'd gone to meets before, when he was in junior high. Both Jenny and Chloe had loved to watch people--boys--dive when they'd been in seventh grade. Clark been dragged along with them to the meets, and he had to admit, he'd enjoyed it. He remembered marveling at the easy way they flew through the air, and the tricks they'd been able to do.

He blushed suddenly, remembering how there'd been one diver, Rick Martinez, who'd had fantastic form and a terrific body. Clark hadn't been able to keep his eyes off him. Back then, he'd figured it was because Rick was so good--he'd even gotten a full scholarship to a college in California for diving--but now, he wondered if part of it had been his sexual preference that'd caused him to stare at Rick.

"You should think about joining," Grant said. "You could really go far."

Maybe. But, then again, Clark could float, which meant his body was ... naturally aerodynamic. Or something. And while Clark didn't think he'd been using that particular power while diving, it might still give him an unfair advantage.

Or was that just him rationalizing because he was still a little bit terrified to dive again?

"Maybe," he said a little reluctantly.

"Think about it, Clark. Really, you could be great. Or, you could have a great new hobby that brings you joy. Whatever."

"I'll think about it," Clark promised as they entered the locker room. Like the pool, it was nearly empty. No one paid them any attention when they walked by, and Clark couldn't help but wonder at that. He was news right now, sort of. And, okay, so, only his profile had been in the tabloids, but didn't everyone know he was Lex's boyfriend by now?

Wow, he was an egotist. First he wants to be invisible and now he wants everyone to recognize him? Okay, maybe...

Oh, God, Grant was naked.

"Well, you've told me about your family's stance on contact sports," Grant said as he tossed his suit into his locker. He grabbed a bath towel and a bottle of shampoo. "This isn't a contact sport. Not only that, but it's an art form. Something for the whole family to really enjoy. And you've got the gift." Grant pulled another towel out of his locker and tossed it to Clark. "You're a fast learner, have great form; you were amazing today. You shouldn't waste it."

Clark nodded and resisted the urge to hold the towel over his eyes. Grant was ... really different from any guy he'd ever seen, even online. "I will. I mean, I won't," Clark stammered. "I'll talk to the coach when I get back."

"Good." Grant turned and went to the showers.

It wasn't like Clark had never been in a locker room before, so this was ridiculous. Of course, the guys he normally showered with weren't like... this. They didn't have so much hair, and their cocks weren't nearly as big. And no one, not even the football players, had the trim waist and firm buttocks all combined with this inner grace and maturity that you could only get after surviving your twenties.

Most of the porn clips that Clark had watched online had shaved guys. Lex's pubic hair was sparse--beautiful, but sparse. Clark had just assumed he liked it better like that.

And it wasn't that he liked Grant's thick thatch of red curls better than Lex or anything. He just hadn't expected to like so much hair down there at all.

He wondered if it'd get in his mouth if he sucked Grant off.

"You okay with this?" Grant asked when Clark didn't join him in the shower.

Guilt and shame washed over Clark in a hot wave, and he looked at his feet. He was still wearing his suit, standing at the edge of the shower, trying not to look at Grant inappropriately.

"Um, ... yeah."

"You sure? Because I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. I wasn't thinking."

"No. I mean, yeah, I'm sure I'm okay. No, I'm not uncomfortable." Hands shaking, Clark stripped out of his suit and stepped into the shower. He turned on the shower next to Grant, making sure to keep his eyes focused on the wall in front of him.

"Shampoo?"

Clark nodded and held his hand out. A moment later, the slick, soapy gel coated his palms. "Thanks."

Obviously sensing the sudden tension in the air, Grant didn't try to draw Clark into conversation anymore. He was whistling softly as they washed, which was soothing. After another minute or so, Clark felt himself relax minutely.

God, he was so stupid. Grant was just a guy, that's it. Okay, yeah, he was sexy and gorgeous and everything, but he wasn't... Lex. It's not like Clark would ever have sex with Grant or anything.

Could he?

Swallowing, Clark glanced sidelong at Grant, who looked like he was rinsing off and getting ready to get out of the shower.

They were friends. Clark trusted Grant with a lot of stuff. He'd told Grant about what Lionel did to him, and Grant knew about Lex and didn't care. And he hadn't exactly turned Clark down last night. Not really.

They were friends. That wasn't casual sex, was it? Not if Clark cared about Grant, which he did. No, not as much as he did for Lex because, God, Clark loved Lex, but this wasn't really about him. Not about Lex. It was about Clark and was Clark...

Normal?

Bracing himself, Clark turned and pressed himself against Grant. Even as Grant made a startle noise of protest, Clark covered Grant's mouth with his own and kissed him deeply. Lightly, he licked along the roof of Grant's mouth and then stroked his tongue. Clark's fingers entwined in Grant's hair. His other hand, slid down Grant's side, stroking up and down, getting lower and lower each time until his fingers played along the crease of Grant's thigh.

"Clark," Grant gasped. He ripped his mouth away, head smashing into the tiled wall. "Stop."

But he was hard. "But..."

"Clark." Grant covered Clark's mouth as he tried to go in for another kiss. "We're not doing this."

Clark pulled Grant's hand off his and licked a drop of water off his shoulder. "But I'm not vulnerable anymore. In fact, I'm really pumped and feeling good now."

"Right," Grant said breathlessly. He swallowed hard as Clark licked and kissed over his Adam's apple. "And I'm glad. But it's not going to happen."

"You don't want me." Clark pulled away, feeling like he'd been punched with a fistful of meteors. He crossed his arms over his chest, shame drenching him. "I'm sorry."

Grant sighed. "Clark," he said. He rubbed his hand over his face and then reached out and took Clark by the wrist. "I do want you. Okay? I do. I feel dirty for wanting you, frightened by the fact I do, especially in light of everything you've been though, but I can't help the way I feel. You're a very interesting and talented--and beautiful--young man. And, God help me, I want you. But it's not going to happen."

"Why? Because I'm a kid?"

"Your age is part of it, yes. I've told you before that the age disparity isn't unusual, especially in the gay community, but it's still enough to give me pause. Then there's the fact that you are vulnerable right now, even if you're feeling good at the moment. When we leave, you're going to have to face the tabloids again, and your parents, and the fact that people know about what happened to you. And, then there's Lex."

Clark swallowed and looked away. "Lex is always telling me that I'm young and should experience... things."

"I'm not a thing to be experienced, Clark," Grant said softly.

Startled, Clark looked at him. "I'm not trying to use you."

"Mmmm, maybe, maybe not." Grant smiled. "But, Clark, you and Lex have something special. Even if right now, you're falling apart, and he said something to hurt you, you're still together."

"But..."

Grant stepped forward and pulled Clark's hand into his. "Clark," he interrupted softly. He hesitated a moment, then pressed a kiss into Clark's lips. "You're wearing Lex's ring, and he's wearing yours. And I don't sleep with married men."

"We're not..."

"Fine," Grant interrupted. "You're not engaged. But you're wearing his ring, and I don't sleep with men who are that committed to their lover. When--and if--you ever stop, then we'll talk."

A shiver ran down Clark's spine at the way Grant said talk. "Talk?" he repeated.

Grant's smile was heavy-lidded and he twisted the ring slowly around Clark's finger. "Yes, Clark. Talk."

Even after a year of dating Lex, Clark had never realized that the word talk could have so many nuances of meaning.


The assembly had been one of the most pointless things Lana had ever been to in her life. At least in the beginning, when Reynolds and Dr. Carvey had tried to calm them all down. It was as if they were completely oblivious to the intense rage and confusion radiating from their audience. Oh, they knew that everyone was upset, but they just didn't get it.

And how could they? They weren't from Smallville. It wasn't personal to them, not like it was to everyone else. So, no matter what they said, their words rang hollow, and had just incited even more frustration and anger among the students who'd already been betrayed once that day by outsiders.

"Violence is not the way to handle any situation," Reynolds had said in that annoyingly arrogant way that he had about him. "I know that you're angry. I realize these people have hurt one of your own, but..."

Lana had winced when he'd said that, because Reynolds himself was an outsider, too. Bringing it up only served to remind people of that fact.

Reynolds had looked shocked when the assembly dissolved into shouts and cries for vengeance. People started throwing things at the administration, and yelling that they were going to go teach those reporters a lesson, and anyone who didn't join was a traitor and would be dealt with, and on and on. Lana was frightened at the level of vengeance in the room. She was angry herself, but the idea of violence frightened her.

Maybe because, deep down, she wanted to cause some violence herself.

And then, someone finally had stepped in and taken control.

"Hey!" Mr. Townsend had shouted, striding to the middle of the gym and grabbing the microphone from Mr. Reynolds.

The noise had dimmed immediately. Mr. Townsend had been born in Smallville, even if he'd grown up in California. He was one of them. But, not only that, he was gay, and everyone knew Clark was gay, too. That gave Mr. Townsend authority over the situation; he could make everything better, and everything he was going to say would be gospel.

"Faggot!" some stoner shouted before the rest of the yelling had died down.

Roger Hartman shot out of his seat. "Shut the fuck up, Nolan, you fucking prick, or I'll fucking smash your skull in, asshole!"

"Thank you, Roger, but that won't be necessary," Mr. Townsend, gesturing him to sit down. "And, Nolan, please report to the office immediately after the assembly. And, as for the rest of you." Mr. Townsend looked out at the crowd earnestly, a light flush on his pale cheeks. "I appreciate your anger. I feel the same way. These people have come into our town and made one of our own sport to the world. They've put Clark on display, to be laughed at and ridiculed for something he had no control over. I get your anger. I'd like to go out there and hurt them, too."

Wild wolf calls and shouts went up in the room, but Mr. Townsend waved his hands to quiet them.

"But it's not going to help Clark. It's going to make him feel worse. He's already hurting and now his pain is double. Not only does he have to live through what happened, but he has to live with the knowledge that all of you know. That private information has been published for the world to see. It's painful. Everyone close your eyes."

Lana had no idea if anyone but her follow his directions, but she did it without a thought.

"Imagine the darkest, most painful secret you hold. We all have them, things about ourselves, or things that have happened to us, that we don't want anyone else to know. Imagine the embarrassment that you feel when you think about this thing. Imagine living, day in and day out, with this feeling of being completely out of control, of the memory unexpectedly rising in you, hurting you all over again. Imagine that pain. And now imagine that everyone--not just the people you see day in and day out, but people who don't know you, people you've never met--suddenly have the knowledge of this secret. And this will be the only thing they know about you, so any time your name gets mentioned, they will think right away of your painful, embarrassing secret. Imagine how it makes you feel."

A rumble went through the auditorium, and Lana shivered as the anger rose again.

"Now, think about Clark," he said quickly, before the anger got out of control. "Think about the boy you've grown up with. The writer. The thinker. The quiet, shy boy who is always willing to lend a helping hand to his classmates, who is unfailingly polite, who would never hurt anyone intentionally. Clark isn't a violent person. He's calm. He's quiet. He's shy. He doesn't like attention. But, most of all, he would never want people to be hurt on his behalf."

Another murmur went through the crowd.

Lana opened her eyes.

Mr. Townsend was standing in the center of the gym, slowly scanning the people in the crowd. His eyes met hers briefly before moving on, and Lana shivered at the passionate certainty in his eyes. "You need to support him," he said firmly. "Talk to him about it, don't talk to him about it, whatever makes you most comfortable. Acts toward him with kindness, but don't treat him like he's about to fall apart. He's a human being who needs your support and friendship. What he doesn't need is for you to hurt others on his behalf. That won't help him feel better. It won't help him feel safe."

There was another murmur, calm this time, thoughtful.

Lana had sighed in relief, knowing that the worst was over.

Mr. Townsend had talked for quite some time about rape and molestation and how it could affect people. Lana could see a lot of people kind of looking sideways at each other and avoiding looks in turn. As public as Clark suddenly was, it wasn't like he was the only victim of abuse or rape or anything; it was a problem here just like anywhere else.

After the assembly, Chloe leaned over and whispered, "I'm taking off. I think I'm going to hole myself up in the basement, watch movies, and eat an ungodly amount of ice cream. Coming?"

"Thanks, but no. I'm going to the Talon," Lana said. "I think I'll draw for a bit. I'm in the middle of a piece that's been giving me trouble, and today seems to be a good day to do it." She glanced across the gym to where Chad was. "But Chad looks like he needs to get out of here, too."

Chloe looked at her boyfriend and smiled a soft, sappy smile that made Lana's heart ache. "Yeah. Okay, I'll see you later, then."

"Bye." Lana picked up her backpack and wandered through the throng of students. It was way too easy to sneak off school grounds, even with the closed campus policy. Chloe had once shown her an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Buffy had gotten in trouble for skipping; the principal had closed a huge chain-link fence gate in front of her, causing Buffy to have to use her abilities to jump over it.

All you had to do at Smallville High was either step over the waist-high gate in the parking lot or just walk off campus any other place. There was no gate, and, therefore, the policy was pathetically impossible to enforce.

It was obvious a lot of other kids had the same idea as she and Chloe did. No one made an effort to stop people from leaving; Lana was grateful for that. The day was only a little more than halfway over, and already she was so exhausted, she could sleep for hours. But she wasn't going to. Instead, she made her way to the apartment above the Talon so she could work on her art.

The apartment was quickly becoming her sanctuary. All her art supplies were in the room among the mess that had been left there by Nell. She'd brought a boom box and all her favorite CDs and candles and everything to make it feel safe. It was, she felt, what Clark's loft was for him. Well, before the loft had become his bedroom, but even still. It was a safe place away from everything, where nothing ugly or painful could touch her.

She'd been needing this solitude a lot lately. Life was so confusing. She was still in a strange place with Chloe, somewhere between love and friendship. Lana was keeping a secret from Chloe about Chad because she was afraid of what Chad might do if Chloe found out. Chloe had kept a secret about Whitney from Lana because...

Lana understood, she really did. After all, if someone had told Whitney about her before she was ready, Lana would have been devastated. It was her thing to reveal, not anyone else's. And, yet, the fact that everyone--Chloe, Clark, Lex, Mr. Townsend--had known and not her was embarrassing and hurtful. Why hadn't Whitney confided in her? Why hadn't Clark?

Of course, Clark could say the same thing about her. She and Chloe hadn't told Clark about them at first. Clark had had to figure it out on his own, and Lana knew he'd been hurt by that. It seemed that, no matter how much they all cared for each other, they were always hurting one another by keeping secrets. If only they could all be completely honest with one another, maybe they could stop the pain.

She sighed as she sketched, ensconced in an overstuffed chair that'd been stored in the apartment. Pain didn't just come from keeping secrets, though. What was happening now wasn't about keeping secrets from loved ones. It was about people who had no right in Clark and Lex's business forcing their way in. It was about painful, private things being exposed to the world, a lot like the fairy princess picture on Time, only more private and a different kind of pain. Lana's sorrow was old now; still painful, but dulled by years of grief. It didn't haunt her the same way and, instead of robbing her of her identity, it helped define her. She was doing well, in many ways. She had friends, a successful business, and a three point five grade point average. She'd been in love with a wonderful girl and had experienced a sense of security that she longed to have again. And, even if she still sometimes felt that she was placed on a pedestal by people in town and treated like a porcelain doll, ready to break, she was coming to realize that she didn't have to conform to that image.

Clark, though. Clark's pain was fresh. Clark's pain had taken something so important from him, and Lana ached to help him get it back. It seemed like, any time things started getting better for him, something--Ryan dying, Lex getting hurt or sick, Lionel reentering his life--happened to shake the foundation of his world once more.

And as for Lex...

Lana checked her watch. With a start, she realized how late in the day it was. Her picture was nearly done, just waiting finishing touches, and the after-school crowd had to be in full swing downstairs. She wasn't working today, except to close, and even though she had homework to do, there was something else, something more important, she had to get done first.

Packing away her sketch pad and pencil, Lana rose and went downstairs. There were a few photographers downstairs, trying to get coffee, but her waitresses were scorning them for decent customers.

Lana smiled sweetly, poisonously so, at one of the photographers before pulling out a large picnic basket. She filled it to the brim with Mabel's sweets, thermoses of coffee, and the fancy creamer that Mr. Kent and half of the sheriff's department adored. Then, once it was full, she left the Talon for the Kents' farm.

The walk was long and cold, but Lana didn't mind. She was in the mood to be alone with her thoughts, and the cold air made her skin tingle and her blood to rush through her veins. By the time she reached the barricade in front of the Kents, she was warm and invigorated, almost happy even.

"Hello, Lana," one of the deputies said as he let her though.

"Hello, Deputy. Are all the reporters gone?"

"Not all. There's a few down the lane, hiding behind some trees." He nodded down the road, looking disgusted. "Some guys from the high school came down to harass them. I hate having to protect those bastards. Pardon my language."

Lana just shrugged. "Maybe they'll get the hint and leave soon."

"Well, I've heard Luthor's got some lawsuits against them, so I hope so too." His face twisted. "He's also got one against the department, but I guess we deserve that."

"Have you found out who told the tabloids?" Lana asked.

He shook his head, "I'm sorry, Lana, but I can't release that kind of information."

"Of course. Sorry." She opened the basket and pulled out a plate of muffins, a thermos of coffee, and a stack of cups. "Here. Keep up the good work."

"Thanks, Lana."

She smiled sweetly at him and then went up the driveway to the Kents.

"Hello?" she called at the kitchen door. "Mrs. Kent?"

"Come in, Lana," she heard Mrs. Kent call back. She sounded weary.

Well, it made sense under the circumstances. The past few weeks had been really exhausting, and Lana was worried about them all.

"Hi," Lana said as she entered. Martha was sitting at the kitchen table, looking through catalogues of some kind. "I brought comfort food. I thought maybe everyone needed it." She opened the basket and started pulling the treats she'd brought out.

"Thank you, Lana. That's so sweet." Martha closed the catalogue and picked up a cookie bar. "Ah," she sighed after biting into it. "Mabel's baking?"

"Yeah." She set the basket on the floor and sat down. "How are you doing?"

"Oh, I'm fine. Tired, and a little worried about everything, but okay." She rubbed her eyes and took another bite of the cookie bar.

"Have you heard from Clark?"

She nodded. "He called around one. He's with Grant right now, and we decided it's best for him to stay one more night, just until things settle. Damien said that the tabloids have uniformly pulled every issue and the reporters should be gone by tomorrow. Although," she added, shooting a look back into the living room, "they might stick around to harass Lex now that he's announced that he's engaged."

Lana couldn't help laughing at that. The tabloids claimed that not only was Lex engaged, but it was to some man in Gotham. "Yeah, what was that about?"

"Lex says that he doesn't know why they think that. But, he was drunk last night when he was out with Dr. Bryce, and he remembers a reporter from the Weekly Sneak being there. He probably said something to the affect that he was engaged for some reason, and just doesn't remember."

"I wonder why he'd say that."

Martha leaned forward. "Well, he and Dr. Bryce were kissing. You saw the picture, right?"

Lana nodded. "Yeah, I did. I guess it's possible that Lex panicked and said the wrong thing when she kissed him. Although, it's hard to imagine Lex panicking."

"Only if you don't know him," Martha said mildly.

There was a sudden, loud snort from the other room.

"What's that?" Lana asked, startled.

"Lex. He collapsed in there after lunch. Oh, don't worry," she said when Lana's eyes widened. "He's just asleep. He's been working nonstop since this morning, and we've been working him hard. He's just tired. I'm giving him about another twenty minutes before I wake him up and send him out again."

Okay, Lex was working on the farm? "Um... why is he... I mean, what's...?"

"Lex is grounded."

Lana's mouth fell open. Lex was twenty-two and not even the Kent's child. And he was grounded. Okay.

Martha laughed at Lana's expression. "Believe me, Lana, he needs it. Excuse me," she said when the phone rang.

"Okay." Lana rose from the

Lana got up and went into the living room. Lex was sprawled on the couch, all loose limbed and unconscious grace. His shoes were off, his clothes were casual and flecked with dirt and mud. There was some mud under his jaw, too, and his skin was glowing softly from the hours he'd spent in the sun. His mouth was open, and he was both snoring softly and drooling.

He was so cute. And sexy. Even with the drool.

Trying to banish the sexy-thoughts from her head, Lana grabbed a quilt from a nearby chair and draped it over him.

Lex's eyes opened immediately. "Lana?" he muttered sleepily.

She smiled and sat on the arm of the couch. "Hey. How are you doing?"

"Oh, wonderful," he said dryly. He sat up, wiping the drool from his chin. "You?"

"I'm good. You know everyone at school has been plotting all day to stone the reporters."

"I'll provide the stones." He rubbed his forehead and groaned softly.

"You okay?"

"Headache." He sat up and groaned again. "And muscle aches. God, the Kents are slave drivers."

Lana laughed uncertainly. "I hear you're grounded."

"Really? I hear I'm being offered an alternative way to deal with stress, and that I'm not actually being punished at all." He glanced over his shoulder, and then leaned closer to Lana. "I think Mrs. Kent is angrier at me than Mr. Kent is," he whispered conspiratorially.

She giggled. "Getting mixed messages from the in-laws, I see."

Wrong thing to say. Lex's face immediately fell and he pulled away from her.

Feeling awkward and stupid, Lana tucked her hair behind her ears. "So," she said softly. "Um, what happened, anyway? Between you and Clark?"

Lex shrugged. "I said something stupid and hurtful. I probably ruined our relationship. I know I hurt him."

"I don't think you ruined your relationship. You love each other too much. You have rings."

"It's just a ring."

"No, it's not just a ring. It was a commitment, Lex. It's love."

He snorted. "What do you know about love?" he asked bitterly. "You're sixteen. You've never been."

Her eyebrow raised and she said, "I love Chloe."

"And look what you did to her."

"Look what we did to each other," Lana corrected. "I know we both hurt each other all the time, but it's just... because we've never found our footing. I guess I expect too much and she..."

"Asks for too little," Lex finished.

Lana sighed, acknowledging that Lex was right with a nod. She tried to smile reassuringly at him as she said, "I don't think it's the same for you and Clark."

"Clark thinks so. He said I'm never there for him, and I think he's right. I'm not there the way I should be. When things get rough, I fall apart far too easily and just expect him to always put me back together again. And I don't do it for him."

It was hard for her to believe that Lex fell apart. He always came off as so strong. The only times she'd really seen him weak was when a migraine hit, or he had an asthma attack, but those were biological weaknesses, not physical. But, then, there were people who thought she was strong because she managed her own business. And Chloe was always saying that she felt as if she were only held together by threads, and to Lana, Chloe seemed so strong.

So, maybe Lex did fall apart. Maybe he did rely on Clark to keep him together, and he never let anyone else see how vulnerable he really was.

Lana took his hand and squeezed. He looked surprised, but didn't pull away. In fact, he turned his hand over in hers and squeezed back.

"Clark loves you," Lana told him. "You two are soul mates. You're forever, and anyone who looks at you can see it. Okay, you said something horrible. Okay, so maybe you don't support Clark as much as he needs. But that's got to partly be because he doesn't let you see what he needs, because I know you'd do anything for him."

"I would."

"When I finally came to my senses about Chloe, I had to look at myself. And there were things I didn't like. Things I knew I had to work on. I am selfish sometimes, and I do expect people to just... treat me like a princess. I think I don't want them to, but then I expect it. I made Chloe work so hard at our relationship because I was too afraid to let go of Whitney. To let go of the image people had of me. When I realized that, I also realized I had to change. And I do try, every day. I don't always succeed, but... Clark may not tell you every time he needs something from you, but now that you know that he needs you, you have to work on giving him what he needs."

"I wish it were that simple."

"It's not. And you've got issues I can't even imagine. But if you love him, you'll fight for him."

"I thought that they say that if you love someone, you let them go."

Lana shook her head and squeezed Lex's hand. "Clark's not ready to be let go. And when you have something as deep and beautiful as the two of you have, neither of you will ever need to be."


Chloe stared up at the ceiling, feeling hollow. This is not how she wanted to feel. This was not how she'd expected to feel. First off, it wasn't like she'd never done this before. Every time before (even with Lana), sex had left her feeling happy and excited. Second, Chloe had been pushing this for months.

So why did she feel like this?

Next to her, Chad stirred. "Was it okay?" he asked softly.

"Yeah," Chloe replied, turning to smile at him. Because the sex hadn't been bad at all. He'd made her come before he had, which was always good, especially since she'd always assumed that her first time with a guy, she wouldn't. It also hadn't hurt much, which was a relief, although it wasn't like she'd never put anything inside herself before.

But something was wrong.

"Thank you," she said softly, rolling so she was on top of him. She kissed him, running her hands over his slim chest, feeling the soft skin beneath her hands.

He laughed softly as he ran his hands up her back, caressing her. "Isn't that supposed to be my line?"

"I'm the one who was pushing for sex," she pointed out.

"I've been wanting too," Chad admitted. "I just..." He trailed off turned the leather cuffs on his wrists around restlessly.

"I thought you weren't attracted to me."

Chad shook his head and kissed her gently. "Trust me, Chloe. I'm attracted to you. You're the most beautiful girl I've ever seen."

She blushed and kissed him back. "Thanks." Then, she pushed him off and sat up. Their clothes were strewn around the basement; she found her bra and started dressing, even though she needed a shower. "So, there's a rave tonight. I got the directions from the internet. Want to go?"

"I can't; I have to work. Actually, I need to head off right now." He pulled his shirt over his head. "But you should go. Tell me all about it tomorrow?"

"Yeah. I will."

They finished dressing in silence. Chloe wondered if Chad felt as weird as she did. If he finally gave in and slept with her for the same reason she pushed it so hard today. The fact was, if Clark hadn't run away, and if the tabloids had never published Clark's journal, she doubted she and Chad would be here like this right now. And that kind of ruined it for her because it just pointed out, yet again, that the only guy she really loved was Clark, and while Chad was great and sweet and everything, there was something missing. And there was nothing either one could do about it.

After Chad left, Chloe cleaned away all evidence of their activity. Then she showered and went up to her room. A quick call to Pete secured her a friend for the party, and then she lay back to stare at the ceiling some more.

"Hey," Lana said, peeking her head in the room.

"Hey." Chloe didn't have enough energy even to lift up her head.

"You okay?"

"I'm fine." And then, because Lana would just find out later and then they'd have another huge fight if she didn't find out right away, Chloe said, "Chad and I had sex."

There was a long silence. Finally, Lana asked, "Were you safe?"

"Yeah."

Another silence. "Was it good?"

"Yeah, it was fine."

"Did you see anything... strange?"

Okay, that was an unexpected question. Chloe lifted her head. "Besides his dick?"

Lana's cheeks flamed red. "I mean, any scars or anything? Cuts?"

Slowly, Chloe shook her head. "He had some scratches and stuff on his arms from yard work. Nothing unusual or anything. Why?"

"No reason," Lana said quickly. "He just.... I... I was just... wondering." She licked her lips. "I'm happy for you, Chloe."

It was such a dumb thing to say, and they both knew it. Lana wasn't happy for Chloe, and all Chloe wanted was for Lana to tell the truth, and then come over and kiss her. Kiss her and take her clothes off and remind Chloe what it was like to be with someone who made her heart sing, not just her body.

But, Lana wouldn't, especially not now. It was too late for them. So, Chloe just smiled brightly, said, "Thanks," and tried not to cry.


He was on the roof of the Daily Planet. Wind whipped through his hair, curled over his skin. He was naked. It was freezing out, snowing, but he barely felt the cold. A little dampness, a little cooler, but it wasn't unbearable.

From below, he heard a murmur, kind of like the sound of wind through cornstalks. It was... familiar, frightening. Something. He strained, trying to catch hold of it, to understand what it was, but he couldn't quite...

"You're beautiful you know," His voice whispered suddenly in Clark's ear. His breath was hot on his neck, hands tight on his skin.

Clark swallowed and tried to pull away. "No," he whimpered.

"You are. I think about you. When I'm alone at night, when I'm being intimate with someone. It's your face I see." Teeth tugged at his earlobe, saliva thick as tar clinging to it when the mouth was gone. "And now, the world knows the truth. The world knows about us."

The wind-sound got louder, and now Clark could make out words. "Bring him out," and chants of "Luthor's lover," and people reciting stuff from his journal.

Clark covered his ears. "Make it stop."

"It will never stop, Clark. Never." Lionel's hand slid down Clark's stomach, inching towards his crotch. "They know, and even when the articles are pulled from the stands, people will still know, now and forever. You will be the boy who let Lionel Luthor molest you."

"No."

"It's all your fault, Clark," Lex said.

Clark's head snapped up. Lex was standing on the edge of the building, arms out like he was hung on a cross. His eyes were so blue, face deathly white, and he was looking at Clark with a sorrowful expression.

"Lex..."

"All yours." And then, he leaned backwards.

"No!" Clark screamed, lunging. He was tumbling, tripping, and then...

He hit the floor.

Oh God. Oh Godohgodohgodohgod. He couldn't feel Lex. Lex was gone. Dead. He was...

"Clark?" he heard someone say, voice muffled as if from another room.

Shaking so hard his teeth chattered, Clark crawled across the floor. The carpet was rough on his knees and hands, and he could feel a blanket hanging from his hips. Tears obscured his vision, but he found the phone. It took a few times to control himself enough, but he finally punched in the number he wanted.

Lex was dead. Dead. He was gone, he was...

"Hello?"

A wave of relief flooded Clark and he went limp.

Lex cleared his throat. "Clark? Is that you ang.... Is that you?"

Clark gasped in relief, still shaking. "I thought you were dead." Tear drops slid down his cheeks and fell onto the floor.

"Why... No, Clark, I'm not dead," Lex said soothingly. "It was just a nightmare."

"But you said..."

"I'm so sorry about what I said this morning. I was stupid and drunk and upset. I was afraid..." He hesitated a moment before asking, "We're going to work this out, right?"

"I want to."

"I want to be there for you, Clark. I swear, I do. I.... Dad asked to come stay at the mansion when he was released, and I said no. I'm trying to get him out of my life. For you. For me, too. And I want... I'm so sorry about what's happened. I should have protected you better. I need to protect you, to take care of you so much better, Clark, I know that. I promise that from now on..."

"It's not your protection that I want," he interrupted tiredly. Now that the fear was fading, the panic soothed, exhaustion settled over him. He loved Lex. But Lex didn't understand what Clark needed from him, not really. At least, not what Clark needed now. "I don't want grand gestures to protect me from the world. I don't want to be your responsibility. I don't need you to be so focused on keeping me safe, you lose track of who I am. Lex, I don't need you to be rich and powerful and all protective. All I need is... All I need is you. The rest we can deal with together. I just want you."

There was a long silence from the other end. And then, very softly, "I think that's what scares me. I'm not good at giving just myself. I'm not good..."

"Yeah, you are good enough, baby. And I know it scares you. I know." He rubbed his face, feeling a little calmer. Lex wasn't dead. Clark wasn't settled enough yet to really get a sense of him, but he wasn't dead.

"When are you coming home?" Lex asked softly.

"Tomorrow. Grant's driving me." Bile rose in his throat as his dream washed back over him.

Lex sighed softly. "The reporters are gone. Run out of town by the police and lawsuits and the students of Smallville High. The last one drove out around eight."

"Doesn't stop anyone from knowing," Clark said bitterly.

"I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault."

"Clark..."

"I'm going to go," he said suddenly. "See you tomorrow."

"I love you."

"Yeah," Clark whispered. "I know." He hung up slowly, arm made of lead.

"You okay?" Grant asked softly from behind him.

Clark turned; Grant was standing in the doorway to the hall, hair tousled with sleep. He was wearing his wire-rimmed glasses, and his feet were bare.

"Yeah," Clark answered, voice hoarse. Even though he knew Lex was alive, and even though it'd just been a nightmare, he still wanted to curl up into a ball and cry.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

He shook his head. "Just a nightmare."

Grant nodded and scratched at the light beard on his chin. "Want me to stay up with you for a bit?"

"Would you?"

Grant came into the living room and grabbed the remote control. "Pick a movie," he said.

Clark rose, pulling the blanket around him. He chose a movie, and soon, he and Grant were on the couch together, under the blanket. Grant even reach out and had his hand on the nape of Clark's neck, massaging gently.

He was glad Lex wasn't dead, and he really hoped that the whole suicide thing was just a ... not a joke, but something Lex had said in a fit of desperation. Lex was a drama queen, and he did say and do things to get attention. Even if he hadn't realized what he was saying, he'd still said it.

Which brought Clark back to the reason he'd run away in the first place. Lex said that it was all Clark's fault. And, yeah, it sounded like he'd been talking about Lionel, but Clark didn't think so.

He was pretty sure Lex was blaming Clark for saving his life. And that thought--the thought that Lex didn't really want to be alive and be with him--hurt Clark more than anything else ever could.

Even being blamed for what Lionel had done.

He shuddered as images from his dream washed over him once more.

Grant squeezed his neck.

Clark swallowed back his fear and closed his eyes.

Okay, so everyone knew. Well, everyone who read the tabloids. The Daily Planet hadn't published anything, nor had the Metropolis Journal. But still, there were a lot of people in the world who read tabloids and all those people knew about it.

More than anything, Clark wished he could erase everyone's mind of it. He wished he'd burned the journal before anyone had ever found it. He wished...

If wishes were horses.

He sighed and leaned against Grant. He wasn't Lex or Mom, but he was warm and had a heartbeat. And, by now, he was familiar, too. And he didn't seem to mind Clark's neediness.

Grant slid his arm around Clark's shoulders and held him close. Clark closed his eyes and listened to the steady throb of his heart.

"Grant," Clark whispered. "Thank you. For everything."

"You're welcome."

"No. I mean..." He yawned and leaned heavily against Grant, darkness gathering around him. "Everything," he whispered sleepily, unable to articulate further what he meant.

Lips pressed into the top of his head, and Grant rubbed his back. "Go to sleep, Clark."

Feeling safe, warm, and cared for, Clark allowed himself to drift away into the ether, leaving his problems behind, at least for tonight.

To be Concluded....



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