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Corner of the World 50: Foundations part 4

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Corner of the World 50: Foundations part 4

by Serafina

"Lana?" Chloe whispered, shaking her gently.

Drowsy and heavy-lidded, Lana opened her eyes. Chloe was standing next to the bed, dressed in the clothes she'd been wearing to the cave rave. Tears streamed from her eyes, smearing mascara down her cheeks to give Chloe a raccoon-like look. It was obvious she was trying to hold herself together, but what with the tears and the violent trembling, Chloe looked like nothing but a girl in the heavy throes of regret.

Oh, wonderful, Lana thought dryly, trying to squash the instantaneous sympathy that welled in her at the sight of her best friend in pain. Because Lana was pretty sure why Chloe was here and, to be honest, Lana didn't feel like she was the one who should have to put up with Chloe's guilt and remorse. Chloe had slept with Chad. Chloe had made no secret of the fact she'd wanted to sleep with Chad for awhile now. In fact, Chloe had gotten angry at both Clark and Lana, convinced they were behind some secret conspiracy that kept Chad from desiring Chloe just a few days ago. And if she was realizing it was mistake now, then, dammit, Lana was not the one to run to.

Working up her righteous indignation, Lana pushed herself into a sitting position. "Chloe...."

"He died, Lana," Chloe sobbed, appearing not to have heard Lana. She climbed onto the bed and wiped her face with the back of her hand, smearing the mascara further. "He was fine, acting weird, and then he was dead."

"Chad's dead?"

"No. Travis." Chloe winced when Lana turned on the bedside lamp.

Travis? "Who's Travis? What about Chad?"

Chloe sniffed. "Chad didn't go to the rave. Pete and I did. And Travis is my lab partner. You know him." Her face crumpled. "Knew him. He's dead."

"Oh my God." She stroked Chloe's hair, her own stomach churning. "What happened?"

"He was high on something. When Pete and I got there, Travis came up and kissed me. Said he'd always wanted to do that. Then, he climbed a scaffolding and was waving at the crowd. He just lost his grip and...." She swallowed hard. "Ever seen someone's eyes stare off into the distance without seeing? This was worse." Chloe asked in a raspy voice. "I mean, there was no question. Travis was just gone."

Lana pulled Chloe to her and kissed her softly. "I'm so sorry, Chloe."

Chloe clutched her desperately. "I'm so freaked out. God. He was our age. And it was so easy for him to die. It'd be so easy for us to just go. I mean..."

"We can't live our lives thinking that, though," Lana said soothingly. She combed her fingers through Chloe's hair. "You know that, Chloe. I mean, it's not like we haven't had our share of near death experiences, right?"

She nodded and wiped her eyes on Lana's shoulder. "I know. I know I'm being stupid. Christ, I was buried alive. You were caught in a tornado, and we got through it. But I think... this was just so unexpected. So ordinary." Chloe lifted her head, eyes luminous and huge. "Please, can I sleep here tonight? I know.... I know we're at a weird place again, but I don't want to be alone."

"Of course you can sleep here," Lana said, caressing Chloe's back tenderly. "Whatever else is going on in our lives, know that I'm always here for you when you need me. I'm not just in love with you. I love you."

"Thanks." Chloe smiled and sniffed, rubbing her nose with the back of her hand. "I love you too, Lana."

"Yeah," she replied, smiling and feeling bittersweet. "I know."

"Lex!" Martha exclaimed when Lex walked into the house through the back door. "What were you doing, rolling in the mud?" She wet the dishtowel that was draped over her shoulder and walked over to him.

He blinked through the sweat that was dripping down his face and into his eyes, trying to get his vision to focus on her. "What? No." It was so hot in the house; he'd already been overheated as it was--which was insane, since it was freezing outside--but now he felt like he was in an oven.

Wiping his face on his sleeve, Lex set the bottle of warm milk he'd carried in from the barn. "I was helping Mr. Kent with the cows," he said to explain his state of disarray.

"You have mud all over you. That takes talent." She wiped his face gently, shaking her head in loving amusement.

Lex blushed and closed his eyes, letting her clean him like she was a mother cat and he her kitten. "I'm not very good at all this farm stuff," he admitted, trying very hard not to look as if he was leaning into her. "I'm a wreck out there. I can't walk without slipping in mud or splashing it on my face. I keep hitting my shins on the wheelbarrow or running into walls. Mr. Kent didn't even trust me to hook up the milking machines; all I was allowed to do was clean off the cows' tits. Uh, teats," he corrected, face going up in flames. He just said tits in front of Martha Kent. She was a mother! She was Clark's mother and, yeah, she had a rack, but...

Crap! He just looked at her tits. Teats. Breasts! No, don't think about....

"No, that's normal," Martha said, seemingly oblivious to Lex's wayward thoughts. She finished wiping his face and stepped away. "Not only are the machines expensive, but they can be complicated. But, more than that, it's important to really clean the teats before hooking the cows to the machine; if you don't do it right, the milk can become contaminated. So, first you learn how to do that without the pressure of also having to hook up the cows. Then, after you get that process down, he'll teach you how milk them. Well, if we ever plan on letting you do it alone, that is."

"You plan on..." Wait a second. Lex narrowed his eyes. "How long am I going to be grounded, anyway?"

Martha laughed and shook her head. "That's not what I meant, Lex. We just think it's better for you to learn how to milk cows in case, well. In case it ever comes up."

"In case I'm ever grounded again."

"That too." She smiled brightly then kissed him on the cheek. "Go wash up; breakfast is almost ready."

"Oh, goody. Does that mean we get to eat those shit-covered eggs I gathered this morning?"

"Watch your language, young man," she said with a playful whap to the back of his head. "And go wash up."

Sighing dramatically, Lex turned around and went upstairs. Day two of being grounded was, so far, mildly better than day one. Of course, day one had started with Martha finding Lex in bed, drunk off his ass, so any day when that didn't happen was automatically better. Then again, on day one, Lex had at least been able to move; day two started with the scream of muscles that had turned to stone during the night.

And Jonathan had been the one to pull him out of bed. But he'd been friendly and avuncular, so it could have been much worse.

Like the day was going to get. Worse. Clark was coming home. With Grant, the tall, handsome, Southern reporter with a smile that put people right at ease with its easy sincerity. And, since Clark was returning, that meant that Lex would have to leave, even if he was still grounded; there was much too much anger and hurt running between him and Clark for them to cohabit right now.

At least, cohabit in a place where they couldn't have lots of angry sexy in between bouts of talking. And make-up sex after they'd worked things out. And then, sex to celebrate the fact they'd worked things out together. And, after a shower and a nap, some more sex.

Sex wouldn't happen at the Kent house. Of course, it might not happen at the mansion, either, but it was less likely to happen when Jonathan and Martha were around. And, without sex, Lex didn't think he and Clark could live in the same house, so he really needed to be released from his prison sentence, soon.

He groaned softly as he bent over the sink to wash his face. Every muscle in his body was screaming. Even though his muscles had loosened up after Jonathan had hauled him out of bed, he was still in so much pain. Manual labor was much different from working out, and he'd been worked to the ground the day before. He was lucky that Jonathan had simply asked him to gather the eggs and clean the cows; there was no way Lex would have been able to help feed them today. Jonathan had also said that the rest of the day, Lex could help Martha sort seeds and go through the catalogues; easy work that would occupy his mind, let his body recover, and keep him away from evil drugs.

God. He was so ashamed. Lex didn't think he'd ever honestly been ashamed of taking drugs before he'd met the Kents. It'd been bad enough when he'd thought about taking them when he and Clark had gone to the opera. He'd felt bad about it, but it hadn't been anything like this. He hadn't felt... dirty, not the way he did now.

And it wasn't like the Kents were yelling at him or telling him how weak and pathetic he was. They were just... being parents. Giving him a lot of stuff to do to keep his mind off drugs. And, all the while, they were exuding love and compassion for him.

If Lionel had been a better father, if he'd been even half the parents the Kents were, Lex probably never would have started taking drugs in the first place. And that thought was something that he really had to chew on because maybe, just maybe, they were all right. Maybe Lionel hadn't been just doing what was necessary to make Lex strong. Maybe he had been abusing Lex.

He swallowed back a sudden bout of nausea and thrust the thought away. There was no way Lex was even remotely ready to deal with that idea right now.

"Lex!" Martha called up the stairs. "Breakfast is ready!"

He finished washing and dried off. After ducking quickly into his bedroom for a clean shirt--one of Clark's since they were more comfortable and he needed to feel close right now--he went downstairs for breakfast. Martha had, as usual, created an incredible spread. There were eggs-- which Lex was not going to eat because he now knew what the looked like upon exiting the chicken--pancakes, bacon, hash browns, juice and coffee. A feast fit for a farmer and Lex now knew how Jonathan was able to eat so much and not gain weight.

"Looks good, Mrs. Kent," Lex said, taking his seat. He grabbed his napkin and tossed it into his lap, surveying the meal.

"Thank you, Lex." She poured him a glass of juice.

He drained the glass and set it back down. "So, how long does that take you on a normal day?" he asked, piling food on his plate. "I mean with Clark?"

"'bout the same," Jonathan said between bites. "Maybe a little faster, since we've been doing it so long. Clark can't use his powers around the cows; it spooks them."

"Of course. I think he might have told me that before. Hey, baby," he said softly when Athena leapt into his lap. She started purring loudly, rubbing her head against his palm. "Do you feed the cows a special diet so they produce better quality milk?"

"Just the usual: grass, alfalfa, hay. It's all organic, of course. That way, we can market the milk as organic."

Lex nodded. "I wondered how it was classified. I knew how organic food got that label, but I wasn't sure about cows. I.... Mrs. Kent, why are you looking at me like that?"

She was beaming at him like he'd just done something fantastic. It was making him uncomfortable.

"What?" he snapped, squirming.

"You're eating."

Lex blinked stupidly at her for a moment, then looked down at his plate. It was empty. And he had the bowl of eggs in his hands, clearly ready to spoon a second helping onto his plate. He didn't even remember filling his plate the first time, much less eating anything, but the taste of syrup was in his mouth and the remnants of his first helping on the plate.

"Well," he said after a moment. "I guess all this hard work got to me." He spooned a small portion of eggs onto his plate and salted them lightly.

"Maybe you should come do chores for us every day," Jonathan said. "Put some meat on your bones."

Lex tried not to roll his eyes at Jonathan, but failed. His ears turned hot at Jonathan's wide grin, and he dropped his eyes. "It's not like I starve myself," he said, poking at his eggs. "I eat."

"Except when you're stressed, or upset, or your father is in town," Martha pointed out. "I'm surprised that you're not a skeleton right now. Mabel is a wonderful cook, but..."

Martha was interrupted by Lex's cell phone. "Sorry," he said as he pulled it from his pocket, well aware that he wasn't supposed to even have it. Martha had taken it from him the day before; he'd taken it back after she'd gone to bed, somehow knowing that he'd need it. And he'd been right, too. Clark had called his cell phone in a panic last night, thinking Lex was dead.

"Lex," Martha protested, but Lex just shrugged and flipped the phone open.

"Yes, Damien?" he answered.

"A party occurred in the Kwatche caves last night, and resulted in a death," Damien said. "The police have ruled it drug related. They've already cleared out, but they've filed a report with the state, and the state will want to speak to you."

Lex sighed and rubbed his eyes. "How bad is it?"

"I think you'll be able to retain guardianship, but you'll need to come up with some clever promises and perhaps a few legal maneuvers." There was a brief pause before Damien continued. "The caves, though, are a disaster."

"Are the paintings all right?" Lex carefully put Athena on the floor and rose from the table.

"They looked all right. But the evidence of the party..."

"Okay, Call in a crew to clean it up. I'll be back soon."

"Very well, sir."

Lex hung up. "I need to go," he said.

"Can't Damien take care of whatever it is?" Martha asked, obviously annoyed.

Good question. He probably could. "Mrs. Kent, I know I was a mess yesterday, but I'm fine now. I promise won't do anything stupid, and that I'll come back as soon as this is cleared up." He didn't have a car, so he really did need the Kents' consent in all of this. Well, he could walk or call for a car, but that'd just make them angry at him. "Please, there's been an incident at the caves. I want to handle it personally."

Martha and Jonathan exchanged glances before Martha sighed. "Very well. I can drive you over, if..." A knock on the door interrupted her.

"Hello?" Mark called through the screen.

"Mark, hello." Jonathan got up and let him in. "What brings you here this morning?"

Mark was holding four coffees bearing the Talon stamp. He set them on the table and began handing them out; each one bore a name Lana's flowing script. "I stopped by the Talon this morning, and Lana told me what happened at the caves. She suggested that Lex might need a ride home." He handed Lex his coffee.

He took a sip; vanilla cafe au lait. Perfect. He was going to marry Lana. Or something. "I could use a ride," he said, shooting a glance at the Kents.

Martha actually nodded in consent. Christ, this being grounded thing was getting seriously embarrassing.

"I'll be back tonight," he promised.

"Call first," she said, rising. "Just in case."

She left it there, but Lex heard the rest anyway. Just in case Clark didn't want to see him. Just in case it was over.

He nodded as he took a long drink of his coffee, unable to speak. "Athena?" he finally ventured when the lump in his throat dissolved.

"I'll take care of her," Martha promised. "She won't even notice you're gone." She kissed him on the cheek gently and squeezed his shoulders. "Call if you need anything."

"I will. Thank you." He turned to Mark. "It's no trouble?"

Mark smiled lopsidedly. "I've already driven all the way out here. It'd be more trouble to leave you."

"Thank you for the coffee, Mark," Jonathan said. "What do we owe you?"

He shook his head. "I got it for free. Lana said that you might need it after dealing with him all yesterday." Mark's cheeks colored slightly, and he ducked his head, obviously embarrassed to tease Lex in front of the Kents.

But Jonathan only laughed, and Lex took it in stride. The girl made him coffee; she could say whatever the hell she wanted about him today.

"How are you doing?" Mark asked as they left the house.

Lex shrugged. "I'm fine. Concerned that the caves in my custody were trashed, but..."

"That's not what I meant," he interrupted softly.

"I know." Lex's reply was just as soft, and he paused, holding the passenger door open. He met Mark's eyes briefly and shrugged. at a loss as to what to say. Finally, he settled on climbing inside the car and strapping in.

Mark waited until they were on the road before speaking again. "Have you talked to him since he took off?"

"He called last night. We talked briefly." And they spoke once in Kiptin, a conversation Lex never wanted to think about again. Had he really told Clark he wanted to die? And, worse, had he really meant it?

It was true that he didn't want to live if he had lost Clark due to the horrible, hurtful things he'd said to Clark, but, as usual, he lacked the courage--or was it cowardice?--to take any direct action. He'd never shoot himself; he had a strong dislike of guns and preferred not to use them, even against people who were attacking him. Lex hadn't liked them before he'd killed Nixon, but after... he really didn't want to ever touch one again.

If he slit his wrists, Clark would probably be able to rescue him before Lex was dead. Poison might not work if his alien-enhanced immune system fought it off, and, again, there was the risk of Clark getting to him before it took effect. Unless, of course, Lex created something that he knew would work quickly...

God, why was he thinking like this? He didn't want to die. He wanted to work this out with Clark and... and live. He didn't want to be weak.

"Did you work anything out with him?" Mark asked, dragging Lex's thoughts back into the car.

"Not really. He had a nightmare, dreamed I was dead. We talked a little, but everything is on hold right now until he gets back."

Mark nodded. "So. How are you holding up?"

"Better than expected," he answered honestly. "I sort of bottomed out yesterday morning. I was up to... four, five Vicodin and a bunch of Scotch by ten o'clock. That's when Martha dragged me over here and whipped me into shape."

"Lana said you were grounded."

"Is it on the marquee of the Talon?" Lex groaned.

Mark laughed. "No, but it's pretty common knowledge. But now everyone's talking about Travis. You and Clark are officially old news."


"The student who died last night at the rave."

"Oh, right," Lex said softly. He rubbed his temples again. "You know, even though the Kents worked me to death yesterday, and I can barely move, and I really messed up, it was... nice. Giving up all the responsibility and frustration and reality. All I had to worry about was staying on my feet and doing whatever chores they told me to do."

Mark nodded. "Well, most of the time you take way too much on yourself. You have a lot of responsibility, yes, but the stress you put on yourself." He glanced at Lex. "You shouldn't have stayed at the mansion after your father moved in."

"Where was I supposed to go?"

"Anywhere. There's that apartment above the Talon. I had room at my place."

"We weren't friends then," Lex pointed out.

"Okay, maybe not, but... I can understand not being able to refuse to let him stay at the mansion he brought in, but... you need to care for yourself before your father."

Lex snorted. "This coming from you?"

"The voice of experience," Mark said with a wry smile. "We've both learned the hard way that being self-sacrificing doesn't really benefit anyone."

That silenced Lex. He looked at Mark for a long moment, trying to see if the other man was pulling his leg or actually serious. When Mark glanced questioningly at him, Lex said softly, "I've never thought of myself as self-sacrificing before." Completely selfish, yes. Self-centered to the point that he actually believed the universe should revolve around him, yes. Self-sacrificing, no. "Clark would disagree."

"No, I don't think he would. He might call you myopic... well, maybe he wouldn't," Mark said, frowning. "He has an impressive vocabulary for someone his age, but I don't know if he'd come up with that phrase. But I think you are. Myopic. You get so caught up in the details of how things should be, or the way your father tells you it needs to be, that you lose sight of everything else."

"Like how much having Dad live with me was hurting Clark."

"And yourself."

"Right." God, he was fucked up. But he knew that, had always known that, and was taking steps to fix it. If he was fixable, that was.

Mark was waved through security at the front gate; Lex told him to park in front of the house, "Unless you want the garage," he added as an afterthought. Lex wouldn't bother protecting a ninety-four Toyota Celica with dents and scratches, but maybe normal people were different.

But, Mark just pulled in front of the mansion and parked. Lex couldn't imagine turning down shelter for one of his cars, but it was obvious that the scratches on Mark's must have come from somewhere.

"Did you want to come in?" Lex asked.

"Sure. I've got nothing to do." Mark climbed out and followed him inside.

"Not even papers to grade?"

"I'm trying not to think about that," he replied. "I try and take Saturdays off just for myself, if possible. Sundays, too. Well, during the day. I cram grading in at night, if I can't get it done during my office hour."

Lex laughed. "Maybe I should become a teacher," he said. "It might be nice being able to procrastinate and not have the world come crashing down around me."

"Lex!" Mabel called, sticking her head into the hall. "And Mark, good morning. Breakfast? I have cinnamon rolls and pancakes and no one to eat them."

Lex stopped at the foot of the stairs, frowning. "What about Damien? Or Dr. Sutton?"

Mabel shook her head. "Dr. Sutton had to run to the city; Jodi's metabolism spiraled out of control again, and she'd been called in."

"Does Damien have anyone looking after him? Did Dominic make it back?"

"No. I guess he'll be coming later today. Damien said he can manage. I'll help if he needs, and he's interviewing a nurse today."

"But he's here. Why isn't he eating?"

"He didn't want breakfast this morning."

"How come he's allowed to skip breakfast?"

"Because he doesn't weigh twenty pounds and turn into a snappish slave driver when his blood sugar drops. Do you want breakfast?"

"I ate with the Kents." He started up the stairs when he heard Mark request a roll; as if on cue, Lex's stomach rumbled. "Oh for God's sake." He turned. "I'll have a roll, too." Then he jogged the rest of the way up to his office.

Damien was inside, sitting at Lex's desk. He had a law book open in front of him and he was looking at it, head propped on his hand.

"Hey. Have you heard from the state yet?" Lex asked. He strode in and grabbed another book from his desk, flipping to the already tabbed page left over from his original research.

"No." Damien sat up and rolled his neck slowly. "Not yet." He rolled away from the table and nodded to Mark, who entered carrying a tray. "I did call a crew to clean the mess from the caves. I've also contacted a security group in Arizona, one used to dealing with archeological sites. They come highly recommended and should provide excellent security for the site from now on. They'll send a team down by tomorrow." He stopped, swallowing. "You also have a message from a Dr. Fredrick Walden."

"Who's he?" Lex asked distractedly, pulling his chair to the desk.

Damien coughed wheezily. "A linguist. Said he's interested in taking a look at the caves."

Lex raised and eyebrow and looked up. "Really?"

"According to what I've found on him so far, Walden is at the top of his field. He specializes in translating unknown languages. It makes sense he'd be drawn to the caves."

"Yeah, it does. I..." The phone rang. "Lex Luthor," he answered.

"Mr. Luthor, this is Deputy Adams, I've been assigned to investigate the death that happened in the caves last night," a nasal voice drawled over the line. "I just have a few questions for you."

Sheriff's office Lex mouthed to Damien. He quickly scrawled a note on the pad in front of him and handed it across to Damien.

Damien, look online for anything we can use to protect our interest in the caves. Use your computer. Mark, the entertainment room is yours to play in; I'll be in when I can.

Both men nodded after reading the note and left the room

"All right, Deputy," Lex said, leaning back in his chair. He watched Damien and Mark disappear and sighed, feeling the cool mask of business-like detachment settle over him. "I'll be happy to answer any questions you have."

"How does he seem this morning?" Damien asked as he and Mark made their way down the hall.

Mark shrugged. "Like Lex. His mood goes from content to depressed in seconds, with no room for anyone to keep up with him. Still, he snaps out of it quickly, and Lex said he's feeling a lot better than yesterday. More capable of handling things without resorting to drugs."

Damien nodded. "I should have known I couldn't trust him. I've got all his medication under lock and key and yet..." He stopped talking and swallowed. His hands seemed to fall aimlessly away from the wheels on his chair, and he rolled crookedly.

"Whoa!" Mark exclaimed, grabbing the chair with one hand before Damien crashed into the wall. "You okay?"

Damien looked pale. There was sweat beading on his forehead and pooling at the base of his neck. He seemed to be having trouble breathing, and he was blinking and rubbing his eyes.

Mark quickly set down the tray he was still carrying and knelt in front of Damien. "Damien?" he said, taking Damien's wrist in his fingers. "What's wrong?"

He swallowed, body jerking. "I'm going to be sick," he choked out.

Mark barely had time to move away before Damien threw up.

"Shit," Mark swore. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and grabbed a napkin from the tray. Carefully, he wiped vomit from Damien's chin and neck as he dialed 911. "I'm going to take you to Lex's room," he said. He rose, cell phone tucked against his chin as he pushed the wheelchair down the hall.

Damien nodded, coughed, then convulsed as he threw up again.

"911 Emergency. Please state the nature of your emergency," a woman answered on the line.

"My name is Mark Townsend. I'm at the Luthor Manor on 2116 Beresford Lane. Mr. Damien Walters just got violently and suddenly ill. I think he needs to go to the hospital."

"An ambulance has been dispatched. Can you please tell me his symptoms?"

"One moment. I need to help him." Mark pushed open the door to Lex's room and wheeled Damien quickly inside. Setting the phone on the nightstand, he positioned the chair next to the bed. "Damien, can you help me?"

Damien nodded and lifted his arms. He was heavy, but Mark was able to maneuver Damien onto the bed. They both grunted a few times, and Mark had to stop briefly as a coughing fit overcame Damien, but the managed to get him more or less comfortably situated. "Rest. Keep breathing," Mark said. "I'll get you some water."

"Thank you," Damien wheezed, sounding terrible.

Mark picked the phone up again. "Still there?" he asked, rushing to the bathroom.

"Yes, sir."

"Okay, Mr. Walters is unusually pale and sweating excessively. He's having problems breathing and he's vomiting." Mark glanced around the bathroom and quickly found a glass and a few towels. He filled the glass with water, and wet down a towel, then ran back into the bedroom.

Damien looked like he was asleep. He also didn't seem to be breathing.


"What's wrong?" dispatch asked.

"I don't think he's breathing. I've got to..." He dropped the phone and climbed on the bed next to Damien. "Damien?" He shook the unconscious man. "Damien, wake up." Quickly, he tilted Damien's head back and opened his mouth. There was some vomit blocking the airway, which he wiped out with the washcloth. Bending over, he placed his ear next to Damien's nose to see if he was breathing.

He wasn't.

Mark took a deep breath. It'd been awhile since he'd done this, and he was terrified of doing it wrong. But, he supposed, better wrong than not at all.

Swallowing, he bent down and breathed deeply into Damien's mouth, watching to make sure his chest rose. He pulled up and counted to five before giving another breath. Then he listened to Damien again, taking his pulse.

His heart was beating, but he still wasn't breathing. Mark hesitated a moment, wondering if he should call security to tell them what was going on, but shook his head. It was more important for Damien to breathe; security would figure it out.

"One, two, three, four," Mark breathed after five. "One, two, three, four," and again. "One, two, three, four..."

Sometimes it seemed that the minute the doors to the Talon opened, a non-stop throng of people streamed in demanding drinks and muffins and coffee cake, filling the tables to sit and chat for hours. Anywhere from three to four hours straight, Lana was on her feet, running around to refill cups or ring something up at the register, running to the back for more food or coffee or coca, her face stretched into a smile and bubbly, friendly, meaningless words flowing from her lips. The best part about being busy was Lana was able to turn off her mind for a few hours, leaving troubles and worries well behind her. Even with the stress of filling orders and pleasing customers, Lana could enter a place of supreme relaxation. Her shoulders unknotted and her stomach stopped twisting with worry. Her breath came easier and she felt like she could move easily and gracefully through the world.

However, the moment the seemingly endless tide ceased, the world came crashing back. Today was no different, only today instead of Lana's problems and worries being in her mind, they took the form of a beautiful and red-eyed Chloe who dragged herself into the Talon around eleven o'clock.

Lana's heart melted at the sight. Chloe had had an absolutely horrible time last night; every time she drifted off to sleep, she'd waken up gasping from a nightmare. When Lana had finally left for work, Chloe had been sleeping fitfully, mumbling under her sleep about the caves, Clark, and her mother.

"Chloe, honey. Are you okay?" Lana tossed the rag she was holding down and walked around the counter to Chloe.

It was mostly a rhetorical question, since Chloe looked awful. There were dark circles under her eyes and her hair was flat and knotted, like she hadn't brushed it. Her clothes looked like they'd been dug out of the black hole that was her closet; Lana had never seen them before, but it was like Chloe had deliberately picked out a sweatshirt that was stained and rumpled and jeans with a hole in them to reflect how she felt. "I'm fine," she said hollowly.

"No, you're not fine. You should have stayed home." Lana pulled Chloe to her and kissed her on the cheek. "Coffee?"

"Yeah, sure." Chloe allowed Lana to take her hand and lead her to the counter.

"Did you sleep?" Lana asked as she made Chloe's drink.

"Not really." She rubbed her eyes and shuddered. "Every time I tried, I just saw Travis lying there, his eyes staring blankly off into the distance. God." She shuddered again and swallowed convulsively.

Lana placed the coffee in front of Chloe and took her hands. "Chloe, you have to stop thinking about it. Did you try watching a movie or something? Distracting yourself?"

She shook her head. "That's just it, I don't want to distract myself. I want to put it behind me." She gripped Lana's hands tightly. "I'm going into school today to put together a memorial issue. Will you come with me?"


"Please? I already talked to Reynolds, and he said it was fine. He wants to try and have it out by Monday."

Lana didn't think it was a good idea, but who was she to argue? Chloe was so driven when it came to the paper; her whole heart was in that thing. If Lana had seen Travis die, she'd be doing everything she could to forget it. But Chloe? Chloe always ran head first into everything, even grief.

"Yeah, of course I'll go with you. I'll do whatever you need me to do."

Chloe's lower lip trembled. "Thank you. God, Lana, I'm sorry I'm being such a baby. I just... How can I be a reporter if I fall to pieces the minute I see a dead person?"

"You're sixteen," Lana said patiently. "By the time you're a real reporter, you'll be as tough as nails."

"Yeah," Chloe agreed gloomily. "Unless I'm in the wrong profession."

"You are not in the wrong profession. You are a wonderful reporter. And your memorial issue will be fantastic. I know this because I know you. You, Chloe Sullivan, are a wonder." And then, because Lana's brain was so obviously out on some kind of vacation, she leaned into Chloe in the middle of the Talon, which was now filling with the lunch crowd, kissed her full on the lips.

Chloe pulled back, her heart pounding in her ears. "Lana," she started, but she didn't know how to finish. It wasn't like she wasn't constantly aching for Lana to kiss her. But she'd just slept with her boyfriend for the first time yesterday, and maybe it'd been a mistake, but that didn't mean she didn't care for him. She didn't want to hurt him the same way she'd hurt Sydney.

"I'm sorry," Lana said, face beet red. "Oh, God, Chloe..."

"It's okay." Chloe scowled at Theresa and Donna, who were gawking at Lana and Chloe while whispering frantically to one another. "Look, I'm going to head off to school right now."

"Do you still want me to come?"

She nodded. "Yeah, I do. We'll talk there." Then, just stopping herself from kissing Lana good-bye, Chloe turned and left the Talon.

Oh, they were fucked, Chloe thought as she briskly walked away from the coffee house. Fucked, fucked, fucked. Only, of course, they weren't fucking, but now that Theresa and Donna and everyone else in the Talon had seen her and Lana kiss, they would all assume they were. Especially since they were living together.

The thing that really sucked was that there were tons of girls at school who kissed each other all the time. Normally it was on the cheeks, but Chloe had seen girls kiss on the lips, and no one thought they were gay. But neither Chloe nor Lana was like that, not with other girls. She didn't know if it was because they were both repressed or shy, or if it was just, for them, kissing girls could be as meaningful as kissing boys, so they didn't do it unless they meant it.

So people would make assumptions, especially since the ones who really hated Chloe already called her dyke anyway. And Lana... people really liked her. She was sweet and friendly and knew how everyone took their drinks, so it seemed as if she really knew you.

But there was still some resentment built around her. Teachers loved her, she got good grades, she ran her own business. Plus, she was beautiful, so that made her a target with the other girls. And then, she didn't date. Boys still asked or expressed interest in her, but she always turned them down, giving her the undeserved reputation as a tease. So Lana wasn't going to be immune to any homophobia that might be heaped on them.

And, worse, because Clark had a sort of no-fly zone around him right now, everyone who'd be inclined to hassle him about the molestation and gay thing might turn their fear and frustration on Chloe and Lana. Only, Chloe knew that the harassment would be more sexually charged in nature. She didn't want to go through this and she definitely didn't want Lana to have to go through this.

Chloe's thoughts were interrupted by the sound a people shouting indignantly. She turned to see what was going on. Pete was riding down the sidewalk on his dirt bike, scattering people where he went. There was a sign propped in front of the store like a ramp; Pete rode up it, flying through the air before he skidded to a stop in front of Chloe.

"Pete, are you crazy?" Chloe exclaimed, heart thudding.

Pete's eyes were wild and his smile broad. "I was just taking the bike out for a little spin."

"What happened to your helmet? And you're driving completely recklessly. You could have hurt someone. You could have hurt yourself!"

"Yeah, that's the rush."

Chloe frowned. "Pete, it's dangerous. You have to be careful."

"Screw being careful, Chloe. Careful is for losers. Travis had the right idea, you know? You're never more alive than the moment before you die."

It was like Pete had just hit her in the stomach. "Pete..."

Suddenly, Pete grabbed Chloe and kissed her. His mouth was demanding, and his tongue pushed its way inside her mouth, twining with hers roughly.

After a moment of being completely stunned into submission, Chloe came back to herself and shoved Pete away. "What are you doing!" she practically screamed.

He just laughed and grabbed his dirt bike. "See you later, gorgeous!" Then he revved up his bike and sped away.

Chloe watched him go, mouth hanging open in shock. Did she have some sort of kiss me sign on her or something? She understood why Lana had done it, but Pete? He didn't even like her anymore. At least, she didn't think he did. And what the hell was that about Travis having the right idea? Travis was dead.

Oh, God, was Pete going to do something stupid like kill himself?

Maybe she'd stop off at the sheriff's before going to work on the Torch. After all, Pete had been at the same party as Travis last night, and now he was acting all weird, too. She hated to bring the law into something like this, but it was possible that someone last night had been drugging kids without their knowledge. Chloe hadn't had anything to drink, but maybe Pete had. Or, maybe someone was sticking people with needles; that happened. Not in Smallville, usually, but Sydney had been to a party in Metropolis where a dealer was trying to get kids hooked on stuff by sticking them.

Of course, with Chloe's luck, it didn't have anything to do with drugs. She hadn't seen of the little green rocks inside the cave, but it was Smallville.

Still. Rocks or not, Pete needed to be reigned in before he killed someone. Or himself. With Clark still in Metropolis, Chloe knew she wasn't going to be able to get Pete to slow down, or even listen to her. Her only choice was going to the sheriff and hoping they could help.

"I'm sorry, sir, but Whitney Fordman checked out this morning."

Mark swallowed, not quite understanding the words. "He... what? Huh?"

"He checked out. He's not here any longer."

Not there. "Um, do you know where he went?"

"I'm sorry, sir, but I can't give out that kind of information."

"Right. Of course. Thanks." Mark hung up and wiped his forehead. God, he was sweating, but he was so damn cold. When they'd gotten to the hospital, he'd been checked over and told that he was exhibiting signs of shock. They'd given him a bed, hooked him up to a monitor to keep an eye on his vitals, and told him to take it easy and relax.

As soon as the doctors were gone, he'd dug his cell phone from his pocket, needing to speak to Whitney. Thus far, he'd been unable to find him.

Hands shaking, he punched in the number for Rebecca Fordman's hotel. It rang three times before the concierge picked up and said something in German.

"Yes, I'd like room fifty-two please," Mark said.

"One moment please." There was a brief pause. "I'm sorry, sir, the occupant of that room checked out this morning."

"Oh." Where was he? "Thanks." Mark hung up and laid his head back against the pillow, mind wandering for the thousandth time back to what had happened.

The paramedics had arrived not long after Mark had started breathing for Damien. Even so, by the time they got there, Mark had been sweating bullets, exhausted and nearly dehydrated. One of the EMTs had taken over breathing for him until they'd gotten Damien hooked to the respirator. Then, the ones not busy with Damien turned their attention to Mark, giving him water and escorting him downstairs and into the ambulance. He'd been hooked up to an IV to replenish his fluids and given a blanket; one of the paramedics attended him all the way to the hospital, explaining that Mark was in shock and would be admitted to the ER until a doctor felt he was well enough to go home.

It had been embarrassing to admit that there was no one to call. No parents, no friends outside of Lex and Helen, no one around Mark was close enough to rely on. Sure, he could have called a coworker and someone would have gladly come for him, but Mark was weepy and shaken; all he wanted was Whitney and, in lieu of him, Lex and Helen were the only ones he trusted.

Speak of the devil. The curtain surrounding Mark's bed pulled back and Helen stepped inside. "Hey," she said softly. "You all right?"

Mark put the phone down and nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine."

She closed the curtain behind her and went to him. "God, you look awful." Gently, she pushed hair off his face. "You saved his life, you know."

"Is he okay?"

"His vitals are stable, if a little low. He's breathing on his own again, which is good. But they don't know what caused this. I've been called in to consult, but another doctor is with him right now." She sat on the bed and took his hands. " Damien Walters is in good health, or was." Helen shook her head. "I need to talk to Lex and ask how Damien's been the past few days, but..."

"I don't know," Lex said, sticking his head into the cubical. His eyes met Mark's. "May I come in?"

Mark nodded. When Lex got close enough, he reached out and grabbed his hand, squeezing. "You okay?"

Startled blue eyes looked at him, but then Lex relaxed and squeezed Mark's hand back. "Don't worry about me, Mark. I'm not the one in the hospital bed." He hesitated, jerkily leaned forward like he was going in for a kiss, then obviously changed his mind. His ears turned pink and Lex asked, "How are you?"

"Okay. I guess." He snorted. "You'd think I was the one who'd..." Mark trailed off and swallowed.

"It can be very traumatizing being faced with a life or death emergency," Helen said soothingly. "Your reaction is perfectly normal." She looked at Lex. "And how are you?"

"I'm doing all right."

"You don't look well."

Lex gave her a ghost of a smile. "I'm tired and sore. I was at the Kents' yesterday helping them out with the chores. I'm not used to manual labor, that's all."

Helen nodded. "Seems out of character for you."

"I'm full of surprises," he responded mildly. He sat in the chair that was next to Mark's bed, slipping his hand from Mark's.

Helen was about to say something when her pager went off. She checked it and rose. "I'm off to see what I can do for Damien. And, Lex, can you try and get a hold of one of Damien's caretakers?"

"I've called both Dr. Sutton and Dominic," Lex replied, voice sharp. "They haven't called back yet."

"Can you try again? We really need someone who knows his full medical history; right now, we're at a loss as to what's going on with him." She put her hand on Lex's shoulder as she leaned over and kissed Mark gently. "Feel better, Mark. I'm so proud of you."

"Thanks." He smiled at her, watching her leave.

Next to him, Lex sighed softly and pinched the bridge of his nose. He was pale and his hands trembled slightly.

Mark closed his eyes. "You could call Clark, you know. "

"He lost his cell phone."

"Isn't he with Grant?"

"He is. I don't have Grant's number with me." He laid his head on Mark's pillow, eyes closed.

Mark rolled onto his side and gazed at Lex. "I can't find Whitney."

Lex's eyes opened; they were so close that if Mark moved his head slightly, Lex's eyes merged into one. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, he's checked out of the hospital and his mom's checked out of the hotel. He didn't say anything about coming home, and I'm... worried."

"He'll probably be fine. They most likely moved him to another facility." Lex words sounded hollow.

"Yeah. Maybe." He bit hesitated, then asked, "Do you think that it's...possible to fall in love with someone without ever having really met them? I mean, face to face?"

Lex nodded. "Yes, I do."

Mark started, surprised at Lex's answer.

"What?" Lex cocked his head, looking confused.

"Nothing. Just... I don't know. I guess I didn't expect you to say yes. It's kind of a.. romantic? Sentimental idea, and you don't strike me as the type."

"Well, if you'd asked me before I'd met Clark, then I would have said no. I used to believe that, in order to love, you had to touch and taste first. Only if you knew another person inside and out could you love them. But with Clark, there's a connection between us that goes deeper than the physical. And..." His ears turned bright red. "When I met him, there was a part of me that felt as if I'd always known him. And always loved him." Blushing, Lex met Mark's eyes. "You're in love with Whitney."

Mark nodded, his throat dry. "I think I am." Tears prickled in his eyes, and he closed them tightly. He was frightened by what had happened with Damien, and he felt sick and shaky. He wanted Whitney, at least to hear that smooth, confident, beautiful voice of his. Mark would feel so much better if he had Whitney, but he'd disappeared, and....

"Drink this," Lex said softly.

He sat up and took the glass of Gatorade from Lex's hand. While he sipped it, Lex pulled his cell phone from his pocket and dialed.

"Hi, Dr. Sutton, it's Lex again. Damien's breathing on his own, but he's in a coma. The doctor really needs you; I've given as much of Damien's medical history as I can, but I don't even know what medications he's on. Please call or come back to Smallville as soon as you can. I'll send the helicopter if you need it." He hung up and dialed again. "I don't believe this!"

"You got Dominic's voice mail, too?"

He nodded. "Dom, it's Lex. Get back here as soon as you can. Damien needs you, now." He hung up.

"You didn't tell him what was wrong."

"He'll panic as it is. I don't want to give him any more fodder." His phone rang. "I hope this is him. Hello?" He frowned. "Yes, this is Lex Luthor." His face went white. "Is he all right?"

"What happened?"

Lex shook his head and waved Mark off. "Um, I'm sorry, I can't. Unfortunately, one of my other employees is in a coma and I need to stay with him. By any chance, is Dominic well enough to travel back to Smallville? I could send a car.... No, no, of course." He sighed. "I'll find someone to pick him up. Thank you." Lex hung up. "Dom was in a hit and run accident."

"Oh my God."

"He's okay. Sort of. Broken wrist and ankle, slight concussion, and a twisted knee. They said he was really lucky; apparently the car was smashed."

"Did they tell you how it happened?"

Lex shook his head. "No. Crap." He rubbed his forehead. "I don't think this was an accident. Dominic or Damien. I think someone is trying to kill them. Or, if not kill, at least hurt them enough to scare them away from, well. Me."

Mark's stomach twisted; as much as he liked Lex, the world he lived in was frightening. "Who would do that?"

"Think, Mark."

He flushed in embarrassment. "Your father."

Lex nodded, a tight, cynical smile on his face. "Give the man a prize." The smile faded and he shook his head. "Someone needs to take care of Dominic; I'm running out of people. I guess security... maybe Mrs. Kent could..."

"I'll do it," Mark heard himself saying. "As soon as they let me out, I'll go to Metropolis and pick him up."

Lex frowned at Mark. "Um. That's very generous of you, Mark, but it's not..."

"It's no problem," Mark interrupted. "Really. Please. If I just go home and rest or whatever, I'll go insane. I'll just sit there, thinking about finding Damien not breathing. And now, I'll worry about Dominic."

"Do you even know Dominic?" Lex asked, brow furrowed.

Mark felt his face heat and he had to avert his eyes from Lex's. "Of course I do," he said. "He did help me keep my job."

"I wasn't sure if you remembered much about that day," Lex said. "Dom mentioned you didn't seem to know who he was the other day when you fell asleep at the mansion."

"Okay, well, yeah. But I was completely disoriented and exhausted. After I woke up I realized what an idiot I'd made of myself," he replied, blush in full force. "But now I know who he is. And he did me a huge favor. Let me do one for him. Besides, Lex, I'll go insane if I don't have something to do."

"I know how that feels." Lex rubbed the back of his neck. "All right, but I want you to take my limo to Metropolis. No, actually, take the helicopter; it'll be a shorter ride. I'll call my car service and have someone drive you around the city. Take Dominic to his apartment for however long he needs to be observed. I don't think flying him back is an option, but ask. If it's not, the driver will bring you back."

"All right."

"Oh, and ask him about Damien's meds and everything. We need to get that cleared away."

"I will. Can you go get the doctor and see when I can leave?"

"Sure." Lex rose.

Suddenly, something occurred to Mark. "Lex." He sat up, grabbing Lex's hand. "Didn't Damien have a nurse? Anne?"

Lex looked at him, face a mask of disbelief. His mouth fell open, he started to say something, but then it snapped shut again. "Son of a ..." The phone was once again in his hand. "Mark," he said as he dialed, "I will personally pay for your and Whitney's wedding, the most lavish and expensive if you want. And your honeymoon."

He laughed. "Right now, all I want is to see him."

"Yeah. I understand that feeling. I... Hi, Anne? It's Lex Luthor. I need your help."

In many ways, the previous day had been a dream. For two nights in a row, Grant had spent the night with the most beautiful young man he'd ever seen snuggled against him. He'd kissed those perfect lips, tasted the agile tongue, and felt the sculptor's hands tracing his naked skin.

Grant had come so close to losing it. So close to violating every ethic and moral he ever had once he was at the mercy of Clark Kent's perfect kisses. And even this morning, he'd given in just a little to his desire. He and Clark had fallen asleep on the couch together while watching a movie, and when Grant had woken, Clark was laying on top of him, face pressed into Grant's chest. His fingers had been clutched in Grant's shirt, kneading the material as if he was a kitten. Clark's cheeks had been flushed, hair curled and tangled, and Clark was so damn beautiful that Grant had just... stayed, gazing at the Clark's lovely face, dreaming of what it would be like if Clark were his.

It was wrong, and Grant knew it. Clark was so young and had been hurt. He was vulnerable, and Grant hated himself for even entertaining the idea that he could exploit that. Especially since Clark trusted him. But it was hard not to allow his mind to wander in that direction when that solid body was pressed against his own.

The weekend was taking on a dream-like quality of unreality, especially when Clark woke up and saw whom he was serenely cuddled against. He'd stiffened when his eyes met Grants, face turning crimson.

"Um, hey," Clark had mumbled, pushing himself off Grant.

"Mornin'." Grant sat up and stretched, tired muscles unknotting. "You all right?"

"Yeah, I'm good. Um, mind if I shower?"

"Go right ahead. I'll get coffee started."

"Okay." Clark rose, tugging on his shirt. "Um, when are you taking me home?"

"Did you want to go diving again today? Before we go?"

Clark's face lit up and he grinned. "Yeah, I do."

Grant smiled back, trying not to respond too much to the beaming smile. "Then we'll do that first."

"Thanks!" Clark practically bounced to the bathroom.

The dream was definitely over. Not that it was necessarily a bad thing. As heart-achingly beautiful as Clark in his grief had been yesterday, today's joy was much more welcome. And not just because it meant that Clark was on the mend.

Clark wasn't the first boy Grant had written about who'd come onto him. He wasn't the first to develop a crush on Grant. After all, Grant worked with teenage boys all the time. Many were still in the closet. Some had a history of abuse. Others had been bullied at school. Some were just lonely in general, or perfectly happy and simply found Grant attractive. Whatever their situation, almost all the boys were thrilled, relieved, and flattered to find someone who took such a genuine interest in them.

They were all just lucky that Grant was an honorable man. In the years he'd been working for Queer Youth, he'd never been tempted to take any of the boys up on their offers.

Until Clark Kent.

Grant groaned softly as he heard the shower start. He ran his hands over his face, trying to blot out the image of Clark at the gym in the shower with him, skin damp and pink, curls clinging to his face as drops of water rolled down that perfectly sculpted chest. He tried to forget the way it felt when Clark kissed him, how one large hand held the nape of his neck, keeping him in place while a talented tongue played inside his mouth.

Which brought him to the biggest problem. The one that actually superseded Grant's current state of unprofessional behavior. The one that was greater than the possible statutory rape case. And the fact that Clark had been molested and wasn't always in his right mind when it came to other men. It was bigger than everything and could be summed up in two words.

Lex Luthor.

Lex Luthor had a lot of power, tons of connections, and a wrath unlike anything Grant had ever seen before. Before he'd approached Clark about the article, he'd done his research on Luthor, knowing the two were, if not involved, very close. And he'd learned that Lex had the ability to ruin the professional and sometimes personal lives of others.

His personal life wouldn't be in too much danger. Even professional, Grant would be okay, because if he couldn't get writing jobs anymore, he always had a place in the family business. But he loved his life, loved what he did. He didn't want Lex to take it all away from him over this.

He could only hope that Luthor would be reasonable. And that Grant got to him first and explained what happened. He had a feeling that by the time Clark got home, he'd be feeling so guilty that he wouldn't be able to adequately explain what happened. In fact, Grant was pretty sure Clark would tell it all wrong, thus bringing Luthor's wrath down on Grant.

With another groan, he climbed off the couch and headed to the kitchen. He really needed coffee. It'd help him think a little more clearly. Maybe.

He didn't know what it was about Clark that had gotten under his skin. Yes, there was the physical. The kid had a face like an angel and eyes so deep they seemed to look right through you. His body was perfect. Grant had thought it was nice before he'd seen Clark naked, but now that he had...

Clark had the type of body that would have made Michelangelo weep.

Beyond that, he was intelligent, well read, and, unless he was tripping over his tongue, well spoken. If he weren't so young and in a relationship, Grant would have asked him out long ago. In fact, when he'd first met Clark and thought he was with Whitney, the thought of looking Clark up again after he left high school had actually crossed Grant's mind. He'd never gotten hung up on age issues in the past, so long as everyone was legal and he didn't need to worry about violating his professional ethics. He figured that, as long as he waited a few years, it wouldn't really matter anymore.

But then he'd found out that Clark was with Luthor, and he'd known that it wasn't going to happen. Especially after he'd seen the way Luthor looked at Clark. It wasn't just possession; it was complete and utter devotion.

That was one relationship that, even if it self-destructed, was not going away for a long time. And it was something Grant knew he shouldn't get in the middle of, even if Clark had pulled him into it.

"Why me?" he asked himself, dumping coffee into the filter.

Well, one reason was, of course, because he was there. He'd been the one who'd found Clark at the Atlantis. Clark had, in fact, gone there to be fucked by Morgan Edge. So it wasn't as if he'd sought Grant out.

Still. He and Clark had discussed a few times Clark's distaste of the idea of having casual sex with someone. Clark wasn't as disturbed by his own feelings about it, but he'd wanted to understand why Grant would sleep with someone he'd just met. Grant wasn't surprised that someone who'd been an outcast all his life, came from a fairly traditional family, had been victimized by someone close to his family, wasn't thrilled with the idea of sleeping with strangers. Especially someone as sensitive and shy as Clark could be.

Grant was surprised that Clark had sought out Morgan Edge. What Grant was not at all surprised at was Clark's attempts to seduce him. Next to Whitney Fordman, Grant was the only man who was not Lex that Clark had truly let close to him. He'd bared his soul about what it was like to be adopted, gay, and the lover of one of the most famous men in Kansas. He'd talked frankly about what had happened to him. He'd cried on Grant's shoulder, leaned into Grant's caresses, and allowed Grant into the inner world that only a few shared.

Grant wasn't a stranger anymore. And, while Clark may not have thought about it in these terms, he trusted Grant enough to know that, should they ever have sex, even if they weren't in a relationship, it wouldn't just be a casual encounter. Grant, knowing Clark the way he did, would infuse it with emotion so it wouldn't be some meaningless thing.

Not that Grant had thought about this until Clark had come on to him. He'd been attracted and appreciative of Clark's looks, but that was all.

The phone rang, jarring Grant out of his thoughts. He picked it up. "Hello?"

"Hello. This is Lex Luthor."

Oh, fuck. "Mr. Luthor," Grant said cautiously. "Hi. What can I do for you?"

"I need to speak to Clark. Please."

"He's in the shower right now. Can he call you back?"

"I'm sorry, no. It's an emergency."

Grant rubbed his forehead, wondering if he should trust Luthor. He really thought it would be better if they waited to talk until they were face to face. Still. It wasn't his decision. It wasn't his relationship, and he had no right to make this kind of decision for Clark. "Hold on," he finally said. "I'll get him."

Clark stood under the hot spray of the shower, letting it cascade over his face and body. His eyes were closed as he leaned into the scalding water, wishing it could burn him. Cleanse him really and truly. .

He'd done a horrible thing. He'd betrayed Lex. Yes, Lex had betrayed him, but that didn't mean.... He never should have...

He felt the ^nudge^ against his mind a moment before Grant knocked on the door.

"Clark!" Grant called. "Lex is on the phone. He says he needs to talk to you."

"I can't right now."

/I'll do this until I pass out,/ Lex's voice said faintly. /Damien and Dominic's lives are on the line, and I need to talk to you./ He sounded like he was exhausted already; Clark wondered what had tired him out so badly. Normally, Lex could communicate for a short while over a distance, but he was already flickering out.

"He says it's an emergency," Grant was saying. He sounded exhausted himself. He was probably counting the minutes until Clark was out of his life again.

"Okay." He turned the water off and stepped out of the shower. After quickly toweling himself off, he wrapped the towel around his hips and opened the door.

Grant's eyes widened slightly as Clark held his hand out. He followed the path a drop of water was taking down Clark's chest.

He blushed and took the phone. "Thanks," he said, uncomfortable that he was flattered by Grant's obvious attraction to him. As dirty and guilty as he felt about his behavior yesterday, he still felt drawn to the other man. If there was no Lex, Grant was the person Clark wanted to be with. Even though a part of him still wanted Whitney, it was different. Whitney took care of Clark like Clark was, well, Lana. And as sweet as it was, it wasn't what Clark wanted from a lover. He wanted someone who saw him as an equal and, even though he was so much younger than Grant, that's how Clark felt around him. Equal.

But there was Lex, and for all the pain and trouble, Clark was happy there was Lex. Lex was his world and...

"Clark?" Lex said.

"Hey." Clark felt stupid and awkward, and more than a little afraid. "What's going on?"

Lex let out a long sigh, the full weight of his exhaustion rushing over Clark despite the distance. "Damien's in a coma and the doctors can't figure out why. He was okay yesterday, I think, but when I got home today, he just... keeled over, I guess. Mark was with him. He started throwing up and acting confused. Mark got him into my room, went to get him some water, and when he came back out, Damien wasn't breathing. He wasn't breathing, Clark and I didn't know until the ambulance showed up and security thought it was me and then I couldn't find them and...."

"Breathe, baby," Clark interrupted, sitting on the toilet. "How is he now?" He made his voice as soothing as he possibly could. They might be fighting, but Clark was still in love with Lex.

"He's stable," Lex said, now calm. "And breathing on his own. But they don't know what's caused this."

"Did they talk to Dr. Sutton?"

"No. She's not here. Jodie was having problems, so she's taking care of her. I did get hold of Anne, though, and she's on her way."

Clark frowned. "Why Anne?"

"Because even though she was spying on me, she was a good nurse for Damien. And I need someone who knows his medical history better than I do. I don't even know what kind of medications he's on, or where he keeps them."

"They're not in his medicine cabinet?"

"I had Mabel look, but she said it was only my stuff. I can only imagine Damien was hiding his stuff just in case I went on a binge."

"Which you did," Clark couldn't help saying. And then, as guilt suffused him, he said quickly, "What about Dominic?"

Lex was silent a moment, like he was considering responding to Clark's pointed jab. "He was in a hit and run," he said instead. "He's all right, mostly. Broken wrist and ankle, hurt knee, slight concussion, some bruises, but he's going to be fine. Mark's taking the helicopter to Metropolis to sit with him until he's okay to come home, and that's why I need you."

"What do you need me to do?"

"Right now, just tell me who on my security team you trust implicitly. You have a good sense about who you can and can't trust and I don't. Please, I just need one or two people to watch over Damien and also Mark and Dom."

Clark closed his eyes, trying to think. "Um, Eric, of course. Christian's pretty good, too. And.... Travis."

"No one else?"

He thought another moment before saying, "Maybe Michael Roberts. Not the other Michael; he gives me the creeps."

"Okay, so he's fired."

"You can't do that, Lex. Not even on my word." He pushed his heavy, wet bangs off his face.

Lex sighed. "No, I guess not. Okay. Thanks for the names."

"You're welcome." He fidgeted uncomfortably with the edge of his towel, wondering what he should say now.

Finally, Lex broke the silence. "Are you coming home soon?"

"Um, I guess. Grant's teaching me to dive, and we were going to... but I'll tell him I can't."

"No. I wouldn't want to change your plans. There's really no reason that you have to be here. I mean..." He trailed off hesitantly.

Clark licked his lips. "You're still my boyfriend."

"I know. I mean, I'd hoped. What I said..."

"You're a stupid asshole, Lex. When you strike out, it's always a killing blow." He sighed, rubbing his forehead wearily. "But you're my stupid asshole." Clark's voice trembled. "And we're going to work through this. I mean, if you can..." He stopped talking before he said too much. Confessions of adultery were not for over the phone.

"I'll make myself better, Clark. I swear." He coughed lightly, and then there was a pause during which Clark heard the familiar hiss of an inhaler. "I really want you here. Both Damien and Dom are hurt. Mark went into shock but he's going to Metropolis anyway. Some kid died in the caves last night, and I have to deal with that."

"Some kid what?"

Lex groaned. "There was a party in them last night. Some kid fell off one of the towers they had set up; the deputies think it's drug related, but I still have to deal with the state about my effectiveness as a guardian. And... well, some linguist is coming down, demanding to take a look at the paintings." Another hiss, and then a long, slow exhale. "I don't know if there's anything you can do, but I'd just feel better..."

"I'll tell Grant that I can't go diving. It's fine. But you have to promise me something." He said it with as much authority as he could, trying to slip into his dominating role even though he was feeling completely insecure about everything.


"Leave the hospital, at least for awhile. Go home. Go to the Talon. Just... go relax. Heck, you can even go back to the farm and do chores. Just let someone take over the stress for a bit, even if it's just a half hour. Don't drink or anything, just... veg. Please. Mabel can watch over Damien for awhile. You don't have to stay there, especially if someone can sit with him."

"And since he's not even awake," Lex said, sounding gloomy. "Yeah, okay. I'll go home and play video games for a bit, is that okay?"

Clark smiled. "Sure." He rubbed the back of his neck, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. "So, um. I guess I'll let you go. And, you know. Um, get dressed and everything."

He felt Lex consider responding to the implication that Clark was naked, but he didn't follow through. Clark didn't know whether to be relieved they didn't try for sexual bantering or unhappy at Lex's apparent lack of interest. He hated fighting. "Okay. I guess. I guess I'll go home then."

There was a long, awkward silence between them.

Finally, Lex cleared his throat. "Bye." And then line went dead.

Blinking rapidly, Clark disconnected as well. He sat there, thinking about how fucked up things were and how he'd just made everything worse by running away. No. Not just running away. Running to Metropolis. To Morgan.

Lex was only so forgiving. If Clark kissed Whitney, Lex might understand considering the history. Clark didn't think he was going to understand what he'd done with Morgan and Grant. He didn't understand it much himself, and now he felt dirty, especially thinking of the way he acted with Morgan. At least Grant was a nice guy, someone that Clark thought he could probably fall in love with if there was no Lex.

He sighed and stood. Sitting around moping wasn't going to solve anything. He should get ready to leave.

"Hey, Grant?" Clark said tentatively on emerging from the bathroom.

Grant was drinking coffee and working at his computer. When he looked up, he very carefully avoided looking anywhere but Clark's eyes. "Yes?"

"There's an emergency back in Smallville. Lex's assistant is in a coma and a kid died in those caves I told you about. Anyway. I want to go diving, but...."

"I understand. Maybe sometime later. There's a class that I help teach over spring break for kids about your age. You could come down, try it out. Or just... sometime later."

He smiled half-heartedly. "Yeah. Sounds fun. Um. I should go get dressed."

"I put out some clothes you can borrow, if you like. You're a little taller than I am, but I think they should fit."

"Thanks." He turned, hesitated, then turned back. "I mean for everything."

Grant nodded, a wistful smile playing over his lips. "You're welcome."

"You know," Lex said when Chloe walked into the entertainment room, "I'm not a lesbian answering service." He didn't look away from the video game he was playing, and after his typically drama-queen statement, his upper teeth took hold of his bottom lip, eyes narrowed in concentration.

Chloe tossed her purse on the couch behind Lex and threw herself across it. "I'm sorry?"

"Apology accepted."

"No," she laughed. "I mean what are you talking about?"

"Crap!" he shouted as his ship crashed into the wall of the canyon. He hit a button on the controller and turned. "I mean that Lana has been calling me about every fifteen minutes for the past two hours. She's convinced that you're with me for some reason. And why are you here, anyway?"

Chloe sighed and hit her forehead lightly against the couch cushions. "She doesn't think I'm with you, she's just calling anyone she has a number for."

"Anyone whose number she has, you mean," Lex corrected.

She just flipped him off. "Do you get to vote for sheriff?"

"I'm a resident, aren't I?"

"Then do me a favor and don't vote for Deputy Nancy Adams, okay?"

"What does this have to do with Lana?"


"Then why are we talking about Deputy Adams?"

"Because I don't want to talk about Lana."

"Why not?"

Chloe's jaw tightened. "How's Clark?" she asked brightly, fake smile plastered on her face.

Lex was about to make a retort when his phone rang. With an exasperated sigh, he picked it up off the floor and looked to see who it was. "Surprise, surprise," he muttered, holding the phone so Chloe could read the view screen.

The window had the words Frigid I. Princess printed on it.

"You better change that," Chloe snapped.

"And you better tell me what's going on, or I'll tell her you're here."


"Chloe." He glared at her, slowly moving the phone towards his ears.

"Lana kissed me in the Talon in front of everyone and I slept with Chad yesterday!" Chloe blurted out, panicked.

He smirked and flipped open the phone. "Yes, Lana?" he said in a long suffering tone. "No, I don't know where she is. Yes, I understand you're worried. Yes, I care. Sort of. Anyway, I'm sure she's safe." His jaw tightened. "Listen. I'm sure Chloe's fine, and I don't have time for this. Damien's still in a coma and I still don't know why. I have a business to salvage and I don't have time to play operator with the local dykes who can't keep track of each other. Good-bye." He hung up and tossed his phone away.

Chloe shook her head at him. "You're in a bitchy mood."

"I'm relaxing," he snapped. "Or trying to. But apparently you and your ice queen think I want to waste my valuable time worrying about you."

She hit him on the head with a pillow.


"You're playing Rebel Assault and losing." She raised the pillow again and moved to hit him.

Lex caught the end and yanked her to the ground. "It's a hard game," he said. He hit her on the face with the pillow.

"Yeah, right," she snorted, tugging the pillow.

He struggled, gripping it tightly. For a moment, the air was full of the sounds of struggle and their grunts as they tried to gain mastery of the precious object. Then, it ripped, sending them both falling back.

"Two hundred dollar piece of crap," Lex grumbled, tossing his half away. "I doubt you could do any better on the game."

"I'm really good, actually Remember, two of my best friends are Star Wars geeks, and Pete has every Star Wars game ever made. I get lots of practice."

"Big talk from a little girl."

Chloe smiled as evilly as she could. "Try me." She leaned over like she was going to take the control pad to the game; instead, she picked up his phone.

"What are you doing?" Lex asked.

"I want to see if you're calling me any names."

"I'm calling everyone names. I went through my entire address book this morning and changed everything." He scooted across the floor so his back was against the couch and grabbed another pillow, which he hugged to his chest.

"Angel Beloved," Chloe read. "That must be Clark. Broken Accountant. Um... Mr. Senatori. Coma Guy?"

"Damien," Lex replied, like that explained everything.

"Why..." His conversation with Lana finally penetrated her skull. "Why is Damien in a coma? When did this happen? Why aren't you doing anything about it? Why didn't you call me? Did you tell Clark? What about Mr. Senatori? Does he know? What..."

"I don't know why he's in a coma," Lex interrupted loudly. "The doctors can't figure it out. It happened this morning. I'm not doing anything because a, there's nothing really I can do and b, Clark told me to come home and relax for a little bit because there is nothing I can do. I don't know why on earth I would call you. I did tell Clark, and he's coming home. I think that Dominic best not be told at this particular moment because he was just in a car crash and has a concussion. And, that pretty much covers it."

"Why didn't you call and tell me all this was happening?"

He gave her a look that clearly said she'd grown another head. "Why?"

Chloe looked at him a long moment before saying quietly, "I'm your friend, Lex. That's why."

His ears turned pink and he averted his eyes. "Everything happened so quickly. And I wasn't alone. Mark was with Damien when he got sick; he had to do CPR, and then he went into shock, so..."

"You were busy. But you still should have called me."

"I was too busy being Dyke Crisis Hotline."

"Yeah, well, Lana and I usually serve as Fag Central, so..." Chloe arched an eyebrow. "Why are you being such a bitch?"

Lex rolled his eyes. "My life is completely falling apart, in case you hadn't noticed. I'm entitled."

"You are such a drama queen."

"Go home." He rose and stalked over to the bar.

"Lex, wait." She jumped up and ran after him, not wanting to be the straw that forced him back to alcohol. "I'm sorry."

He grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator and opened it. "Chloe..."

Okay, so he wasn't drinking. Thank God; she didn't know how she would have explained that to Clark. "Is Mr. Senatori going to be okay?"

"He should be. He's got a few broken bones on top of the concussion, but he'll be fine. Mark is flying out to watch over him until he's well enough to come home."

Chloe frowned and tugged on her hair. "It's a little weird, both of them getting hurt the same day, right? I mean, assuming that Mr. Senatori's accident was mysterious."

Lex finished swallowing the drink he'd started while Chloe was talking and said, "Hit and run. It was a brown SUV. No one got a look at the driver, and the car hasn't been found yet. So, yeah, it was mysterious."

"What do you think is going on? I mean, who did it?"

"No. Maybe. I'm not sure." He sighed and rubbed his forehead. "I'm sure my dad has something to do with it. Dominic quit working for him, and when Dad asked how much I wanted to convince Dom to go back to him, I said he'd better ask Damien. And now..."

"It's not your fault," Chloe said quickly, putting her hand on his arm.

"I didn't say it was."

"But you were going to. You were thinking it."

"Oh, so now you're a mind reader. Fantastic. As if it's not noisy enough in here." He handed her a bottle of water. "I know I can't control everything, but I should have known better than to say something like that to Dad. He'd just view it as a challenge. And Dom was in danger already; his apartment was vandalized just a few months ago, and he said himself that it was most likely a warning. I should have known."

"You aren't omniscient." She put her hand on his arm and squeezed lightly.

"Life would be so much easier if I were." He leaned into her, eyes shuttering.

She snorted and allowed his forehead rest on the top of her head. "I don't think so. If you knew everything, you'd just stress all that much more trying to control everything. And if you could control everything, you'd spend all your time making everything better and running yourself into the ground. Being an ordinary human suits you just fine."

He sighed, pressed against her briefly, then pulled away. "So." His brisk tone indicated a subject change. "You finally got Chad in bed with you, huh?"

Figures he'd choose that subject. Why not ask her about the stupid deputy? That's why she'd come over. "Yeah," she said glumly.

"How was he?"

Chloe shrugged, turning from him. "Okay, I guess." Uncomfortable, she wandered vaguely around the room, unscrewing the cap from her water. "I mean, he was gentle, but not too gentle. In a good way, I guess. Not like I was made of glass, but not so hard that it hurt a lot. And he made me come, which I wasn't expecting. I mean, he's sensitive and everything, but he's also a teenage boy. And it was my first time. With a guy." She shrugged again. "It didn't hurt as much as I thought it was going to."

"Hurt? So you never, uh..." Lex hesitated, as if trying to figure out how to put his question.

She blushed and glanced at him. "Sydney, um, had a... and I have some stuff, but, um, I've never gotten anything... very far..."

"Got it." Even though there was a bland look on his face, his ears were pink; at least he was embarrassed, too.

"So, yeah. I thought, 'it's gonna hurt, he's going to be a typical boy, but I really like him, so what the heck?' Plus, I was upset."

Lex rolled his eyes "Always the best reason to fuck someone." He took a long pull on his water before saying angrily, "You and Clark should have just fucked each other yesterday instead of him running off to the city and..." He broke off abruptly.

Her eyes widened. "You mean Clark was sleeping around on you in Metropolis?" She grabbed his arm, stopping his progress.

He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I don't know. I mean, I have no proof or any reason to think. But I know Clark and I know how much he was hurting. And I know how he gets when he's hurting."

"But you hurt him by... I mean, didn't you say..." she started tentatively.

"Yes. I told him it was his fault, but... he... he has a crush on Grant Robinson. The man is his type, and Clark was staying with him. And he had a nightmare last night. He called. If he had a nightmare last night, he probably had one both nights. And you know how he is about touch."

"Yeah. When he's upset, he needs to be touched."

Lex shrugged. "I just have this feeling that he... In an effort both to hurt himself and make the pain go away, he turned to Grant. At least, I hope it was Grant; I suppose he could have been anyone."

"That doesn't sound like Clark."

"Neither does him running away, but he was in Texas when we first found him."

Chloe hesitated, wondering if she should say anything about the fact that Clark had been in Texas, but simply said, "Clark runs away all the time. Not from a fight, and not from helping his friends. But you know how he is. Once things get rough for him, he's gone." She looked up at him. "Same as you. It makes you a very frustrating couple."

Lex rubbed his forehead. "In the future, we'll endeavor to emulate your relationship with the fair Miss Lang. Does that suit you better?"

"No. Don't you dare, in fact. Lana and I put the dys in dysfunctional. At least you and Clark can be fun." She stepped closer to him and put her hand on his shoulder. "Lex, I know how you must be hurt at the idea of Clark being with someone else, but, at the same time..." Chloe hesitated, then said very quickly, "isn't it a good sign if he's comfortable enough to be sexual with someone else?"

He let out a long sigh. "If I weren't sure he was doing it mainly to hurt himself, then maybe. But I just can't be sure. What I said...."

"You didn't mean it."

"Maybe I did." He pulled away from her roughly and paced aimlessly around the room. "Maybe I... part of me resents him for not being able to protect himself. For making me... deal with all of this. When I can't... when I'm not ready to... I'm not fucking strong enough to deal with all of this."

Chloe shook her head, stomach roiling. "How can you say that? How can you be so fucking selfish, Lex? This isn't about you."

"I know that!" Lex shouted, whirling on her. "I know it's not about me, but I'm not..."

"Lex," she interrupted, shaking with anger, "you're..."

"Chloe!" Lana's sharp voice broke the stream of angry words she'd been about to let loose.

Startled, Chloe turned. Lana had just walked into the room. She smiled thinly at Chloe, her eyes promising they would be talking very soon. But, instead of saying anything else to her, Lana crossed the floor, set her purse and the coffee carrier down on the coffee table, and pulled out one paper cup.

"Took you long enough," Lex said caustically. He walked across the room to the windows, arms tightly folded across his chest.

"Sometimes it's difficult to decide if you're being insulting as a code or because you like insulting me," Lana replied calmly. She went to him, holding the coffee out as an offering. "Besides. I had drinks to make."

He took the offer, jaw twitching. "Decaf, I suppose. Because everyone knows the Fairy Princess would be loath to break the rules once in awhile."

"It's half-caf because I know you're having a bad week, and I can take it away if you don't behave. Got it?"

Lex wrinkled his nose and took a long drink. Sighing as he lowered it, he turned and said, "Marry me?"

Lana shook her head, eyes rolling as she put her hand on his shoulder. "I think I'll pass. My aunt always said never marry a gay man."

"I'm bi. And I can throw in Clark as an added bonus."

"Tempting, but no," Lana said, cheeks bright pink. She squeezed his arm. "Lex, you said something stupid, and maybe a part of you meant it. But no matter what you think, you are strong enough to handle all this."

He sighed, closed his eyes, and took another drink of his coffee. "I don't feel strong enough. It never just pours around here. It's always a hurricane."

"And who better to survive a hurricane than a Luthor?" she asked archly.

"I'm beginning to see why my dad kept Nell around all those years," Lex said, smiling crookedly at her.

Lana whapped him lightly on the back of the head. "Don't even think about trying to string me along, Lex. I'm only keeping you from falling apart out of loyalty to those who do like you."

"Ah, admit it, Lana. You don't hate me."

"Only if you admit that you don't hate me."

Lex's ears turned pink and said, "I never hated you so much as I... was jealous."



Lana sighed and shook her head. "If only I'd realized the power I held. I might have actually reveled in it." She turned and looked at Chloe. "Have you seen Pete?"

Chloe blinked at the sudden change in topic, still a little dizzy from Lex's emotional about face and the ease in which Lana had accomplished it. "Um, yeah. Right after I left you. He was acting..."

"High, insane, and frightening?"

"Yeah. And he kissed me."

The smile on Lana's face turned crooked and blinding. "And one would have to be insane to do that, I guess."

"Shut up." Chloe shifted uncomfortably and looked away. "He was at the party last night with me. And now he's acting exactly like Travis was. He even said that Travis had the right idea. I'm wondering if maybe someone spiked the punch or... something. I even went to the sheriff, since Clark isn't around to help me figure out what's going on with Pete, and Deputy Adams was a real bitch to me. Didn't take me seriously at all."

"And she's running for sheriff, I take it," Lex said.

"Yeah. And don't vote for her because she doesn't take anyone seriously."

His lips twitched. "She doesn't take a teenager known for her wild theories and journalism of dubious virtue seriously, you mean."

"Hey. My stories are one hundred percent accurate, Lex, and you know it. Just because this town has collectively chosen to ignore the fact that the meteors are mutating people around us doesn't mean it's not true. What are you paying Dr. Sutton for otherwise?"

"To keep me healthy."

"Right. Because it's not like you don't have freaky, mutant-like abilities yourself," Chloe said before she thought.

His eyes immediately blazed at her so brightly Chloe swore she could feel the heat scorch across her skin.

"Since when is Lex a mutant?" Lana asked, a little warily. She eyed Lex for a moment, then looked back at Chloe.

"I'm not," Lex said, voice icy. "The meteors made me look like a freak, but otherwise left me perfectly normal. Much like you, I imagine."

"I don't look like a freak."

"I mean, you're perfectly normal even though you witnessed the meteor shower." Lex turned blazing blue eyes on Chloe, piercing her through.

Chloe shifted uncomfortably under his gaze and lowered her head. It was so hard, sometimes, keeping her big mouth shut about things she wasn't supposed to know. Even though Lex knew she knew these things and, in fact, got annoyed when she insisted on pretending she didn't. But she didn't want to know; it was just too scary.

"Anyway, she didn't take me seriously, and there is something wrong with Pete, just like there was something wrong with Travis right before he took a swan dive off the platform."

"Why did you go to her, Chloe?" Lana asked. "It's not like you to go to the authorities when you're perfectly capable of doing the research yourself."

"Um, I went because... Well. Because..."

"Because her brain got scrambled when you kissed her," Lex supplied.

"Thanks, Lex," Chloe said flatly, annoyed. She really liked him, but Lex wasn't the best friend to have around when you were upset. "It wasn't you, Lana, really. It was..."

"The timing, I know. And I'm sorry." Lana crossed the room to her and took her hands. "I shouldn't have done it, not so soon after you and Chad had sex and not at the Talon. I don't think anyone thought anything of it, but... I'm sorry."

Chloe looked away. "It's just, that's not exactly how I want to out myself."

"Me neither. But I can't help the way I feel about you. And I guess that there's this part of me that doesn't care who knows."

"No matter whose heart you have to trample on," Lex said.

"I'll take the coffee away," Lana snapped.

Lex was about to respond when the intercom buzzed. "Yes?"

"Sir, Anne Kiraly is at the gate," the guard said.

"Send her in." Lex looked up. "Ladies, you'll have to continue this discussion elsewhere. I'm going back to my real life."

"You going to be okay?" Chloe asked.

He nodded and rubbed his eyes wearily. When he dropped his hand, though, he looked alert and ready for anything. "I'll be fine. I'll have a couple of my security guards keep an eye out for Pete; they'll call you if he surfaces."

"And his parents," Lana said. "They called me earlier to ask if I'd seen him. Apparently, he took some of his brother's beer or something."

"I will. I'll call you when I know anything about Damien, too. Or Clark."

"Thanks, Lex," Chloe said. She glance at Lana, and then they left the room together.

"So," Lana said softly, walking close enough to Chloe that their arms brushed together. "Are you mad at me?"

"No. Not mad. Confused."

"At least that's normal, right?" She smiled tentatively.

Chloe nodded silently.

Lana sighed. "Yeah, okay. I'm sorry. As usual, I have terrible timing. I'm so sorry." She slipped her hand into Chloe's. "Look, why don't we go to the Torch and see if we can figure out what's going on with Pete. Maybe there are others who were acting weird. We can narrow it down and maybe find out what's making them act like this."

"What about Chad? Someone's going to tell him, and I have to explain."

"Call him. Invite him to work with us. I can apologize to him, too. Because what I did was totally unfair to both of you."

"It was."

"I'm sorry." Lana looked devastated. "Maybe I shouldn't have moved in. Maybe..."

Chloe grabbed Lana and kissed her hard. "It's too late," she whispered into Lana's lips. "You're in. You're way in, because I love and I want you and I really like Chad, but I love you."

"What are we going to do?" Lana whispered. She kissed Chloe, her hand slipping underneath Chloe's shirt and allowing her fingers to play at the edge of her bra.

Chloe swallowed hard, a flush of arousal sweeping through her. "Right now, we've got to figure out what's going on with Pete. Maybe Travis's autopsy and toxicity reports are in. Let's go to the Torch office and start the research." Chloe stepped away from Lana and took her hand. "Is that okay?"

Lana nodded. "Yes, it is. And, um. We'll behave. Because you need to figure out what you want to do. And, um. Talk with Chad and all." She hesitated, then said, "I really like Chad."

"Yeah. Me too," Chloe said softly. "I don't want to lose him. I mean, at least as a friend or something. I just..."

"I know what you mean." Lana squeezed Chloe's hand. "It'll work out. We'll just.... deal with things as they come up. Okay?"

"Yeah." She nodded and then sighed again. "Just deal with them as they come."

"The room is clear, sir," Eric, one of the security guards Lex had sent to Metropolis with Mark, said, stepping out of Dominic's apartment. "You can go in."

Mark nodded and smiled at him. "Thanks. What about you guys?" His eyes flicked to the three guards were standing in the hallway. "Are you coming in?"

Next to him, Dominic sighed, eyes falling shut. Mark knew the other man was exhausted; the pain he was in coupled with the lingering shock from the accident had been wearing on him for hours now. Walking with a cane was a trial, and he had to keep his wrist elevated to help with the swelling. There were bruises on his face and chest. Anger filled Mark when he looked at the damage done to Dominic and he was torn between wanting to find whoever did this and pound them and take Dominic in his arms and protect him.

"We're staying out here," Eric said to Mark. "Just call if you need anything."

"Thank you," Dominic said. Slowly, he limped into his apartment, mouth compressed in a thin line as he leaned on his cane.

"Here, let me help you." Mark followed Dominic in, unsure exactly how he could help, but needing to do something. He finally decided on taking Dominic by his uninjured elbow.

Dominic graced him with a smile that made Mark's stomach do a slow flip. "Thank you, Mark, but I'm fine." He gently disengaged his elbow and limped to the couch.

Mark cleared his throat uncomfortably and stuffed his hands in his pockets. He still was tired himself from the events of the day, and fending off Dominic's confused questions at the hospital had taken more mental acuity than he currently had to spend. Plus, Whitney was still missing, and while Mark wasn't worried, exactly, he was... petulant. He was having a hard day and he wanted, no, needed, to hear the voice of the man he (probably) was in love with.

"This is a beautiful apartment," he said after a few moments had passed and the decor had sunk into his bemused senses.

"Thank you." He sounded pleased at the complement, and his eyes wandered around the room. "Damien decorated it for me while I was in England. This is the first time I'll be staying in it for any length of time."

Mark went to the piano and ran his fingers lightly over polished black finish. "You play?"

Dominic snorted softly. "Generally, yes. I won't be for awhile." He held up his broken wrist wryly; a few of his fingers had been bruised by the crushed door, and were swollen, black and blue. They looked painful; Mark didn't want to imagine what they felt like. "I wanted to be a musician. In fact, I was going to take time off from the business world to work on my music. I guess that won't be happening now." He sighed.

"I'm sorry." He went to the couch and sat down next to Dominic. "Why did you go into business if you wanted to be a musician?"

"It's a long story," Dominic said with a gentle smile. "And if I begin telling you it, I'll forget to ask where Damien is."

"I told you..."

"He's busy, yes. But I know him. If he was all right, he would have called to make sure I was all right. He hasn't, so something must be wrong. What's is it?"

He sighed, closing his eyes. "Dominic, it's better...."

"I've a vivid imagination, Mark. Nothing is better than actually knowing what's wrong, because my mind can conjure horrors far worse."

"Okay." Mark opened his eyes and turned to Damien. "Around nine or so this morning, Damien got very suddenly and violently ill. I was with him and I got him to Lex's bedroom. I called an ambulance, and then he stopped breathing, so I did rescue breathing on him. He's still at the hospital, in a coma. He's breathing on his own, and when I last spoke to Helen, she said he's stable. But they don't know why he's in a coma."

Dominic let out a long, slow breath, his eyes squeezed shut tightly. His chin was trembling as he breathed, and his entire body seemed to coil in on itself, a spring ready to explode any minute.

"Dominic, I'm sorry." Awkwardly, he reached out.

Dominic sniffed noisily, and Mark fell silent again, hands falling into his lap. When Dominic opened his eyes, they were bright with a film of tears; Mark wondered if this was normal behavior for him, or a side effect of the concussion. Whatever it was, it was endearing and Mark was hard pressed not to take Dominic into his arms and comfort him.

"It's fine." He wiped his eyes and smiled sheepishly. "I'll be fine. I just... Ever since the tornado, I keep waiting for something else to happen to him. Something that will take him away from me. When he was missing last spring, I knew something was wrong and no one knew where he was. He was crushed underneath a car in the middle of a field for almost two days." He wiped his eyes again. "When you came and he didn't call, I can't tell you what I imagined."

"I'm sorry." Mark felt sick with guilt and so stupid; he had first hand experience with what it felt like when someone you love goes missing. "If I'd thought..."

"I'd hoped I was being foolish. A horrible part of me was thinking... hoping, really, that Lex had finally overdosed or something and Damien was with him. I know that's terrible of me, but..."

"No. I understand. I'm sorry."

Dominic smiled and shook his head. "It's all right." He wiped his eyes one last time. "When can we go?"

"The doctor said to wait at least eight hours before flying. He'd prefer longer, but.... We could drive, but you'd wouldn't be able to sleep. And since I'm exhausted, I can't guarantee I'd be able to keep you awake."

"No, it's fine. I understand." Dominic shook his head. "I hate this," he said simply.

"I don't blame you."

"All I wanted," he continued as if Mark hadn't spoken, "was to be able to ... to leave it all behind for awhile. To stop having to deal in lies constantly and twist my life so I can serve a man I loathe. I wanted..." Dominic broke off, sharply biting his bottom lip. "But it doesn't matter what I want since I'm doomed to never get it."

Mark moved closer to Dominic and gently placed his hand on Dominic's thigh. "I wish there was something I could say to help."

Surprisingly, Dominic laughed softly and covered Mark's hand with his good one. "There's nothing. Just like there was nothing to say to you when your father disowned you. Knowing that you don't deserve to be treated the way you are doesn't help, and hoping that things will get better only makes you worry that they won't. And, anyway, I, unlike you, made the choice to play this game. I knew the consequences, I just... don't understand why Lionel can't let me go." Then, as if coming to himself, he squeezed Mark's hand gently and said, "But I thank you for your kindness."

"Of course."

"And thank you for saving Damien's life. I don't know.... If there's anyway I can repay you..."

"No. I mean, don't worry about it. I... I couldn't do anything else, you know? He wasn't breathing, and...." He broke off, his entire body trembling as he remembered what had happened. Pulling his hand from Dominic's grasp, he rose from the couch, hugging his body tightly.

Dominic was silent allowing Mark a semblance of privacy. He felt weak, still being this upset. Stupid. He'd done everything right, and none of it had been his fault, and yet the whole thing made him so uncomfortable. For one brief instant, he had been Damien's sole link to the living world; he had held Damien's life in his hands and if he had screwed up in any way, Damien would be dead.

"Are you all right?" Dominic asked after some time had passed.

"I know how stupid this is going to sound to you, but I'm having a really bad day."

He laughed again. "No, not at all."

"I mean, first the thing with Damien, and then finding out that you were in a crash. Trying to deal with Lex and not fall apart myself and, to make matters worse, I can't get a hold of my... Whitney."

"Your Whitney?" Dominic asked. He patted the cushion besides him invitingly, obviously ready for a change of topic to get his mind off his comatose boyfriend.

Mark knew how he felt. He remembered when Whitney had first gone missing; he'd tried to distract himself any way he could, mostly by getting wrapped up in Lex's life. But that had been fine. Lex definitely had an interesting life.

"Um, yeah. He and I... are at a weird place. In our relationship."

"How so?"

"Well." His cheeks warmed. "Whitney and I haven't exactly met yet. Face to face, I mean. I mean, I know him. Who he was before he left, but we'd never..."

"Oh, is this Whitney Fordman?"

Mark blinked, surprised. "Yes. How did you know?"

Dominic looked embarrassed. "Lionel has been receiving updates on Whitney since last spring. The reports are delivered to me and I pass them along to him." He hesitated before saying, "I've seen pictures. He's extremely handsome."

"Yeah, he is." Mark pulled his wallet out and pulled the now wrinkled picture of Whitney he kept inside. "When he was missing, I pulled this out about every hour. I felt so helpless, knowing that there was absolutely nothing I could do but wait to hear the news. And, of course, I imagined the worst." He moistened his lips. "Clark was writing to Whitney after he left for the service. He dropped one of them in class, I thought it was a note and took it. I make it a habit to read all notes I confiscate just in case they contain anything that needs adult intervention. Whitney was depressed and absolutely eloquent in his depression. I was fascinated because all I knew of him was that he'd been the star quarterback who lost his scholarships after his father got ill. So I began writing to him. And he wrote back. It wasn't long before we were sharing intimacies, flirting and... well. Getting as serious as you can when you're just writing letters." Mark smiled softly and laid his head on the back of the couch. "Of course, we never really wrote anything about intentions. The last letter I got before he went missing said that I was his home. I also carry around that letter."

Hesitantly and silently asking permission, Dominic took the letter. It, like the picture, was worn and well loved. Dominic unfolded it carefully and began reading. Sunlight was streaming through the large windows across the room and rested gently across his face, glinting on his blonde eyelashes. As he read, he moved his lips, forming the words and, God, if Mark wasn't pretty sure he was in love with Whitney, it'd be hard for him not to lean closer and stop those lips.

Clearing this throat, Mark shifted away slightly.

"He is a good writer. And this sounds... serious." He folded the letter and handed it back. "It's a very romantic story. Like something from the past, during the world wars or further back. Two people who've never met in person fall in love through letters. I'm sure it's easier to be expressive on paper than it is face to face."

"It is, a little. I certainly wrote things I'm not sure I'd ever have the courage to say," Mark admitted. "Even after he was found and we would talk on the phone, I'd still write him. Anything I was too embarrassed to say I wrote." He smiled. "Whitney's not like that. He just says everything he feels."

"It must be nice to be with someone like that," Dominic said with a wistful expression on his face. "Damien says so little about how he feels. Of course, when he does, everything has twice as much significance, which is almost as bad. I constantly feel so inadequate."

"I can't imagine you being inadequate," he said without thinking.

Dominic blushed and looked at Mark though his eyelashes. "Thank you. But Damien is so competent and confident. He knows his purpose in life, and I am constantly floundering."

"Does he love you?"

"Yes. I guess I just don't know why."

"I don't think we ever know why. I mean, I could say the same about Whitney. I'm nine years older than him, I'm not all that good looking. I'm nothing special. And I'm competing with Clark Kent."

He smiled. "Great competition except for the fact that Clark only has eyes for Lex." He looked up at Mark and said, "I can see what Whitney would see in you."

"And I can see what Damien would see in you," he answered back, blushing again. "My point is I think we're harder on ourselves than others are. How did you and Damien get together?"

"It's a decidedly less romantic story than you and Whitney," Dominic replied. "It started being mostly about sex. Or, at least, that's what I told myself. But he kept surprising me, coming back. And as biting as he can be at times, he's also... gentle. Caring. A man of few words, but those few words mean so much." He fell silent, an impish smile crossing his face. "And I have finally learned how to get him to say the words I want him to. Well. In a way."

"What do you mean?"

"Long story, but when I decided not to continue working for either Lex or Lionel, I thought I would return here to take some time off. I thought Damien might press me to stay, but he didn't. Then, when I came to the city to find Clark, he told me not to stay here."

"Why not?"

"My apartment was vandalized a few months ago. It wasn't a random act, and Damien was afraid that there would be a repeat, only this time I'd be hurt. I'm so glad I didn't stay here," he said dryly, looking at the cast on his ankle. Then he shook his head. "He should have known better; when Lionel wants revenge, it doesn't matter where you are." Dominic drifted off into his thoughts a moment before his eyes returned to Mark's face. "At any rate, I got angry at Damien. Not just for him not wanting me to stay here, but... Well, when I decided to take time off from business, I rather hoped Damien would ask me to stay with him. Instead, he left it up for me to decide, and then tried to manipulate me by insisting I not stay here."

"I thought he didn't want you to stay here because it was dangerous."

"Oh, that too. In fact, it was probably his main thought, but I thought he was trying to take my flat away so the only home I had was with him. Which is what I want, but... he's just so recalcitrant. I wanted to know it was what he wanted, not just me. So, we fought and, somehow, I got him to tell me that he wanted me with him. Only, it came out as a marriage proposal."

Mark started. "Really?"

"The most singularly unromantic proposal I've ever heard. He asked if I wanted him to ask me, I said yes, so he said, 'Fine. Marry me.'"

"Now you sound like a movie."

"Well." Dominic smiled, looking embarrassed. "When your young man comes back and writes his great novel or whatever he's planning on doing, he can use that. Unless he writes about how he'll propose to you and, since he's so well worded, I've no doubt it will be sweepingly romantic."

"I don't ... I mean, he's young. He's never even had a boyfriend," Mark said sadly. "I'll be his first and I really doubt it will last."

Dominic thought a moment before he said carefully, "He's, what? Eighteen?"

"Almost nineteen, yes."

"So, he's young. And yet, he's been through more than most boys his age. His father died. He stood up to the most powerful businessman in the Midwest. He went to war. He was missing in action. He's lost three fingers, part of his vision, and wrecked his knee. And through all that, he's managed to find someone to help keep him focused and full of hope. Don't discount him because of his age."

Mark shifted uncomfortably and said, "And don't discount Damien because he's, uh. In a coma."

Dominic laughed again because, really, what else could he do to such a stupid statement? "Damien is a fighter. And the strongest man I know."

Grant pulled into the driveway behind Martha's car and cut the engine. For a second, he just sat there, hands on the keys, looking over at Clark.

Clark sighed and squeezed his eyes shut, wishing he could just disappear. He'd thought he was ready to come home, but he wasn't so sure anymore. He didn't want to be here. Didn't want to go through this, or face Lex or even talk to his parents. Everything was still too... fresh.

"You okay?" Grant asked, breaking the silence.

"I guess." He opened his eyes. "I'm not sure I'm ready for this."

"Too late now."

He sort of laughed and nodded. "Yeah. I know." With a deep breath, Clark opened the door and climbed out. He was halfway to the house when his mother came out the back door, face a mirror of concern.

"Clark," she said, and suddenly, he was in her arms. Her fingers clutched his hair tightly and she rocked him, holding him to her so close, it almost felt like they were going to merge into a strange two headed being.

"Hey, Mom," he replied awkwardly. He closed his eyes and pressed his face into his hair.

"I was so worried about you. God, Clark, were you thinking?"

There was no good answer to that. All he'd been thinking about at the time was he needed to get away from Lex, and then after... he just hadn't wanted to be here. "I'm sorry, Mom," he whispered, lump rising in his throat.

"I know you are. You're grounded, though." She squeezed him tighter. "You need to learn to deal with things, not just run away."

"Then Lex needs to learn not to push." He detangled himself from her arms. "I'm really sorry. I just... needed to get away from him, and I was gone before I thought about it. Like really gone."

"You should have called us. Let us know where you were."

He nodded, miserable.

"Thank you, Grant," she said over Clark's shoulder. Stepping around Clark, she held out her hands and took Grant's in her own. "For everything."

Grant smiled and shrugged. "You're welcome, Mrs. Kent. Clark's an amazing young man. It was my pleasure to help him out this weekend."

She squeezed his hand and smiled at him. "Would you like to stay for coffee?"

Clark frowned at her. It wasn't that he didn't want Grant to stay, but the way she asked.... There was this tone in her voice. It sounded like... like she was preparing for a storm or one of Clark's nightmares or something. Very calm, very soothing, and with a hint of steel running underneath.

Something was up.

Grant, though, seemed oblivious and just nodded. "I'd love something. It's not a bad drive, but six hours is a long time to be driving without a break."

"I've done it before. Well, done the drive with only a short break," Martha said. She dropped Grant's hand and turned to the house, slipping her hand into Clark's. "When Jonathan and I started dating, there were days when he couldn't get away from the farm. I'd drive out here to see him, then go back just a few hours later. I definitely remember the commute."

"I didn't realize you were from Metropolis," Grant said. "I've only lived there a year, but I can't imagine leaving."

"Oh, it is a wonderful city, but Smallville has my heart. But there are things I do miss."


Clark dragged his feet as they made their way towards the house. His mother and Grant were chatting easily about Metropolis, acting really casual and happy, like this was all normal. But nothing was normal right now; these past few weeks had been the worst of his life. Mom had been held hostage. Lionel had been shot. Lex had torn Clark's heart out, causing him to run away. The police had found Clark's rape journal and the press had published parts of it. Not normal. Not good.

Something was up. Mom was trying to lull Clark into a false sense of security. To make him feel comfortable and safe at home before tearing the illusion away. Clark knew her tricks. And Grant... well, if he didn't know what it was Mom was doing this for, he was still playing along. He sounded different than he had all weekend, just a little bit forced, like he, too, was waiting for the axe to drop.

They was pissing Clark off. He couldn't say if he was more angry at Mom for feeling like she needed to built a protective cocoon around him, or Grant for playing along. All he knew was that he didn't want to be protected, he didn't want to be the only one left out of something. He wanted to be treated like an adult, dammit; if this had something to do with him, he deserved to know what it was.

"Coffee, Clark?" Martha asked as she poured Grant and her a cup.

"Sure." He sounded sullen, and he knew it. But he didn't care. He wanted to know what was going on.

Jonathan came in then, a light sheen of dust settled over his shirt and hair. He looked suspiciously casual and pleasant. Or maybe it was just Clark's mood.

"Welcome back, Clark." He ruffled Clark's hair affectionately, then reached across the table to shake Grant's hand. "Hello, Grant. Thanks for taking care of Clark."

"My pleasure, sir," Grant replied blandly, like Clark hadn't tried to seduce him yesterday or anything. Like they hadn't been naked in the shower together, Clark's fingers gripping Grant by the neck, holding his body against Clark's. Like Clark couldn't still taste Grant on his tongue if he concentrated and....

"We need to talk, Clark," Jonathan said, sitting down across from him. For one horrifying moment, Clark was afraid that he'd been saying that stuff out loud and, oh God, why was he even thinking about sex at the kitchen table anyway?

He swallowed hard and wrapped his hands around the coffee mug, concentrating so he didn't crush it. This wasn't about sex. This probably wasn't about Grant. But it was something that had his parents worried, and he was worried, too. "Okay. What?" He shot a glance at Grant, who gave a half shrug.

"Clark," Martha said, putting her hand on his wrist. "You know the sheriff's department took your journal."

Crap. It was about this. "Um. Yeah."

"Deputy Hobbs took it as evidence. He's in charge of the investigation and he needs to speak to you. Your father and I discussed it, and we think it's probably best for you to talk to him as soon as possible. Today, if he can see us."

"You thought it was best," Clark managed through the lump in his throat. His voice sounded rough and harsh. "Why is it up to you?"

"Ultimately, it's up to you," Dad said calmly, not even blinking at Clark's tone. "If you don't feel like you're ready to talk to the deputy today, we can put it off until tomorrow. However, we know you. The longer you have to think about this, the more anxious and upset you'll be."

"You're already having nightmares," Martha said softly.

The cup cracked in Clark's hands. "I won't talk to him. Ever."

There was a paused as his mother sopped up the spilled coffee. Then Jonathan said, "I'm sorry, son, but you have to."

"No!" He was aware that his voice had gotten a lot louder and desperate, but he didn't care. "I don't want to press charges. I don't want to go through this! It happened a year ago. It's over and dead and it's not my fault that they found my private journal!" Clark shot out of his seat, slamming his chair into the table. "This isn't fair! They should have asked if I wanted this investigated and I could have told them I don't!"

"Clark..." Jonathan started, but Grant interrupted.

"Clark, we talked about this," he said in that soft, almost hypnotic way that he had. Very slowly, he seemed to float up from his seat, drifting towards Clark. "You're a teenager who was molested and hurt. The authorities found out, and they're taking the burden of this off you and your family. This isn't your decision anymore. Lionel is a threat in the eyes of the law. A felon. They have to investigate what happened."

"But... he didn't hurt me," Clark said desperately. "I mean... he'll just say that I'm stronger than him and could have gotten away and I didn't even try, and..." His throat closed. Frustrated, he rubbed it, trying to work the lump away.

"You need help," Grant said. He stopped in front of Clark, hands at his sides, just looking.

"Deputy Hobbs said that it might not even go to a trial or anything, if they can't get the evidence," Martha said. "But he said that child services will talk to you, too, and see what you need." She came to stand next to Grant. "Honey, you need to talk to someone. Someone other than an undertrained school counselor and your boyfriend. Someone better equipped to deal with the issues you're facing."

"I'm fine," he whispered.

"No, you're not."

"If Lex hadn't said what he said, I'd be fine." Clark managed to force the sentence out, but his throat was raw and aching. "I haven't... been like I was. I mean, I told Grant. I told Aaron. I'm fine."

"You've gotten better," Jonathan agreed. "But you still could probably use someone to talk with. You're still obsessed with the idea that you should have been able to fight Lionel off."

"What Lionel did," Grant said, "like I said before, was psychological, not physical. You could have the strength of a hundred men, and it wouldn't have mattered."

Clark snorted at the irony and wrapped his arms tightly around his chest. "Do I have to?" he asked, hating how plaintive he sounded, and not being able to help it.

"None of us wanted this, Clark," his mother said. She went to him, putting her arms around his shoulders. "But maybe the best thing to do is to go along with this. Maybe we all need to get it out in the open and learn to start putting it behind us."

He was at the door before he realized he'd moved. "Right," Clark sneered. "Because this is really something that you've been living with for a long time." He turned and left the house, slamming the door behind him.

Stupid parents, stupid Lionel, stupid fucking sheriff's department and child welfare or whoever the fuck they were. They needed to keep their Goddamn business out of his and who the hell was his mother to pretend this was her issue anyway? She just found out a few months ago, and it obviously didn't bother her much at the time since she decided to work for Lionel anyway. And he was dealing with it just fine. He didn't need anyone. He didn't need....

His legs gave out at the top of the steps to the loft. It was like his body was suddenly just too heavy to go on, or he was a puppet whose strings were cut. Without warning, Clark just fell and was unable to do anything but lean lifelessly against the banister, gazing at his room.

It wasn't fair. He was already an alien. And gay. Why did this have to happen to him, too. It wasn't like he hadn't had issues before Lionel had fucked with him. There was his whole fear of abandonment. And his sometimes crippling shyness. And the superstrength which meant he'd had to constantly watch how he acted when he was around people. Normally, it wasn't a problem, but if he wanted to play with other kids, he had to watch himself carefully because in those moments of joy, forgetfulness could fall over him as easily as it did anyone else. He'd let himself just be him for a minute and, then next thing anyone knew, Pete had a broken wrist, or he'd bruised Chloe's ribs or something was broken. Clark could never afford to let his concentration lapse and just relax.

All his life he'd been different. And then, Lex had come into it and everything started to come clear. He was an alien who could survive being smashed by a car at sixty five miles an hour. He was gay and generally pretty one-track about his partner of choice. He was, as he was confirming in high school, insanely smart almost to the point of being able sleep through his classes and score straight As. Oh, yeah, and, as everyone in the entire world kept reminding him, he was ethereally beautiful.

It wasn't easy being him, but he was able to handle it and get by. Even be happy because he knew that, one day, he'd be able to leave Smallville, marry and live with Lex, and do something that he loved doing. Write, maybe. And maybe help people on the side, because he had these stupid powers and he was good at saving people and he felt he needed to anyway, so why not? And, maybe one day he'd find out what was so wrong with him that he had to be sent away from his birth parents, and what had happened to them and if he really was the only one of his kind left in existence.

He could have dealt with all that just fine. So why did Lionel have to mess him up so bad?


Clark sighed and closed his eyes. "I want to be alone right now, Grant."

He heard Grant sit on the stairs next to him, despite Clark's words. "I know. I just came out here to make sure you hadn't run away again."

"I won't." He opened his eyes. "It's just that Lex said the same thing to me. About him having to deal with this, too, and it's just..."


Clark nodded.

Grant put his hand on Clark's knee and squeezed. "What happened, happened to you. Lionel violated you. But you don't exist in a void. It's like throwing a pebble into a lake."

"It ripples," Clark sighed. He leaned against Grant wearily, thankful when Grant slipped his arm around him. "Am I being selfish? I mean, what I said?"

"No. And don't let anyone tell you that you are. Anyone who wants you to stop feeling your own pain so you can focus on theirs isn't helping you. But, by the same token, don't deny your family their feelings either." He squeezed Clark. "How do you feel when Lex gets hurt?"

Clark sighed. "Worried. Guilty. Like I should have protected him better."

"Now consider who you are to all of them. You're the only child of Martha and Jonathan, and Lex's lover. Younger lover. I imagine they are all a little over protective of you. Think of how they feel knowing that not only did they fail to protect you from Lionel, but they can't seem to make everything better for you now."

He knew how they felt. He really did. And he understood the guilt and the pain and everything, but... "I hate talking to strangers," he whispered.

"Well. We'll tell child services that you want someone you can be comfortable with." He nudged Clark with his shoulder. "Maybe a handsome, young, male psychologist?"

Clark laughed weakly. "With red hair. I like guys with red hair." He blushed.

"Of course," Grant replied, a twinkle in his eyes. "We can't forget the hair."

Lex's life in Smallville was like a movie cast by someone who was either really into dichotomy or who completely lacked imagination. Everyone came in only two colors: blond or brunette. And they all seemed to come in pairs. Okay, Martha and Jonathan were exceptions to the rule--as was Pete and whomever he was dating this week--but everyone else in his life....

Damien and Dominic. Mark and Whitney. Chloe and Lana. Clark and himself. And now, Helen and Anne.

Not that they were together or anything. Just a pair. Nurse and doctor. Brunette and blond. One woman Lex had dated in lieu of the other. Both women Lex would have fucked in a heartbeat had Clark not been in his life. One had betrayed his trust; one had the potential to do so. And, right now, he needed them both.

Anne, Helen, and Damien's attending--Dr. Braeburn or something--were inside Helen's office. Anne and Helen had their heads literally together, blonde against brown, as they read through the file Anne had brought with her. Braeburn was standing behind them, shaking his head gravely at whatever information the women were relaying to him.

And Lex was standing outside, his nose practically pressed to the glass as he waited to hear what they'd found. At first he'd been inside with them, but apparently he was too big of a distraction, so Helen had banished him. Anne, knowing Lex better than Helen--and being a softer heart anyway--had gently suggested Lex get himself something to eat and call to check in on Dominic. She'd even given him a kiss on the cheek, something that had made Helen bristle slightly.

Lex had forgotten how attractive some women found gay men. If he'd known that over Christmas, he might have told Helen he was gay then and gotten her to accompany him to the party. But, it'd worked out fine with Anne, so it was no time for regrets.

God, he was bored. And stressed and overworked and...

Clark hadn't called. Something was really, really not right with him, and he hadn't called Lex. Was this how it was going to be from now on? Clark, in distress, in emotional pain, and weathering it alone. Without Lex. Without even a word.

Or, worse. With Grant.

Not that he had any right to worry about that. What Clark may or may not have done with Grant. Anything that... that may have happened was Lex's fault, anyway. What he'd said had been unforgivable. Clark was so... so special. So fragile when it came to Lionel. And, worse, he trusted Lex implicitly, had trusted Lex to protect him. And, failing that, to protect his self-confidence, shelter him from pain.

Instead, Lex had caused pain. And broken something so precious that he wasn't sure he'd ever deserved it in the first place.

So, if Grant was the one who was by Clark's side right now, supporting him through this new trial, it was nothing less than Lex deserved. After all, Lex was the root and cause of it all. He'd had to talk to Deputy Hobbs earlier that day about That Night, and now it was Clark's turn to go through the horror. If the world was perfect, he'd be with Clark right now, holding his hand. Of course, if the world were perfect, this never would have happened in the first place, but if he and Clark could admit their love...

Which brought up Lex's new worry. He was too old for Clark. What they were doing was illegal. No. What Lex was doing was illegal. He was sleeping with a sixteen year old boy. Yes, Clark was over the age of consent, now, but Lex had started sleeping with him when Clark was fifteen, an innocent. A child. He was ruining Clark's life and...

/ Jesus Christ on a fucking crutch, Lex! Shut up!/ Clark snapped angrily in Lex's mind.

Taken off guard by the forcefulness, Lex jerked, head smashing into the window of Helen's office.

All three people inside looked up, giving him looks that ranged from concerned for his well being to concerned for his mental state.

He smiled weakly and turned away.

/I'm sorry, angel, but maybe.../

/Don't. And don't strain yourself, I'm nervous enough as it is. Deputy Hobbs called in a psychologist from Metropolis to be with us while I do this, and we've been waiting for over an hour. I don't need your stupid crap filling my head./

/I'll close down, then./

He heard Clark sigh /I don't want you to close down. I want you with me. I need you with me to get through this, okay. You. Not my folks. Not some stupid psychologist./

/Not Grant?/ Feeling a little lightheaded, Lex carefully made his way down the hall, looking for an empty room or waiting room where he could sit.

Another sigh. /Grant's coming with me, too, along with my parents. But only because I've told him all of it before and.../

/And you have a crush on him./ He found a room; dizzy, he sank into the chair by the door, kicking the door closed.

/Yeah, so?/

That was a good point, actually. Clark had a crush on Grant. So what? Grant was in his thirties and a good man; it's not like he'd take advantage of Clark.

Since when did Lex trust anyone like that?

/I've got a crush on Grant. He's cute. I love you./

Lex swallowed, eyes tightly shut against the spinning world. /Are we going to work through this?/

/I hope so./ Clark sighed again; it flowed through Lex, calming the world and making him feel more real than he'd been feeling lately. /I've got to go. Don't think about me; I'm fine. Worry about Damien and the caves and everything./

/Can I see you?/

There was a long pause before Clark replied /Maybe./ Then he damped down on the connection, concentrating on the real world.

Lex forced his eyes open. Despite Clark's attempt to ground Lex, the world still spun and he was wrung out. The bed looked pretty tempting; he wondered if anyone would mind if he curled up in it and slept for a day or two.

While he was trying to gather the strength to make it to the bed, the door opened and Anne stuck her head in. "I thought this is where you'd disappeared," she said.

"Oh? And why is that?" he asked tiredly.

"Educated guess. You needed privacy, the room was empty. I did check a few other rooms before finding you." She stepped inside, kneeling in front of him. The light from the hall rested on her face gently and, strangely, she seemed to glow. "I need to go back to the mansion. The doctors wants to examine the medications Damien has been taking."


"The toxicology reports indicate that Damien may be suffering from an overdose of beta blockers."

"Beta blockers?"

"It's heart medication."

Lex frowned. "Why is Damien on heart medication?"

"That's just it, he's not, unless something's changed in the past week. And why he'd overdose... Damien is so careful. I opened up his personal medication schedule that he's been keeping on his PDA for the doctor, and he's made no mention of it so... so unless he and Dominic accidentally switched medications..."

"He's been poisoned," Lex finished grimly.

Anne nodded. "I never should have taken Lionel's money," she said, tears rising in her eyes. "This is all my fault."

"No, it's not." Lex took Anne's hands in his and helped her to her feet, rising himself. "It's not your fault, Anne. If you'd been here, Dad, or whoever has done this, would just have found another way to hurt Damien. They got to Dominic."

She nodded and sniffed, tears falling more freely. "I don't understand why this is happening."

Lex sighed and put his arm around Anne. He felt heavy and stupid and so inadequate in all of this. And how could he possibly try to explain the sordid dealings of his father to someone who was, for all intents and purposes, an innocent? Despite her being seduced by Lionel--and he could see the diamond earrings twinkling in her ears and knew exactly where they'd come from--and spying on Lex for Lionel, Anne was an innocent. She was a good nurse, a good girl. Lionel had just happened to offer her exactly the right thing she needed; it was Lionel's gift.

"Don't worry about it, Anne. You just do your job and find out how this happened; I'll deal with the why."

She nodded and wiped her eyes on his shirt. "Okay. I will."

"Do you want to see him before we go?"

"No. Dr. Braeburn said he's going to start Damien on the treatment and he won't be able to have any visitors for awhile. I really want to get his medication."

Lex nodded. "All right, then. Let's go." He took Anne by the arm and led her from the hospital, making a quick stop to Helen to tell her what was going on. Truth was, he needed to get out of the hospital and go home. His head was still swimming from his conversation with Clark, and he just wanted to sleep and forget about everything.

Unfortunately, he couldn't. Life didn't stop and when he and Anne arrived at the mansion, Lex was informed that one Dr. Fredrick Walden was waiting for him in the area Lex had designated the receiving room when it became obvious that his security was never going to stop letting people into the fucking house. They were incredibly slow learners, but at least they seemed to be able to remember that if Lex wasn't home, visitors were confined to this one room.

Or, rather, Mabel remembered at any rate; she viewed it as an opportunity to feed people.

"Are you going to be able to find his medications?" Lex asked, holding Anne at the bottom of the stairs. "I looked earlier and..."

Anne nodded, her wry smile cutting Lex off. "I know where they are, Lex."

Implied, of course, was that Damien had told her why he'd hidden his medication so stringently. Apparently he expected Lex to try and kill himself with blood thinners or something, and, God, how humiliating that she knew.

"If you're done before I am, take the car. I'll catch up with you later."

"All right." She turned and hurried up the stairs.

Lex hesitated a moment before following her. Walden may be in the receiving room already, but that was no reason to meet him there. Lex had an office for things like that. Besides, if he was in the room already, he had the position of power. It had the added benefit of making Walden do what he wanted, which was wait for him and then come to him.

Walden entered Lex's office a few minutes later, looking surly and cross. Perfect.

"Dr. Walden," Lex said, coming out from around his desk to shake Walden's hand. "Thank you so much for waiting."

"I didn't have much choice," the man replied haughtily. "The state said I had to talk to you before gaining access to the caves."

Lex smiled his understanding smile and tried not to give into the desire to kick this man in the knees. The complete, total, and utter lack of respect with which he spoke to Lex was galling; Lex wasn't some government lackey, another hurdle in the miles of red tape that was synonymous with bureaucracy. Lex had crossed all those hurdles to become guardian of those damn caves. He was the lover--maybe--of the alien whose ancestors--supposedly--painted those caves. Not only that, but he was Lex fucking Luthor.

"All of us, of course, are anxious that the integrity of the caves not be damaged. They are very old and..."

"Do you think I don't know how to do my job, Mr. Luthor?" Walden asked sardonically. "I was studying very old caves when you were still sucking on your mother's tit."

Refusing to rise to the bait, Lex said blandly, "My mother didn't breastfeed me. And I know a bit of your research techniques and I must say, they are a cause for concern. You are an exceptional linguist, but your methods are a bit... antiquated."

"I do what is necessary," he replied stiffly.

"Well, in order for me to allow you clearance to work in these caves, you must understand that, no matter what you feel is necessary, you must conform to specific guidelines to preserve the integrity of the caves." Lex allowed his voice to harden slightly. "They belong to the Kwatche Nation, not the state and not me. You are a guest in them."

"What is your interest in these caves, if I may ask, Mr. Luthor? Outside, of course, of their ideal location to hold wild parties," Walden said with a sneer worthy of Lionel.

Lex raised and eyebrow at the insinuation and replied smoothly, "I've always been interested in ancient civilizations. While this one isn't ancient, it still has captured my interest and my sympathies. What I wonder, though, is how they came to your attention."

Walden shrugged. "I was contacted about the unique paintings. My interest was piqued."

"And the half million dollars deposited in your account?"

"Also piqued my interest," he conceded without hesitation. "Mr. Luthor, your approval or not, I will gain access to the caves. The work I will do in translating them will be greatly appreciated by the Kwatche people. And you can either be known as the man who allowed me to do that work... or the one who stood in the way of discovery."

Oh, wonderful; blackmail.

"I never intended to stand in your way, Dr. Walden," Lex said in a tone of surprise mingled with threat. "I merely wished to make it clear to you that these caves are under the protection of the government and your methods of study must be within the legal boundaries. No harm must come to the paintings. Furthermore, I would like to be kept informed of your progress. If that means I must outbid whoever requested your services in the first place, I am prepared to do that."

"You'd go against your..." Walden cut himself off abruptly.

Lex smiled and leaned closer to Walden. "Doctor, allow me to assure you that where these caves are concerned, I am willing to go far to keep my father out of them."

"Any particular reason?"

"He wants to unlock the secrets. That is reason enough."

"Then he kissed me again," Clark said in a low voice. "And his hands were all over me."

"Did you try to push him off again?" the psychologist, Dr. Alicia Miles, asked.

He shrugged. "I felt like I couldn't. Like I was sick or something. Weak. I just sort of sat there. I was crying. He pulled the blankets off me, and I tried to push him, but it was like my arms were noodles or something. I didn't have any strength. His hand brushed over my... my..." He broke off, chin trembling.

"Clark," his mother whispered. She put a hand on his shoulder, but he jerked away, unwilling to be touched by anyone.

Dr. Miles pulled something out of the bag at her feet. "Do you want to use this?" she asked, holding a naked, anatomically correct doll out to him.

Clark blushed deeply and averted his eyes. "His hand sort of brushed over my p-penis." He felt ill. "And I thought... but then the door opened and Lex came in."

The doll was laid on the floor. There was a long silence; Clark could hear the scratching of Deputy Hobbs's pen over the rushing of blood through his ears. He was so tired. They'd been at the sheriff's office forever, waiting for Dr. Miles to show up. Now they were pulling the story out of him a bit at a time, like it was torture or something.

On either side of him were his parents. At various times, both had tried to hold his hand or put their arms around him, but he couldn't be touched. He didn't want the comfort. He didn't want to feel like he was part of the world right now. The disconnect that he felt, the floaty, not-quite-here feeling was the only thing that kept him from going completely insane.

"After this incident, Clark," Deputy Hobbs said, breaking the silence, "did Lionel Luthor ever attempt to contact you again? Did he ever threaten you or try to get you alone?"

He took a deep breath as the question sank in. "Yes," he whispered.

Next to him, his mother gasped. Oh, right. He'd never really told them. About the second time. Just the first.

"Can you tell us about it, Clark?" Dr. Miles asked.

He nodded, head jerking mechanically. "It was spring. Near the end of school and. And I was going to the Talon to talk to my friend. I was across the street when this... this car pulled up in front of me. And Lionel was in it. He threatened me. Had a needle with drugs. Said he'd get me in the car no matter what. And I... didn't want to be unconscious. So I got in." His tongue suddenly swelled three sizes, choking him.

"Water, please," Dr. Miles said.

The deputy immediately poured a glass and passed it over to Clark. He tried to take it, but his hands were shaking too badly and he ended up spilling it all over.

"Sorry," he managed to croak out.

"It's okay, Clark," Dr. Miles said soothingly. She took the glass and refilled it.

"Honey? Are you..."

Clark jerked away from his mother as she tried to sop the water up. And then, feeling something break inside him, he turned and wrapped his arms around her. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Mama, I'm so sorry."

"No, baby. No, Clark, you have nothing to be sorry for." Martha smoothed his hair back gently and kissed his forehead. "What happened, honey?"

"He was saying things. About... me. How pretty I was and everything. Flawless. And he had his hand on my leg. And then he took my hand and... and he had me pinned against the door and then I was... t-touching him." The words flooded out of him in a rush, pouring into his mother's hair as he buried his face in her neck.

"Clark," Dr. Miles said in a lilting voice that got his attention immediately. "We need you to be very specific, remember? Where specifically did you touch Lionel?"

Clark pulled away from his mother, alarmed. "He made me do it! I was so scared and distracted, I didn't realize that he had my hand on his... crotch until I felt it. He was hard and pressing against my hand." He swiped at his eyes. "Lionel put his hand under my shirt and was stroking. I told him no. And to stop. Then he...said we didn't have time and started talking about me."

"About what?"

He shrugged. "He was trying to get me to convince Lex to go back to Metropolis. He thought that... that maybe if he threatened me or got me to talk to Lex, he'd listen to me. Because he wasn't listening to his father." He sniffed again and added, "Whitney Fordman got me away. He crashed into the car and beat up the driver."

"Did the driver ever try to interfere when Lionel was molesting you?" Deputy Hobbs asked.

Clark shook his head and replied, "There was a privacy glass between us."

"Has Lionel ever attempted to get you alone since then? Have you had any interaction with him?"

"Yes, I've had interaction with him. He kinda, once... Right before he moved in with Lex, I was over playing pool. Lex left to take a call and, um. Lionel came in. When he realized I was in the room, he sort of started making... um, lewd insinuations and stuff. And I." His cheeks started burning and he dropped his eyes. "I kicked his cane away and slammed him into the pool table."

The deputy and Dr. Miles exchanged looks, but, surprisingly, the deputy didn't say anything but, "And since then?"

Clark shrugged. "Since then, he's left me alone."

"Are you sure?"

"I'd tell you if he did. I'm already here, aren't I?" The last came out a little belligerently, and he waited for his parents to say something.

Surprisingly, they didn't.

The deputy scribbled on his pad of paper. His eyes skimmed over the page silently, before he said, "Okay. I think I have all I need."

"Thank God." Clark let out a huge sigh and slid down in his seat until his head rested on the backrest. "Can I go home now?"

"I don't see why not," Deputy Hobbs said. "I can call you if I need anything else. The Office of Family and Children should be in touch with you at some point if they feel there is need for, um. Counseling and all that."

"I'll expedite that process for you," Dr. Miles said. "I think there is clearly a need for psychological help, and we need to get it as soon as possible."

"I'm fine," Clark protested drowsily. He was so sleepy all of the sudden; he just wanted to go home and crawl into bed.

"I think it's clear, even to you, that you're not, Clark. You've carried this burden by yourself, without someone on the outside to help you, for a long time now, Clark," she replied gently. "Your parents and friends are too close to you to really give you perspective. Think about how you felt when you told Mr. Robinson; wasn't he able to help you in a way that the people closest to you couldn't?"

Clark yawned. "Yeah." He cracked open his eyes. "I mean, he helped me through a lot of stuff. But I'm..." He broke off again, yawning. "I live my daily life fine. It's talking about it that's hard. Shouldn't it be?"

"Well, I suppose so, yes. But, despite that, you could still benefit from talking to a professional about this. Even if it's just for a few sessions."

"I will if I have to. But I think I'm fine."

"Do you think legal action will be taken against Lionel?" Jonathan asked, squeezing Clark's arm.

"It's hard to say," Deputy Hobbs answered. "We've spoken to Lex Luthor, and his story seems to agree with Clark's. We'll have to talk to Whitney Fordman as soon as possible." He sighed. "I have a feeling that, because of the people involved, and because there were two incidents instead of the one that we originally thought there were, yes."


"Clark," Dr. Miles said. "Wouldn't you feel better if you had a chance to face him in court and have him put away where he couldn't hurt other young men like he did you?"

He struggled to raise his head so he could meet the doctor's eyes. "He doesn't want to hurt other young men. He just wanted to hurt me. And what does it matter what I want, anyway? If it was up to me, I wouldn't be here right now." Then, still so tired he felt like his body was nothing more than a heavy bag of sand, Clark forced himself to his feet and shuffled out of the room.

Grant was sitting in the main room of the sheriff's department, reading a book that he'd borrowed from Clark. He looked up when Clark came into the room, rising immediately.

"Are you done or runnin' away?" he asked, going to Clark.

Clark shrugged. "I told them everything. The psychologist said I need help because I cried. The deputy said they'll probably file charges. I want to go home." He stepped closer to Grant. "Can I go back to Metropolis and live with you?"

He laughed and rubbed Clark's arm. "No."

"Okay, Clark, we're done," Jonathan said, coming up behind them. "Thanks for waiting, Grant."

"You're staying for dinner, right?" Martha asked. She slipped her arm around Clark's back and squeezed him tightly.

Grant nodded. "I'd loved to, Martha, thank you."

"You okay, son?"

"I'm fine."

Clark curled into the corner of the backseat of Martha's car as they drove home. The three adults were chatting inanely, like they all shared one brain and it was cued twenty-four seven to the, "Let's not upset Clark anymore," channel. Not that Clark was really paying any attention; he was half-way asleep before they got to the street.

"Clark?" Jonathan shook him gently.

Blinking in surprise, Clark saw they were at home. What's more, Grant and Martha were already on the porch, still talking as they went inside.

"Sorry," he said groggily, rubbing his eyes.

"It's okay. Why don't you go upstairs and splash some water on your face to wake yourself up. Then come down and help me with the chores."

Clark nodded and climbed out of the car. "Yeah, okay." Rubbing his eyes again, he went into the house and climbed upstairs. As he made his way to the bathroom, he heard a plaintive meow coming from Lex's room.

"Hey, Athena. Did Lex abandon you, too?" He climbed onto the bed and picked the kitten up.

She started purring loudly and butting her head against his chin.

Clark kissed her gently on the head and laid back. "I know. It sucks, doesn't it. He's supposed to love us no matter what, but when something else comes up..." He sighed, eyes sliding shut. "No, that's not fair. He loves us. He's just... a baby. Needs us to.. protect him more than he can protect us." He yawned again and, snuggling down into the soft mattress, slipped into a dreamless sleep.

Chloe was sitting the basement, typing on her laptop in time to the music that was playing loudly in the background. Her head ached from the stress of the day and she was exhausted from not sleeping the night before. Still, she had so many thoughts running around in her head, not just about Chad, but about the high school party culture in general and the sort of tense normality Smallville students had adopted that turned a blind eye to the weirdness in fear that they become the weirdness specifically. There were tons of essays and articles on similar subjects on her laptop, but she had nowhere to publish them except in a tabloid or as fiction.

One day she'd let the world know the truth about Smallville. One day, but not until it was safe. Right now, it was too dangerous for Clark, and even if the government or whatever would be able to help the kids affected by the meteors, it wasn't worth the risk to Clark.

"Hey, Chloe," Chad said from the top of the stairs.

Startled, Chloe jumped, her laptop almost sliding off her lap and onto the floor. "Chad. Hey! I didn't hear you ring."

"I ran into your dad outside and he told me to come on in," Chad explained.

"Well," she said, trying to hide her sudden nervousness. "Aren't you going to come down?"

He loped down the stairs easily, his baby-fine hair hanging down in his eyes. He always tried to gel it into a complicated, "goth-like" hairdo, but no matter what he or Chloe did, the gel disintegrated and his hair hung free. Personally, Chloe liked it better when it wasn't styled, and not just because that meant she didn't have to touch a bunch of gunk. Chad had a cute, little-boy face and when his hair was loose and free, it really emphasized the boyishness.

Not that she told him her preference because she didn't want to be the kind of girlfriend who dictated her boyfriend's grooming habits. She wanted to just... let him do his thing while she did hers.

"Hey." Chad kissed her gently as he sank down on the sofa next to her.

Feeling guilty, Chloe kissed him back. She was in so much trouble; she officially hated being a teenage bisexual. "How was your day?" she asked, setting her laptop aside.

"Okay. Lots of stuff to do. I managed to get copies of all the reports on the kids from the party for you." He handed her a manila envelop. "You feeling any better?"

She shrugged as she opened the envelope. "I guess. It's been a weird day."

"So I heard." There was a strange tone in his voice, but Chloe dismissed it as she read the information in the file.

Puncture wound....enlarged adrenal gland. Four kids. Four identical symptoms. Definitely something....


She blinked and glanced over at her boyfriend. "Um. All these kids were at the party, right?"

He sighed and nodded. "As far as the police could tell." He slipped his arm around her. "Chloe, can you put that down for a minute? Please?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. Sure." Reluctantly, she turned to face Chad. "What's going on?"

Chad was fiddling with the cuff on his right wrist, twisting it around the thin bones underneath his pale skin. "Um. Is there anything you want to tell me?"

No. Not really.

She squirmed. "Um, I don't know. Do you think there is?"

"Well, yeah. Maybe. I was just wondering... I mean I heard..." Chad exhaled hard, then asked, "Why did you and your girlfriend break up?"

Damn. "It was complicated. I mean, she lived in Metropolis, and I lived here, and she met someone else, and I was busy and..."

"And, didn't you move in with Lana about the same time?" Chad wouldn't look at her.

He'd heard. Damn small towns and the gossips. This was just great. She was going to get hassled, wasn't she? Called all sorts of names. Now, instead of being that weird reporter girl, she was that stupid dyke who needed a real man to show her how to be straight. Stupid Lana.

Oh, God, Lana. She was going to get hassled too. She was...

"Um, okay, yeah," she finally said in a very small voice. "That may have had something to do with it. But Lana and I... we weren't together. And we aren't. I was just so upset this morning, and she was trying to make me feel better and just... wasn't thinking." Steeling herself, Chloe turned and forced herself to meet Chad's eyes. "I'm so sorry."

His eyes were bright and he wouldn't quite look in her eyes. "Do you love her?"

Okay. He wasn't crying, and she didn't want to cry either. But her eyes were stinging badly. "Yeah," Chloe whispered. "I do."

"Then why." He broke off and cleared his throat. "Why did you sleep with me?"

In real life, Chad would be just like every other high school guy and just care about sex and not about the relationship. In real life, they would have slept together just once and then he'd dump her for his next conquest. But, no. She had to start dating a guy like Clark, to whom sex was something special.

She was so lucky, and she just threw it all away.

"I really like you, Chad. I never lied about that. I never lied about wanting to sleep with you. Lana and I are so... incredibly complicated." She sniffed. "We were together last year and then when we broke up, it was so, so hard on me. On both of us and on... on Clark." Okay, that was sweat rolling down her cheek, not a tear.

He took a deep breath. "Was I any good?"

"You were great, Chad. Everything I ever could have asked for." Tentatively, she took his hands in hers. "I'm sorry I hurt you."

Chad sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. "I just... can't believe I lost you so soon."

"I don't want to lose you." She squeezed his hands. "I really..."

Chad shook his head and tightened his own hands around hers. "Chloe, I really think... that you and Lana need to be free to do whatever. I mean, she was part of the reason you and Sydney broke up. You two are all living together and everything, and now you're... You love her. Not me. I wish you did, but..." He shrugged.

"I don't want..."

"You're my best friend, Chloe." Eyes still amazingly bright with a film of tears, he looked up at her and smiled. "So, um. Um, unless we can't... you know. Be around each other. I'm staying around."

Okay, those were tears. Just a couple, but... "Really? Because I need someone that's not... not Lana or Pete or Clark to be my friend because, God, with everything going on with Clark, I have to be so strong and I just can't be strong and I'm going to fall apart and I need... someone who wasn't hurt by what happened to him. Ever since I met you, you've been like this rock who just... I can go to and be with and feel normal with, and I really need that."

Chad pulled Chloe into his arms and hugged her tightly. "I'm here for you, Chloe. You're my friend, and you can cry on my shoulder all you want."

She sniffed, wiping her nose on his shirt. "Thank you. I don't... deserve..."

"Chloe." He squeezed her tightly. "You do so much for everyone. Sometimes, just let someone do something for you."

She didn't say anything, just squeezed him tighter. "I'm sorry I hurt you," she said after a long moment.

He loosened his grip and let her pull away. "Yeah, well. That's the name of the game, right? We all go into this knowing that we might get hurt. It's not fun, but..."

"Yeah, but I really have to learn how to break up with someone without, you know. Cheating on them."

"You didn't cheat, exactly," Chad said. "I mean, you haven't slept with Lana, and she only kissed you because you were upset. Right?"

"Right," she assured him. "She and I have kind of danced around each other, but we haven't... We both really like you. Neither one of us wanted to hurt you."

"Hey," he said with a lopsided smile. "If you both like me, why don't we all get together?"

She laughed and smacked his arm gently. "Intriguing idea, but..."

"It'd never work." Chad sighed, gazing at her lovingly. "Okay. I'm going to go."

"You don't have to. We could hang out."

"I'm trying to be a good guy, Chloe, but I still just broke up with my girlfriend. Give me a few hours to sort of mourn. We can hang out on Monday, okay?"

"Yeah, okay." Chloe leaned forward and kissed him gently on the cheek. "You're a great guy, Chad. And you're going to find someone perfect for you. You deserve that."

Lana was sitting at the top of the stairs, her stomach a knot of anxiety. She'd seen Chad come into the house a few minutes ago and knew--well, hoped--that Chloe was breaking up with him. She felt awful about the pain it was going to cause him, but she didn't know what else Chloe was supposed to do; she and Lana were in love and the deserved to have a chance to be together.

Barely ten minutes after Chad had disappeared into the basement, he emerged. His eyes were red and he was walking quickly, obviously wanting to be gone.

Lana took a deep breath and ran down the stairs. "Chad!"

Chad turned, his hand on the doorknob. "Hey, Lana." He sounded and looked like he'd been crying. "You should, um, go down to Chloe. You know. Restart your relationship and all that."

Her heart lurched. "You guys broke up."

"That's not what you knew was going to happen?" he asked bitterly, and she couldn't blame him; she'd probably sounded too happy.

"Sometimes she thinks she's going to break up with whoever she's with, only to decide that she just can't. I wasn't sure."

"Well. Yeah. We broke up."

Lana nodded, twisting her fingers in time with the churning of her stomach. "Chad, I'm really sorry."

"No big," he replied, but he was obviously lying. "I mean, half the time, I don't even know if I like girls or guys or both or what. I mean, I liked Chloe a lot. And I liked having sex with her and all, so I guess I like girls, but... I mean, my point is, relationships are confusing. I don't. You know, blame you. Especially since, well. It's Chloe."

"Yeah." Lana smiled and shook her head. "Chloe is really... Chloe."

"She is."

"Chad." She reached out and grabbed his arm. "I'm the one who told Clark that you were cutting yourself."

His face completely shut down, a dark cloud dropping over it. "I don't know what you mean."

She exhaled hard and wrinkled her nose. "I saw the cuts on your arm. And I knew the behavior, so I watched you. But I didn't know what to say, so I asked Clark to talk to you." She stepped closer to him, her heart pounding in her chest. "I don't want to be another reason you hurt yourself."

Chad laughed bitterly. "You're a little too late."

Lana felt the blood drain from her face. Tears rose immediately to her eyes and she stepped away from him, horribly ashamed that she'd been so thoughtless, she'd hurt the one person she knew would take it out physically on himself. "Chad..."

"Why did you tell Clark? Why not Chloe?" he asked unexpectedly.

"Because... because I thought she might be overbearing. When she found out about... about what happened to Clark, she was so... all over him. He couldn't take it and ran away. I was afraid that something like that would happen with you, and I thought Clark would handle it better."

"He did." His hand on the doorknob, Chad looked away. "He didn't make me feel worse about it or anything."

"Clark wouldn't. That's why I told him." She tugged on the ends of her hair. "Chad, I want you to know..."

"You're sorry, you didn't mean anything, you love her, don't hurt myself again. Well. Sometimes, it's the only thing that makes me able to get through the day. Bye." And, before she could say anything else, he left.

Lex was ready to check into the hospital. It made the most sense, logically. There were no comfortable or private waiting areas here, and any time he was shooed out of one of the rooms he'd taken refuge in, someone stared at him. Kids asked questions. Well-intentioned nurses expressed their sympathies about his father and Damien, and less well-intentioned nurses gossiped about him at the nurse's station, apparently thinking the little desk was sound proof.

Oh, and "Clark's" orderly was flirting with him.

He didn't understand why he wasn't allowed to hide in one of the empty rooms. He did normally. And when he wasn't in there, he was in Helen's office. Helen, the bitch, had gone home for the night, and every time he tried to sneak into a room, someone was brought in or a nurse kicked him out. He didn't know how many times now he'd been told to go home already. Damien was responding well to the medication he'd been given to counteract the beta-blockers, although he was still in a coma, and the hospital would call Lex as soon as Damien woke.

But he stayed. It really wasn't very late; only after seven. On a Saturday night. If he went home now, the only thing that would happen was Lex would be reminded that he and Clark were currently estranged and his cat was over at the Kents.

So, he stayed. And, so did Anne, because, obviously, someone needed to baby-sit Lex. Of course, she was currently in with Damien, reading, annoyed with Lex because he refused to turn off the Gameboy he'd dug out of the back of his closet before returning to the hospital, and the tinny music was making her head hurt.

She had a point. The Gameboy was about ten years old, and the tiny speakers sucked. The noise was annoying, but Tetris was one of the few games that continued to keep Lex's mind occupied, no matter how many times he'd played. The infinite patterns assured that he'd never play the same game twice.

"Mr. Luthor?" a soft, almost melodic voice said, breaking his concentration.

Jaw clenching in annoyance, Lex switched the game off. "Mr. Robinson," he replied flatly. He looked up. "What can I do for you?"

Grant was looking tired. His hair was disheveled and his clothes were rumpled. There were circles under his eyes, and he looked paler than normal.

Fucking bastard still looked gorgeous and masculine. Lex felt beyond nelly just sitting in the same room.

"I wanted to talk to you before I headed back to Metropolis."

"Do you think you can make that drive?" Lex said dubiously. Grant seemed like he was going to fall asleep on his feet.

"I'll be fine." Grant hesitated a moment, then dropped into a seat near Lex. "I thought it would be best if I talked to you before Clark did."

Oh, that didn't sound good. "Yes?" he said warily. God, what the hell now. Was Grant about to express his love for Clark? Or was he going to tell Lex that he'd decided not only to publish the story about Clark in his stupid magazine, but he was selling it to Time and Newsweek and any other publication who wanted it as well.

Grant smiled at him like he knew what Lex was thinking and thought it was cute. Then his face turned serious. "I just wanted you to know that nothing happened between Clark and me this weekend."

A confession of non-guilt. Often, that bespoke more of the confessor's guilt than his innocence. "Then why are you here?" Lex finally asked. In most cases, were he to receive this kind of confession, Lex would already be on the phone, destroying both parties lives. But, in this case, he couldn't destroy Clark, and there was the slightest possibility Grant was actually telling the truth. Besides, he wasn't sure how effective his attempts to destroy Grant would be. "If nothing happened, why would you feel the need to tell me?"

"Because I know Clark, and I have a fairly good grasp, I think, of the way you two operate. I admire your attempts to communicate and be open with one another, but I also get the sense that Clark allows his guilt to get in the way of the truth while you let your conviction that everyone is out to hurt you get in the way of listening."

Wonderful; he was being psychoanalyzed by a reporter. "And your point?"

"Clark came on to me. Twice. I turned him down. But I don't think he really meant anything by it. He loves you, Mr. Luthor." Grant shrugged. "He was just confused this weekend. Upset. And he wanted to forget about it for awhile."

Lex sighed softly. "Thank you for your honesty," was all he could think to say. Inside, he was railing, but, really, what could he do?

"You're welcome. I thought it best you hear that nothing happened from me first, before Clark tried to confess his sins. And, yes, maybe it was a betrayal of your trust, Mr. Luthor, but you need to remember that Clark is young. He's going to make mistakes, just as you are, and..."

"You know, I really don't need a lecture right now," he said sharply. "I know he's young. I've been telling him for a year he should date other people, explore his sexuality and all that. While I'm a bit surprised he's decided to do just that with an even older man than I, it's not as if I haven't spent a lot of time preparing myself for something like this."

Grant leaned his arm on the back of his chair, drawing his leg up so he could turn his body to face Lex comfortably. "Are you sure you haven't just paid lip service to the idea?"

Damn the man. "I've done my best to encourage him," Lex replied. "Maybe my heart wasn't in it, but, then, he's never met anyone he was ever really interested in. He even turned down his friend Aaron when he made a pass. Whitney's the only one... But Whitney left."

"And then fell in love with Mark."

"Sorry you missed out?" Lex couldn't help asking.

Grant shrugged. "Can't really say. I have no regrets, really. Mark's a wonderful man, but..." He shrugged again and didn't finish his thought. "And I concede your point about Clark. Perhaps there was no one else he really wanted. But if there had been?"

"I hope I'd be strong enough to let him experiment." He hesitated, wondering how much he wanted to say; he didn't want to give this man the impression that Clark was attracted to him, even if it was true.

Of course, Clark had done a pretty good job of getting that across all by himself.

"It's been a tough year for him," Lex finally said. "He hadn't realized his sexuality before he met me, and then what happened with Dad really messed him up. At some points, he felt attracted to everyone, and, at others, he was convinced he could never feel attraction for anyone but me. Both ideas caused him considerable distress. All I could do was try and make him understand that, no matter what he felt, he was normal."

"And what he did this weekend was normal, too."

Lex snorted and rolled his eyes. "I know that. And I'm almost glad he went to you. One, because he knows and trusts you, but also because... what he did was healthier. I." He stopped talking, because damn if he was going to admit what he'd done.

Grant studied him a moment, but didn't follow the line of questioning Lex had so carelessly let dangling. All he said was, "I love my job, Mr. Luthor. And I ask that you don't try to extract revenge on me because Clark sought me out."

"Don't worry. I won't." Clark would leave him if he did, anyway. And the Kents would be so disappointed. "Besides," he added, "ruining someone's life is only successful if they actually rely on their job for their security. Doesn't work so well if I can't destroy the foundation as well."

"Spoken like a man who doesn't truly love what he does."

He shot Grant a wry look. "I wasn't given much choice in my vocation. My father orchestrated my entire life, right down to my major."

"It never occurred to you to simply say no and do what you wanted?"

"It occurred to me many times, but it never worked out the way I wanted it to." Lex frowned and worried his bottom lip. A bout of nervousness overtook him, and he couldn't believe he was going to ask, but he had to. He had to understand what had gone so wrong with him. "You grew up with money. Why is it that you seem so self-sufficient and entirely independent from it, while I can't survive without the trappings?"

"What do you mean?" Grant asked.

He glanced at Grant. "I mean... you live simply. Alone, in a one bedroom apartment. You only spend the money you make writing, even though you have a huge trust fund. You don't need a cook or an assistant. You didn't get into the same kind of trouble I did growing up. Your father didn't force you into the family business. Your car is domestic, for God's sake. I, on the other hand, am currently sitting in the waiting room of a hospital waiting for my assistant to come out of his coma knowing that if he dies, there's a good possibility I will cease to be able to function."

"I think you're giving yourself too little credit."

"I think you don't know enough about me to say that with a straight face," Lex snapped.

"I know that your father makes it very hard for you to learn how to function on your own," Grant said softly. "You remind me a lot of my stepbrother. His mother abused him and it took him a very long time to accept it wasn't his fault. He's very codependent, now, and needs continual support."

"Interesting story," Lex said stiffly. "Too bad it doesn't apply to me in the least. My father didn't. I wasn't abused."

Grant sighed. "Very well. But in answer to your question, I wasn't raised with the excess you were. One of the reasons my family is so wealthy is that the Robinsons have always been extremely frugal. I've always figured it's because we made our money right after the Depression. My grandfather saw how easy it was to lose everything so he did his best to ensure we lived simply enough that we always had some in reserve. And, more importantly, should anything happen to the business or money, we'd be used to living on little." He smiled. "Well. Relatively speaking."

Lex frowned sourly and crossed his arms over his chest. Clark had a big mouth and Lex was uncomfortable with the idea he'd told Grant of Lionel's harsh method of raising him. What made it worse was the disquieting reminder that Lex was incredibly new money and looked and acted the part. He thought he did a better job at hiding it than Lionel did, but it still showed. It was times like these he wondered about his grandparents; he was almost sure they'd had some small degree of wealth, enough for Lionel to build on it with LuthorCorp, but he'd never been able to find out for sure.

For a moment, sitting next to Grant, Lex felt just like he had back at school. He'd been awkward, ugly, and much too smart for his own damn good. The fact that he was trying to fit in with people whose money ran through their blood from time untold had made it even worse.

Except, Grant wasn't a snob. And, he wasn't exactly old money either, just older money. The fact that he'd had parents who hadn't viewed life as a competitive sport that one had to win at any cost was hardly his fault. Grant had normal parents, like Clark. Lex just hadn't known they existed in the upper echelons of wealth.

"I'm not going to do anything to hurt your career," Lex finally said, trying not to sound too grudging and, instead, like he was granting a favor. Money or not, Grant had nowhere near the power Lex did and his beloved job could be taken away should Lex be so inclined. "I'm... grateful to you for taking care of Clark this weekend." He tried not to make the word grateful sound too much like a curse.

"You're welcome." Grant hesitated a moment, a frown etched across his face. He obviously had something else pressing on his mind.


"Something else happened, but it's not my place to say. Not really. Not to you, at any rate. But... if Clark does say anything to you, remember how much pain he was in."

How much pain I caused him Lex mentally supplied, anguish tearing through his chest. "Is there someone else's life I should think about destroying?" he asked as lightly as he could manage.

To his surprise, Grant replied to him seriously. "If you could, you'd be doing a favor to society, in my opinion. But some people are even stronger than even you."

Oh, crap, Clark, what did you do? "I'll take that under advisement. And, I assure you, that right now, my main focus is..." Debasing myself so Clark doesn't leave me. "Fixing what happened to the best of my abilities."

"Just listen to him, Mr. Luthor. It's what he needs most."

"Thank you, Mr. Robinson," Lex said dryly. "I think I know Clark enough to know that."

"Of course." Grant rose and held his hand out to Lex. "Thank you for listening to me, Mr. Luthor. I appreciate it."

Lex stood as well and shook his hand firmly. "You're welcome. Have a safe drive back to the city."

"I will."

Lex watched him leave, frustration and self-doubt eating away at him. It wasn't fair. Grant's family business was in manufacturing of some sort, something boring and tedious, as all business was, really. Despite Lionel's war metaphors, the ins and outs of business and finance really didn't keep Lex's attention. The patterns and movements were too predictable and, most often, he found himself playing the same game over and over again.

Maybe he should give it all up. He had a trust fund of his own, after all, as well as a small fortune he'd made in school making and selling drugs. It was enough, maybe, to live off comfortably while keeping those he needed in his codependent state (and he'd have to talk to Clark about giving Grant the impression he was abused; you just didn't talk about things like that with handsome, older men, dammit). Lex could go back to school. Finish his masters, get his doctorate. Pursue his passion in science. Do... something besides be his father's perfect little automaton and pawn.

Maybe. If he was strong enough. If it was really what he wanted. And, right now, he didn't know what he wanted except to get back the missing part of his soul. He needed Clark. He needed to be complete again.

Shaking his head at the futility of it all, Lex followed Grant's example and left the waiting room. The halls were quiet, since visiting hours were winding down and people were heading home. Visiting hours of course, did not apply to Lex, but he did do his best, sometimes, to follow them. Well, when the mood suited him, that was. Before Grant had come, he'd thought about trying to stay all night. It wasn't that Damien needed him, but, again, his empty home had seemed too daunting.

"How is he doing?" Lex asked Anne on entering Damien's room. He looked over the monitors, taking in the information he'd learn through osmosis during his numerous visits to hospitals over the years.

Damien's vitals were stable, but he was still in a coma. The chart indicated that, while the doctor was confident that he'd come out soon, there was really no was to say how long it would be.

"The same as he was before," Anne replied, closing her book. "There's really no reason we should stay here, unless you really want to."

"You're ready to leave, aren't you?"

Anne stretched, groaning softly. "I am." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Should I get a room in town, or..."

"I've already had the staff make up your old room." Lex turned to her and held out his hand to help her out of her seat. "I don't know if Damien plans to try to hire you again, or if you're available or... or what, but..." He stopped talking, unsure what he should say. After an awkward moment, he said, "Damien's had a hard time finding a replacement for you."

"Well. I can't imagine he'd want to ask me back, but I'd be happy to if it came up." She smiled wryly, accepting Lex's hand. "I've missed him."

"We all missed you," he said truthfully, feeling odd about admitting it. But, it was true. Anne had not only helped Damien manage physically, but her attitude helped him not feel... crippled. Lex had noticed the change in Damien's mood ever since Anne had left; he seemed more angry at his limitations and frustrated, especially by the idea that it wasn't over since he still had another surgery. Anne returning to work wouldn't necessarily make everything better, but it might help.

If Damien woke up.

Anne kept up a steady stream of conversation on the drive home. If it weren't for the fact he absorbed information with ease, he'd never be able to tell anyone what they talked about. While his mouth chatted about some book the both of them had read, his mind was a million miles away, working over the puzzle that was Grant Robinson, the disaster that was Lex's life, and his terror over his relationship with Clark.

"I'm going to get my cat," Lex said when he pulled up to the mansion.

Anne, who was mid-sentence at the moment, blinked at him, thrown by the change in topic. "Where is it?" she asked after a moment.

"The Kents'. I've spent the last couple days there." His ears turned warm at that admission. As innocent as, perhaps, it may sound to her (Anne did know, after all, he was good friends with the Kents) the fact that Lex knew he was unable to take care of himself for even a few days, even when Damien was well enough to baby-sit him, was humiliating. Again, he wondered how it was that Grant, who'd grown up with similar privileges to Lex's own, had also grown up to be, well, a grown-up capable of being trusted not to drug himself to death and to remember to eat all his meals.

"Is Mabel home?" Anne asked, glancing at the mansion, which she very obviously didn't want to enter if it was only going to be her and security.

"I think so." Like he had Mabel's schedule memorized; the damn woman was one of the most inconsistent people Lex had ever met. "Do you want me to come in with you?"

She shook her head. "I'll be fine. If she's not here, I'll go into town for a bit." Anne caught her bottom lip between her teeth and worried it nervously.

Lex sighed. "Is something wrong?"

"Um. It's stupid." Roses flooded her cheeks suddenly. "If I do leave, when I come back, um..." She trailed off, twisting her fingers in her lap.

Ah. "I'll tell the guards you have clearance to come and go as you please again. Just remember to show them your ID at the gate."

Anne smiled in relief. "Thank you, Lex." She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "I'll see you later."

"Bye," he said. He waited until she was inside the house before turning the car back on and heading to the Kents'.

By the time he pulled up to the house, his insides were tied into a huge knot. Despite the fact he hadn't eaten for hours, he felt as if he was going to throw up. The air outside was cool and crisp, winter melting into spring, and he was sweating like it was the middle of summer.

He couldn't do this. Except, he had to. He had to go inside that house and face... whatever waited for him. Clark, accusations, indifference, forgiveness, whatever.

Swallowing back his fear like the Luthor he was trained to be, Lex parked his car in the Kents' driveway and made his way to the back porch. "Hello?" he called through the screen, wishing his voice didn't sound quite so much like he was expecting to be greeted with a shotgun.

"Lex!" Martha sounded happy to see him, at least. She even came to the door and opened it for him, pulling him into her embrace. "Honey, you don't have to knock. Just come in. It's your home, too."

He melted against her, resting his head on her shoulder, eyes falling shut. He was suddenly exhausted. "That's hardly fair. You still have to check in at my house."

"That's because people are always trying to kill you or steal your belongings," she replied. "It makes sense." Martha planted a kiss on his head. "How's Damien?"


"And you?"

"Not so stable." Hesitantly, he put his arms around her. He felt awkward and stupid, but he needed to hold her for a moment.

"Something happen, Lex?" Jonathan asked from behind him. Lex felt a hand take him by the shoulder, squeezing gently.

He shook his head. "I'm just tired." He pulled away from Martha, averting his eyes.

"Have you eaten?"


"Sit down, Lex." Jonathan pulled a seat from the table out for him, sitting at the table himself.

Still keeping his eyes averted from both parents, Lex sat. He tapped his fingers lightly against the wood grains of the table, his stomach a knot of anxiety. "Anne was a real help in finding out what happened to Damien," he said, needing to fill the silence. "She's the one who noticed the blood thinners looked a little different than they should. Whoever made them did a good job of imitating the real pills, but some were just a little bit off when you looked closely."

"You think Lionel was behind it?" asked Jonathan.

"I assume so." Lex forced himself to look up. "I told Dad that Damien was the one to talk to about getting Dominic to return to work. Dominic doesn't want to work for Dad anymore, and Damien, I'm sure, refused to let Dad talk to him. So, now both of them are hurt."

"It's not your fault, Lex." Martha set a plate of food in front of him and sat next to him. "You know that, right?"

He shrugged, then nodded, then shrugged again. "Sort of. It's just..." Lex sighed and shook his head again. "It's just so screwed up. All of it. And then, it gets worse."

"How does it get worse?"

Lex hunched his shoulders and started to tear his chicken apart with his fingers. "The one thing Dad has always been clear on is the fact he wants me to follow his example and go into business. He's been grooming me forever and, while, a lot of the time it feels like he's never planning on handing the reigns over to me because he's not planning on dying, this is what he wants me to do. But..." He clenched his teeth and looked up at Martha. "I don't think I want to."

Martha smiled, which Lex wasn't expecting at all. "What do you want to do?"

"I don't know."

Her smile grew, which was completely insane. Maybe she was on drugs. "If you could do anything that you wanted to..."

"Finish my masters. Only, in chemistry. Maybe. Or medical chemistry. Pharmacology. Or... when Mom was sick, I kind of thought about being a doctor. Maybe I could do that. I don't know."

Martha exchanged looks with Jonathan. They both looked extraordinarily pleased with the confession of a twenty-two year old who didn't know what the hell he wanted to do with his life.

"I'm pathetic," Lex said, annoyed. "I'm an adult, for God's sake. I shouldn't be... going back to school without having a clear idea what I want to do."

"It sounds to me like you have a pretty clear idea, Lex," Jonathan said. "You're interested in chemistry. Science. You want to explore that interest."

"But I don't know what I want to do with it. After I get my degree, then what? Back to working for my father, inventing new fertilizer under his stupid restrictions? Become a doctor? Who'd trust me?"

"Honey, you're only twenty-two. It's enough that you have a passion right now. You don't have to define what you do with that passion, not yet. That's what school is for, exploring new possibilities."

Lex popped a piece of chicken into his mouth and rested his head on his hand. "That's not what Dad thinks."

"Doesn't matter, Lex," Jonathan said. "Lionel doesn't know one thing about life or raising a child. He tried to raise a clone, and failed, thank God. I think you should go back to school. Study whatever sparks your interest. You can see a career counselor while you're there, make contacts. Maybe go into research or something like it. Maybe teach. Maybe write. And there's lots of people who'd trust you if you did want to be a doctor. You're brilliant, son, and that fact will overshadow the mistakes of your youth. You've got so many possibilities open to you, and it's a shame to be limited by expectation for a life you never wanted."

"Yeah, but..." Lex hesitated, masking his hesitation with another bite of his dinner. "What about Damien?"

"What about him?" Martha asked.

"I just... he said he's with me to help me become a success. Because he knows I'll grow up to do great things. And I always said I'd go into politics, become president and all that. If I'm just a scientist..."

"First of all," Martha interrupted, "is becoming the president something that you really want to do?"

Lex furrowed his brow, thinking. "I don't know. Maybe. Sometimes. Dad..."

"No. No, I don't want to hear anything about what you father or Damien wants for you. We are talking about you, Lex. Your life. Not theirs. Yours. What do you want?"

He pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes. He loved to think, really. He just didn't like to be introspective. It was too hard. Introspection led to confusion and emotional pain and that just led to drugs.

"I don't know," he finally said. He didn't uncover his eyes. "Sometimes, I think I do. Really. I could make a difference in the world. I could make laws to help people like me and Clark, and... help the cause of world peace and...I don't know. I could do a lot of good. But, on the other hand, being president or in office would only put me more in the public eye than I already am." His hands came down. "Everything I did would be scrutinized not only by the people in Kansas, but all over the world. Things that I've tried to forget or made recompense for would be dug out and examined all over again. And what about Clark? How are we supposed to stay together if I'm in the public eye? He needs anonymity. Can I be married to an alien and expect people to trust me? To... to accept that? It'll be hard enough for them to accept two men married, but a man and an alien? And we'd have to keep that a secret anyway, could I really protect him? I just..." Lex broke off, gasping for air.

"Lex, calm down." Martha took him into her arms and kissed his temple. "It's okay."

"None of that has happened yet," Jonathan said logically. "Focus on what's going on now. On what you want."

"What do you mean?"

"You can't be president for another fifteen years or so. Don't worry about that, or about Clark. What you need to concentrate on is what you want to do. Do you want to go back to college?"

Lex swallowed hard, leaning against Martha. "Yeah," he whispered. "I think I do."

"Then that's what you'll do. You can apply for summer session, or wait until the fall. Whatever you want. It's your life, your choice."

"But what about Dad?"

"He might be disappointed," Jonathan said. "But that shouldn't dissuade you. It's your life."

"What if he tries to do something to me? To you?"

"He might," Martha said. "But I know I can't live my life being afraid of what someone might do if they aren't pleased with my choice. Otherwise, I might not be married to your father."

Lex snorted. "You're not."

Startled, Martha laughed and kissed his cheek. "I meant Jonathan. Lately, honey, I forget you're not mine." She kissed him again.

"No offense, Mrs. Kent, but I'm glad you're not my birth mother. It might make my relationship with Clark a little more weird than it already is. And much more illegal."

Martha kissed his forehead. "It's Martha, Lex. Or Mom, if you ever want to, but I'm not trying to replace your mother by any means."

"And you can call me Jonathan." Jonathan squeezed the nape of Lex's neck comfortingly. "Just as long as you remember the 'sir' when you're being chewed out; I like that."

"Yeah, I noticed," Lex said dryly. He coughed, chest sore from the near-miss of an asthma attack. "So, um. I guess I'll start looking into grad school again. Once, you know. Everything is a little more settled."

"That sounds like a great idea. I'm so proud of you, Lex." Martha hugged him again, and then released him.

He blushed, ears burning. "I haven't done anything yet," he mumbled, turning back to his dinner.

"You've started imagining a life other than the one your father planned out for you," Jonathan said. "That's a big step."

Lex just shrugged and applied himself to the task of eating. There was no way in hell he could ever finish the huge amount of food Martha had placed before him, and he wasn't sure if she really expected him to. It was just part of the conspiracy, he knew, to fatten him up. Everyone acted as if he never ate, but that wasn't true; he simply didn't eat a lot.

Fifteen minutes passed. The food was mostly gone. Martha had gone back to flipping through catalogues and Jonathan was charting something that had to do with soil and Ph in it. Lex felt stuffed and bordering on the verge of uncomfortable. Picking up his fork so he could artistically move the remaining food around to look as if it'd been eaten, he said, "So. Is Clark around?" as casually as he could.

They glanced at each other again before Martha answered, "He's asleep. He's been asleep since we got home from the sheriff's department."

Lex looked up. "You can't get him up?"

"He wakes up, but he's groggy when he does. And he goes right back to sleep," Martha said. "He barely said good-bye to Grant when he left." She looked at him, eyes asking him to go and try to wake Clark up.

"I'll go up." He pushed the plate away and wiped his hands on his napkin. "If you hear screaming, don't worry; it's just me getting what I deserve."

"Lex..." Martha started, but he just smiled, shrugged, and exited quickly.

No matter what words of comfort she had been about to give him, the fact was, Lex did deserve to be screamed at. Or shouted. Maybe hit, but he'd rather that not happen. What he'd said to Clark had hurt them both; if Clark needed to scream at Lex a bit, he'd understand.

"Merow!" Athena scolded him the moment he opened the door. She had been curled on Clark's stomach, but she stood and stretched before crossing to him.

"Hey, baby," he said softly, picking the kitten up. "Sorry to have left you here so long." He dropped a kiss on her head and scratched the back of her neck, listening to her purr.

Clark was dead asleep. He didn't even stir when Lex sat on the bed. His mouth was open slightly as he snored, drool collecting at the corner of his perfect lips. The red tee shirt he was dressed in was rucked up, revealing his tanned skin and tight abs, and his jeans dipped just low enough to draw Lex's gaze down in interest.

Christ, Clark was beautiful. If Lex could draw anything but stick figures and molecule structures, he'd have painted his walls with images of Clark's body and face.

He set Athena down and tentatively reached out, placing his hand on Clark's shoulder. "Clark?" Then, when there was no response to his soft prod, he shook Clark gently and said louder, "Clark? Wake up." He had to bite his tongue to stop any endearments from slipping from his mouth, not sure if, when Clark had ordered him not to call him angel anymore, it had been forever or during their fight. "Clark!"

Clark gave an endearing whimper, stretching his back without moving his arms. Blue appeared through long, dark lashes, and Clark yawned. "Lex." A smile broke out on his face, and Clark reached out for him.

Lex caught his hand and kissed it, eyes suddenly stinging. "Hi."

"I'm tired." He rolled onto his side and closed his eyes.

"Your mom said you've been sleeping for awhile now. Don't you want to eat?"

"I want to sleep."


"Go home, Lex." He yawned and pulled a pillow into his chest. "I'm tired. We can talk tomorrow."

Lex's heart sank. He hated defensive sleeping. He hated it even more right now, since he felt that he had no right to ask anything of Clark. "Okay. Come over whenever you want. If I'm not home, I'll be at the hospital."

"Not work?"

He smiled grimly. "We'll talk about that, later." Lex bent down and lightly kissed Clark on the lips. "Love you."

"I love you too, Lex."

Clark opened his eyes, the air still and dark around him. It pressed closely into him, confining, not at all like the open spaces of his room. Panic squeezed his chest as nightmare images of being caged by Lionel filled his head before Lex's scent overpowered Clark's senses, reminding him that he was in his old room. The interview with the police had wiped him out and he'd retreated to a familiar, enclosed space.

He needed to do something about the loft. As nice as the openness was, it wasn't private enough. Anyone could just walk in whenever they wanted. Clark needed a place where he could be alone and know when people were coming before they were already in his space. He needed a place he could just... be.

Groaning softly, Clark rolled onto his stomach and pulled a pillow to his chest. It smelled good, like Lex. Like love.

Athena was gone. Clark had a dim memory of Lex coming and taking her away. Maybe they talked; Clark thought that maybe Lex had tried to wake him up, but Clark didn't want to be awake. In fact, he wished he was still asleep right now. Better to sleep than have to be awake and think about the mess that was his life.

But sleep wouldn't come. No matter how he tossed and turned or plumped the pillow, Clark remained wide awake, his insides starchy and uncomfortable, his eyes unable to keep closed. Groaning in frustration, Clark sat up, pressing his clenched fists into his eyes.

He didn't want to be here. At home, in Smallville. Maybe not even in Kansas. He didn't want to be alone, either. But unless he and Lex finally had the talk that neither of them really wanted to have, or he snuck into someone else's house--Chloe's or Pete's or even back to Metropolis to Grant--he was stuck being alone.

A sharp pang went through him as he thought about that. Alone. God, how he hated it, and yet, that's how he felt. Always and forever he was set apart from everyone. He was gay. He'd been molested. His lover had to be kept a secret from the world. Clark had to be kept a secret from the world. His very existence put his family and himself in constant danger because of what he was.

Heaving a sigh, Clark forced himself out of bed. The clock informed him it was three in the morning. A crappy hour to be awake in Smallville. Nothing would be open; even the Wild Coyote was probably closed.

Clark left a note for his parents on the table, saying he was out for a walk and would be home to do his chores. It wouldn't make them any less angry with him for going out so late, but there was no way he could stay home right now. Not only was he not tired, but he had nightmare-itch beneath his skin so, on the off chance he did manage to fall back asleep, he'd only have disturbed dreams.

The night air felt wonderfully cool against his skin. Clark hadn't taken a jacket out with him, and he was glad; except for when his temperature spiked unexpectedly, Clark didn't go around always feeling hot or anything, but it was always a thrill to feel cool. It made him feel comfortable, homey, even, although the Kent home was always kept warm and cozy. But cozy to him was the sharpness of night air against his skin, and a breeze ruffling his hair. If he could strip off his clothes and swim through the night, he would.

The cooling chamber was always open to him, even when he and Lex were on the outs. Lex had made it clear time and time again that, no matter what happened between them, that room was a safe place for Clark to go. Plus, Clark hadn't done anything wrong, at least nothing that Lex knew about; Lex would probably be more than accommodating in giving Clark a safe space.

But he didn't want to be inside right now. Clark wanted to feel the stars on his skin and the moon on his face.

In fact...

He pulled his shirt off, confident that he wouldn't run into anyone at this time of the morning. It was a small town and completely dead at night. And, if he did decide to go somewhere--like the coffee house in Nebraska he used to frequent over the summer--it wasn't like he couldn't put his clothes back on or anything.

The night enveloped him. He ran circles around the farm, feeling the wind whip against his body and flutter through his hair. He leapt off small hills, crashing down at the bottom and rolling around on the grass, feeling the dew wet blades against his skin. He listened to crickets chirping softly and mournful owls cry into the darkness. He felt his stomach unclench and tense muscles unknot.

Clark didn't know how long he wandered around before he heard the sound of an engine. He froze, straining his ears, trying to figure out if it was coming near him.

Then a familiar whooping cut through the air. Pete.

Clutching his shirt in his hand, Clark zipped across the field. When he stopped, his mouth fell open with shock.

He hadn't gone far; he'd just circled. Pete was currently cutting donuts with his dirt bike, tearing up the carefully ploughed and cultivated field.

Anger and concern suffused Clark. What the hell was Pete thinking? It wasn't like the Kents had a ton of money and help with this place, and Pete was actually costing them money. And, not only that, Clark was going through hell right now, and all Pete could think to do was joyride in the middle of the night?

"Hey!" Clark shouted. He considered melting the wheels of the bike, but immediately decided that it was probably a bit of an overreaction. "Pete!"

Pete saw him and waved, shouting joyfully. He cut another circle, then skidded to a stop inches from Clark's feet.

Clark, too angry and frustrated to care, didn't even move. He just stood, like a statue, glaring.

"Hey, Clark. Didn't know you were back in town."

"Yeah, well. I didn't exactly feel like making any calls," he replied stonily. Then, because he knew he was probably being unfair, he said, "My parents wanted me to talk to the deputy in charge of... of my case as soon as possible. They thought it would be best to get it over with. And, after, I was tired."

Pete nodded and revved the bike. "Hey. Let's swing by my place and get a bike for you. We can go racing."

Taken aback, Clark said, "Um. Now's not really a good time."

"Why, you gonna go play with your boyfriend?" Pete sneered. "Wasn't he the one who locked you in a room with Lionel in the first place?"


"I mean, come on, man! What's it gonna take for you to dump his bald ass? Look, you like guys, fine, but Luthor? Give me a break. He's the reason you've been so damn boring for the past year."

"I'm boring?" It stung more than it should have.

Pete nodded and revved the bike again. "All you do is mope around. Or cry or run away. It's insane. You're an alien for Christ's sake!" Pete started jumping on the footrests, eyes manic with excitement. "You got nothing to be afraid of! If Lionel gets near you again, you can rip his dick off."

"It's not that simple, Pete."

"Yes, it is." Pete leaned forward, the bike making him tall enough so they were almost eye-level. "Life is too short to get wrapped up in something stupid like an old man touched you. Especially when you can do whatever you want. So let's go do it, man. Let's.... run off to New York or something, pick up some chicks. Or you can pick up some dudes. Whatever, I don't care. But let's go live."

Every word ripped Clark inside. His head pounding, throat ached with the need to scream, to yell at Pete, except...

There was no way in hell Pete would ever talk to him like this. He wouldn't mean it. Not unless...

"Did you get, like, sprayed with one of those freaky flowers Dr. Hamilton made?" Clark asked, casting around for a logical explanation for Pete's behavior.

Pete just rolled his eyes and laughed. "No, Clark. I just had my eyes opened."

"You're not well. Let me take you to the doctor."

"I'm great, Clark!" That manic edge was back in his voice, and Pete started bouncing again. "I feel alive, and I've got no time for you if you can't let yourself live."


"Later, man." He gunned the engine and took off.

Clark watched him go, knowing that he could easily stop Pete, but not sure if he should. Maybe Pete was drunk, or maybe he had run into a Nicodemus flower. Whatever the case, those words--and he had to believe this, or he'd go crazy--those words hadn't been made by someone in his right mind.

And when someone wasn't in their right mind in Smallville, there was only one person to go to.

Clark pulled his shirt on and took off. A moment later, he was standing in front of Chloe's window. It was dark, of course, although Chloe did stay up all night on weekends sometimes.

He bent over and scooped up a hand of gravel. "Chloe!" he hissed, throwing a handful at the window. "Chloe!" Nothing.

Finding a bigger rock, Clark tossed it up. It hit the glass, breaking a chip off the thick plated glass. Crap. "Chloe!"

The window opened and, to his surprise, Lana stuck her head out. "Clark?"

Clark felt his face go up in flames and he immediately ducked his head. He knew for a fact that this was Chloe's room and oh, God, Lana was wearing a tiny little tank top that was just a little too lose and, Christ, he saw her nipples and he was never, ever going to get over the embarrassment.

And he was a little aroused, too, so apparently that sexuality thing was still on the bi side. Good to know.

"Um. I need to talk to Chloe. About Pete."

"Crap, did he say something stupid to you?" Chloe asked.

Clark risked glancing up and wished he hadn't; Chloe was attired much like Lana, only she had dark pink spots on her neck and breasts. Obviously something had happened while he'd been gone. "Yeah, but I figured there was something wrong with him. Do you know?"

"Come inside. We'll talk."

Without looking up, Clark went to the kitchen door. He really hoped they dressed just a little bit more before they let him in. He also really hoped neither one of them smelled like sex, because that would be mortifying.

The door opened and Chloe pulled him into a tight embrace. "Hey, sweetie," she said softly into his neck. Her face was pressed against his skin and her fingers threaded into his hair and, for a moment, it felt like she was planning on never letting him go.

Clark sighed softly and melted into her. He wasn't going to cry, he didn't want to, but it felt like it'd been months since he'd seen her instead of days. So much had happened to him, so much of himself had been exposed to people he didn't even know. If he stopped to think about it, it was almost a wonder he was still standing. "Hi." He sniffed, feeling the tears pressing behind his eyelids.

"You doing okay?"

"I've been better." He inhaled sharply, feeling like he couldn't breathe. "I had to tell the police what happened today. Everything."

She pulled her face away from his neck and looked up at him. "And you're fine." Not a question.

"Yeah, I guess I am."

"Have you talked to Lex?"

He shook his head silently.

"Do it tomorrow. You need to work things out with him, Clark."

"I know. I will." He kissed her forehead and let go. "Where's Lana?"

"I'm making hot chocolate," Lana said from inside. "Or did you want coffee?"

Clark squeezed Chloe's hand, which had slipped into his, and went inside. Both girls were now wearing robes, although Chloe's hickies were still visible. In this light, Clark could see the rose-colored marks on Lana's neck as well.

He cleared his throat. "Um. Sorry to wake you two up. I..." He didn't know how to finish that sentence.

The girls glanced at each other. "I, uh, broke up with Chad," Chloe said. She let go of Clark's hand and stepped away.

"Oh." Clark glanced at Lana, and shrugged. He really wasn't in the mood for details, and, luckily, they didn't offer any. He moved across the kitchen and sat down. "So. You think Pete's acting weird too, huh?"

"Clark," Lana said, sounding concerned. She walked towards him, but Clark pulled back, turning his head.

"Lana, I don't want to talk about anything right now, okay?"

"Yeah. Okay." She sounded hurt, but Clark really didn't have the energy to worry about hurting her right now. He was in too much pain himself. "So, um. Pete."

Chloe sighed and slid into the chair next to him. "I'm not exactly sure what's going on. Pete and I went to a party the other night at the caves."

"Lex told me that someone died there. You were at that party?"

Chloe blinked, looking surprised, probably at the anger in his voice. He was mad enough that stupid kids had violated the... privacy of his caves, but the fact that Chloe had been there too just pissed him off. They were his caves. They told a story about him, held secrets meant for him. They weren't some place that kids could go to drink and fuck, dammit.

"I'm sorry. What with everything going on, I needed to blow off steam," she said defensively. "I did a lot of stupid things this weekend, Clark, okay? Maybe going to the party was one of them."

"Oh you think you did stupid things," he said bitterly. "I probably ruined my relationship with Lex."

Chloe's mouth opened, but Lana sat next to her and took her by the wrist. "I'm sure that's not true, Clark. Especially considering he's been worried about the same thing the past few days."

"And did he almost sleep with two other men while I was away?"

"No, but he said something that hurt his boyfriend so badly that he can't forgive himself," Lana answered, not sounding surprised at his angry revelation.

"And," Chloe added, "he was actually pretty sure you slept with Grant. I'm sure he'll be happy to know it didn't happen." She leaned closer, eyes wide with interest. "Who's the other guy?"

He flushed. "I don't want to talk about it." He shifted in his chair and asked quietly, "Is he angry at me?"

Chloe shook her head. "I think he's more worried. He really misses you."

"I miss him, too," Clark whispered.

Chloe stood and hugged Clark, resting his head against her breasts. He relaxed into her embrace, listening to her heart thrumming against his head. "So," he asked after a moment. "What happened to Pete at the party?"

"We don't know." Chloe held him another minute longer before sitting back down. "He's not the only one who's acting weird. We think that maybe there's some new drug going around."

"Except Pete doesn't seem like the type to do drugs," Lana pointed out. She had gotten back up and was at the stove, stirring the milk she was heating slowly. "I know he drinks sometimes, but drugs?"

"No, it's not like him," Clark agreed. "Did you see him doing anything?"

Chloe shook her head. "We weren't there long before Travis fell."

"It was Travis?" Clark knew Travis. They'd both been dinosaur freaks in the spring of their fifth grade. He, Pete, and Travis had spent hours drawing pictures of dinosaurs they'd painstakingly copied out of books. Travis still had three of Clark's plastic dinosaur models that they'd used when filming their own movie with Pete's camera.

"Yeah," Chloe said. "And he kissed me right before he fell. Told me that he was high on life and finally taking his shot on me. Then he climbed the tower and jumped off."

Clark accepted the cup of coca that Lana handed him, wrapping his hands around the warm mug. "So. Do you think he was high?"

"Definitely. But not just high. According to his autopsy, he had an enlarged adrenal gland. And he's not the only one."

"How many others?"

"Four other guys with the exact same symptoms. They're all dead, too. And they were all acting really wild, out of control, like Travis."

"And like Pete."

"Does the sheriff know about the adrenal gland thing?" Clark asked.

Chloe rolled her eyes. "I have no clue. I tried to talk to Deputy Adams about Pete, but she just brushed me off. I'm not going to worry about it. If she doesn't want my information, then she doesn't get it. I'll solve this myself."

Lana squeezed her hand. "Because we're worried about our friend," she said warningly.


"So... when did you two get back together?" Clark asked, frowning slightly when Lana kept hold of Chloe's hand.

"It's kind of a long story," Chloe said uncomfortably. She glanced at Lana, then down at her coca. "Anyway, I've been trying to find out who might be selling a new drug around town. I was thinking that maybe you might, you know. Ask some questions."

"Me?" Clark shook his head. "I can't. Talk to anyone. Ever."

"Clark, everyone is on your side right now," Chloe said. "Everyone at school was majorly pissed at the tabloids. The football team was attacking reporters and everything. You're the number one star of school, and you can use that to your advantage to figure out what happened to Pete."

Clark continued to shake his head, finding it very hard to breath all of a sudden. "Um.... Um... Don't you think it might be the meteors?"

Chloe wrinkled her nose. "It occurred to me, yeah. But there aren't any rocks in the caves, I don't think. I didn't see any."

"Any flowers?"

Lana coughed suddenly and crossed her arms tightly over her chest.

The look Chloe threw him was poisonous, but what could he do? It was a question he had to ask. "No. I didn't see anything. Look, do you want to go out there and check it out? Just to make sure?"

"Yeah. Because I don't want to talk to anyone and try to score drugs. Christ, Chloe, I do that, and I guarantee that it'll get back to the administration of school or something and then I'll be in drug counseling as well as having to see a psychologist. I've got enough people breathing down my neck. Can we please just hope this is freaky alien--uh, meteor stuff and check the damn caves out?"

"Yeah, sure," Chloe said quickly. She shot up from her chair, spilling her coca. "Let's go now."

"No, not now," Lana said, grabbing Chloe by the arm. "It's four in the morning. They're never going to let us in."

"Lex said I can go whenever I want," Clark said.

"But we're not going at four in the morning," Lana repeated firmly. "I don't care if Lex said you could sleep overnight at the caves whenever you want. Someone died in there just two days ago and you're going through enough without getting caught by a deputy and having to go through the long explanation of why you're there and that, yes, you're allowed to be and then have that be how you and Lex get face to face to finally talk. Got it?"

Clark sighed heavily and put his chin on his fist, pouting. "Yeah, fine. When did she get so pushy?" he muttered to Chloe.

Lana, though, heard him and replied, "I've always been this pushy. You just never noticed. Now, come on. Let's go watch a movie or something. We're up, and I have to leave for work in a couple hours."

Chloe pulled Clark up and followed her girlfriend through the house and into the basement. "Clark and I were going to go to the caves early, though."

"Actually, I have to go home to do chores in about an hour," Clark said. Once in the basement, he flopped across the couch, resting his head in Chloe's lap. Maybe it was supposed to be Lana's spot now or something, but he'd take it until he was told otherwise. He could still feel nightmare angst under his skin and needed the comfort.

Lana dug through the movies and pulled something out. "Casablanca?"

Both Clark and Chloe groaned, which Lana took for a yes. After sticking it into the VCR, she crawled onto the couch next to Chloe and rested her head on Chloe's shoulder. One of her hands tentatively tangled in Clark's hair, joining Chloe's to comb the curls. Clark blushed, an image of her perfect breasts flashing through his mind. "So, um. Long story?" he said, trying to distract himself.

Chloe tightened her fingers in her hair and tugged. "Just watch the movie, Clark." She was annoyed, now, which meant something had happened. All Clark cared was to find out if she'd cheated on Chad like she sort of had on Sydney. At least this time, Chloe and Lana had actually gotten together, which was something. It had almost felt like a waste when the girls had gotten so close to getting back together, only to pull apart at the last minute.

They were together again, now. Which, really, was how it should be. He'd always felt so, sort of. Once they'd gotten together, and when Chloe had been so happy, she'd glowed. And even Lana had been happy, when she hadn't been feeling guilty and worried about Whitney. But, now she knew Whitney was gay, and she didn't have to feel so afraid of hurting him, they could be happy. Really happy.

If only he could be so happy. If only he and Lex...

He sighed and closed his eyes. It was useless to keep going over this in his mind. It was just making him feel more and more crazy. The only thing he knew for sure was that he wanted to stay with Lex. He wanted to work all this out. He needed Lex to make him a priority somehow; Clark didn't need to be put above everything else, but he definitely needed to be a priority over Lionel.

He was just so afraid Lex wouldn't be able to do that. Not even for him.

There were other things, of course. He had to promise Lex not to be so judgmental or whatever he was. Controlling. Because, it would be so easy to dominate Lex, especially since Lex never, ever fought him. Never fought the horrible impulses Clark had. And while Clark wanted Lex to start valuing himself and his own needs, Clark knew that he had to, somehow, back off. He couldn't use being an alien as an excuse.

Okay, this was easy enough. Sort of. He and Chloe would go to the caves first thing. Then he'd talk to Lex. Or, they'd figure out what was going on with Pete, then he'd talk to Lex. Unless the stupid deputy needed him again. Or what if...

"Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship," Humphrey Bogart said suddenly, breaking through the haze of Clark's drowse.

He started, forcing his eyes open. "What... did you fast forward the movie?" he asked, voice dry and cracked.

Chloe laughed and shook her head. "The movie's over, dork. You fell asleep."

"But I wasn't tired," he protested stupidly. He sat up, rubbing his eyes. "I slept all day."

Lana had a look of patient amusement on her face as she stood, stretching. "Obviously you weren't tired." She kissed Chloe on the cheek, then Clark. "I'm going to go get ready for work. Do the two of you want to drop by for breakfast before you go spelunking?"

Chloe nodded and tugged Lana into her lap. "Warm cinnamon roles and coffee?"

"Will be waiting for you when you come in."

They kissed, making Clark's cheeks heat because now all four breasts were pressed together and they still didn't know that he'd seen them earlier that morning. "Look," he said suddenly, shooting up from the couch. "I've gotta go do chores. I'll meet you at the Talon?"

"I can drive you home." Chloe said, combing her fingers through Lana's long, silky hair. "Then we can go to the Talon together."

"Um. Don't you, um, need to shower?" Clark mumbled.

"Give me fifteen minutes. Lana showers at night, so I don't have to wait." Chloe pushed Lana off her lap, but kept her hand in Lana's. "Okay?"

Clark rolled his eyes, highly doubting that Chloe would be ready in fifteen minutes. Her hair, maybe, but for a shower and doing her hair?

"Okay," he finally said. "Fifteen minutes. I'll call my parents so they don't worry." He sat back down.

Chloe, who seemed to know what Clark was thinking, smirked and said, "Okay. Make yourself comfortable. Come on."

He watched them go, then set his watch as he settled in for the wait.

"Good morning," Mabel's too-cheery voice greeted Lex, disturbing him from his fruitless meditation on the ugliness of the ceiling. She closed the door behind her and practically pranced into the room as if she were that excited about another chance to feed him.

Lex closed his eyes and shook his head. Mabel thrived on forcing food down people's throats. Not that he blamed her, exactly; people with artistic ability wanted to share that ability. Mabel's cooking was an art, therefore she wanted to share it by any means possible.

And Lana was going to be just the same, Lex knew it. She was already being taught by Mabel how to bake, and she displayed the same instinctive need to distribute comfort through sustenance, although right now, in Lana's case, it was coffee. Add to the fact that Lana really was an artist--and Lex had seen a few of her drawings that confirmed that, yes, she was an extremely talented one at that--and Lex knew that one day the Talon would be filled not only with delicious treats baked by Lana's pretty hands but, also, her drawings.

She might just put Smallville on the map, dammit, and not for some stupid reason like being Lionel Luthor's druggie son.

"I know you're awake," Mabel said, setting the breakfast tray on Lex's nightstand. She went to the curtains and yanked them open.

"Your powers of perception never cease to amaze me," he said dryly. "I've been awake for almost two hours."

"And you're still in bed?" It wasn't doubt in her voice, but worry; he only stayed in bed after waking if Clark was there, he was sick, or depressed.

He stretched, enjoying the feeling of muscles pulling and relaxing. "Yes, I am. I've been thinking." Lex sat up and pulled the breakfast tray onto his lap.

"About what?" She still sounded cautious, like she was afraid he was contemplating blowing off his head. Or blowing up the castle. Or, possibly, buying a thousand tiny kittens to snuggle with in bed.

"My future and what to do with it." Lex took the cover off his plate of food and breathed in the aroma of the feast before him. As always, Mabel had given him how much she thought he should eat, not how much he was generally able to eat, but that was fine. He was actually hungry this morning. Again.

Mabel left the curtains to sit on Lex's bed. "How do you mean?" Her eyes slid to Athena, who was currently grooming herself on the pillow next to Lex; obviously she was stuck on the thousand tiny kittens idea.

Lex swallowed the fruit he'd sampled, washing it down with a gulp of coffee. "I'm considering going back to college. I want to get my master's degree, I think, probably in chemistry." He picked up his toast and nibbled on the end. "My father won't be happy."

"Any father who wouldn't be thrilled his brilliant son wants to continue his education is a worthless piece of..."

"Thank you, Mabel," Lex interrupted, not caring to hear her swear anymore than he'd want to hear Martha Kent to swear. "The fact that I'm planning on doing this... I mean..." His ears started to burn. "Anyway. There's a possibility that he'll disown me, and I only have so much money left after the whole LexCorp thing. I want to try and keep Cadmus if possible, especially since it's not only helping so many of the kids around here, but I like having my own lab. Or maybe I'll skip chemistry and become a doctor or something."

"Is that something you're really interested in?" she asked doubtfully.

Lex shrugged. "I spend enough time in hospitals. I thought about it when my mom was sick. By now, I know all the jargon, and after yesterday, I swear if you went into a beta blocker induced coma, I'd be able to treat you perfectly."

"That's very... comforting."

"Speaking of Damien, how is he? Any news?"

She shook her head. "No. He's still stable, but he hasn't woken up yet."

Lex frowned fretfully and pushed the food around on the plate. "I hate my father," he whispered. "I wish I could hate him, I..." He stopped talking, angry with himself. "Anyway. I've been thinking about how to reorganize my life if Dad does cut me off."

"You'll still need me," Mabel said.

"I don't know if I'll be able to afford you. I might; my investments are doing well, as is the Talon, and I can... I don't know. Do something else, get some sort of job, and..."

"I can work at the Talon. Or open a baking school or something. Teach at the community college."

A smile flitted across his face. "You're worth more than any of those jobs combined. You should just go back to Metropolis and become head chef at some restaurant."

"Only if you own it and I can still cook for you. Lex, I know what happened to you the last time you were in school. Damien said you tried to starve yourself."

"I did not try to starve myself," Lex said with as much scorn as he could muster. "I was immersed in my studies and occasionally forgot to eat."

Mabel smiled ironically. "Right. I stand corrected. At any rate, despite what is best for my career, I'd spend too much time worrying about you. You're a very likable young man, Lex Luthor, and I plan to cook for you and your children."

He snorted. "My children, right."

"Ah. You and Clark will make wonderful parents. And you can't really expect to deprive the Kents of their right to grandchildren." She stood and dropped a kiss on the top of his head. "You're stuck with me, young man. Sorry." Giving Lex a cheery smile, she turned and left.

Lex rolled his eyes at her retreating back and dug into his breakfast once more. The depth of loyalty his staff was displaying was frightening. Yes, his security was sketchy, but his cook, his doctor, and his assistant were obsessively devoted to him. And he had no idea what he'd done to engender such a response from them. If he did, it'd be wonderfully easy to take over the world.

If he still wanted to, of course.

The intercom buzzed.

"Yes?" Lex said. He took another sip of the coffee as he waited for his inept security to figure out what they were disturbing for.

"There's a ... um, Doctor Walden downstairs. Said he was denied access to the caves and needs to see you right away."

Right away. Wonderful. "Send him into the waiting room. I'll be with him shortly."

Shortly was a little more than forty five minutes. Lex had to shower first. He didn't need to shave, but he was incredibly vain about the unique texture of his skin, a gift from the meteor shower. So, he had to clean his pores, apply a masque, and then moisturize. And his nails were a little ragged; he didn't have time for a manicure of course, but he filed the rough edges away and pushed back his cuticles. And then, of course, he had to decide what to wear, which could take awhile which meant, all in all, by the time he got down there, Dr. Walden had smoke coming out of his ears.

"Finally," he snapped when Lex stepped into the room. "What the hell took you so long?"

Lex was frowning at the unevenness of the cuticle on his right index finger; he'd torn it while trying to push it back and it looked horrible. He really needed to do something about the state of his fingers soon. The whole thing with Dad and Clark had him so distracted and upset lately, that he hadn't had time for personal grooming.

"Mr. Luthor, I want to start work on the caves today. Why wasn't I allowed in?"

"I thought it best to go with you the first time. I told you that yesterday." He looked up and smiled blandly at Dr. Walden.

"It's almost ten. I wanted to get started at nine. I told you that yesterday, only you were still indulging in your beauty sleep," Walden sneered.

"If you insist on being insulting, then I'm afraid I won't be able to fit you in today," Lex said mildly.

"Mr. Luthor, this is ridiculous. We had an agreement, and..." Walden started, but Lex just turned.

"I told you yesterday that I wasn't going to start until ten. It is ten now. Let's go." He turned and left the room, trusting that Walden was going to follow him.

God, he hated the man. Hated his sliminess, like he oozed it from his pores. He hated the way Walden had stubble, and was ugly and dressed like crap. And he was so arrogant. Officious and offensive. Not that he wasn't good at what he did or anything; Walden was, after all, the top in his field, but...

Well. He was smarmy and had no charisma. He got what he wanted because he was the only one in the world who could do what he could do. And sometimes Lex was afraid that... that maybe he might end up being like Walden because he was rich and a genius and, one day, would be the only one in the world who was able to, well. To do something.

Except, as he'd realized again that morning, he was charismatic, even when he wasn't trying. Hence the fact Mabel had adopted him despite the fact it would be more economically advantageous for her to strike out on her own. And the devotion of Damien and Dominic and Dr. Sutton.

Walden followed Lex to the caves, driving his beat-up sedan and scowling through his windshield. Lex was tempted to tell him if he kept making those faces, his face would stick that way, but he didn't want to discourage Walden; it might be an improvement.

He pulled up next to Chloe's car and climbed out of his own. The air was chilly this morning, and he'd worn his driving gloves more out of desire to be warm than any real need. Carefully, waiting for Walden to park, he pulled off one glove and pressed his hand into the hood of Chloe's car; the hood was still warm.

His heart picked up; Clark was in the caves.

"You going to stand there all day?" Walden asked.

Lex glanced at him, but did not deign to respond. He simply walked to the caves and tried not to shiver. From the cold, of course, not the confrontation that was coming.

"Mr. Luthor," the guard greeted him at the front of the caves. The new security team had arrived the night before--earlier than expected--to check in and receive instructions. He'd actually gotten to meet everyone on the team and had a good feeling about them. They seemed...competent.

"Good morning, Mr. Bonnet," he replied. "This is Dr. Fredrick Walden; he and his team are going to be doing research in the caves and need to be allowed access. Do you have a system in place to keep track of them?"

Bonnet opened his mouth to respond, but Walden cut him off. "Do you mind if I go in?" he asked in that way he had where it didn't sound like he was asking. "I like to get a feel for a place before calling my team in."

He was like a child. A mean, nasty, greasy little child with no patience and a brand new toy waiting for him on Christmas. It wasn't cute.

"Go right ahead, but don't break anything."

Walden sneered and left.

"He seems like a wonderful guy," the guard said.

"Yes," Lex said neutrally, watching Walden's retreating back. "Do you know anything about how these kinds of people study caves?"

Bonnet nodded and took of his hat to scratch the top of his head. "Yeah, I do. I've worked a lot of sites like these. You worried about equipment and stuff?"

Bright man; Lex would keep an eye on him. "I am."

"The company policy is any time any new equipment is brought in, we contact the people who have custodianship of the property for confirmation, before we allow it to be used." He glanced back at the caves. "This one is going to give us trouble, so I'll make sure there's more than one of us keeping an eye directly on him while he's here."

"Thank you, Mr. Bonnet." Lex held his hand out and shook Bonnet's firmly. Then, he turned and went into the caves.

"Did Lex Luthor hire you?" Clark was asking as Lex made his way into the inner chamber. He didn't sound entirely displeased, and Lex remembered belatedly that Clark had been reading a book written by Walden awhile ago. He'd thought it'd help him translate the writing if he read how others had translated undecipherable languages before.

Lex had suggested Clark spend some time helping him search for the still missing octagon. He was pretty sure that was the key to unlocking the caves. They'd had it for a brief instant when Clark had seen it in Lionel's office, but it had since disappeared once more into the ether.

"Not exactly," Lex said, coming up behind Walden. He glanced over at Chloe, who'd inexplicably climbed up on one of the ledges and wasn't taking pictures or studying the walls. Instead, she seemed to be seeing how far up she could walk without holding on. He was going to say something, but Clark's eyes were too heavy on him, and Lex knew he was just stalling for time.

He swallowed hard and met Clark's eyes. It was so hard. Even though he'd seen Clark yesterday, Clark had been asleep and cuddly, if aloof; right now, he was awake and... well. Conscious.

"Dr. Walden was contacted by my father. I've co-opted him, but I can't get rid of him."

"Can't, or won't?" Clark's voice was chilled, but not cold; he obviously didn't trust that Lex had even tried.

"Please," Walden said. "There's no way I'm going to be kept from the first significant find of the century. I've contacts all over this country, kid. If the custodian of these caves refuses, I'll just go over his head."

/I thought it best to maintain some measure of control over him, Clark. I'm sorry./

/No, it's okay; I mean, they're not really yours or anything. Don't beat yourself up./

"Oh, and rule number one," Walden added. "No guided tours."


"They're friends of mine, Professor," Lex said warningly. "They are allowed in here whenever they want."

"I don't allow anybody except for my staff on a work site."


Lex stumbled back a few steps, propelled by the force of Clark's shout. Gathering his wits, he started to formulate his argument when Clark said, "With all due respect, Professor, I'm the one who found the caves."

Walden shook his head dismissively. "I don't care if you discovered the Shroud of Turin, kid." He turned to Lex. "If you're unhappy with my methods, I can call the state right now and get this whole place transferred over to me."

Dammit. Dammit, dammit, dammit.

/Give me a day or two. Please. Maybe I can get him out permanently. But if we go against him right now, we may lose it completely./

Clark didn't look happy, but he nodded slightly. "This isn't fair," he said out loud. "No one treats this place better than I do, Dr. Walden. I've been working to try to figure out what these symbols mean since I fell in here. I should get to stay."

"Go back to nursery school where you belong, kid. Hey!" Walden shouted, noticing Chloe for the first time. "You get down from there!"

Clark glanced back at Chloe. "Come on, Chloe. Let's go."

Lex watched as a wicked smile spread over Chloe's face. She slowly inched down the ledge, trailing her fingers almost seductively over the rock facing.

"What are you smiling at?" Walden stalked to her and grabbed for the camera in her hands. "I want those photographs."

She pulled it away, shaking her head. There was a look on her face that Lex had seen before, only on women like Victoria, not someone as wholesome as Chloe. "Take your own."

"I'm serious, young lady."

"You're the cunning linguist. Why don't you translate this? Kiss... my... ass." She walked away, swinging her hips enticingly as she did.

Lex watched her in disbelief, wondering what the hell had gotten into her. His disbelief grew even more when, on passing him, Chloe shoved him so hard he stumbled into Clark, saying, "I think it was your fault, asshole."

Walden snorted, watching him go. "These are the kinds of people you allow in here? These caves are in more danger than I thought."

Lex turned in Clark's arms, looking up at him. "Did her personality just completely change?" he asked.

Clark nodded, his eyes still on where Chloe had just exited. Then, as one, they turned around to where Chloe had just been climbing.

"It's something in here," Clark said. He had that deep look of concentration on his face that generally meant he was using his X-ray vision. "Not drugs. Something..." He cut himself off before he said anything too incriminating.

"What's the matter now?" Walden sounded bored.

Gently, Clark extracted himself from Lex, scanning everything. Lex watched him, following his every movement as he impatiently waved Walden's question away.

"Here." Clark stopped at a fissure in the cave wall; there was a painting over it.

"It looks like... some kind of bug," Lex said. He approached the wall, reaching for the fissure.

Clark caught his wrist in a bruising grip. "Don't touch it." With his free hand, he ran his fingers along the edge of the break, eyes narrowed. "There's something inside."

"How can you tell?" Walden was next to Lex now, leaning forward with interest.

Clark looked at him, an expression of cold disdain written on his face. It was a look that commanded respect, and even Walden seemed to respond to it. "Do you have equipment to get something out of a wall without ruining the wall?"

"Of course."

"Then do it. And be careful. This thing has gotten six people with some kind of adrenaline inducing... something. Anyway, four them are dead because of it. It's dangerous, and until it's gone, it won't be safe for you to work in here."

Walden nodded. "I'll call my team in so we can get started. Right after you leave."

Clark rolled his eyes and turned, muttering under his breath as he walked away, dragging Lex behind him. "I'm going after Chloe and Pete. What should I do with them after I find them?"

"Take them to the hospital. I'll call Helen and tell her what's going on; as soon as Walden has the... thing out of the wall, I'll have it taken over." He grabbed Clark by the front of his shirt, stopping him. "Call me when you get them. They might be too much for you to handle on your own."

"And you'll help me if they are?" Clark covered Lex's hand with his own, gazing down on him with a mixture of affection and discomfort.

"Either me or a contingent of security guards," he replied with a crooked smile.

Clark returned the smile, complete with crookedness. "One of you is worth a dozen of them." He licked his lips nervously. "Okay; I'll call. And you call me when Walden gets the bug-thing out, okay?"

Lex nodded. "I will."

There was an awkward moment, like neither one was sure the appropriate way of parting. Then, as one, they moved. Lex's hand tightened on Clark's shirt and he leaned in as Clark lowered his head and met Lex's lips with his own.

Time froze for an instant. Clark's lips were warm and gently parted; he captured Lex's upper lip between his, tongue brushing over the curved bow, sucking the flesh into Clark's warm mouth.

A slow heat sizzled through Lex, and his spine seemed to melt away.

"I'll talk to you later," Clark said on pulling away, voice rough as sandpaper.

"Okay. Bye."


Lex pulled his hand away and watched Clark go. Then, he steeled himself to deal again with Dr. Walden and the new, mysterious alien bug-thing that the cave was throwing at them now.

Damien opened his eyes.

The light was blinding. They fell shut in self-defense.

He opened them again. The walls were the familiar deep blue of Smallville General Hospital. He could feel the soft beeping of machines around him, keeping time with his heart and breathing. There was an uncomfortable itching in the crook of his arm, and his mouth was bone dry.


Laboriously, feeling as if his head were stuffed, Damien turned his head. Anne was leaning over his bed, pressing the call button for a nurse, her eyes shining with unshed tears.

"Anne?" he rasped. His throat felt bruised and swollen, very painful.

"How do you feel?" She sat on the bed and touched his face gently.

"Awful. Why am I here?" He swallowed, wincing at the pain.

Anne wiped a tear that slipped down her cheek. "You've been in a coma. You were poisoned."

The news didn't affect him as it should. Obviously, he was either still half-asleep or simply completely unconcerned about his own well-being. Which, of course, he wasn't, but, still, he couldn't get himself worked up enough.

And yet, for no reason at all, a sudden fission of panic went through him. If he'd been poisoned...


"He's coming later today," Anne answered, a shadow flitting over her face. "Dominic was detained in Metropolis."

Damien shook his head and reached for her hand. Something had happened to Dominic. If Damien had been attacked, then Dominic... and he wasn't here. If he was, he'd be by Damien's side, right here. Dominic's face should have been the first Damien saw, but he hadn't, which meant...

"That's not.... Is he... Is he all right?"

Anne frowned, and glanced over her shoulder as the nurse came in. She started to stand and move away, still avoiding the damn question.

Damien tightened his fingers around her hand desperately. He could hear the machine monitoring his heart beeping faster, playing counterpoint to his panic. "What happened to Dominic? Is he all right?"

"Dominic's fine," she finally answered. "He was in a car crash, but sustained only minor injuries. He's going to be okay. Mark Townsend is with him and is driving him home later."

"Ms. Kiraly, please!" the nurse snapped, pushing Anne aside. "Don't upset him!"

But the nurse was wrong; he wasn't upset by the news. In fact, a wave of peace washed over him on hearing the truth. Dominic might be damaged, but he was fine. Alive. Healthy.

Thank God.

Chloe seemed to have forgotten that she and Clark had gone to the caves together. He'd spent enough time figuring out about the bug-thing with Lex that Chloe got a good head start. By the time Clark found her, she was home and in her room doing her make-up.

"Chloe?" he called, letting himself in. Gabe's car wasn't in the driveway, which was probably good since Clark wasn't sure, exactly, how this adrenaline-thing would affect Chloe. It already had her acting like she didn't care about the consequences, and when that had happened to Lana, he'd seen underwear. Girl's underwear. And Chloe was a lot more sexual than Lana.

"Is that you, Clark?" Chloe shouted back.

"Yeah. I need to talk to you."

Chloe came running out of her room. "I'm so glad you followed me!" she squealed. Without warning, she leapt down the stairs.

"Crap!" Clark exclaimed. He darted up the stairs and caught her right before she landed on her butt. "What the hell was..."

Chloe kissed him, wrapping her arms around his neck. "I was afraid you'd take longer," she said breathlessly against his mouth.

Christ. "Chloe, what are you doing?"

Her legs were wrapped tightly around his waist, and she bounced against him. "Well. I already lost my virginity to Chad, but are you up for seconds?"

"No," he answered without thinking. Heat rose to his face, and he tightened his arms around Chloe's waist so she wouldn't run away. "I mean, uh. I wouldn't want to hurt Lana. She wouldn't understand."

Chloe's nose wrinkled. "Maybe she wants to watch. Take a turn, even. Anyway." She kissed him again. "Why don't you and me go find Pete, and then the four of us--including Lana--take off for Metropolis for some fun?"

"Um. I'm grounded." The plan he and Lex had constructed was rapidly coming apart. Probably because it hadn't been much of a plan. And, of course, Clark hadn't really counted on the bug-thing making Chloe all... amorous. "But," he added quickly, seeing her face fall, "I think we should go find Pete. And see what happens from there."

She squealed, beaming like Clark had told her she'd just won the lottery. She kissed him again, then jumped off. "Okay, let's go. I'll drive!"

It was like she had super speed or something. Chloe was out the door before Clark could even turn.

If he was smart, he'd call Lex now for reinforcements. If he was smart. But he wasn't smart and didn't have a phone anyway, so he followed Chloe out the door and into her car.

"You're not, like, freaking out or anything, are you?" Chloe asked as she tore down the road.

He swallowed and gripped the door handle. She was driving faster and more recklessly than Lex ever did, and even though Clark knew he was invulnerable, he couldn't help being a little nervous.

"Freaking out?"

"About me jumping you. Because, you totally shouldn't. I mean, I know what Lionel did is still with you, but you really need to, like..."

"Get over it?" he asked bitterly.

Chloe shrugged. "Or set it aside and have some fun. You're young and gorgeous. Easily the most handsome guy at school. You could have and do anyone you wanted. You could erase Lionel's hands from you forever."

Wow. That was actually a pretty good line.

"I'm with Lex."

She snorted and sharply turned the corner onto the main street of Smallville. "He's not taking care of you. You deserve so much better."

Clark rested his head against the window and whispered, "Yeah, well. We both do." He climbed out of the car the moment Chloe stopped in front of the Talon, hoping the change of scenery would change the conversation. He didn't want to talk about Lex, especially since they hadn't gotten a chance to talk and work things out. Clark was still worried they wouldn't be able to. Yeah, he was happy that being with Lex had felt natural, and that the kiss had been perfect, and Lex's hand under his had been right, so all that hadn't changed. But the rest... the stuff that wasn't perfect did have to change, and Clark was terrified that neither one would be able to do it.

"Let's go find Pete," he suggested, but Chloe was already inside the Talon. "Damn it." He followed her inside.

The Talon was packed with the Sunday morning crowd. Clark was immediately conscious of the eyes on him; he blushed and ducked his head. What with the deputy and Pete and Chloe and the caves and everything, Clark had managed to forget about the tabloid articles.

People cleared space for him as he made his way across the Talon. He could hear whispers and coughs and other sounds of people being uncomfortable about his presence. God. Was this what his life was going to be like from now on? This sucked.

"Hey, faggot," someone snickered as he passed.

Clark glanced over to see Nolan and his stoner friends sucking down coffee, as was their usual routine after Saturday night. Clark never understood why they never stayed in bed to sleep off their hang-over, but it wasn't his life. And maybe the coffee did help.

Nolan's bloodshot eyes narrowed. "What you looking at, fag?"

"Nothing." Clark mumbled.

"Excuse me?" Nolan shot out of his seat, nostrils flared. "You calling me nothing, buttmuncher?"

Fuck, shit, damnit. "Look, I'm just here with Chloe," Clark managed to get out, and then a heavy hand clapped his shoulder.

"This asshole punk giving you problems, Clark?" Roger Hartman--Roger Hartman of all the people at school--asked.

This had to be a joke, right? Roger Hartman was... a football player. And straight. And a jerk. He'd harassed Clark and Chad in this very place just a few months ago. He'd called Lana frigid. What were he and Nolan playing at?


"Hey." Doug Roland stepped up on the other side of Clark. He shared a secret smile with Clark before turning his glare at Nolan. "What's going on?"

Okay, Doug had to be on his side, because he was gay and even though the rules said they weren't really allowed to acknowledge each other in the real world, Doug was a nice guy. And he was friends with Roger, which ordinarily would have made him nervous, but Doug had always struck Clark as decent guy, so...

"Nolan is being an asshole again," Roger said. He picked his hand off Clark's shoulder and cracked his knuckles menacingly.

Clark threw a desperate look at Doug.

"I'm sure Nolan was just leaving, Rog," Doug said, also glaring at Nolan.

"Yeah, we don't want your kind here," Roger added, belligerently.

Nolan rolled his eyes and gestured for his cronies to get up. "Yeah, well, I don't want to be where any fudge-packers are. So no problem." He cocked his head in the direction of the door and swaggered out, hitting Roger hard with his shoulder as he passed by.

Clark and Doug immediately grabbed Roger, stopping him from lunging after Nolan.

"Get back here, you little prick!" Roger shouted.

"Roger, please," Clark said desperately, holding tightly as Roger struggled against his and Doug's grasp. "I don't want this."

"He can't talk to people like that," Roger grunted.

Nolan turned, eyes narrowed, smirk planted firmly on his face. "It's a free country. I can talk to people however I want."

"And I can pound you into the ground as much as I want," Roger countered.

"Is there a problem here, gentlemen?" a nasal voice drawled at them with an incredibly Southern accent.

Roger immediately stopped fighting Doug and Clark's grasp. Even Nolan straightened and dropped the smug smirk.

"No, Deputy," Doug said. "No problem at all."

Clark turned around to see a female deputy looking at the bunch of them with her eyebrow raised. Her hat was tucked under her arm and she was holding a cup of coffee. Her eyes were very bright and small, and they seemed to peer into each of them as if she was pulling back layers of their skin to see inside.

"I looks like you boys are taking it into your heads to get into a fight." The bright eyes landed on Clark's face, locking. "You're Clark Kent, ain't you?"

As if everyone in the state didn't know who he was by now. "Yes, ma'am."

Her gaze slid to Nolan and his stoner friends, who were inching away, then back to Clark. "Anyone gives you any trouble, you be sure to tell me. We don't stand for that kind of stuff in this town."

Doug snorted, but quickly covered it up with a sneeze, turning aside. Even Clark had to smile, because he'd never seen this woman before and she was, thus, an outsider. She had no right to say what the people of Smallville stood for; Doug and Clark both knew that there were plenty of people who had no problem with harassing them for their sexual orientation.

Of course, Clark had been outted under unusual circumstances, which meant the majority of people, at least, right now, were willing to either ignore or support Clark. Apparently very few were like Nolan and wanted to out and out harass him.

"Yes, Deputy..." He let his voice lilt up to a question.

"Adams." She sipped her coffee, then said to Nolan, "Young man, you and your friends best be going now."

"Yeah, sure," Nolan said sullenly. "Come on." He glared at Clark and Roger, then turned and swaggered away.

"Thank you, Deputy," Clark said. He ran his hand nervously through his hair.

"You're welcome. And watch your temper." She saluted them with her coffee then left.

Once she was gone, Clark let out a long sigh. "Thanks, Roger. Doug. I mean..."

Roger put his hand on Clark's arm and squeezed. "Don't worry about it. And don't let anyone push you around. There's nothing wrong with being gay and, uh." A terrific blush suddenly raced across his cheeks and he looked away. "But don't go thinking that I am or anything. But it's cool that you are. I'm not, though. I like chicks. And..."

"Roger," Clark interrupted, trying to bite back his smile. "I totally get you're straight. And thanks."

Roger cleared his throat, nodded once, and walked away.

"A friend just committed suicide," Doug said, crossing his arms over his chest. "Michael Cochran?"

Clark nodded in recognition, recognizing the name.

"He came out to Roger just before Christmas. I guess Roger flipped out, cussed him out and said they couldn't be friends anymore. Then, a few weeks ago, he found out Michael slit his wrists, saying that he couldn't live like this anymore. He'd been having a hard time with people in college, his parents were upset, none of his friends understood." Doug shrugged. "Roger's been feeling really guilty and when everything happened with you, he sort of steamrolled the whole football team into supporting gay rights. But, really, the majority of town seems to be on your side. And cool about it and all. For now."

"What about everyone else? I mean, you know. The guys."

Doug shrugged. "There's... mixed feelings. Look, give me a call later, okay? I want to run an idea by you."

Interest piqued, Clark nodded and shook Doug's hand. "Thanks, Doug. I appreciate it."

"No problem. Take care." Doug clapped Clark on the shoulder and then disappeared into the crowd.

Okay, that was... really not fun. But at least everyone seemed to have pretty much lost interest in him. Yeah, he was still getting some looks and whispers, but, mostly, people were back to their Sunday morning coffee and danish.

"Hey, Theresa," he said when he got to the counter.

Theresa turned; there was a smear of icing on her cheek and coffee grounds staining her apron. "Hey, Clark." Her eyes darted away from his. "Um. How are you?"

Oh, God. Of course she'd be acting weird; they had dated for awhile, after all. He should have gone to one of the other waitresses. "Um, good." He tucked his hands into his pockets; his toy truck was in his left, and he curled his fist around it.

"Clark..." she started, but then she didn't say anything else. She just shook her head and picked up the coffee pot. "Can I get you anything?"

"Um, right now, I'm just looking for Chloe. Have you seen her?"

Her shoulder hitched and a sort of evil little smile crossed her face. "They're in the supply closet. Getting supplies." Then Theresa cocked her head and said, "So, like, are all of you. You know."

"All of us?"

"You, Chloe, Lana, Pete, and Chad. All, you know."

His face was in flames and he couldn't even look at her. "I really... am... not ready to answer for anyone right now. I'll talk to you later." Then, before she could ask him anything else, he practically ran to the supply cabinet.

A quick skeleton X-ray scan confirmed that Lana and Chloe were making out. His blushed deepened, and he knocked on the door, calling loudly, "Chloe! Lana!"

The door flew open and an extremely disheveled Lana ran out. "Hey, Clark," she said, her cheeks red.

Chloe grabbed Lana by the waistband of her jeans and yanked her back. "I'm not done with you," she said, nibbling Lana's neck.

Lana's eyes sought Clark's desperately. "Did something happen?" she asked.

"Yeah. Whatever got Pete got her."

"Life got me!" Chloe proclaimed. Her hand started inching underneath Lana's shirt.

Lana pulled away. "I've really got to get back to work, Chloe." She turned and kissed Chloe, bravely mindless, Clark thought, of the people who were glancing over. "We can continue this later." Then, forcibly extracting herself from Chloe's octopus arms, Lana fled back to the safety of the breakfast crowd.

"Clark!" Chloe whined while squirming her way into Clark's embrace. "We were having fun. You could have joined us, if you wanted."

He sighed and put his arms around her. While he'd been scanning the closet, he'd seen the bug-thing inside Chloe. He was sure that Pete had one, too, and he needed to get both of them to the hospital, ASAP. "I thought we were going to find Pete," he said.

"Oh, right!" Chloe went onto her toes and kissed Clark on the lips. "Let's go!" She let go of Clark, took his hand, and started leading him through the store.

As they passed the counter, Lana caught his eyes.

"Um, Chloe? Go get the car ready; I'll be there in a second."

"No problem. Don't be long or I'll take off without you."

"I won't." He dropped her hand and went to Lana. "I'm taking care of it," he said the moment he got to the counter.

"What happened?" she asked, eyes wide. "One minute she was normal, then she goes off with you, and she's..."


Lana cocked and eyebrow and glared at him. "I was going to say acting recklessly. She's always horny. I know. I do sleep right next door to her and the walls aren't soundproof."

Clark's face heated up again, and he looked away. "Lex would be so proud of you."

"I'm kind of proud of myself, actually." Then she became serious. "Is Chloe going to be okay?"

"I think so. Something in the caves infected her with... something. Lex has someone getting the thing that did this out; my job is to get her and Pete to the hospital."

"Will this thing kill them?" Lana asked, face very composed and very pale.

Clark shrugged. "Well, it doesn't seem to be like the flower. I mean, Pete's had this thing in him for two days now, and he hasn't gone into shock or anything, like you and my dad did. But it can be good to have the adrenaline pumping through their body for so long. And then there's the whole, um, reckless thing."

"Lex is sure he can help?"

He thought about how to answer that question and finally decided that honesty was always the best policy. "Not sure, no. I mean, not positive. But we know now what's doing this, which is half the battle, right?"

Tears sprung to Lana's eyes, but she just nodded, blinking rapidly. "You're right. Um, you should go after her."

"It'll be okay, Lana," Clark said in a desperate need to reassure her, even though he wasn't sure if everything was going to work out. "I promise I'll take care of them."

"I know you will. You're Clark Kent." She smiled brightly at him, then nodded at the door. "Go on. Before she decides to take off without you."

Clark nodded and offered her the best facsimile of a smile he could. Then he turned around and walked back through the Talon, aware that, once again, people were watching him. He wondered why he'd captured their interest again, and decided that they'd probably seen the whole thing with Lana and Chloe, and then Chloe kissing him. Gay and straight most people could wrap their minds around; bisexuality was something that was more nebulous, especially in a place with as black and white values as Smallville had. They could barely wrap their minds around Lex sometimes, and he was as bendy and ambiguous as they came.

"Hey, man," Pete greeted him when Clark made it outside. He and Chloe were leaning against her car, his arm casually draped over her shoulders as she gazed into a small hand mirror, reapplying her lipstick. "Chloe told me that we're all going on a road trip. Glad to see you've finally loosened up."

Clark cleared his throat, fists clenching unintentionally in a gesture of nervousness. "Um, actually. Look, guys, there's something in the caves. Some kind of bug, and both of you have one in you. That's what's making you act like this."

Pete rolled his eyes. "There's nothing wrong with me, Clark." He pulled away from Chloe and tapped Clark on the chest with his open palm. "I'm just living life for the first time ever. And I'm loving it. What about you, Chloe?" He turned back, hand still on Clark's chest.

Chloe put the lipstick away and stepped forward, giving Clark a shiny, red smile. "I feel fantastic." She kissed Clark on the cheek. "And, babe, if anyone deserves to feel good, it's you."

"What do you mean?" Clark asked, suddenly wary.

"Trust me, buddy," Pete said, pulling the pocket of Clark's shirt open. Something hard dropped inside, and then Pete was patting Clark's chest, pushing the object against Clark's skin. "This is gonna make everything so much better for you."

Oh shit Clark thought, projecting the thought over his and Lex's link.

What? Lex shot back, alarmed.

But then, it was too late. The red haze had engulfed Clark's brain and nothing really mattered anymore except for himself.

"A bug... thing?" Helen repeated, voice flat and disbelieving.

Lex felt his ears warm, but held his ground; right now, bug-thing was the best description he had of the creature. Even Walden, who'd managed to get an image of the thing in the wall before Lex had left, had called it a bug-thing, so it wasn't like Lex was losing his eloquence.

God. Helen made him feel so defensive. It was ridiculous.

"Yes. We don't know what it is yet, but there was a girl--Chloe Sullivan--who was standing right in front of the crack in the cave wall where this animal was when her symptoms presented. I have someone bringing the specimen in as soon as it's extracted, and Clark Kent is bringing two people who have been infected in, Chloe Sullivan and Pete Ross."

"And you're saying this animal-bug is behind the recent deaths of the kids who were partying in the caves. Not drugs."

Lex cocked his head. "Were drugs found in their systems?"

Helen gave him a look. "You know I can't discuss my patients with you, Lex. They're confidential."

Oh, Jesus Christ. "Anyway, it doesn't matter, does it, what happened to those kids. What matters is that very soon, two very sick and out-of-control kids are going to be brought into the hospital, and I want you to make sure they're admitted right away and taken care of. And, when my team gets here with the bug thing, at least look at it. Please."

She let out a world-weary sigh and nodded. "Very well, Lex, I will. Don't worry about it." Helen touched his arm gently. "Have you seen Damien yet?"

Lex shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Not yet. I've been busy and distracted and..."

"He's fine, Lex," Helen said softly. "I saw him myself this morning. He was awake and talking and fine. There's no long-term damage, and he'll be out of here in a few days." When Lex didn't say anything, she sighed again and squeezed his arm. "It wasn't your fault."

Intellectually, Lex knew that; hell, the man didn't let Lex get near his own medication, much less the stuff Damien had to take. And yet...

If Lex hadn't pissed Dad off, or if he'd played by the rules. Hell, if Damien hadn't ever agreed to work for him, his life would be so much better. He never would have been poisoned or crushed in a tornado. He'd probably be in charge of his own company or something and not have to put up with all of Lex's foibles and constant need to have his tracks covered.

"Yeah," he finally said. "I'll guess I'll go see him. Thanks." He turned quickly, needing to be away from her. He'd quickly stick his head in to see how Damien was--with any luck, he'd be asleep--then go home and do... something. Look at schools online and wait for Clark to call him.

He stopped outside Damien's room and looked in. Damien was resting inside; the bed was upright and there was a book open on his lap. However, his eyes were closed and he was breathing through his mouth.

Heart beating wildly, Lex swallowed and forced himself to step inside. "Hi," he said softly. "Are you awake?"

Damien opened his eyes. "Yes, sir," he said, voice dry and gravely.

Lex crossed the room. "Sometimes, it strikes me how strange it is that you always call me sir," he said as he poured Damien some water. "Most of the time, I'm the one leaning on you for support."

"That's what I'm here for." He took the water and drank deeply. "I can call you Lex if you like."

He just shrugged and pulled a seat next to the bed. "Are you feeling better?"

"Much." Damien finished off the water and handed the cup to Lex. Then he closed his book and set it aside, face down, like he didn't want Lex to see what he was reading. "I'd been feeling off for days, but I thought it was the stress from what was going on around us. And the trepidation of my upcoming surgery, especially in light of the fact I'd yet to find a suitable replacement for Anne. Thank you, by the way, for calling her back."

"It was Mark's idea, actually. I was too busy trying to track down Dr. Sutton and Dominic to think clearly."

Damien nodded slowly. "So it would seem I have much to thank young Mr. Townsend for."

"That, saving your life, and taking care of Dominic." Lex slowly twisted his collar, which he'd wrapped around his wrist. "I'm sorry."

"You have nothing to apologize for."

"You're so good at noticing every detail about me," Lex insisted. "And there you were, being slowly poisoned to death..."

Damien's hand covered Lex's and squeezed. "It's not your job to take care of me."

Lex met Damien's eyes, throat aching. "Why is it yours to take care of me?"

The other man sighed, eyes sliding closed wearily. "Because I knew from the moment I first saw you that you were a young man with great potential who was being slowly suffocated to death by an overbearing father who wanted a clone instead of the genius heir he had. Because I always knew my destiny was to be a king-maker not a king, and I knew I could spend my life worshiping at your feet, watching you fulfill the potential within you. Because you are beautiful and brilliant and shine like the sun, and I wanted a place in that."

He swallowed hard, his stomach rolling over. Such high praise, and now, he was just giving it all up. And Damien didn't even know. "I think I'm going to go back to school."

"Thank God," Damien sighed, head falling back against the bed.

That was not the reaction Lex had been expecting. Not by far. "I thought you wanted me to take over the world or something."

"I want you to fulfill the potential within you to be great. At what, well, that depends on you. You have many talents, but you lack focus." He smiled softly, lifting his head again. "You're a fantastic businessman, much better than your father, but it's not your passion. At school, you may have worked yourself almost to death, but it was because you loved what you were doing."

"What if I don't... I mean, what if I just become a chemist and live an ordinary life and never do anything great? Wouldn't that mean I made you fail in your life?"

Damien shook his head. "No, because that won't happen. You're too smart to become just anything. You'll be a great chemist, or a famous scientist or doctor or historian or whatever you choose. Lex, you have the drive within you to be great. Don't worry about me; I have faith in you." His smile turned wry. "I've thought about suggesting it to you, but I knew you had to make the decision yourself. For too long, you've let Lionel dictate your life, and I didn't want to take that position. I'm proud of you, Lex, for realizing that a change was needed."

He squirmed, uncomfortable with the praise. "The Kents have been pushing me."

"And you made the choice to listen to them." He shifted, wincing as he did so. "Sir, there's something I should tell you."

Oh, God, Damien was quitting. He was leaving Lex, and... "What?"

"Two things, actually. Dominic and I are getting married, and... I purchased the house on Oak Tree Lane." Damien shrugged looking sheepish. "They're not connected to each other in any way."

"Oh." Lex didn't quite know what to say. "Why?"

"I love him."

Lex had had sex with both men; it was a little weird to hear Damien talk about loving a man that, a year ago, he'd loathed. Especially since Lex knew what both of their cocks tasted like (well; Damien always wore a condom, but still). And now they were getting married and it was kind of like... walking in on your relatives having sex.

"Um, yeah. I mean, congratulations. I want to pay for the wedding, and if Dominic lets me, help plan it and everything, but I meant why did you buy the house? Are you going to move out?"

"Not necessarily. But, I just thought, with everything that has happened, it might be best to have a place to live that Lionel doesn't own. I would like, however, to add on a section of the house for Dominic and myself, in the event we do move in."

Lex smiled. "Hell, we can build it into a mansion. Or at least make it nicer. Dad will probably be kicking me out for giving up, anyway."

"You're not giving up."

"No. But he'll see it that way."

Damien rolled his eyes. "That's because Lionel is a fool."

"So I've..." He broke off as Clark's presence suddenly slammed into his mind.

Oh shit.

What is it? Lex sent back, heart racing.

Clark started to reply, then disappeared in a hot, red haze that scorched Lex's mind. He gasped at the pain, then slammed his shields up, reeling.

"Are you all right?" Damien asked, holding Lex by the wrist.

Lex swallowed, shaky. "I'm... I'm fine. But Clark..." What was wrong? It wasn't the rocks; there was something...

Oh shit. "Clark's been drugged with the red meteors."

"We're gonna have some fun now!" Pete said, bouncing up the stairs to Clark's loft. "Where are your parents?"

Clark shrugged and loped easily over to his dresser. He felt better than he had in days--weeks, really. Relaxed and powerful and on top of the world.

And horny. Very horny. And while Pete didn't exactly do it for him normally, Clark had no problem admitting that he wouldn't mind teaching him how to give a blowjob. And Chloe was absolutely gorgeous and obviously more than willing to do whatever he asked of her. They'd been all over each other all the way here, and now she was making herself comfortable on his bed, casually tossing a foam basketball into the air, eyes on Clark.

"Don't know," he replied carelessly giving Chloe a once over. "Don't care." He opened his top drawer and pulled out Lex's credit card, the key to the safe deposit box in Gotham, and the key to the train station locker. "Who's up for a trip to the big city?"

"Metropolis?" Chloe bounced onto her knees, eyes shining.

Clark shook his head, tossing the necklace containing the keys to Pete. "I was thinking somewhere a little more fun. Like Gotham."

Pete caught the key and turned it over in his hands, a grin stretching across his face. "Oh, yeah, I'm in."

"What're those?" Chloe asked, her head cocked in curiosity.

"These," Pete said, with a huge grin, "are the keys to the kingdom. Lex Luthor was kind enough to put money aside for our boy to disappear in case he ever needs to."

"My sugar-daddy," Clark said. He dug through his shirts, looking for another to wear; the plain blue shirt he was wearing wasn't doing it for him. And, now that he thought about it, it was about time to do his nails again; he hadn't painted them in awhile, and they were looking a little shabby. Maybe some eyeliner, too, and something had to be done with his hair. He grabbed the nailpolish and joined the other two on the bed.

"Why'd he think you'd need to disappear?" Chloe asked.

Clark took the necklace back and slipped it around his head. "It's complicated," he replied, uncapping the bottle.

"You should tell her, Clark," Pete said, laughing. "I wanna see her reaction, man. I wish I had a camera, it'd be so good."

"Tell me what?" Chloe took the bottle from Clark's hands and climbed onto Clark's lap. Delicately, she pushed Clark's bangs from his forehead then planted a wet kiss on his upper lip. "That my beautiful Clark Kent is not the homegrown farmboy he pretends to be but is, in fact, an alien from another planet?" She ground her butt into Clark's crotch, and gave him an all-knowing smile.

"Am I supposed to be surprised you know?" Clark asked. He slid his hands underneath her shirt.

"Not necessarily. I've been kind of playing it fast and loose for awhile now," she replied. "So have you, actually. You're getting sloppy." She kissed him again, body undulating into his.

"How did you find out?" Pete sounded put out. And a little breathless.

Chloe broke the kiss and turned to him. "You're the one who told me, stupid. Right after you found out."


She rolled her eyes. "I was asking you about the space ship you and Clark supposedly found when Dr. Hamilton crashed, and you said it belonged to Clark and that Clark was an alien. I already knew there was something special about Clark. It wasn't too much of a leap to realize that what you were saying was true."

Clark shook his head. "I always knew you were brilliant." He tightened his hands on her waist. "How do I know you don't have the article already written, ready to be published and make yourself a journalism star?"

Chloe gasped and arched her back, but didn't struggle against him. His fingers dug brutally into her flesh, raising bruises, confining her, and the pain was written clearly across her face.

He liked it.

Squeezing harder, he said, "How do I know you aren't going to use me to make you famous?"

"Clark, I would never do that." Chloe's voice was low and pained. She writhed her hips slowly on his crotch, little breathy gasps catching coming out of her mouth as he squeezed her. "You're my best friend, baby; I love you. I'd never use you like that."

He eased the pressure. "Can I use you?"

She moaned again, head falling back. "Please."

Clark grinned. Pulling Chloe forward, he licked up her neck, tasting her. "Pete," he said, not taking his concentration from Chloe's neck. "Why don't you run to the store or something; get us supplies for the road trip." He passed Lex's credit card to him. "Get whatever you want."

Pete laughed and got off the bed. "How long to you need?"

"Doesn't matter; feel free to watch if you come back before we're done." He glanced over at Pete and leered. "I might even let you join in."

Pete's eyebrows flew up and he shook his head. "Not if you're thinking what I think you're thinking. But if you're thinking of sharing her, then maybe."

"Ah, come on, Pete," Clark wheedled. "Live a little."

"There are some things I think I can live without." He stood, pocketing the credit card. "I'll be back soon. Have fun."

Chloe threw a flirtatious look at Pete and said, "We will," in an amazingly seductive voice. Then she attached herself to Clark's neck, nibbling and licking her way up as Pete descended the stairs. "So," she whispered, "I never found out. Where are you from, anyway? What planet?"

"No clue." He pulled her shirt over her head and tossed it on the floor. "I crashed, my ship closed up, and my parents left me some sort of thing with symbols on it that I can't read. The same symbols, by the way, that are in the caves."

"Bad planning on their part," Chloe said. "Sounds like your people were idiots."

"Or just my real parents." He bit the fleshy swell of her breast that rose above her bra.

She gasped and arched back. "So. You're super fast, I know that. What else?"

"I'm super strong. I can see through things. I can set stuff on fire with my eyes."

"Like the projector at school at the beginning of the year?" She sat back on his lap, eyes wide and interested.

He nodded. "I was just learning back then, though. That was actually the first time it happened." Clark twined his fingers into her hair. "And I'm indestructible."

"So, you're basically the perfect man." Chloe ran her knuckles down Clark's face, gazing at him wonderingly.

"I've always thought so," Lex said from the top of the stairs. "But, then, I'm biased." He leaned against the railing, deceptively casual.

A rush of lust followed by a tidal wave of rage flooded through Clark. Carefully, he lifted Chloe from his lap and tossed her onto the bed. Then he rose slowly, eyes locked on Lex's. "Hey, baby," he said in a tone that was far from welcoming.

Lex's face was a mask, the expression tight and controlled, as blank as his mind, which was shielded tightly. But his eyes.... God, those eyes were so expressive and he was terrified.

"Clark." He swallowed, gaze sliding to Chloe. "I seem to be interrupting."

"Not at all."

"Yeah, Lex," Chloe said. "Join us. I've always wanted the two of you together. Even if you are a rat bastard, you're sexy as hell."

Lex didn't answer. A tight smile crossed his face as he looked at Chloe, but he didn't respond to either her come on or her insult.

Clark loved it when Lex thought he was in control of a situation. He was so arrogant, so beautifully convinced that he could manipulate everything to his liking. Even constantly being proven wrong wasn't enough to shake that confidence. God, he was so beautiful when he was like this. Of course, Lex was always fucking beautiful, and he'd be even more so when Clark carefully stripped away his illusions of control a bit at a time.

He shivered as he drifted slowly across the room to Lex, imagining that pale face flushed with arousal and his skin covered with bite marks and bruises. He wanted to see the collar around Lex's neck, stark black against the white, and those perfect nipples ruddy from the titillating abuse Clark would put them through.

He wanted Lex's knees black and blue from kneeling in front of Clark. He wanted his mouth cracked and bleeding, tears streaked across his face, and that helpless arousal and desire floating in his eyes.

"What are you doing here?" Clark asked, stopping a foot away from Lex. "I thought you were waiting for my call."

"It occurred to me that you were no longer in possession of your cell phone. Kind of hard to call."

His lips quirked. "That phone is hardly the only one in the world. No." He took a half step closer. "I think that you felt me suddenly realize that I've been acting like a fucking cunt for the past few weeks. You sensed me being happy for the first time since Ryan died, and you," Clark stepped into Lex, hand latching around his throat, "couldn't handle that."

Lex didn't flinch. He may have paled, but he was already so white, it was hard to tell. If it weren't for the constant tap into Lex's soul, Clark may have been fooled into thinking Lex wasn't afraid of him.

He wasn't fooled.

"Clark," Lex said, voice even. "Surely you must realize that something has been done to you. You aren't acting like yourself."

Clark squeezed, cutting off Lex's air supply. "Or maybe I'm acting exactly like myself." Fiercely, he kissed Lex, tongue forcing his way into the pliant mouth beneath his with unnecessary force, teeth tearing into soft flesh until he tasted blood.

Lex coughed harshly when Clark released him, grabbing onto Clark's arms so he didn't fall backwards and down the stairs. "Clark..." he gasped, but Clark cut off his air again.

"I think someone needs to be taught a little lesson," he said. He lifted Lex from the floor and turned.

Chloe was still on the bed, watching raptly. "You're not going to kill him, are you?"

"No. Not kill him." He threw Lex down and planted his foot at the small of Lex's back. "Just instruct."

Lex lay on the floor passively, breath shuddering in and out in a way that would have been painful to hear had Clark given a flying fuck. His fingers clenched, nails scraping over wood.

"Where's your collar?" Clark asked, putting just the slightest pressure on Lex's back.

Coughing hard, Lex lifted his right arm, shaking it so his sleeve fell back from his wrist. The collar was wrapped around it loosely.

"Good boy." Clark sat on him and roughly pulled Lex's arm up and eliciting a groan from the man beneath him.

"Lex has a collar," Chloe said. "Oh, God, that's so fucking hot."

"It really is," Clark agreed. He took the collar off Lex's arm. "Especially when he wears nothing but the collar." Moving off Lex's torso, Clark took hold of the collar of Lex's shirt and ripped.

Lex groaned again as the fabric burned too-delicate skin beneath. Red marks appeared around his arms and neck, striping him beautifully.

"And his skin," Clark added, "is so pale, you just have to touch it to bruise it." To prove his point--and show off his strength--Clark lifted Lex's head by the neck, pressing his thumb just underneath Lex's jaw; when he moved it, a dark purple smudge had appeared. "So fucking pretty," he growled. Clark rolled Lex onto his back and sat back down.

Beneath him, Lex was panting harshly, a sheen of sweat already broken out over his skin. His mouth was bleeding, and eyes a myriad of emotions ranging from fear to arousal. He was so passive, so pliant, so perfect, that it was all Clark could do to not to fuck Lex right there, rewarding him for his behavior.

But, really, Lex didn't deserve a reward. Even as he lay there and allowed Clark to collar him, even as he took the abuse Clark was raining him with Chloe's and his own entertainment, there was still that arrogance on his face and in his eyes. That belief that he had everything under control and, damn it, he didn't. Clark was the one in control. Clark, not Lex.

Enraged by Lex's pretense of submissiveness--and he was always fucking submissive, why was he being an ass now?--Clark bent down and bit into Lex's neck, raising the perpetual bruise that resided there, almost daily evidence of Clark's ownership of him. He bit and laved at the spot until Lex was writhing beneath him, hands tearing at Clark's clothing, mewling as he rocked his hard length into Clark's hips desperately.

Satisfied with the mark he'd left, Clark fastened the collar tightly around Lex's neck and sat up. "What are you playing at?" he asked.

Lex tried to sit up, but Clark slammed him back to the floor. He pressed his lips together, grimacing before grinding out, "Nothing, Clark. I'm not playing."

"You're lying." He squeezed Lex's shoulders.

"Okay," he gasped, eyes sliding shut. "Okay. When you didn't call, I got worried. I decided to see if you needed any help."

"Why? So you can blame me if you end up getting hurt?"

Something sparked in Lex's eyes and the mask slipped just a bit. "I'm..."

"Say it and I'll fuck Chloe on top of you."

Over on the bed, Chloe made some kind of pleased sound. But Clark only had eyes for Lex.

Lex visibly swallowed back his worthless sorry. His tongue came out and licked blood off his lacerated lower lip. "What do you want me to do?" he asked. "I can't take back what I said."

"Tell me if you meant it. And don't lie to me!" Clark shouted, squeezing Lex's shoulders.

Lex hesitated only a moment before whispering, "Yes."

A surge of sick triumph raged through Clark and, for just a moment, his heat vision almost slipped out of his control. Just in time, though, he remembered how to rein it in, preventing himself from setting Lex and the barn aflame. "I didn't hear you," he said, voice low and hoarse. "Say it again."

He swallowed, eyes falling shut. "Yes," he said a little louder.


"Yes!" Lex screamed, back arching off the floor. "I meant it! Sometimes I hate myself so fucking much that I hate you for saving my life! I blame you for everything, all the good, all the bad and the worst part it is I wouldn't change a minute of it and I blame that on you, too! It's all your fault!"

"You should leave him, Clark," Chloe said, her voice icy cold. She got off the bed and came over to them. Standing over Lex's head, she looked down, face full of scorn. "He's just a worthless piece of crap."

Clark climbed off Lex and grabbed Chloe by the shoulders. "Don't you ever talk about Lex like that again, bitch." And he threw her across the room, away from them.

Shrieking, Chloe slammed into the wall; her head hit the wood hard and she slumped, unconscious.

"Didn't really want an audience anyway," Clark snorted. He bent over and pulled Lex to his feet.

Lex fell into Clark, one arm wrapping around his waist, the other clenching in the front of his shirt. "What are you going to do?"

Clark nuzzled Lex's neck, teeth scraping over the soft flesh. "Fuck you," he breathed. "Fuck you until you stop hating yourself. Fuck you until you forget you father, forget your name, forget your life before me."

He whimpered, pressing close into Clark. "I didn't have a life before you," he whispered. Lex rained kisses on Clark's cheek, across his chin, and down his neck. With one hand, he undid the buttons on Clark's shirt, sucking and biting as he pushed the fabric off Clark's shoulders so they were skin to skin, touching, kissing and...

Oh God.

The red haze fell away like a curtain. Shuddering, Clark gasped and wrapped his arms around Lex.

"I'm sorry," he whispered voicelessly.

"I know." Lex kissed his temple, holding him tightly. "I know. They put a meteor rock in your shirt. A red one."

Clark nodded. One hand slid down Lex's hip, feeling the hard box in his pocket. "Why didn't you use that?"

"I was afraid Chloe would attack me. She's angry at me for what I said, and if I pulled a green meteor on you, she'd protect you."

"Oh, God, Chloe. Pete." He let go of Lex and went to Chloe, who was still unconscious.

"Pete's already been taken to the hospital," Lex said, pulling his cell phone from his pocket. "I caught him on the way out. Hello?" he said into the phone. "This is Lex Luthor. I need an ambulance sent to the Kent Farm." He explained the problem and gave the address before hanging up.

Clark was trying to make Chloe comfortable. He felt ill. He'd hurt his best friend. He'd hurt his lover. He was a monster. He... "Lex, I'm sorry," he choked out.

Lex pulled Clark into his arms and held him. "What you did to me... you had every right to be angry. All those feelings that you took out, maybe, I mean, I never would have wanted to be treated like that, but it's out there, now. From both of us." He pulled back and looked into Clark's eyes. "We can only be honest now."

"I hurt you. I hurt Chloe."

"If you hadn't been drugged, you wouldn't have. You're a good man, Clark."

"I'm not..."

"You are. You might have issues about wanting to control everyone around you, but you can work on that. And I..." Lex swallowed, his pulse jumping. "I'm going to do whatever I can to be a good man, too. These things I feel, I don't know why I feel them. I know it's not your fault. I know you don't make me weak, but I get so... frustrated and lost and I don't know how to feel or what to do. And I guess I resent you."

"I want you to get help, Lex," Clark said, feeling like he had no right anymore to ask this of Lex, but knowing that it had to come from him. "You've been abused. Emotionally. For the most part, you're fine. I mean, you are a good man. You're generous and loving and wonderful. But I want you to be happy, too. I don't want you to want to die."

Lex's lower lip trembled. "I don't want to want to die, either. I have too much to live for." He inhaled shakily. "I have you."

Clark cupped Lex's cheek. "I love you so much, Lex."

"I love you too." A tear rolled from the corner of Lex's eye and down his cheek. "I want to go back to school. I'm not going to work for Dad. I'm not even going to fight Dad anymore. It's not worth it. It's not worth always feeling like I'm worthless, not when I can fuck up and then get grounded by your parents and still feel like I deserve to be loved."

"You do."

"And I want to believe that."

Clark pulled Lex to him, kissing him. "Just hang on, Lex. Keep fighting. Stay with me. And you will believe. You'll know. I promise."

The first thing Dominic said when Damien opened his eyes was, "You were right."

A look of confusion crossed over Damien's face. Instead of answering, he reached out, blindly seeking Dominic's hand; when Dominic gave it to him, Damien raised it to his mouth and kissed his inner wrist fiercely. "I was so worried," he said hoarsely.

Dominic let out a humorless bark of laughter. "You were worried. God, Damien, you were in a coma and they wouldn't let me come home to you."

"I know." Damien kissed him again, and held Dominic's hand against his chest. "But they wouldn't tell me what happened to you. When I woke, and you weren't there, I thought you were dead."

"Apparently, I'm not as easy to kill as one would think," Dominic said wryly. He leaned forward and kissed Damien. "The car came out of nowhere and I had merely a second to react. Had I hesitated... I was lucky to walk away with only this as it is." Dominic held up his broken wrist and nodded at his leg. "I think I survived by mere chance. It was a killing blow struck at me."

"And at me as well." Damien squeezed Dominic's hand. "Lionel was angrier than I'd anticipated. And I fear his anger will only grow."

Dominic felt the heaviness of sorry and frustration invade him. "We don't have to marry," he said unhappily. "I know I rather manipulated you into it. All I wanted was for you to admit that you wanted me to live with you, but it was lovely to hear you wanted so much more from me. But we needn't go through with it. I can even..."

"No," Damien cut him off. "No, I will not allow that man to rule our lives. You won't work for him. You don't want to, I don't want you to. Therefore, it won't be done. And we will marry." He smiled and added, "Not only did Lex offer to pay, but wants to help plan it."

"Oh, God," Dominic groaned, letting his head fall into Damien's chest. "I thought this would be a small, private thing. With Lex involved, it's going to get out of control."

"You don't have to let him help you." Damien stroked Dominic's hair gently. "And, if you do, you could try exerting yourself. Tell him you want something small and tasteful. Although, to be fair, his wedding to Desiree, large and rushed though it was, was actually very elegant."

"True." He sighed and pressed his forehead into Damien's chest. "Do you still want to go through with it?"

"Of course. As I said, I will not allow my life to be dictated by Lionel Luthor."

Dominic lifted his head. "Nor will I," he promised. He kissed Damien, first on the lips, then trailed down his neck, wishing it were appropriate to do more.

"However," Damien said, caressing Dominic's neck, "we will have problems with Lionel in the upcoming months. Lex has decided to go back to school."

"That's wonderful," Dominic said before he thought. Then he frowned. "Lionel won't be happy."

"No. He won't be. But I feel it is the best course for Lex. He can finish growing and get some real confidence in himself and his abilities."

"Where is he going?"

Damien shook his head. "Lex doesn't know yet. He'll spend the spring making his decision and putting himself back together, I imagine. Hopefully, he'll go in the fall. In the meantime, I've bought a farmhouse outside of town. It's actually not too far from the Kents'. I'd like to try and move into it before Lionel forces Lex out of the mansion, but it needs work. It's been tented for termites, but there's mold and dust problems that need to be taken care of, the grounds need to be scoured for meteors, and Lex and I were thinking we might put on an addition."

Dominic sat up and nodded. He pulled out his palm and made a few notes before venturing, "Lex might actually want to try his hand at designing the addition himself. When he was younger, he used to have vague aspirations of being an architect."

"Vague for most people, or vague for Lex?"

"For Lex. I believe he said that he was convinced he wanted to be one from the time he was thirteen until about fifteen. I saw quite a few of his designs and they were very well done."

"Run it past him," Damien suggested. "He'll probably need the distraction. As for the rest..." He stopped talking, eyes sliding to the door behind Dominic.

Dominic turned. "Mark. Please come in."

Mark tentatively walked in, his hands thrust into his pockets, a dark flush on his cheeks. He couldn't bring himself to look at Damien, instead stood awkwardly a few feet away, shifting his weight from foot to foot. "I just wanted to say that I was leaving. You don't need a ride or anything, Dominic?"

"No, thank you," Dominic said, shaking his head. "I'll stay a bit longer, then have the car take me back to the mansion."

"Yeah, I figured." He cleared his throat and risked a glance at Damien. "I'm glad you're all right."

"Thanks to you," Damien replied. "If not for your quick thinking and action, I would be dead."

Dominic's stomach rolled, thinking how easy it would have been. How close. He shuddered and took Damien's hand and held it tightly.

Mark smiled uncomfortably. "I'm glad I was there. I just..." He broke off and swallowed hard.

"Mark," Damien said softly. "Thank you." Damien held out his hand.

"You're welcome." It sounded something like relief, and he visibly relaxed as he shook Damien's hand, feeling the physical confirmation that everything was going to be okay. "Okay," he said, releasing Damien's hand. "I'm going to go. If either of you need anything, please, call." Mark touched Dominic's shoulder gently.

Dominic nodded and smiled up at him. "We will. And I'll talk to you later."

Mark returned the smile, and then left.

"You're attracted to him," Damien said when Dominic turned back.

"He's lovely," Dominic answered.

Damien nodded his assent, eyes musingly on the door where Mark had last been. "But he is Whitney Fordman's."

"And I am yours."

The other man's lips curled in a small smile and his dark eyes turned to Dominic. "Just because we are committed doesn't mean I'd object to having the occasional guest in our bed. Or even have the pleasure of watching you entertain."

Dominic's face blushed full bloom. He tightened his grip on his cane and rose to his feet so he could sit on Damien's bed. Putting his hand on Damien's face, he leaned forward and said softly, but very clearly, "You may wish to share and entertain me, but I am not so generous." And he kissed Damien hard, hoping to put all such thoughts out of his head.

God, he wanted to sleep. To crawl into his bed and sleep for the next year. Screw work, screw Reynolds, screw the world, Mark was done. Weary and heartsick and lonely and completely, totally ungrateful.

Intellectually, he knew he was glad Damien was fine. He was even gratified that his clumsy skill at CPR had contributed to keeping the man alive. And he was happy for Dominic and the engagement and the fact that there still was an engagement since both parties had avoided death.

And Lex. Mark had seen him at the hospital with Clark, and even though it was obvious things weren't perfect between them, it was getting better. They'd looked at each other with eyes full of love, and as they'd waited for news of Pete and Chloe, they'd comforted each other with soft touches on the back or arm, gentle and loving and so protective. Mark knew that they'd be going home tonight and Clark would sneak over to Lex's and they'd lie in bed with one another, fingers and mouths exploring, their hearts reconnecting and repairing the damage that had been done.

And Mark? The man who'd saved Damien? The man who'd kept Dominic conscious and safe and had taken care of Lex when his father had been shot and been stretching himself thin to take care of his friends? He was going home alone. Not even Helen was going to be there; she was working late and mentioned something about going to the city with a friend. She'd been acting weird, too, avoiding his eyes with a sneaking smile turning up the corners of her mouth. Obviously, "friend" meant "man" and "city" was a euphemism "sex."

Everyone was getting lucky or getting loved but Mark. And he couldn't even get in contact with the one person whose mere voice could make everything okay.

Mark sighed as he unlocked the door to the apartment. He was going to take a long shower before going to bed; he and Dominic had ended up driving back and even though the limo had been immaculate, the drive, followed by sitting at the hospital for hours, had left him feeling grimy and disgusting. Plus, he was sore from sitting so much, and...

"Hey," a voice said, breaking into Mark's melancholy reverie. "You're finally home."

The keys fell from Mark's suddenly nerveless fingers. His heart stopped and lungs froze.

Whitney smiled shyly and ran his hand over his short cropped hair. "Um. Surprise."


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