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Corner of the World 51: Homecoming

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Corner of the World 51: Homecoming

by Serafina

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



Mark gaped, unable to close his mouth to utter a single word.

Whitney dropped his hand from his hair and readjusted his grip on the crutch under his left arm. The movement drew Mark's eyes to the hand wrapped around the handhold. Whitney's middle and index fingers, and his thumb were wrapped around it; the rest was wrapped in gauze, but the fingers were clearly missing.

He raised his eyes again to Whitney's face. Right now, Whitney was wearing a black eye patch over his injured eyes; the eye had been saved, although he was mostly blind in it now. The patch made him look grown up and more than a little dangerous.

Whitney cleared his throat and shrugged. "Um. Sorry I didn't call first. I wanted to surprise you."

"Yeah," was all Mark could think to say. Then, because he realized he was being rude and stupid, he stepped closer and said, "I tried calling you. On the phone, earlier. No one would tell me where you were."

"I couldn't stay away anymore, what with everything going on here. I knew I needed to get home as soon as possible." Whitney limped towards Mark on one crutch, leaving the other propped on the couch. "I managed to talk them into discharging and flying me home. It happened so quickly, I didn't have time to tell anyone. I would have called, but everything was just so confusing." He swallowed and limped closer. "Sorry if you were worried."

"No." Mark felt as if he were being magnetically drawn to Whitney, like his feet weren't his own. "I mean, yes, I was worried. I was scared something had happened to you. That Lionel..."

Whitney flinched. "No. He didn't... I don't know what's going to happen with him, but I got home on my own. I don't want that old bastard to have anything more to do with my life." He licked his lower lip, eyes slowly traveling over Mark's body.

Mark's skin caught fire everywhere those eyes touched. "Good." He bit the inside of his cheek, moving still closer to Whitney. He could smell Whitney's clean, spicy scent, see the variations of color in his eye. "I wanted to talk to you so badly yesterday," he admitted.

"You okay? I mean, is everything all right?" He moved forward, now just inches away.

They were almost touching now, they were so close. Currents of air from Whitney's gentle exhales washed over Mark's face. Heat rose from Whitney's body, embracing Mark and his entire body ached with need.

"I'm fine," he said, trying not to grab Whitney, trying to restrain himself. "It was a bad couple days. I wanted someone to talk to. I wanted to talk to you. I wanted... I wanted you."

Whitney exhaled hard, his whole body relaxing, like he'd been a tightly coiled spring who'd just been released. Relief and desire and something that made Mark's heart wrench washed over Whitney's face and then Whitney was stepping into him saying in a choked voice, "Thank God! I've wanted you so bad. I'm sorry, I just have to..."

And then Whitney's lips were on him and this was real and, God, he was so confident and strong. His hand gripped Mark by the nape of his neck and he held on like he wasn't going to let go. The silky-rough texture of Whitney's chapped lips moved over Mark's with a gentle firmness, closing gently over Mark's upper lip and holding on for a heartbeat before opening further, deepening the kiss.

Mark moaned softly and melted into Whitney. Whitney's mouth was hot and wet, his tongue tentative as it entered Mark's mouth. Pressed hard into Whitney, Mark opened his mouth wider and stroked Whitney's tongue, petting it with his own, tasting Whitney until his head spun from the intensity of having Whitney so close.

"God, you're perfect," Whitney whispered. He sucked Mark's lower lip before biting down on it, breaking the skin on the inside and making Mark's stomach tighten, his body stiffening. Whitney clutched at Mark's hips and tugged him back to the couch, his mouth more insistent, wetter, breathing frantic. "I've dreamed of doing this for so long." His mouth latched onto Mark's earlobe, and he sucked it, tongue and lips working the soft flesh wetly. "It was all that got me through those nights, you know? I was out there, alone and afraid, but then I'd think of you." He tugged Mark onto him, both falling onto the couch.

Mark caught himself on the back of the couch so he didn't hit Whitney with his full weight. As he lowered himself into Whitney's lap--one leg on either side of Whitney's good one--he kissed the reddened lips with less passion but infinitely more tenderness than before. "Me too," Mark confessed. His thigh came into contact with the bulge underneath Whitney's pants; he rocked into it.

Whitney groaned, head falling back on the couch cushions. His hips rolled into Mark's thigh, fingers threaded through the loops on Mark's jeans as Whitney pressed his own thigh into Mark's crotch.

Bright-hot flares burst behind Mark's eyes. His head fell to Whitney's shoulder and he began to rock steadily into the other man. Sweat beaded at his temples and his breathing was ragged, Mark's own cock riding into Whitney's thigh. Whitney was moving underneath him, each breath a soft moan in Mark's ear. His hands grasped, his teeth captured, released, and recaptured Mark's ear continually as they rubbed against one another. There was no finesse, especially as the pressure grew underneath Mark's skin; all he was, was a creature of feeling and all he could feel was the blood pounding through his veins and the sharp tang of sweat that filled the air and his breath burning in his lungs and the gut twisting, carnal heat that flared out from his groin, making him conversely tense and melt at the same time.

And then Whitney was off the couch, grabbing Mark with both hands and yanking him into a kiss all the while making an, "Oh, oh, oh," sound and there was a warm, wet spot on his pants and his leg came hard into Mark and Mark spiraled out of control and all he could do was cling to Whitney and kiss him and hope he didn't fly off the face of the earth.

"Oh God," he gasped, shuddering hard.

Whitney shook and held Mark tightly. Heavy and overwhelmed, Mark slumped against him, resting his head on Whitney's shoulder.

Whitney turned his head, meeting Mark's eyes. "Sorry." A deep rose touched his cheeks, darker than the sweaty sex-flush of the rest of his face. "I imagined our first... first everything a lot more dignified."

Mark pulled Whitney down for a kiss. "You have nothing to apologize for."

"Yeah, but, there are all these things I'd planned to say." He thumb rubbed Mark's cheek, a wondering expression on his face. "I wanted to tell you how much I appreciated your letters. How you helped keep me alive and going during the hardest days. How you're the most amazing man I've ever known. How I... I love you." He blushed deeply when he said this, jaw set firmly which revealed even more than his words.

Inside his chest, Mark's heart swelled until he couldn't even take a breath. "Whitney..."

"I wanted to say all that and more, but when I saw you, I couldn't remember any of it. Everything was gone and I wanted was to touch you so badly I felt like I'd never be complete until I did." Once again, his calloused thumb scraped deliciously over Mark's cheek in the most tender touch he'd ever felt.

Mark leaned into the touch while rearranging himself on the couch so he could sit more comfortably, still entwined with Whitney as much as he could be. "All we've had until now are words," he said, taking Whitney's hand and lacing their fingers. "I think we both needed something more." He brushed his lips lightly over Whitney's, then moved in again, his tongue massaging Whitney's lower lip. "I love you, too."

Whitney's relief was palpable in his kiss and his hands which were both fierce and possessive as he pulled Mark on top of him.

Mark broke the kiss and said, "Um. Why don't we go into the bedroom? And try all of this again?"

"I would like that." Whitney grinned, his smile crooked and hungry. Then he swallowed looking sheepish. "Um, first, though... can I get a glass of water?"

"Of course. I'll get some snacks, too. I'm not letting you out for awhile. We'll need supplies."

His grin was brilliant and caused an answering resonance inside of Mark. "That sounds perfect."


"May I come in?" Clark asked hesitantly at the door to Lex's room.

Lex was stretched out on his bed, Athena on the small of his back, ancient Gameboy in his hands. When Clark spoke, he lifted his head, face etched with guilt, eyes darkening. "Yes, of course." He swallowed and switched off the Gameboy. As Clark approached the bed, Lex sat up, dislodging an unhappy Athena and folding his legs in front of him.

Clark narrowed his eyes, wondering what was wrong. He didn't want to deal with anything heavy; the past few days had been heavy enough.

"Um, what's up?" Then, because that sounded too casual and stupid, Clark changed it to, "Is something wrong?" He stopped next to the bed, rocking on the balls of his feet slightly so his legs pressed against the comforter. Normally, he'd just walk in and make himself comfortable but, despite their talk earlier, things were still awkward.

"No. Nothing is wrong." Lex set the Gameboy aside and pulled on the fingers of his left hand, stretching them. "I was just taking a break." He seemed uncomfortable too; his eyes kept darting to and from Clark's face and when not speaking, his teeth worried his lower lip.

"Well. It's not like you have anything pressing to do," Clark replied. Hesitantly, he lowered himself onto the bed, sitting on the edge so as not to encroach on Lex's space.

"No." He swallowed and gave a shrug. "I thought maybe I should start looking for schools or something. Or a therapist."

Clark nodded slowly, seeing what was bothering Lex. He remembered the few times before Lex had tried to relax; he wasn't very good at it. Lex liked activity. He liked to be doing things and, both because of Lionel and because it was the way Lex was, Lex wanted it to be useful activity. If he couldn't find any, he turned self-destructive.

Of course, he was voluntarily taking time to relax right now, without Clark prompting him. When they'd parted at the hospital after visiting Chloe and Damien, they'd made plans to get together that evening. Clark had gone home to do chores. He hadn't thought much about what Lex would do, but, knowing Lex as he did, Clark had assumed he'd find Lex working on something. It was what he did.

Instead, Lex was playing video games and listening to music. He was wearing his pajamas and socks. His skin was flushed like he'd taken a bath. He wasn't as pale as he'd been lately, and the circles under his eyes were gone.

This was all very, very good.

Clark smiled. "Lex, this is great."

"It is?"

"Yeah. I mean, finding a school and therapist are important, but not so important that both need to be done right now. We've had a really hard day. Taking time to relax is good. Life doesn't always have to be a race from activity to activity."

The tension in Lex's shoulders eased. "Right. You're right." He scrubbed his hand over his face. "I'm not used to, um, wanting to unwind, but when I got home, all I wanted to do was lounge on my bed and play Tetris. I think I'm getting addicted." He frowned slightly, as if worried Clark might object, and pushed the Gameboy further away from his body.

"I'd rather you be addicted to a video game than drugs." Biting his lip, Clark slid his hand across the comforter to Lex. "I'm glad you're relaxing. And that you decided to do it without having to be told that you should. What you're doing--going back to school and trying to find some help--that's going to be a big task. But there's no reason it has to get done right this minute."

"I know." But he clearly hadn't, and the tone of his voice spelled his relief at being allowed to play.

Lex looked at Clark's hand a moment before placing his own in Clark's.

Clark immediately closed his fingers around Lex's hand and squeezed.

Lex sighed, eyes falling shut. "The past few weeks have been a nightmare."

"Yeah." Clark lifted Lex's hand and kissed the inside of his wrist. "But it's going to get better." He hesitated, bending down to Lex's face. He kept his eyes wide open, not sue if he was welcome, not sure if they needed to talk or just relax for a little while or if he was even welcome. Unsure and sick with nervousness, he watched Lex carefully as he moved in, anxious for a sign that he was wanted.

Lex gave it to him, raising his face towards Clark's, eyes falling shut. His mouth was warm and wet, teasing Clark's tongue into his mouth, welcoming and open. His arms wound around Clark's neck and there was a kind of desperation in the way he held Clark to him. Unlike Clark's tentativeness, Lex was desperate, demanding. Clark tried to slow him down, but Lex was suddenly in his lap, all arms and legs and rocking hips, holding on like he was afraid Clark was going to disappear any second.

Something inside Clark broke in half. When it gave, his arms tightened around Lex and he returned the passion in Lex's kiss. Lex's tongue lapped and petted Clark's, and he wiggled on Clark's lap not in the seductive, undulating need of completion, but the more desperate, hard jerking motion of one trying to burrow his way through an impenetrable wall until they were one.

After so many days of being apart physically and emotionally, the sudden nearness should have been overwhelming. They should want to be going to slower, to rebuild the trust that had been torn so horribly through thoughtless words and harsh actions. But they had never been a couple who believed in slow. Not really. They'd rushed into their relationship, spurred by their connection and the rightness of it all. They'd lingered during their sexual exploration phase, but even that had only lasted a month or two before sleepovers were the norm, Lex wore a collar, and Clark blossomed from a shy virgin to a demanding top.

They'd professed their love for one another in less than a month. They'd broken up after less than a year of being together. They'd exchanged rings, made plans for the future, and weathered more storms in one year than most couples did in a lifetime.

Slow was not part of their life. It wasn't in their vocabulary. And when things went badly, when they hurt one another as deeply as only they knew how to do, they couldn't stay away for long. They didn't know how to wait for wounds to heal; they rushed in to heal the hurts themselves.

Clark fell back against the pillows, drawing Lex down with him. Lex was still kissing Clark, fingers bunched in Clark's hair, not worrying about anything but his mouth. When Clark rolled on top of Lex, settling his thighs on either side of Lex's right leg, he could feel the evidence of Lex's arousal, but didn't do anything about it. This wasn't about their bodies. It wasn't about sex. It was about them.

Time swirled around them, unnoticed by either of them. The world seemed to disappear and nothing existed but the taste of Lex, the feel of his skin, the warm, musky smell he emitted. There was a stickiness in Clark's jeans, and he could feel something wet against his thigh, but that was secondary to the way Lex's fingers stroked along the nape of his neck, and the breathy whispers that drifted over Clark's ear when Lex's teeth released his lobe. Lips pressed against Clark's face haphazardly, not seeking any destination, instead memorizing what he found. Clark kissed Lex's neck, his lips, his forehead and the soft space behind his ears, sometimes pressing hard enough to raise rosy marks against the white, sometimes his mouth a mere suggestion on Lex's flesh.

Minutes or hours later, Lex's sibilant sighs penetrated the golden haze around Clark's brain, taking shape and sense.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm sorry, I love you, I'm sorry, don't leave me, I'm sorry, I'll change. My soul, my angel, my life, my breath, don't go. Don't go. Don't go."

"I won't," Clark promised. He stilled Lex's words, kissing the swollen, tender lips, tangling their tongues and swallowing the words. "I won't leave. Never. I promise."

"I'm so sorry," Lex said, maybe out loud, maybe just in Clark's mind. Things were so unreal, it was hard to tell the world from the reality that existed within the two of them, they one they'd created as protection from the world as children. Their own special world where thought was reality. "I'm sorry."

"I forgive you." Clark gazed down into Lex's eyes, falling into the blue, swimming in them. "I forgive you," he repeated. "And I want you to forgive yourself."

But Lex was silent.


Mark was draped over Whitney's body, one arm propping himself on the mattress, the other stroking Whitney's chest. Whitney's skin was so smooth, so soft, even crisscrossed with scratches and scars. And his muscles were still lean and strong, somehow undiminished by the time Whitney had spent in bed, recovering from his ordeal. "This is a dream, right?" he said, glancing from his hand, contrasted against Whitney's golden skin to the oh-so blue eye gazing down at him. "You're not really here?"

"I'm really here. But, if I'm wrong, and this is a dream, then I'm never waking up." Whitney tugged Mark up to him and kissed him. When they broke apart, Whitney held Mark's face, studying him intently. "You never felt this real in my dreams."

"Neither did you." He touched the bleached blond hair hanging over Whitney's forehead and added, "The detail is much greater than it was in dreams, too."

A shadow passed over Whitney's face. "How does reality hold up?"

"I much prefer reality to anything else," Mark assured him. He kissed Whitney on the cheek, directly below the eyepatch.

The worry left his face. Whitney dropped his hand to caress Mark's naked shoulder, lower lip caught between his teeth. "I wasn't too worried," he said. "What we have... Even without having met you, I knew this was gonna transcend any physical flaws. But, you know. There's still that moment of doubt no matter what."

"I've been worried about my age."

Whitney snorted. "Yeah, because you're so old." He pinched Mark playfully. "I only have two fingers, dummy; I can't afford to be picky. I'll take what I can get, even wrinkled, gray-haired, and missing his teeth, Grandpa."

Laughing, Mark sucked his lips over his teeth and said, "Don't know if I like to be settled for, sonny. On the other hand, old men like me shouldn't complain." He squeezed Whitney's butt and settled between his legs. "I can show a young stud like you off at the senior center."

Whitney arched as he laughed, arms locking around Mark's waist possessively. "You can show me off anywhere you like."

Mark traced Whitney's lips and asked, "Do you mean that?"

"Um. Yeah," Whitney replied, seeming thrown by the note of seriousness Mark had introduced.

"Whitney, it's easy to say that right now. We're in here, together, finally. In love." Mark felt himself blush and smile stupidly at that part, and he had to kiss Whitney.

"Yes, I'm aware of that. Is there a problem?"

"There could be. It's a small town and people aren't exactly welcoming of homosexuality. I'm... tolerated only because I'm Lex Luthor's friend and people don't want to piss him off and, right now, I'm the only gay person they know of and thus am an authority on Clark. I honestly can't say how long the arm of protection is going to extended around Clark, either, so, pretty soon, I might end up ostracized. I don't want that for you."

Whitney stroked Mark's face and said, "Why don't we pretend this is my life and my decision? If it makes you uncomfortable to be seen like that with me, then fine, I won't come out. Well, I won't come out as your boyfriend, but I will come out as gay." He shrugged. "I've been to hell. I was lost in enemy territory. Then I hurt my eye and then my fingers were gone. Finally, I was laying in a puddle of my own blood, pretty sure I was done for. But here I am, lying in the arms of the man who helped me hang on and get home. I've been to hell, Mark. The bigots of this town don't scare me." He kissed Mark. "So," he said, voice warm and throaty. His hand slid to Mark's bottom and he caressed it. "Are you going to walk down Main Street hand and hand with me?" His fingers brushed further down over Mark's balls.

"No fair," Mark groaned, growing hard under Whitney's touch. He squirmed, opening his legs wider, giving Whitney easier access. "You can't use sex to influence my answer."

"I can't?" Laughter rumbling in his chest, Whitney's free hand fumbled over the bed, looking for the lubricant they'd pulled out earlier. "But it seems like I can, old man." He found the lube in the tangle of covers and lifted it to his good hand. "I am, after all, young and virile. Not to mention seductive and mysterious." He sat up, fumbling with the cap.

Mark watched him a moment, heart pounding in his chest. He didn't know how far Whitney was planning on taking this, and didn't want to ruin the mood--and how was it they couldn't seem to stay serious after all the months of nothing but seriousness--by pulling out condoms when all Whitney wanted was a little finger-play.

The cap finally popped open and Whitney squeezed some gel onto his fingers. "Well?"

"Well what?"

"I'm waiting for some kind of confirmation. I've got a very fragile ego, after all. I'm a one-eyed man."

Mark snorted, a snort that turned into a groan as Whitney's finger breeched Mark's entrance. He hadn't warmed the lube, and Mark's stomach tightened as he waited for his body to adjust to the temperature and intrusion. It'd been awhile since Grant and even longer before that. Still, Whitney was only in shallowly, due to the angle, and his fingers were long and slender, despite what one would expect from a former football player and soldier. His Whitney defied stereotypes.

"You are mysterious and beautiful," Mark ground out, rolling onto his stomach across Whitney's torso and opening his legs. "The patch makes you even more so."

"Yeah, pirates are always in fashion," Whitney laughed. His face was flushed, pupil dilated as he slid his finger to the first knuckle. He licked his lips. "You okay?"

"I'm fine." Mark pushed back against Whitney's finger, hungry for more. "And you're too clean cut to be a pirate. Maybe a spy. Or... something." His head dropped down to Whitney's thigh, just above the knee brace as Whitney eased his second finger in.

"Oh, I can tell we have many nights of role-playing coming to us." Whitney was breathing heavily now and he stretched his fingers inside Mark, pushing apart the passage so that a jolt of pleasure fissured with a hint of pain streaked through him. "Pirate and captive. Spy and prey. Teacher and student. Soldier."

A third finger breached Mark.

"Could be fun, but no need." Mark was rhythmically pushing back against Whitney's fingers now, fucking himself, trying to pull Whitney deeper inside. "You're all the fantasy I'll ever need."

Whitney kissed the nape of Mark's neck and then let his head rest on the back of Mark's head. "You too, babe." He slid his fourth finger in and thrust gently. "Um. So, uh. I don't, uh, actually know how long I'm supposed to do this or anything."

Mark turned his head. "How far do you want to go?"

Whitney's cheeks were flushed and his eye were glazed. Sweat beaded at his hairline and rolled down the sides of his face. "I'd love to be inside you."

"Yeah. I'd love you to be inside me, too." Mark pushed himself up, letting Whitney's fingers slide from him. He kissed Whitney and then climbed off the bed. "I'll be back."

Condoms were underneath the sink. He knew that they should have used them earlier, too, when they'd blown each other, but they'd gotten kind of carried away. Besides, Mark had been dying to know what Whitney tasted like.

"Back." It was hard to walk with an erection, but it was worth it.

Whitney had propped himself up on the headboard, arranging pillows around him. "So. I've given it some thought. On how." He glanced down at his knee.

"All right. How?"

He took Mark's hand and pulled him back to the bed. "Well, it has to do with me lying like this." Whitney plucked the condom from Mark's hand and, with some struggle, ripped the foil open, and rolled it onto his cock. "And you come and sit here."

Mark climbed onto the bed, straddling Whitney. Sitting on his knees, he picked up the lubricant and slicked it over the condom. Then he took hold of Whitney's cock and, catching his lower lip between his teeth, lowered himself.

"Oh God," he groaned, feeling his body open slowly around Whitney.

"Yeah." Whitney's eyes were closed and his hands gripped tightly on Mark's hips. The gauze on his injured hand was sticky and wet with sweat and lube, and it felt scratchy on Mark's skin. Whitney's good hand dug into him, making dents with his nails.

Experimentally, Mark undulated his hips.

Whitney's grip tightened, entire body going stiff. "Don't move," he grunted.

"Whitney," Mark gasped, trying to comply, but, dammit, he wanted to move. Whitney felt so good inside him, he wanted to feel more.

"I just... Oh, God, you feel so good, Mark, do you have any idea I had no idea it was going to feel so fucking good." Whitney let out a shuddering gasp, back arching, driving himself deeper into Mark. "I love you I can't believe I'm here I wanted you so badly and I..."

"Shhh. Shhh," Mark soothed. He grabbed Whitney's face between his hands and pulled him into a kiss.

Whitney's face was wet and his lips tasted like tears. He pulled Mark against him as close as he could, face twisting in pain but holding on. "I'm sorry," he whispered, kissing Mark. Tears fell faster from his eyes and he whispered again, "I'm sorry. I'm being stupid." He wiped his eyes with the palm of his hand. "God. And here I thought I wouldn't be some stereotype."

Mark kissed his lover tenderly and smoothed the short strands of sweaty hair back from his face. "You're not, Whitney. You're just a man in love." He wiped a tear away with his thumb and kiss him again.

"I am, you know. In love."

"Yes. Yes, I know."


"Lex?" Clark said. "Say something. Say you'll forgive yourself."

Lex shook his head, eyes squeezed shut. "I can't."

Clark felt like he'd been punched. "But Lex..."

"Clark, please. I can't." He pushed Clark off him and sat up. "I'm sorry. I really am." He covered his face, rubbing his eyes. "If I could forgive myself, I would. But I can't. What I said and what I felt and how I am, it's just... I can't."

"But I forgive you. I want you to..."

"Clark, if I could forgive myself, then I wouldn't need therapy," Lex snapped, slamming his fists into the bedspread. "I'm fucked up, Clark. Royally. Isn't that what you and Grant talk about when you're together?"

Clark sighed and took Lex by the wrist. Lex's fist was clenched tightly. Gently, Clark massaged Lex's inner wrist up to his palm until he was able to work his thumb underneath Lex's fingers. "Yes, we do. And that's all we do," Clark said. He massaged Lex's palm with his thumb, urging Lex's hand open. "We open a few sodas, order a pizza, and talk about you and your Strawberry Shortcake collection and your penchant for purple and your habit of hiding behind history when you feel vulnerable. Then we laugh and make out and have a lot of sex. We never talk about me and my issues, by the way. Never about what Lionel did or what it's like to be all gay in a small town and stuff. Never about me and Whitney or my parents or Ryan or Lana or... anything about me. Just you."

"Smart ass," he said, making a face at Clark. "Grant told me that I'd been abused."

"You were."

"Yeah, but how does he know?"

"You're my boyfriend, Lex," Clark said. He kissed the palm of Lex's hand. "Mostly we talk about me, or writing, or other stuff. But what happens to you affects me. It's hard for me to see you in pain and know that you can't... admit or face the cause. So yeah, I've talked to him about you. But only because I needed it for me."

Lex pulled his knees to his chest and leaned against Clark. "Sorry."

Clark put his arm around him, still massaging Lex's palm. "It's okay." He pressed a kiss into Lex's temple. "You really okay with seeing a therapist?"

"Are you?"

That silenced him for a moment. "But you will, right?"

"I guess I need to." He shifted, crawling into Clark's lap and pushing him onto his back. Resting his head in the crook of Clark's neck, Lex said, "I never knew that you could be punished for doing something wrong without it being so humiliating that you just wanted to die. Or not involving pain. Well." Lex smiled. "Except for the pain of muscles that have been overworked by slave drivers who, in the absence of their super-powered son, seem to think the boyfriend is able to do all the chores on the farm all by his lonesome."

Clark laughed. "Well, that's my parents for you." He kissed Lex. "You're right, though. You don't deserve to be made to feel like shit. Or hurt."

"I actually... kind of like being hurt by you. Within reason."

He let out a slow breath and rubbed Lex's back. "I don't know if that's healthy. I don't know if I'm healthy. Wanting to hurt you." He licked his lips. "I mean, even when I'm not mad at you like I was, or on that red rock, I like seeing you bruised. Mostly when I'm not mad at you, actually; when I am, I don't even want to be near you. And I don't want to hurt you real bad or anything. Not your face or anything, but I like biting you and seeing evidence that we were together. And, maybe, it's not healthy. For you. For us."

Lex frowned. "If I stopped using the safe word when it got to be too much, then it'd be unhealthy. But I like belonging to you. You're the only one that... the one person in my life who, when you hurt me, fights to make things right again. Dad is always so convinced that hurting me is the right thing to do. You're... so human about it. You never mean it, not maliciously. Not... I mean, you do, but it's not like Dad."

"Um, Lex? Baby? We're talking about sex. Please stop talking about Lionel." He felt vaguely sick.

"Sorry." Lex propped himself on Clark's chest. "I just mean, I like belonging to you. I really do. I like wearing your collar and your ring. I like looking at my body and seeing marks from your hands and mouth and teeth." He laughed and ran his fingers over Clark's pointy, crooked teeth. "The one imperfect feature on your perfect body."

Clark chewed on Lex's fingers before sucking on them. "Careful," he said, sliding the fingers out and licking their tips. "Or else I'll start sending you information on dentist school."

Lex laughed. "Um, no thanks. There's only one mouth that I'm interested in getting inside of." He kissed Clark's open mouth sloppily, tongue licking up Clark's chin before dipping inside.

"That's a little weird." Clark kissed Lex's chin. "Since when do you want to get inside my mouth?"

"Certain parts of me have always wanted to get in there."

Clark took Lex's hips and squirmed under him slowly. "Really? Even when you thought I was an angel and you were dead?"

"Heaven isn't heaven unless you have your own kinky little angel."

"Am I kinky because you love me or do you love me because I'm kinky?" Clark asked musingly. He rolled Lex onto his back and yanked down Lex's pajama bottoms.

"Both." Lex undid Clark's belt and fly to ease his jeans over Clark's hips. "First time we made out, you made with the biting and the dominating and you fucking turned me on so much. This shy, virginal farmboy who'd never even kissed a man before just... completely changed my self-image in less than a heartbeat."

Clark laughed and pulled his shirt off. "I did?"

"Oh, I fought against it. Tried to pretend I wasn't dying to be completely dominated by you and under your control. Tried to keep pretending that I was a still--or ever--a dom." He hooked his leg over Clark's ass. "But you destroyed every illusion I had. Thank fucking God."

"You thought you were a dominant person in the bedroom?"

"Oh, don't be so smug, asshole. I dominated my share of fey, femme bottoms before you."

Clark smirked at Lex, but before he could ask who on earth was fey-er than Lex, Lex grabbed him and kissed him hard. Besides, Lex wasn't really fey. Just queeny. There was a difference.

"I'm sure you did." Pinning Lex to the bed with his hand, Clark leaned over to the dressing table. The sex drawer was unlocked and a nearly empty bottle of lube was resting on the rest of the toys.

"We need more lube." Clark shut the drawer.

Lex shook his head. "There's more in the bathroom. We're good. I...." He stopped talking as Clark took Lex by the wrists and gently raised his arms over his head. As Clark wrapped Lex's fingers around the slats of the headboard, he swallowed and asked, "What are you doing?"

"I think my big, butch boyfriend needs a good, hard fucking," Clark said. Despite everything, his cheeks went warm as the words left his mouth.

"Oh really?" Lex licked his lips and tightened his fingers.

Clark sat back on his heels and undid the cap to the lube. "Really." He squeezed lubricant onto the palm of his hand and rubbed it slowly over his cock. "How much preparation?"

"None." Lex squirmed on the sheets, eyes falling shut. "None, please, none."

"Look at you," Clark tisked. "I thought you were my big, butch boyfriend, and you're begging." He lifted Lex's legs over his shoulders and lined his cock at Lex's entrance. "I like it when you beg."

Lex's face was flushed and his cock hard and red against his stomach. "Please. Please take me, please. Oh, God, Clark, please."

Clark bent over Lex, forcing his legs back. Lex groaned as he bent almost double; his fists clenched tighter and he lifted his hips.

"So beautiful," Clark breathed. He licked Lex's neck and nibbled on his chin.

"So horny," Lex whined. "Do something before you break me in half."

Clark laughed into Lex's mouth, bending him back further until Lex squeaked. Then, when Lex made another noise, this one of pain and definitely not as cute, Clark eased off, allowing him to stretch into a slightly more comfortable position before Clark slid home.

"God," Clark sighed, feeling Lex's body close around him. He was, as ever, so snug and warm. He seemed to grip and hold Clark, as if Lex would keep Clark inside him forever if he could.

"No offense," Lex said after a moment of absolute stillness, "but I've had harder fuckings."

Clark snorted and wiped his lube-sticky hand on the sheets. Then, taking firm hold of Lex's hips, he started to move.

It'd been too long. Too long since they'd done this, too long since sex had felt like anything but an extremely emotionally draining and tension-releasing thing. Too long since sex had just been fun, and, yes, after the few weeks they'd had together, maybe they should be going for an emotionally reconnecting experience.

But Clark really just wanted to fuck Lex.

"Harder," Lex moaned. His back arched as Clark slammed into him, hands gripping the headboard as his body was jerked towards it with each thrust.

Clark grunted as he thrust, fingers digging with bruising strength into Lex's hips. His heart pounded in his ears, fire burning behind his eyes. His vision was hazy red, and he kept blinking, trying to cool the heat, but Lex's body was so hot, a burning inferno around Clark, burning him up, heating Lex from the inside until he thought he'd explode.

Lex chanted underneath him, rocking in waves, moving with Clark perfectly. Clark couldn't quite hear what Lex was saying, but it didn't sound like stop, so he kept moving, holding onto the headboard himself and moving faster.

Suddenly, Lex let out a long, wailing cry. His sweat slicked body stiffened and he yanked on headboard as he came explosively.

"Lex," Clark gasped as Lex's body tightened around him. "Oh, God, Lex, yes, you're so hot. I love..." He lost coherency as he drove into Lex's body, still babbling, fists tightening on the headboard.

The wood splintered underneath his grasp. Lex's moan was startled, and he quickly let go of the broken wood, bracing himself on the wall. "Hurry," he gasped, arms shaking from fatigue as Clark continued to fuck him brutally. "Please, Clark, I need... I need..."

Clark came. As his body exploded in pleasure, he drove his fist into the mattress. The bed frame shook violently, then broke.

"Clark!" Lex shouted as Clark's body rose off the broken bed. They were joined only by Clark's cock.

"Sorry." Immediately, Clark wrapped his arms around Lex and forced them back to the torn mattress.

They lay still for some time. Minutes ticked by, marked only by the drying sweat on Lex's skin and the easing of their panting as their hearts slowed back to a normal pace.

"You broke my bed," Lex finally said. His breath whispered over Clark's ear, teasing his curls lightly.

"Finally. Been wanting to do that since you got married." Clark kissed him none too gently, only satisfied when Lex's lips were red and swollen. "Now you have to get a new one."

"If you'd wanted me to get a new one..."

"I didn't want you to get a new one," Clark interrupted. "I wanted to break the fucking bed that you fucked Desiree in. And I finally did it."

Lex squirmed in Clark's grasp and nibbled on his ear. "You know, we could destroy it." His leg lightly ran up Clark's leg and backside. "I think that I need another good fucking."

Clark kissed him, holding Lex in place by the nape of his neck. "Give me ten minutes," he promised, riding into Lex gently.

"I love my superstrong alien boyfriend," Lex sighed in pleasure.

"Yeah. And he loves you."


The pain got the better of Whitney around one in the morning. Trying not to wake his partner, he slipped out of bed and rummaged through the pockets of his pants for his pain medication. He was supposed to be taking the pills regularly for the pain in his knee, but after having lived for weeks in constant pain and suffering, this was nothing. Besides, he'd really been hoping that he and Mark would have sex, and Whitney hadn't wanted their first time together to happen with him in a drug-induced haze.

He palmed the bottle, picked up his crutches, and hobbled into the bathroom. It was awkward on the crutches and he felt stupid using them. He'd always hated being injured, back when his worst injury was a broken arm or a few bruised ribs. Now it was different. Now it was permanent. Now...

No. No, he couldn't complain. He was alive. He was home.

And he'd just had sex. Good sex. Perfect sex. Sex with Mark the man he loved sex.

Sex.

After swallowing the pills and using the toilet, Whitney stood in front of the mirror and looked at his reflection. He ran a hand over his hair, then his face, feeling the scratchy bristle against his palm. Then, he straightened, cleared his throat and said, "You just fucked a man. Private Whitney Fordman, former quarterback of the football team, you just had sex with another man. With your boyfriend."

His reflection didn't change except for his cheeks turning pink.

Suddenly feeling stupid, he laughed self consciously. He took off his eyepatch, washed his face carefully, and then rose again.

He knew better than to really believe that he'd changed in some way just because he'd slept with Mark, and maybe there wasn't a difference in the way he looked. But, the truth was, he had changed. He'd grown up in some way, even more than he had when he'd woken up in the hospital, even more than when he'd been lost in enemy territory, even more than when his father had died and when he'd realized he was in love with Clark. It wasn't a huge change, but it was a change and if he couldn't see it he could feel it.

He as relaxed and happy. Content. Fulfilled.

And now.

A huge grin crossed his face. Eye patch, missing fingers, mangled knee, none of it mattered. He had Mark. He had a future. And he was going to live that future. Nothing was going to stop him.

Mark stirred when Whitney slipped back into bed. Rolling onto his side, he murmured, "You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." Whitney ran his fingers lightly over Mark's hair, marveling that this man was lying beside him. Sex was one thing, and it was great. Whitney loved it and couldn't wait to do it again. But this... intimacy. Sleeping together, sharing a bed, showed a trust in another that Whitney had never experienced before. It was heady and dizzying and made him feel really, really grown up.

With a faint groan, Mark stretched and snuggled closer to Whitney. "What time is it?"

"Early. Just past midnight or so." Whitney slid further down and slipped his arm around Mark. Kissing him on the forehead, he whispered, "Go back to sleep."

"How can I sleep when I have the most gorgeous man in the world next to me?" Mark kissed Whitney's chest and before pressing his face against it. His eyes were still closed.

Whitney curled his hand around Mark's neck. "Don't you have work tomorrow?"

Mark whimpered and burrowed further into Whitney's embrace. "Don't wanna." He breathed in deeply. "Can't we stay in bed all day tomorrow?"

"Love to. Can't. I have to go to the doctor. I'm starting physical therapy. Plus, I, um. I want to see my friends." It seemed the safest way to put it.

Mark was silent for a moment before lifting his head. His eyes opened as he rested his chin on Whitney's chest to look at him. "You want to see Clark."

His face warmed.

"It's okay. You can say his name. You can want to see him."

"I know. It's just..."

"He's your first love, I know." Mark ran his fingers up Whitney's chest to his face. Tracing his lips gently, he said, "He's also the reason we're together. And he's my student."

"Which is weird," Whitney pointed out. "I went to school with him. You were a teacher while I went to school, and now we're together and it's weird."

"Does it bother you?"

He frowned, running his fingers through Mark's hair. "No, not exactly. I'm just afraid..." He shook his head. "I don't know. It's just weird."

Mark sighed and lay his head back down. "No, you're right. It is weird. I've thought about it, too. I thought about the legality of it, because we do have a policy, sort of, except, well, it's a small town and there's a limited dating pool. And I was never your teacher. You're younger than I am, but not so young that it's cradle robbing. And you're an adult. If you're old enough to go to war, you should be old enough to decide who you want to date."

"I do love you, you know."

"But a part of you is always going to love Clark."

"Not like I do you. It's different." Whitney squeezed his eyes shut, fingers unconsciously digging into Mark's neck. "Last year, it felt like I was going crazy. Everything in my life was falling apart. I had the perfect girlfriend, and then, suddenly, she wanted to date other people. And I didn't mind because it took even more pressure off me. Lana wasn't ready for sex, and I didn't want to be with someone who wanted to have sex, only I didn't know why. She was perfect in that way. And by the time we broke up, my dad was sick and the last thing I needed was a steady girlfriend. Then things started getting worse and, suddenly, there was Clark and it was like I was seeing him for the first time. At first I didn't get it. I just knew I wanted to spend time around him and, when I did, I... Okay, maybe I kind of got it."

"You just didn't want to recognize what you were feeling."

Whitney shook his head. "I didn't. My life was already complicated. And I wasn't ready."

"Do you really think you are now?"

"I do." He opened his eye again. "I really do."

Mark trailed his fingertips over Whitney's skin. "Clark is important to you and I understand that. I don't begrudge that. Things are unresolved..."

"No," Whitney interrupted. "I don't feel like they are. We pretty much resolved things before I left." He licked his lips. "I just really want to see him tomorrow. Even though I also really want to spend the day in bed with you."

"I was mostly kidding about that," Mark assured him. He raised himself to his elbows and kissed Whitney. "I have work. I should go to work; I've taken enough time off this year." He kissed Whitney again. "I could take you to school to see your friends. Unless you wanted to see Clark alone."

"Can I decide tomorrow morning?"

"Of course." Mark snuggled close to Whitney, resting his head in the crook of Whitney's neck. "I'm not normally a cuddler. Not really. But I can't tear myself away from you."

Whitney felt his face turn red. "I have no idea if I am or not," he admitted. He ran his thumb down Mark's spine. "But I know that I'm at home here."

Mark kissed Whitney's neck. "Get some sleep."

"You too." Whitney kissed the top of Mark's head. He wanted to watch as Mark fell back asleep, but the drugs were kicking in and, all too soon, the world closed around Whitney and carried him into the darkness.


The bed was completely and utterly destroyed. The frame was kindling, torn apart by Clark's strength and the brutality with which he'd fucked Lex. Not that Lex had been exactly passive during the exchanges. He'd done his share of tugging and breaking and ripping and destroying himself. And, together, they'd accomplished quite a lot. Bed broken, sheets torn up, comforter ripped the shreds. Even the mattress was done for with the stuffing pulled out and flung over the room. Clark had finally gone into another room and brought that mattress in, making it up with new sheets and the quilt Martha had made Lex for Christmas last year.

"I have to go," Clark whispered, his breath caressing Lex's sweat-sticky cheek.

Lex stirred, eyes fluttering. "No." Blindly, his hands sought Clark; finding his shirt, he fisted it tightly.

"It's five am. I have to do my chores and get ready for school."

Blue eyes blinked blurrily at him. "You're going?"

Clark nodded. "Yeah, I think so. I mean, I have to face them all sometime. Might as well do it when I'm feeling good after spending the night with my boyfriend."

"Okay." He licked his lips and pulled Clark to him. "Talon after school?"

"Yeah." Clark kissed him gently. "What are you going to do today?"

"Swim. Read. Start looking for a doctor and a school. Sleep." He stretched; immediately, a look of pain tensed his face, making him pale.

"Are you okay?"

"Yes. I'm just sore."

"I'll get you something before I go."

"Clark," Lex protested sleepily, but Clark kissed him gently and said, "It'll be okay, Lex. Taking pain medicine for pain is okay. I mean, physical pain." He kissed Lex again. "I'll be right back."

Damien was still in the hospital so his room was empty. When Clark went into the bathroom, he found the medicine cabinet unlocked. The bottle of pain pills that Lex usually used--strong enough to dull the pain without knocking him out or affecting his mind--had a note on it that read, "Clark, Give Lex two of these if he is sore. Keep the bottle."

Clark smiled and crumpled the note. He liked that Damien trusted him enough to let him be in charge of Lex's medicine. And he was right to; after all, both Clark and Damien only wanted what was best for Lex.

He made his way back through the silent halls. By the time he got back to Lex's room, Lex had drifted off to sleep again. Eyes closed, face flushed and glowing from their night together, he looked beautiful.

Clark knelt by the mattress and gently shook Lex. "Lex. Wake up."

Fuzzy blue eyes opened. "Huh?"

"Here." He gave Lex two pills and poured him a glass of water from the pitcher he had brought in hours ago in an attempt to keep Lex, who had spent most of the night sweating profusely, hydrated.

Lex obediently took the medicine, eyes closing again once he'd swallowed.

"Are you going to be okay?" Clark asked. "Do you need more water? Gatorade? Are you hungry?"

"I'm fine, angel." Lex winced, eyes opening to look fearfully at Clark.

"You can call me angel," Clark assured him. "I was just upset when I told you not. I... I like it as an endearment. When we're fighting and you use it, it feels patronizing." He licked his lips. "I never feel less like an angel than when we're fighting."

"I'll watch myself." He tugged Clark down.

Clark stretched out on Lex, mouth finding the sleepily eager one beneath his. He loved this. Loved waking up with Lex, loved the domestic intimacy of getting ready for the day while the one he loved was still in bed, sleepy and sated. "You gonna be okay today?" he asked when they broke apart.

"Clark," Lex mumbled, clearly falling back to sleep, "I'll be...fine. I'm...goo."

Clark assumed Lex had been going for good. As Lex snored very softly, Clark leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. Then, he rose and took off for home.

The cool morning air whipped over Clark's cheeks, waking and refreshing him. When he was able to wake for them, Clark loved early morning, the world was held suspended between waking and sleeping. There was a strange, almost surreal quality to everything then, as if, as if you spoke too loud, the world would melt away around you.

It was the only time, save for when he was with Lex and at peace, that Clark felt truly himself.

He slowed on the road leading to his house and took the last few moments to enjoy being alone. The rising sun spilled over the world, touching his face almost tangibly. His jacket was clutched in his hand, unneeded, even the pretense of it. If he could, he'd strip and lay out in the field, allowing the crisp, cold air to bathe him.

But, he had to go home. Back to reality, back to feeling like an alien among his loved ones.

He opened the gate to their farm and trudged up the driveway.

His dad was on the porch, drinking a mug of coffee. "Morning, son," he said when Clark stopped in front of the house.

"Um. Hey, Dad." Clark wondered how much trouble he was going to get in. At this point, he didn't even really care. He was already supposedly grounded for a month, but nothing ever stopped him from getting to Lex. It was not even him being disobedient or anything. Something always happened that took him back to Lex's side and no one could argue with him about it.

Jonathan drained his mug and set it on the railing. "Come help me with the cows?"

"Yeah." Clark shrugged on his jacket and fell into step beside his father as they headed for the barn.

"So. How's Lex?"

"Fine. He's actually planning on taking the day easy and relaxing. I mean, he's going to start looking for a school and a doctor, but he said he'd relax. He doesn't usually like to do that."

"No, he doesn't seem like the type," Jonathan agreed. "Even when he's not working, Lex always seems to want to be doing something." He cleared his throat. "What about you?"

"Me?"

"How are you doing?"

Clark shrugged. "Okay." He didn't want to talk about himself.

"Do you think you want to go to school today?" He sounded very careful, like he did not want to push Clark one way or the other.

Clark appreciated that. Going to school was going to be hard. It was not just everyone knowing what Lionel had done or that he was gay or whatever, it was just... hard to think about himself in that mode. To have to sit through classes and ignore what people were saying or what he thought they were saying. And, worse, having to go there without Chloe and Pete. "Yeah," he finally answered. "I'll go. Might as well, right?" He scrubbed his face with the back of his sleeve and looked up. "Am I really grounded? I wanted to meet Lex at the Talon after school."

Jonathan smiled, looking relieved, like he knew Clark was going to be okay. "I'll talk to your mother. Maybe if you stay at school all day, we can work something out. Same for the rest of the week. Go to school every day, and we'll give you afternoons at the Talon. Sound good?"

"Yeah, it does, Dad. Thanks."

"You're welcome, Clark." He clapped his hand on Clark's shoulder. "Now, come on. The cows aren't going to milk themselves."

They did the morning chores together, Jonathan cracking jokes and telling stories the whole time. Clark relaxed into the normalcy of it all, feeling the pain and frustration of the last few weeks wash away. He loved it when his dad was like this, relaxed and joking. It was a lot better than when he was trying to get Clark to talk about stuff, like his problems and everything. Clark got why everyone was always after him to talk but, sometimes, he just wanted to be able to relax. And, apparently, right now, Dad got that.

When they were done with the chores, they headed back to the house. Dad was, as usual, hot and sweaty, hay caught in his cuffs and stuck to his gloves. He had his hand on the nape of Clark's neck as he recounted some story about sneaking out late at night once when he was Clark's age when...

"Whitney!"

Clark broke into a run, hardly able to believe his eyes. Whitney Fordman was sitting on his porch, drinking a cup of coffee, looking like he was there every day.

"Clark, hey." He was barely able to stand before Clark had Whitney out of the seat and in his arms. "Hey," he said softer, stroking Clark's hair.

"You're back. You didn't tell me."

"You were kind of hard to get a hold of." Whitney kissed his cheek.

Clark immediately turned his head and kissed the man in his arms. He wasn't even thinking, just needing to feel Whitney against his skin, taste him, smell him, know he was there. His hands gripped Whitney fiercely, not wanting to let him go.

Whitney groaned and sort of melted into him. His arms came around Clark and he pulled Clark against him. "Careful," he whispered, tearing his mouth away. "You're turning me on." His lips grazed over Clark's ear.

"Sorry." Clark kissed Whitney's lips again, then very slowly kissed every inch of his face. His hands traced up Whitney's back, down his arms to his hands. "I just... I can't believe you're here."

"I am. I'm home." Whitney smiled crookedly and threaded the fingers of his good hand through Clark's. "When I heard everything that was happening here, I knew I had to get home as soon as possible. Smallville General has a fantastic physical therapy program, so I was discharged and sent home."

"Does Mr. Townsend know?"

"Yeah. I came home yesterday and went over to see him." He hesitated, then added, "Mark dropped me off on his way to school. I wanted to see you." He kissed Clark's nose. Then his face went crimson. "Um. Hi, Mr. Kent."

Clark blushed, unable to believe he just made out with Whitney Fordman in front of his dad. It wasn't like Whitney was Lex, and even with Lex, Clark tried to keep the kissing to a minimum. He was just so happy that Whitney was home and alive and without feeling and smelling him, it was hard to really make himself believe it.

"Whitney." Jonathan put his hand on Whitney's shoulder and squeezed. "I'm glad you're back. Are you staying for breakfast?"

"I'd like to, thanks." He let go of Clark's hands. "Um..."

Dad was cool, though. He didn't say anything about them kissing; he just nodded and opened the back door, ushering them inside.

"I, uh. I have to get cleaned up," Clark said, blushing. He'd showered before leaving Lex, so he didn't smell like sex anymore. He didn't know if smelling like cows was any better, though. "I'll be back." He ran out to the loft to get clothes, heart pounding, mind whirling around at a million miles and hour.

Whitney was back. He was home and safe and no longer in danger of getting killed. And, yeah, he was hurt. The extent of Whitney's injuries were just now penetrating Clark's brain. The eye patch, the missing fingers, the bulky knee brace. Whitney was hurt. Scarred.

But none of that mattered. Not to Clark. Whitney was home and alive. Damaged was fine so long as Whitney stayed alive.

He showered as fast as he could without using his superspeed. When motivated, he could move quickly, and he was back downstairs in record time. Whitney was at the table, talking with Mom and Dad like it was the most normal thing in the world.

"The doctor said I'll have limited vision," he was saying. "Right now, it's still too damaged to open without a lot of pain and blurriness, so I actually prefer the patch. I guess I'll get glasses or something to help, but it's never going to be good."

"And what about your knee?" Jonathan asked.

"I should be able to walk on it fine, they said. It's just a matter of physical therapy, the right kind of exercise, and maybe another surgery or two. It could be a lot worse." Whitney looked up at Clark, who was hovering in the doorway, and smiled that kind of secret smile meant just for Clark. "Hey."

Clark blushed. "Hey."

Martha turned as Clark walked in. "Morning, honey. Are you going to school today?"

"Yeah." He sat and grabbed some pancakes off the plate. "Mind if I go to the Talon after school? Lex and I talked about meeting there today."

"Well," she said, "I guess it's all right. Thank you, by the way, for leaving the note saying where you were going to be last night. And could you please stay home tonight?"

He blushed harder and ducked his head. "Yeah, okay."

Whitney shot a glance at him, raising his eyebrow questioningly.

Clark just shook his head, then said, "I don't know if I'll be home for dinner, though. I want to visit Chloe and Pete."

"Aren't they going to be at school?" Whitney asked.

"No. They got infected with some kind of bug thing that lives--lived in those caves and had to get it removed. They're both in the hospital."

"Are they going to be okay?"

"Yeah, they're fine. Oh, but Mom? Dad, can I borrow the truck today? Chloe's not going to be picking me up, and now I have Whitney, so..."

"That's fine, Clark," Jonathan said.

"You don't take the bus anymore?" Whitney leaned forward, looking at Clark.

Clark blushed again. "Well, ever since Chloe got a car, she's been picking me up. And, um, I really don't want to take the bus today. It's going to be hard enough going to school." He sighed. "You know that the tabloids published articles about me and Lex?"

"I heard about it, yeah."

"So, yeah. Everyone knows about me now."

"You getting hassled?" He looked concerned, and reached out to put his hand on Clark's.

Clark swallowed, face heating at his touch. "Um, a little. Nolan Del Real tried to start something last night, but Roger and Doug stepped in."

Whitney raised his eyebrow. "Roger stepped in to stop you from getting hassled?"

"Yeah." He gulped down his milk. "A friend of his committed suicide because he was having a hard time dealing with the fact he was gay. So he's trying to compensate."

"That's so sad," Martha said. "Is he okay?"

"Roger? Yeah, I guess," Clark answered. "I haven't exactly been in the position to, you know. Talk to him." He stirred his eggs around on his plate. "I will today, I guess. Maybe." Then he winced. "Shoot. I was supposed to call Doug, I totally forgot."

"You can talk to him today at school," Jonathan pointed out.

Clark nodded and shoveled some food into his mouth.

"Do you have any plans, Whitney?" Martha asked. "Now that you're back home, I mean. Or is it too much to think about right now?"

Whitney tapped his fingers on the table and tilted his head. "I thought some. When I was in the hospital, I had plenty of time to think. Nothing concrete. I'm taking time off, of course, just to heal. When I can, I'll start working at the store part time. And I'm going to school."

"That's great. Any idea what you'll major in?"

He glanced at Clark, then away quickly, like he hadn't meant to look at Clark at all. His eye's lowered lashes covering the expressive orb, and he answered Martha quietly, "I'm leaning towards social work. Maybe psychology or something. Counseling. I want to help people. Kids and teenagers, I mean. Who've been hurt."

Clark's stomach dropped and he felt queasy. Maybe Whitney was trying to be subtle, but he was failing. "I thought you wanted to be a gym teacher," he said in a quiet voice.

Whitney looked up at him. "That was before."

"I'm sure you still can, even with your injuries."

Whitney took him by the wrist and squeezed gently. "That was before, Clark. And this is what I want to pursue for now."

"I don't want..." Clark started, but he was interrupted by Lana's voice calling, "Good morning. Can I get a hand with the door?"

Whitney was out of his seat almost immediately, crutches beneath his arms as Clark finished, very softly, "To become a cause."

But no one heard him. Dad was up and at the door, opening it for Lana.

"Morning, Lana," he said. "What brings you here so early?"

"Chloe sent me," she replied, looking up at him with a bright smile over the take-out coffee tray she was holding. "She woke me up with a phone call demanding that I pick Clark up and take him to school. Sorry if you were planning on staying home, Clark, but Chloe... Whitney."

Jonathan was just able to save the coffee as Lana dropped the tray, rushing to the table. "Oh, my God! Whitney! You're home."

"Hi, Lana." Whitney caught her awkwardly around the waist with one arm. Once he had her, he sank back down to the chair, eye closed, just holding her.

She kissed him, catching him just on the corner of his mouth before burying her face in his neck and holding tightly.

Whitney had a soft look of affection on his face, and he rubbed her back. "How's my best girl doing?"

Lana sat up, wiping tears away. "I'm fine. Oh, God, why didn't you tell me you were coming home? It is you, right? "

"Yes, it is me," he promised. "Accept no substitutes." He stroked her hair. "I didn't tell anyone. I wanted it to be a surprise. Did it work?"

"I'll say. Oh, wow." She touched the strap of the eyepatch, then stood up, like she was suddenly aware she might be hurting his knee. "How do you feel?"

"I've been better. I took a pain pill about two hours before coming over, so I feel a little bit like I'm floating. Then again, everything seems so unreal, and..."

"Oh my God!" Lana exclaimed suddenly, interrupting him. "Mr. Townsend. Does he know you're back? Did you see him? Was it romantic? Did you..."

"Whoa, whoa. How do you know about him?"

"We let it slip," Clark said guiltily.

"Chloe let it slip," Lana corrected quickly, darting a glance at Clark. "Clark had nothing to do with it."

Whitney's eyebrows lowered and he worried his lower lip. "And you're okay with it?"

She nodded. "I wish you'd told me."

"It wasn't something I was ready to share. And I didn't know how to tell you."

"I know."

"Lana, I'm glad you understand, but..."

"No, Whitney, I don't understand. I know."

He glanced at Clark, then back at her. "You mean..."

"Remember when we were dating, and I said I wanted to date other people? It wasn't other people. I just... I wanted to date Chloe."

"Chloe?" He looked shocked. "But you were fighting with her all spring."

"We had a bad break-up. Long story, but we're back together now."

"Oh, good!" Martha said. "I was hoping you two would work things out. Although, I think the three of us should have another talk."

"Since when are *you * gay?" Jonathan asked, completely befuddled.

Lana turned crimson.

Clark stood. "Can we go? I'm ready now. And we need to take Whitney home before going to school."

"Can't you come with us?" Lana asked. "Just for a little bit? That way, maybe all the attention will turn to you and make things easier for Clark."

"No, it's okay, I..."

Whitney pushed his chair back and stood. "Yeah. Anything to make things easier, right?" He nudged Clark. "Besides, I want to see it again. It wouldn't feel like home without school."

"I guess not," Clark sighed.

"Great!" Lana said brightly. "Lets go."


Mark was whistling as he entered the teacher's lounge Monday morning. Despite it being Monday, and a Monday after one of the worst weekends on record, he was in an excellent mood. He was tired, sore, and completely unprepared for the week, but nothing was going to wipe the smile from his face.

"Good morning, Angie," he said to Angie Potts, the freshman English teacher.

She was sitting at the table, her oversized mug of coffee in front of her, pen frantically scratching over what looked like an essay. "Morning. Don't know if it's good or not. It's Monday."

"Why, yes it is," Mark replied cheerfully. "A beautiful Monday morning. Spring is in the air, the world is full of possibilities, and it's going to be a fantastic day." He poured himself a cup of coffee.

"You're in a good mood. Any particular reason why?"

"Do you need a reason to be happy?" Mark asked, joining her at the table. He leaned against the chair in lieu of sitting down. "You can need a reason to be unhappy, but happy? Happiness just happens."

She smiled and leaned against the table. "You had sex."

"What?"

"You're glowing. You're practically floating, Mark. You had sex."

"I... I..." Oh, good job, Mark, he mentally berated himself. "That's not... relevant to anything. I'm in a good mood."

"Because you had sex. It's a proven fact that the only reason anyone is ever happy on a Monday is because they had sex. Good sex. Bad sex just adds to the whole bad Monday vibe because even bad sex is supposed to be good sex, but if you get a cramp in your leg in the middle of it and he leans on your breast and is all pokey or something horrible and you show up to work sore like you were trampled on by a thousand zebras instead of sore like, well, you're obviously sore, and everyone wants to know why the hell you're limping and wincing and everything, it just makes Monday worse."

Mark gaped at her.

"What?"

"Is that how you get your students to listen to you? By never stopping for breath?"

Angie gave him a smirking smile. "Yes, that's it exactly."

"Not to insult your teaching style or anything."

"Of course not. So, who is he?"

"I don't really..."

"Look, Mark. I grew up in Smallville, but I went to NYU for college. I'm not exactly a small-town girl. You know I've never had a problem with you being gay."

He nodded and said, "Of course, Angie. I appreciate your friendship." He cleared his throat before taking a sip of coffee. "Okay. Yes, I had sex this weekend. And, yes, it was fantastic."

Her face lit up in a huge grin. "That's so great! Are you going to see him again?"

"Yes."

"Is he cute?"

Mark blushed. "He's... he's the most gorgeous man I've ever seen in my life."

Her mouth fell open and Angie looked at him for a long moment.

"What?"

"Is this serious? Because, wow. You sound serious."

Mark carefully slid into the chair. "Yeah, it's pretty serious. We've been writing back and forth forever."

"Did you meat him online?"

"No. No, we've been writing letters to one another. He's been overseas."

Her eyes widened. "Like, military overseas?"

"Marines." Whitney had said that he wanted their relationship to be open; Mark could only hope he hadn't been caught up in the moment when he said it.

"Wow. That's... Does he still have his uniform?" She wiggled her eyes suggestively.

Before Mark could answer, the door swung open and Reynolds walked in. "Morning, you two," he said, sounding harsher than normal.

"Morning, Terrance," Angie said. She shot Mark a look over her coffee; she and Reynolds didn't get along very well, and Mark had spent hours listening to her detail exactly why she didn't. She was always willing to listen to Mark complain, too, but he didn't have nearly as many complaints as she did.

"How are you this morning?" Mark asked.

"Well, I was doing a lot better before I found out that Whitney Fordman is back in town. Not that it's a bad thing, of course," he hastened to add. "Boy's a hero." He sighed. "But we just went through this a month or so ago, and now everything's going to be turned upside-down again. And it's not like I can just ban the boy from coming on campus. Not without making myself look like I don't care about this town. The fiasco with the Kent boy was bad enough."

Angie, who was facing away from Reynolds, rolled her eyes.

"Um, I'm sure that Whitney will do his best not to disrupt things," Mark said. "He's injured, after all, not like the imposter. He probably won't even be here all day."

"I hope you're right. Anyway, right now, it looks like the last day of school out there, all the kids just gathering around the quad, talking and crowding around Whitney. No tardy slips for first period, but keep your rooms open. I'll make an announcement that everyone needs to be in second on time."

"Sounds good," Mark said.

"Oh, and Mark, if you see Clark Kent, will you send him to the office? I need to speak to him."

Mark nodded, a bit of his high dampening. "Yeah, I will."

"Thank you." He nodded, then left the lounge.

"God, I hate that man," Angie said, shaking her head. "When is he going to lay off that poor kid?"

"Who, Clark? Reynolds is just... looking out for what he perceives as a troubled kid."

"That kid wouldn't be nearly as troubled if Reynolds realized Clark is bored academically and stressed by everything that's been happening to him lately. Reynolds acts like depression is some kind of character flaw instead of a natural reaction to being molested."

"He didn't know Clark was molested until recently," Mark pointed out.

Angie shrugged and waved her hand. "First, I went to him months ago because I knew something was wrong. Something had happened to Clark and I thought that he needed more intervention than Mr. Font. Reynolds told me that I was imagining things and that as a young teacher, fresh from school, I was on some kind of crusade to save students and, since most of the students here were well-adjusted, I was making things up."

"He really said that?"

"Well, something to that effect. The point is, I've never reported suspected abuse before, and I went to him for help and he all but laughed at me. And now look. I was right and everything is going to hell." She shook her head and drained her coffee. "This is definitely a five-cup morning." Angie rose and went to the coffee pot. She was mid-pour when she suddenly turned around. "You know, Whitney Fordman was in the Marines."

Mark hesitated, feeling his cheeks burn, before deciding to say, "Yes. He was." Then, before she could dig any deeper, he stood, grinned, and said, "I'll see you later."

"Mark. Mark, you get back here! Mark!"

Whistling again, he left the teacher's lounge to wade through the sea of students. Today was a good day.


Lana really was a genius sometimes. Oh, it didn't happen often, or, at least she didn't show her genius often, but, when she did, everything went perfectly.

Like today. Clark never would have considered asking Whitney to go to school with him. It wasn't that he didn't want Whitney to go with him, it was just that he wouldn't have thought of it. Although, at school, Whitney really wasn't his anymore. Yeah, even now, Whitney was really Mark's, but he and Whitney still shared something that was theirs, no matter who they was with. They were friends. Gay friends. And Whitney was a boy, which was different from being a girl. Which, duh, but while Chloe was Clark's best friend, there were still some things he didn't feel comfortable sharing with her. And it was nice having a gay male friend who was his age, didn't live in Metropolis, and was, well. Whitney.

At school, though, Whitney belonged to everyone. And everyone made sure that Clark knew it, too. Because, maybe, just last week, Clark had been the Town Mission, but now that the hero was had returned, everyone else had an excuse to ignore Clark once again. Not that Clark blamed them or anything, not even when the thought crossed his mind that maybe this was passive homophobia at work. As long as Clark was being victimized, the people in town, and the kids at school in particular, could put aside their feelings about gay people long enough to rally around him. But now that they had something else to focus on, they could ignore the gay person and pretend that none of it had ever happened.

And, of course, Smallville excelled in pretending that something had never happened.

Today, though, Clark didn't care about homophobia, passive or otherwise. Okay, well, that was a lie. He did care about blatant homophobia and he did get some. When he, Whitney, and Lana had been walking up to the quad, Nolan had thrown a carton or orange juice at Clark, narrowly missing him. Whitney had tried to go after him, which was a mistake because the pain medication only did so much and Whitney hadn't gone three steps before his face twisted with pain.

Turns out, though, Clark hadn't needed Whitney to defend him. Theresa and Anna had poured milk down Nolan's head over the railing of the stairs. Then Theresa, after running down to the quad, had winked at Clark while giving Whitney a big hug, and he knew that they were okay again, which was good. He'd enjoyed talking with her during trig before the whole Homecoming/not dating/Lana stuff had happened. Clark had missed his friend.

Everyone was thrilled Whitney was back. Everyone pretended that Clark didn't exist. Clark wondered what would happen once people found out Whitney was gay. He wondered if he'd be blamed. He could just see people turning on him, like he'd expected before. The football team wouldn't be protecting him from being harassed and beating up reporters parked in front of his house; they'd hassle Clark themselves. After all, Clark had turned their hero gay. Whitney was homegrown, Clark was a transplant. And maybe last week, the fact Clark had grown up in Smallville had been enough to make him one of the town's own, but that was last week. Things had a way of changing quickly in Smallville, and Clark knew he had to be prepared.

Whitney was quickly pulled from Clark's side and surrounded by his adoring fans. Lana managed to stay with him, but, then, she was Whitney's girlfriend. Or, rather, ex-girlfriend. No one seemed to remember her kissing Chloe at the Talon yesterday, either. Clark had expected there to be some fallout from that but, maybe, like Clark's sexuality, it was just something no one wanted to think about. It was a lot more romantic to believe the Hero and the Princess were going to get back together than to think the Princess was macking with her lady's maid, or whatever role Chloe was cast in. And that was definitely for the best. Both girls had gone through too much in their relationship so far for them to be harassed. Whitney and Lana could be each other's beards and Clark alone would have to deal with the issue of being gay in Smallville.

First period was canceled, so Clark went to the Torch office to hang out until it was time to go to class. He'd prefer to be with Whitney, but that was out of the question right now. And, normally, he'd go to Mr. Townsend after the weekend he'd had to unburden his soul to his mentor, but Clark just couldn't bring himself to do that. He knew what Mr. Townsend had been doing last night and with whom. It'd be just too weird to go to Mr. Townsend now.

Plus, there was that whole Grant thing. Grant and Mark had slept together, and Clark had tried to seduce Grant while they were both naked in the shower. It was just weird. He really hoped Mr. Townsend never found out, because, honestly, Clark couldn't say why he'd done it. He'd just been so screwed up mentally, and Grant was really hot and Clark had just kissed him.

He sighed and checked his e-mail. Grant had written him once and Chloe had somehow managed to send him fifteen e-mails even though she was still in the hospital. Of course she wanted him to write about the mystery thing that they'd taken out of her and Pete all the while reassuring her reading public that she was fine and would return to work as soon as possible.

The fifteenth e-mail contained the article. She wrote, "You've been through enough this weekend, and I'm really sorry, Clark, but I can't yet trust you to write and publish without me. And you better be at school; the faster you get back to a normal schedule, the faster you'll feel better. Trust me. Love you!"

Clark shook his head wryly and printed the story. He had no idea how she did it, but Chloe always managed to get her story written and sent. She, like Lex, let nothing stop her.

He sighed, thinking about her. She knew he was an alien. And she had known almost as long as Pete. Clark didn't quite know what to do with that information. While on the red meteor rock, he'd told her he'd figured she'd known, but, the truth was, he hadn't. Clark hadn't even suspected. Maybe it was obvious that she knew, but he hadn't wanted to believe that she had. It was too frightening. It wasn't even that he was afraid she'd tell people; Chloe was a reporter and everything, but once she was forced to see the person behind the story, she backed off. Sometimes.

It was simply that one more person knew about it. One more person had a piece of his secret and one more person was making it real. He still didn't want it to be real sometimes.

She didn't remember anything that happened, though. Even her article was all second hand accounts of the effects of the bug, very professional and polished. So she didn't know that Clark knew that she knew. Pete didn't remember, either, so Clark was the only one who knew Chloe knew his secret.

He wondered if he had to tell her. If he was supposed to. There wasn't a rule book for telling your friend that you knew she knew you were an alien, after all. It'd been weird enough confirming he was gay.

His head was starting to hurt.

The door opened. "Ah, Mr. Kent. I thought I might find you in here," Reynolds said. "Hard at work?"

Clark cleared his throat and took Chloe's article from the printer. "Yes, sir. Chloe wanted me to start working on the next Torch."

"Good. Good. Any plans for another literary magazine? The last one was quite a success." He sounded stilted and formal, like he really didn't care what Clark was going to do.

Clark licked his lips, tapping his foot uncomfortably beneath the desk. "I'd like to put out another one. I just haven't had time to get together with my writers. I was actually thinking of taking art contributions, too, to sort of expand the magazine and let more people get involved."

"Good idea," Reynolds said quickly, like he had not even heard what Clark had said. "Look, Mr. Kent, I wanted to briefly talk about you about what happened last week and what it's going to mean for you now that you're back in school."

"Um. What?" Clark was startled by Reynolds's demeanor. Not that he felt the man was a good people-person anyway, but he almost sounded like he was saying Clark was in trouble or something.

Reynolds pulled a chair up to the desk and sat. Looking Clark in the eyes for the first time, he said, "I know that, thus far, the people of Smallville and the majority of our students have been very supportive of you. You might even say they've been protective of their own. However, this is a small town with the common beliefs and prejudices of a small town. I know you were there when Mr. Townsend's sexuality came to light."

"Yeah. He stayed with my family when his dad kicked him out."

"Well, he was concerned that he might lose his job and, frankly, he had a right to be concerned. Now, it's not legal to fire anyone for their home life, but if enough people put enough pressure on the school, they might have gotten Mr. Townsend released from his contract. What I'm saying, Clark, is I'm afraid that you might be subject to the same prejudices and pressures because of your sexuality."

"What if I'm not really gay?" he asked. "I mean, just because a tabloid says something, doesn't make it true."

"Do you actually mean to tell me you aren't?" Reynolds said skeptically.

"Frankly sir," Clark said evenly, wondering where this calmness was coming from, "I don't think that it's any of your business."

Reynolds looked like he wanted to object, but he could not; Clark was right. It was not his business. It was not anyone's business.

"All right, Mr. Kent, you're correct. Your sexuality isn't any of my business. However, no matter what the truth is, people have decided that you are a homosexual. Part of this, I might add, is your close friendship with Lex, whose exploits are well known. People have been speculating about the two of you for months. I tried to warn you about a friendship with Lex, and now you are seeing the results. In fact, had you not been friends with Lex Luthor, you wouldn't have come in contact with his father and... what happened to you never would have happened."

Clark gaped at Reynolds, wondering if he was really hearing what he thought he was. "Are you saying that... that because I'm friends with Lex, it's my fault that Lionel molested me?"

Reynolds looked speechless for a moment before he regained his bearings. "No. No, of course not. I'm sure you did everything you could to prevent Lionel Luthor from taking advantage of you. It's only that, because you pursued an unhealthy relationship with his son, you put yourself in the position that allowed Lionel access to you. That's all I meant."

"Oh," Clark said woodenly, trying not to let his tears fall. Reynolds was repeating all the horrible things that little voice in his head whispered to him, only Reynolds was saying it like it was supposed to make him feel better or something. "I see."

"Clark, are you all right?"

"Yeah, I'm fine."

Reynolds looked at him a long moment, then shrugged. "Anyway, I just want to assure you that I will not tolerate any harassment towards you. Should anyone say or do anything to you, I want you to report it to me or a teacher right away."

"What if a teacher harasses me?"

He narrowed his eyes, like he was offended, but only said, "Then go to Mr. Townsend or come to me. School is supposed to be a safe place, Clark, and I will not tolerate anyone, faculty or student, harassing you."

Clark snorted. "Safe place? You know that Chad Rogers gets harassed every day? He skips gym whenever he can because he's inevitably beaten up. He feels that he can't go to any of the adults on campus because they view him with as much disdain as any of the students."

"Well," Reynolds said, "Chad Rogers does seem to make a statement about himself with his manner of dress. Certain repercussions are expected. We can't stop anything."

"You just said school is supposed to be a safe place. Am I a special case because I've got Child Protective Services on my back, or are you actually telling me that Chad deserves what he gets because he likes to wear make-up? I wear nail polish sometimes. Does that mean I'm setting myself up?"

"You're certainly not making things easier for yourself."

"But I have every right to wear it," Clark snapped. "Chad has every right to wear make-up and be safe at school. And it's your job to make sure he is safe."

"Mr. Kent..."

The bell rang, signaling the end of first period.

Clark pushed his chair back from the desk and stood. "I need to get to class, sir. Thank you for trying to protect me from harassment, but since you're an advocate for the power of the press, don't be surprised if I write an editorial about the double standards of the current administration. Good-bye."

Heart pounding, Clark left the room, hoping that what he had said penetrated Reynolds' thick skull.


Daytime television was some of the trashiest stuff Lex had ever seen, and he owned one of the biggest porn collections in Kansas. He had gay porn, straight porn, threesomes, orgies, bondage, transsexuals, transvestites, boys who dressed like girls while girls fucked them with huge strap-ons, girls dressed like cheerleaders sucking other girl's strap-ons, men screwing men in every position possible, and none of it could hold a candle to the utter filth shown every day on network television.

"Lex, what on earth are you watching now?" Mabel laughed as she entered the entertainment room.

Without moving his eyes from the TV, Lex pitched his voice to her. "The, uh, New Beginnings or Starting Again. Something like that. All these women have these major problems in their lives, so they exploit themselves to get on TV and hash it all out in front of millions of viewers. Fascinating, really." He bunched up the pillow under his chin more and wiggled on the couch to get more comfortable. "I've gone through three talk shows and one court television show to get to this. Seriously, exploitative daytime TV is where the money is. I should just skip college and go into that."

Mabel snorted. "Like you need money."

"I will once Dad finds out that I'm leaving LuthorCorp for good. I'll have to look for room, board, clothing, someone to feed me, and a cage to hold Dominic hostage in so Damien won't leave. Oh, and, you know, food for him. Jesus, all they ever do here is cry," he said as yet another housemate broke down. "The Kleenex corporation must have put this show together."

"Do you really think Lionel will cut you off?" Mabel asked. The couch dipped near Lex's legs because, God knew, in a room with no less than ten places to sit, two directly adjacent to Lex's position, the only place for Mabel to sit was almost right on top of him.

Lex made a face; he did not want to talk about serious things right now. For the first time in forever, he was enjoying having nothing to do except laze around. And, more than that, he was enjoying doing nothing while having neither drugs in his system nor Clark pressed against his body.

In fact, having Clark not pressed against him was probably a good thing. Although the combination of pills, super-healing sperm, and a long bath had kept Lex from getting too sore, there was still enough of the residual ache underneath his skin and inside his bottom to let him know that sex today was not the best idea. Not even a blow job or a nice round of frottage; one orgasm would clench all his muscles and who knew if the post-coital bliss would be enough to unknot them again.

The point was, though, today was all about frivolity and relaxation. He never did this. He'd never been taught how to do this and he didn't want to spend his day of trashy TV and vitamin-insufficient, calorie-filled food to be interrupted by unpleasant talk.

"He'll probably cut me off, yes," he answered as distantly as he could manage. He grabbed a homemade French fry from the tray Mabel had brought in an hour or so ago.

"Why?"

"Because it usually works. I go against what he wants for me, he cuts me off financially, I try to hold out for awhile and usually get myself into a hell of a lot of trouble, and Dad swoops in to rescue me. If that doesn't work, then he goes after my friends." He shook his head and grabbed another fry, idly wondering exactly how many calories there were in one. It was a day off, sure, but he did not want the consequence to be love-handles he had a hard time getting rid of.

Maybe he should stop eating. He set the fry down.

"Oh, for God's sake, Lex, you weigh as much as a feather. Just eat the darn thing," Mabel said in exasperation.

Lex looked at her. "What do you mean?"

"I mean would you please take more than five bites of everything I've brought for you? You barely ate half your breakfast, and now you're nibbling your lunch. Just because you're eating junk food doesn't mean you should eat any less of it."

He thought about saying something, but it was just easier to eat the fry. "Anyway, even if he does cut me off this time, I'm not going back to work for LuthorCorp. If I ever decide to go into business, it's going to be because I want to."

"Good. I'm glad to hear you say that. That man is no good to you and you run yourself too hard trying to do everything."

"And, again, I do worse when I'm in school." He shook his head. "But at least then, I'm happy."

"And that's what matters."

She put her hand on his leg, causing him to flinch so violently, he almost fell off the couch.

"Lex!" she exclaimed.

His face warmed as he pushed himself back up. "I'm fine," he said, sitting up and pulling his legs underneath him. His back was aching from the awkward position he'd fallen.

"You haven't done that in awhile," Mabel said, gazing at him.

Lex shrugged and rose from the couch. "It's nothing."

"Isn't it?"

"Look, this is my day off, my day to relax and not worry about anything. I don't want to have to worry about this, all right?"

"All right. But..."

The door opened and Anne walked in, interrupting Mabel and disrupting the tension somewhat. But not much.

"Hi," Anne said, smiling at the two of them. "Damien's home. He's resting, but said he wants to see you."

Lex stood and smiled. "Ah, summoned, I see. How quickly the master becomes the servant."

"Don't ever try cooking for me, Lex," Mabel said dryly. "I heard what happened the time you tried to bake brownies. And you hardly seem able to microwave."

He rolled his eyes at her and left for Damien's room.

As usual, he entered through Damien's office. Generally, it was obsessively neat; even when Damien was in the middle of work and in the room, it looked empty. He made everything look so damn easy, Lex mused as he ran his fingers over the desk. Well, generally, Damien made everything look easy; it was nice to know that when he was being poisoned, he was just as susceptible to entropy. There were papers strewn across the desk, Damien's shoes were on the floor, there was a tie on the couch, and a few cabinets and drawers were askew.

Lex closed everything after assuring himself that nothing valuable had been taken. Then he went through Damien's living room and knocked on the door of his bedroom. "Damien? Dom?"

"Come in, Lex."

Damien was lying on top of his bed, propped up on pillows. He was dressed in his pajamas and looked tired. Other than that, it was almost impossible to tell that just a day ago he'd been in an unexplained coma.

"You look good," Lex said. He stood at the foot of the bed, allowing his legs to rest against it.

"Thank you. I feel much better."

"I'm glad." He rubbed the back of his neck, eyes looking everywhere but Damien's face. "Damien, I'm..."

"If you say sorry, I'll be forced to throw a pillow at you," Damien said with a crooked smile. "This was not your fault. I already have to deal with Dominic; I want no more unfounded self-recrimination in this room."

Lex mock saluted him. "Yes, sir." He moved, crossing the room so he could pull a chair closer to the bed. "Anne said you wanted to see me?"

"Yes, I did. And not simply to make sure that you haven't changed your mind and decided to return to your father's business."

"No." He flopped into the chair, bottom immediately protesting the hard landing even in the soft chair. "I am as determined as ever to break away from my father's oppressive grasp. In fact, I've been nothing but slothful all day today, simply lolling around allowing my mind to be rotted away by daytime television."

"Oh, dear God," Damien moaned. He buried his face in his hands. "Please, please, I beg of you, do not watch again tomorrow."

"Why not?"

Damien dropped his hands. "Because I know you, sir."

"What, you think I'm going to become addicted or something? Or do something really stupid, like..."

"Decide to try and create your own daytime television program? Yes, I do," Damien said succinctly. "And I have another project for you already to keep you occupied."

Lex frowned, a little stung. "I'm not a child. I don't need to be kept busy, you know."

"Of course not. But, out of curiosity, what idea for a show have you come up with?"

He crossed his arms over his chest. "Nothing."

"Please, don't insult my intelligence."

"Well, right now it all revolves around Lana, actually," Lex said, smile tugging at the corners of his lips. "Well, not her, specifically. Teenagers like her, Clark, and Chad. Basically, it's about teenagers who had life-altering tragic events happen to them. We'll follow them around with a camera, give them life-coaches or psychologists, and, you know. Help them get better while exploiting them within every inch of their lives. What do you think?"

"I think it may already be too late," Damien said with a sigh.

The door to the bathroom opened. "Darling? I don't want to accuse him of anything, but..." Dominic stopped just outside the bathroom. He was dressed in soft blue trousers and a white undershirt, and leaning on a cane. His face was pale and drawn, faint bruises alone one side of his face. "Lex. I didn't know you were here."

"It's my house, actually. My car was in the garage. Did you miss it?"

"Unlike you, I don't soak up every detail as if through osmosis and I didn't have time to count to make sure they were all there," he replied dryly.

"What is it, Dominic?" Damien asked before Lex could issue a rejoinder.

Dominic looked Damien, shot an uncertain look at Lex, and looked back to his lover. "Ah, it's... I'm sure I'm simply being overcautious, but..."

"Dominic?"

He sighed. "There's a bottle of pills missing from the shelf where you keep Lex's medications."

"I didn't take anything," Lex protested, rising. His heart pounded because he was innocent and after the past few days, he really did not want anyone to think he'd been doing drugs again.

Especially the Kents.

He really did not want to be grounded again.

"Are you sure, Dominic?" Damien asked calmly. "Thing may have been moved around when Anne was in there the other day."

"It's not moved, it's gone. I checked it against the list you keep taped to the inside of the mirror."

"I didn't take anything," Lex insisted angrily. "I haven't even been in here. It wasn't me."

"Did Clark come over last night?" Damien was acting like they were all having a simple conversation. He did not sound concerned at all.

Lex nodded, glaring at Dominic. "Yeah."

"Did he stay?"

"Yes. And, yes, I was sore this morning." He tightened his jaw, realizing that, yes, he had taken pills. "He gave me two pills before he left."

"So you did take something," Dominic pointed out.

"Just two!" Lex snapped.

Damien, still calm and serene, said, "Clark has the bottle, then. There wasn't one in there with a note, was there, Dominic?"

"No, there wasn't. Should there be?"

"No. I left a note on the bottle of pain medication that I allow Lex to take when he truly has need. I'm tired of waking up when Clark attempts to sneak in here. I trust the boy, and I know he's as concerned about Lex's drug use as I. I decided he could keep the bottle and administer to Lex when needed."

"I see." Dominic turned to Lex. "I'm sorry."

Lex wanted to say something haughty to let his wounded pride show, but, truth was, Dominic was right; he was hardly trustworthy. Instead, he sat back down and crossed his arms tightly over his chest and said, "You said something about a project, Damien?"

"Dom?"

Dominic, looking hurt that Lex hadn't acknowledged his apology, slowly limped across the room to his briefcase.

Damn. It wasn't like Dominic did not have a point. He did not deserve to be treated badly. "Dominic, why don't you sit?" Lex offered, standing and gesturing to his chair. "I wasn't hit by a car."

"No, you were hit by a teenage boy."

Damien snorted.

"I'm fine, Lex." Dominic picked up the suitcase and carried it back to the bed. "As you know, Damien has bought the farmhouse outside of town. After everything Lionel has done to all of us, he wants you to move there."

"Uh-huh."

"We'd rather not be anywhere near you and Clark while the two of you are together. Or, at least, when you're being intimate. And farmhouses have notoriously thin walls," Dominic continued. He opened the briefcase. "I remembered that when you were younger you became obsessed with architecture."

His ears warmed. "I wasn't obsessed."

"You were the only lover I've ever had who had the Notre Dame Cathedral built in Legos, toothpicks, popsicle sticks, and drawn floor plans both by hand and on some pathetic computer paint program. And that was just one building you'd done." He put his hand on Lex's shoulder. "You must understand, Lex, that normal people don't build entire cities in their bedrooms and take to sleeping in the parlor so they don't accidentally roll over and crush their work."

"So I've heard," Lex said, taking a paper from the briefcase. "So, what? You want me to redesign the farmhouse?"

"Nothing too drastic," Damien replied. "But you might find a way to give us all the privacy we're accustomed to. And there is a lot of land, so if you want to build an addition or so, you can."

Lex studied the compressed floor plan, mind already abuzz with possibilities. "You know," he said after a moment. "I've always wanted to try out some of that architectural software."

Next to him, Dominic sighed, but Lex barely noticed. He had a new puzzle to play with.


"Hey, I thought I might find you in here," Whitney said, sticking his head into the Torch office. "Don't you have class or something?"

Clark was sitting behind a computer, furiously pounding on the keyboard. His face was a thundercloud, which was definitely not how Whitney had left him. There was pain back in those pretty eyes and lines etched across his face; Whitney wanted to take those lines away. After last night, the thought wasn't exactly appropriate, but the truth was, Whitney wanted to take Clark into his arms and kiss him until everything else didn't matter.

"Hey," Clark said, not bothering to look up.

Whitney sighed and entered the room. He was exhausted and in pain. He'd only been out of bed for a few days, and he was definitely overextending himself. The longer he stayed up, the harder it was to walk around on the crutches and, really, he'd only been looking for Clark to say good-bye before Whitney went home. But he couldn't leave, now; not if Clark was upset.

"Clark, what's wrong?"

"Nothing."

Whitney hit a chair over to the desk so he was next to Clark and sat down. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

Whitney pulled the keyboard away. "Clark. Look at me."

Clark sighed in frustration, hands falling to his lap. He turned his head to Whitney, but couldn't meet his eyes.

"Something happened." Whitney took Clark's hand and squeezed. "What?"

"Nothing." Clark sniffed. "Nothing. God, I'm so stupid." He pulled his hand away and pressed both of the heels of his hands into his eyes.

"You can't possibly be thinking of the same person as the man sitting in front of me," Whitney said. He brushed some hair off Clark's forehead. "Because that guy is one of the smartest people I know."

"Yeah, right." Clark dropped his hands; his eyes were a little bright. "Reynolds just really got to me this morning. I've been writing all morning. Mr. Reid sent me out of second period because I wasn't paying attention at all, but there's, like this untouchable wall around me or something. As long as I'm not fighting or anything, they don't send me to the office unless the counselor is here or give me detention or anything. Because I'm the rape boy, and..."

"Hey," Whitney said, stopping him. "Don't think of yourself like that."

"Why not? They all do. I mean, Reynolds basically told me it was all my fault, and..."

"And the uninformed opinion of one asshole outweighs everyone else?"

Clark snorted. "No. No, I mean..." He wiped his eyes. "He doesn't want me to be friends with Lex. And he said that... that if I wasn't friends with Lex, this wouldn't have happened. And, you know, technically, he's right. I mean, being with Lex put me in Lionel's path. Put my family in Lionel's path. But I can't blame Lex because he's as much a victim as I am in all of this. I just... don't know how to explain that to Reynolds. I shouldn't have to."

"No, you shouldn't." Whitney rested his hands on Clark's knees and squeezed gently. "You shouldn't. He was completely out of line. It's none of his business who you're friends with, not if your folks are fine with it. He does know that your parents are friends with Lex, right?"

"I think. Maybe. I don't know, I don't care."

"But you're upset, so you do care."

"You know I hate talking about this. Having him talk about it makes an already... dirty thing even more sullied." He shook his head. "He told me that he's sure I did everything I could to stop Lionel."

Shit. Whitney was going to kill Reynolds. The man was an rat bastard. "Clark, listen to me." He took Clark's hands again and squeezed them until Clark looked at him. "Reynolds is an idiot. He's... uneducated and what he said was.... It was wrong."

"No. I mean, everyone can look at me and see how... you know. I'm strong. And Lionel is a stick figure, right? Like Mr. Burns from Simpsons. Either I wasn't fighting very hard, or I wanted it from him."

"Do you really believe that?"

Clark closed his eyes. "I don't know what to believe."

He threaded his fingers through Clark's hair. "None of it was your fault, Clark. None of it. Not your relationship with Lex, not whether or not you fought Lionel off or just let him touch you. You were the victim, Clark. Everything that happened in that room was Lionel's fault. His fault. Not yours. Not Lex's. Clark? Look at me."

Clark opened his eyes. His chin was trembling slightly.

"It wasn't your fault."

"I'm not stupid."

"I know." Whitney smiled and shrugged one shoulder. "And it wasn't your fault."

Clark exhaled shakily. "I just want this all to go away."

"I know you do. I know. But it wasn't your fault, Clark. It wasn't."

His face crumpled. "I'm sorry. I didn't want this to be all about me. You just came back from war and I..."

"You've been fighting a war every day of your life since this happened." Whitney caressed the side of Clark's face. "I'm fine with it being all about you. I love you."

He swallowed. "Whitney..."

"Look. I'm in love with Mark. But you're the first guy I ever... ever allowed myself to want, okay? And a part of me is always going to love you. Not in the same way I did before Mark, but it's there. Just like I'm always going to love Lana, only, you know. With more interest in your body."

Clark laughed and leaned forward. "I love you, too," he said, kissing Whitney.

The bell rang.

Clark sighed and sagged against Whitney. "I don't want to be here anymore."

"Then come home with me. I'm going to call my mom and have her pick me up. If you want, you can drive me."

"No. If I leave, Chloe will kill me. She really wants me to try and show everyone that I'm not scared of what they think of me or something. I don't know." He pulled back and grabbed his notebook from the desk. "Can you give this to Mr. Townsend before you go? I don't have him for another period, and I kinda want him to read it."

Christ, Whitney was sleeping with Clark's teacher.

He took the notebook. "Sure." He kissed the tip of Clark's nose. "You going to be okay?"

Clark blushed and nodded. "I'll be fine. And get some rest. You look really tired."

"I will," Whitney promised. Tucking the notebook under his armpit, Whitney rose and hobbled back to the door. "And just remember: Reynolds is an ass, okay?"

"I'll remember," Clark promised.

Whitney grinned at him and left.

It took forever to get to Mark's classroom. Everyone wanted to stop and talk to him. The cheerleaders kept flirting with him, hinting they were willing to give the hometown hero a free ride, and the jocks kept jockeying for the position of his best bud. Although, honestly, it almost seemed like Doug was hitting on him, too, which was, interesting, but not so interesting that Whitney was willing to pursue it. He already had a boyfriend.

Finally, though, after everyone went to their next class, Whitney made it to Mark's class.

"...Chapters four and five, and answer the questions on the board... Whitney," Mark said. He was holding a piece of chalk in one hand and an open novel in the other.

Everyone turned to look at him.

Even so, Whitney couldn't keep the stupid smile from spreading over his face, remembering that just a few hours ago, he'd had this man next to him in bed. That last night, he'd been buried inside of him, holding onto Mark's soft, sweaty skin as Mark rocked against him, making soft, hot noises.

"Sorry to interrupt," Whitney said.

"No, it's fine. Um, anyway. Answer the questions on the board," he said again, turning his eyes back to the class. "Complete sentences, please. And remember, we're having a test on chapters one through five on Wednesday, so don't rush through. Really work on your response journals, as well; some of the entries for chapter two were rather weak. Any questions?"

Everyone was still glancing back at Whitney.

"People! Please, get to work." He set the chalk down and, brushing his hands off, went to the back of the room to Whitney. "You look tired," was the first thing he said.

Whitney lightly touched Mark's hip. "I am. I'm going home. I just... Clark wanted me to give you this." He handed the notebook to Mark. "He had a run in with Reynolds. Reynolds said some things he shouldn't, and Clark was really upset."

Mark sighed, eyes skimming the paper. "Well, at least Clark's being proactive about it," he said. "This looks like an editorial. Did you read it?"

"No. Didn't have time."

He read the paper again and shook his head. "This is ridiculous. Poor Clark. I'm going to call Dr. Carvey. She needs to talk to Reynolds. He really overstepped."

"That's what I thought." He sighed and squeezed the bridge of his nose.

"Go home, Whitney. And don't worry about Clark. Just rest."

Whitney nodded and rubbed his eyes. "I will." He lowered his voice and leaned in. "Do you want to come over for dinner tonight?"

Mark frowned. "You sure? Your mom isn't planning anything with your family?"

"Come on, Mark," Whitney chided gently.

His cheeks turned pink. "Oh. Um, yeah. Okay."

Whitney leaned and put his lips next to Mark's ear. "Mind if I kiss you good-bye?" he whispered.

Mark turned his head. "It's completely unprofessional."

"Yeah. I know. That's why I asked."

Mark kissed him gently. "I'll see you tonight."

"Dinner's at seven. Come early," Whitney said. Then, grinning, he left, ears filled with the buzzing of whispers from the room.

Coming out wasn't so hard after all.


"Um, Mr. Townsend?" Lana said softly, brushing her fingers on his desk. "I was wondering if maybe I could leave class a few minutes early?"

Mr. Townsend looked up from the papers he was grading. He looked paler than usual, and his eyes had dark circles under them. Like he hadn't gotten much sleep last night.

She blushed, sudden unwanted thoughts about why he hadn't slept flashing through her head.

"Is there any particular reason why you need to leave early?" he said. Then, like he suddenly realized who she was, he started to blush too.

Lana licked her lips. "Um, it's just that, um, everyone keeps coming to me for information about Whitney and I kind of want to call Chloe to make sure she's all right."

"Yeah, I'm kind of in the same boat. Teacher's lounge isn't as close as I'd like. I'd really rather not have to deal with the consequences of... well. You know."

Her blush deepened. "Yeah. It's kind of gotten around." And inspired a new sketch. Obviously, Lana was perverted because the idea of Whitney and Mr. Townsend kissing made her feel hot and tingly. But she couldn't get it out of her mind, so she'd been using the study time Mr. Townsend had given them to sketch them. "Anyway, just a couple minutes would be good. If it's okay."

Mr. Townsend glanced up at the clock, then back at Lana. "There's five minutes before class ends. You know what you have for homework?"

She nodded.

"Okay, then. You're dismissed."

She grinned. "Thank you." Quickly, she went back to her desk, gathered her things, and left the room.

If Clark had still been there, she never would have left. She'd felt bad enough leaving him that morning when she and Whitney had been dragged away by the crowd. Chloe had wanted Lana to stay with Clark, to protect him from whatever people did or said to him. Lana suspected, though, that Chloe was also hoping that Clark would be protective of Lana, just in case. Chloe and Lana had, after all, made out in the Talon. People noticed and people would say things.

Well. Under normal circumstances they'd say things. Today wasn't normal, though, since Whitney was back. Again. And everyone wanted to talk to Whitney and let him know how much they'd missed him.

Again.

So, Lana had gone off with Whitney and Clark had buried himself in the Torch office. When he and Lana had met up again fourth period, Clark had been grim and silent, jaw set and eyes filled with rage.

Mr. Townsend had called Clark up to the desk right away. They'd spoken quietly, then Clark had gone back to his desk and pulled out his textbook, grinding his teeth, eyes red.

Lana hadn't been surprised when Dr. Carvey had come in about halfway through class and taken Clark away.

She made it to the Torch just before the bell rang. Closing the door, she sat on the couch and pulled out her cell phone.

"Hello?" Chloe answered on the first ring, sounding disgustingly perky and definitely not relaxed a bit.

"Hey. How are you feeling?"

"Lana! I'm good. I'm home now."

"I figured. What did the doctor say?"

"To take it easy today, maybe tomorrow, and I'll be fine. Dad said he'll lock me in my room if I try to go to school. Is Clark publishing my article?"

Lana rolled her eyes. "I don't know. He's having problems."

Chloe sighed. "What happened?"

"You know, I'm not sure. He's with Dr. Carvey right now, but I don't know if it's just the whole being outted thing, or the Lionel thing, or something else. We didn't get a chance to talk."

"I told you not to leave his side today."

"I had to. Whitney's back. I was with him most of the morning."

There was silence over the line.

"Chloe?" Lana said worriedly.

"Um, Whitney's back," Chloe repeated. "That's great. How is he?"

Lana tucked he hair behind her ears. "He's good. I mean, you know. Injured. And he looked kind of tired, especially the longer the day went on. He's on crutches and stuff, and still wearing an eyepatch."

"Oh, an eyepatch. Kinky." She sounded stilted. "I bet he looks dashing, huh?"

"Exotic, at any rate. Okay," Lana admitted, feeling herself blush. "It is kind of sexy, actually."

"Uh huh?" Definitely stilted and uncomfortable. "And, um, how are the two of you?"

"Both happy with our current partners," Lana assured her. "Mr. Townsend and Whitney kissed in class. Not my class, but I guess during second or third, Whitney went to say bye to Mr. Townsend before he left, and they kissed. It's all over school."

"Ah, the gossip line is alive and well, huh?" Chloe said, sounding a lot better. "I admire Whitney for jumping not only into his newfound sexuality with both feet, but his leaping into the already mired swamp of Smallville High gossip ring, especially one already filled with people primed to jump and attack, is questionable."

Lana frowned, trying to untangle Chloe's words. "Huh?"

"I admire that Whitney is able to accept himself with minimal angst. It's just that, it was hard for Mr. Townsend to come out, and he got flack for it. What if this backfires on them and people start blaming Mr. Townsend for making Whitney gay?"

"Don't you think it's more likely that they'll blame Clark?"

Chloe sighed heavily. "Yeah. Yeah, I thought of that, too. And, since Lex is too rich to go after, it'll sort of stop with Clark."

Pensive, Lana tugged at her hair. "Maybe it won't be so bad," she said, not really believing what she said. "People like Clark. He's so nice and talented and shy and stuff. He's the weird kid, but he's not so weird anymore. Girls notice him, and he can kinda flirt and he's just... everyone likes him. Plus, now everyone knows what Lionel did to him. Maybe there won't be blame or anger. Maybe people won't care that Whitney's gay."

"Maybe." But she didn't sound convinced. "So. Does Lex know Whitney is back?"

"I don't... think so," Lana said hesitantly. "Clark made it sound like he only just found out Whitney came back that morning, just before I got there. And I'm just not sure if he called Lex from school because," she sighed, "something happened to him between classes and he spent all this time in the Torch office writing and then during English, Dr. Carvey came in and pulled him out of class."

"I thought she didn't come in on Monday's."

"I don't know. I'm thinking that, after last week, the administration thinks that if they don't pay extra special attention to Clark, the world will frown upon them. But, anyway, Clark practically dragged her out of the room, like he wanted to talk to her. So that's something."

"Something, yeah." Chloe cleared her throat. "So. You want me to go tell Lex?"

"Would you?" Lana asked gratefully. "I mean, he likes you and he never calls you names."

"Yes, he does, but I know what you mean."

"You'll say all the right things, Chloe. I'll just mess it up."

"Yeah, but my Lex-handling skills aren't all that great. He responds better to you, he really does. I'm much better at dealing with Clark than Lex, really."

Lana pouted. "But I don't like dealing with Lex," she whined. "He's such a jerk when he gets upset. Besides, Whitney is my ex-boyfriend. Do you really want to subject me to the horrible things Lex is going to say to me because I happened to date the man who's in love with his boyfriend? What kind of girlfriend are you?"

Chloe groaned. "Fine. Fine. To keep my girlfriend happy, I'll tell him. But you owe me big-time, girl."

"Maybe you'll get boobies out it," Lana teased.

"Boobies?"

"Naked ones. Naked ones you can touch and lick and, um... and, um, suck on." Hot, Lana squirmed on the couch, images of Chloe's mouth on her breasts, sucking on her nipples, filled her head.

"Lana," Chloe said, her voice hoarse, "you know you don't have..."

"I want you," she whispered, cutting Chloe off. "I want to... do stuff with you. I think about you, Chloe, I do. I think I want to have sex with you."

"Wow. Wow, I thought... We need to talk about this. More, I mean. Because Lex made Clark tell him everything that he wanted Lex to do to him beforehand so there weren't any misunderstandings, and I want that. I don't want there to be any misunderstandings between us. So we need to talk. Before the boobies."

Lana nodded even though Chloe couldn't see her. "Yeah. Okay. Do you want to go out on Friday? On a date? A real one with make-up and a restaurant and all that sort of thing? Or maybe we could go on Saturday, go to a museum in Metropolis and then a fancy dinner and everything. We could talk."

"Yeah. Yeah, I'd love to do that. Sounds perfect." She was smiling; Lana could hear it in her voice. "Okay, well, I'm going to eat lunch and shower and then head off to see Lex. I'll see you after school, okay?"

"I'm working."

"I'll come to the Talon. I love you."

Lana smiled and wrapped her hair around her finger. "I love you, too, Chloe."


"And then he said that he was sure that I'd done everything I could to stop Lionel from touching me, which made me feel like I crap because what if I didn't and what if what I did try to do to keep him off me, Reynolds doesn't think was enough, and I already feel awful about the whole thing and now he's adding to that and it's not fair. So then he's all it's my fault because I'm good friends with Lex, and Reynolds doesn't like Lex, but he backtracked and was, like, oh, it's not really your fault, but if I hadn't been friends with Lex, then it wouldn't have happened and that's like blaming me, right?" Clark demanded.

"I see how you could take it that way, yes," Dr. Carvey said.

"Right. So then he tells me that if anyone harasses me then I should go and tell him, because he won't tolerate it. Never mind that he's practically standing there saying things that I keep thinking. And things people who hate me would say. The only thing he's not saying is that Lionel or Lex turned me gay, or if I hadn't been gay, Lionel wouldn't have thought to touch me. Not that I'm admitting I'm gay or anything. It's none of your business."

She nodded and said, "You're right, it is none of my business. However, whatever your sexuality, I want you to know that you can tell me and it will be kept confidential. I'm also not going to judge you or blame anything on you."

He hesitated. "Okay. But I don't want to talk about that."

"Then we don't have to."

"Okay." He swallowed, feeling a little out of breath. "Okay, so he's all tell me if you're being harassed because he doesn't tolerate that at our school, only I know for a fact that a good friend of mine is constantly harassed and hassled, but he's afraid to go to Reynolds because Reynolds doesn't like him. So I bring my friend up and, get this, Reynolds said that, yeah, it is Chad's fault that people are giving him a hard time because of the way he dresses."

"How does he dress?"

"He's a Goth. He wears make-up and black clothes and nail polish and stuff. He's not gay; he just got broke up with my friend, Chloe. Chad just likes dressing like that and people, especially guys, give him a really hard time."

"How hard?"

"They beat him up and stuff. Especially in the locker room. And Chad doesn't know how to deal with that kind of stuff, so he... he cuts himself."

"Have you said anything to him?"

Clark nodded. "I did. I've tried. He tells me that he doesn't have a problem, and it's the only way he can feel better and deal with things. And I don't know what to do about it, and I'm a horrible friend because I should have done more. I should have told someone or been there for him or something, but I don't... I'm selfish and stuff. I was worried more about myself and my boyfriend than I've been about Chad, and I'm really afraid he's going to hurt himself badly one day. He just broke up with Chloe, too, and I'm afraid...."

"I'll talk to him, Clark," Dr. Carvey interrupted. "We will get him help, and see if we can teach him new ways to deal with his pain. What I want for you to do is to let go of your worry about Chad. Or, more possible, let go of the sense of responsibility you feel for him hurting himself. It's not your fault that he's chosen to deal with his pain in this manner, and you shouldn't feel guilty for not being able to stop him from doing it. You're a good friend for being there to listen to him and for wanting to help. You're an even better friend for realizing that you need help from someone older and more experienced with this sort of thing than you. You've handled this all very well, Clark. You should be proud of yourself."

Guilty and miserable, Clark looked down at his hands. "I've known for a while that he does this. I should have said something sooner."

"You could have not said anything at all," Dr. Carvey responded. "Or you could have reacted in such a way that made Chad feel worse about himself. You could have been accusatory or disgusted and made him want to cut himself more. It sounds to me like you handled the situation with tact and tried to let him know he had a friend to go to if he needed one. You did the right thing, Clark. Don't beat yourself up over it."

"All right," he said, but he still felt horrible.

"Let's talk about Principal Reynolds now," she said. "What he said to you was wrong, Clark. I know that intellectually you realize this, but I want you to believe it."

"Then why did he say it?" Clark asked, unable to look at her.

"Unfortunately, our culture seems to often place the blame for this sort of thing on the victim rather than the assailant. And I'm not even talking about the people who actually say it was the person who was assaulted's fault in explicit terms and mean it. I have no doubt that Principal Reynolds meant to make you feel better with what he was saying. But, as you know, whatever his intentions, his words said that you had the duty to fight Lionel off. And, what it appears that you heard, is that you didn't really fight hard enough."

Clark swallowed hard, twisting his shirt in his hand. "What if I didn't?"

"It doesn't matter what you did or didn't do, Clark. It wasn't your fault."

"But maybe if I wasn't with Lex... I mean, if I wasn't friends with Lex, then maybe it wouldn't have happened."

Dr. Carvey nodded as he tapped her pen against the pad of paper in her lap. "Yes, if you hadn't been friends with Lex Luthor, perhaps it wouldn't have happened. But you have the right to be friends with whomever you want and not have to worry about their fathers molesting you. And Lex Luthor has the right to be friends with whomever he wishes and not worry about his father molesting them. Blaming you or Lex takes the focus off where the blame truly lies: Lionel Luthor. Lionel Luthor is the one who hurt you. He's the one who should be blamed. Not you, not Lex."

"But..." But Clark didn't have anything to say in response. She was right. "How do I convince Principal Reynolds of that?"

"You don't need to. I'm going to have a talk with him about what he said. It was inappropriate and I apologize that you had to listen to that. It must have been hard."

Clark squirmed. "I was angry."

"You have every right to be. You should be, and I'm glad you're angry. I'm also glad you wrote this." She touched Clark's editorial, which was lying on the table next to her. "Are you going to publish it?"

"I want to," Clark said, shrugging. "Don't know if I will."

"It's up to you, of course. But you make some good points about the apathy of the teachers and administration and their seeming unwillingness to help those at the school who are different. It might be what the school needs to get people, students as well, involved." She leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. "You have a gift, Clark. You write wonderfully and this, unpolished as it is, speaks a great deal about how you see the world around you and what changes need to be made. As you know, journalists have a great deal of influence on the world around them. You could instigate change by publishing this."

He sighed and scrubbed at his eyes. "I guess. I'm just... I guess I'm tired out by a lot of things. It's been a rough year, you know? I don't know if I'm the right one to try and fix anything."

"I understand. But it might be good for you, emotionally, to try and help others. A lot of times we start feeling better about ourselves and our lives when we stop focusing on our own problems and, instead, take care of others. However, if you don't feel you're ready, that's okay too. There's no pressure."

"Thanks." He yawned, suddenly tired. He wanted to go home and sleep, but he still had to get through the rest of the day. And then he was supposed to meet Lex at the Talon. And Lana had asked if he wanted to help plan Whitney's party. And he was thinking about dropping by the pool after school and talking to the diving coach about trying out for the team. Maybe.

"Are you all right?" Dr. Carvey asked.

Clark nodded and rubbed his eyes again. "Yeah, I'm okay. Just tired." He yawned again.

Dr. Carvey frowned and cocked her head. "Did you sleep last night?"

Fighting back his hot blush, Clark nodded. He wouldn't meet her eyes as he said, "Yeah. It was a long weekend, that's all." He yawned, closing his eyes.

"Clark. Clark?"

Clark opened his eyes, surprised to find that Dr. Carvey was standing over him, shaking him gently. "What?"

"I think you just fell asleep. I asked you a question and you didn't answer."

"Oh." He frowned. "I didn't mean to."

She frowned, head tilting to the side. "Clark, do you sleep a lot when you get depressed?" she asked, keeping her hand on his shoulder.

"I... I guess. When I got home from the deputy's office the other day, I fell asleep and my mom said she couldn't get me to wake up." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Does that mean I'm narcoleptic?"

Dr. Carvey smiled and shook her head. "No, Clark. Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder. While I think it's possible for it to appear later in life, it's not brought on by psychological trauma. I think that your brain is simply trying to help you cope with what you're going through right now. You're feeling overwhelmed by everything that's happened to you, and I don't blame you. Being molested is enough for anyone to deal with, but now you've been outted--and whether or not it's true, people certainly now believe you're gay. An important relationship in your life has been exploited for public consumption and, again, whether or not the allegations about your relationship with Lex Luthor are true, the two of you are good friends right?"

He nodded. "Best friends."

"It must have been really hard on you to wake up and see what they were saying about your relationship with him in the tabloids."

"It was." He bit his lip and worried it before admitting, "I wanted to disappear when I saw it. I... It's taken me forever to be able to talk about what happened with Lionel. I couldn't even say his name for a long time. I could barely think it." Clark yawned again and closed his eyes.

"Clark, I need you to stay with me, all right?" Dr. Carvey pulled her chair very close to Clark's. She took his hands in hers and squeezed. "I know this is upsetting, but I need you to stay awake."

"Sorry."

"Don't apologize. You have nothing to be sorry for. However, when you start feeling sleepy, I want you to remind yourself that you're safe. Just say it in your head. I'm safe. Nothing is hurting me. Nothing can hurt me here. It's just a memory, they're just words. They can't hurt me. I'm safe." She squeezed his hands again. "Keep repeating that in your head until you stop feeling sleepy."

Clark looked at her, eyebrow raised. "Um. Okay."

Dr. Carvey smiled. "I know it sounds silly and embarrassing, but it will help. When you start feeling overwhelmed, you brain tries to compensate by shutting out the stimulation. Since, right now, it's coming from your thoughts and feelings, the best way to shut it down is to shut you down. To fall asleep and escape. When you start feeling safe again, you wake up. So our goal right now is to remind yourself that you are safe while you're awake. And remember, you're saying it silently to yourself, not out loud, so you don't need to feel embarrassed."

"Okay. I'll try it." He pulled his hands away from hers and twisted his ring around his right ring finger.

She glanced at it, but didn't say anything, which was probably good. Clark didn't feel like coming up with a story about his ring right now. He probably shouldn't even be wearing it at school, but he hated taking it off. It made him feel too far away from Lex.

"Just so you know, I'm going to contact the Office of Family and Child Services today and see how soon they're going to start sending a social worker for you to work with. If you want, we can set it up so you meet with them during school hours."

Clark shrugged and looked at the pictures on the wall. Dr. Font had never put anything up, but Dr. Carvey had paintings of pastoral scenes and the ocean and stuff up. Clark liked it.

"And you and I can also meet once a week if you want, or however you want to set that up."

"Do I have to?"

"No, of course not. But if you want to talk, I'm available for you. Even if I'm in Grandville. If something happens and you want to speak to me, just come to the office, or go to Mr. Townsend if you're more comfortable going to him, and tell them you need to call me."

Clark nodded, still not looking at her. "Okay. Thanks for coming today. I needed someone to talk to."

"I was glad to come. And very happy that you were willing to see me."

He shrugged.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I just... I don't know if I want to go back to class."

"Why not?"

He rolled his eyes, sorry he'd said anything. He was just being stupid anyway. "It's boring. The only classes I like are trig and English, and even trig is getting to be too easy. I have gym after lunch and I can't even do anything since we're playing yet another contact sport and my parents won't let me participate. I'm in wood shop this semester, which I hate as much as metal shop. I'd like to take something like psychology or critical thinking or philosophy, but they're all upperclassman classes and I can't." Clark looked back at her, took a deep breath and said, "School isn't challenging."

"Well that sounds like a problem," she said. "You're saying that your classes seem too easy?"

Clark nodded. "Even AP history and Spanish. I'm really good with languages and I'm understanding everything. It's all too slow."

Dr. Carvey wrote something down. "Okay, well, let me go through your records and see what data there is. Later this week, we'll start testing to see if we can get you into a more challenging program. Are you sure, though, that you want to move into a more rigorous course of study while you're dealing with everything you're going through?"

"Yes, I do. Like you said, if I don't have to concentrate on it all the time, maybe I'll feel better." He licked his lips and added, "I'm also thinking about going out for the diving team. A friend of mine in Metropolis used to be a diver and he taught me. It was fun. I thought maybe I could give it a try."

"That's fantastic. The more activities you have, the more well-rounded you are, the better you'll feel about yourself, Clark. Really." She smiled. "However, unless you feel that going back to class right now would be detrimental to your health, I can't excuse you too much longer. But we could call your parents and see if they want to pull you out."

"No," Clark sighed. "No, I'll stay. I'm just dragging my feet." He stood and grabbed his backpack. "Besides, it's lunch now, anyway. I should just, you know. Go back."

"All right. If you do need to talk, I'm going to be here the rest of the day. And I'll talk to both Chad and Principal Reynolds, so don't worry about that."

"Thank you." He slipped his backpack over his shoulder. "Bye." And, feeling a lot better than he had since that morning, Clark left the office to face the school once more.


Lex turned the page in his book, humming softly to himself. As he read, absorbing the information on design, scaling, and structure, Lex lifted his coffee and sipped. Even though neither Lana nor Mabel had made it, the coffee was close to perfect. Actually, everything was almost perfect, from the ambience in the Talon to his mood to the very slight and wonderfully pleasant ache in his muscles. Even the few scowls that had been tossed in his direction when he'd entered were barely noticeable, counteracted as they were by the smiles and greetings from the waitresses and various others who were taking a coffee break from running errands.

"World of laughter, it's a world of tears," Lex chanted softly under his breath. He placed his book down and picked up the floor plan of his new house.

His new house. His house. His.

"And a world of jeers, there's so much that we share, that it's time." Lex stopped and bit his lip, studying the layout. He didn't want to raze the whole building, although that was, of course, an option. Still, the only reason they'd considered that house to begin with was that it'd already been retrofitted with ramps to make things easier for Damien. Get rid of the house, they would get rid of the ramps. Plus, it would take time and who knew how much longer Lex would be able to live in the mansion? When Lionel found out that Lex wasn't going to work for him and wasn't going to get his masters degree in anything Lionel wanted him to, it was possible that he'd cut Lex off.

Again.

He frowned, still humming, and picked up his pencil to sketch lightly on the floor plan. Then, an idea coming to him, he grabbed the sketch pad he'd bought and began copying the plan onto it, making changes as he went.

"It's a small world after all," he whispered tonelessly under his breath, sketching away.

"Wow. You must really like that ride," Chloe's amused voice interrupted him.

Lex frowned. "What ride?"

Chloe was standing at the edge of his table. Her face was pale and there were faint circles under her eyes, but, other than that, she looked fine. She was still, however, wearing her hospital bracelet, and her arms were crossed tightly over her chest. "It's a Small World," she said. "You were singing the song."

His face warmed. "Ah. Yes, well. I apparently have that tendency," he replied, tapping his pencil against his sketchpad. "How are you feeling?"

"Good. A little tired." She sat down and pulled one of Lex's books to her. "Architectural Graphic Standards?" Chloe read. "What's this for? You changing professions?"

"In a way," Lex replied, taking the book back from her. "Although this is more practical. I'm moving and Damien suggested that, before I move, we remodel a bit."

Chloe narrowed her eyes. "Moving?"

"Just to Oak Tree Lane," he assured her. "I bought a house."

"I thought you decided not to."

"It was a bad decision. Damien rectified it." He smiled tightly and tapped his pencil on his sketchbook. "As he often does." Then he sighed. "Anyway, when I was younger, I had a passing interest in architecture. I suspect Dominic suggested that my attention might not be sufficiently captured by simply looking for a college and a doctor to speak to. He was... my... knew me," Lex settled on, "when I was interested in this. He's right; it's a nice distraction."

"Better than you staying sta stahere all day predicting what people are going to drink. Or worse, what people are going to say. You're really annoying when you do that," Chloe said, running her fingers over the edge of his book.

Lex frowned, narrowing his eyes. "What on earth are you talking about?"

Chloe rolled her eyes, a lopsided grin curling her lips. "Sometimes you sit here and mutter under your breath, participating in other people's conversation," she explained. "When you're adding commentary, you can be really funny, but you're just flat out frightening when you guess what people are going to say. You're usually right."

He shook his head. "I don't remember doing that."

"I'm not surprised. When Clark's not here, or when you're not talking to anyone directly, you never seem really aware of what you're doing. You become completely tuned in to your surroundings and just absorb it all, like a sponge." She frowned and worried her lower lip.

"You're thinking something."

"I'm wondering if it's, like, a side effect or something."

"Of what? My incredible genius?" Lex smiled disarmingly.

Chloe just looked uncomfortable. "That, or, you know. Being abused. Or are we still not talking about that?"

Lex felt himself completely shut down, face going blank, body stilling so much he hardly breathed.

"I guess we're not talking about it, then," Chloe said. She picked up Lex's coffee and sipped it. "Sorry."

Lex set his pencil down and closed the sketchbook. "I don't appreciate being talked about behind my back. My personal life is my business."

"It's also Clark's. And I'm his best friend."

"I'm his best friend," Lex said a little more heatedly than he meant. He took his coffee back, then waved at the waitress for a cup for Chloe.

Chloe rolled her eyes again. "Yes, you are his best friend, Lex. Of course you are. However, you know he needs someone who isn't you to talk to. To talk about you and what worries him about you. So he talks to me."

"Who doesn't he talk to about me? You, Grant, Mark, Lana, his parents. Soon, everyone in the world is going to know all of my business, or, at least, his interpretation of such."

"How will that be any different from your life so far?" Chloe asked innocently.

Her question startled a laugh out of him. "I guess you're right."

"You know, Lex, if you ever need to talk to someone about Clark, you can come to me. Or Lana," she added quickly, cheeks suffusing with red. "I mean, I imagine that Damien isn't really all that interested in all the details of your relationship. And sometimes, you just need a friend to vent to."

Lex raised his eyebrow at her, heart thudding oddly in his chest. "Yes, because last time I opened up to you, it stayed just between us and in no way led to Clark running away and having a nervous breakdown."

"I still think that Clark needed to be pushed to face what happened to him," Chloe said with a stubborn set to her jaw.

"That's not the point. The point is, when someone offers themselves as a safe haven for venting, it is assumed that what is said will remained between venter and ventee." He sipped his coffee and said, "Besides, I'm surprised you'd offer to hear the rantings of Lex Luthor."

Chloe a look of pain spasmed across her face. "Did I say something I shouldn't have yesterday?"

"Nothing that I wasn't already thinking about myself." He twirled the pencil in his fingers. "I deserved the anger and scorn. You don't... you don't remember what happened at all?"

"I have these... flashes, like something out of dream. A particularly hazy dream, too. The doctor isn't sure if I'll ever remember everything that happened or not because I was so high. So, no, I don't remember saying anything to you."

"You expressed great anger towards me," Lex said diplomatically. "Although, even that wasn't enough to keep you from expressing amorous intent towards me as well."

She blushed and looked down at her hands. "I did?"

"I walked in on you and Clark. You invited me to join you. Or allow you to watch." His heart beat faster. Lex drained his coffee and shifted uncomfortably in his seat as the waitress finally came over with a cup for Chloe and a refill for him.

"Oh. But we..."

He waited until the waitress was gone before saying, "No, we didn't." He tapped the pencil on the table. "You did... say a few things... to me. Not that I didn't... deserve them."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. You don't... remember what happened. What I. Said." Giving up, he pulled his inhaler from his pocket and took a puff.

He was still holding his breath, waiting for the alburterol to work when Chloe said, "It doesn't matter. I'm still sorry I said it. And I'm sorry what I said to you before I was drugged, when Lana came in and interrupted us. I'm just... I'm no good with you, Lex. I don't know why, but I don't have the patience with you that I do with Clark. I like you. I love you, but I react faster with you and I don't think like I should." She reached across the table and put her hand on his. "You okay?"

Lex nodded and capped the inhaler. "I'll be okay." His chest felt a little looser. "I didn't think it would bother me so much."

"What? Hearing that I suck at handling you and Lana's great at it?"

He had to laugh. Lex had noticed that the girls seemed to divide up the responsibility of taking care of him and Clark. Of course, it did help that, when things were at their worst with Lex, Lana was always at her best, so the division of labor had to have been easy. "No," he said. "Facing you after what happened yesterday. That's what's strangely difficult. I know you don't remember, but I do."

"Lex, whatever I did...."

"It wasn't anything you did. I... In order to get Clark to trust me so I could get... You know that you and Pete drugged Clark?"

She nodded. "Clark told me. He wanted me to know that we fooled around but didn't do anything."

Lex reached into his pocket and pulled out a quarter. Placing it on his knuckles, he danced it up and down. "I knew that if I got the rock away from Clark, he and I would be able to deal with you. I had to... reveal parts of Clark and my relationship that are... painfully intimate." His lungs tightened again. "I know you don't remember, but I do," Lex said again. "And I'm only just recently comfortable being that completely..."

"Submissive?" Chloe suggested when Lex trailed off.

His ears caught fire. "I was going to say vulnerable, but, yes, you've gotten the point quite well. I imagine that, even if you can't remember the details, something of yesterday must have been ingrained on your subconscious." He made the coin disappear, making it seem to drop right through his hand.

"I really don't think that's it. Just, the way Clark is, you know? He's protective. Overly so. Despite how quiet he can be, he's not, you know."

"And I am?"

Chloe smiled, her face bright pink. "Around him, a little bit. I don't sit there and try to analyze your relationship or anything, Lex. It's just something I thought of." She looked down. "I'm sorry it's so painful of you to remember."

He just shrugged. It wasn't something he wanted to talk about, not something he wanted to remember. Conversation over. "How's Pete?"

"Good. A little weaker, because he had the bug in him longer. The hospital said that they'd probably release him later this afternoon." She took a sip of her coffee, winced, then grabbed the sugar.

"Should you be here? I imagine that introducing stimulants into your system so soon after being hyped up on adrenaline isn't the wisest thing in the world."

"Are you still on decaf?"

Lex winced. "Yes."

"I think she gave me the same as she gave you. I'm safe."

"Still. Rest is always recommended after surgery."

"Yes, but Lana's at school and you need to know something."

Lex winced and ran the quarter over his knuckles again. "I have a sudden premonition that I will not be pleased by your next words."

"If you keep things in perspective, it doesn't have to be bad," Chloe said. "Everyone else is happy."

He thought a moment before saying, "Whitney's back, isn't he?"

"Got it in one." She looked at him intently. "Are you all right?"

"Yes." He wasn't entirely lying. "Clark knows?"

"Lana said that Whitney was at the Kents when she got there to pick him up."

So right after Clark had left his bed. Lex knew that Clark had showered first, but it still warmed him to know that Clark had gone to Whitney with Lex still on him. Too bad he was unmarkable. "How is he?"

Chloe raised her eyebrow, mouth opening slightly, the way it did when she wasn't sure she understood. "Um, Whitney or Clark?"

"Either. Both."

"Whitney is fine. He kissed Mr. Townsend in class, so the rumors are buzzing already." Chloe took another sip of coffee. "Lana thought taking Whitney to school today would help take some of the attention off Clark."

"Clever girl," Lex said. "What's wrong with Clark?"

She blinked innocently. Too innocently. "What makes you think..."

"I know my boyfriend. And." He stopped, frowning. He knew that Chloe knew Clark was an alien and had admitted it, but she didn't remember admitting it. If he said something too explicit now, she'd get annoyed, just like she always did. He didn't know if he wanted to deal with her being annoyed.

Finally, he decided to say, "I know Clark and I know what he's facing today. I'd be surprised if he something wasn't wrong."

Chloe accepted that, probably because she wanted to. "He's fine, I guess. Upset, though. Apparently Dr. Carvey pulled him out of English class. Lana didn't know why."

"Dr. Carvey?" Lex shook his head. "Just what we need. Yet another psychologist mucking up the works." He took a long swallow of his coffee. "I thought Clark didn't like talking to her."

"Maybe something happened and he needed to let everything out."

"He was fine this morning."

She hesitated, then asked, "You two made up?"

Lex nodded, then frowned. "I think so. We talked. I made concessions. And apologies. We still need to talk about some things, but we're going to be okay."

"Well, of course you are," Chloe said with a little laugh. "You and Clark are meant to be together. You'll always work things out."


Lex and Chloe were sitting together at a table when Lana and Clark arrived at the Talon. Chloe was engrossed in a novel, her legs folded under her on the chair, the remains of what once had been a muffin on a plate in front of her next to a cup of coffee. Lex sat across from her, pencil in hand as he wrote. He'd pulled a couple of tables over to connect to theirs and spread out half a dozen books, papers, and his laptop across them.

So much for relaxing. Oh, Lex made a good show of it, cheek resting on his hand, pencil held idly, making tiny, sweeping arcs over the page. To the casual observer, he was relaxed, but Clark knew better. If Lex were truly zoned, he'd be singing or humming or something. Instead, he was chewing on his lower lip and cracking his jaw. Not relaxed at all.

"Oh," Lana said softly, squeezing Clark's hand. "I forgot to tell you that I sent Chloe to tell Lex that Whitney was back." She looked up at him. "I thought that, you know. Forewarned is forearmed and all."

He tore his gaze away from Lex to look at her. "Did you tell her to tell him that my life sucks and I hate school?"

"No, I left that part out. You didn't tell me anything that was happening with you before I called her. Or after. Why do you hate school?"

"Reynolds is there," Clark bit out. He dropped his hand and stalked across the Talon. "Hey," he said, barely restraining himself from bending over and kissing Lex's ruddy lips. It was only a warning thought from Lex that stopped him. Instead, he kissed Chloe on the forehead. "How do you feel?"

"Fine. I'll be back in school tomorrow, ready to defend your honor and get the truth about what happened to all of us out there."

"X-Files style," Lex put in with an indulgent smile. "Hey, Lana."

"Hey." Lana smiled and began gathering the empty plates and cups. "Can I get you anything?"

"You're allowed to take a break before rushing off to work, you know," Chloe said, taking Lana's wrist.

Lana blushed. "I know. Habit." She sat, taking Chloe's hand and threading their fingers together. "I'm glad you're okay," she said, kissing Chloe's cheek.

"What's this?" Clark asked, pulling Lex's sketchbook from him.

Lex dropped his pencil and rubbed his jaw gingerly. "Damien told me I should redesign my new house. I'm just coming up with different plans that I think might work. I want to keep the farmhouse comfort feel of home, while adding in the space and openness that I've been missing in the castle."

"Babe, this one? It's all windows."

His ears turned pink. "I miss light," he said. "The mansion is too dark."

"Well, it is a castle," Lana said. "You're lucky it's comfortable at all."

"That's the gazillion dollar furniture," Chloe said. "It's hard to be uncomfortable when lying in the lap of luxury."

"Oh, I don't know," Lex drawled. "It's rather hard to be comfortable when everysquare inch of your property is riddled with spy devices."

Clark watched as Lana and Chloe exchanged looks. Lana shook her head slightly, causing Chloe to bite back whatever she'd been planning on saying, contenting herself with a roll of her eyes.

"I thought you got it all," Lana said.

"Ah, but the memory remains." He closed one of his books and leveled his eyes on Chloe, daring her to say something.

She smiled sweetly.

"I didn't know you could draw," Clark said. "These are good."

Lex's ears turned pink. "I'm not an artist of Miss Lang's talent by any means, but I can draw passable plans. I'm getting a computer program, though, so other people can actually build off them." He looked up; Clark could read a hint of uncertainty in his eyes. "I want your input. It's going to be... you know." /Our home./

Clark gave Lex a lopsided smile fueled by the sudden warm, fuzzy feeling inside him. /Our new bed, our new home. And me just sixteen./

/And a half. Don't forget the half. It makes all the difference./ His foot slowly ran up Clark's leg.

Clark snorted and slipped his hand under the table so he could rest it on Lex's knee. "I'd be happy to give you input," he said out loud, noticing that Chloe was beginning to shift uncomfortably in her seat and shoot looks at Lana. "I haven't seen the actual house in awhile, though. Can we go there sometime this week?"

Lex nodded and put his hand over Clark's. "Of course. If you're free after school sometime, we can go over. Otherwise, next weekend."

"God, why can't it be the weekend now?" Clark groaned. He dropped his head to the table and lightly banged against it.

A small hand petted the back of his head gently. Chloe's, Clark realized after a moment. Her fingers tangled in the knots, gently working them out. "What happened at school?" she asked.

He sighed. "Reynolds stuck his foot so far into his mouth it came out his ass," he replied. Underneath the table, he turned his hand over and laced Lex's and his fingers together. "He was trying to let me know that I should tell him if anyone harassed me, and, in doing so, not only laid the burden of guilt for being molested on me by making it seem like it was my job to fight Lionel, but also said that this wouldn't have happened if Lex and I weren't friends." He tightened his fingers as Lex flinched, needing Lex not to run away either mentally or physically.

Lex, though, wasn't running; he'd turned into stone, instead. His eyes were hooded, body stiff, face blank.

Perfect.

"I couldn't figure out what to say to him," Clark continued. "He was just so... full of shit, you know? So completely... wrong. I got all angry and I wrote an editorial about him--because he also said that Chad deserved to get beaten on because he wears make-up. So Mr. Townsend called Dr. Carvey and I told her all about it and I actually feel a little better now." He shrugged. "I guess that maybe it won't so bad talking to the stupid psychologist the social services people are going to send." Clark frowned and bit his lip before adding, "Maybe."

"I think it'll be good for you to talk to someone, Clark," Chloe said. "Besides us, I mean." She touched his shoulder lightly, and stood up. "Someone who wasn't there when you went through it all. You know?"

Clark nodded. "Yeah. I know."

"Um, I'm going to get a refill. Lana? Come with?"

Lana glanced at Clark. "Yeah, I'll come. Do you want drink, Clark?"

"Just hot chocolate," he said. For once, he wasn't n the mood for coffee, even though he was feeling tired again.

"One hot chocolate, coming up."

Clark listened as they left, talking softly to one another. He closed his eyes, yawning.

/You going to go to sleep?/

/I'd like to./ Clark yawned again and turned his head, resting his cheek on the table. He opened his eyes. "It wasn't your fault."

"It wasn't yours." Lex rolled his eyes. "How many times have we had to have this conversation in the past week alone?"

"I don't know. A hundred?" Clark yawned. "I want to sleep."

Lex squeezed his hand. "You really shouldn't. You're beginning to scare me."

"Dr. Carvey said that I'm sleeping so much as a way to avoid having to deal with stuff I don't want to deal with."

His eyes rolled again. "Lucky you're not paying her by the hour for such a brilliant diagnosis. I could have told you that."

"Well, I thought that I was a latent narcoleptic."

"I think you mean nascent. Latent means that it's not active. Nascent means that it's an emerging trait. And if you had talked to me about this, I could have told you that it wasn't."

Clark closed his eyes. "I'm not afraid or anything. Sleeping my life away sounds good. Except that Dr. Carvey said that she'll do some testing on me because school's so boring."

"You told her that?"

"Yes. Because I am bored. I'm coasting through all my classes with As. I'm bored." Okay, now he was whining. "I mean, even with the magazine and working with Chloe sometimes, and now I'm thinking about joining the diving team, but that's all... it doesn't make the hours between first and sixth period any more bearable, you know?"

"I know. So, what are you hoping? Bump up another math class? Proceed to the next grade?"

Clark sighed and picked his head up. "I don't know. Maybe I should just leave, you know? Get them to graduate me and start college. We could go together."

Lex pulled his hand away and picked his pencil up again. "That sounds intriguing." His eyes went past Clark.

"Hey, Clark," Doug said, coming up to their table. "Mr. Luthor."

Lex nodded at Doug and pulled one of his books to him.

"Hey, Doug. Sorry I didn't get a chance to call you yesterday," Clark said, turning.

"Dude, don't worry about it. I heard about Chloe and Pete. I totally understand." He glanced at Lex, who was studiously ignoring the two of them. "Look, uh, if I'm not interrupting, can I talk to you?"

"Yeah, sure." Clark glanced at Lex, then back to Doug. "Do you want to go to another table?"

Doug looked for a moment like he was going to say yes, but, after taking a deep breath, shook his head. "No. No, here's fine." He sat and drummed his fingers on the table, eyes darting nervously from Lex to Clark to the rest of the patrons of the Talon.

"Are you okay?" Clark asked, wondering what was up. He really, really hoped that Doug was not planning on asking Clark out or anything.

"I'm fine. I'm just..." He leaned forward, pressing the palms of his hands together. "Okay, I know the rest of the guys said that the number one rule is that we don't tell anyone about... you know. But I was thinking that, maybe I don't want to be in the closet my whole life, you know? And it's not just because of you. Roger was really broken up when he found out about his friend, and he told me that he wishes there was something he could do. To, you know. Help."

"Help?"

"For there to be a place where he could have gone to help his friend. So he hadn't acted like an ass. Or for his friend to have gone."

"If there had been a place, someone like Roger wouldn't go until it was too late," Lex said without looking up.

Clark shot a look at him, but Doug just said, "Well, maybe not, but I was thinking that if Smallville had a Gay/Straight Alliance and Roger was a part of it, maybe more straight guys would be willing to join. He's already lectured the football team about tolerance and he won't put up with even one of them making joke about Clark. Or Whitney."

Freezing, Clark looked guiltily at Lex.

Lex ignored him. Setting down his book, he said, "Well, right now, the town is in a bit of an upheaval. I agree now is an opportune time to start something up. Still, don't expect miracles. And do expect parents to complain."

"I figured they are probably the ones to make the most trouble," Doug said. "Well, them and Reynolds."

"Actually, Principal Reynolds will probably be very supportive," Lex said. "He likes to think of himself a progressive, and since all of this came under public scrutiny, he'll want to make it look as if he's supporting his students." A thoughtful look crossed Lex's face and he inclined his head. "Although, this is Kansas. The public around here isn't exactly what you'd call overly accepting. I'm still shocked the town is being so kind to Clark."

"It's the 'us' verses 'them' thing, really," Doug said. "Clark is ours. You're ours because of the whole plant buyout thing and then being so cool when you run into the people who work for you. We are protective of our own. My dad even went into this whole lecture about how it isn't that he agrees with the lifestyle or that it's a choice or anything, but Clark's good kid and you're a good employer and it wasn't anyone else's business and everything."

"And you still want to come out?" Clark said, finally getting a word in. "I mean, it doesn't sound like your dad's very supportive."

Doug smiled and said, "That's the beauty of a gay-straight club, Clark. It's a support and social group, but no one has to say what their orientation is. The biggest problem is that everyone who isn't in the club is just going to assume that everyone going to the meetings is gay, but we don't have to even ask."

"You know a lot about this," said Clark.

"Haven't you ever read 'Rainbow Boys'?"

He shook his head. "Mr. ... Uh, I got the book for Christmas, but haven't gotten around to reading it yet."

"Oh. Well, you should. It's a good book, and the school forms a gay-straight club. That's where I got the idea." He licked his lips and leaned forward. "I want to get one going, but I don't want to do it alone. You're the only one that I know who might be interested in doing this with me, except for Jack, and you know how flighty he is. He just follows whoever pays attention to him, and I'm afraid that if Mike or Tom says anything against this to Jack, then I'll be doing it alone, you know?"

Clark scrubbed his hands through is hair. "I don't know."

"Oh, come on, Clark. I'm sick of only getting to talk to other guys when we get together, which is, like, never and then, practically all we do is watch porn and jack off. I want... support."

Clark sighed and squeezed the bridge of his nose. The day was just getting longer and longer and he still needed a nap.

"Clark, it might not be a bad idea," Lex said softly.

"I know." He sighed. "Yeah, okay." He looked at Doug. "You get the club approval form from the office and we can meet in the Torch office tomorrow at lunch to fill it. Is that okay?"

Doug grinned, his eyes lighting up like Clark had just offered him a full ride to Yale. "That's better than okay. Thanks, man."

"You're welcome." Clark smiled and tried not to look as exhausted as he felt. "I think it'll be a good thing. Really bring Smallville into the twenty-first century."

"Exactly." He checked his watch. "I've gotta go. I'll see you tomorrow?"

Clark held out his hand, which Doug clasped warmly. "Later."

Doug rose and left, nodding goodbye to Lex, who nodded back. Clark tried not to watch him walk away, but Doug was a football player and had a really nice ass, so it was hard. When he turned back to Lex, he found Lex watching him.

"Were you ever going to tell me that Whitney's back?" Lex asked, voice cold.

Clark sighed and rolled his eyes. "Lana told me she sent Chloe ahead to warn you."

One pale eyebrow arched. "Did I need to be warned?"

"I don't want hot chocolate, and Lana and Chloe are making out in the closet again anyway." He stood. "Take me home?"

Lex gathered his things and slid them into his briefcase. When he and Clark were outside the Talon, he asked, "Did you and Whitney sleep together?"

"Yup. This morning before school," Clark replied. "He came over while I was doing chores. I took a shower before, of course, since I smelled like cows, and that took up most of our time. We were getting into it when Lana came to pick me up, so he and I finished screwing in the backseat of her car."

"Clark..."

Warming to the topic, Clark climbed into Lex's car and strapped in. When Lex got in beside him, he added, "It was kind of hard, since he has crutches now because of his knee, and he kept twisting his knee, and I kept hitting my head on the roof of the car, but we managed. It wasn't as messy as I thought it would be, either."

"You done?"

"I don't know." Clark rolled his head on the headrest, looking at Lex. "Want me to tell you how he can get his whole hand inside me without any trouble because of the missing fingers?"

"I liked you better before you got sarcastic."

He laughed and kissed Lex on the cheek. "No you didn't." He took Lex's hand and laced their fingers. Lex was a good enough driver to do it one handed, even at the speeds he went. "I kissed him, and that's all. It didn't even feel sexual. Just good. It just confirmed that my eyes weren't playing tricks on me, that's all. I don't know if it's an alien thing or just a thing, but until I felt and tasted him, I really didn't believe he was still alive."

"Then to whom did you think you've been talking with the past month?"

"I didn't say it made any sense. It's just how I felt." He lifted Lex's hand and kissed the back of it. "He spent the night with Mr. Townsend, anyway. They're in love, and I'm in love with you. So even if you were really okay with me sleeping with Whitney, which I've never bought for a minute, it's not going to happen. We're together forever and they're together... for however long." He turned Lex's hand around and kissed the inside of his wrist. "Are we okay? Because I really need us to be okay."

Lex glanced at him. "We're okay, angel." He kissed Clark's hand and dropped it so he could shift gears. "I'm sorry. You had a hard day, and I'm being an ass. I should have realized the fact you didn't mention Whitney meant that you really needed me to be your boyfriend." He sighed and shook his head. "I'm trying to be there for you."

"You are."

"You shouldn't have to ask."

"Lex, you're moving into self-pity land and making this all about you. I want this to be all about me." The whine was back in his voice.

Lex smothered a smile and nodded. "All about you, right. So, my house, my hot tub, Mabel's cooking, me feeding you and you pouring out your heart?"

"That sounds about right."

"Then let's get to it."


The day had been one of the longest Mark had gone through in a long time. It'd been about on par with the day Lionel had outted him, and very close to his first day back teaching after that event. The beginning of the day had been slow simply because knowing Whitney was so close by had distracted Mark to no end. His skin had tingled, his lips remembered the feel of Whitney's on his, and his mouth had held the taste of him all day.

Then Clark had broken. Well, erupted was more like it. He'd managed to hold himself together until Dr. Carvey had arrived, but Mark had heard Clark was in with her for over two hours and had been out of it the rest of the day. He'd left before Mark had been able to talk with him.

And, of course, there was the whole Whitney thing. Gossip spread like wildfire in Smallville, and Smallville High was nothing but kindling. Mark didn't think his class had gotten out before news of his and Whitney's relationship had spread through the school. Fourth period English had been the only tension-free class, at least on the Whitney front, and that had been because of Clark. After that, though, it had been three periods of whispers and giggles and averted eyes and cleared throats.

And Roger Hartman giving an impassioned speech to an embarrassed senior lit class that had a lot to do with how homophobes were the scum of the earth, but little to do with the issue of kids being embarrassed to learn that their teacher was boffing Smallville's favorite football star cum hero.

Angie had tried to corner Mark after school, but Mark knew six shortcuts from his room to the parking lot. She only knew three, and Mark was pulling out of his parking space by the time she made.

"Mark! Mark, you get back here!" she'd shouted.

Mark had simply smiled like an idiot and waved before tearing out of the lot, feeling like he'd escaped the Inquisition.

Helen had been gone when Mark had gotten home. He'd immediately showered and collapsed in his bed. The sheets had been changed the previous night, before he and Whitney had actually slept, but they still smelled of Whitney and sweat and sex. His dreams were filled with Whitney, and Mark could feel the hollow space against his body where Whitney belonged. Hugging a pillow wasn't the same.

Insanity wasn't as frightening as Mark had always thought it would be. Maybe it was just love, but Mark had never been in love like this before. This was out of control, flying with happiness, spiraling wildly, can't-think-straight love.

He'd be terrified if it wasn't so right.

A soft knock at his bedroom door woke him. He rubbed his eyes and checked the time; it was about five-fifteen. Forty-five minutes until he could see Whitney again.

"Mark?" Helen called through the door.

"Come in."

The door opened. "You alone?" Her voice was gently teasing.

He smiled at her dopily. "You are an angel."

She snorted, walking into the room. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she said, "I didn't bring him here. I just let him in."

"And made yourself scarce. Where were you?"

"I stayed with a friend from the hospital. It was my pleasure, actually. Janice and I have been meaning to hang out for awhile anyway."

He sat up, pulling his pillow against him. "I thought you had a date. I was jealous because I thought you were going to have sex."

"Ah, no. All my prospects for sexual partners in this town have been outted as pedophiles."

Mark tried not to let her words put a damper on his mood. He was going to get to see Whitney today; Helen's disparaging remark about his friend wasn't going to ruin that. "Lex isn't a pedophile."

"I know. I know I shouldn't say that, either, I won't again, I promise. And I see the attraction. Clark Kent is beautiful, and definitely doesn't look like a teenager. But it's still a little weird." She pulled her legs under her. "Do you know if it's true? I'm just asking because, if he was going to tell anyone, it'd be you. You are his friend."

"Yes," he said levelly, meeting her eyes. "I am Lex's friend." He thought about adding that he was Clark's teacher and that he'd never betray either of their confidences, but he didn't. This was about Lex.

"All right, forget I asked. Although, if it is true, you might want to talk to Lex about it. It's illegal after all."

"So is my relationship with Whitney."

She rolled her eyes. "At least Whitney is over eighteen. Clark is, what? Fifteen?"

"Sixteen which, according to Kansas state law, makes him old enough to consent to a sexual relationship."

"I didn't realize that. I moved from state where it was eighteen and never realized there was a difference. Which I suppose I should have. I'm a legal reporting agency, and if I thought something illegal was going on, I'm obligated to report it."

"I'm legally obligated to report to social services, too. Don't you think the fact I haven't should tell you something?"

Helen smiled. It wasn't a nice smile. Very insincere, in fact. "Lex is your friend."

His expression hardened. "Clark is my student."

"I'm being a bitch, aren't I?"

"Let's just say that you're letting your opinion of Lex be swayed by people who don't know him. And it's not like Clark or Lex are your patients, so, unless you have absolute proof that Clark is being harmed somehow, I think you should back off. Especially if you're letting jealousy get in the way."

"I know you're right." She sighed. "And I really don't want Lex or anything. Not really. He's just so... sexy."

Mark smiled. "Yeah, he is."

Helen looked at him, a little smirk on her face. "Whitney's not bad either."

"Whitney is more sexy than Lex Luthor could ever be," Mark said. He could feel the stupid, sappy smile spread across his face, and he hugged the pillow to him. "God, he's so fantastic."

"You're really smitten, aren't you?" She stretched sideways across the bed, propping her head on her elbow.

"I'm in love."

Helen smiled, but she looked away, eyes downcast. "So. Am I going to have to start looking for another roommate?"

God, talk about getting ahead of everything. Whitney had only just got back home. He was going to be going through physical therapy for his legs, maybe another surgery or two, as well. He'd just gotten back from war; despite his optimistic demeanor, he was probably going to need some kind of therapy. And even though Whitney seemed perfectly willing and eager to throw himself into a relationship with Mark, the fact remained that Whitney was newly out, young, and inexperienced.

Moving in together would be a bad idea.

"I wouldn't worry about it," he finally decided on. "We're probably going to take things slowly at first. So I'm not going anywhere for awhile." He took her hand and squeezed.

"I'm glad. Not just because I don't like living alone. I'd feel like I'm losing my best friend." She pouted at him, batting her eyelashes at him.

Best friend. Mark liked her a lot, but he wouldn't consider her his best friend. There were things about her he just didn't trust. He didn't quite know what it was. Sometimes he thought that maybe he was influenced too much by Lex's paranoia, but Helen hid so much and played so delicately with her words, it just rubbed him the wrong way. Like, the way she acted about Lex, vacillating from attraction to disdain with barely a pause. Or the way she'd start talking about her research, only to clam up suddenly and look guilty, as if she were hiding something. It was just... odd.

"So you going to see him again soon?" she asked.

Mark went to his closet and opened it, wondering what he should wear. "Actually, yeah. I'm going over for dinner tonight." Blue shirt? No, maybe his green turtleneck and black jacket and black slacks.

"Tonight? Doesn't he want time with his family?"

Green turtleneck. And the slacks that hugged him just right in the ass. Those were his lucky pants. Grant had cruised him while he'd been wearing those pants. He'd even caught Lex checking him out when Mark had worn these pants; at least, Mark liked to tell himself Lex had been checking him out.

"He said he wants me there." He pulled the shirt on, and turned, slacks in hand. "Whitney wants to jump into this relationship with both feet and come out to anyone there is to come out to. Rebecca already knows about us, and she's supportive. I just want to be with him, so I'm willing to face his family, even if they see me as an outsider and an evil corruptor of innocence."

Helen laughed. "Just don't tell them what you were doing last night; I'm sure you'll be fine."

Mark smiled wryly at her and said, "I'm afraid that Whitney will say something, actually. He seems like the type of man who not only is proud of who he is, but will aggressively shove it in someone else's face when they say something about it. I'm just along for the ride."

"Maybe you should tell him that he doesn't need to fight so hard," Helen suggested, rising from the bed. "He already has you." She squeezed his shoulder and kissed him on the cheek. "Have a good night, Mark."

"Thanks," he said, thinking about her words.

Maybe she was right. He'd figured the reason Whitney was so gung-ho about everything was because it was all new and after the horrors of war, he'd wanted to smother himself inside something exciting and romantic. He wanted to be in love and, like most young people in the first throes of love, he wanted everyone to know.

But maybe there was more than that. Maybe Whitney was afraid that if he didn't let everyone know, it wasn't real. Or he thought Mark might think Whitney didn't really care for him. Or, maybe he just thought that being gay meant letting it all out there.

Mark made a mental note to ask Lex how Clark had reacted the first few months of their relationship. Knowing Clark as Mark did, he couldn't quite see Clark wanting to let anyone know. But, then again, Clark and Lex had gotten together before Lionel had put his hands on Clark, so maybe he had gone through that joyous feeling of love.

Or not. Clark was shy on top of everything else. Whitney was... not.

Still. Mark should let Whitney know that he didn't need to fight. They could just be.


Clark sighed in contentment, leaning back against the jets of Lex's bathtub. "This is what I've been needing all day," he said, eyes falling shut. "Do you think that, instead of a new course of study at school, they'll just let me replace gym with bath time with Lex?"

"Oh, yeah." Lex's voice was exquisitely dry. He ran his foot up Clark's leg, toes curling deliciously as it inched up the slick skin. "They'll love that idea. Of course, it won't be as fun once I move into my new home."

"Our new home," Clark corrected, catching Lex's foot. "And you'll just have to move this over." He pressed his thumb into the sole. "Just don't bring the mural."

He laughed, glancing up at the covered mosaic above their heads. "But that's the best part."

"I like your new design." Clark looked up and smiled. Lex had painted a picture of what he assured Clark was them cuddling on the bed with Athena. Athena was bigger than the two of them combined, and her white paw pretty much covered all of Clark's face.

Clark had pointed out that it was actually a painting of Lex and Athena cuddling on Clark, but Lex had insisted the blue part was actually the bed.

"You know," Lex said, relaxing into the foot massage. "I might just stick to something simple. Like, no nouveau riche crap this place is full of. More... farm house-y. Kentish, even."

He lifted his head, still holding Lex's foot. "You wouldn't be happy in a house my grandmother designed."

"You mean Martha didn't do it?"

"She did some. But mostly, they just updated the furniture and stuff as the old stuff wore out. And she kept it as true to the original as she could. But, Lex, it isn't you."

"I'm not saying I'd do an exact replica. And I'm not saying I'm getting rid of my entertainment system, if that's what you're worried about," Lex added. "I'm simply saying that... Well, to tell you the truth, the fact that Dad's always been so very new money-ish has always been sort of a sore spot with me. Mom came from old money, but Dad... flaunted like power was going out of style. It's embarrassing." He shrugged and lifted his arms out of the water, resting them on the edge of the tub. "Besides, I want as little of Dad in our new house as possible."

"I understand that. I just... I don't want you to go overboard and wind up with a house you hate."

Lex rolled his eyes. "You're just saying all this so you don't lose the tub."

"That's right, Lex. My sole interest in your toys. Especially your tub. I mean, hell, Lex, with a tub like this, you could have blond hair, brown eyes, and acne scars and I'd fuck you."

He snorted. "That's good to know."

Clark smiled and brought his other hand to Lex's foot. Massaging it, he added, "Actually, for just your entrainment system alone, I might blow you."

"Ah, sarcastic Clark is back," Lex said. He groaned as Clark increased the pressure on his foot, his head falling back.

"And," Clark continued in a low voice, sliding across the tub and massaging up Lex's leg. "If you were to bring the television in here, so we could soak and watch movies at the same time, then I'd be with you even if your dick were the size of a French Fry."

"Lovely image there. Quite tantalizing. Your ability to manipulate words is really growing there."

"I said if, Lex," Clark pointed out, laughter in his chest. He ran his hand up Lex's inner thigh and curled his fingers around his cock. "I'd say that you're easily as big as a Polish sausage."

Lex snorted and splashed water at Clark. "Stop comparing my dick to food, asshole."

He released Lex and sent an answering torrent of water back at Lex. "It's a good comparison!" he said. "After all, you're so good to eat." He splashed again.

"Polish sausage is the most disgusting food on the face of the earth." Lex sent a huge wave at Clark, splashing him in the face.

"No, peas are. And you definitely are bigger than a peapod."

With a roar, Lex launched himself at Clark. The relaxing bath dissolved into a full out war. Bubbles and water flew everywhere and Clark was laughing so hard he could barely breathe. He finally managed to grab Lex's slick body and pin him against the side of the tub.

"Cheating," Lex laughed breathlessly.

"Victory," Clark replied. He smiled. eyes focusing on Lex's lips. "And to the victor..."

Lex returned his smiled and parted his lips, tilting his head back. Clark kissed him slowly, carefully exploring all of Lex's mouth until his head was spinning and every nerve ending stood on end.

"Definitely better than a Polish sausage," he whispered when they broke apart.

Lex just laughed shakily and melted against him. "I'm so glad you came back to me," he said, lips brushing over Clark's face. "I don't know what I'd do without you."

Clark wrapped his arms around Lex and leaned back against the tub. Lex curled into Clark's lap, resting his head in the crook of Clark's neck, eyes falling shut.

"I'm sure you'd be fine."

"No. I don't think I would be." He pressed a kiss into Clark's neck. "I'd make all the wrong decisions because I'd be too wrapped up with the idea that I have to be some great man. Greater than my father. Because, without you, I never would have realized that he isn't a great man at all." Lex lifted his head. "Do you feel better?"

"Than?"

He smiled. "You felt this morning? Or this weekend."

"You mean after talking with Dr. Carvey," Clark said, understanding dawning. He leaned his head against the wall and stroked lightly up and down Lex's spine. "I do, I guess. Not, like, all better or anything. I mean, I still have issues. Anger and everything. But I feel better. Like, I've been drained or something."

Lex lifted his head. There was a serious expression on his face, but a mischievous look lurked in his eyes. "Clark, did a vampiric psychologist suck all your bad feelings away?"

Clark splashed him. "Weren't you listening, moron? I said they aren't all gone yet." He licked a drop of water off Lex's cheek. "Sometimes, I feel like I don't do anything but talk about what happened. And I'm sick of it. I feel like... like it controls everything in my life, and it shouldn't. But sometimes, you know, I guess I need to talk. To a stranger, though. Someone who doesn't look sad and upset or feel guilty about what happened."

"I agree." Lex touched his face gently. "But don't think you can't still talk to me, okay? I know I've already apologized for what I said..."

"Lex."

"No, let me finish." Lex sat up and settled himself on Clark's thighs, arms draped over his shoulders. "I'm really sorry about even implying that any of it was your fault. It wasn't. I don't think or believe it was. Yes, a part of me is still horribly self-loathing enough to feel some twisted sort of anger at you for saving my life. But that doesn't mean I feel that you had any culpability in my dad laying his filthy hands on you."

"And this declaration," Clark said, putting his hands on Lex's back under the water. "Does it have anything to do with the fact that Reynolds basically blamed me and you don't want to be, in any way, associated with him?"

Lex's ears turned red and his cheeks colored. "He's changed. When I was your age, he was much more open minded and professional."

"Either that or he was just so much the polar opposite of Lionel that you couldn't help but worship him."

"Maybe." Lex tugged at Clark's hair fretfully. "And how sad is that? And what if the reason I love your family so much is because they're not Dad?"

"It's not wrong to love people that love you back, Lex." Clark kissed him. "Just because Reynolds didn't respect you the way you wanted him to, doesn't mean no one will. Or does. I mean, most of the town has a lot of respect for you. I've known that since summer, but think about it. If they didn't respect you, you would have been raked over the coals over what happened. But they protected us. And didn't hassle you today. That's something."

"Yeah."

"And you know that Mom's ready to adopt you. It would make things kind of weird between the two of us, but she'd love you for the rest of your life." He kissed Lex's right cheek, then traced over the bone with his thumb as he kissed the left. "Dad's come way around about you, too," he whispered. He kissed the tip of Lex's nose. "He sees what I see when I look at you."

"Um, I really hope not."

Clark grabbed a hunk of skin on Lex's bottom and twisted.

"Ow. Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!" Lex writhed on Clark's lap, trying to get away.

Quickly, Clark changed to tickling.

"Clark!" Lex all but shrieked. He thrashed in the water, getting Clark in the face as he tried to escape. "Oh, God, oh God, Clark! St-stop!"

"Will you stop being such a little bitch if I stop?"

Lex twisted in his arms, but Clark got hold of him, continuing to tickle. "Come on, Lex."

"Okay! Okay," Lex finally shouted, arching his back and laughing hard enough that tears were gathering under his eyelashes. "I'll stop."

"Stop what?" He ran his finger tips up and down Lex's ribs in a way that made Lex squirm and squeak in his arms.

"Claarrrk!"

"You'll stop what, Lex?" He tickled Lex's armpits, causing him to shriek loudly. The sound echoed off the tiled walls.

"I'll stop being a little bitch," Lex practically sobbed.

"Good." Clark stopped tickling and kissed the nape of Lex's neck. "Now, as I was saying, Dad respects you, too. So you don't need Reynolds. Got it?"

Lex sagged against him, gasping for breath. "Got it."

He nuzzled Lex's neck. "Now, about our new house. We'll do the inside together, all right? We'll make sure it's not all cheap or nouveau riche or whatever, but it doesn't have to be exactly like my parents' house. We can make it ours."

"Yeah," Lex said, turning in Clark's arms. "But I've seen what you do with money, Clark. You've got crap taste. You bought a bunch of toys with my credit card like any new money does."

Clark rolled his eyes. "Only in the first flush of wealth. And I was high. But you've got to admit, my clothes were pretty nice."

There was a gleam in Lex's eyes and he ran his eyes over Clark's body. "You know, I'd kind of like to get those clothes dirty sometime. You wearing them, me, wearing nothing."

"But a collar," Clark whispered against Lex's neck. "I like that idea."

Lex's cell phone rang.

"Hold that thought?"

Clark sighed but nodded, moving over to the edge of the tub so Lex could grab his phone.

"Hello?" Lex immediately rolled his eyes, a look of extreme annoyance washing over his face. "Hi Dad."

"Hang up," Clark mouthed, but Lex shook his head and mouthed back, "This won't take long."

Frustrated, Clark opened the bond between them, shamelessly listening in to the conversation. If he could, he'd speak through Lex to tell Lionel off, but, as far as he knew, he couldn't. Even if he could, that kind of power was a little scary to contemplate and best left unexplored.

"You didn't come in for work today," Lionel was saying in that oily slick voice of his. "I spoke to the manager of the plant and he said you didn't even deign to call in."

"I'm sorry, Dad," Lex said insincerely. "I thought you understood. I no longer work for you."

There was a beat, as if Lionel was actually taken off guard. But when he spoke, his voice was the same as before. "Is that so. Really, Lex. You needn't be so childish about this. You lost your company, it happens. Coming back to work for LuthorCorp isn't something to be ashamed of."

"I would take issue with that statement," Lex responded. He took Clark's hand and twined their fingers together. "I can't imagine anything more shameful than working for a man who has done nothing but abuse and torment me in his quest to control every aspect of my life."

Lionel sighed. "Lex, Lex, Lex, please. I haven't time for your histrionics. Everything I have ever done was to make you a strong man ready to deal with the realities of life."

"Uh-huh. And now I am ready, Dad. So ready that I've decided to live life the way I want to."

"You mean with that cheap tramp of a farmboy as a pet?"

It was Clark's turn to roll his eyes, although his stomach twisted slightly.

"Dad, don't."

"There's a lot you don't know about your supposedly innocent Clark Kent. I have it on good authority that last weekend he was seen going into the private office of a well known connoisseur of pretty young boys."

Lex met Clark's eyes and raised an eyebrow.

Clark blushed miserably and nodded, lowering his eyes.

"Furthermore," Lionel continued, "rumor has it young Mr. Kent behaved rather wantonly while in this office and was quite disheveled when he came out."

"Dad," Lex said, cupping Clark's chin. "What Clark did this weekend was none of your business. And considering I wasn't exactly a model citizen myself, I have no place to judge." He leaned forward, eyes locked on Clark as he said, "I love him, and I know that I always come first."

Clark smiled and leaned forward to kiss Lex. Both missed whatever it was that Lionel said next, but when they broke apart, Lex said, "I'm going back to school, Dad. I haven't decided on a course of study yet, but be assured that it will be one of my choosing, not yours. Good-bye."

"Lex? Lex!"

Lex hung up and tossed the phone aside. "Come here, farmboy," he all but growled as he climbed back onto Clark's lap.

Clark did as he was told.


"Mark!" Rebecca Forman said cheerily, opening the screen door. "I'm so glad you could come."

"Hi, Rebecca." He handed her a bottle of wine and a bouquet of roses, feeling a blush on his cheeks. It almost felt like he hadn't stopped blushing all day. "How are you?"

"Busy," she said frankly. "I've been calling and e-mailing people all day, trying to organize a real welcome home dinner for Whitney." She led him inside. "I also took Whitney to physical therapy and he's been talking with the Marines and doctors since he's gotten home." She stopped and put her hand on his shoulder, lowering her voice. "He's been a bit depressed since he got off the phone a few hours ago with some doctor. I think he needs cheering up."

"Um, okay. Thanks for the warning."

She smiled and squeezed his arm. "Small party for dinner. Two of my sisters--including one who said she wasn't going to talk to Whitney after he said he was joining the Marines--and my brother-in-law and his wife and two kids."

"That's small?"

"Compared to what's coming Saturday, yes." She sighed. "Are you going to come on Saturday? Big party, barbecue if the weather holds, family reunion and all."

Mark rubbed the back of his neck. "Are you sure you want me there? I don't want to cause any problems. You know..."

She nodded. "I know. And, ask Whitney. Whatever he wants to do, I'm fine with. Except, I'd rather you not spend the night here. Or, if you do, um..."

"Oh, God!" Now, his face was completely on fire. "No. Of course.... No."

Rebecca smiled and squeezed his shoulder again. "Thanks. Now, you go see Whitney; he's just down the hall on the right. We turned the old family room into a new bedroom for him so he didn't need to worry about the stairs. I'll call you when the company gets here."

"Thanks." He kissed her cheek. "For everything."

"I just want my boy to be happy. And you are such a lovely young man," she said. She kissed him back. "Now go."

Mark did as he was bid and made his way down the hall. As he did, he reached into his jacket and pulled out a rose he'd snagged from the bouquet. It was silly and romantic, but he wanted to have something to give Whitney.

"Hey," he said softly, knocking on the partially open door.

Whitney was lying on a bed across the room. His eyes were closed, but when Mark spoke, they opened and he turned his head towards the door. "Hey," he replied, a smile touching his lips. "Is it six already?"

Mark entered, closing the door behind him as he did. "Yeah." He hesitated a moment, then crossed to the bed. "How are you doing?"

"I'm a two fingered, one legged, one-eyed freak with months of medical procedures ahead of me to continually remind me that I'm a two fingered, one legged, one-eyed freak." He scrubbed his hand over his face. "And now I'm being whiney and annoying to my boyfriend."

He sat on the bed, twirling the rose in his fingers. "You're not being annoying. You can whine to me as much as you want."

"I want to be stronger than this."

Gently, Mark touched Whitney's face with the rose. "You've been so strong for so long and all alone," he whispered, tracing the fine features with the petals. "And I know that you're going to want to stay strong for your mom, too. She's been through a lot, and I know that you don't want to add to that anymore than you have to. I want you to feel comfortable enough with me to let everything go."

Whitney's eyes were closed, fingers digging into the bedspread as Mark ran the rose over his jaw, around his lips, and down his neck. He circled Whitney's Adam's apple once before sliding it down and allowing the rose to rest in the hollow of Whitney's throat.

"It's just... it's a lot more overwhelming than I thought it was going to be," Whitney whispered. "Physical therapy every day, and all these medications so I don't get anything infected. I'm supposed to go see an ophthalmologist next week, and I need to start seeing a psychologist or something, too. Every doctor I've talked to has asked if I'm taking anti-depressants, and I'm starting to wonder if I need to or something. And Mom's having everyone over on Saturday and I'm really freaked out. What if they all treat me differently? Like I'm some cripple or something. Like I'm stupid or that my life is over?"

"Then you tell them what your plans for the future are."

He opened his eyes. "What if I can't cut it in college? What if I'm just fooling myself? I barely scraped through high school, and now I think I can hack social work? That's... God, I can't even think of what they do, that's how stupid I am."

"Whitney, you're panicking. You aren't going to be expected to start working your first day of college. They'll teach you what to do. And you're not stupid."

"How do you know?"

"I've been reading your letters for months. I know you." He kissed Whitney and rested their foreheads together. "Whit, your life is complicated right now. I don't want to add to that complication."

"Oh, God, Mark, I don't know how I'll get through all of this without you." Whitney put his arms around Mark and held him tightly. "I was serious when I said I love you."

"I was, too." Mark kissed his cheek. "And I'm not saying I won't be here for you. I'm just saying that, if you want to back off a little, if you don't want to tell your extended family about us, that's fine. You don't have to. I'm fine with just being introduced as your friend." He settled next to Whitney on the bed, stroking up and down his torso. Despite his embarrassment while speaking with Rebecca earlier, he was having a hard time being this close to Whitney. He wanted to feel Whitney's body moving against him again, hear those throaty moans, taste his sweat.

Bad, bad thoughts. Aunts and uncles and children were coming over.

"Yeah, but, I want to come out. I want to tell them, because I want to have you around and be able to hold your hand for support and everything. And I want them to understand how important you are to me. Hiding isn't my style, and they might be uncomfortable with it, but it's better for them to know than for them to wonder why you're always around."

Mark smiled and kissed Whitney. "Okay, then. As long as you're sure."

"I'm sure." He took the rose from Mark and touched him lightly on lips with it. "Thanks for the flower." He moved it slowly up Mark's face to his ear, running over the lobe so tingles of warmth spread through his scalp and down his neck. "God, I want you."

"Yeah," Mark breathed. "I want you, too." He kissed Whitney under his jaw, opening his mouth so he could taste the skin. "How long do we have?"

"Um... forty-five minutes. About." Whitney was grasping Mark's shirt, bunching it and sliding his hands beneath it. "Except... my aunt... always gets here early."

"Okay. Clothes stay on." Mark kissed Whitney, tongue probing inside Whitney's hot, wet mouth until they were both arching against one another and gasping. "We just kiss."

"Yeah. Just kiss." Whitney's teeth sank into Mark's neck and worried the flesh. "I'm so glad to be home."

"Yeah. So am I."

Fin



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