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Corner of the World 52: Cat and Mouse

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Dr. Roxanne Lawrence was forty-five years old. She'd grown up in Colorado. Undergrad was done at Stanford. Doctorate received from Berkeley. She'd had a small practice in San Francisco until about ten years ago, when her husband, a professor at San Francisco State University had been offered the head of the history department at Central Kansas State A&M.

She had two children, both boys. One was in his second year of college at Yale. The other attended Granville High. He played clarinet and had been the lead in the school play. Dr. Lawrence's husband belonged to university gym and was active in the local Rotary club. Dr. Lawrence volunteered at the women's center twice a week.

She had a subscription to the local newspaper and the New York Times. She read seven different psychology journals, two entertainment magazines, and as many mystery novels as she could. She had no connections to Metropolis, Lionel Luthor, LuthorCorp, or any subsidiary. She didn't know Helen Bryce. No mysterious sums of money had been deposited into any account after Lex first contacted her.

She had been the only psychologist who had not called him to "fit him in as soon as possible" after making the initial appointment. When the only opening she had was a week after he'd first called, it stayed that.

Dr. Lawrence was the only doctor Lex hadn't canceled on. Now he regretted it.

The door opened and Dr. Lawrence stepped out.

Too late now.

"Mr. Luthor?" She smiled and held out her hand. "I'm Dr. Lawrence."

Lex stood. He smoothed down the wrinkled in his slack before taking her hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Please, call me Lex."

"Very well. Lets go into my office."

Lex followed her inside.

It was a rather plain office. He could see right away that she shared it with at least two other doctors; there were pictures of three different families, as well as business cards with other names besides Dr. Lawrence. Along one wall was a bookshelf filled with medical and psychological texts. A rather large desk ran along the other.

Dr. Lawrence picked up a pad of paper from the desk. "Please, sit wherever you like," she said.

Lex looked at her a moment, then at the choices. Along one wall was a ratty but comfortable looking couch; there was a box of tissue on it and a couple fuzzy pillows. Adjacent was an overstuffed chair. The only other place to sit was the desk chair, which didn't look comfortable at all.

He hesitated. This had to be some kind of test or trick or way for her to make an observation about him. He wondered what sitting in the couch would say about his personality as opposed to sitting in the chair. He didn't like the idea that something so simple and stupid could say anything about him.

"Is there something wrong?" she asked.

"No." He sat in the center of the couch.

Dr. Lawrence took the chair. "So. What brings you here today?" she asked. She sat casually, leaning back in the chair, legs crossed. Her eyes were on Lex, encouraging smile on her face. Her entire posture was non-threatening and encouraging.

God, he wished he weren't here. "Well, I'm going through some changes in my life. I thought it best if I... talked with someone."

"What kind of changes?"

"I've been working for my father the past year and a half. He pulled me out of graduate school to manage a plant in his corporation. A few months back, I took over and started my own company, but he recently bought me out." He rubbed the back of his neck. "He's offered me a job back with his company, but I don't think it's the best way to go. He's not happy about it."

"No?"

Lex shook his head. "No. He prefers to have control over me. This is the first time I've ever done anything so far outside of his control. The first time I've said I don't want his help. That I won't take his help."

"You've relied on your father to take care of you for most of your life," she said.

"Yes. Well," Lex corrected, "I haven't had much choice. Any time I've tried to do anything on my own, Dad interferes."

"Can you explain that to me?"

No. "Well, my company is a good example. Last fall--I mean in 2001--Dad sent me to Smallville to manage a fertilizer plant. Then, when I managed to turn the plant around and it started making money, not to mention build a life for myself outside of him, he told me he wanted me back in Metropolis. When I didn't go, he tried to close the plant. So I staged an employee buyout. Then he went and blackmailed all my share holders so they sold their parts in the company. So now I don't have anything."

"And you feel he did that so he could have control over you." Dr. Lawrence tilted her head. "Why do you feel he needs to control you?"

"Because I'm not his son. I'm his heir. He sees me only as a means to extending his legacy. So he makes me do whatever it is he wants."

"And you don't like that."

"Of course not."

"How old are you, Lex?"

"Twenty-two."

"You said he pulled you out of graduate school. Why?"

He swallowed and rubbed his neck again. "I got sick. I almost died. While I was in the hospital, he withdrew me from the university. He said it was temporarily. But then." Lex sighed. "But then, during the summer, I was convalescing at the Grand, a hotel in Metropolis. I started having a lot of parties. I didn't... I was making drugs, different kinds. Experimenting. I just... I was bored. It was fun. Plus, I made money off it, which I put away just in case."

"In case of what?"

Lex hitched his right shoulder. "In case Dad ever cut me off. I wouldn't be penniless that way."

"So, you've been thinking about leaving your father's control for awhile now."

"In vague terms, yes. I've always wanted to prove myself to him, but, lately, it's not so much a matter of proving myself as breaking free. I'm tired of being constantly afraid of him and what he'll do to me."

She sat up straighter and uncrossed her legs. "What are you afraid he'll do, Lex?"

Shit. Shit, fuck, shit.

He smiled at her, but it was a pale smile. "With Dad, there's really no way to tell. He's slept with women I'm seeing, blackmailed friends, employees, and doctors to use against me. He." His words failed for a moment. "Last year, there was a hostage situation at the plant. When I went in to negotiate, Dad, who had given me false information, allowed me to be locked inside. I almost died. And after." Again, he couldn't get the words out.

Dr. Lawrence let the silence hang in the air. Her dark eyes were focused on Lex's face. One hand was splayed on her notepad.

Lex tried one more time, but it felt as if the words were stuck in his throat. A muscle twitched in his jaw. He shook his head.

"You can't say anything?" Dr. Lawrence said.

"No." The word was strangled.

She nodded and made a note. "Lex, I'm going to ask you a question and it might make you angry or upset or defensive. But I want you to try to answer honestly. Can you do that?"

"I'll try." Damn Clark and damn Jonathan and Martha and everyone else who made him come here. He was doing fine. Before. Not now. Right now his life sucked.

"Did your father abuse you?"

He crossed his arm over his chest. His lungs were tight, and the walls seemed to close in on him. He didn't want to be here. He wanted to go home.

"Did he hurt you last year?"

He still had the pool cue. Damien had thrown it away, but Lex found it and brought it back inside. Hidden, safe, where no one could find it.

"Lex?"

Lex took a deep, painful breath. Eyes squeezed shut, he forced out a rough, "Yes."


Doug and Roger were sitting in front of Reynolds's office when Clark arrived. He grimaced, realizing why he had been dragged out of class.

"Hey." He dropped into a seat next to Doug; the empty seat next to Roger was actually closer to the door Clark had come in, but Roger made Clark nervous. He was so adamant that everyone be accepting of gay people, and Clark in particular. Every day this week, he'd loudly invited Clark to sit with him at lunch and then glared at everyone, even though they weren't saying anything.

"Hey," Doug said. "I guess Reynolds wants to talk about the club, right?"

"Looks like."

"He can't turn it down," Roger said confidently. "It'd be un-American."

Clark cocked an eyebrow at him. "How so?"

"It's discrimination, Clark. It's like trying to keep black people out of the school or something. And it's against the first amendment, not letting people talk about what they want. We're allowed to talk." Roger shook his head firmly. "He's got to let us have the club."

"Don't get your hopes up too much, Roger," said Doug. "Lots of schools have tried and failed. He can say that it's not an academic club, and therefore not allowed."

"Yeah, but that chick Chloe could write about it. Get us a lot of publicity."

Clark squirmed. "I don't know if I want any more publicity."

Roger shrugged and said, "Yeah, but this is sort of bigger than just you now, Clark. We're talking about a support group for all gay students, and their friends. I mean, I know it's gotta hard to be gay, but I don't know what to do either. How to support you or, like, Doug or anyone else. After what.... I mean, I handled everything wrong and now..."

"It's okay, Rog," Doug said softly. He punched him in the shoulder. "We get it. But maybe we don't make Clark the centerpiece of all this. I just asked him because..."

"I've already been outted," Clark sighed. "Except, officially, I'm not committing to any orientation, okay? Please don't make me."

"We won't," promised Doug.

Reynolds's door opened and the man stepped out. "Gentlemen. Please step inside."

Clark watched Reynolds's face carefully as the man sat behind his desk. He wouldn't look at Clark. He looked at Doug and Roger, but his eyes skimmed over Clark like he wasn't there, which was weird, since, somehow, Clark had ended up between the two boys. It was noticeable, in Clark's opinion, and tacky. If Lex was in this situation, he'd never give himself away like that. In fact, Lex would have his eyes mainly on the person who was giving him the most grief, just to let them know he wasn't going to let them take control of the situation.

A sort of jolt went through Clark. Realization.

He could take control of the situation.

"Mr. Reynolds," he said, before the other man could speak. "I'm assuming you called us in to talk about the club Doug, Roger, and I want to form." His heart was in his throat, thrumming in the palms of his hands, but his words were steady.

Reynolds's blinked. "Yes, that's correct, Mr. Kent. I have to tell you that, although I think it's a good idea, I have some concerns."

"You can't tell us that we can't have this club," Roger said right away.

"Roger, he didn't," Clark said softly. "Concerns?"

He still wasn't looking at Clark. "Yes. First of all, it will be a challenge convincing the school board of this. You have my support. I think that any club that promotes open dialogue is a worthy one to have on campus. And I think that, in light of recent events, now is the opportune time. However, as I said, the school board may not be happy with the idea and may open it to the town to decide. I will do my best not to allow that to happen, but it has been an issue in other small town schools, so I wanted to warn you."

"This stupid homophobic town can kiss my butt," Roger said decisively. "My best friend killed himself because no one would accept him for who he was. I'm not going to let that happen again."

Clark and Doug exchanged looks.

"If it comes to that," Doug said, sotto voce, "we can always start a geography club."

Clark snickered at the allusion to one of the queer teen novels Mr. Townsend had given him for Christmas.

"What?" Reynolds asked, obviously perplexed.

"Nothing, sir," Clark replied. "I understand the concern about the school board, but I have a feeling that I'm the one that you're really concerned about."

Reynolds finally looked at him.

Clark gazed back, face as bland as he could make it. "Everyone thinks I'm in a relationship with Lex Luthor. If I'm one of the ones heading up this club, then this will become a lot bigger than just a controversial club."

"Yes, you're correct," Reynolds said. "The school and the town were just inconvenienced by your relationship with Lex Luthor. You'll be dragging yourself back into the limelight should you do this."

You'd think that knowing this man was a brainless asshole would be enough. But it wasn't. Clark's stomach hollowed out at his words, and an enormous blanket of fatigue dropped over him.

So much for controlling the situation.

"That's hardly fair, sir," said Doug. "It wasn't Clark's fault what happened with those reporters. The sheriff..."

"Yes, yes, I know that the information was leaked by unscrupulous people working for the law, but my point still stands. Because of that information, the school was besieged with reporters. Students were arrested for actions they took against those reporters." He shot a look at Roger, who glared back. "If Mr. Kent goes forward with this club, they will be back looking for more gossip. You'll just be cementing their already very well founded suspicions."

Clark swallowed and bit back a yawn. "They have no basis..."

"Please, Mr. Kent, you are attempting to start a gay social club."

"Hey!" Roger protested. "I'm not gay! And you can't prove that Clark or Doug are gay, either. This isn't a gay social club. It's a Gay-Straight Alliance. And anyone can come to it, gay or straight. I'm one of the straight ones, and you can't say Clark isn't one either."

"That's very nice of you to say, Mr. Hartman, but everyone knows...."

"Everyone is full of shit."

"Language, young man," snapped Reynolds.

Roger glared.

"Clark needs to be allowed to be in the club," Doug said. "It's open to all students who need a place to talk. It makes just as much sense for a straight boy who's been publicly declared as his best friend's lover to need a safe space to go as it does for a gay boy who's been outted by the press. One of the rules we want to have is that no one has to label themselves in any way at the meetings. An individual's sexuality isn't what we're interested in. We just want a safe space to talk about relevant issues."

Reynolds nodded and picked a pen up from the desk. "I never meant to imply that Mr. Kent wouldn't be allowed in the club."

"I was getting to that, sir," Doug said. He glanced at Clark, who shrugged. "Clark is instrumental to helping get this off the ground. He has the confidence and the brains to organize this thing. He's already put together one successful club."

"That doesn't leave him much time to do another," Reynolds said.

Clark felt like waving his arms around to remind the man that he was here.

"Right, but he's got experience. That's all I'm saying. However, I get what you're saying about the possible unwanted publicity. So, if we do have to go in front of the board, why can't we use someone else?"

"Clark's name is on the paperwork."

"I've got something that'll take that right off," Clark said, unable to keep the sarcasm from his voice.

Doug turned to him. "Would you mind, Clark? Helping us out, but not being one of the official people?"

He shrugged. "Yeah, that's fine. And we'll still vote for officers and everything after we form, right? I can do one of those roles in an official capacity." He turned to Reynolds.

Reynolds stroked his chin a moment before nodding. "Do you have anyone in mind?" he asked.

"I was thinking either Chloe Sullivan, Jack Orczy, or Chad James. But I need to ask them first."

"Are you sure about Chad James?" Reynolds asked. "He's rather flamboyant, don't you think?"

Clark's eyes burned and he closed them. Though, really, he'd like to laser Reynolds's head off. "I think Chad needs this kind of club more than others. And it'd be good for him to be in charge of something." He opened his eyes again. "I'll ask him and Chloe."

"I'll talk to Jack," Doug said.

"Me too."

Oh, that was going to go well, Clark thought. Jack was terrified of Roger.

Roger leaned over and whispered in Clark's ear, "I need to make up to the kid for being such an ass. You know?"

Roger was a good guy.

"All right, gentlemen. Why don't we meet again with your new team--and Clark--next week on Tuesday. I'd like you to write up a mission statement by that time. It's always best to go into this sort of thing as professionally as possible." Reynolds picked up a folder and handed it across the desk to Clark. "I've printed out some relevant information for you and added the URLs to several websites dedicated to starting up a GSA."

Doug and Clark exchanged looks.

"Thank you, sir," Doug said, surprised.

"You're welcome. Now, please go back to class. Mr. Kent, I need to speak to you for a moment."

Doug and Roger gave him a look as they stood.

He just grimaced and handed Doug the folder. He definitely didn't feel in control anymore.

"I wanted to inform you that your social worker is coming tomorrow to speak with you," Reynolds said when the other boys were gone.

Damn. It'd been a few weeks since everything had happened; he'd begun to hope that the social worker was never going to come. Turns out that Clark actually liked talking with Dr. Carvey; she was smart and funny and always listened to what he had to say. He didn't want to have to talk to anyone else. "Oh." He cleared his throat. "Do you know what time?"

Reynolds's look was sharp. "No, I don't, but I'm not sure I would tell you if I did know. You have a habit of disappearing."

He squirmed. "I guess."

"Also, I wanted to apologize for," he cleared his throat, "for implying that you were at fault for what. Happened to you." Reynolds cleared his throat again and straightened a few papers on his desk. "It wasn't, of course, your fault. Any victim of molestation isn't at fault. Of course."

"Right." Clark's face was hot, and he desperately wanted a nap. "It's okay."

"Good. But, I still think that you should reconsider your association with Mr. Luthor."

"And I think you should just shut up about that," Clark snapped.

"Mr. Kent." Reynolds's voice was so sharp that it sliced through the haze surrounding Clark's brain. "I understand that it's a delicate subject, but you will treat me with respect."

Clark bit his tongue to keep back the laugh and the string of angry words that followed. Instead, he glared sullenly at Reynolds, stewing in the injustice of it all.

"I'll be calling your parents, young man. And you have detention for the next two days. Don't think that your status makes you somehow exempt from the normal rules of this school."

His eyes stung. He had a status. Victim might as well be tattooed on his forehead.

"Do you have anything to say, Mr. Kent?" Reynolds asked, obviously wanting to hear an apology.

"Can I go?"

Reynolds glared at him a moment, then nodded curtly. "Go."

Clark didn't need to be told twice.


Mark could see the moment he stepped into Smallville Medical Center that it hadn't been a good day for Whitney. His boyfriend was sitting in the waiting room, gym bag by his foot, leg propped on a chair in front of him with a bag of ice on his knee. He was resting his head against the wall, eyes closed; his face was a thundercloud.

"Hey," Mark said quietly. He sat in an empty chair next to Whitney.

"Hey." Whitney didn't bother to open his eye. The black patch made his pale face seem almost sickly. "I hate my physical therapist."

"Bonnie?"

"No. The guy who was doing my hand today. Such an asshole." His eye opened, weary and pain glazed.

"What did he do?"

Whitney shook his head and took the ice pack off his knee. "Can you toss this?"

"Of course." Mark took the bag and crossed the room to the trash can. He nodded at Bonnie, who was working with another patient.

She smiled back, nodding as she continued to massage her patient's leg.

"Ready to go?" Mark asked when he got back to Whitney.

"Help me up?"

He held out his arms, acting as more a support than a crane. When Whitney had struggled to a standing position, he leaned in, arms wrapping around Mark's waist. "I'm so glad to see you," he whispered, kissing Mark lightly.

"Me too." He ran his fingers down Whitney's back and kissed him.

Whitney's mouth opened, tongue lightly touching Mark's upper lip. It was a spot guaranteed to make Mark's knees weak, and his fingers clawed into Whitney's back. He didn't want to lose control, not in public.

Not that Whitney was making it easy on him.

Mark pulled his mouth away. "Whitney," he whispered, breathless. "We should go."

"I know." Tension had bled from him, and he rested his forehead against Mark's. "I'm sorry. I know you don't like that."

"It's not that," he protested, but Whitney kissed him again and moved away.

"You aren't comfortable with public displays of affection. I get it. If I'd had your experiences, I wouldn't be either." He grabbed his crutches and headed for the door. "It's just, after today, I need you."

Mark followed Whitney outside to the car. "What happened?"

He sighed, head falling back. He always lifted his face to the sun, Mark noticed, whenever they stepped outside. First thing in the morning, too. Whitney would climb out of bed and go to the window, seeking the sun as if he drew his strength from it. And he glowed, of course, all tan and blond.

Beautiful. And all his.

"Just stupid stuff. The guy probably didn't even, you know. Mean anything. I'm just sensitive." He stopped, waiting as Mark unlocked the door to the car. Getting in was always a bit of an ordeal, and Mark tried not to park on any uneven surface, but it wasn't easy. He hated to see the pain that inevitably crossed Whitney's face as he bent his knee to climb in, and it was always intensified after therapy; wrinkles appeared around his eye, the skin around his mouth went white, and a low whine sounded in Whitney's throat.

Mark placed the crutches in the backseat and walked to the driver's seat.

"So," he said, starting the car. "What did this guy say that he probably didn't mean?"

"Nothing." And then, because Whitney belied stereotypes, whether consciously or un, said, "His name is Bob, and he's so damn proud of himself for being the only man in his family not to go into the military. He is, in fact, the only man in his family to go to college. The only smart, educated one. Not that he thinks that everyone who goes into the military is stupid. But you know about privates in the Marines," he added in a lower voice, obviously an imitation. "Grunts. Cannon fodder."

"He did not say that."

Whitney cleared his throat. "Not in so many words, no. But he did say he knows that you enlist in the Marines when you don't have any other real options." He rubbed his forehead. "There were days in basic where it felt like the only thing getting me through was sheer determination. Some of the other guys were just... assholes. Moronic assholes. It was like they couldn't do the simplest things. If I didn't have Dad and Clar- uh... people back home to think about, I'm not sure I would make it. But I did. But I never thought that I was, well, you know."

Mark glanced over at Whitney. "No, I don't know."

"I never thought I was just... I mean, I figured I'd get to college on scholarship for football, but I didn't think I was...."

Red light, thank God.

"Whit, you're not stupid." He took Whitney's hand and kissed it gently mindful of the wounds. "You're extremely intelligent."

"Clark's going to finish college before I even get in. You know he's taking all these college tests right now?"

"That's Clark. Most people aren't like him."

"Bob kept telling me how he'll get my hand in shape and maybe I'll be able to become a file clerk for some accountant or something." He pulled his hand away and flexed his remaining fingers slowly. "He said a few other vocations, but they were all brainless jobs a monkey could do. Probably will do in a few years. I'm going to be out of a job...."

"Whitney, you're going to be a social worker. A monkey can't do that."

"What if I can't hack it?"

"Then you find something else. Not a file clerk." He leaned over and kissed Whitney on the cheek. "You've got brains, Whit. Don't let some moron who couldn't make it as a doctor make you feel any different."

The light turned green. Taking Whitney's hand again, Mark continued down the street.

For a long time, no one spoke. Whitney kept his hand in Mark's, his fingers twitching out of his control. The bandages had come off a couple weeks ago. It'd seemed that, ever since then, Whitney had been more and more self-conscious about his injuries. They honestly didn't matter to Mark; even Whitney's hand wasn't that bad to look at. The surgeons had done a good job repairing the worst of the damage, especially since they were unable to replant any of Whitney's fingers. His thumb was completely gone, but his index and middle fingers were there to the knuckles. He hadn't much movement, but that was what physical therapy was for.

Mark hoped that some of the self-consciousness would leave Whitney once he got his prosthetics, but, really, the look of his hand wasn't what was bothering Whitney, and Mark knew it. The whole situation of the past year was bearing down on him. Some days it was frightening; Whitney had some dark, dark moods and Mark never felt as if he was adequate in supporting him. But he did his best because Whitney was worth everything and he needed someone to support him. Mark wanted to be that person.

"Am I a pain?" Whitney asked quietly as they turned onto Mark's block.

He glanced at Whitney. "Of course not."

"How many times have you had to tell me I'm not stupid?"

"I don't keep count."

"I think you've told me at least three times in the past week or so." He snorted and said, "I'm sorry. You deserve..."

"The man of my dreams?" he interrupted. "Yeah, you're right." Mark flashed a smile at Whitney as he pulled into the driveway. "I imagine that you heard a lot of the same growing up, right? You're a jock, told time and again that you'll never be more than a jock and it was okay not to be smart, because you were good at sports. But you were smart, you were just... not motivated in school."

"I should have been."

"Do you know how often boys like you slip through the cracks, Whitney?" Mark pulled into the driveway of Whitney's house and stopped the car. "You were an average student. Maybe less than average," he said, turning to Whitney. "But that doesn't say anything about your intelligence."

Whitney rolled his eye. "Yeah, right."

"No, I'm serious. There are tons of people who don't do well in school, but thrive in college or when they start working. You've got a lot of drive and a lot of intelligence. I've seen the books you've been reading lately; that's not normal fare."

"Yeah, but, like, half of it goes over my head. I have to look up a bunch of words."

"That's because they're professional books. Yeah, they use hard words. Even my teaching journals use words I don't always understand. They're supposed to go over your head; that's how they keep the average Joe out."

That got a smile out of Whitney. "Oh, is that so?"

"Yeah. It's a conspiracy."

"I love you."

"I know." He kissed the corner of Whitney's mouth before opening his door. "Let's go. I hate sitting in the car."

Helen wasn't home, as she often wasn't these days. Not only was she putting more hours in at the hospital, she was working on some project that she couldn't talk about that ate up all her free time.

Mark loved it. It'd been a long time since he'd had his own place, and even though, technically, she still lived here, having the place to himself was nice. Especially now that Whitney was in his life.

When they got inside, Whitney went straight to the bedroom.

"Do you want anything to eat?" Mark called after him.

"Just a snack. Whatever."

"Whatever," Mark repeated, going into the kitchen. His boyfriend was a peanut butter junkie; consequently, Mark had been going through more jars of peanut butter recently than he'd gone through in his entire life. The boy could eat and he'd yet to gain any weight.

Saltines were in the cabinet; peanut butter jar was... empty. Helen never threw anything away. Mark dug around for a new jar, finally finding one with the canned soup. Whitney currently hated all things cola, so Mark poured them both big glasses of milk; nothing else went with peanut butter.

"Whit," Mark said softly when he entered his room.

Whitney was sprawled on the bed, eyes closed, snoring softly.

Mark set the tray down and jostled him. "Wake up. You need to eat."

"Don't."

"Yeah, you do." He opened the jar and spread some peanut butter on a cracker. "Here."

He whined but obediently propped himself up and ate the cracker out of Mark's hand. Mark got six more down, plus the entire glass of milk before he agreed to let Whitney sleep. He knew that physical therapy took a lot out of Whitney, but he also knew that if Whitney didn't eat before he napped, he'd have a killer headache. Once, he'd even gotten dry heaves, although that they put off to his medication more than hunger.

Mark stroked Whitney's hair and closed his own eyes. The longer Whitney was home, the more self-conscious he became of his injuries and limitations. Still, except for the moments of doubt about his intelligence, he never acted unsure around Mark. He preferred to stay with Mark after physical therapy, never hesitated to ask for help if he couldn't do something, and was content to lean on him for strength and support.

And, even with his injuries and having to rebuild his life, he was always there for Mark, too. They had amazing conversations and even more amazing sex. Mark was more comfortable with Whitney than he'd been with anyone before.

The phone rang, waking Mark from his doze. "Hello?"

"Mark? It's Dominic."

Oh, dear Lord, the man's voice was like sex.

Mark shifted, moving Whitney into a more comfortable position. "Um, hi. Can I help you?" No more emergencies, please no more emergencies, Mark chanted silently. He liked Dominic, he didn't mind helping either him or Damien out, but, God, life was just calming down; he didn't want to have to leap out of bed and drive up to Metropolis to get tangled up in some Luthor-Senatori-Walters revenge thing.

"Do you know anyone who plays piano?" There was a touch of desperation in Dominic's voice.

"Um... Lex?"

"Besides Lex!" Now he was panicked. "Do you play?"

"I can play Chopsticks. Barely. What's wrong?"

"I'm going insane. I can't play, and I've had this... jolt today of inspiration, and I've been writing nonstop, but I can't.... it sounds like shite when I try to play it, because I can only do one hand and... I think this is it, but I can't hear it. I need someone to play for me. Does Whitney play?"

"No." Mark rubbed his eyes, trying to think. Some of his students were in band. He was pretty sure that one or two of them played piano. It was just a matter of finding out which. "Mrs. Kent might play," he tried, grasping straws. There wasn't a piano at the Kents', but she seemed the type.

"No, she doesn't." He sighed. "Lex hasn't come home from his appointment, and since it was three hours ago, I don't think that bodes well."

"Appointment?"

"Psychologist. Did he not tell you?"

Mark stroked his fingers through Whitney's hair. "He mentioned it in passing, but we haven't talked much recently. He's been busy with the house design."

"And that would be the other reason I can't ask him to help me. He was a few days ago, but he got a bit too into it. I woke the other night around three in the morning to find him practicing. And rewriting what I've already written. Damien has asked me not to get him interested in another obsession until the house is designed."

"You mean he hasn't finished the plans yet?"

Dominic just laughed.

"I've got a question for you. Has Lex always read Warrior Angel comics?"

"Yes, why?"

"What about Warrior Angel fanfiction? He had a whole folder of it on his laptop the other night when I saw him at the Talon."

There was a beat of silence. "Is he writing it?"

"I don't know."

"Crap. Seriously, when Lex is bored, he'll get obsessed with anything. And because he's trying to be good for Clark, he won't get wrapped up in his usual poison, which is good, except that leaves him open for everything else." He sighed. "Lex has a very addictive personality."

"I've noticed," Mark replied dryly. "So. His usual poison?"

"Drugs. Using, making, and dealing."

"Ah."

"Yes." Dominic cleared his throat. "Some--well, many, actually, of the stories are, in fact, true."

"Right." He shifted, his hand tightening on Whitney's neck involuntarily. "So. You're writing."

"Trying too. Of course, by the time I find someone who can play the piano, my wrist will be healed and I can do it myself. Of course, at the same time, I'll have forgotten everything I wanted to write and the inspiration will be gone, and I'll be stuck with nothing. Did I mention my sister is pregnant and wants me to raise the baby?"

"What?" Mark shot up, dislodging Whitney.

"You see the problem."

No, he really, really didn't.

"Um." What the fuck was he supposed to say about that? And didn't anyone in this town that lived in the Luthor mansion have friends outside the people they were sleeping with? Why was Mark the Father Confessor? "I didn't know you had a sister."

"Half sister, actually." Dominic sighed. "I don't know what I'm going to do. Damien hates children."

"Did he... Do you..." God, what question was he supposed to ask? "What do you want?"

"I'd already told Victoria I could probably take the baby before Damien asked to marry me. It was an accident, the pregnancy. She's in some sort of open relationship with her employer and his wife, only they don't want children. But she didn't want to have an abortion again, so she called me. She knew I've always wanted..."

That answered that question.

"Mark?" Whitney murmured. He lifted his head from the bed, eye glazed and blurry.

"Sorry," he whispered, pulling the phone from his mouth. "Go back to sleep."

Whitney nodded, closed his eye, and pressed himself into Mark. A minute later, his breathing evened out again.

"You want kids. Are you sure Damien doesn't?"

"Yes."

He rubbed his eyes. "And you've told him that you want children? That you have an opportunity to adopt your sister's child?"

Dominic hesitated. "He hates Victoria."

Right. "But..."

"She tried to kill me."

Of course she did. "And now she wants you to raise her baby?"

"It wasn't personal."

Mark sighed. "But you want the baby."

"I don't know. Right now, I just want to not to feel as if my life is being threatened and for my lover to go two weeks without a new catastrophe setting him back and to play my damn music."

The front door opened and closed. "Hello!" Helen called. "I'm home!"

Helen.

"You know Helen better than I," Mark said. "Can she play piano?"

Dominic groaned.

"Bad idea."

"No, no. Good idea, actually. Maybe if she came over, I can get my mind off Victoria and relax. May I speak with her?"

"Yeah." Mark dislodged himself from Whitney's grasp and climbed out of bed. At the door, he paused. "It's different, you know. When it's your own kid. Even adopted. My mom never wanted kids, but she never regretted having me."

"This is..."

"Different, I know. Damien loves you."

"Mark..."

"Tell him about the baby. Give him a chance."

"I can't..."

"If you love him, trust him."

Dominic sighed in defeat. "May I speak with Helen?"

Mark shrugged and said, "Yeah."

Helen was in the living room, feet propped on the table, TV on. "Hey," she said when Mark came in. "How was your day?"

"Good, thanks." He held the phone to her. "Dominic wants to talk to you."

She frowned but took the phone. "Hello? Oh, that's great. I... ah, yeah. I see. Uh-huh." Her nose wrinkled. "Can it wait forty-five minutes? I need to shower and change, I just got home. Sure, it's no problem. No, really. Dominic... Dominic, I said I would, I just need to shower. Okay. I'll see you soon." She hung up. "That man."

"He's unsure of himself."

"I know." Helen stood and stretched. "He's my ex. And he never asks for anything unless he's desperate. He must be really desperate."

"He can't play with the broken wrist."

She nodded and rolled her neck. "I'm going to shower and head over. You'll be okay alone with Whitney?"

Mark rolled his eyes at her and headed back to his room.

Whitney had sprawled out again, this time on his stomach. If Mark didn't keep him in check, the boy naturally spread out like he owned the place.

"Scoot," he whispered, crawling back next to his boyfriend.

Whitney moaned but moved. When Mark kissed him on the neck, he turned his head, eye opening. "Everything okay?"

"Yeah," Mark said, rubbing Whitney's back. "Everything's okay." He bent down and kissed Whitney softly. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For being someone I know I can tell anything to. For being you."

He crooked a smile and answered, "Yeah. Right back at you."


Piano music floated down the stairs of Lex's house, echoing off the stone walls. Clark stopped at the foot of the stairs and closed his eyes, letting it wash over him. It was pretty, but sounded a little... off. He knew nothing about music, but it wasn't...

It stopped suddenly, mid-phrase.

Clark frowned and moved up the stairs. He was about halfway up when it started again, same phrase. This time, it was a little different and stopped almost right away. By the time he was in the hall, it'd started for a third time, again, different, and continued on.

Damien was sitting just outside the entertainment room, looking in. His hands were resting on his thighs, face impassive as ever, but Clark could detect some tension in him. His back was tight, he was pale, his mouth was in a thin line. Not happy.

"Hi," Clark said, coming beside him. He glanced in the room.

Helen was seated at the piano, playing... dutifully. There was no other way to describe it. Back straight, fingers perfectly arched, her eyes planted on the music before her, Helen played with little expression or desire. Like a little kid being forced to practice. The beauty came from the music. From the man pacing behind her, leaning heavily on his cane, head moving in time with the music.

"Wow." Clark ran his hand through his hair. "Dominic wrote that?"

"He did."

"He's really good."

"Yes. Yes, he is."

Clark leaned against the doorjamb. The music was soothing. Calming. It made him feel happy.

"Stop," Dominic said. He put his hand on Helen as he bent over her, using her shoulder as support. His body blocked Clark's view, but from the sound of it, he was writing something on the sheet music. "Try that."

"I can barely read it," Helen said. She sounded annoyed. Despite her protest, she played again, haltingly.

"Wait." Dominic wrote something else. "Go."

He stopped her three more times before he said, "All right, go back to the top, please."

Helen sighed and started again.

"Does she sound as if she's being led to her execution to you?" asked Damien.

Clark suppressed a smile. "I don't know. It sounds okay."

"That is because the music transcends her. Despite her very rote and uninspired play, the music continues to do what he intended."

"Well, he's amazing."

"Indeed." They listened for a moment or two more before Damien asked, "Do you play?"

Startled, Clark turned to Damien. "What, piano?"

He nodded.

"No. No, I never had lessons." He ran his hand through his hair. "I think my mom was always afraid I'd bang too hard and break the piano. Why?"

The corner of Damien's mouth twitched. "Because I want that woman out of this house as soon as possible. Dominic needs someone to play piano for him. I can't. Lex isn't allowed. That leaves you." He looked away from Helen to Clark. "How quickly do you think you could learn?"

Clark groaned internally. He bit his lip. "Maybe a few hours. But I won't play very well. I mean, I'll be worse than the soulless wonder in there."

Damien laughed.

Clark just about fell over in shock.

"Are you all right?" Damien asked, looking at Clark in concern.

He let go of the doorjamb. "I, uh... I'm fine. I just.... I don't know if I've ever heard you laugh before."

"Teenagers," Damien muttered.

"So, uh, you don't like Dr. Bryce?" Clark said stupidly. His face burned so hot, he felt as if he'd catch flame any moment.

"I suppose I don't have anything personal against her. She's a pleasant enough woman. Professional. She was kind enough to share her apartment with Mr. Townsend. She came here after her shift to play piano for Dominic. Who is, of course," he added, voice taking on a new edge, "her ex-fiancee."

"Are you worried?" It didn't seem possible. This was Damien. Damien hadn't even seemed worried while he was under the car that had trapped him and crushed his legs.

"Of course not." Damien's look was disdainful.

Clark blushed harder. "Oh. Right." Stupid, stupid.

"Dammit, Dominic!" Helen said.

Clark turned. Dominic had taken the music off the stand while Helen was playing. He had it spread over the top of the piano now and was scribbling furiously.

Helen's arms were crossed over her chest. Her jaw jutted out just a bit, tight, lips down turned.

Dominic seemed oblivious. He was muttering to himself, singing. The pencil moved over the page. Helen glared, but Dominic was in another world.

"He looks like Lex," Clark said softly.

"I agree."

"Dominic!" Helen suddenly snapped.

He jumped, dropped the pencil. He looked like at her like he'd forgotten she was there.

"Are we almost done?" she asked. "I'm a little hungry."

"Oh." He looked back down at the music. Disappointment was written across his face. "If you need to go," he said, reluctance clear in his voice.

She sighed. "No, it's all right. I just need something to eat."

"Oh. Oh, of course. Um... Mabel. I'll just..."

"I'll get it, love," Damien said. There was a dangerous edge to his voice, one Clark hadn't heard for awhile.

It made him shiver. Wheelchair and laughter aside, Damien was a dangerous man. Clark sometimes forgot.

So had Helen, if she'd ever known. One eyebrow was raised, and her back was stiff, but there was a touch of fear in her eyes.

It sailed over Dominic's head, though. He just smiled and said, "Thank you, darling," and turned back to his music.

"And that would be another reason I'm not pleased to have her here," Damien said. He turned his chair around and rolled down the hall

Clark followed. "Because she's hungry?"

"Yes, exactly. And, also, because I know she danced all over the tattered bits of his self-confidence while they were together. I dislike anyone who isn't Lex who treated Dominic ill."

Right. Because Lex and Dominic had once been an item. And Lex had dumped Dominic for Victoria and then Dominic ran out and got engaged to Helen, and it occurred to Clark that his life wasn't unlike one of those soap-operas Chloe pretended she didn't watch during summer break.

"I can see that. I'm never going to forgive Lionel." Clark frowned. Why did Lionel somehow always manage to come up in discussions about lovers? The man was insidious. "You don't think Lionel's ever..."

"He would. In a heartbeat. If he has, Lex doesn't remember. Therapy may change that." Damien stopped his chair in front of the elevator. "Back to Helen," and Clark was fairly certain that the change of topic was for his benefit, not because Damien wanted to talk about Helen anymore. "My real reason for disliking her is I don't trust her."

Clark pressed the button for the elevator, even though Damien had already hit it. "You think she's going to try and take Dominic back?"

Damien was really good at doing that look that made you feel two inches tall. No wonder he'd been able to keep Lex alive.

"No," he said slowly, as if Clark was a very special child. "I don't trust her with you. Or with Lex Or with anyone in this town. She's ambitious, too much so for Smallville. I know she's working on the meteorites, but I simply feels there's something more there."

"Like, she'll exploit what she finds?"

"There is that. I can't help but wonder what turned her on to this in the first place. The government denies that the meteorites have affected anyone or are in anyway dangerous. We know that isn't true. Miss Sullivan has done extensive research on it. Many of the doctors in the town have had to come to the conclusion that the meteorites have done something. And..."

"And Lionel," Clark finished flatly.

"Exactly."

Clark sighed and rested his head on the wall. "I hate Lionel."

Damien took Clark's wrist and squeezed gently. "Not that I needed to warn you, but do be wary around Helen. Other than that, don't let her worry you. And don't let the insecurities of a middle aged man ruin your mood."

"I never would have thought of you as insecure."

The elevator door opened. "Believe it or not, Clark, I am as human as the next." He squeezed Clark's wrist again before he released it. "Now, run along and go kiss Lex's headache all better. He had his first appointment with the psychologist today."

"How did it go?"

Damien moved his chair into the elevator. "As well as can be expected. Better than, since Lex actually opened up to her and told her as much as he could about Lionel."

"As much as he could?"

"Lex was upset and lost his ability to speak."

"Does he have it back?" Clark asked, alarmed. Why hadn't Lex called for him? Damn, he should have...

/I'm fine. Get up here. Now./

Clark reached inside the elevator and hit the button for the first floor. "Thanks, Damien."

"Be gentle."

"Of course." Clark turned and jogged to Lex's room, even though every bit of him screamed to use his speed.

Lex's room was dark. He was stretched across his bed. There was something over his eyes. Athena was stretched on his chest. A candle burned on the dresser, smelling of... coffee. Soft music played.

Clark untied his shoes and climbed on the bed. When he rested his head on Lex's shoulder, Lex didn't stir, although Athena did open her eyes and give Clark a warning look. She was getting very possessive lately. Just the other morning, Clark had woken to find her chewing on his hair and trying to drag him out of bed. He was just happy that she wasn't infected by meteors.

Ignoring Athena's look, Clark closed his eyes. Careful not to jostle Lex too much, he snuggled against him, breathing Lex in, relaxing, coming home....

He opened his eyes, in Kiptin. Lex was sitting in front of the fireplace, listlessly rolling the tractor back and forth.

"Ah, man, I wish I could take a picture here," Clark said. He dropped next to Lex. "Chloe would love to see the great Lex Luthor playing with a beat up old toy tractor."

Lex rolled his eyes. "Do you want your dollie?"

"I already told you, everyone knows about me and my dolls. It's no secret. Besides." He nudged Lex's leg with his socked foot. "You gave me Cal to sleep with. She definitely saw me with him."

"Right." He fell silent, still pushing the tractor.

Clark nudged him again. "What's going through your head?"

"I'm wishing I could turn into a kid and stay here forever." He sighed. "I've been trying ever since I got here, but I don't know how."

"I don't think it's a conscious thing. The other time, you were so upset and out of control, you just popped in here as a kid."

"I feel out of control now." He looked up. "They had to drug me to get me to calm down. I couldn't talk. It was humiliating."

Clark laid on his stomach and rested his head on Lex's thighs. "Who gave it to you?"

"Dr. Sutton. She's the one who took me to the appointment, since Damien had to get his blood checked. Dr. Lawrence waited a little before she called Dr. Sutton in, but I couldn't talk and a migraine hit, and it was awful. I never want to go back."

"You are, though?"

His sigh was heavy. "Yeah. Don't have much choice. I promised." He carded his fingers in Clark's hair.

"If you think it'll do more harm than good, then you can stop. But you know you need to talk to someone about what's happened. Even if you don't talk about Lionel, you can straighten out your own thoughts."

Lex tugged. "You're just twisting around what I've said to you."

"Yup."

"Did you talk to your shrink today?"

He shook his head. "Although I did talk to Reynolds. Every time I go in to see him, I leave wondering how much further he has to stick his foot in his mouth before it comes out his ass."

Lex laughed. "What'd he say?"

"Just some crap about the gay-straight alliance." Clark told Lex of his meeting that day, trying to focus on anything funny. Which, sadly, meant poking fun at Roger, but even Clark had to admit, Roger's enthusiasm bordered on zealotry.

"I've seen it happen before," Lex said. "One extreme to the next. Is he religious at all?"

"Um, maybe. He goes to the Episcopalian church on Flower Street, but he's not like Whitney."

"Oh, good. So he's in a religion that accepts homosexuality." Lex smiled. "He's feeling a ton of guilt for his behavior and wants to atone. Not just for his behavior, but for his friend. Are you sure he's not gay?"

Clark shrugged. "Pretty sure. As sure as I am of anyone's sexuality anymore. But, who knows? Maybe I'll go to school tomorrow and find out that Roger and Pete have hooked up. They're the two straightest guys I know."

"Pete is pretty straight. He's never even checked me out, and I'm pretty much the ultimate gaydar test."

"Excuse me?"

"I knew Whitney was bent before he even broke up with Lana. Remember when I set you and Lana up with tickets for the Radiohead show, and somehow the Dream Team wound up at my place?"

"Uh-huh."

"Whitney kept looking at my ass. And then, I sat in front of the fireplace..."

"And he couldn't keep his eyes off you."

Lex nodded.

Clark smiled and touched Lex's nose with a fingertip. "Yeah, but, you look like an angel when the fire glints off your skin. You glow, and your eyes shine, and it's impossible to stop looking at you."

"Only if you've been bitten a little by the queer bug. That's my test. I look feminine enough to appeal to those who appreciate beauty, or, if given the right inducement, would allow themselves to be tempted. Pete just doesn't notice me at all, no matter what I'm wearing, where I am, or what I'm doing. On the Kinsey scale, I'd say he's a perfect zero."

"What are you?" He traced over Lex's cheekbone, up to his temple, over the curve of his ear.

Lex seemed to think a moment. "I don't know. I'm not a Kinsey kind of guy, really. I guess they'd put me at a three, since I can go either way with no qualms or preference. It's the person, not the gender." He cocked an eyebrow. "Or the species, apparently."

Clark laughed. "You know, I used to think it was just you. That'd make me, what? A one? But now I find myself more interested in guys than girls."

"Maybe that's because you've been looking at the girls since you hit puberty. You know them all, what they look like, how the smell, how they move, all of it. Now you've got a whole new breed to study, and you've always been an apt pupil."

"Maybe. But that doesn't follow for when I go to Metropolis."

"You're sixteen." Lex shrugged. He took Clark's hand and kissed the palm. "How many girls have you been with this year? And by been with, I mean kissed."

"Um.. Chloe, Jesse, Theresa... I think that's it."

"Guys?"

"You, Whitney, Grant, those guys at the club when I was high, and, uh..."

Lex raised his eyebrows. "And, uh, who?"

Damn. "Um, that one guy. Morgan."

"The old man." He narrowed his eyes. "Why are you acting guilty? I already knew about him."

Oh. Right. "I don't..." Clark sighed. He sat up. "I met him again. When we were fighting, I went to his club."

"Oh." Lex swallowed and shrank back a little. "And... and is there anything I need to know?"

Ashamed, Clark hung his head. He couldn't meet Lex's eyes. "I let him touch me."

"Interesting way to put it." Lex put his hand under Clark's chin and lifted. "Do you want to explain?"

"I don't know. It just sort of happened. Like with your father, only good. Like I wasn't in control of everything, I didn't have to worry about anything. He just... took charge and I let him do whatever."

"How far?" Lex's face was blank, eyes revealing nothing. He didn't seem upset, though, or hiding. It was more of a calculating stillness.

"Not very. My clothes were on. So were his. He was interrupted by a phone call."

"He was interrupted?"

"It was kind of like I wasn't even a person, so much as a toy. Or something."

One red-gold eyebrow arched. "Interesting."

"What are you thinking?" Clark asked, squeezing Lex's hand. In Kiptin, he could squeeze and not have to worry about hurting Lex.

Lex licked his lips. "I'm thinking that maybe we've been neglecting some of your needs lately."

"I don't understand."

"I can't think of the last time I've been on top." He pet Clark's hair. "But, more, I can't think of the last time I've put in any effort to dominate you. To really take control." His fingers trailed over Clark's forehead. He traced Clark's lips. "It's either been you topping, or us fooling around, both which are great. Then there's those time we just..."

"Need each other," Clark finished for him, thinking of everything they'd been through lately.

He nodded. "But, despite the fact you clearly are naturally dominant, you have an incredibly submissive side. I haven't been meeting that need for you, so you had to go to someone else."

"I haven't asked."

"No." Lex leaned into Clark. Their lips met and it was coming home. "No, you haven't. Ask me."

"Lex, please. I need you to... touch me and make me feel used and objectified and dirty and wonderful."

Lex climbed onto Clark's lap. "You want me to tie you up."

"Yes."

"Spank you?"

"Yes."

"Fuck you with my hand until you come over and over again?"

Clark whimpered and bit Lex's neck.

"Okay, angel." Lex stroked Clark's back, hand soothing. "Oh, my little angel, don't worry. I'll take care of you. Not tonight. This weekend. We'll send everyone away so it's just us, and you will be punished and used and touched all you need. Okay?"

"Okay." Clark licked his throat. "But I'm kind of really horny."

"And I'm kind of still drugged. I can't even get it up in my mind," Lex said ruefully.

Clark whimpered. "Do you want to be touched?"

Lex laughed out loud. "That's my kinky angel. We could wake up and you could touch yourself for me. I'm always up for a free show."

"That sounds..." Clark's face fell. "Damien."

"Meet you in the real world."

Clark opened his eyes. Damien was by the bed, gently shaking Lex.

"Sir. Sir?"

"Yeah?" Lex's eyes were clouded and unfocused, but he sat up. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong. This was just faxed to you." He handed Lex a paper. "I thought you'd like to see it."

Clark glanced over Lex's shoulder. At the top of the paper, he read the words, "Lucas Luthor. Current location, Edge City."

Lex's hand shook. "Lucas."


"Hey." Lana stuck her head into Chloe's room. "You done yet?"

Chloe shook her head. "Almost. I'm working on my conclusion. Just hang on."

Lana nodded, even though Chloe's back was to her. She walked inside, closing the door behind her. "If I never have to analyze the causes of the rise of the middle class during nineteenth century England, it will be too soon," she said as she flopped onto the bed.

"No kidding." Chloe's fingers flew over the keyboard. "At least we got a fairly normal day."

"Speak for yourself. I got to spend all history watching Clark blow off his excess steam from his meeting with Reynolds."

The printer sprang to life. Chloe turned. "What do you mean? We totally detoxed him during lunch. He ranted and raved, Pete agreed, we put it in perspective, and Roger came by to preach about the evils of homophobia, and Doug kept Roger in check. He was fine."

"So he would have you believe."

Chloe shook her head. "Clark can't hide things from me. He's mine. Don't you dare try and take him away, because I can't deal with Lex."

Lana rolled her eyes and said, "That's not what I meant. And he was just a little wound up, that's all. Not like... before. Besides, had the class been more interesting, I might not have noticed. He was just writing like he was possessed. That's all."

"I just..."

"Want all their problems to go away," Lana finished when Chloe trailed off.

She nodded. "I'm such a selfish bitch."

Lana climbed on top of Chloe. "Yes," she said, pouting sympathetically, "You are a horrible, evil person who never, ever thinks of her friends, especially Clark." She kissed Chloe twice.

"Lana..."

"Chloe, don't do this." She threaded her fingers through Chloe's hair and kissed her again. "You are a fantastic friend to Clark, but you can't be everything for him. It's not like he was traumatized by Reynolds today, he was just pissed. He let off steam at lunch, but it's not like it went away. Especially while listening to that God-awful lecture we sat through today."

"It was unusually coma-inducing."

"Exactly." She smiled. "Without anything else to think about, Clark's mind went back to one of the safer subjects to dwell on: the GSA and Reynolds." She nuzzled Chloe underneath her jaw. "Isn't anger better than despair?"

Chloe arched her neck. Her hands slid up Lana's spine and pressed against her back. "Yes. I just wish I'd known."

"You aren't responsible for Clark. You're his friend. There's a difference." She tried to make herself kiss back up to Chloe's mouth, but it was drawn irresistibly down. Lana kissed down to the top of Chloe's top. She drew it down a bit more so she could kiss the soft swell of breasts beneath. Chloe's skin was soft, and Lana stroked, pushing Chloe's top up, fingers outlining each rib. "You have to let him process some stuff on his own."

"I know." Chloe was squirming underneath Lana. Her hands were under Lana's top as well.

The hooks on Lana's bra came undone. "We have essays due tomorrow," Chloe said as she pulled Lana's top over her head.

"I know." She tugged at Chloe's shirt. "I don't care." Her stomach clenched as Chloe licked down to her breast. Her tongue circled around Lana's nipple. "Oh God," she breathed. Her back arched. She straddled one of Chloe's legs and moved so her pelvis was over Chloe's hips. When she rocked into it, a hot wave of pleasure washed out from the area. Lana groaned.

"God, I want you so much." Chloe hooked her leg over Lana's thighs.

"Me too."

She and Chloe had been trying for weeks to have some time alone to explore. Originally, they'd planned to go to Metropolis for the weekend, or at least the day, but Gabe Sullivan had nixed that. He said it'd be fine if they wanted to visit Nell, but he didn't like the idea of them going up alone and getting a hotel room. He also didn't like the idea of them just going up to shop or go to the movies; they could do so in Smallville or Grandville just as easily. Under different circumstances, Lana might have suggested they see if Lex could pretend to chaperone them for the weekend, but it seemed like an incredibly tacky thing to do.

So, they'd taken to necking whenever they found the chance. In the Torch office, locked in a stall in the girl's bathroom, in the den when Gabe wasn't home. They hadn't gone much further than shirts off touching and dry humping, and both girls were beginning to feel it.

"Hey." Lana sucked on Chloe's earlobe. "Want to ditch our last class tomorrow and sneak over to Clark's treehouse?"

"That's going to be hard to do considering the two of you are grounded until you graduate."

"Crap!" Chloe shoved Lana off her and grabbed her shirt.

Heart pounding, Lana did the same. Her head was bowed, hair shielding her nudity at least partially.

"Dad, don't you..."

"Knock?" Gabe's voice was sharp. "I shouldn't have to. When the two of you are in each other's room, the door is supposed to be open."

"You couldn't have known Lana was in here."

"I listened first. I heard you talking."

"Yeah, but...."

"There are no yeah buts here," Gabe interrupted. "I know I've been very lax on the rules, but that's because you've been with Chad. I assumed that, if you had a boyfriend, that meant you and Lana weren't together and could therefore be trusted. I hope I raised my daughter to be faithful to one person at a time."

Lana pulled her hair away from her face and glanced at Chloe. Chloe was chewing on her lower lip, eyes on the carpet.

"Yeah," Chloe said after a moment. "I wouldn't have hurt Chad like that." Even though she almost had.

"There were rules in place for you and Chad as well." Gabe rubbed his forehead. "I had hoped you followed them as well, but now I'm not so sure. Did anything happen that shouldn't have? Chloe? Did you and Chad have sex?"

Chloe closed her eyes. Tears fell down her cheeks. She nodded.

Gabe sighed. He walked further in the room and pulled Chloe's chair out from the desk. "Were you safe?"

"Yes."

Lana took Chloe's hand and squeezed it.

"I'm glad. But we're going to make an appointment with your doctor and get you checked out, just to be safe. Understand?"

She nodded.

"Look, Chloe. Lana. I understand where you both are coming from. You're young, in love, and full of adolescent hormones. You want to act on them. But." He leaned forward and rested his arms on his thighs. "Girls, sex is more than just fun. It's more than just something that feels good. It's an emotional investment, especially for the two of you. You're best friends. You're roommates. There's a lot of history between the two of you, a lot of feeling. You can't treat sex like a game. You both deserve more than that."

"We're not," Lana said. She wouldn't look at him. "Treating it like a game, I mean."

"How long have you been back together?" Gabe asked.

"A few weeks," answered Chloe. "I don't understand why you're so concerned. It's not like, if we do break up again, it's not going to hurt anyway. And neither of us can get pregnant, and we're both clean, so we won't get each other sick."

"I just think that sex is something best left for when you're older and more emotionally developed." Gabe sighed. "However, I also understand that everyone develops at a different rate. And, unfortunately, you're already sneaking behind my back to get what you want."

"I'm sorry, Dad."

"I'm sorry, too, Gabe."

He sighed. "From now own, you may not be in each other's rooms at all. If you're going to do your homework together, you do it downstairs. No late night visits. If someone's upset, you go down to the living room. You'll both be back home by five on school nights for the next two weeks. Lana, you'll redo your work schedule if you need to. No going out on the weekends except to work. And, Lana, you're going to have to start taking some Saturdays off. If I remember correctly, there's a support group at that center you used to go to on the weekends for teens. Am I right, Chloe?"

Chloe looked very pale. She nodded. "But, Dad, we can't go to that."

"Chloe...."

"My ex-girlfriend is in that group, and I..."

"I'm sorry, babe, but I really want you to be around kids your age facing the same things. I know they discuss safe sex issues and everything. It'll do you both good."

Lana swallowed and squeezed her hand. "We can bring Clark sometimes. It'd do him good, too."

"You can bring anyone you want," Gabe said. "I'll drive up with you, take whoever. I'll even let you go shopping after or whatever else you want to do without me. And I'll start going to the PFLAG meetings in Grandville."

Chloe licked her lips. "I think there might be a teen group over in Grandville. Maybe. Because of PFLAG already being there. If there is, can we go there instead?"

"Of course. It'd be an easier drive.

"Okay." She wiped a tear away. "I'm really sorry, Daddy."

Gabe's face softened. He rose from the chair and walked to the bed. "I know you weren't trying to be defiant, honey. You're just in love." He put his hands on both their shoulders and squeezed. "Now. You have essays due tomorrow, right?"

They glanced at each other and nodded.

"Why don't you get them and take them downstairs. I'll make cocoa."

"Thank you, Gabe." Lana released Chloe's hand. Her essay was scattered on the floor. She bent to pick it up. "I'll be down to help you in a minute."

He hesitated, then nodded and left.

"I'm sorry, Lana."

She flashed Chloe a reassuring smile. "It's hardly your fault. I'm the one who came in and seduced you."

"Right." She rolled her eyes. "God, how embarrassing."

"I'm sure Lex and Clark could top that. Although, topless and making out." Lana winced, face turning hot.

Chloe went to her printer. "Well," she said, picking up her essay. "There was the time when Lex and Clark got off in the loft. Lex came all over his shirt, then proceeded to have a whole conversation with Mrs. Kent. I guess that had to have been more embarrassing."

"You're joking." Lana looked at her. "That didn't happen."

Chloe grinned and waggled her eyebrows. "Dare you to ask them."

Lana laughed and shook her head.

"I'll buy you that set of paints you've been wanting." Chloe kissed Lana on the cheek.

She blushed, trying to imagine herself asking Lex about it. It could be fun. "We'll see," she finally said.

"Wow, you're actually thinking about it." Chloe slipped her arm around Lana's waist. "I am such a bad influence."

"You know what, Chloe? You really are."


"Here we are," Rebecca Fordman said as she parked in front of the Kents' house. She turned to Whitney. "Are you going to need me to pick you up later?"

Whitney shook his head, fingering the handle. "Mrs. Kent said she'd drive me to church, and Mark's going to pick me up after."

"Is he coming to dinner?"

Whitney nodded. "If it's okay."

His mother smiled. "Of course it's okay. I love having him over." She hesitated, then said, "Have you ever thought about asking him to go to church with you?"

"Mom." He sighed. "He's not religious, and his family's Lutheran anyway. It'd be awkward." Then, before she could say anything else, Whitney leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. "I'll see you later, Mom."

"Bye honey. Have fun."

Whitney climbed out of the car. He leaned against the car as he pulled his crutches from the backseat. He'd had a mild session of physical therapy that day, but his knee was still aching from it. Bonnie swore it'd get easier as time went on. He knew it'd only been a few weeks, but Christ, he was sick of the pain.

He made his way to the porch and hobbled up it. His mother was still watching him, as usual. Ever since he was a kid, any time she dropped him off anywhere, she sat in the car and watched until he was inside or with his team or whatever point it was when she believed him to be safe.

It'd been a long time since they'd been in this situation. Whitney had started riding his bike everywhere when he hit junior high, no longer willing to suffer the embarrassment of his mom watching him. And high school had brought cars and friends and an independence beyond anything he'd known.

It was ironic that adulthood had taken that all away. Oh, okay, fine, not all away. Mom never said anything about him spending the night at Mark's. She was thrilled to have Mark over for dinner or a movie or whatever, just as long as they didn't have sex at home. And he understood why she was like that, although Whitney couldn't help wondering if she'd still feel the same way if he and Mark made a real commitment to each other.

"Don't get too far ahead of yourself," Whitney muttered to himself. He hauled himself up the last step and paused. He was out of breath. "Hello?" he called through the screen door.

"Whitney?" Clark appeared at the door. His smile was blinding.

"Hey."

Clark opened the door and waved at Whitney's mom. Then he put his hand on Whitney's shoulder and pulled him inside. "Sorry for the change of plans," he said. He hesitated, then glanced behind Whitney again.

"She gone?" Whitney asked.

"Um... yeah, now she is." His eyes slid to Whitney's. His cheeks went rosy. "Hey." Clark leaned forward and kissed Whitney chastely on the lips. "Thanks for coming."

Whitney leaned his head against Clark's cheek, closed his eyes. "No problem. Talon, Kent house. It's all the same, right?"

"Right." Clark kissed his cheek, then pulled away. "Lana's taking orders. She's the only one who can work Dad's espresso machine without breaking it."

"You shouldn't make fun of your father, Clark," Lana said. She was sitting at the kitchen table next to Chloe, school books spread out.

He felt his cheeks heat. Somehow, he'd missed seeing the girls when he first stepped in; it happened a lot when he was around either Mark or Clark, a complete oblivion to anyone else around. "Hey Lana. Chloe."

Chloe waved, her nose buried in her book.

Lana, though, rose and gave Whitney a kiss on the cheek. It didn't warm him quite as much as Clark's kiss had, but, then, they never really had. When a beautiful girl fails to get you hot, it's a clear sign you're gayer than a loon, right? "Did you want something to drink?"

"Just coffee. You know I'm clueless when it comes to anything fancy."

"Then you fail at being gay," Chloe said.

"Oh? Why's that?" He pulled a chair and sat.

Chloe looked up from her book. "Gay men, by law, are required to drink complicated coffee drinks. Like, half-cafe, no foam, double shot, soy grande latte. Or something like that."

He thought about it, then said, "Can't I just fuck guys?"

"I guess so."

"One coffee it is." Lana pulled the can from the refrigerator and went to work.

"So, why is Lana making the coffee anyway? You'd think the point of meeting here and not the Talon would be to give her some time off."

"No." Clark sat next to Whitney and gave him a lazy smile. "The point of meeting here is so my mom can keep an eye on them."

Whitney looked at the girls. "You're being baby-sat?"

Both Chloe and Lana were blushing.

"Not exactly," Lana said. Coffee brewing, she sat back a the table. She pulled her math book to her and bent over. Her hair shielded her face.

"Then what, exactly?"

"They're grounded." Clark bounced in his seat, grinning.

"Ah." Whitney matched Clark's grin and pinned Lana with his eyes. "And why is that?"

"It's nothing," Lana said.

"They got caught."

"You are such jerk," Chloe growled. The table jerked. "Owe, my knee!" She made a face and rubbed her knee under the table.

"Caught?" Then he got it. "Oh, caught." Despite Clark's obvious amusement at the situation, Whitney was embarrassed, both for the girls and because it was embarrassing. "Um. Oh," he said again.

"It's no big deal," Lana said. She caught his eye and shrugged.

"Yeah, but now they're grounded." Clark couldn't be more gleeful.

"You're being kind of a jerk about this, Clark," Whitney said.

Clark turned those shining eyes on him. "I'm always grounded. Chloe's never grounded. Lana? She's been grounded even less times than Chloe. They're always laughing at me."

"We never laugh at you!"

Lana rolled her eyes at Whitney and rose to get his coffee.

"Oh, come on, Chloe..."

"No! No, I am nothing but a supportive friend and I never laugh at you when you're in trouble."

Clark snorted. "Please. You always laugh at me. I get caught by my folks, I get grounded, I do something stupid at school, you laugh at me."

"Yeah, but... but I'm there for you, too."

"And I'm here for you. Hey, I'm the one who offered my mom up as an alternative to you having to sit at the plant and smell the fumes."

Chloe rolled her eyes. "Yeah. Out of the goodness of your heart."

"You're my best friend. Of course I offered out of the goodness of my heart." Clark held out his hands, palms up. "And I'm not even whining about my life, either."

"Halleluiah."

"Chloe!" Lana crossed the room quickly and smacked Chloe on the back of her head. "You deal with Clark, I deal with Lex. That's the deal, remember?"

"Lana!" Chloe turned and grabbed Lana's wrist. "Ix-nay on the lark-cay and ex-lay ing-thay."

"O-day ey-thay ink-thay e-way on't-day own-kna ig-pay atin-lay?" Clark stage whispered to Whitney.

"Irls-gay are-hay umb-day," Whitney answered.

"Even more so because they don't know me and Lex are onto their game." When both girls looked at him, wide-eyed, Clark said, "Oh, come on. We totally know that Chloe deals with my problems and Lana with Lex's. We aren't stupid."

Chloe let Lana go. "I didn't realize... Sorry."

Clark shrugged. "Just be happy that Lex and I don't do the same. I mean, imagine him trying to help Lana through her issues."

Lana grimaced. She went back to the counter and got Whitney's coffee. "His answer to everything is sex. Flunk a test? Screw your girlfriend. Aunt using her husband to get away from Lionel? Go have sex. Afraid of having sex? Go fuck your girlfriend you frigid bitch."

"No, that was Roger," Clark said quickly. "Lex said you were an ice princess."

"And, really, Lex is the biggest princess in Smallville," Chloe put in.

Whitney added a teaspoon of sugar to his coffee and sat back. It was like watching a movie. Sure, he'd missed half the plot and it was a little confusing. Seriously, Lana talking easily about sex? Getting caught having sex with her girlfriend? Chloe and Clark bickering? Chloe and Lana dividing counseling duties? It was all a mystery, especially the Lana sex stuff. Whitney couldn't help wondering if he'd slipped into some kind of alternate dimension.

"Lex is not a princess." Clark sniffed. "He's quite clearly a queen. And a lovely one at that."

"Oh, yeah? Ever do him in a crown?"

Clark's eyes took on a faraway expression. "No." His voice was thoughtful.

Lana blushed so hard Whitney thought about tossing some water on her. Chloe, though, exchanged an amused glance with him. He didn't know what she was thinking about, but Whitney's head was full of interchanging images of Clark and Mark, wearing a crown and spread naked on a dark blue silk sheets.

He frowned, then changed Mark's bed from blue to black. Ah, there. Perfect, all that pale, lean skin spread out, glowing like a pearl against the black. And the crown on his head, diamonds twinkling.

Whitney cleared his throat and shifted; now was not the time. Definitely not the time. "So," he said. "How long are you grounded?"

Chloe snorted and slammed her math book shut. "I don't know. Originally, two weeks, but Dad keeps changing things on us. Originally, he said that we were supposed to be home by five every night. Now, he doesn't want us at the home alone together. So, Lana's allowed to work and I can either stay and work on the Torch as long as I call him, or go hang out at the plant with him and do homework. Luckily, Mrs. Kent said she could keep an eye on us, so that's a little more freedom." She sighed.

"We also have to go to some support meetings at the gay and lesbian center in Metropolis." Lana was blushing again. "He wants us to be somewhere around people like... like us. So we can talk about things like, you know. Sex and stuff. You know." She took a deep breath. "Would you like to come with us?"

"Me?" He glanced at Clark, who shrugged. "Why Metropolis?"

"Well," Chloe said, twirling her pencil, "Smallville does not have anything so much as resembling a support group for people who love the love that dare not speak its name. And Grandville, the progressive little town that could, only lets people eighteen and older to their groups, for fear the little ones will be tainted by any talk of sex and their collective asses will be sued six ways from Sunday. So, Metropolis it is."

"What about your club, Clark?"

"It's not off the ground yet. And, since the school promotes abstinence only education, Reynolds says that any discussion of safer sex by an outside expert won't be permitted."

"Can someone remind me what watching a video about lions doing it has to do with abstinence?" Lana asked. "Because I was never really clear on that."

"There were lions?" Clark asked.

"Ah, yes, Desiree Atkins, proof positive that Clark does have a remnant of heterosexual blood flowing through those veins." Chloe beamed at Clark, who stuck his tongue out.

"Why don't... why don't we try to put together one?" Whitney asked. He took a gulp of his coffee. When he placed it down again, he found three sets of eyes on him.

There was a moment of silence. Everyone was looking at him. For some reason, he hadn't expected that. Stupid, since he'd thrown an idea out there. But still. After all those months in the Marines, he was used to being able to give an idea and let others run with it.

"Well?" Chloe said after a moment. "You can't just say that and leave it there. Please explain how we're supposed to put this together."

He cleared his throat and shifted his weight in his chair. "I uh. I don't know, exactly. But it just seems if there's something we need, maybe we should be the ones to get it done, right?"

Lana nodded. "I agree."

"Of course," Chloe said under her breath, but loud enough for Whitney to hear.

Clark was chewing on his thumb. "What about the hospital?" he asked around it. "Couldn't we ask them?"

Thank you, Clark, Whitney thought gratefully. Sometimes, he'd get ideas, like flashes in his brain, but they were underdeveloped and he couldn't figure out what to do with them.

"The hospital is an excellent idea," he said. "They already run different kinds of support groups. I'm supposed to start going to one for veterans, although I really don't want to. But I'd bet, if we drew up a proposal and talked to the right people, we could get something going."

"Do you think they would?" Lana asked, doubt clear in her voice.

Whitney shrugged. "If we phrased it right. I think what we really need, besides a queer support group, is just some kind of crisis center or something for kids. I mean, we've got problems here. Not only is there all that weird stuff that happens that no one talks about, but there's all the normal bad stuff that no one talks about. Abuse and drugs and rape and all that. Small towns have a really high suicide rate. I don't know what it is for Smallville, but, like, Chad hurts himself, right? And, Clark, I know you're not the only kid who's run away in the past year. What about Alex King? And Mary Lunn?"

"Ran away to the great big city," Chloe said. "When they found Mary a few months back, she was hooked on cocaine and six months pregnant."

"And it's not like she wasn't doing drugs before she left. There's like eight meth labs within a ten mile radius of Smallville. At least there was when I left."

"Not to mention the new underground rave thing," added Lana. She rested her chin on her hand. "Guess the idyllic small town life is just a lie."

Chloe snorted. "You've lived here seventeen years and just noticed?"

"I'm an idealist, what can I say?" Lana smiled wistfully.

Clark shifted in his seat. "I think this is a good idea. So, what? We write up a proposal for a general crisis group?"

Whitney shook his head and said, "We should still try and start a safer sex group, but we need some kind of crisis counseling readily available around here."

"Available and anonymous," Chloe put in.

"Right." Whitney nodded. "It's obvious the adults around here aren't doing anything to change things. Even when they try, they don't know what to do." He glanced at Clark.

Clark was checked out of the conversation. It was subtle, but Whitney could tell. His eyes were dark and unfocused. His face was blank. He just wasn't there.

Whitney sighed. He knew Clark was uncomfortable with the whole thing, but this was what Whitney wanted to do with his life. And, right now, he really needed it, too. Ever since coming home, he felt completely useless. He wasn't in school, couldn't play ball. Except for hanging out and having sex and talking, he was useless to Mark. English had always been his worst subject; even if Mark asked, Whitney couldn't help. So, yeah, maybe he was latching onto the one thing he felt he could influence, and, yes, he deeply wanted to help Clark, but it wasn't all about him. This was his passion: helping kids who'd been hurt. Not just hurt, but who were messed up. He'd been doing a lot of reading lately, and it was amazing the kinds of problems kids who came from good families had.

Just look at Lana. Or Chad. There were a lot of kids in a lot of pain out here. Whitney just wanted to help.

"I'd like to write something up," Whitney said, "but I'm really not good at writing."

"That's not true," Clark said. He was still staring at the table top. "You're a really good writer."

He blushed. "Maybe." Whitney put his hand over Clark's. Then, realizing it was his left hand, he tried to snatch it away, but Clark grabbed it too quickly for him.

"You are a good writer," Clark insisted, squeezing Whitney's mangled hand gently. "Your letters were fantastic. Dude, Mr. Townsend practically fell in love at first read because of what you wrote."

"Yeah, but, that's not going to help me with something like this. I mean, there's a difference between a love letter and a business proposal."

"Well, luckily, you are sitting in the presence of a woman with plenty of business proposal experience," Chloe said. She held her arms out, showcasing Lana.

Lana smiled and batted her eyes at Whitney. "And she's always willing to help out."

"Even if she's grounded?" Whitney couldn't help teasing.

She rolled her eyes and gave him a squinty eyed look that Whitney knew she gave instead of sticking her tongue out at people. "Yes, Whitney," she said, "even when she's grounded."


Lex sat in the backseat of his limo, studying his brother. His brother. Christ.

Lucas Dunleavy. Luthor. All his papers said Dunleavy right now, but it would be a simple legal step to get it corrected. From what Lex understood, it already had been changed once. Despite his father's protests to the contrary, Lex knew that Lionel had to have known about Lucas. His father, after all, was next to God in his infinite knowledge of everything that concerned him. A child of his blood, especially one born to an insane woman, would not have gone unnoticed.

Rachel had been convinced Lucas's last name had been Luthor. And the information Lex had found on him had confirmed that a Lucas Luthor had been born to Rachel Dunleavy on January 23, 1984. Damien was trying to find out when his name had been changed, as well as trace the boy's life up until this point.

Damien found it highly suspicious that Lucas happened to be found just weeks after Lex had told Lionel he was quitting everything and going back to school.

Lex knew Damien was right to be suspicious. And yet, he couldn't bring himself to care. He had a brother.

"So," Lucas said. He finished toweling his hair and dropped the towel on the seat. "Brother, huh?"

"Yes." He gave Lucas a tight lipped smile. "I'm still reeling a bit myself. All these years, I thought I was an only child."

"The thought was mutual." He cocked a thick eyebrow and ran it over Lex's frame.
"I don't see much resemblance. I guess I take after my mother?"

Not by half. Rachel had been softened by age, but retained the same delicacy that Lillian had had. Around the eyes, the mouth, the jaw. Lucas, though, was more roughly hewn. Thick hair, thick eyebrows, big nose. Maybe, just maybe there was a little of Rachel in Lucas's jaw. For all it's masculinity, there was something... fine about it. Almost verging on the edge of delicate, but in the way good porcelain was. It'd shatter if you threw it, but could stand up to most anything else.

"I take after mine," Lex said after a moment. And he did. Maybe his vocal inflections and movements mimicked Lionel's somewhat, but there was little else there.

Which was probably one reason Lionel hated him so much. Lex wasn't exactly sure what Lionel's feelings for Lillian were, but having a son who favored her so strongly couldn't be easy.

Lucas nodded. "Of course. So. What you're trying to tell me that my dear old dad is Lionel Luthor. The Lionel Luthor."

"That's right."

"And you're Lex Luthor."

Lex ran a self-conscious hand over his head. "I am."

"Does Lionel know about me?"

"Interesting question." Lex leaned back and stretched his arm over the back of his seat. "I'm undecided on that. Obviously, he knew of your birth. Your mother told him as much. But then, he told me you died."

"Died?"

"Before you were one. And I've got to tell you, Lucas, you're probably the most mature one year old I've ever seen."

Lucas's lips twitched. "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

At least he wasn't completely culturally illiterate, Lex thought. Of course, even Whitney Fordman could quote Twain if pressed.

"So. Why did you come after me?"

"I only found out about you a few months ago. I've been searching for you ever since. It hasn't been easy."

"Really? A man of your means? This seems like it'd be a cakewalk finding one person."

"Generally, it's not the most difficult thing. You, though, were hidden. It was like searching for a grain of sand in a stack of needles." Lex studied Lucas. "My detective only tracked you down a few days ago. I came to get you as soon as I could."

Lucas smiled. His teeth were big and blinding. "And just in the nick of time, too. Seriously, bro, your timing was perfect."

Lex returned the smile. It was as fake as the one on his brother's face. "Yes," he said, voice even and pleasant. "Yes, it was, wasn't it?"


They sent a man.

How the fuck did they mess up something so simple? Clark didn't want to talk to men. He didn't want to tell men what happened to him. He didn't want to relive one of the most terrifying and horrible experiences of his life with a strange man.

Especially not a short, pot-bellied bearded guy with long hair that he wore pulled back in a ponytail. Who wore a ten dollar shirt from K-Mart, black slacks that shined, and a green clip on tie with a stain on it. He was the epitome of tastelessness.

And his hands! Okay, Jonathan Kent's hands were nothing to celebrate, but at least they weren't bumpy and cracked with dry skin with ragged nails and cuticles that were practically grown over the bed. It was gross. Did the man have no pride?

It was possible that Lex may have affected Clark just a little bit. After the fax about Lucas, Lex had completely freaked. He'd tried on at least twenty different outfits--including shoes--before deciding on one that he felt would make a good impression on his brother without making Lucas feel the difference in their monetary stations.

And then he'd seen his hands.

"What the hell happened to them?" Lex had all but shrieked.

"They're fine." Clark barely glanced at them. Even though he as helping Lex dress, he really hadn't been interested. Instead, he was reading Lex's very well worn copy of "Jurassic Park" that Clark had found underneath the bed.

His comment resulted in Lex shoving his hands underneath Clark's nose. "They are not fine. Look at my hands. Look at them. They're all callused and worn and... my nails."

Clark took Lex's hand and kissed it. "You've been doing farm work."

"Not for two weeks. Well. Except for the other day when I helped your dad with the cows." Lex sighed and looked at his hands mournfully. "I can't meet my brother with my hands looking like this."

"Like Lucas is even going to care. Straight men don't notice hands, at least not on other men."

Lex arched an eyebrow. "He could be gay. I am."

He snorted. "You're not gay. You're just a nymphomaniac."

"Jerk." Lex smacked him on the head. "First off, I'm not a woman. Second, I am not."

"Isn't that what you told me?" Clark blinked up innocently at him. "You just like sex?"

"That is not what I meant, brat." Lex frowned. "What if he's a homophobe?"

Clark had tugged Lex to the bed until he sprawled across. "He's your brother," Clark had whispered, climbing on top of Lex. "And blood is thicker than water."

Then they'd had a lot of fun before Clark had to go home. That'd been two days ago. Yesterday, Lex had gone to Edge City to find Lucas and Clark had spent a pleasant day with his friends. He'd expected today to be more of the same.

Except, during trig, he'd been pulled out of class and told that the social worker was here (finally) to talk to him.

And he was a man.

Clark crossed his arms over his chest and wished he was somewhere else. Anywhere.

"So. Clark," the man said. His name was something like Will Hawthorn or something. Clark didn't care. "Why don't you tell me a little about yourself?"

He shifted and kicked his foot against the floor. "Like what?"

"Well. Anything you want."

"I don't want to be here."

"Can you tell me why?"

"You're a man. I don't want to talk to a man. If I have to see a state appointed social worker, I want it to be a woman."

Hawthorn shifted in his seat. "I'm sorry you feel that way. Unfortunately, I was the only one available to take the case."

"Do you even know what my case is?"

"Of course. You were molested not to long ago. It recently came out and was splashed in the tabloids. You ran away."

"I did not. I went to visit a friend the day before the tabloids published," Clark corrected.

"Very well. But you have a history of running away. You have frequent absences. Teachers have noted that you are increasingly depressed. You're withdrawn. Your school work has suffered. You need someone to talk with."

"I have Dr. Carvey to talk with."

Hawthorn nodded. "That's true. But this is going to get to court, Clark. And it's my job to help you work through all you've experienced so when that happens, you're better equipped to deal with it."

Clark clenched his jaw. "Fine, whatever." He refused to look at the man.

He sighed. "How do you feel your classes are going?"

"Okay." Clark hitched a shoulder, then said, "Boring."

"A common complaint."

"They're too easy."

"Yes, I was looking at your academic records. Even with your recent troubles, your grades are very good. I understand Dr. Carvey is testing you?"

He nodded.

"What do you want to do? Go up a grade?"

"I don't know. Maybe. Or just taking college classes. For enrichment."

"That's good. It's always nice to see students with a real thirst for knowledge. So. Do you know what you'd like to be?"

"Like, what job?"

"Yes. Your father is a farmer. Are you going to take over the farm?"

Slowly, Clark shook his head. "I don't think so."

"How does your father feel about that?"

"Fine. He's never pushed or acted like I have to stay. Dad's always been supportive of me leaving Smallville and doing something I love."

Hawthorn inclined his head. "Interesting. Not the usual story you hear. You're very lucky." He hesitated, then asked, "Do you think your father's disinterest in you carrying on the family business has to do with the fact you're adopted?"

Clark gaped at Hawthorn. What the fuck? That was just the rudest question Clark had ever heard. It's something he'd expect from a kid at school, not a social worker.

The fact that he was very close to home didn't make the question any less rude. Because, Clark knew that Dad felt Clark had a destiny that was bigger than Smallville. Part of that was because he was an alien, so, yes, it was related to the fact he was adopted. But that's not what the social worker asked.

Lionel's goons were really losing their subtlety, weren't they?

"Um. No," Clark finally managed. "I don't think that's why. I think Dad doesn't want to make the same assumptions his dad did. If I choose to stay home and be a farmer, he'll be happy, but if I go off and do something else, he'll be fine with that, too."

"So you'd say your father is supportive of you?"

"Yes."

"Is he as supportive about your sexuality?"

Clark scowled. "I'm not talking about my sexuality."

"Clark, do you know what perjury is?"

He rolled his eyes.

"During the process of trying to prosecute Lionel, your sexuality may be brought up. You can't lie about it, then."

"What does the gender I'm attracted to have anything to do with almost being raped by an asshole?"

Hawthorn shrugged and said, "The defense might argue that, had you not been gay, Lionel Luthor never would have gotten the idea to approach you. They might even say you were being deliberately provocative and seduced him."

"Simply by being gay?"

"Why else would a man of his age, with the number of public mistresses, a wife, and a son take it into his head to have sex with a boy?"

Clark rubbed his eyes. It was worse than talking to Reynolds. At least he'd just been stupid. This guy was trying to be clever.

At least Clark hoped so.

"He was threatening me and my family. It didn't matter that I was a guy. Besides, he has a history with men, too."

"You can't prove that." He leaned forward. "In the report, it said you were naked. Why were you naked in Lionel Luthor's house, Clark?"

"I'd just taken a shower."

"It wasn't because you were having sexual relations with Lionel's son?"

Clark bit his lip to keep from screaming.

"I've made you uncomfortable," Hawthorn said apologetically. "I'm sorry about that. I'm just trying to get a clearer picture of who you are and what happened. But can I ask why you don't want to talk to me? You're making this more difficult than it needs to be."

"I'm not all that comfortable talking to men about this," Clark said. It wasn't exactly a lie. Yes, he'd told Grant, but that had been different. Grant had built up trust between them before Clark spilled. Plus, Clark had needed to let it all go to a stranger. He didn't feel that need anymore, especially when he wasn't getting a choice in the matter.

"Why not?"

"A man's the one who did this to me."

"It wasn't me, though."

Clark rolled his eyes. He wondered if the man always looked like a poorly constructed Lionel Luthor clone, or if it were just because he had this particular case. "No. And you can tell Lionel I'm not buying it. I don't care how much he's paying you, I'm not going to talk to a social worker who wears his hair the same way as the man who molested me and makes veiled suggestions that it might have been my fault, and then wonders why I don't want to talk to him. There's got to be someone else in Kansas who can take this case, and maybe they'll have some kind of ethical standards and can't be bought like you were." With those words, Clark slung his backpack over his shoulder and stormed from the office.


The route from Edge City to Smallville skirted the edge of Metropolis. The limo was nearing the last exit of the highway to the city when Lucas asked, "So, am I going to get to meet our dear father?"

Lex raised an eyebrow. "Do you want to?"

"Of course. I mean, the man gave me life, right?"

He checked his watch. If possible, he wanted to get back to Smallville early. That way, he could get Lucas settled, then head over to the Kents to see Clark. Lex was anxious to find out how Clark's first session with the social worker had gone.

"We could detour and drop in on Dad at work. If he's there."

"Sounds good." Lucas gave Lex a toothy smile. "I've got no pressing engagements."

Lex returned the smile tightly and asked the driver to drive to LuthorCorp. "Why are you so anxious to meet him, if you don't mind my asking?"

Lucas shrugged nonchalantly. "I haven't thought about my biological family since I was ten years old. Now all the sudden, I find out I'm the son of one of the most powerful men in America. And the richest. I admit, my interest is piqued." He raised an eyebrow. "Not that I'm not interested in my brother, too. I've just never given much thought to siblings."

"I understand. What did you know about your biological family?"

"Not much. My mom's name is Rachel. No clue as to why she gave me up. I never knew about my father. I just figured that my mom was young, got knocked up by her boyfriend, and was forced to give me up for my own good. Never could quite figure out why I was never adopted, though." His smile was pale. "I was a cute kid. Didn't have any of the problems a lot of the other kids did, either. I wasn't a crack baby, or born addicted to meth. No health problems to speak of, except for ADHD. But I kept slipping through the system somehow."

"Dad probably had something to do with that. His idea of a social experiment. One son has all the privileges in the world, the other none."

Lucas's eyes gleamed. "You think he knew about me? Where I was?"

"Oh, I'm sure of it," Lex replied. "Despite his protestations, I'm sure he followed your growth as closely as he followed mine."

"Doubt I entertained him half as much," Lucas muttered. Then, his eyes widened. "I've, uh, heard stories. I've been running in similar circles as you lately."

Right. "Oh, really? I was never really a poker player."

"Well, uh. Your exploits are legendary, man. Drugs, sex, acid punk. Quite a legacy. I have some big shoes to fill."

"You're a bit behind. By the time I was your age, I'd already covered a lot of ground."

That toothy smile was back. "Believe me, bro, I'm not exactly an innocent."

"Of that I have no doubt."

They spent the rest of the drive exchanging small talk full of inanities. Still, nothing was completely insignificant. Lex was able to find out some interesting details. Lucas wasn't a Warrior Angel fan, but he knew followed The Punisher. While Lex couldn't stand that particular comic--he preferred his heroes pure and focused on justice rather than vengeance--he was able to ask a few questions to get Lucas really rolling on the subject. His brother's delight in anything bloodthirsty and violent was disturbing.

Lex also learned that Lucas listened to rap and metal. He didn't like to read unless it was a comic, and only went to the movies to prove he could sneak in. Or when he was with a girl he could take advantage of in the dark.

Also, Lucas was so insanely straight that he bordered on homophobic. Lex hadn't asked, of course, but his brother's language was peppered with slurs and insults towards gays. Anyone he didn't like, anyone who had ever crossed him, was "probably some fag" who "took it up the ass" like "all the fucking fudge-packers" and therefore "not worth my time, yo."

Lovely piece of work. Lex could hear his hopes for some semblance of a family that wasn't a direct extension of Clark's falling apart with each word that came out of his brother's mouth.

Predictably, Lionel was on the phone, yelling, when Lex and Lucas finally made it to his office. "I want him back from Prague now, Steven. Do you understand me?" His face twisted and he cut off the call and turned.

"Hello, Dad," Lex said, conscious of Lucas a half-step behind. His brother had hung back since they'd exited the elevator; Lex wasn't sure if he was overawed by the sudden luxury he found himself surrounded by, or if he simply didn't want Lex to see his reaction to Lionel.

"Lex," Lionel said. He turned to the door, to Lex's voice. For a moment, he stilled, and Lex had an eerie feeling that Lionel could see both him and Lucas. "To what do I owe this unexpected visit?" The eyes behind the dark glasses went out of focus again.

"You youngest heir, Lucas, wanted to meet you. Lucas. This is your father."

Lucas stepped next to Lex. "Mr. Luthor." The emotion one might expect of someone who was meeting his father for the first time was absent. Then again, Lex had noticed that a lot of emotion seems absent in Lucas. He was either his father's son.... or his mother's. Lex wasn't sure which influence he should be more concerned about.

The effect on Lionel was immediate. Color drained from his face. His mouth went slack. He staggered. Then he reached out and took Lucas by the shoulders. "Lucas." His hands gripped and felt the muscles hidden under Lucas's jacket. "Son." He pulled Lucas into a tight embrace.

It was a very moving performance.

Lucas was discomforted. His back was stiff and his hands clenched and unclenched around Lionel's body. He was clearly trying to pull away and seemed afraid to touch Lionel.

Maybe they were brothers after all.

"Well, uh," Lucas finally said. "Biologically speaking at least, right?"

Lionel's arms loosened. Lucas was out of them and across the room like a shot. Lex watched as Lucas rubbed his arms a couple times. He then adjusted his jacket, pulled the sleeves over his hands, thrust his hands out again, then shoved them into the pockets of his slacks. "I see we share a passion for Asian weaponry," Lucas said. He pulled his hands from his slacks and covered them with his sleeves again.

It was rather painful to watch.

The hands came out once more. Lucas picked up a sword that Lionel had mounted on the wall along with the rest of his Asian weapons. Lex had always loved that display. He'd started collecting similar items recently, only from various samurai movies. To see Lucas handling Lionel's precious collection, something that'd always been forbidden to Lex, made his breath catch. It wouldn't do to have Lucas's introduction to Lionel to include a hard whack across the arms with Lionel's cane.

"Huh," Lucas continued, unaware of the danger he could be in. "By the placement of the dragon, it was to be worn on the right hip. A rare left-handed sword." He glanced at Lex, who shrugged; he'd never used it, despite his left-handedness. "It's fake, though." He'd glanced at the sword before making the pronouncement, but his eyes were on Lex when the words came out of his mouth.

Lex didn't respond to what appeared to be a barb.

Lionel, though, laughed. "That's a very keen observation," he said, his voice full of fatherly pride.

"Especially from someone you told me was dead," Lex couldn't help pointing out. "Imagine my surprise to find Lucas alive and well in Edge City." And in serious trouble, but he didn't say it out loud. Suspicion wasn't proof and until he had proof that he was being played, he didn't want to give anything away.

His father turned away and poured himself a glass of water. "Lucas. Tell my secretary to take you down to the executive dining room. We'll join you shortly. My chef can fix you anything your heart desires."

Lucas started, then shot a look at Lex.

Lex shrugged.

"Don't, um, talk about me behind my back," he said with a half smile. He rubbed his hands down his slacks then left the room.

"So," Lex said after the door had closed. "The prodigal son returns."

"But, uh, unlike his envious brother in the gospel, it looks like you have welcomed Lucas with open arms." Lionel sat on the edge of his desk and cocked his head. Again, it almost looked like he was looking at Lex. Almost, but not quite. The light glinted off his glasses now, obscuring his eyes. "What do you expect to get out of it, Lex?"

Good question. He already had a family in the Kents. He wasn't getting anything from Lionel, nor would he ever. And he was trying hard not to want it anymore.

And yet, blood was thicker than water. Lex wanted blood. And not in a freaky way. But when he and Clark got married, he wanted to have a Luthor standing by his side.

"Just a brother," he finally answered, trying to make it sound like a lie.

"One who's just turned eighteen, if I remember correctly."

Oh, yeah. No idea that Lucas was alive. Especially since Rachel had tried to lay claim on a sixteen year old without ever noticing that her son should be eighteen. But Lionel? Lionel knew.

"That's right."

"And now, being of age, Lucas is entitled to claim his inheritance."

"It was generous of you to set up your living trust so any heirs would automatically get ten percent of your LuthorCorp shares." He hesitated. "How many heirs do you have, anyway?"

Lionel's lips twitched. "Just the two."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes."

Lex narrowed his eyes. "Just a few months ago, you claimed you didn't know about this one."

"Lex."

He let it drop. It was pointless arguing this anyway. He knew that Dad had always known about Lucas, and Lionel knew that Lex knew. Pretending was silly.

"You know, it occurs to me that the ten percent of the shares that goes to Lucas is the exact ten percent that you need to vote me out of power." Lionel laughed. Very fake. "Is that why half my board has suddenly found a myriad of excuses for not taking my calls? Oh my word, you're staging a coup."

Oh fuck. Was he? Or, more to the point, was Damien? Lex hadn't given the idea of voting Lionel out of office one thought. It wasn't what he wanted to do with his life anymore. And Damien was on the same page, at least that's what Lex believed.

However, ever since they'd gotten the information about Lucas, Damien had been... distracted. Lex had been so busy getting everything together for Lucas, he hadn't paid much mind, but now, at Lionel's words, it all came together.

Until Lex knew what game Damien was playing, it was best to go along with all. So, he just smiled an enigmatic smile and said, "Should we join the newest addition to our family for lunch?"

Lionel stood and straightened his tie. "After you, son."


Clark chewed on his lower lip. His stomach churned and roiled. He was afraid he was going to throw up, something he hadn't done in a long time. He hated throwing up, and not just because he so rarely got sick unless he was around meteor rocks. He just hated it. It was gross and disgusting and sick. He didn't want to do it.

But his stomach wouldn't settle.

Chloe sucked. She was a horrible, selfish harpy only interested in herself, Clark decided. If she really cared about him, she wouldn't have gotten intimate with Lana at home while her father was there. If she was really his friend, she wouldn't have gotten grounded. She wouldn't have chosen to spend the rest of her afternoon before her curfew at the Torch instead of with him. She would be here, with him, without him having to tell her what had happened.

She was the worst best friend ever.

He couldn't talk to his parents, either. They'd gone through enough with all this. It seemed like, every time he turned around, Clark was just adding another burden onto the already immense pile of guilt they had for ever letting Lionel take him away in the first place. Even though it wasn't their fault, and Clark should have....

No. No way in hell was he going to let Lionel win. It wasn't Clark's fault what happened. It was Lionel's.

But he still couldn't talk to his parents. And he couldn't talk to Mr. Townsend, either. It was too weird, now. He was Whitney's boyfriend. Clark felt uncomfortable around him, now. He hoped it'd go away, and soon, because if he couldn't talk to Mr. Townsend, Chloe, his parents, Whitney, or Lex, that just left Grant.

And, God, it was so hard to make himself call Grant.

Clark licked his lips. Hands trembling, he picked up the phone. "It's just a call," he whispered. "No big." He pressed the first three numbers for the area code, then hesitated. "Come on." The next three. Next two. His finger hovered over the last.

"Hey, Clark? You home?"

He slammed down the phone. "Yeah, Pete, I'm up here." He wasn't sweating, but he had that hot-cold feeling like he was.

Last minute stay of execution.

Pete appeared at the top of the stairs just as Clark turned away from his desk. "Hey."

"You know, if someone had told me a year ago that Clark Kent would ditch school, I would have laughed in their face. But here you are for, what? That millionth time this month that you've skipped out?"

"No I didn't." Clark crossed his arms over his chest. "I was there at lunch, remember? And I went to history."

"And disappeared for wood-work class."

Clark rolled his eyes. "It's such a useless class. I swear I can feel my brain cells dying when I'm there."

"Then why did you sign up?"

"Because you were in it. And I didn't know what else to sign up for." He ran his hands through his hair. "I suck at it. Worse than I did with metal. So it's no big deal. I should have just signed up for automotive or something. At least then I'd be learning something I could use."

"Naw," Pete said. He flopped onto the couch. "You know that if anything breaks around here your sugar daddy'll just replace it."

Clark rolled his eyes again.

Pete grinned. He leaned forward and smacked Clark on the leg. "You skipped out on English, you know."

He thought about saying that he'd been there, but he'd come in late and sat in the back and left right away, but that was just stupid. So he didn't say anything. Instead, he thought of his unfinished call and wondered if Mr. Townsend and Grant still kept in contact now that Whitney was back.

"Chloe saw you leave trig. She told him that, because we all knew about. You know." He shrugged. "I don't think Mr. Townsend marked you absent, though. I don't think he wants to get you in trouble."

Clark shrugged.

"Wanna talk about it?"

He glanced at the phone again. "Not really." He rubbed his eyes. "Just Lionel fucking with me again. Through Social Services and everything." Clark sighed. "I'm just tired of it all, you know? And there's, like, no way I can get away. If it was up to me, I wouldn't even be seeing some social worker. I'm fine with Dr. Carvey. I like her. She's cool. But this ass that they sent was just..." He blinked. "They sent a man with long hair and a beard."

"Did Lionel clone himself?"

"Not quite. But still."

Pete hit his knee again. "Sorry, man. That sucks."

Clark couldn't help the smile. Pete wasn't deep or profound or anything, and he didn't offer words of wisdom. But he was honest and direct and there if Clark needed him.

And they hardly ever hung out anymore. Their lives had gone in totally different directions lately, and it was just...sad.

"Do you want to shoot some hoops?"

Pete grinned and bounded to his feet. "No powers."

"Cross my heart."

They raced each other downstairs, laughing and goofing around like they had when they were kids. Before Clark was an alien or gay and before Pete discovered girls and when Lana was just the girl in pink and Whitney was that cool guy they always watched play baseball on Saturdays.

And, for awhile, while they played, it was like they never had grown up. They were laughing and telling stupid jokes like, "So there's these 2 muffins in an oven. They're both sitting, just chilling and getting baked. And one of them yells 'God Damn, it's hot in here!' And the other muffin replies "Holy Crap, a talking muffin!" and "What do you get when you cross an elephant and a rhino? el-if-i-no" and "A magician was driving down the road. Then he turned into a drive way..."

And when Pete said, "Why don't aliens eat clowns?"

Clark was able to grin, throw the ball at him and reply, "Because Lex would kill me if I ever ate anyone but him."

"Clark!" Pete all but shrieked, clutching the ball. "What part of never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever tell me anything about you and your sugar daddy don't you understand?"

"Oh, come on, Pete. It's not like you didn't know, I..."

"Dude!"

Clark laughed. "Fine, fine." He held out his hands for the ball.

Pete tossed it back.

"Um, Pete? Have you, uh, ever.... You know."

"Eaten a clown?"

He shot the ball, sending it easily through the hoop. "Had sex. Just because, I have and Chloe has, and I was just wondering. I mean, you and me haven't talked a lot about that sort of thing."

Pete got the ball and bounced it a few times. "Yeah. Jill and I sort of had sex a few months ago. We went to a party after a football game. I was drunk. We were making out and it sort of just... happened."

"Just the one time?"

Pete nodded. "Yeah. It totally didn't work out. It was really awkward between us the next few times we got together. She broke it off."

"I didn't know. I hadn't realized... I'm sorry I've been such a bad friend, Pete."

"Clark, all this was happening around the time Lex got married and you freaked out and everything. I totally understand."

"Yeah, but..."

"Clark, your life is like major drama, okay? Not teenage stuff. You had the whole thing with Ryan, and then Whitney, and that reporter guy, and, oh, lets not forget Lionel. Then your dad's arrested and your boyfriend's father almost dies and it's just all... it's a lot for you to deal with. I'm glad you're not worried about my crap. Because it's pointless, meaningless stuff that you shouldn't have to worry about on top of yourself." He threw the ball back to Clark. "So, for right now, let's just shoot hoops, tell jokes, and don't worry about any of those problems."

"Still. I should have thrown you a party or something."

Pete snorted. "Right. Believe me. It was nothing to celebrate." He frowned. "So, your first time?"

"Lex was sick our first time."

"Gross."

He shrugged. "He had the flu or something. I went over and I was just lying in bed with him, cuddling. And it sort of, I don't know. Got out of hand. It wasn't bad, though. We just fooled around. Hand jobs. I, uh. You know."

Pete frowned. "Does it count as sex if you don't go all the way?"

"I don't see why not. Otherwise, how would lesbians have sex? I mean, I doubt every lesbian in the world has a dildo or something. And I bet a lot of them don't even like that, so I think oral counts." He shot again.

Pete blocked the shot, then took a shot of his own. "So, like, do you think it's better to start with oral before moving onto the main show?"

"Maybe. Or just, you know, fooling around. And not being drunk."

"Yeah, that would have helped." Pete rubbed his neck. "Any pointers, though. For, like, how do make it good."

"Um, you're going to have to ask Chloe for that. I've never been with a girl."

"Good point. And speaking of your one and only..."

Clark turned to see Lex roaring up the driveway. There was a passenger with him.

"Who's that?" Pete asked.

"Lucas, I guess."

"Lucas?"

"His brother."

"Uh. His what?"

The car pulled to a stop and Lex and Lucas climbed out. Lex looked exhausted. He was paler than usual, and there were dark circles under his eyes. Clark could feel Lex's body calling to him, searching for a safe, warm place to curl up and sleep.

Clark clenched his fists and fought the urge to grab Lex, throw him in bed, and cuddle until Lex was safe asleep.

"Clark, Pete. I'd like you to meet my brother. This is Lucas."

Wow. Did he look like Lionel. Not exactly, not one hundred percent, but... wow. The hair and the jaw and the way he held himself. Even the way he looked at Clark. All Lionel.

His skin crawled.

"Hi," Clark said shortly. His hands were still clenched tightly, since the alien part of him was howling to grab Lex. He didn't have enough control yet.

Lucas looked over Clark carefully. His smile was carefully staged, pleasant, but... creepy. Totally Lionel. "Hey. Nice to meet you."

Clark looked at Lex, who was already looking at him. Lucas looked between the two of them. Tension was thick in the air.

"Hey, Lucas," Pete said, breaking the moment with an air of levity. "Do you want to shoot some hoops?" He held out the basketball.

Lucas looked from his brother to Clark once more. Then he nodded. "Yeah, sure."

"Here you go!" Pete tossed the ball to Lucas and jogged a few steps toward the hoop. Lucas followed and threw it back. In no time, they were engaged in a heavy game of one-on-one.

"That boy is going to make a fine politician some day," Lex remarked. He threaded his finger through Clark's belt loop and tugged him back to the car.

"Yeah, well. He's got practice. He's been running interference between Chloe and me for years. And, you know. The political campaigns he works on every chance he gets."

Lex nodded. "What's wrong?"

"What's wrong with you?" Unable to help himself, Clark wrapped his hand around Lex's wrist. The skin under his thumb was delicate and thin. Sensitive, too, he knew from experience; Clark wanted to lick and suck it until Lex was trembling with pleasure.

"I'm tired. It's been a long day. That's all." He rubbed his forehead. "And I had lunch with Dad."

"How did that go?"

"About how you'd expect." He rubbed his head again. "I'm almost positive that Dad's trying to play me somehow. That he has something to do with Lucas's sudden appearance. But I don't know what he's planning. Worse, someone is making it look like I plan to use Lucas to regain control of LexCorp."

Clark frowned and caressed Lex's wrist. "Who?"

"I'd guess Damien, but I haven't had a chance to talk with him. When Lucas and I finally got to the mansion, he wouldn't leave me alone for five minutes. But, for whatever reason, none of the board members will talk with Dad, and Dad set up a trust so that any heirs would inherit ten percent of LuthorCorp shares. Ten percent I would need to vote Dad out of power." He sighed. "All very convenient."

"Wait. Lucas is eighteen?"

Lex rolled his eyes. "Well, you could pass for eighteen. Hell, you'd probably be able to pull off saying you were in your twenties."

"Yeah, but my birth certificate..."

"I know. It doesn't make sense, except to remember that Rachel Dunleavy wasn't exactly the sanest person. She was grasping at straws."

He nodded. "Right. So, uh. What are you going to do?"

"I need to find a way to talk to Damien. Alone." He looked up at Clark with big, blue eyes. His eyelashes fluttered a couple times, glinting red-gold in the late afternoon sun.

Clark raised an eyebrow. "You want me to baby-sit your brother?"

"I want my little brother to get to know the most important person in my life," Lex said, continuing with the Bambi-eyes. His lower lip stuck out just a bit. "Is that so wrong?"

/If you don't stop doing that, I'm going to have to throw you over the hood of your car and take you right here. Do you really want your little brother to see that?/

Lex shivered but dropped the act. "Do you mind if he stays here a bit? I won't be long."

He did mind, but just because he was being selfish. "Yeah, that's fine," Clark said. He glanced back at Lucas; he and Pete were engrossed in their game.

Clark lifted Lex's wrist to his lips and kissed it. "You need to sleep."

"I know. After I talk to Damien, I promise."

"You better."

Lex leaned close to Clark, eyes shut. "I will."

Clark moved in to kiss Lex.

He pulled away. "Don't. And don't tell Lucas about us. I'm still trying to feel him out on all that. So far, I don't have such a good feeling."

"So because your brother is a homophobe, we can never tell him?"

"I think that, when he gets the wedding invitation, he'll figure it out."

"Lex...."

"I'll tell him. I promise. Just, not right now, and I don't want you to do it. He's my brother."

Clark nodded. "Yeah, okay." He let go of Lex's wrist and stepped away.

"Lucas!" Lex stepped around Clark and strode onto the makeshift basketball court. "I have to go run a quick errand. Why don't you stick around here for a bit, get to know Clark. And, uh, Pete."

Pete, standing behind Lucas, rolled his eyes at his name as a complete afterthought.

Lucas, though, frowned slightly and shot a lot at Clark. "Uh, yeah. Sure," he said, sounding completely unenthused.

Lex's back stiffened. "If you'd rather not..."

"No, hey, it's cool." He stole the ball from Pete and rushed the hoop.

Pete took off after him with a whoop.

"Just turn on the charm, angel," Lex said, clapping Clark on the back. "You'll win him over."

"I don't know how. I've never been good at making people like me."

"Right," Lex replied wryly. "Because you don't have half the queer population of Smallville and part of Metropolis in love with you, and the straight half eating out of the palm of your hand."

"But I don't know how...."

"Just be yourself." He blew Clark a kiss, climbed into his car, and took off.

Clark sighed and went to the court.

"Joining us, Clark?" Lucas asked, not looking at him. He aimed, then leapt gracefully as he shot. His shirt rode up over his stomach, revealing the taunt, tanned flesh beneath. He twisted gracefully, arms and legs perfectly under control. There were defined muscles in his arms and back. And his ass was...

Wow.

Pete stepped on his foot. When Clark tore his eyes away from Lucas, Pete gave a warning shake of his head.

Right.

Lucas retrieved the ball and sauntered back. Sweat beaded at his hairline so he glowed in the sun.

"You and my brother seem close," Lucas said. He threw the ball to Clark.

"They're like brothers," Pete said. He immediately winced and looked to the sky like he was hoping to be smited.

Clark smiled lamely and said, "Well. Lex is my best friend." He hoped Pete didn't mind him saying that. No, he and Pete weren't as close anymore, and, yes, Lex was his best friend, but it still felt like kind of a betrayal to say.

Pete, though, didn't react. It made Clark feel a little better.

"Best friends," Lucas repeated, laughter on his voice. "Do you guys have matching buddy bracelets and have sleepovers and everything?"

Clark pressed his hand against the ball, feeling his ring bite into his skin. "Well, he lives in a castle and has an entertainment system that probably cost more than my whole house. Yeah, I sleep over sometimes."

"Do you sleep over like the papers say you do?"

Dammit Lex.

"Dude, not cool, man," Pete said. "I know you're new to being a Luthor and all, but you'll learn quickly that to the tabloids and stuff, it don't matter what's true and what's a lie. They'll print it anyway. You'll see. As soon as they find out about you, they'll be printing things about you, too."

"Didn't think of that."

"It's no problem." Clark bounced the ball and tossed it to Pete.

A tense silence fell. Pete broke it by saying, "So, where'd you grow up, Lucas?"

"All over." He held out his hands.

Pete tossed the ball to him. "Must have been weird not knowing who your mom and dad were."

God, Clark thought as he watched Lucas shoot again. He and Pete really sucked at this. Clark didn't know who his parents were, and Pete had known that all his life.

"Not really," Lucas said, and Clark had to bite his lower lip so he didn't shout, "Liar," in Lucas's face. He threw the ball back to Pete. "Parents always try to make you into little versions of themselves. Without all that influence, I was free to grow into my own person."

He snorted. "Right. You grew up influence free, tabula rasa the whole way through."

"Tabul what?"

"It means blank slate, basically," Clark explained, feeling stupid. "It's a philosophy that talks about how when we're born, we're completely fresh and new and, like you said, defined by our experiences."

"Right," Lucas said, obviously confused, not that Clark could blame him; he wasn't sure if he knew what he was talking about himself. "So, while you were defined by your parents, I got to be defined by myself."

"No, your experiences. Just like I was, just like Pete was. And you can't tell me there weren't adults around, enforcing rules and values on you."

Lucas sneered. "Oh yeah. There were adults who told me a lot of crap. But it's not like they taught me anything."

"Maybe not like traditional teaching. Maybe not like my dad who taught me how to throw a football and plant corn, or like my mom who taught me how to read and bake brownies and stuff. But you learned things just the same."

"Do you seriously mean to tell me that, if I were to meet your father, he wouldn't be the same flannel-wearing hick that you are?"

Clark smirked and said, "I might wear flannel like my dad, but I didn't learn how to reference Italian philosophers from him. Not my mom, either. No matter what you might think, people aren't just the sum of their parents."

"Whatever, man. All I know, I grew up without folks, and I am one hundred percent happy with who I am."

And Clark would bet that that statement was ninety-nine point five percent false.

Lucas threw the ball at him, hard. "I thought we were going to play some ball. Come on, Clark. Let's see what you got."


Damien was in his bedroom when Lex got home. His physical therapist had a massage table set up at the foot of the bed. Damien was on it, eyes closed, stripped naked except for the towel bunched at his waist. It wasn't even covering anything, really, since Michael, the therapist, was working on the backs of Damien's thighs and up over his rump.

If Lex were Dominic, there was no way in hell he'd leave Damien alone with this guy, but Dom was nowhere to be seen. Trusting or idiotic.

"Damien, I need to talk to you," Lex said. He stood in the door, trying not to feel like he was intruding.

Damien breathed out a sigh. His eyelashes fluttered against his cheeks and he almost opened his eyes, but, at the last minute, they stayed closed.

"Michael? I think I'll be okay for they day."

Michael covered Damien. "You sure?" he asked as he picked up a towel of his own and wiped off his hands. "I can wait and finish up when you're done."

"No." This time, he did open his eyes. He pushed himself up onto his forearms. "No, it's all right. Thank you."

Now Lex did feel like he was intruding. While Michael wiped up the oil from Damien's body and helped him into his clothing, Lex just stood there and tried not to look like an idiot. It was worse when Michael helped Damien into bed; Damien was a big man, and, by all rights, two people should help move him around. But Lex didn't know how and Michael was more than competent anyway. So, he just stood and waited until Damien was sitting comfortably in bed under the covers, looking exhausted.

"Good work today, Damien. If you start having any problems later tonight, I should be home. Feel free to give me a call."

Damien nodded and smiled wearily. "Thank you, Michael."

He smiled and nodded at Lex as he left.

"Sorry to have interrupted," Lex said. He edged further into the room.

"It's all right. I am here, after all, at your service." He leaned against the headboard, eyes falling half-shut. "Abandon your brother already?"

Lex smiled. "Clark's keeping an eye on him. When I was with Dad, he said some things that made me curious, and Lucas wouldn't leave me alone long enough to talk."

Damien nodded and rubbed his face. "What concerns do you have?"

"Dad mentioned that Lucas was going to inherit ten percent of LuthorCorp shares. And that he was having problems reaching the board. He thinks I'm trying to vote him out of power." He sat on the end of the bed and raised his eyebrows. "Am I?"

"Damn them." Damien banged his head on the headboard. "Those fools."

"Has Dominic cloned himself?"

"No. I mean the board members." Damien opened his eyes. "They've been calling me all day, trying to get my support for this scheme they've concocted. It appears that they no longer have the faith they once had in Lionel to lead the business in the right direction. So, they're throwing their support behind you, and now that Lucas has been found, they assume they can now do it."

He shook his head. "I don't understand."

"The past few months have been erratic for LuthorCorp. Ever since Lionel took the reigns again, stocks have been all over the place. However, your company's stock has risen steadily since its inception and you, Dominic, and I managed to do the same for LuthorCorp. The board wants that sort of security back. They're willing to keep Lionel on as a figurehead, but they want you in charge."

"Oh God." Lex rubbed his temples in slow, tight circles. A migraine hedged at the edge of his vision. "How did they even know about Lucas?"

"Either they used Lionel's information or were in contact with your PI. I'm betting on the former, considering how quickly they are moving on this."

Lex blinked. "I don't want to do this."

"I know. And if you really don't want to, then we can bow out now. However." Damien raised one dark eyebrow and looked at Lex.

"What?"

Damien shrugged. "It simply occurs to me that Lionel has put considerable effort into finding Lucas and then revealing his location to the right people at just the right time."

"The right people?"

"Lucas's adoption records appeared in the database a week ago. Very soon after you told your father that you were going back to school."

Lex leaned against on of the posts of Damien's four poster bed. "So Lucas is all a ploy to bring me back to the fold."

"Most likely."

"Crap." It was his turn to bang his head. "I'm not going back to LuthorCorp."

"I don't want you to. However, it seems that we might have to at least appear to play this game, at least until we know all the rules."

Lex sighed. "Right. Fine. But tell the board members not to count on me. I'm sick of all this."

"I know. But..."

Damien was broken off by Lex's cell phone. Lex pulled it out from his pocket and glanced at the number. "Why is the bank calling me?" he said, flipping it open. "This is Lex Luthor."

"Mr. Luthor, this is Joseph Geller at Smallville Savings and Loan. I just was giving you a call to notify you that your accounts have been frozen."

"They what? There must be a mistake. My...." Crap. Dad.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Luthor, but...."

"But nothing. I'm coming down to straighten this out." He hung up. "My accounts have been frozen." The post opposite the one Lex was leaning on hazed out a moment in a flash of light. He blinked and rubbed his eyes. "I've got to go straighten it out."

"You might not be able to," Damien said. "It's possible that the money in those accounts--your trust fund and LuthorCorp shares-- may be permanently off limits if Lionel has his way."

Lex pinched the bridge of his nose. "Yeah. How's your account?"

"Enough to live on, if you intend to live like the Kents. It's taken some hits recently, and we're not replacing money as quickly as we once were."

"Is the house ready to move into?"

"Not yet."

Lex dropped his hand. "You don't really think he'd cut me totally off, do you? I mean..." I'm his son, he thought. But that didn't mean as much anymore. Not with a replacement on hand.

Damien shook his head and sighed. "I honestly don't know. But if he does, you still have a family who will care for you. You'll have the means to get through school. You have a house. You'll be fine."

"But I won't..." He shook his head. "Right. I'll be fine." He stood. "With any luck, this won't take long."

Luck was not on his side. No matter how much he argued, cajoled, bargained, flattered, and threatened, the bank would not be swayed. Lex Luthor could not touch one cent in any of his accounts. The only access to anything he had was his account in Metropolis, and, right now, he didn't want to draw any attention to it. He wasn't stupid enough to think his father was completely unaware that Lex had one or two accounts of his own money, but, thus far, he hadn't ever touched it.

Lex only hoped that continued until he figured out what he was going to do.

Lex's migraine was in full force by the time he left the bank.

There was no way he could drive home, so he called for a car. Apparently, although he didn't have the money for a formal service anymore, his security team didn't know Lex was no longer their lord and master. When he explained the situation to Damien, he said he'd send someone to pick Lex at the Talon, "And for God's sake, don't drink coffee."

"You look awful," Lana said when he entered.

"Thank you." Lex sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I've got a migraine and this is just about the worst day of my life."

"Really?" Lana sounded doubtful.

Lex didn't blame her. He'd had so many bad days in his life, especially recently. This one barely scratched the surface. "I found my brother and my father froze all my bank accounts in a maneuver to stop me from using said brother to vote him out of power. Which I'd never intended to do, since I'm quitting the whole LuthorCorp business thing and going back to school." He sat at the counter and rested his head on his arm.

Lana's small hand squeezed his shoulder. "I'll get you something to drink."

He didn't bother answering. He just kept his head down and wished that Eric would break the laws of time and space to get here soon. Of course, once he got home, he'd have to deal with Lucas and his father. He didn't know if he was ready for that.

"Here." Lana put something warm against his forearm and sat next to him. "Drink up."

Lex pushed himself up, blinking against the weirdly psychedelic lights in the Talon. "It's not coffee, is it? I'm not allowed any caffeine."

"No kidding," she said wryly. "No, it's not caffeine. The last thing I want is to bring Mr. Walters's wrath on me."

"You don't seem to be afraid of my wrath," Lex said. He could hear the pout in his voice. He picked up the cup and sniffed; he couldn't smell anything through the plastic sippy top.

"You take your wrath on me out in words. Words aren't that scary anymore." She smirked at him. "It's steamed milk and vanilla syrup. What?" Lana laughed when Lex made a face. "It's good."

"It doesn't sound good." He took a sip, though. And, even though it was fairly pleasant, he made a face. Just to prove a point.

Then he took another sip.

"So," Lana said after a moment of silence. "You found your brother."

He nodded. "My detective faxed me last night with his location. I took off almost right away, which was a good thing, too. Lucas inherited the bad-boy gene from the Luthors. He was about to get killed when I arrived just in the nick of time."

"That was lucky."

Lex rolled his eyes and immediately regretted it. Tears formed at the corners. "Yeah," he said, blinking. "It was lucky. And, yes, I was aware almost immediately that it was a little too lucky. But what was I supposed to do? Let them kill him?"

"No, of course not." She put her hand on his shoulder. "Have you had time to get to know him yet?"

"No. There hasn't been time." He filled her in on the events of the very long day, starting with the uncomfortable small talk, and ending with the heated debate at the bank. "And, so, for the moment, I'm completely broke except for the cash I have in my pocket and stuffed under my bed."

"You still have the Talon."

Lex shook his head. "Well, yeah, but, no."

"You still have all of us. You have you know who."

"I'm not really all that partial to evil snake men, thank you. They remind me of my father." He smiled at Lana, who just looked at him, confused. "Harry Potter."

"You too, huh? Clark and Chloe go through phases where that's all they read. The books and that fan fiction stuff."

"Yeah, Clark's shown some to me. I don't read any, not for Harry Potter. I just find the books entertaining."

"But you do read fan fiction." Lana had one eyebrow raised.

Lex just smiled and took a sip of his drink.

"Fine." She sighed and rested her cheek against her hand. "What are you going to do now?"

"I don't know. The main thing I want to do is go home and go to bed. But I have a feeling that Dad has something else up his sleeve. It's never over with him. He won't stop until he gets me back working for LuthorCorp."

"Are you sure?"

He thought about it a moment, then shrugged. "I don't know. I guess. He was upset when I said I was going back to school. Now he seems to think I was lying or something. I told you what the board is doing?"

"Using you, yeah." She sighed. "And you don't want to go back."

"No. I want my own life. Even though I haven't decided what I want to do with it yet." He rubbed his forehead.

"Well," Lana said, taking his hand and squeezing it. "Whatever you decide to do, I know you'll be great. You couldn't help but be. Not with your obsessive personality."

"I don't know if I should thank you or be insulted," Lex said.

Lana smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "Your driver is here. Take care of yourself. And if you need anything..."

"I know where to find you." He hesitated, then returned the kiss. "Thanks for the milk."

"Anytime." She was blushing, hand on her cheek.

Lex smirked at her then left.

"Are you all right, sir?" Eric asked as he escorted Lex out to the car.

"I'll be fine," he replied, pleased that Eric had asked. Most of his security staff treated him as if he were a heartless lord. Beyond the formal inquiries, no one seemed to care.

"Your father is at the mansion. And that young man you brought home earlier."

"My brother." Lex climbed into the back of his car and leaned back with a sigh. His head was killing him; every light created an aura, warping anything he tried to look at. Even his sunglasses weren't helping.

Eric climbed into the front and started the car. They'd been driving a few minutes before he asked, "Is he really your brother?"

"Yes. Half-brother, at any rate."

Silence again. Then, "I'm not sure I like him. I found him harassing Anne in your library."

Shit. "She okay?"

"She's fine. Damien told me that he wants her to sleep in his office tonight. Warren and Max were moving in a bed when I left."

"Wouldn't it be easier to post a guard outside her door?"

Another pause. "Well, uh, I don't think Damien thinks too much of us. Not that I blame him. I mean, I do my job, sir, but some of the guys slack off sometimes."

"I've noticed," Lex said dryly. "What with me always being the one the guys are slacking off guarding."

Eric cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, sir."

There really wasn't anything to say to that. Lex crossed his arms over his chest and tried to get comfortable. A thousand elephants were tromping through his head, all playing trumpets. He was hot, too. Hot and aching. And he felt dirty. His skin was too dry, he smelled like a car, and his mouth was sticky and sour with milk.

"Mr. Luthor?"

Lex opened his eyes. They were at the mansion. Eric stood next to him, door opened.

"Oh. Thanks." He rubbed his eyes and climbed out. "Thank you."

"Of course." Eric smiled.

Dad would, of course, be in Lex's office. Trying to pull himself together, Lex stormed up the stairs and through the doors.

Sure enough, Lionel was sitting behind Lex's desk. His cell phone was in his hand, headset over the mane of hair as he spun in the chair, barking out his conversation.

"I've just spent the last two hours at the bank," Lex said, striding to the desk.

"I'll call you back." Lionel cut off his call and spun to face Lex. "Troubles?"

"Do you have any idea why my accounts have been frozen?"

Lionel smiled. "You know, Lex, I am tired by your constant attempts at mutiny."

Lex clenched his fists. "I'm not mutinying! I am trying to create a semblance of a life I can be proud of. A life that I want to live!"

"And what, exactly, is wrong with the life I have worked hard to create for you?"

"It's not what I want to do, Dad. That's it. I appreciate all that you've done for me," he forced out, stomach roiling. "You've always made certain I've had the best of everything. But I don't want to work for LuthorCorp. You know that business bores me to death. I want to do something else."

"From what I've heard, you haven't even decided on a course of study yet."

How did this man know absolutely everything? "I'll probably go into chemistry or biochemistry, but there are other options that I never considered. Pharmacology, for example. Maybe even medicine. Or maybe history."

"Or maybe ballet," Lionel said sarcastically. "My God, Lex, you haven't a clue. You're not worthy of the Luthor name."

"Dad...."

"No." Lionel stood. His face was dark, entire body stiff.

Lex took a step back.

"No, Lex. I don't want to hear your pathetic excuses or silly dreams. You are a Luthor. My son. You will not waste your life chasing some pathetic fantasy. If you want you accounts unfrozen, then you will start behaving in a manner worthy of your name." He came from around the desk. His cane was in his hand, but he wasn't using it. He had his hand wrapped around it and was waving it back and forth in his hand.

"Worthy of my name?" Lex repeated, eyes on the cane.

"Yes. You will drop this insane idea of going back to school. You will fire Damien Walters as your assistant. You will pack up your belongings and move back to Metropolis. Tomorrow morning, you will speak to the board and have them drop this insane idea of voting me out of power. You'll fire your doctor and report to Dr. Pierce for a full physical and blood work. And, finally, you will break up with Clark Kent and cut off all ties with his family and this town. Should you refuse any one of these conditions, you'll get your things, your assistant, his whore, and your cat and get out of my house." Lionel slammed his cane on the floor.

Startled, Lex jumped. Clenching his fists tighter to control the trembling, he said, "What about Lucas?"

Lionel smiled. "Lucas? Well, Lucas and I had a father-son chat today."

"Turns out," Lucas said from behind Lex, "Dad has a lot of interesting things to say."

Lex turned and watched as Lucas crossed the room to stand next to Lionel.

"Some sons don't question their allegiances to their family." Lionel smiled.

Now, with Lucas standing next to Lionel, Lex could see the resemblance between the two strongly. The cheeks, the forehead, the hair color. The broad shoulders, strong build. The air of menace. Yeah. Lex could see the resemblance.

He swallowed and ran through everything he'd ever been taught about defending himself against two attackers.

"Lucas, you're being incredibly naive if you think if you think you can trust him."

"Something you pick up at the tables, Lex. You size up your options. You never know when you might have to change your strategy mid-hand."

Lex licked his lips. "Fine. You know he's just going to use you."

"Like you weren't?"

"All I wanted was a brother."

"Oh, please."

Lionel laughed. "I told you he was emotional." The warmth left his face, jaw tightened. "So, Lex? What's your decision?"

He swallowed and blinked rapidly. No fucking way would he cry--not even from the pain in his head--in front of his father and brother. "I'll be out of the house within the hour," he said when his voice was steady. Then, he turned and walked slowly from the room, his head high.


"Dinner was really good, Mom," Clark said. He pushed his seat back and picked up his plate.

"I'm glad you liked it. You didn't each much, though."

He sighed and ignored the worried look on her face. "I'm just not all that hungry, that's all." He picked up her and his dad's plate and carried them over to the sink. "Lex's is all upset right now. That's affecting me."

"Has he told you what's wrong?"

Clark shook his head. "He's too agitated. I want to call, but..." He trailed off and shrugged. He didn't know what was going on. He just knew it wasn't good. The whole day had been one disaster after another and he could tell this was going to be the final blow.

He sighed. Turning on the water, he picked up a sponge and started scrubbing at the dishes.

"Honey?" Martha put her hand on his shoulder. "What's wrong?"

"It's just Lex. He's got a headache or something, and that always makes it worse. I tried touching his mind earlier, and it really hurt. So, I have to wait."

"It's more than that, though. You've been in a bad mood since you got home."

"Mom..."

"Did something happen with the social worker?"

He turned the water off. Hands deep in soapy water, he stood there, staring sightlessly at the wall. Maybe if he stood very still, she would go away, forget she asked. Because he didn't want to talk about it. Didn't want to tell her.

Martha sighed. "I'll take that as a yes." She took the sponge from his lifeless fingers. "What happened?"

"I don't..."

"What happened, Clark?" She took his hand and pulled him from the kitchen into the living room.

"What's going on?" Jonathan was in his chair, paper open, glasses on. He looked up, though, and took off his glasses when Martha pushed Clark onto the couch.

"Clark saw the social worker today." She put her arm around him. "Tell me what happened."

"Mom, I'll handle it. It's fine." He closed his eyes, though, kicked off his shoes. She was warm and soft and home. And she stroked through his hair, down his neck, made his muscles relax and the horrible blocked feeling in his stomach start to dissolve.

She kissed the top of his head. "Talk to me, baby. What happened?"

He sniffed. "They sent a man."

"Men make you uncomfortable," Mom said.

"Yeah. If I know them, it's okay. Or if I... you know." He sniffed again. "I fucked up big time with Grant," he suddenly said. Sobbed, whatever.

The couch cushion behind him dipped. Dad's hand slid up his back. "What do you mean?"

His body shook and he squeezed his eyes tighter. "In Metropolis. I kissed him. Twice. I wanted... I don't know. I just reacted and now I can't talk to him. I was going to call him today because I don't want to make you and Dad feel bad that Lionel's still trying to get to me and that it's working, and because Mr. Townsend is with Whitney, I can't talk to him like I used to. And Lex's got his own problems, so... But I screwed up."

"When did you kiss him?"

"That weekend I ran away."

"I know. I mean, did you kiss him before he brought you back or after?"

"Before. We were still in Metropolis." He wiped a tear that had escaped down his cheek.

"Did you talk about it?"

He nodded.

"Was Grant upset?"

"No. He said, he said that it was normal. That I was upset and looking for comfort with someone I knew. That I shouldn't be embarrassed or angry at myself or anything."

"But you still are," Dad said.

"Wouldn't you be?" Clark sat up and turned so he could see both of them. "Grant's this really hot, older guy and I'm a screwed up moron kid. I don't know what I was thinking." He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. "And I have to see him again, because he wants to do a story on Whitney and me and our friendship. How am I supposed to face him? He's gotta think I'm such an idiot."

"Or he could be flattered."

Clark dropped his hands and shot her a look. "Yeah. Everyone's flattered when stupid jailbait kids being followed by the tabloids come on to them."

She smiled. "All that aside, he knows you, and he knows how you are about letting people get close to you. About intimacy. You've only been with Lex, and you've been known to freak out when others try to get closer than you're comfortable yet. And, yet, with all your issues, you showed Grant that he is one person that you trust and are comfortable with. And that's very flattering, especially considering that he knows what a special young man you are."

"Yeah, short-bus special."

Dad whacked him on the back of the head. "None of that kind of talk."

"Sorry, Dad." He sighed. "It's embarrassing."

"Being a teenager is embarrassing," Dad said. "Do you think you're the first person to ever get a crush on someone older and unattainable?"

Clark shrugged.

His father ruffled his hair. "When I was your age, I had the biggest crush on Miss Hendricks. She taught home economics and coached cheerleading." He smiled, eyes distant and fond. "I followed her around everywhere. Any day I didn't have practice, I was in her classroom, helping her out, carrying things to her car, back to the class, whatever. I was so infatuated."

"Yeah," Clark said, completely uncomfortable both by the idea of his dad as a love-sick fool and by the fact his mom was looking at Dad like he was the cutest thing ever. It was weird. "But you didn't come on to her. You didn't kiss her."

He cleared his throat, shifted on the couch, and averted his eyes.

Oh. "You did?"

"I tried." Dad was blushing. "In the gym one day after school. Right before the spring formal. I was helping her set up some streamers, everything seemed perfect, so I kissed her."

Oh God, oh God, oh God. Clark squirmed on the couch and tightened his arms across his chest. Why wouldn't the floor swallow him up? "What did she do?" Clark asked, interested despite the horrific embarrassment.

"She, uh, was nice enough about it. Told me it was inappropriate and that I was just a kid. I tried to argue, but she was very professional." Dad shrugged. "I stopped staying after school to help her after that and avoided her in the halls whenever I saw her. She tried to talk to me a few times, but I couldn't face her."

"I didn't get nearly so far," his mother said, "but I had my fair share of inappropriate crushes, too."

Clark shook his head. "It's not the same." They would never understand.

"Why isn't it the same?" His mother took his hand and squeezed it.

No way he could tell him where the second kiss had happened, or what he and Grant had--or, rather, hadn't--been wearing. Even though he'd been the aggressor and Grant had, ultimately, pushed him away, he didn't want Grant to get into any trouble. So, instead, he mumbled, "It's just... I really like Grant."

"I know that," said Mom.

"No, Mom." Clark rubbed his eyes. "I mean, I really like Grant. Like, like him like, if there wasn't a Lex, I'd want to be with Grant. Maybe," he added hastily.

He could feel his parents exchange glances over his head. There were sighs. His dad stroked his hair, his mom caressed his neck and shoulders.

"Honey," Mom said, "you know that Grant is over thirty years old. He's much to old for you."

His face was way too hot. He squirmed again, wishing his parents didn't insist on keeping him penned in. "I know."

"You're only sixteen."

"I know, Dad! God!" He jumped up from the couch and walked across the room. Agitated, Clark tugged the sleeves of his flannel over his hands. "I'm not saying that Grant would go for it or anything. But I like him better than any other guy I've ever met besides Lex. That's all I'm saying. Okay?"

"What about Whitney?"

"Whitney caught me with my hand on Lionel's dick!" Clark shouted. "Do you think I'd want a relationship with someone who's seen me like that?"

Mom was off the couch in a heartbeat.

"Don't!" he yelled, pressing himself into the corner.

She stopped. "Clark, what happened today?"

He wouldn't break. He wouldn't. He wouldn't.

Clark clenched his jaw. "Lionel somehow bribed the social service people. They sent a man." His voice cracked. "They sent a man who did his hair like Lionel. Who had a beard like Lionel. Who told me that it was all my fault and.... And I told him to go back and tell Lionel to shove it, but, God, I had to sit there and look at him and hear it, you know? And I'm so, so tired, Mama. I'm so tired." Exhausted, Clark slid to the floor and pulled his knees to his chest.

"I'll call Michelle tomorrow," Martha said. Her voice quaked. Her eyes were bright.

"Mom, I'm sorry."

"You have nothing to apologize for."

"I..." Clark was interrupted by a sudden knock on the front door.

"I'll get it," said Jonathan. His voice was soft, soothing, like he was talking to a skittish animal or something. As he passed Martha, he squeezed her hand.

She looked at him. The expression on her face made Clark's heart squeeze. That was why he hated all this. He hated making that expression, the pain, the sorrow, the helplessness, appear on his mother's face. It was all his fault.

Jonathan opened the door. "Lex." He reached out and took Lex by the shoulder. "Are you all right?"

Clark stood and walked towards the door. Lex was standing on the porch, his skin chalky pale, the circles under his eyes standing out under the porch light. His overnight bag was slung over his shoulder, Athena in her cage clutched in his left hand. Behind him, Clark could see a suitcase.

"No," Lex said softly, looking up at Jonathan. His eyes seemed unusually bright. "No, I'm not all right."

Jonathan's hand tightened on Lex's shoulder. "What's wrong?" He took Athena's cage from Lex and handed it to Martha.

Lex swallowed. Swayed slightly on his feet. "According to my father, I'm no longer a Luthor. He's left me with nothing, not even a place to live. I mean, I have the house, but it's not ready. No water, no heat, nothing. And all my money... it's in Damien's account, and it's low and I don't have anywhere to stay. I need..."

"You'll stay with us, son," Jonathan interrupted. He rubbed Lex's arm. "Just calm down. Breathe. You're fine. You might not be a Luthor, but that doesn't mean you don't have a family here to take care of you. It'll be okay."

"Thank you." He tore his eyes from Jonathan to Clark.

Clark stepped forward, opened his arms.

Lex seemed to float into them. The bag dropped on the floor, he took one step in the house and then, he was in Clark's arms, melting.

"I'm going to talk to Damien and Dominic," Clark heard his father say.

"All right. Lex? Honey, do you want something to eat?"

"Not really. I have a headache," Lex said into Clark's chest.

"You need to eat something." She brushed her hand over Lex's scalp. "I'll just get something light. Then I'll fix up your room."

Lex just nodded.

Clark backed up until he felt the couch hit the backs of his knees. Holding Lex, he sank down onto it. His mouth nuzzled just below Lex's ear, tasting, comforting, smelling. Making sure that Lex wasn't going to fall apart or crumble into dust.

/ I can't believe he did this, / Lex said.

/ He's an ass. He's so incredibly stupid. He just doesn't realize what a prize you are. /

/ Why do I even care? I don't want to care. It hurts. /

/ I know. / Clark kissed his temple. / I know. But it will be okay. We're together. /

/ I know. But it still hurts. /

/ Yeah, baby. I know. I know. /


Warm. Soft. Fur brushing against his nose. Skin underneath his cheek. Clark smell.

Lex opened his eyes. He was in his room at the Kents--no reason anymore to call it Clark's old room; he had clothes in the closet that lived here, a set of sheets he preferred to use, books on the shelves, and pictures on the wall. It was his room, through and through.

He and Clark were squeezed in the twin bed together. Clark's feet were just hanging off the edge; they were going to have to get a bigger bed, because whenever Lex stayed here, Clark spent most of the time sleeping with him. Even though it was against the rules. Even the parents weren't so keen on enforcing the rules much anymore.

The headache had faded to nearly nothing. A little tension over his eyes. His neck was tight. But he could think. It wasn't overwhelming any more.

A sigh of relief escaped his mouth. His breath ruffled Athena's fur. She lifted her head, blinked sleepy eyes at him. Yawned. Stretched out on her back and fell asleep once more.

Lex smiled and scratched her stomach. He loved his silly little cat more than an adult man should, but he couldn't bring himself to care. She was beautiful and intelligent and all his. His baby.

He rolled over and lay his head down over Clark's heart.

"Lex?" Clark muttered. He stroked his thumb down Lex's spine.

It was hard not to purr at the caress. He arched his back. "Didn't mean to wake you."

"It's okay." Blue eyes opened and stared down at him. "I used to be a light sleeper. Once upon a time."

Lex smiled wryly. "We used to be a lot of things."

"Yeah."

"Still," Lex said after a moment's silence. "I think I like who I am better, now. No. I know I do. Being with you has made me better."

Clark smiled. "I'd love you no matter what, you know."

"I know you think so. And that's enough." Lex moved on top of Clark and kissed him.

When they parted, Clark whispered, "I think I like who I was a few months ago best."

"Why a few months ago?" Lex ran his fingers over Clark's collar bone, pressing against his skin. Clark was, as always, so warm. The window was open slightly, allowing cool wind to blow in, caressing Lex's skin; the contrast of Clark's heat against his front was delicious.

"Before Ryan died, I felt like I had everything together. Now, I always feel like I'm falling apart. I'm just not strong enough."

"That's bullshit." He traced Clark's eyebrows. "You're stronger than you think."

He rolled his eyes.

"Clark." Lex kissed him softly, tongue flicking against Clark's. "Angel, I'm not saying things aren't hard. And I'm not saying that you're not in pain and feel like you're on the edge. But you're dealing with it. Getting through. And it doesn't help to say, but it will get better one day."

Clark snorted. "Yeah, one day." He sighed. "So. Your dad managed to screw with my social worker. They sent a man who was wearing his hair like your dad's. Beard too. He basically told me it was all my fault because I didn't fight back. Oh, and he said that Lionel only got the idea to try and rape me because I'm gay. He's so perfectly straight, and publicly straight, that it never would have occurred to him otherwise. And that us being together was why he wanted to do it."

"You told him about us?"

"No. I kept telling him that I wasn't going to talk about my sexuality or you or whatever, but he kept pressing. Everyone knows, Lex. Everyone knows."

"I know." Lex kissed him again. "I know. And I'm sorry."

"I don't care, except that I don't want you to get in trouble. You know how I want everyone to know about us. Have to acknowledge it and stuff. I want to be able to hold your hand without feeling like I'm doing something wrong. Or that people think that you're doing something wrong."

"People are always going to think we're doing something wrong."

Again, the eyes rolled. "I know that. God, are you trying to be stupid?"

Lex placated him with a kiss. The kiss turned into another, and another, each more heated then the last. Lex's shirt was ripped off. Clark rolled him over, knocking a disgruntled Athena off the bed. And Clark kept kissing, his mouth hot and wet on Lex's mouth, his neck, his nipples.

Clark bit down suddenly, hard. The jolt of pain made Lex cry out loudly. Too loudly.

"Shhh," Clark hissed. He covered Lex's mouth with his hand and continued to work his way down. His tongue rasped wetly over Lex's ribs, tracing each one with broad strokes.

Lex whimpered and squirmed under Clark's weight. His legs fell open on either side of Clark's body, framing him.

"Parade you naked down Main Street," Clark was whispering into Lex's stomach. He yanked down Lex's pajama bottoms.

The fabric burned. Lex keened, the sound muffled by the hand over his mouth. Then his cock was Clark's hand. Clark tugged at it, pulled, stroked.

Warmth flooded through him. Lex twisted, eyes falling shut. His breath came in hard pants, sounding harsh as it washed over Clark's hand. He arched his back, thrusting into Clark's hand, hips moving in tandem with Clark's strokes.

Clark threw his pajama bottoms on the floor. Once they were gone, he stretched out on top of Lex, groin to groin. Their cocks pushed against each others.

"Oh God," Clark groaned.

"Quiet," Lex tried to say behind Clark's hand.

Clark lowered his mouth to Lex's, kissing him. He pushed Lex's lips open, tongue sliding in. Slickly, he stroked Lex's tongue, petting it in soft, caressing strokes. His hips pressed into Lex's rhythmically, pushing him towards the wall.

"Careful," Lex said when Clark thrust hard enough to bang Lex's head into the wall. He moved his hands and braced himself, even as Clark tempered his thrusts.

Clark's chest heaved. His eyes were glazed, unfocused as he ravaged Lex's skin with his mouth. His hands kept most of his weight from Lex's sweaty body, but there was enough to work up the perfect amount of friction. It twisted in Lex's stomach, racing out in hot tendrils down his legs, up his chest, along his spine. He writhed and heaved under Clark, arching as he pressed up from the wall. His legs wrapped vise-like around Clark's hips, squeezing, working as he fucked himself against the oh so warm flesh pressing into his. The hair at the base of Clark's cock tickled Lex. Scratched and sent rings of fire through him until he was shuddering and gasping, "God, yes, God, yes," over and over again.

"Lex," Clark whispered. "I love you so much, Lex. I want everyone to know. I don't care."

Lex pulled one hand away from the wall. He pulled Clark's face to his and kissed him. "I know," he whispered. He nibbled at Clark's full lower lip. "I know. Me too. And I promise, one day. One day we'll take that full page ad out in the Planet and the world will know."

Clark laughed, then sniffed. His body stiffened, and Lex felt the warmth of his release over his stomach.

He pet Clark's hair. "Good boy," he whispered, not sure why he said it.

Face buried in Lex's neck, Clark snorted. He reached down between them and took Lex in hand once again. A few expert strokes, and Lex saw red as the world dissolved around him in a haze of pleasure.

"I love you," Clark whispered. He pressed a kiss on the corner of Lex's mouth.

"Back at you." Lex dropped both hands so they loosely embraced Clark.

Clark tucked his head beneath Lex's chin. His eyelashes brushed against Lex's chest.

"I think things might start getting easier for us, " Lex said. He twisted the hair at the base of Clark's neck around his fingers. "Now that I'm no longer a Luthor, I mean."

"Lex..."

"No, hear me out. I'm not saying it will get better right away. There's going to be a bit of a media buzz once this gets out. But once people get used to the fact that I'm not Lex Luthor, son of Lionel Luthor anymore, but Lex Luthor, graduate student, they'll lose interest. I'm definitely not going to do anything interesting until I've at least got my PH.D., right?" He cradled Clark's cheek. "We won't have to watch our every step. Constantly look over our shoulder. We'll be free to live our lives."

"It's never going to be that simple," Clark protested.

Lex kissed him. Long. Lingering. "It's three in the morning, Clark," Lex whispered into his mouth. "Reality doesn't begin for three more hours. Until then, it is that simple."


Lillian Luthor had always been a morning person. Lex couldn't remember a single morning, barring when she'd been sick, of course, when she hadn't been up at the crack of dawn. She'd often pulled him out of bed to see the sunrise, and, until Lex had hit his teen years and consequently self-destructed, he had kept that habit. There was something pure about morning, a quality that no other time of the day had. Even during the worst heat waves, the moments where the sun eked over the horizon, spilling over the slumbering world, seemed cool and refreshing. Rejuvenating.

"Life happens at dawn," she'd said once, on his birthday, as a matter of fact. Lex had been born at five eleven AM on July 11. Sunrise.

Actually, he'd been born a little bit later, Lex had learned since, but he didn't care. If his mother wanted to believe he'd been born with the sun, than Lex would believe it, too.

Since coming to Smallville, he'd gotten back in the habit of waking at sunrise. He still stayed up too late, and sometimes it was a bitch to drag himself out of bed, but once he was up, the purity of morning just washed over him and made everything worth it. If he wasn't up early these days, it meant that something had happened. It meant his life was once again in disruption, which made the rest of the day even worse.

Despite having built up the party-boy reputation for years, Lex was a morning person. Which meant that he really did fit right in, in some ways, with the Kent's schedule. Yes, he generally stayed up later than they did, but the next morning, he was always up.

Today, he was actually up before Jonathan. It happened once in awhile over the summer. The unspoken rule was whoever was up first started the coffee.

If Lex was a lesser man, he wouldn't do it today. After all, he wasn't allowed to drink it; he was still off caffeine, especially after yesterday's headache. If he couldn't drink, it wasn't fair that he had to make it.

But he wasn't a lesser man. And, he was really afraid that Jonathan might have heard him and Clark last night. Best not do anything to unnecessarily antagonize the man. In the past, of course, Lex's mere presence would have been enough to antagonize him. Now, luckily, life was easier.

At least where Jonathan was concerned.

The coffee was brewing. Toast in the toaster. OJ in his glass. Lex had the back door opened and was leaning against the jamb when he heard Jonathan's tread on the stairs.

"Morning, Lex. Didn't expect to see you up this early."

Lex glanced over his shoulder and smiled, wary. "My headache's gone. I'm destitute. I might as well start earning my keep."

He laughed. "Well, as a guest, you don't have to do anything you don't want. But, as a family member, you should be expected to do chores, I suppose. I guess it's up to you which you want to be."

Lex snorted. "Heads I lose, tails you win," he said.

Jonathan flashed a grin at him. "Thanks for starting the coffee." He went to the cupboard and pulled out his mug. When the toast popped, he also pulled out the jam from the fridge and brought it over the counter.

"Thanks."

Lex settled next to Jonathan, buttering and jamming the toast while Jonathan made his coffee. Early morning sounds of birds and the smell of dew and the filtering of light through the trees. Perfect.

"Do you want to help me with the cows this morning?"

Yay. Another morning of pushing that damn wheelbarrow and shoveling feed and cleaning cow teats. Fun.

"Of course." He finished the toast and handed Jonathan's to him. "Need to keep the muscles I started developing the other week, right? I'm looking forward to a lot of farm work." He didn't mean for that to come out as morose as it came out.

Jonathan put his hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "It'll be okay, Lex. Maybe this was just what you needed. I mean, I know that doesn't stop the pain, but it could be a blessing in disguise."

"Yeah. I know." He swallowed the last of his toast and gulped down his juice. "I'll get started."

It didn't take long for Jonathan to join Lex. Together, they loaded the wheelbarrow with feed and headed out to the field.

Mornings weren't a time for talking. Not a lot of talking, anyway. At least, not until the sun was truly up, and it wasn't yet. Jonathan seemed to understand this, because for at least a half an hour, they worked together without words. And Lex was amazed at how words weren't needed. He knew what to do, or what Jonathan wanted him to do without the other man needing to say a word. And the work was a lot easier, too. Lex hadn't been kidding about not wanting to lose the muscles. The wheelbarrow was still too heavy, but his arms, back, and legs remembered how to work together to move it. Plus, this time, Jonathan helped him out sometimes, so Lex wasn't slipping around in the mud as much.

The sun was just getting warm on Lex's neck when Jonathan finally broke the silence.

"So, tell me about your brother."

Lex winkled his nose. Halting the wheelbarrow, he pulled the shovel out. "He's... I don't know him very well. I mean, I just met him yesterday morning. How much of him could I learned?"

"You're an observant young man. You must have learned something."

"I guess." He shoveled the feed into the trough. "He's really guarded. When he talks, he chooses every word carefully, so he doesn't give anything away. And he's observant. Watches everyone closely. I'm thinking that even though he had to have talked to my dad before yesterday, he never actually never met him, because when they were in the room together, Lucas seemed to be memorizing Dad."

"Maybe he was curious about his biological father."

"Well, yeah. But it was more than that. He watches everyone that closely." Lex licked his lips. "I think he might be homophobic."

Jonathan grimaced. "That won't be easy. But maybe he'll be able to set that aside so he can connect with his family. That must be important to him."

Lex shook his head and said, "I think that survival is probably the most important thing. Maybe once he begins to feel safe and secure, though, he'll be willing to give me a chance, sexuality aside." He wrinkled his nose. "Of course, he's with Dad, so the chances of him ever feeling secure...."

"You don't think..."

"This is Dad we're talking about," Lex said flatly. He thrust the shovel into the feed and picked up the wheelbarrow again. "Lucas isn't some long lost child being embraced back into the fold after all these years. He's just another tool to use in Dad's eternal quest for power over everyone and everything. I'm proving to be recalcitrant lately, necessitating the introduction of a new player. That's all Lucas is to Dad; another piece in our eternal chess game."

"You sound like you're giving up on the idea of making some kind of relationship with your brother."

He frowned and scratched his nose. He could feel dirt streak across his sweaty skin. "No, not necessarily. I went through all that trouble looking for him. I might as well try to talk with him."

The last of the feed was shoveled out. Together, they walked back to the barn.

"Do you think your father is going to have Lucas work for him?"

"I honestly don't know. Lucas has no training. He's a smart kid, but he's a gambler. A street kid. Business is different." Lex shrugged. "I'd think Dad would want him to get some kind of experience first. College or something. Then again, I don't know if Lucas would even want to work for Dad."

They headed back out to the field, boots crunching on the grass, to bring the cows in.

"Why not?" asked Jonathan.

"Just the sense I got." He frowned. "I don't think he liked Dad all that much. He was really edgy around him." Lex licked his lips, heart suddenly speeding up. "I have a feeling that Lucas was abused. And something about Dad makes him uncomfortable."

Jonathan stopped, hand on the gate to the cows' pen. "What makes you think that?"

Lex shrugged. "Yesterday Dad hugged Lucas when they met. Just sort of grabbed him and pulled him into a bear hug. Lucas went completely stiff and just stood there like... like if he didn't move, maybe Dad wouldn't notice that he was there. And then, after Dad let him go, Lucas kept... fidgeting. He looked like Clark did, right after."

"Christ." Jonathan sighed, hand tightening on the fence. "I know there's all this evidence that the system's flawed, but you just hope.... Poor kid."

"Yeah." He scuffed his toe on the ground. "I don't know what to do, Jonathan. I wanted to find him so I could, I don't know. Have family. Apart from Dad." His ears burned. "You know, blood family. But Lucas is so cagey. Closed off. Kind of like a wild animal, or a stray or something. And now Dad has him."

Jonathan put his hand on Lex's shoulder and squeezed. "Why don't you just give him a call? Let him know that you don't have any hard feelings. Maybe that you'd like to get together for a drink or something."

He snorted. Eyes on the ground. Dad's training surging in him. "I couldn't do that. That'd be displaying weakness."

"How?"

Well, duh. Lex opened his mouth to enlighten Jonathan. His brain stuttered to a stop. "Um..."

"Well, do you want to still be working for your father?"

"No."

"I know that losing your money is a hardship, but you have resources. Money you've been squirreling away just in case. A house of your own. Tentative plans for the future. You're set. Your father didn't really hurt you by disowning you. Well, emotionally, yes, but you're still on your feet."

Lex nodded, still doubtful. "I guess. But it just seems kind of weak."

"Why?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. Dad..."

"You aren't your father, Lex. And, really, you wouldn't be contacting Lucas because you need family or to tell him there are no hard feelings or anything. You'd be doing it for him. "

"Him?"

"If he's been abused and mistreated, as you think, he needs someone in his corner. You already know your dad isn't that person. He's the one who let Lucas be flushed into the system in the first place. Not only that, but it's because of him that Lucas was denied a stable family."

"Dad's little social experiment," Lex said bitterly. "And I thought I'd had it bad."

Jonathan sighed. Rubbed Lex's shoulder. "I'm not saying that you didn't. You're a good man, Lex, but your life hasn't been easy. The way Lionel has treated you is criminal. As is what he's done to Lucas. It's up to you to start mending the damage that your father's made in your family."

Lex squirmed. "What if he laughs at me?" he asked, unable to meet Jonathan's eyes.

"So?"

"So? It'll be humiliating."

"Lex, what are you really losing by just calling him? You already made the decision to move out of the mansion before he came, so Lucas didn't take that away from you. You have money, and anyway, Lucas didn't take money from you. That was your father. You're with family who loves you, while Lucas is with Lionel. You know what you're doing with your future. Lucas is only focused on survival, and that's no way to live. So, he laughs at you when you call. He's doing that to make himself feel better, not because you're weak. Have confidence in yourself, Lex. If he laughs, who cares?"

Lex tried to think of a comeback, but he couldn't. Jonathan was right. Calling Lucas would really cost him nothing. Oh, he'd be embarrassed by Lucas's scorn, but he needed get used to it anyway. Hell, in some ways, he already was. It never stopped hurting, but people always used what they could against him. Baldness, new money, gay, druggie, sick, whatever it was, if it was a weakness, people tried to exploit it.

But... Lucas couldn't exploit any of this. None of what had happened was a weakness on Lex's part. In some ways, he'd gotten exactly what he'd wanted. What he'd needed.

Dad had finally given him freedom.


Saturday morning. Clearly the best morning of the week. Lounging in bed half the morning, pancakes for breakfast, nothing pressing to do. No drama.

Perfect.

After spending almost two hours in bed together, Mark and Whitney had finally moved into the living room. The move was, of course, timed to coincide with Helen leaving for work. With a loud, "Okay, I'm going now!" that only sounded like she was almost completely annoyed with them, not totally.

Ah well. They'd been quiet until they'd woken up. Spent the night muffling any noise they made, mindful that Mark didn't live alone.

God, he wished he lived alone.

Now they were sprawled on the couch. Whitney had his head on Mark's lap, head turned to the TV so he could watch cartoons. He was dressed in boxers and an old, ratty baseball tee of Mark's with a series of men, all the colors of the rainbow bought at a pride event years before. His legs were thrown over the arm of the couch, his robe caught on his knee brace. There was still sleep in the corners of his eyes. He smelled like sex.

They both did, really. They'd cleaned up some that morning after Helen had left, but with a full day of nothing to do, there didn't seem much point.

Mark had given up trying to figure out the cartoon Whitney was watching. Something with cards and monsters and a kid with two personalities or something. Complicated and utterly mystifying. Still. Whitney enjoyed it, and Mark enjoyed watching Whitney enjoy the show.

The show went to a commercial. Whitney yawned and stretched. "You got plans tomorrow?" he asked, tearing his eyes from the TV.

He threaded his fingers through the blond strands. "I was thinking about visiting my father."

Whitney frowned and struggled into a sitting position. Mark had to help, and he was sorry for the loss of the weight against his thigh. Whitney flipped positions so his legs were in Mark's lap, back against the arm. "Why?"

"He's my father. I haven't seen him in a few weeks. I want to make sure he's okay."

"But you talk to his health care person."

"Whitney."

"I know, I know. He's your father. I just don't like the way he treats you, you know?"

Mark squeezed Whitney's foot. "I know. Me neither. But I came out here for him. And there's this perverse part of me that won't let his hatred and anger stop me. And I know that's stupid, but I can't help it."

"No, I understand. If it were my dad or if it were Mom, I'd keep going to see her. I'm just a little protective over my boyfriend, you know? I don't want you to get hurt."

"Thanks, Whit. And, I know. I can't say I'm looking forward to it or anything. But I have to see him."

Whitney nodded, but he didn't look happy. "Do you want me to go with you?" he asked after a moment.

Mark thought about it. He really did, actually. Wanted to take Whitney to meet his last living parent, to introduce him as the man he loved and planned to keep loving for a long time. To be accepted. His choices, his life. His lover.

"I do," Mark said. "But I don't think Dad's ready. I'll tell him about us. About you, if he'll listen. And I'll tell him that I'd like you two to meet."

"I'm sure Mom would be... willing to have him over for dinner."

"We'll see. I'll see how it goes." He wasn't optimistic. Neither was Whitney, he could tell. Still, he wasn't giving up, and that was important to him.

Ever since Whitney had come home, Mark had missed his mother so much, it hurt like a sharp ache in his side. Mark had never felt the way he did about Whitney for anyone else. He wanted to share this with his mother. To let her know that he'd finally found someone and he was happy. He wanted her to know.

He sighed.

"You okay?"

"Yeah"

Whitney licked his lips. Shifted his weight. Looked away from him, into the kitchen. "Look," he said after a moment of fidgeting. "Um, my mom wanted me to ask. It's cool if you say no. I mean, I understand. I just thought I'd.... well, anyway. Um, would you like to come to church with me tomorrow? I mean with us?"

Mark froze. What was he supposed to say to that? He wasn't religious. He wasn't Catholic. This part of their relationship was unsteady ground. Religion was so very important to Whitney, and Mark was completely at a loss as how to proceed.

He had to say something. He had to... compromise or bend or... or refuse or something. Anything. Anything but just sit here, holding Whitney's feet and not saying anything.

Shit. Say something. Say yes. Say there's not time. Say another time. Next week. A holiday? Another day?

Mark! For fuck's sake, say something.

This was officially the longest. Silence. Ever.

Whitney's cell phone rang.

Moving almost too quickly for Mark to see, Whitney's hand shot out to the table and grabbed his phone. "Hello?" His face softened from the painfully uncertain mask it had been into a smile. "Hey, you. How's grounded life treating you?" He listened to what the other person--presumably Lana Lang--said, then laughed. "Oh, I see. What's up?"

His eyes flicked to Mark. "Uh, I don't think so. Let me ask." Whitney pulled the phone away from his mouth. "Have you talked to Lex? Did you last night, I mean?"

"No, why?"

"He hasn't. What's going on?" Green eyes widened. "All his money? Christ. How?"

"What happened?"

"Lionel Luthor."

Because, really, no one needed an explanation beyond that.

"I haven't talked to him for a couple of days. Tell her I'm sorry." Then, after Whitney relayed the message, he said, "Can you ask her what happened with Clark yesterday?"

"Lana? What happened to Clark? Why didn't anyone tell me something was wrong?" He listened, then sat bolt upright. "They did what?"

"What happened?"

"Why didn't you call me, Lana? I should have gone over yesterday. He needed me, dammit."

"What happened?"

"Obviously you didn't, if Mark is asking me what happened. Lana, I..."

Mark took the phone from Whitney. "Lana? What happened?"

"Clark's fine, Mr. Townsend, I swear. Pete went over yesterday after school, and said that Clark seemed okay," Lana said, guilt evident in her voice. "But you know how he had his first meeting with the social worker yesterday? Well, they sent a guy, and Clark said that he sorta dressed like Lionel. And he accused Clark of making Lionel want to rape him."

"Christ. Has anyone called the child services?"

"I don't know. Pete didn't think that Clark had told his parents yet."

Mark sighed. "Do you know why he skipped my class?"

"I don't think he wanted you to know what happened. Not yet. He, uh. I think he's having some, uh, problems now that you're with Whitney. Like he doesn't know how to deal with it."

"I figured." He rubbed the back of his neck. "I think I'm going to call Grant. I think he's got some contacts with child services, and I want to see what he thinks. Now, about Lex, has anyone called the Kents?"

"We haven't wanted to disturb them. If Lex is in trouble, he's probably there, and after Clark's thing, and now Lex, we figure they're probably really upset."

He pulled the phone away. "I know we had plans for today, but do you want to ..."

"Hell, yes I want to go to the Kents." Whitney climbed off the couch and started limping back towards the bedroom. "I'll take a bath while you call Grant."

"Lana? Whitney and I will check on Lex and Clark and get back to you. That okay?"

"Thank you, Mr. Townsend. Chloe and I are going up to Metropolis, but you can call her or my cell phones."

"All right, I will. Bye." He hung up. Thought a moment. Turned. "Whitney?"

Whitney, at the door to the bedroom, turned back. "Yeah?"

Mark smiled and said, "I want to go to church with you tomorrow."

Whitney's face lit up. Broad grin, smile in his eyes, entire expression just beaming. "Thanks, Mark. I really.... I love you."

"I love you, too, Whit."

His lover blew him a kiss, then disappeared into the bedroom. One day, Mark swore, he and Whitney were going to take many long showers and baths together. However, until Whitney's knee healed enough for him to stand, or Mark moved into a place with a bath big enough for one grown man, let alone two, it wasn't going to happen. Still, his injury didn't mean they couldn't have some fun; usually, Mark stayed in the bathroom while Whitney bathed and played.

Not today, though. Because in Smallville, life was drama.

"Christ," he muttered grabbing his phone ad dialing. "There was never this much drama in San Francisco." Which was a total lie, what with the fact he'd been a teenager there, (drama unto itself) buried several good friends, gone through one AIDs scare, the unwanted pregnancy of his best girlfriend, and, oh yes, his mother's death.

Still. Smallville was giving his old life a run for its money.

The phone rang three times before it picked up and Grant's voice came over the line. "Hello?" He sounded groggy.

"Hi, Grant, it's Mark. Did I wake you?"

"No, it's all right." He inhaled deeply and coughed. "You all right?"

"I'm actually doing pretty well, thank you."

"And your soldier boy?" he asked, voice low, purring, and suggestive.

Mark felt himself blush. "My solider boy is perfect, thank you. Even if he does watch incredibly complex and confusing cartoons on Saturday morning."

Grant laughed. "Why you letting him out of bed before noon?"

"I don't know. Stupid, I know."

"So. Was there something I can do with you? Uh, for you? Sorry. Just woke up."

"No problem." Reality came back in a sobering blow. Mark frowned pensively. "You said you had some contacts with the child and family services, right?"

"Oh, Christ, what did they do?"

"It sounds like Lionel managed to pay someone off and screw around with Clark. I haven't got the whole story yet, because Clark completely avoided me yesterday after his meeting. I'm going over later, but I want to know..."

"Yeah. Yeah, I know someone. Well, my contact's with Metropolis county, but he can get me in touch with the right people. You know, Mark, the thing is, Lionel Luthor won't just stop. He's going to keep going after Clark until the charges have been dropped or he's in jail. Maybe not even then."

"I know. But I don't know what else to do. Clark doesn't deserve this, and I feel... I feel like I have to keep trying to protect him from Luthor. Like, if I stop, he'll completely break."

Grant sighed. "I know what you mean. Clark can take whatever Lionel throws at him and Lex as long as everyone else around him doesn't go away."

"He didn't call you about this, then," Mark said after a moment.

"No. Why?"

He rubbed the back of his neck. "I didn't know what happened until this morning, but I knew something was wrong. He skipped my class, but not the rest of them, meaning he was avoiding me because he didn't want me to know something was wrong. I let him be, but I was hoping he might call you to talk."

"Why he's avoiding you?"

"Whitney. Ever since Whitney came back, Clark's been uncomfortable around me."

"Jealous?" Grant asked knowingly.

"Actually, I don't think so. It's more that I don't think he knows where I fit into his life anymore. Before, I was his teacher. Even though I was friends with Lex, I was still an adult. A mentor. But now I'm dating a good friend of his. One he went to school with. Grew up with. So. Where do I fit into that?"

"You know, I really think it'd be best for everyone concerned if that boy just tested out of high school and moved onto college."

"I'm beginning to agree," Mark murmured. He hadn't before, thinking that Clark would do better to be around kids his own age and in a regular routine. But in the past few months, between the media attention, the depression, and everything else, he was beginning to think Clark really was being held back by high school. If he had more freedom to pursue his own interests, if he was in a more open environment, and if he were sufficiently challenged, maybe things would be better for him. "I'm surprised he didn't call you, though," he said after a moment. "Didn't he used to confide in you when about this kind of thing?"

Grant sighed. "Things got complicated between us last time he came out to Metropolis. Ever since then, he's been a little shy of me."

"What happened?" Mark asked, curiosity piqued.

"I really don't think I should get into it, for various reasons. Mostly, I still need to talk to Clark and fix things. I thought I had, but apparently it's not as fixed as I'd thought."

"Well, he should be home now, if you want to give him a call. Whitney and I are going over later, but we need to get dressed and everything."

"Of course," Grant drawled again, smile evident in his voice. "I think I'll follow your advice, though. And I'll call Henry after I'm done with Clark."

"Thank you, Grant."

"What are friends and reporters for?"


There was a widespread and deeply held belief that Damien Walters was not like other men. That he didn't swear, sweat, shout, smile, laugh, cry, or display any other of the plethora of human emotions. Even Dominic had fallen victim to this belief. Damien had seemed so perfect, so composed, so beautiful, that it was impossible to believe that he was anything like low, crude, fleshy human beings.

Of course, Dominic's illusions had been knocked away from him as time progressed. First, by Damien himself on that spring night a year ago when intoxication had given way to passion. That night, Dominic had discovered a lot about Damien, not the least that Dominic had a modicum of power over him.

Later illusions were not so pleasantly lost. The tornado's fury took away some of the confidence Dominic had always admired, and much of the freedom that Damien needed. Any man needed.

Illusions were stripped away. Dominic learned that his love was indeed human and, thus, possessed all said attributes. Damien swore. He laughed. He loved. He ate. He pissed. He quivered with passion and moaned with pleasure.

And he was a right bitch when he was in pain.

"God fucking crap shit fucking dammit."

Wonderful, Dominic thought sourly. The already bad day was going to get worse.

"Are you all right, darling?" he called over the hum of the bathroom fan and around the toothbrush in his mouth.

"Do I fucking sound like I'm all right, dear?" Damien snapped back.

Dominic spat out the toothpaste and rinsed his mouth. "What's wrong?" he asked, going into the bedroom.

Damien was sitting up, leaning against the headboard. His fingers were clenched around the bed sheets, the strain of having to maneuver himself into an upright position obvious. Sweat darkened his hairline. His eyes were squeezed shut, mouth tight.

Dominic glanced down. Damien's left leg was trembling uncontrollably, the twitching in violent spasms.

"Hold on," Dominic said. He crossed the room to Damien's suitcase. His medication was in a small travel bag. Dominic extracted a muscle relaxant and took it to him. "Here." He shook two pills into Damien's waiting hand.

"Thank you." Damien's face relaxed, then immediately twisted in pain once again.

"Should I call Michael?" Dominic sat on the bed and placed his hands on Damien's leg.

His flesh was still sleep-warmed. Gently, so as not to cause his lover any more pain, he began to massage the tortured muscle. It was so thin, emaciated, nothing like it should be. Nothing like it had been. Not surprising, of course, but it still hurt Dominic to see it.

"It's the damn bed," Damien said after a moment. "I couldn't keep my weight off it. And my back is killing me."

Dominic nodded. "We could go back to the city. I've a medical bed, just waiting for you."

"I know that, Dominic," Damien said sharply. "I bought it."

"I know you did. I'm simply pointing out..."

"Unless you plan to take me on a three hour drive completely drugged, we're not going."

He hesitated, then kissed Damien. "We can. Drug you..."

"No."

He thought not. "Very well. Perhaps Lucas will let us stay at the mansion. That way you could keep an eye on him."

"Right. That little pissant will no more let us in than Lionel. And, in fact, should he even consider it, Lionel won't allow it."

"Why don't we..."

"Dominic, you won't come up with an acceptable solution, so stop trying."

The words hurt, even though Dominic tried to ignore them. Damien could be a hard man, but he wasn't cruel. Wasn't mean. It was the pain talking, not him.

Damien sighed. "I'm sorry."

"I forgive you." He took Damien's hand in his.

"We'll come up with something. Later. Right now, all I want is for the pain to go away." He sighed. "Can you draw me a bath? I want to see if the jets will help unclench the muscles before we call Michael. I'm tired of..." he bit off the rest of whatever he was going to say.

"Of course." He kissed Damien again and rose.

They were staying at a small inn at the edge of town. It was a lovely little inn, one Dominic had admired before but never had a reason to visit. Smallville was not exactly a tourist destination, and the inn functioned more as a motel, only classier. Damien had suggested it, pointing out that they didn't know how long they'd be needing a room and did they really want to live at a Motel 6?

Since Dominic agreed he hadn't pointed out that the real reason Damien was suggesting it was because a motel was beneath his dignity. Which led to some disturbing speculation as to whether or not Damien had ever slummed in a seedy motel with anyone, or if he'd always preferred linen sheets and comfort, no matter what the sex. Uh. Purpose.

The owner of the inn had set aside one of the lower floor rooms as a handicap access room. The doorway was wide enough to fit a wheelchair. There were two sinks, the second lowered for easier access, and the toilet and bathtub both had bars for support. Better still, the bath was huge, big enough for two people, and had massaging jets.

They'd shared the bath last night on arrival. It had been a most enjoyable experience. Today, however, the experience looked to be more functional in nature than pleasure-driven.

"Do you want breakfast?" Dominic asked after the tub was filling. He went back to the bedroom.

Damien grunted as he tried to maneuver himself into his chair. Even though he generally was able to do it himself, Dominic rushed over and wrapped his arms around Damien.

"I'm not very hungry," Damien said, leaning his weight on Dominic and allowing the help into the chair. He was panting by the time he was settled in the chair, pain making his skin an awful shade of grey.

"You need to eat," he said.

"I know." Damien rubbed his forehead. "Something plain, and not a lot. And hot tea."

"Will you be all right alone?"

"I'll be fine. Just hurry back." He tilted his head back.

Apparently, Damien was also very kissable when in pain. The kiss went on forever. Damien's fingers tightened on Dominic's neck. At first, the pressure was nice. Then, it wasn't.

"Sorry." Damien pulled away, gasping. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay." He pulled Damien's hand off his head and threaded their fingers together. "Darling, you're in so much pain."

"I'll be fine. Just... I'll take a bath, you'll help me stretch. I want to manage this on my own if possible. I'm so tired of being crippled."

"I know you are. But you're not a burden."

"Please."

He shook his head and traced Damien's lips. "A burden is unwelcome. Grudgingly taken on. I'm honored that you love me enough to let me see you at your worst. I'm honored that you allow me to be here."

Damien sighed and rubbed his eyes. "If you had higher self-esteem...."

"I'd still love you. Or do you think everyone who chooses to stay with someone crippled, with someone who needs a lot of care, has low self-esteem?"

"No, of course not. That doesn't change the fact you do."

He smiled. "You never make me feel as if I'm worthless. You make me feel strong."

"Yes, now, perhaps."

"I love you. Now, stop letting your pain talk for you. Let me help you into the bath, then get some breakfast."

Damien sighed and smiled grudgingly. "You, my dear, are a wonder. And I love you. I don't say it often, but I do."

"You don't need to say it often. I know."

Dominic helped Damien into the bathtub and set the jets to high, massaging his lower back. Then, he left the room and headed for the main lobby.

The inn didn't have a restaurant, per se, but it opened into the coffee shop next door. Dominic went to the counter and ordered breakfast to take away, something that got him a disapproving look from the waitress, but he didn't care. Damien's health was more important than her tips and, by the size of the crowd the shop had drawn, it wasn't as if she'd be suffering. Next to the Talon, this shop was the most popular place for breakfast.

"Is there any way I can have this delivered to the room?" Dominic asked after he ordered.

"Does this look like the Four Seasons?" the waitress asked, snapping her pad shut and walking away.

"You can forget about a tip," he said to her back, knowing he wouldn't follow through. He always left a tip. Fifteen percent exactly, unless the service was exceptional. Dominic was nothing if reliable. No wonder Lex found him such an easy mark.

His phone rang.

And speaking of someone finding him an easy mark...

"Hi, Dom. It's Victoria."

His heart stuttered. "Victoria. Are you all right? Is the baby all right? Has something happened? Are you..."

"I'm fine, Dominic," she said, sounding annoyed.

He shouldn't be surprised at that. Victoria had never seemed to appreciate his worry, even though, to his mind, all she ever did was spend a lot of energy doing things to engender concern in him.

"The baby is fine," she said. "In fact, I've just returned from a routine appointment to the doctor."

"And..."

"And he said the baby is very healthy. He seemed pleased."

He let out a sigh of relief. "I'm glad."

"I found out the sex. Do you want to know?"

His heart squeezed. Uncomfortable, Dominic rubbed his chest, then gestured for the waitress again. When she came over, he asked quietly for a glass of water.

"Dominic?"

"Sorry," he said. When the water was placed in front of him, he drained half the glass. "Look, Victoria, there's something..."

"It's a boy."

A boy. A Richard or Connor or Nicholas or....

No. He couldn't. He had to tell her. Had to be fair.

"I've mailed the sonogram to you already, but I was wondering if you wanted me to e-mail it to you as well. So you can see him today."

"I'd like that very much," Dominic found himself saying.

Damn and double damn. The baby was practically living with him and Damien. Well, him. The moment Damien found out, of course, he'd leave Dominic without a second thought.

"I thought you might say that," Victoria said. Dominic could hear a clicking in the background. "All right, big brother, it's been sent. You know I do appreciate you doing this, don't you?" she said, in a soft, vulnerable-sounding voice. "I know you must think I'm a fool for getting pregnant again, but I swear I was careful. I tried to be careful. But there was one night and..."

"Victoria, I'm quite well aware of what happens on those nights. I don't need details," he said quickly.

She laughed breathlessly. "Of course. I'm sorry. I just... I love the situation I'm in, and I knew that.... Those abortions I had were hard on me. I know you think I'm heartless, but I'm not. They hurt, losing those babies, even though I never wanted them. And when I found out I was pregnant again, I knew I couldn't do it. I couldn't, even though Richard and Alicia didn't want children. Especially my children. But I know you, and I know what a wonderful father you'll be."

"I know I said that I would, but..."

"I have to go. Richard needs me."

"Victoria, we have to..."

"Bye Dominic!"

"Victoria!"

Empty air was his only response.

Two boxes and a bill were slapped on the counter in front of him. "Here's your breakfast and your bill," the waitress said. "Have a nice day."


"No, Chloe, I'm not going over there," Pete said, mindlessly answering history questions while cradling his cell phone under his ear. He had to get a new one of those hands-free things since he lost the old one.

"But Pete..." Chloe whined, but he cut her off.

"Look, girl, I went to his place yesterday. Clark's fine. Not one hundred percent, but fine. Besides, didn't you say that Whitney's going over there?"

"Yeah, but... Please? You're his best friend."

The tip of his pencil broke. "No, you're his best friend," Pete snapped. "And you got caught having sex with your girlfriend at home, so you're grounded. That's not my problem. Hell, I don't see how that's much of a problem for you anyway. Seems to me that you let your personal life suffer enough to take care of Clark, and that ain't right for any of you."

Long silence. Then quiet, "But..."

"Good-bye, Chloe. Have a good day in Metropolis." He hung up.

God, he was so sick of them. Okay, yeah, Clark was like his brother. And he had a mad-crush on Chloe. Lana, he didn't like so much, which wasn't fair to her, but, hey, she was with his girl (or, his girl if he had his way) so what could you do?

But he wasn't in their club. He wasn't the one who was let in on all the secrets, who got to do the cuddle-pile on the couch in the Torch office, or talk the secret language of The Gay, or hang out with teachers, or do whatever the hell they did when he wasn't around. He wasn't a part of all that, and it wasn't fair that he be asked to fill in for Chloe when he wasn't needed and probably wasn't wanted. Lex was staying over with Clark anyway; Pete definitely didn't need to be there.

He sighed in annoyance and grabbed another pencil. He wanted to get his stupid homework done.

His phone rang again. The number on the screen was unfamiliar.

"Hello?"

"Dude, it's Lucas. I'm bored. You wanna come over and hang?"

He blinked and put down his pencil. "You want to hang out with me?" Pete said. Lucas Luthor was two years older than him and a Luthor.

"You're the only person I know around here. Besides, you seemed cool yesterday. Come over."

"Well. Okay. I'll be there in a few."

"Cool."

Pete hung up. Lucas had seemed pretty cool yesterday to him, too. A little intense, and pretty angry, but he had a right to be, right? Pete hadn't thought his opinion of Lionel Luthor could get any lower, but knowingly keeping your son in the system was harsh.

"I'm going out, Mom!" Pete called as he made his way to the front door.

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

"Friend's. I'll call if I'm going to be back late."

"Be safe."

He snorted. Not that Smallville didn't have its share of craziness and all, but seriously, Mom had no idea how bad it could get. She, like most of the adults in town, remained pointedly oblivious to everything.

It felt really weird to be driving to Lex Luthor's house when Clark wasn't there. It always felt weird, of course, because he still didn't like Lex, no matter how much Clark did, but he put up with him because Clark was crazy-stupid about him. And, yeah, he did appreciate Lex putting up with him, and he tried to see what Clark saw in Lex, but he just couldn't. The man was responsible for taking his best friend away. It was hard to be fair.

So, yeah. This felt weird. It was weird driving up the road, and then up to the gate to talk with the security guard. And then be let in.

Lucas answered the door himself. "Hey, man."

"Hey." They clasped hands briefly, and then Pete followed Lucas inside.

"This place is ridiculous, I know," Lucas said with a roll of his eyes. "I keep expecting to run into a ghost or something."

"It's had its share," Pete replied. He fell into step besides Lucas, walking across the polished floor. He wondered if he should elaborate, reveal some of Smallville's secrets, but Lucas dismissed the comment.

"Yeah, well. I half expect to find Lex skulking in some room I don't know about. This seems like it should have secrets passages and rooms and stuff. Ever get a chance to explore it?"

Pete shook his head. "I'm really not friends with Lex. I've come over a few times when he's invited Clark and his friends, but mostly, he does his thing and I do mine, you know?"

"What is his deal with Clark, anyway? They're totally together, right?"

"Lucas..."

The other boy rolled his eyes and led Pete into the entertainment room. "Look, it's not like I'm going to run to the papers or anything. Why would I care if my big brother takes it up the ass or not?" He threw himself on the couch.

"For someone who doesn't care, you keep harping on it," he said, lowering himself into another chair. "And belligerently."

"Maybe if you'd been kept in the darkness about your family, you'd be a little belligerent, too." Lucas picked up a video game controller and tossed it to Pete. "I mean," he continued, picking up a controller for himself, "isn't homosexuality genetic or something? What if I'm gay?"

"Do you want to fuck guys?" Pete asked bluntly.

"Gross."

"Then you're not gay. Period. And being near Lex won't make you gay, either, so you don't need to worry about that."

A thundercloud crossed Lucas's face. He flipped the game on. "I'm not stupid, you know."

Pete sighed. "Sorry. It's just... I may not like Lex, but Clark's my friend. I've known him since we were kids. He's had a really hard year."

"Oh, big deal. The papers printed his picture. They didn't even use his name."

"That's not the half of it. Your stupid father molested him, did you know that?" It was hard to concentrate on the game, talking like this, but he did his best.

Lucas shook his head. "I didn't know that."

"That just hit the papers, too. That, and Clark's private journal entries about it." He swore under his breath when his figure was killed in the game.

"Really? Must have missed that." Lucas bit his lip. "So you like Clark, huh? He seemed kind of, I don't know. Intense or something to me."

"He was having a bad day."

"And what was up with that Latin crap? What a prick."

"You'd just called him gay and told him that you were superior because you didn't grow up with parents, and therefore were your own man."

"You didn't take offense."

"You weren't trying to get a rise out of me. You know Clark's adopted, right?"

Lucas shot him a look.

Right. New kid. "His mother died when he was a kid. He doesn't remember his parents. Just the Kents."

"Funny. I remember something like fifteen different sets of parents in between all the group homes. I feel so sorry for the kid with the set of loving and devote parents. And the rich boyfriend, cool best friend, idyllic little town, blah, blah, blah. Such a hard life."

He sighed. He was getting nowhere with this guy. "Look, all I'm saying is cut the guy some slack. When he met you yesterday, he was in a bad mood. And, uh, well. You look a lot like your dad, which he didn't need yesterday. You two should get together again. Talk. Maybe you'd like each other."

"Don't see much point. It's not like I'll be sticking around here too long anyway."

"Where you going?" he asked.

Lucas shrugged and threw down his controller. "My dear father," he practically spat, "has suggested I take my money and go within the next few days."

"Your money?"

He nodded. "Dad promised ten million dollars in exchange for screwing Lex over. That is, if I sign over my corporate shares." Lucas punched a nearby pillow. "He's known where I was since I was twelve, but I've never spoken to him before a month ago." He laughed. "I actually thought for a second.... But all this was about Lex. Getting Lex back or something. Apparently, he's not the perfect Lionel-clone that Lionel wanted."

"You should stay in Smallville. Our motto is, 'Lionel Luthor is a scum sucking bastard'"

Lucas snorted. "Oh, yeah, I could live with that motto." He rolled his head and looked at Pete. "Never lived in a small town before. Is there anything to do?"

Pete shrugged. "I'm still in high school, so I've got football, the paper, debate club, and, you know. School work. And girls."

"Yeah, about the girls. Are farm girls really all about the sex?"

"Uh, I don't know about that. No more or less than anywhere else, I guess."

"If you don't know, I'll take that as a no, then."

He could feel his face warm. "I could be dating the wrong girls."

"How many you bagged?"

"One."

"Dude!" Lucas burst out laughing. "You're sixteen, right? We need to get you some action. You free to go to Metropolis tonight? I'm sure there's got to be some play, there."

"I'm pretty much confined to Smallville unless I've got an itinerary stamped and approved well in advance by my parents. No way they're going to let me go with someone they don't know, either. Sorry."

Lucas shrugged. "No big. We can find someone around here, I'm sure. Hit a few high school parties or whatever. Isn't there a college around?"

"In Grandville."

"College girls, man. Love to fuck. I bet we could both get laid tonight."

Pete squirmed uncomfortably. "I don't know. It's really... I'm really more of a relationship guy, you know? I like that whole dating thing, the build up."

Lucas leaned forward and looked at him seriously. "You said you've had sex one time, right?"

"Technically, I said I'd bagged one girl, but, yeah," he conceded.

"How was it?"

"Any sex, man."

Lucas nodded in agreement. "Although, my first time did leave something to be desired. The chick was more experienced than I was, but she sweated like hella whoa and reeked of beer. And tasted like garlic. And we couldn't get the right rhythm going."

"Ever see her again?"

"Naw. I just picked her up in some bar."

Pete sighed and fell back on his chair. "Mine was kind of the same. Only I was still dating her after, so I had to see her again. Still do, even though we've broken up. It's awkward." It felt good to talk about it. Yeah, he just had with Clark, but Clark's first time had been perfect or whatever. Even with Lex being sick. And Chloe... Chloe had gotten to sleep with Sydney the first time, and that girl had been fucking gorgeous.

"See? That's the problem." Lucas got up and moved closer to Pete. "The relationship killed it. Or, really, the sex killed the relationship. What you need to do is go out, get a lot of practice, andthen try it with a girl you really care about."

"You ever done it with a girl you really cared about?"

"We're not talking about me." Lucas smiled at Pete and, for the first time, Pete could see the resemblance to Lex. "So, what do you say? Want to hit the college parties tonight?"

"Lucas! We need to talk!" Lionel Luthor suddenly bellowed, appearing in the doorway. He strode across the room, cane firmly in hand. Somehow, though, he managed to bump into the pool table anyway.

Lucas rolled his eyes at Pete, shaking his head. "Sure, Dad," he said. He picked up the controller and started the game up again. "What's up?"

Lionel didn't say anything for a moment. He seemed to be taking in the room. His head was cocked to one side, body still. There was something close to uncertainty on his face.

"Dad?" Lucas finally prompted.

"What's 'up'," Lionel finally said. His blind gaze swung almost to Pete, then abruptly stopped and went back to Lucas. "What's 'up' is that you have yet to sign over your shares to me as we'd agreed." He frowned. "Please, turn that off."

Lucas rolled his eyes again and continued to play.

"Lucas, please turn that off. Now!"

Pete didn't know much about Lionel Luthor. He wasn't Chloe, he wasn't Clark. But he knew enough. He knew that Lex had showed up to the Kent farm a year ago with injuries bad enough to land him in the hospital emergency room the next day. He knew that Lex had gotten a broken hand while with Lionel recently. He knew that, somehow, Lionel Luthor had managed to freeze an alien gifted with super-human strength with just the force of his personality. This man destroyed lives like they were nothing and had no problems breaking his kid if he got angry.

"Dude," he hissed.

Lucas glanced at him. His face twisted, but he turned the game off. "Let's see," Lucas said, rising and, again, Pete could see the relation to Lex. The slinky movement of his hips, and the elegance in the way he moved his arms. Weird; Pete never would have thought that was genetic. "What's wrong with this picture," he continued. "Hmm? I trick Lex, I play along with your little game, and you offer me, what, ten million dollars to walk away?"

Lionel smiled, obviously pleased that Lucas had fallen in line. "I'd say it's a little more lucrative than your card scams."

"Well, you know," Lucas said, walking past Lionel and through the doors that led to Lex's office, "the deal sounded a lot better before I knew what a Luthor went for." He came back into the entertainment room with a file folder. "You see, I went through the LuthorCorp financials, and it turns out I'm worth five times what you're offering me, and that only takes into account what you report to Uncle Sam."

Pete inhaled sharply, imagining that much money. Christ. The Luthors definitely had more than their share.

"Don't be getting delusions of grandeur, my boy," Lionel said with a laugh.

"Tell me something, Dad."

"What?"

"Why didn't you ever try to find me before I was twelve?" Lucas's voice shook minutely.

And that, really, was why Pete was here. Yesterday after they'd left Clark's, Pete and Lucas had gone for coffee. They'd talked and Lucas had seemed cool. Normal. Jaded, yeah, and hella angry, but he deserved it. And, underneath all that bluster and anger and stuff, Pete could see the pain. The vulnerability. And Pete kind of liked that.

Clark had made Lex his project and turned him into a human being. Maybe Pete could do the same. Only, of course, without the sex.

Lionel's answer was typical: "Because you're mother lied to me. She told me you died as a baby."

Lucas didn't buy it an more than Pete did. He snorted, then said, "But I'm still not worth your time."

"I took care of you the best way I knew how, Lucas."

He went to the wall and grabbed a pool cue. "Huh. At arm's length, with a checkbook."

"There were scenarios..."

"Whatever, Dad, I don't care."

"Lucas, now it's your turn to live up to our agreement." He crossed to the pool table and put the papers on the pool table. "Please. Just sign. Please, son."

Ass, Pete thought.

Lucas looked at Lionel for a moment, then sighed. "Okay. Okay, Dad." He took the pen and signed.

Lionel's face changed. He looked furious. Dangerous.

Crap. He was going to kill Lucas. Pete had to stop it. He had to...

Lucas smiled at Lionel, very sweetly and said, "You might want to, uh, have your lawyers look over that."

Lionel's hand was tight on his cane, white-knuckled. Through gritted teeth he answered, "No, I trust that everything is in order." He turned and started walking for the door.

The tightness in Pete's chest eased. He could breathe easier. Not much, but a little.

And then...

"Hey, Dad."

Lionel turned.

Lucas picked up a billiard ball and threw it at Lionel's head.

Lionel ducked.

"Shit!" Pete shouted, jumping to his feet. So much for vulnerable and human. In fact....

His brain caught up with him.

Lionel ducked. He fucking ducked.

"You saw that!" Pete couldn't help gasping out.

Lionel threw a look at Pete, then back at his son. He took his sunglasses off. "What do you want, Lucas?" he asked.

For someone who'd just gotten a billiard ball thrown at his head at skull-crushing speed, he was pretty calm. Pete, though. Pete was a mess.

"Lex is your past. I'm your future."

Lionel cocked his head. "Is that so. You think I'm going to replace my genius, college educated son with a thug raised on the streets?"

"You think I don't have the Luthor-brains, Dad? Give me a chance. I might surprise you."

Lionel smiled. "Send the whelp home. We'll talk."

Lucas turned to Pete. "I'll call you later, okay? We'll hang."

Completely normal. Like he hadn't just almost killed his father. Like none of that had happened. Like they were best friends or something.

"Uh, yeah. Sounds good." He rose and started for the door.

"Oh, and Mr. Ross," Lionel said.

Ice ran down Pete's spine. He hadn't known Lionel knew his name. "Yeah?"

"Make sure to keep what you saw in the strictest of confidence. I'd hate for any more misfortune to fall upon your delectable friend, Mr. Kent."

Pete nodded, feeling sick. "Yes, sir." Then, before he got involved anymore in any of this, he left. "Dad was right," he said, once he was safely in his car and speeding away. "Luthors are bad news."


"What's the point of being able to do my homework in half a minute if I just create more work for myself to do?" Clark asked as he highlighted a passage in the book he was reading.

Lex set his comic on his chest and took Clark's book. "When the Drama Club in Not Enough: Lessons from the Safe Schools Program for Gay and Lesbian Students," he read. He wrinkled his nose. "Kind of rude to leave out bisexual, transsexual, and transgendered, don't you think?"

Clark took Lex by the wrist to liberate his book. As he did, he kissed the silky skin on the inside. "It's hard enough convincing people around here that gays aren't evil incarnate, isn't it? At least they're taking my thing in stride. Last thing we want to do is force their perceptions too wide."

"I guess. But, still, bisexuals aren't that much of a perception widener. Think of the bisexuals, Clark. Think of poor Chloe."

"Oh, yeah, poor Chloe," Clark said, rolling his eyes. "I didn't write the book, you know. I didn't think up the title. And our club isn't going to exclude anyone." He sucked on his lower lip before adding, "Provided we can get the stupid thing started."

Lex turned over, causing the hammock to swing. Clark gripped the edges to steady it as Lex climbed up his body.

"Don't pout," he said. He captured Clark's lower lip between his teeth and bit.

"I'm not. I'm just, you know. Not happy that Reynolds isn't going to let me be on the committee or anything. You know?"

"Yes, I know." Lex was kissing him, nuzzling underneath his jaw, up to his ear. "I do believe you told me earlier about that." He nipped Clark's ear. "So, you'll be like Damien. The power behind the throne."

Clark groaned softly and shifted. Bared his neck. Fluttered his eyes shut. "I don't want to be behind the throne. I want to be a part. Officially. It's not fair."

"So why did you agree?"

"Cause it seemed like the thing to do at the time. It was Doug's idea. That I could still help them out since I have experience putting together a club." He frowned, even as Lex's hands slid underneath his shirt and caressed. "Everyone knows I'm the gay kid. Everyone knows I'm one of the people who put in the application. And I'm the one doing all the work. It just feels like lying for the sake of lying. I don't like it."

"You don't like to lie, period. Good thing, since you do it so badly." He yanked Clark's shirt up and set to licking and kissing across the expanse of skin revealed.

He sighed and dropped the book. Screw that. Screw school and Reynolds and everything. Or, rather, not screw them, because all he really wanted to do was screw Lex.

"Didn't think you're be so horny today," Clark said, dragging Lex up his body. "Thought that after yesterday...

"It's a new day today." Lex was everywhere. Hands, mouth, clawing and sucking and kissing and stroking. Bringing every nerve ending to attention as he squirmed and rode against Clark, making little gasping noises all the time. "New life," he added. "God, you're so beautiful."

Clark laughed against Lex's neck. "Stole my line." He slipped his hand down Lex's slacks and stroked the skin at the top of his crease. A guaranteed spot for...

"Ah!" Lex gasped, squirming more. His cheeks flushed bright red, cock surged against Clark's thigh.

He laughed again. Teased the spot more. One day, he'd get Lex to come from just stroking an innocuous spot on his body that was, inexplicably, an erogenous zone.

"Want you," Lex moaned into Clark's neck. "Want you so bad. Want your cock in me, hard, fuck me, please."

"You want me to fuck you?"

"Yes. I need you. In me. In you, whatever, just I need you cock somehow. My mouth my...."

"Clark!"

Clark started so wildly at his father's voice, the hammock upended. They fell quickly, Lex under Clark. Clark was able to catch himself on his forearms above Lex, just managing not to squish Lex beneath him.

Lex smashed into the floor, smacking his head with a loud "thwack." Clark winced in sympathy as Lex's face contorted.

"Yeah, Dad?" Clark slipped his hand beneath Lex's head, but Lex jerked away and rolled out from beneath him.

"Clark, do you know where my hammer is?"

"What?" Dad's hammer was always in the same place; the man had never lost in, not in Clark's lifetime.

"My hammer. I've been looking for it everywhere."

Clark frowned. "Where did you last see it?"

"I don't know."

"Did you use it today?"

"Nope."

Oh. So Dad was fucking with him. Great. "Did you check your tool box?"

"Oh. Huh, let me...." There was the rustling of metal on metal. Then, "Well, what do you know?" Footsteps on the stairs and Jonathan's beaming face appeared at the railing. "Never woulda thought to look there." His grin faded. "You okay, Lex?"

Lex was sitting with his back against Clark's couch. He was rubbing the back of his head with a look of pain on his face. "Yes, Jonathan. I'm fine."

"Good. Well, I'll be working just outside, so if you need anything, just yell."

Clark nodded, rolling his eyes again. "Yeah, okay. Fine."

Jonathan gave them another smile, then disappeared.

"I hate my parents."

"Ah, they're not bad. They're just being parents." Lex dropped his hand. "I just wish they weren't quite so vigilant. Right now."

Clark met his eyes. "Yeah. Me too."

Eyes smoldering and half-lidded, Lex eased onto all fours. His head titled to the side. Tongue wet his lips. "Think you can be quiet?"

"I can try."

Lips quirked as Lex crawled across the floor, all animal grace and pulsing heat. "Do or do not," he purred. "There is no try."

"You are such a geek."

"Pot? Kettle on line one." He crawled onto Clark, forcing him back.

Mouths met. Hot. Wet. Tongues pushed against each other. Hands fumbled, grabbed, tugged at shirts. Hips ground together. Heat spread and...

"Clark! Lex!"

Clark tore his mouth from Lex's. "What is it, Mom?" he called back. He held Lex's weight off his crotch, the urge to rub against him dying at his mother's voice.

"I have cookies. Fresh out of the oven."

"I'm about to say something really bad to your mom," Lex whispered.

He nodded in agreement. "We'll be down in a bit. Thanks."

"I'll be waiting."

"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Lex whispered. "Can you be fast?"

"At this point? Hell yes."

Lex laughed. Rubbed against him.

"Lex!" Mom again.

"What?" he shouted back, sounding desperate. "I mean, yes?"

"Athena's hungry."

His jaw tightened. "I fed her already. There's food in her bowl."

"Oh, I must have missed that. Sorry." Footsteps receded again.

"This is ridiculous," Clark groaned.

"I agree."

"Maybe we should go on a walk. Or..."

"Tree house?"

"Yeah. Tree house." Clark smiled and drew Lex back down to him. Their lips touched...

Ring

"You have got to be kidding me."

Clark sighed and rolled over so he was on top of Lex. His phone was on the couch. He grabbed it and flipped it open. "Hello?"

"Hi, Clark," came the familiar--and incredibly sexy--Southern drawl of one Grant Robinson.

His cheeks flushed. Burned, more than flushed, actually. And it was suddenly really hard to breathe. "Um. Hi." He pushed off Lex and sat back. "Uh. How are you?"

Lex frowned. "Who's that?" he mouthed.

He ducked his head and mouthed back, "Grant."

"I'm fine," Grant was saying. "Keeping busy. I scheduled an interview with a kid up in Gotham next weekend. Just came out, struggling at school with the kids and everything. Only this kid's in ROTC and is insisting he's going to join the Army when he graduates."

"Why would anyone want to join the army these days?" Clark couldn't help asking. "I mean, what if he dies? And what if someone finds out he's gay? They might hurt him."

"Darlin', I think you could find some answers to that question if you talked to your Marine."

"Yeah, I know." He rubbed the back of his neck. "So, uh. Why you... I mean... Do you need... I mean, I..."

"Look, Clark, I know you're still uncomfortable with what happened between us. And I know I can't say anything to make it better, but let me say again that you have nothing to be embarrassed about."

"But I..."

"I know. And it was flattering. And not unwelcome." He sighed. "I just shouldn't have let it happen."

"You didn't do anything."

"Exactly. I should have stopped it sooner. Especially when we were in the shower."

He blushed harder.

Lex scowled.

"I just want you to be comfortable talking to me again. Especially since I understand that you're not quite comfortable talking with Mark these days."

Oh. "Oh. Mr. Townsend called you, didn't he?"

"He did. He told me there was trouble with the social worker they sent to you?"

"Oh, yeah." This he could talk about. And did. In great detail. Right down to the cheap suit he was wearing. The Lionel-inspired hair style. The way he'd so skillfully tried to set the blame for what had happened at Clark's feet. The anger and frustration he'd felt sitting in that room.

"I've called my contact," Grant said. "I'm just waiting for them to call back. We'll get this straightened out, Clark. Trust me?"

"I do."

"Clark?"

Lex rolled his eyes. "Up here, Whitney."

"I've got to go. Whitney's here."

"All right. Tell Lex to take care. I heard about what happened. I never thought Lionel could be even more of a bastard."

"I know. Me neither. Bye." Clark hung up. "Do you need help?"

"Naw, I'm fine." Whitney sounded winded and a little pained. There were two sets of footsteps on the stairs and, soon enough, two pairs of heads.

Wow. Mr. Townsend and Whitney were really... pretty together. Dark and light, pale and tanned. Flushed and a little sweaty, at least on Whitney's part. A contrast. Like they'd been made for each other.

Wow. Being horny apparently made him really romantic. Or poetic or whatever.

Lex stood, all grace and manners. "Mark. Whitney. Welcome," he said just as formally as if he were welcoming them into his home instead of a barn loft. He gestured to the couch and pulled up a chair for himself.

"What's going on?" Clark asked as Whitney maneuvered himself onto the couch clumsily. He perched on the arm next to him.

"We heard what happened," Mr. Townsend--Mark, they weren't in school--said. "Lex, are you all right?"

"Of course." Still formal. Still on the cold side.

Mark and Whitney exchanged looks.

"Lex," Clark said softly. Don't do this, he pleaded silently, not opening their link. Better to keep silent, really. Unless Lex retreated too much into himself.

"What happened?"

Lex sighed. "The truth is, I'm sort of relieved. My father has declared that I'm not his son anymore. Isn't that a good thing?"

"Well. I don't know if I'd," Mark started uncomfortably.

"Yes," Whitney interrupted viciously. "Lionel Luthor's a bastard, and the less you and Clark have to do with him, the better."

Lex smiled. "But, please, tell me how you really feel."

"What do you want me to say? That you should go back? Beg for him to take you back? I'm not going to. Lionel is going to rot in hell, and the sooner the better." Whitney's jaw was set, arms crossed over his chest.

Mark stroked Whitney's neck. Clark didn't know if it was to silence him or soothe him. "Is there anything I can do for you, Lex?"

"Not that I can think of," he replied. "Damien and I are working to get what accounts we can unfrozen. I didn't use everything as collateral against the plant, but Dad still managed to get it frozen." He ran his hand over his head. "My main problem is finding a place to live until the house is ready."

"You can't stay here?"

"Staying here comes with its share of problems," Lex said, eyes sliding to Clark's.

Clark felt his entire body respond.

"Ah."

When he glanced at Mark, he saw the other man was blushing.

That set him off, too. Oh, God, his teacher knew he had sex. Of course, he'd always known, but... God.

Then again, his teacher was having sex with Whitney Fordman, former enemy, current crush of Clark's. That was awkward, too.

"The main concern," Lex said, breaking the tension a bit, "is getting back in touch with my brother. I have a feeling he's not exactly charitable towards me right now."

"Why not?' asked Whitney.

"He's had a hard life. He didn't seem exactly thrilled, though, to be pulled from it. And I have no doubt my father's convinced him I'm just using him as a pawn in the eternal game Dad likes to play. Plus, he's homophobic."

Whitney winced. "Bad deal."

"Indeed. Still. I have to try."

Whitney glanced at Mark and sighed. "Yeah. Family and all."

Mark smiled and was about to say something when Pete's voice flew up from outside the barn. "Clark! Clark, you there?"

He sounded panicked.

Clark jumped to his feet. "Yeah, we're up here."

Pete was running. He looked out of breath and sweaty. "Dude, Clark. Lex there?" he asked from halfway up the stairs.

Lex was suddenly next to Clark, holding his hand. "I'm here."

"Lex! Your father isn't blind. He can see."


Lex's life changed. Damien's remained the same. Somehow. Inexplicably. The same. He still had to manage the money, although, truth to tell, Lex did a good job of that; still, he needed Damien to launder the money he'd made illegally (although, by now, it was clean) and play with his investments. Damien also had to run interference on tabloids and reporters who wanted to use Lex's private life as their personal cash cow.

And now, of course, there was Clark. Lovely little Clark Kent, resident alien and sexual predator magnet.

Now, that wasn't exactly correct. Yes, Clark had been garnering his share of attention. And, yes, Damien had noticed that the clientele at the Talon had grown a bit more questionable since Clark's very public exposure and implicit outting. But, Damien supposed, that might also be due to the closing of the Wild Coyote and, truthfully, so far, no one had approached or threatened Clark. Except, of course, Lionel Luthor.

William Hawthorn, Clark's social worker, was a nothing of a man. He'd been paying off his college loans and mortgage a bit at a time until he came into a large sum of money two weeks ago. Damien was easily able to trace it back to Lionel; it was almost second nature by now, doing so. The man paid off so many people, Damien had to know how to track the flow of money.

This was easy to trace. Either Lionel wanted to be caught--doubtful--or Hawthorn hadn't followed directions for discretion. Likely. The man had no criminal record. The worst were some parking violations and a crash. Damien assumed that Lionel chose him to play with Clark's head mainly because of the resemblance; it wasn't great, but it was enough.

Damien didn't like Lionel's fascination with Clark. It had grown from a mild interest sparked by the relationship between Lex and Clark, been fanned by a desire to punish Jonathan, then flamed out of control after Lionel tried to molest him. No matter what Lionel said, no matter how smugly he protested, Damien remained unconvinced that his actions had been motivated simply by revenge. Lionel, as any man with even a smidgen of homosexual leanings would be, was drawn to that boy.

It was Damien's private belief that Clark Kent was not really an organic life form. Not exactly. Oh, he was alive. He needed food and air and sunlight and all the essentials that other beings did. But Damien was certain that the exterior was a fake. A nearly-perfect fake. He'd never believed that life on other planets would resemble life on earth. Human beings were human beings, suited to the environment provided. Why should another planet with different conditions produce beings that looked the same? Especially to the degree Clark did.

No. It seemed the more likely explanation was the exterior had been constructed. Was an artificial construct dedicated to protecting, nurturing, and hiding whatever the true form was. And Clark's parents, like most doting beings brainwashed by their child, had believed that their precious offspring should be the most beautiful and attractive of all. Thus, they constructed an android or biological shell of such remarkable beauty everyone was drawn to him.

"Stop it," Damien said to himself sharply. He pulled his hands away from the keyboard and rubbed his eyes.

Codeine tended to make him fanciful. And prone to making up elaborate stories from momentary suspicions. Especially when left alone on it.

Dominic needed to hurry back. Not that Damien should complain; after returning with breakfast, Dominic had massaged Damien's aching back, washed his hair, and found every spare pillow in the motel for Damien to use. He then came up with a plan to make Damien sleep more comfortably and, after feeding Damien drugs, left to carry out the plan.

He missed Dominic. Missed the chance to make love in what was, admittedly, a sadly unromantic room. But a private one. One away from the castle. Away from Lex and his and Clark's perfect love.

Or perfectly fucked up love. Whichever. The fact was, his head was spinning, his back felt numb, and he was maudlin.

The e-mail alert sounded. Damien switched windows.

There was an e-mail already open in the window.

Dear Dominic,

Here's the picture of your son. As I told you on the phone, he's perfectly healthy. The doctor says that the pregnancy is going well, and I have nothing to worry about. I'm going to send the original sonogram in the mail, but I knew you'd be anxious to see the scan.

Thank you again for taking this baby. I know you will be a wonderful father.

Victoria

Damien blinked. Realized belatedly that Dominic hadn't closed his e-mail before leaving.

Then he realized what he'd just read.

There was a sudden pounding on the door.

"Damien! It's Lex, let me in."

As if Damien wouldn't recognize that voice.

"Um, give me a moment. I'm in bed."

"Oh, never mind." There was a series of scratching sounds at the door then the lock clicked.

"I didn't know you could pick locks," Clark said as he followed Lex into the room.

Lex didn't answer. He stormed across the room, eyes blazing, cheeks red. "My father can see."

Damien blinked, watched as half the students of Smallville high and the teaching staff tromped into his room.

He closed the laptop.

"You father can see?" he repeated stupidly.

"Pete?"

Clark's annoying friend, the male one, took a half step away from the door jamb where he'd taken up residence. "Um, yeah. I was just over at Lex's, uh, hanging out with Lucas? And Lucas and Lionel got into a fight, sorta. Lucas threw a pool ball at Lionel's head, and he just ducked. And then, Lionel told me that if I told anyone, he'd do something to Clark."

Clark's cheeks flushed. He bit his lip and looked down. Luckily, Whitney was there to slip his arm around Clark and whisper in his ear, seeing that Lex was all but causing the bed to vibrate from the tension in his body.

"I don't suppose he told you anything useful?" Damien asked, autopilot kicking in. "Such as inform you exactly how long he's been able to see."

Typical teenager, Pete Ross. The eyes rolled right away, not even the slightest bit intimidated by him.

Of course, he was wearing pajamas, in bed, and had what Damien believed was referred to as "pillow head." Not exactly at his most intimidating.

Damien set aside the computer and carefully eased his legs over the edge of the bed. Most days, he could get out of bed without help, but today, the pain made him grimace. Hard.

"Lex, hold the chair," he heard Mark say. "Damien?"

He opened his eyes, blinking tears away to clear his vision. Mark was in front of him, arms out, obviously ready to help him.

He nodded.

Mark stepped into him and slipped his arms underneath Damien's. "Okay," he said when he was stable, allowing Damien to transfer his weight. From there, it was relatively easy to get into the chair and settle in.

"Thank you," he said, a touch out of breath.

"No problem. I had to help both my parents when they were sick. I'm used to it."

"Damien."

"Sir, you are whining."

"No I'm not. But Dad can see. He's not blind. Why has he been pretending he's blind?"

Damien looked at Lex.

The boy flushed. "Okay, right. But how long has he been pretending? We need to know. Has it been the whole time?"

"No." Damien shook his head. "His depression and frustration over the summer was real. He couldn't see and thus cut himself off from everything. He wouldn't have done it if he were trying to trick us."

"Not even to lull you into a false sense of security?" asked Whitney from his position on the small couch next to Clark.

"No, not even then. Not to the extent he did, at any rate. We can be assured that, at least for the few months following the accident, Lionel was blind."

"But what about when he came to Smallville?" Clark asked, despondent. "Before he decided to move in?"

Damien frowned. Tried to think through the haze of drugs. How could Lex do this voluntarily to himself? It was awful not being in possession of one's facilities.

Lex shook his head. "I don't... think so," he said slowly. "When he took me to see that... thing." He glanced at Clark, then back to Damien. "Dad genuinely didn't know that it wasn't there anymore. And didn't believe me until I told him it wasn't. And, besides, if he had seen you... uh, you know, Clark. Dad would have done something before now. Even covertly. Damien?"

"I believe you are correct, sir." Unless Lionel was being more covert than usual, and much more careful, not leaving any traces of his investigation--a near impossibility--he didn't know about Clark. Suspected he had some form of powers, but he knew nothing for certain. "Lionel was still blind when he moved into the mansion. And for some weeks after."

"He always made it look like he could see you," Clark said.

Lex nodded in agreement. Then his face changed. "But you know when it changed? Right after he was shot. All the sudden, it seemed more... real. More focused."

It was Clark's turn to bob his head. "You're right. It was different. And when he wasn't looking at you, it seemed more deliberate. Like he was looking at something just off your shoulder or something, instead of not seeing anything at all."

"Could being shot have restored his sight?" Whitney asked.

"As ludicrous as the idea sounds, it appears to be the case," Damien said.

"Didn't his brain shut down?" Clark rose from his place beside Whitney and crossed the room to sit on the bed. "I mean, while he was in the hospital. Didn't his brain, like, shut down and then restart?"

"You saying he rebooted himself?" Pete said. "Like a computer or something?"

Clark shrugged. "Don't they say that the brain is like a computer? Sometimes you have to turn a computer off to make it start working again. So, maybe it's the same with a brain. At least sometimes."

"It is Smallville," said the cynical ex-football player on the couch. He sighed and took his lover's hand. "I think that, in light of some of the things that have happened around here, a man regaining his sight after almost dying is fairly mundane. Unless," he added in a new tone, "he's actually still blind, only has some mutation that allows him to sense everything around him."

"He's not Daredevil," Lex said angrily.

Whitney cocked his head. "Who's Daredevil?"

"Blind superhero with extrasensory perception," Mark replied, hand on Whitney's knee.

"Oh. So, okay, it's possible. I mean, I figure that, anything possible in comics has got to be possible in Smallville, right?"

"As stimulating as this conversation is, it gets off point," Damien interrupted. "We can be reasonably assured that Lionel did not regain his vision until he was shot. The question remains, where do we go from here?" He looked at Lex.

Lex ran his hand over his head. "I don't know. I don't particularly want to confront him, because I'm too pissed right now. He'd have the advantage over me for sure." He rubbed his forehead. "I need to talk to Lucas."

"You know Lucas and your dad set you up, right?" asked Pete. "Lucas was supposed to sell his shares to your dad, only he's not going to for some reason. I didn't quite get the whole thing."

"Yes," Lex replied, despairing. "I am well aware they set me up. That doesn't change the fact he's my brother. I want to try and build some relationship with him."

Pete shrugged. "Yeah, okay. Just pointing that out for you."

"What? I thought you were his new best friend."

Pete rolled his eyes. "Look, I do like the guy, sort of. But he's also kind of an asshole." When Clark gave him a look, he said, "What? I'm on the football team? I hang out with assholes all the time."

There was a pause as everyone turned to look at Whitney.

Whitney looked back. Blankly. Then, "Hey!"

Everyone but Damien and Lex laughed.

Mark kissed Whitney. "Don't worry about it. I know not all football players are assholes."

"Just the ones that didn't graduate last year," said Pete.

"Do you think I should talk with Lucas?" Lex asked Damien.

"What is it you want, Lex?"

He sighed. Leaned against the wall. Rubbed his eyes again. "I want to finish the house. Go to college. Get to know my brother. Eventually marry my boyfriend." He opened his eyes. "I don't want to keep playing games with Dad. I'm tired, and I don't want... to rule the world anymore. I still want to do great things, but not the way I used to."

Damien nodded. It wouldn't be as simple as Lex might wish, but if it's what Lex wanted...

"Talk to your brother, then. Let me worry about the rest."

The tension in Lex body bled out. He smiled, relieved. "Yeah, okay." Then, "Thank you."

"Of course, sir."


It'd been a long time since Lex had traveled with an entourage. A group of followers on his heels, dogging his steps. Watching his every move. Talking about him behind his back.

During his clubbing years, that was his life. If asked now, he couldn't name half the people who'd been in that entourage. Some, of course. A few close friends. At least, close acquaintances. Like Amanda. Like Jude. People he knew every detail about. Well. Almost every detail. Enough to love, in Amanda's case. Enough to despise, in Jude's.

The rest? They were in categories. Guys to fuck. Girls to fuck. Guys who'd have group sex as long as it was with a group of girls. Or guys. Girl's who'd do the same. People to do drugs with. People to test newly created drugs. People to go shopping with. People to never, ever, ever turn his back on.

He'd purposely kept them all at a distance. He rarely even learned their names, instead calling them by whatever name took his fancy. You had to be on the inside for him to really take notice. Lex knew enough to keep himself safe and no more.

So, yes, once, he'd traveled with an entourage. Back then, everyone kept his pace. Anyone who couldn't--who was stuck in the bathroom fucking or puking when Lex wanted to leave, or couldn't fit into one of the cars, or didn't get the info on the next destination--was left behind. And no one cared. No one dared care because Lex didn't care and if someone tried to approach him about a fallen comrade, they would find themselves ousted from the group as well. Back then, Lex ruled the world.

Now? Now he had to wait on Whitney fucking Fordman. Because he was handicapped and it would make Lex look like an ass if he pushed on ahead, leaving the cripple behind. So, when they tromped out of Damien's room, he had to wait until Whitney got settled into the car. Then he had to wait while Clark and Mark fussed over him, because he'd gone abruptly grey on the walk out and all but passed out on sitting down. Then he'd waited while Mark, Clark, and Pete all discussed whether or not Whitney should be taken home and where were they going anyway, and Lex, are you even listening?

Which he wasn't, because he was too busy turning over the conversation with Damien in his mind. Something hadn't been quite right. His normally focused assistant had been... unfocused. And it wasn't just because he was in pain. No. There'd been a look in his eyes. Confused. No. Not confusion. Shock.

"Guys, I'm fine!"

Lex blinked, torn from his contemplation.

Whitney had his head out of the window. His face was twisted, anger giving him his color back. Anger and the water Mark had pushed into his hand.

"Babe..."

"No! No, no, no!" The door opened.

Clark pushed it shut. "Hey, Whitney. Calm down."

"No! I won't calm down. I won't calm down while the three of you sit there and discuss me like I'm a two year old who needs a nap."

"Whitney..."

"Do not start with me, Pete." He put the water down, face screwed into an angry mask. "Look, my knee hurts. My pain medication wore off. I just took another pill. I'll be fine. I'm not being left behind like I'm a child."

Mark tried again. "I don't think you're a child, Whitney. But I don't want you to overextend yourself."

"Let me decide what is overextending myself."

"But..."

"I'm going!"

All three men backed up a step, propelled by the force of his voice.

Lex was impressed. Whitney was turning into a fine diva.

Lex plucked a piece of lint off his sleeve. "Excuse me."

Four face turned to him. Whitney was glaring, challenging.

He met the boy's eyes coolly. Daring him to make a peep.

"Where exactly are we going?"

The four brain trusts obviously hadn't thought that far.

Clark moved closer to Lex and took his hand.

Good. Lex didn't like the way he was gushing over Whitney. He was the one who'd lost everything. He was the one whose father had been lying to him for months. He was the one who had gotten up to feed and milk cows that morning. Whitney was just all golden and beautiful and injured.

"I thought maybe we could go to the Talon for awhile. Get some coffee. Relax. Discuss options."

Lex sniffed and looked away.

Clark sighed softly. Slung his arm over Lex's shoulders and pulled him close. "You are not going to be able to relax until we come up with some kind of plan," he whispered. His mouth brushed over Lex's earlobe, making him shudder. "Especially not in the treehouse." He pressed a kiss behind Lex's ear.

"Dude," he heard Pete say, but Lex didn't care. He was too busy melting.

"Fine." He pulled away from Clark and headed for their car. "We'll meet you at the Talon. With Whitney."

"Oh, fuck you," Whitney threw at his back.

Some people were just ungrateful little twits.

"Want to talk?" Clark asked once they were in the car.

Lex frowned and tightened his hands on the steering wheel. "About what? Further evidence that Dad's an abusive bastard?"

"So you admit that he's abusive?"

"One of the things my psychologist wants me to work on is being able to admit to myself that I was..." His throat closed.

Clark put his hand on Lex's thigh. "You okay?"

He nodded. Totally lying. Just like Daddy.

Lex beat everyone else to the Talon. He parked and was about to get out when Clark yanked him over the parking break and into his lap.

"I love when you wear your gloves," Clark muttered. He used his teeth to undo the strap on Lex's left glove.

"We're sitting on the street."

"I don't care." Glove loosened, Clark pushed it up with his nose and licked Lex's palm.

Lex shuddered.

"What about discretion?"

"What about we have sex? Right here?" Clark rubbed against Lex's ass.

"What about not getting arrested for public indecency?"

"What about..."

There was a loud knock on the window. "What about a deputy is walking this way right now and it's the one with the sour face like she hates life?"

Lex pulled his face out from where he'd buried it in Clark's neck. "Chloe?"

She smiled brightly. Waved. "Surprise!"

He opened the door and climbed out. "Thought you and the princess were going to Metropolis to learn about not having sex in your room while Daddy's home?"

"Oh my God. You will not believe the day I've had. Come on, I've got us a table inside." She grabbed Clark by the arm and started tugging.

"We've more coming," Lex said. He pinched the bridge of his nose.

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, I know. Pete called me. And Whitney called Lana. Keeping us in the loop, and all."

"This is ridiculous. I didn't have friends gossip so much about my life when it was worth the gossip."

"We're your friends, Lex. We're not gossiping. We're preparing."

He arched an eyebrow. "For what?"

"To stop things from becoming a mess. Like building a storm cellar or stacking sandbags when it rains."

Lex stopped at the door and looked at her. Eyes narrowed. Eyebrows arched. Chin lifted.

Chloe gave him a bright, beaming smile and pushed into the Talon.

It was busy. Typical Saturday crowd. Good mix of students and adults, many with multiple items on their tables, many with an obvious plan to camp out a bit.

Considering this was now Lex's sole source of income, he was pleased to see the crowd. It meant that maybe he'd be able to keep some semblance of independence and luxury. Not as much as he was used to, but enough to cope.

"Drinks are up," Lana said as they took their seats. She had a tray in her hands, loaded with drinks. "Lex, one no-caf, double sweet, vanilla flavored cafe au lait for you. Coffee for Clark and Mr. Townsend. Coke for Pete, and blended mocha for Whitney." Lana was apparently in charge of where everyone sat, because she put the drinks down where she chose. Then, after giving the tray to a passing waitress, she took a seat next to Lex. "We have had the worst day ever."

He looked at her. "Really?"

"Lana," Clark said, leaning across Lex. "Our day..."

"We were two hours out of Smallville, right? And Gabe was driving so slow. Like, thirty-five miles an hour. All these people kept passing us. And he made us listen to the Carpenters the entire time. And it was just... oh my God, anyway," Lana blathered, blithely unaware that Clark had tried to stop her. "Anyway, so there we were, barely poking along when the stupid car broke down."

"The engine caught on fire," Chloe clarified. "Which was scary as all hell. So we pulled over and called for help. The firefighters put it out pretty easily, but we were stuck out there forever. I got burned. See?" She pointed to her face, which was pinker than normal, but did nothing but make her look flushed and pretty.

Lex hated her.

He looked at Lana.

"I wear moisturizer with sunscreen," she said. She sipped her drink. "Anyway, we finally got back, but the day totally sucked. Even having to sit in a meeting with Chloe's ex talking about sex would have been better. I was so glad when we finally got back home. This has been such a day."

Lex cleared his throat. "My father has been faking blindness for the past month or so."

Chloe practically jumped out of her seat. "Oh my God!"

"What's wrong?" Pete asked, finally having arrived.

Chloe's eyes went wide. Panic twisted her features. She darted her eyes at Lex, beseeching.

Clark was the one who took pity on her. "I guess the girls were trying to make Lex feel better about his life by having a crappy day. Lex still wins with the news about his dad."

"Um, yeah," she said. Now she looked awful. Her face had gone pale under her sunburn, making her look sickly. "Yeah. How do you know? I mean, did he...." She looked at Clark.

He pointed at Pete, who'd sat down at the seat Lana had set aside for Whitney. "I was over at the mansion earlier. Lucas invited me over. The bastard himself walks in to get Lucas to sign some papers or something." He leaned over and snagged his soda, then shoved Whitney's drink in the general direction of the empty chair. "Lucas threw a pool ball at Lionel's head, and then he took of his sunglasses."

"But why?" Lana asked.

"Why not?" Lex replied. "He could. We all thought he was blind to begin with. And there is a certain power in pretending a handicap. People probably do things around blind people they wouldn't ordinarily do because they can't see."

Lana leaned forward, her eyes wide. "Did you? Do anything?"

Clark's cheeks burned. His eyes showed his misery.

"No. Of course not," Lex said sharply.

"Sorry we're late. Lex, did you break the sound barrier?" Whitney asked. He fell heavily into the seat Lana had put aside for Mark.

"Yes." He really didn't want to deal with this. With everyone. He wanted to go home and sleep.

Mark and Whitney exchanged glances.

"So. Lana. Thought you were going to Metropolis," Whitney said.

While Lana and Chloe went through the story again, Lex put his hand on Clark's thigh. /You're going to have to tell Chloe that you know./

/I don't want to. It just makes it more complicated. It's better if she thinks that I don't know she knows I'm an alien./

/Are you kidding? Her poor brain is being twisted around trying not to let you know while still worrying about you. It doubles her distress./

/But.../

/Tell her./

Clark sighed. He put his elbow on the table and looked at Lex. /Right now? Because, I swear, after what happened over with Damien, we might as well tell them all./

/We covered./ Lex took another sip of his drink. /Do you think Dad ever saw you use your powers?/

/I don't know. I don't think so. I didn't do anything while he was in the room. It's just.../ Clark's lower lip trembled.

/The bugs. Crap./

/Yeah. And what about the room?/

/It's locked./

"But..." Clark clamped his mouth shut.

Everyone heard him anyway. The amiable chatter that had sprung up--facilitated and nurtured by Chloe and Pete, the secret keepers--died abruptly. All eyes fastened on Clark.

"Yes, Clark?" Whitney said.

He looked blankly at Whitney a second, then pushed his chair back. "I've got to go to the bathroom."

Before Lex could, Whitney pushed his chair and struggled out of his seat. "I'll go with you."

Clark threw a desperate look at Lex.

/ Go. I'll call Lucas, see if I can get him out of the mansion tonight. Then you can go in and destroy everything in the room./

/Everything?/

Lex tightened his fingers on his cup, then nodded. /It's time to say good-bye to it. I don't need any of it anyway. I've got the real thing./


"Hey, can we talk?" Whitney asked.

Clark sighed and zipped up. He'd been waiting for this ever since Whitney had decided to follow him into the restroom. He hadn't thought they'd turned into girls, needing to go in groups--although, sometimes Whitney got so protective over him, Clark wouldn't be surprised if safety in numbers hadn't been his primary motivation. But it wasn't. Whitney wanted to talk about something. And that something was probably the badly coded conversation he, Lex, and Damien had had back at the motel.

"Yeah," he said, trying to keep his tone as light as possible. He turned from the urinal and crossed to the sink. "What's up?"

Whitney was leaning against the circular sink in the center of the room. Clark loved the sink, despite the general uneasiness he got in the Talon bathroom ever since the incident with Tina. He'd tried to convince Lana to let him make it look like the sink from the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when it came out, to help promote the movie. And because it'd be cool.

She'd looked at him for a long time before proclaiming him the world's biggest dork.

Ppfffft. Like he'd needed her to tell him that.

"Um, look," Whitney said. He rubbed the back of his neck. His eyes were on the cracked tile, not Clark. "Look. I grew up here. Duh, I mean, you know that. But, uh, you know. Things happen to people here."

Crap.

"Yeah, I know." Clark finished washing his hands. He dried them quickly so he could shove them into his pockets. Then he leaned against the sink next to Whitney.

"I guess it's because of the meteors. I don't get how they do it, but.... Jeeze, why am I even telling you that? You're the one I went to when I was in trouble. With the tattoos. I hardly need to tell you about the strange things and what causes them."

"Whitney..."

"Look, I'll just cut to it." He finally looked up at Clark. "I'm your friend. I love you, you know that. And if you ever want to talk about anything. Lex or what Lionel did to you or school or... you know. Anything." He leaned closer. The florescent lights caught on his eyelashes.

Clark licked his lips. He could practically count the freckles on Whitney's nose. "I know."

"You know I feel guilty about not being here, right? During the meteor shower?"

"You told me that once. You shouldn't."

"I know. I know how stupid it is, but I can't help it. I am." He ran a hand through his hair. "Sometimes I think that maybe I should have been changed by them. You know? Worse than I was. I willingly injected it into myself. I should be dead."

Clark sighed and leaned against Whitney. "Don't. Just don't."

"Sorry." Whitney rested his head against Clark's. "You don't have to tell me anything. Or you can. It's up to you. You know that all I want is for you to be happy. And safe."

He worried his lower lip a long time before admitting, "Sometimes I don't think I'll ever feel safe again."

Whitney's only response was to put his arm around Clark's shoulder and hold him close.


"How are you holding up?" Lana asked.

Lex shrugged. "I'm fine. A little tired. I was up early. "

Lana finished the drink she was making and handed it off to a waiting waitress. "You're always up early."

"Yes, but today I was up early milking cows after being kicked out of my house and having all my money taken away. It adds stress." He frowned as Lana started on another drink. "Why are you working? I know you're a work-a-holic, but all your friends are having a party. Right there." He pointed to the now thinned out table; Mark had gone home, leaving Whitney behind with Chloe. Pete had taken off soon after, on the arm of some girl Lex didn't know. Whitney, Chloe, and Clark were in the middle of a fierce game of Scrabble, at least on Chloe and Clark's end.

Lana sighed. "I know, but one of the waitresses quit last night. We're short staffed until I can hire someone new."

"And you plan to work every shift until you can?"

"Exactly." She beamed at him. "No, we'll manage. But, since I'm here, and we have customers waiting.... It's only really going to be a problem today and during the busy hours tomorrow."

"What's going to be a problem?" Clark asked. He came up behind Lex, put his hand on his shoulder, and squeezed.

Lana put another finished drink on the counter and wiped her forehead. "Jessie quit and I'm short staffed and, thus, working double or triple or whatever until I can hire someone new."

"Oh." Clark frowned. He was rubbing Lex's shoulder, which was probably a bad thing to do in public, but Lex didn't care. "Um. Well, we need three coffee's."

She groaned.

"Do you want me to get them?"

"Could you? I have a backorder on espresso drinks." She stepped back to the machine, then stopped. "Actually, first, could you take that one to table eight? Please?"

Clark froze under batted eyelashes. Then he took the drink and moved off.

"Why don't you hire him?" Lex asked. "At least temporarily."

Lana rolled her eyes. "Clark? He's good in a crisis, but not the most reliable when it comes to being where he's supposed to be." She started her next drink.

"Which is why it wouldn't be permanent. Just until you hire someone permanently." Lex leaned forward.

"He does know everything around here," Lana admitted. "And it'd help me."

Clark came back. "I got a tip! Can I keep it?" he asked, holding up five dollars.

"Who is sitting at table eight?" Lex asked, whirling around.

A gaggle of little old ladies. Who were all giggling and looking at Clark.

Lex did as well, eyebrow raised.

Clark's face went red.

"So, Clark," Lana said, "are you interested in working here until I can hire someone? Pays six dollars and hour, plus tips." She batted her eyelashes at him. "Please?"

Clark sighed and ran his hand through his already rumpled hair (Scrabble was murder on his hair). "Yeah, sure. I'll work for you."

"Don't you think you better check with the boss first?"

Tingles ran up Lex's back. He turned. "Lucas."

His brother smirked at him. "Lex." His eyes slid to Lana. "And you are?"

Lana's cheeks flushed. She lowered her eyelashes and looked at Lucas up through them. "I'm, uh. I'm Lana."

Lucas smiled and leaned against the counter. Leaned into Lana, obnoxiously inserting his body between Lex and Clark's. "Lana. What a pretty name."

She blushed harder. "Thank you. So. You're the brother everyone's talking about."

"Yes, I guess I am. Lex crying in his coffee to you?"

"No. He's too strong a man for that."

Lex snorted.

The look Lana shot him was priceless. Wide eyed, mouth open, brows lowered.

"So," Lucas said, straightening. "I like the whole Egyptian/Assyrian vibe. It's clear you've put a lot of time and effort into this place."

"Yes, I did," Lana replied, obviously flattered.

Theresa, who had taken Lana's place at the espresso machine, was shooting Lana dirty looks as she looked at the list of drinks needed.

"Lex did a lot, too."

Liar. If Lex had had anything to do with it, it'd be a lot more like the original Talon pictures. Lana had taken what had been in the photographs, and gone way overboard. But, it kept Clark happy to have Lana happy--and the customers never seemed to mind--so he never said anything.

Lucas gave the room a quick survey, and said, "Yeah, well, Lex isn't exactly in the picture anymore."

"Actually, I am." Where the hell had Lucas gotten that idea?

"No you're not. Our father kicked you out. Took everything away from you."

"Yes, but... this wasn't his to take away." Lex frowned and mentally reviewed everything he'd put up for collateral against the Plant. No. The Talon had definitely not been one of them. "It's still mine. And Lana's."

Lucas frowned. "But..."

Lex stood. "Lucas, we should talk." He put his hand on Lucas's arm.

His brother stiffened immediately and threw off the touch. "Fine. Let's talk."

"We'll go into the office."

"Lex?"

"Go play Scrabble, Clark." He smiled thinly at Clark. "And get Chloe's coffee before she goes into a coma. Lucas?"

"After you."

Lex nodded and led the way. Lucas's arrival had jolted him from the numbness that had settled over Lex after Pete's revelation. It was as if, after everything, his emotions had just shut off. Well, not at first. First had come the rage. After that, nothing. Just weariness.

Now, though, he was waking up.

"So," Lucas said after they got to the office, "how's life on the farm?"

Lex leaned against the desk and faced Lucas. "Good."

"Yeah. Right."

"Yes. It is good. The Kents love me. Why wouldn't I want to be there?"

"Because you're penniless. You have nothing, Lex."

"Actually, I do." Lex cocked his head. "I have this place. While it may not be raking in the profit the plant did, it makes enough to survive on. Almost." He smiled. "I'm not without means."

"And as long as you have the Kents..."

"Yes. And as long as I have the Kents, I know I'll be safe. They'll take care of me."

"Because they love you." So much scorn. He sounded as if he'd been raised at Lionel's knee.

Lex nodded. "Yes." He hesitated, then had to ask. "Hasn't anyone, ever... loved you like that? Or at least... cared enough to take care of you, no questions asked?"

Lucas rolled his eyes. "Don't turn this one me."

"It's just a question."

"Oh, well then, yeah. I've known love. There was one foster mother who loved me so much, she would climb into my bed every night and show me. And then, there was a man I lived with who loved me so much that taught me all about Jesus. About how if you weren't good and clean and pure for Jesus, you had to be beaten with this big black belt until you were good and clean and pure. And then there was this couple who loved me so much, they took all kinds of pictures of me and showed them to everyone. I've got the URL, if you're interested."

Lex swallowed. Rubbed the back of his neck. "Was it always that bad?" he asked, not sure what else he should say.

Lucas seemed taken aback at the question. Some of the defensiveness slipped. "Uh. No. I guess they were the exceptions." The shields went back up. "But life was no picnic for me. Excuse me if I don't fawn over you or whatever right now because your life sucks."

He laughed. "I don't expect that, believe me. And my life doesn't suck. Look, I was getting out anyway. I'm going back to college. I'm moving into my own home. If Dad doesn't want me to use his money to do that, fine. I'll find my own way." Lex pushed away from the desk. "I didn't find you to use you. No matter what Dad thinks, that was never my intention."

"Why should I trust you?"

"No reason. Especially with your experiences. But I am genuine. All I want from you is a brother." He hesitated, then added, "You know you can't trust Dad, right?"

"Yeah. But he's more upfront with me than you."

Lex snorted. "How so?"

Lucas raised her eyebrow. "He always told me he was using me. He contacted me three weeks ago. Told me that you were looking at me. That you wanted to use me in a corporate raid, and that he was going to use me against you. To prevent you."

"He was wrong."

"I don't think he knew that."

Good point. Lex had always played the game before, and quite willingly. This time, he was the one who changed the rules. "All right," he conceded. "Dad thought I was looking for you to use you. He was wrong."

"Why would you want to find me?" Lucas asked. He crossed his arms over his chest. "You already have a brother. You have Clark."

Moment of truth. Should he take it?

Well. It'd been awhile since he'd gotten a good beating, right?

"Clark is not a brother figure in my life," he admitted.

Lucas rolled his eyes. "No, really?"

"He's my boyfriend."

Silence. Then, "I hate fags."

"Well. Your brother is one."

"Why? I mean, did you see that girl down there? She's gorgeous."

"So is Clark. I love him."

"Yeah, well, I'm guessing Lionel does too, huh?" Lucas snorted and rubbed his face. "This is sick."

Lex frowned. "Why do you say that?"

"Because it is sick. You sick your dick in his ass for Christ's sake. That's disgusting."

"Like you'd never go it with a girl," Lex said impatiently. "I mean, why do you say that Dad's in love with Clark?"

"Yeah, but a girl is a lot different from some faggy guy. And Dad said that Clark was delectable or something. I don't remember exactly, but it was skeevy."

"Did he say it to Pete?" Lex guessed.

Lucas looked surprised. "Yeah. How did you know?"

"Because I know Dad," he said grimly. He rubbed his face. "Dad sucks."

"Yeah. I kind of agree. Still. I'm living the posh life now because of him, so I won't complain." He shoved his hands into his pockets. "I don't know if I want a brother. Did that shtick a few times. It sucked."

"It won't suck with me."

Lucas rolled his eyes.

"It won't. I don't know exactly what it takes to be a brother, but the Kents are teaching me about family. And family is supportive. There for each other. Not coercive or mean or abusive. Just... there."

"Just there." He rolled his eyes again. "Whatever, man. I just came for some coffee. I'm leaving."

Lex nodded, heart sinking. He was completely failing.

Lucas stopped at the door. "I might stop in tomorrow," he said. "Around noon."

"Oh. Well. I might be here."

"Do you play poker?"

He nodded.

Lucas smiled. Shrugged. "Cool. Bye."

Bewildered, and just a bit hopeful, Lex watched his brother leave the office. "Bye."