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A Hand To Hold On To

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A Hand To Hold On To

by Lady Mondegreen

There are reasons and silver linings
There are lessons but I don't care
Cause I just need a hand that I can hold onto When it's darker than death out there. - Holly Cole, 'Make It Go Away'

There was a rainstorm announcing itself in the air, and a chill in the wind that tousled Clark's hair, but he felt neither. It was the middle of a glorious Kansas autumn, it was a Friday night - with no homework or chores to do until late the following day - and he was going to see Lex.

Clark had been spending more and more time with the young millionaire these days; his dad had reluctantly agreed to let him spend Friday evenings with Lex, and Clark was enjoying every minute of them.

Sure, he still hung out at the Talon with Lana, at the Torch office with Chloe, and on the basketball court with Pete: they were his friends, tried and true. And ever since he'd - only half-regretfully - dissolved his on-again-off-again relationship with Lana, they were all just his friends, nothing more.

Now, Lex, on the other hand...

He'd never managed to pinpoint a precise moment when his feelings for Lex had turned into something deeper. In his more romantic moods he imagined it was when he'd pulled Lex out of the water and given him a life-restoring kiss. When he was in a more practical state of mind, he guessed it was sometime during an impromptu game of pool or a long debate over literature, history, or who was the greatest captain on Star Trek.

Lex had won that one hands down - he'd always had a fondness for Picard.

In any case, Clark had suddenly found himself paying more attention to Lex than to what his friend was saying: the gold flecks in Lex's grey eyes, the way his shirt hung on his chest and shoulders, the small smile he seemed to reserve solely for Clark. He'd found himself admiring the way Lex held a pool cue - not to mention the enticing view when he bent over the table to make a tricky shot - and some deep, heretofore unexplored part of himself began to wonder what Lex might taste like, what the little scar on his upper lip might feel like to Clark's tongue.

And the next time his dreams had him flying through the countryside and waking with a plummet and a thud, well, it certainly wasn't Lana he'd been hovering over.

Clark stepped up to the front door of the castle just as the first drops of rain began to fall. Before he had a chance to ring the bell, the door opened to reveal not a staid butler, but Lex himself.

"Clark," he said, eyeing the increasingly heavy downpour. "Great timing! Come on in."

Clark followed Lex into his office and sat by the fire while Lex tended to some last-minute business. He took the opportunity to indulge in some inconspicuous Lex-watching, his new favourite hobby. Lex wore a cashmere shirt that begged to have Clark's fingers all over it; dark pants that were just loose enough to hide, maddeningly, what might be hidden underneath them. Not that it would be impossible to sneak a peek using his X-ray vision, but that would be cheating. If he ever got the opportunity to see that much of Lex unclothed, he wanted it to be a totally conscious decision on Lex's part.

At least, that's what he kept telling himself. At times, he almost believed he was actually that principled. In reality, though, he knew that if he ever 'looked' at Lex, however surreptitiously, he'd never again be able to face his friend without turning the shade of an organic tomato.

He realised he'd been staring at Lex, and he managed to glance away hastily just as Lex hung up the phone, stood up, and stretched. Clark knew it was hopeless infatuation when even the sound of Lex's spine popping turned him on.

"Sorry about the wait, Clark," Lex said as he crossed over to join Clark by the fire.

"No problem," Clark answered truthfully. "A gazillionaire's job is never done, right?"

Lex snorted. "A 'gazillionaire'? Should I be having a chat with my accountant?"

"Nah," Clark grinned. "Have a chat with me, instead. We got a new book to read in English class."

Lex raised an eyebrow. "You know, the point of that class is for you to actually read the book yourself and form your own opinions about it."

Clark smiled innocently. "Oh, I've already read it. I just wanted your take on it."

"All right, then. What's the book?"

"Lord of the Flies."

Lex frowned. "What?"

"And after that," Clark continued, "we're doing The Tempest."

Lex opened his mouth, but paused as Clark went on. "And then Robinson Crusoe."

Lex blinked, and a strange expression crossed his face. "You prick," he stated mildly.

Undaunted, Clark said, "Well, if you don't feel like discussing fine literature, we could always watch some TV. There's a Gilligan's Island marathon playing on -"

He was interrupted by a small, firm cushion smacking him in the face. Spitting feathers, he mock-glared at Lex, who was barely suppressing his laughter.

"What was that for?" he asked.

"For being an insensitive bastard with no respect for his elders' trials and tribulations, that's what," Lex responded.

"Hmph. You never like anything I suggest doing," Clark pouted, and Lex gave in with a laugh.

"Okay, fine. You can pick the movie. I promise I won't complain. Much."

Soon they were settled in Lex's spacious rec room, a bowl of popcorn between them. Clark took a brief moment to enjoy the closeness as Lex hunted for an extra-buttery kernel, then he stood and moved to Lex's extensive movie collection.

"You know," he observed, "you could rival the Talon's theatre with your selection."

"Clark, I own the Talon. Why would I want to rival myself?"

"Just an observation." Clark closed his eyes, spun around with a flourish, reached out, and grabbed the first box his fingers touched.

"What d'you pick?" Lex asked.

Clark glanced at the DVD in his hand, then did a double-take.


Gingerly, Clark held up the box for Lex to see. "Castaway," he said sheepishly.

That was when he discovered that buttered popcorn, though rather greasy when it hit you in the face, was a lot tastier than feathers.

It was raining again the following Monday, and when Clark spotted Lex's car outside the Talon after school he was all too happy to get inside the coffeehouse and dry off. He saw that Lex was busy talking to Lana, but he found Chloe and Pete making beckoning motions to him so he placed an order at the counter and went to join his friends.

"Ah, the intrepid Clark Kent deigns to grace the common people with his presence," Chloe said with feigned haughtiness. Clark shot her a sharp look, but saw nothing more than a teasing glint in her eyes.

"Yeah, well, it's not Friday, is it?" Pete chimed in, the coolness in his voice a bit more real.

"Pete," Clark began, but Chloe cut him off.

"Come on, Petie," she said, patting their friend on the knee. "We can be nice and share Clark with the poor little rich boy."

Clark felt a twinge of annoyance, and he glanced at Lex to make sure he was out of earshot. "Guys!" he warned.

Chloe pinkened. "Sorry, Clark. Look - your order's just about ready. Why don't I go get it for you, and refresh ours while I'm at it?" She picked up hers and Pete's cups and headed for the counter with a little too much haste.

Pete watched her go, then turned his gaze down at his hands. "Clark."

Clark sighed. "Just because I'm Lex's friend doesn't make me any less your friend, you know. I already see you way more than him anyway."

"Yeah, I know. But it's just..."

"It's just that you enjoy the time you spend with Lex more than the time you spend with me," he knew Pete wanted to say, and the sad thing was that it was true. Pete was loyal and helpful and sometimes even funny, but he just wasn't... Lex.

"It's okay, Pete," he said, and Pete nodded, knowing that it wasn't, really.

A group of football players came in just then, and Pete excused himself to go hang out with his team-mates. Clark was relieved to see him go, and was ashamed for being relieved.

"It happens, Clark," said Chloe, handing him his coffee and sitting down beside him with a steaming mug in her hands. "Sometimes people just grow apart."

"Yeah, but I never thought... You and Pete and me, we've been friends forever. I always thought we'd be friends forever."

Chloe looked at him sadly. "We will be, Clark. Only, it might not be the same sort of friendship all the way through. People change."

Clark looked over at Lana, who was still talking earnestly with Lex. There was someone who'd never change. As much as she tried to deny it, she was still and always would be a fairy princess. Pete was changing, growing away from him. Lex only changed for Clark, becoming less guarded, seeming more open - happier - when they were together. He turned his gaze back to Chloe. "I know I've been a rotten friend lately," he began.

"Clark -"

"But you haven't changed that much. You stuck with me through everything. I probably don't tell you enough how much I appreciate having you as a friend."

Chloe stared at him for a long moment, her eyes glistening. Then she smiled, that smile that always made him feel like he was twenty feet tall.

"Am I interrupting anything?" A voice asked politely from behind Clark, and Chloe brought her smile to bear on Lex.

"Nope," she said happily. "Just a couple of friends having coffee."

"Cold coffee," Clark said with a grimace, glancing down at his cup. "I should go home, anyway. I told my dad I'd help him with some chores."

"I guess a farm boy's job is never done, huh," Chloe quipped, and Clark shot Lex an amused look, which was returned full-fold.

"Want a lift?" Lex offered, and Clark nodded gratefully. He turned back to Chloe, to find that she'd already pulled out her laptop and was powering it up.

"See you tomorrow, Chloe?"

She glanced up at him. "You bet. A reporter's job is never done either - staff meeting in the Torch office at noon."

"I'll be there," he promised, and followed Lex out into the downpour, fighting a grin of his own.

Lex glanced up from his paperwork a few hours later, a look of surprise on his face as he saw Clark standing in the doorway to his office.

"Clark?" he asked, getting up. "Is something wrong?"

"No," Clark replied nervously. "There's just something I wanted to ask you."

"Sure, Clark," Lex said. "Anything."

Clark took a deep breath. "I found a copy of the Inquisitor at the Talon."

Lex frowned. "Oh, great. What did they say about me this time?"

"Well, they didn't actually come right out and say it, but it strongly hinted that you... that you're..."

"That I'm what?" Lex asked with commendable patience.

"Bisexual," Clark blurted out.

"Oh." Lex looked nonplussed.

"Is it true?"

Lex sighed. "Look, Clark, I've made a lot of stupid choices in the past, but I don't consider my sexual orientation to be one of them. Yes, I've been with both men and women." He looked at Clark. "I'm sorry if that bothers you."

Clark's eyes darted away from that penetrating gaze. "Would it bother you if I said that it didn't bother me?"

"Of course it -"

"I mean, it really, really doesn't bother me."

There was a long pause, and Clark finally looked up to find Lex staring at him, his face expressionless. "Clark," he began, then paused for a heartbeat before continuing. "What are you trying to say?"

Clark felt his cheeks get suddenly warm. "Just that I'm glad to know that you do ... stuff ... with other guys. 'Cause that means maybe you wouldn't mind doing ... stuff ... with me."

Lex's eyes grew dark. "What sort of ... stuff ... did you have in mind?" he asked in a low murmur.

Clark felt more than his face heating up at the hint of promise in that voice. "Anything," he whispered, his own voice rather husky. "Everything."

And then he was up against the wall, Lex's hard body pressed up to his, a cool mouth latching onto his own. And it was good, so good.

"Waited so long for this," Lex moaned against Clark's lips as his hands slid under layers of flannel and moved unerringly to find and tease Clark's nipples to aching hardness.

Speaking of hardness... Clark groaned and thrust his hips forwards into Lex's, where he found an equally solid heat. Lex hissed and ground his own hips against Clark's, and as their mouths met again they found a rhythm that had them both spiralling madly towards climax.

"Lex!" Clark cried into his pillow as the pleasure overtook him and he came, spurting, into his well-worn pyjama bottoms. With a muffled groan, Clark rode out the last twitches of his orgasm, dimly grateful that at least this time he hadn't broken the bed. And more grateful still that his mom never batted an eyelash when he spontaneously offered to do the laundry.

Sighing, Clark dragged himself out of bed, peeling himself out of his soiled pyjamas, and headed for the bathroom. A brisk shower, that's what he needed. Not that it would take his mind off Lex - nothing seemed to do that, these days, and he found himself obsessing increasingly over his friend. Whom he was going to be seeing in only a few hours. And, somehow, Clark was going to have to figure out a way not to appear like a love-sick puppy around him.

He managed to get through school on autopilot and was out the door at the final bell in the blur of any teenaged boy in a hurry. Lex had asked to meet him at the Talon again; Lana had really been on his case lately about some business-related thing or other that, frankly, bored Clark to tears. He found the place almost as it had been earlier that week, with a few exceptions. Sure, Lex was talking with Lana again, but Pete was conspicuously absent, and Chloe....

Frowning, Clark hurried over to where his friend was sitting. "Chloe?" She looked up at him as he reached her, her face pale. "Are you okay?" he asked in concern.

She managed a small smile. "Just got a bit dizzy for a second there. No biggie," she reassured him. "Too much caffeine lately, I guess," she added, looking dourly at her half-empty double latte.

Clark eyed her doubtfully. "I'll get you some water," he offered, and at her grateful nod he went off to flag down the nearest waitress.

As he made his way back to the table, he stopped in his tracks, his breath catching in his throat. Lex was with Chloe, crouched down beside her chair, talking to her, looking concerned. Crouched with his legs spread just enough for his pants to stretch enticingly, driving Clark insane.

He couldn't fight it any longer. If he was going to be cursed with recurring wet dreams about a naked Lex Luthor, he might as well make them authentic. Taking a second to calibrate his vision - he already knew what Lex's skeleton looked like, and it really wasn't much of a turn-on, though he did have sexy tibias - he focussed his vision on Lex and just...


What was the opposite of disappointed? Whatever it was, he was a hundred, a thousand times not-disappointed. Lex was stunning! He was spectacular! He was.... He was staring right back at Clark, a strange expression on his face. Clark jerked back with a start, and for a brief moment his eyes focussed instead on Chloe. Focussed into Chloe, where it was very dark and very strange, and what the heck was that?

Someone jostled Clark from behind and he snapped back to his normal vision, loosening his grip on the glass of water in his hand before it shattered, and he closed the distance between him and his friends.

"Everything okay, Clark?" Lex asked as Chloe took a hesitant sip of the water, looking greener than she had earlier.

Clark kept his eyes on her and said, "I'm fine. Chloe, you look terrible!"

She glared up at him. "Gee, thanks, Clark." She took a longer sip of water, and grimaced. "I am feeling a bit under the weather. I figured maybe I was working too hard, but now I think I might be coming down with the flu, or something."

Clark offered her a sympathetic smile. "Well, I can state for the record that you are working too hard, but if you've got the flu, you should probably go home and get some rest."

Lex nodded. "I was just offering Chloe a ride home," he said.

At that, Chloe's smile grew wider and a bit mischievous. "That's very kind of you, Lex, but I've seen the way you drive. I'd probably end up ralphing all over the back seat of your Porsche."

Lex smiled wryly. "I'll take the risk. Besides, for you, I'd even keep to the speed limit."

"I appreciate the offer, Lex," she said, "but it's okay. My dad's supposed to be picking me up soon, anyway."

Lex looked sceptical. "If you're sure..."

She waved him off. "You guys go on and do whatever male bonding ritual you do on Friday nights. You don't want to catch my flu, anyhow."

Clark was torn between wanting to be alone with Lex and wanting to stay and keep Chloe company. He was pretty much certain that he couldn't catch any type of virus, and Lex never seemed to get sick, either.

Chloe swatted his arm. "C'mon. Shoo. I'll see you Monday morning."

"Okay," Clark relented at last. "But you have to promise me you'll take it easy all weekend. And call me if you need anything."

She rolled her eyes, but looked pleased nonetheless. "I promise, mom," she said. With a last, worried look at her, Clark and Lex left the Talon.

They were quiet on the way to the castle and without much debate they decided on a movie again - this time actually managing to eat the popcorn instead of using it as ballistic missiles.

Their food source depleted early on in the movie - the heroes had barely gotten to Weathertop - Clark found himself sitting rather closer than usual to Lex on the couch. Close enough to feel the warmth of Lex's body beside him. Close enough that, if he twitched his fingers just so, they'd brush lightly against Lex's. He tried to watch Lex out of the corner of his eye, gauging his friend's reaction to the touch, but there was none - only the slightest twitch of Lex's own fingers in turn.

But by the time the Fellowship entered Lothlorien, Lex and Clark were holding hands.

Clark spent the next few days as if in a dream. He and Lex had... Well, they'd held hands and shared an all-too-brief kiss before Clark had to go home, but still. They'd done something. And every indication pointed to them doing more some time in the future. He'd replayed those too-short moments with Lex countless times that weekend, and it was only the fact that Lex was spending the two days in non-stop business meetings in Metropolis that had kept Clark from calling him at all hours like a dorky lovesick schoolboy. Okay, like an even dorkier lovesick schoolboy.

He sailed through his morning classes, and it wasn't until the lunchtime bell rang that he realised with a guilty start that he hadn't so much as thought about Chloe all weekend. They hadn't shared any classes that morning, so he didn't even know if she'd made it to school at all. And after what he'd seen on Friday....

He was actually a little surprised to find the Torch office open, and Chloe herself seated at her computer, looking only marginally better than she had at the Talon. She looked up as he entered the office and cut him off before he could speak. "Before you ask, I'm feeling a lot better than I was," she assured him. "It must have been a twenty-four hour thing."

He wasn't convinced. "Chloe..."

"Okay. I have a bit of a headache," she admitted with a sigh. "But that's withdrawal - I'm trying to cut back on caffeine."

"You should have stayed home."

"I had a trig test this morning that I couldn't miss," she said, then gestured around her. "Besides, the paper won't publish itself."

"There'll still be news being made tomorrow," Clark pointed out.

Chloe looked beaten. "Okay, Kent. You win. If I'm not feeling one hundred percent tomorrow, I'll stay home like a good little girl. But -" her eyes flashed, "you have to promise to work on the Torch."

"Deal!" Clark said, then took a pile of notes from her to type up. "So, how was the trig test?" he asked casually, knowing how much Chloe hated that particular class. He caught the rude gesture she made at him in the reflection of his monitor, and smiled. He and Chloe were good; he and Lex were... even better.

Life was wonderful.

Life continued to remain wonderful until he came home to find his father waiting for him with a frown.

"I thought you'd agreed to fix the fence in the back quarter," Jonathan said without preamble as soon as Clark entered the kitchen.

Clark looked contrite. "Sorry, Dad - I forgot!" He had, too. He'd been thinking about Lex; things tended to slip his mind when he thought about that particular subject.

"You forgot," Jonathan repeated. "Son, you know how much our lives depend on this farm running smoothly. Your forgetting could have cost us half the herd, if they'd gotten loose!"

"I'm sorry, Dad," Clark said. "I'll go fix it right now."

As Clark headed for the door, Jonathan called out, "Hold on a second, Clark. Look, if you're having trouble keeping your mind on things, maybe you should cut back on your Friday night plans."

That brought Clark up short. He turned back to his father, eyes flashing. "We had a deal. You said I could have one evening a week to spend with Lex."

"Yeah, I did. But that was before you started getting all absent-minded. What exactly do you get up to over there, anyway, that leaves you like that?"

Clark knew that his father thought Lex was a bad influence on him. He probably imagined they were spending their Friday evenings getting drunk, or stoned, or worse. He didn't think, though, that admitting he was spending his Friday evenings watching movies, eating popcorn, and trying to figure out a way to get Lex to stick his tongue down Clark's throat would reassure his father any.

With only a hint of shame, he wracked his brain for a suitable alternative. Suddenly, he hit on one. "Actually, Dad, I've been worried about Chloe."

At that, his mother finally turned from the stove, where she'd been stirring soup and steadfastly ignoring their discussion. "What's wrong with Chloe?" she asked in concern.

"She went home sick on Friday. She said she had the flu, but I'm not so sure."

Martha frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Well, when we were at the Talon on Friday, I kind of, accidentally, used my X-ray vision."

"Kind of accidentally?" Jonathan asked archly.

"Yeah," Clark admitted. "Anyway, I got a look, well, into Chloe and..."

"And?" prompted Martha.

"Mom, I think Chloe might be pregnant."


"Are you sure?" asked Jonathan.

"Pretty sure, yeah," Clark said. "I definitely saw something there. It explains why Chloe's been sick lately - she's almost never sick. And she's been cutting back on caffeine. You know Chloe and coffee."

Martha still looked shell-shocked. "I didn't even know she was seeing anyone!"

Yeah, that part confused Clark, too. "As far as I know, she isn't. Not since that Evan guy. But that was months ago, and from what I saw, I don't think she's that far along."

Martha shook her head sadly. "Poor Chloe!" His mom, of all people, knew what a mixed blessing a baby could be. Especially for someone like Chloe.

Jonathan sighed. "I'm sorry, Clark. These things are bound to happen from time to time, even in Smallville, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with. I just never would have thought that Chloe...." He clasped Clark's shoulder. "Look, you stay put. I'll go work on the fence."

Clark nodded his thanks, then sat for a while in silence as Martha lowered the heat on the stove. "I wish I was still a kid," he said finally.

Martha turned and looked at him curiously. "Why's that?"

"Because then I could just hug you and ask you why people have to change, and you could give me some 'grown-up' answer, and I'd be happy."

"Oh, sweetie." She walked up to where Clark was sitting and put her arms around his shoulders; he rested his head against her. "People have to change, Clark. It's a part of life, whether you're ready for it or not."

Clark sighed and, for once ignoring the fact that he was seventeen and above such things, hugged his mother a little tighter.

"Do you think Dad'll ever see Lex as anything but a monster?"

Martha smiled. "Maybe, in time. That would be a change for the better, wouldn't it?"

"Lex wouldn't hurt me, Mom."

She pulled away from him a little, looking down into his face with gentle concern. "No, I don't think he would," she said after a moment. "Not on purpose."

"Not at all," Clark stressed.

She searched his face. "Clark, are you...?" She hesitated, trying to find the right words. "Are you happy?"

He smiled - a goofy grin, he knew, but he couldn't help it. "Yeah, I am."

She smiled back, just a little sadly. "Then stop worrying, and go upstairs and do your homework."

As he headed up the stairs, he heard her whisper, "Just be careful."

"Is something wrong, Clark?"

Clark was jostled out of his reverie, suddenly aware that he'd been staring down at the purple felt of the pool table for far too long.

"No," he assured Lex. "Just having trouble keeping my mind on the game."

Lex smiled. "Hmmm," he said, placing his pool cue on the table and moving around to Clark. "Is there something else on your mind, perhaps?"

Then Lex's hands were cradling Clark's face and their lips pressed together, and for a moment Clark was able to forget about his worries - but only for a moment. Lex finally drew away from him, the faintest trace of hurt in his eyes. "Something other than me, obviously."

Clark winced, and reached out to pull Lex close again. "No, Lex! It's great - you're great! It's just that I've been worried about Chloe. She's still not feeling well, and-"

Lex frowned. "Still? It's been over a week!"

"I know. She says she had the flu, and she's been feeling run-down with all her work for the Torch, but...."

"But. Yeah, I know." Lex took Clark's hand and led him to the couch. When they had settled comfortably together, Lex continued. "I know it's not easy when someone you care for is sick; sometimes all you can do is let them be till they need you. All the worrying in the world isn't going to do any good."

Clark knew that Lex was talking about his own experience with his mother. He reached over and twined his fingers through Lex's, and got a grateful squeeze in return. They sat for a while in silence, each man staring into the flames, lost in thought. Finally, Clark said softly, "Lex, what if you had a secret? I mean, it's somebody else's secret, and nobody else knows about it, but you found out somehow? Do you tell the person, if you think you might be able to help them, or do you wait and let them tell you?"

It was dangerous ground he was treading on, he knew, but something had begun to percolate in the back of his mind, something dark and terrifying, and he suddenly found himself in need of reassurance.

Lex continued to stare at the fire and then, without looking at Clark, got up from the couch. Their hands were still clasped together, so Clark had no choice but to follow Lex out of the room and up the stairs. Finally, they stopped in front of an unmarked door.

"Lex?" he asked, curious.

Lex pulled a key from his pocket, unlocked the door, and ushered Clark into the room. Clark stood still for a long moment, looking around. Finally, he turned to Lex.

"There's nothing in here."

"That's right, Clark. I had all of its contents removed and destroyed months ago."

"Okay. So, you're showing me a locked, empty room because...?"

Lex smiled, but his voice was serious. "Some secrets aren't ours to discover, Clark. You can't help someone until they want to be helped. When your friend wants you to know, they'll tell you."

Clark looked at Lex for a long time. Then he drew him close and kissed him - this time, with no distraction whatsoever. When they pulled apart to take a breath, Clark spoke regretfully against Lex's lips. "I have to go."

He felt more than heard Lex's sigh. "I know. See you next Friday?"

Clark hesitated. "I hope so, but..." He swallowed. "But maybe not. I've got some things to think about."

Lex frowned, but nodded. "Give me a call, then."

Clark kissed him once more - briefly, sweetly - before leaving the room. He made sure that he was out of sight of the castle before superspeeding the rest of the way home.

He had some research to do.

Clark shut down his browser, sitting back in his chair and rubbing his eyes wearily. All around him, the house was silent. His parents had gone to bed hours ago. His thoughts in turmoil, he quietly left his room and crept downstairs. He made a brief stop at the fridge for a few swallows of milk, then went into the darkened living room and sank down on the couch.

His mind was racing. He'd just spent half the night on the Internet, and every site he looked at, every picture, every case file, left less and less uncertainty in his mind.

There might be something strange in Chloe's body, but Clark was fairly certain now that it wasn't a baby. Granted, it was small and he really hadn't got that good a look at it, but it was enough to send a cold shiver through him.

To his consternation, there was nothing he could do about it. He couldn't tell Chloe outright, not without knowing exactly what was wrong, and certainly not without having to explain to her just how he knew.

The creak of floorboards upstairs made him start, and he sat in still silence as Martha came into the kitchen. She got herself some water, took a few sips, turned, and nearly dropped her glass as she caught sight of him.

"Clark!" she gasped. "What are you doing down here?"

"Just thinking," he said softly.

Martha set the glass on the counter and went to him, sitting beside him and taking his hand. "What's wrong?"

He wanted to tell her, wanted to share this terrible knowledge with somebody, but she'd be as helpless as he was. He didn't want to worry his mother needlessly.

"Did you and Lex have a fight?" she pressed.

He almost smiled at that. "No. I just found some things out, that's all." He saw the sudden concern on her face, and hastened to reassure her. "Not about Lex! Well, mostly not about Lex," he corrected himself, thinking of that oddly empty room in Luthor castle. "There's someone who might need my help. I'm just wondering how much I can do for them."

She gazed at him in concern, but must have read in his expression that she wasn't going to get any more information than that. With a sigh, she said, "Just do your best, Clark. That's all anyone can ask of you."

He nodded, and she leaned over to him, kissing his cheek. "And you know that you can come to your father or me with any problem, don't you?"

"Yeah, Mom. Thanks."

"Try to get some sleep," she said, brushing his hair off his forehead. With a sad smile, she headed back upstairs, leaving Clark to wrestle with his thoughts.

His mother had told him to do his best. Surely his best didn't involve just sitting around and doing nothing while a good friend of his got sick... or died.

Oh, God. Chloe could die!

He couldn't help her get healthier - the most he could do on that front was to suggest she see a doctor, and soon. But as for helping Chloe feel better...

Clark suddenly felt a surge of guilt about how little time he'd spent with her lately. They worked together on the Torch, but he didn't see her very often outside of school. He'd been too preoccupied with his feelings for Lex lately to think about anything or anyone else. Chloe deserved more than that form him. She deserved so much more. If she was as sick as he feared, she deserved nothing less than her heart's desire, before it was too late.

The trouble was, her heart's desire was Clark.

He'd been aware of Chloe's feelings towards him for some time now. He'd just let himself ignore them, hoping that she'd forget about him. But he didn't know if she'd be given the chance to get over him, now.

Would it be so bad to give her what she wanted? To pretend that he felt more for her than the love of a good friend? To give her what she wanted so badly, at a time when she'd need it most?

But what about Lex? He and Clark were in the midst of altering their own relationship, a fact which still thrilled and amazed him. He couldn't imagine giving that up. Couldn't imagine persuading Lex to give it up, for that matter.

Couldn't imagine Lex ever forgiving him for putting Chloe ahead of him.

But who was Clark, who called himself Chloe's friend, to put his own happiness, or even Lex's, ahead of hers, when her needs were so much greater than theirs right now?

With a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach, Clark made his decision.

He'd go visit Chloe in the morning. Maybe take her some of his Mom's soup. See if she was feeling any better.

Try to persuade himself that his decision was the right one.

The door was opened after Clark's second knock, and Lana looked up at him in surprise. "Clark! What are you doing here?"

"Actually, I came to see how Chloe's doing."

She frowned. "Wouldn't it have been easier to just call?"

He bit back a retort, and held up the package he was carrying. "It's hard to send soup over the phone," he stated mildly.

A voice from further inside the house called out, "Did someone say, 'soup'?"

Clark shrugged apologetically, walked past Lana and made his way to the kitchen, where he found Chloe's father contemplating a plate of burnt toast.

"Hi, Mr. Sullivan," he said, fighting a grin at the non-plussed expression on the man's face. Gabe Sullivan had done a great job raising his daughter on his own, but cooking had never been his forte. He handed the harried man the parcel Martha had made up for him. "Homemade soup, compliments of my Mom. And there are some fresh biscuits there, too."

Gabe looked like he wanted to kiss him. "Your mother's an angel, Clark!" he said, hunting for a bowl and placing it on a tray. "The only soup I can manage is that canned stuff, and Chloe got tired of that ages ago."

"How is Chloe?" Clark asked tentatively.

Gabe paused, his expression sobering. "Not too good, Clark. She doesn't seem to be kicking this bug she's got."

Clark watched as Gabe readied the light meal for his daughter. "Is it okay if I take that up to her? I mean, if she's awake."

Gabe chuckled. "Oh, she's awake. And bored as heck. I'm sure she'll be happy to have a visitor."

Clark took the tray and a couple of biscuits, and headed up the stairs. He hadn't been in Chloe's room in years, not since their parents had decided that bedrooms were off-limits to friends of the opposite sex. He wasn't sure what to expect - maybe a smaller version of the Wall of Weird, with clippings of various freakish episodes in Smallville history plastered all over the place, but to his surprise the walls were quite plainly decorated. On her desk, beside her closed laptop, sat a large framed photo of Clark, and he looked away quickly, feeling suddenly awkward.

Chloe was sitting up in bed, bundled up in flannel sheets, propped up against a mound of pillows. She'd laid aside the notepad she'd been writing on when the door opened, and her face lit up when she saw Clark. "Do my eyes deceive me, or is Clark Kent actually bringing me breakfast in bed?" she asked teasingly.

Clark blushed a little, but smiled. "You're not hallucinating. My Mom sends her love - and her soup."

Chloe eyed the bowl happily. "Ooh! Gimme!"

Clark chuckled as he watched Chloe go at the soup like a starving woman. After she'd finished half the bowl, though, she stopped.

"Isn't it okay?" he asked.

She shrugged, patting her stomach. "I guess I just wasn't as hungry as I thought."


He stood for a moment, not quite sure what he should be doing. Finally, Chloe said in exasperation, "Would you just sit down? I'm going to get a crick in my neck looking up at you."

He contemplated pulling up her desk chair, but instead he found himself sitting down on the bed next to her. She'd lost weight, he noted suddenly, and she was too pale, the veins in her hands visible even to his normal eyesight.

"Chloe, do you think maybe you should see a doctor?"

Something like apprehension flashed in her eyes, but she nodded. "Yeah. My dad's been on my case about that, too. I have an appointment Monday afternoon. It's just...."

"Just what?"

She stared down at her hands, which lay on the covers overtop her stomach, and for a moment his strong, spunky friend looked rather like a scared little girl. "What if there's something wrong with me, Clark?"

With a pang in his heart he reached over and took one of her hands in his. "It'll be okay, Chloe."

Her eyes met his, searching. "Will it?"

He smiled reassuringly. "Listen - Do you want me to go with you on Monday?"

She considered that for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah. I'd like that, Clark."

They chatted about inconsequential things for a while longer, until Chloe started feeling sleepy, and Clark left her with a promise to pick her up on Monday after school. He brought her dishes down to the kitchen and, as he walked past the living room, he paused. Gabe Sullivan was standing by the window, staring out into the back yard, looking rather lost and scared himself.

Without a word, Clark crept by the doorway and silently left the house.

Lex looked up from his computer, surprised and pleased as Clark was ushered into his office. "Clark!" he smiled. "A bit early for Friday, isn't it?"

Clark shrugged. "Friday, Sunday, what's five days? My chores are done, my schoolwork is done. Besides, I wanted to see you."

Lex's smile softened. "I know the feeling." Shutting off his PC, he stood and walked over to Clark, who caught him up in a brief kiss and a longer hug.

At last, Lex pulled away a little. "Still worried?" he asked sympathetically.

"A little," Clark admitted. "I was actually hoping you could, you know, take my mind off things."

Lex grinned. "I could probably come up with something."

This time, when Lex took his hand and led him upstairs, they ended up in Lex's bedroom. The tension that had been building up in Clark over the past weeks seemed to burst out all at once, and Lex had barely closed the door before Clark was on him, pinning him to the wall and claiming his mouth in a bruising kiss. Lex froze for a second in surprise, then returned the kiss, grasping Clark around the waist and pulling him closer. Their hips brushed, burgeoning erections pressing together, and Clark moaned with the sheer pleasure of it.

This was so much better than any dream, Clark decided. It wasn't enough, though. He wanted so much more than his fantasies had promised him. He whimpered something unintelligible as Lex's teeth found a sensitive spot just below Clark's ear, then, taking a deep breath, managed to blurt out, "More."

"More of what, Clark?"

Clark tugged at the hem of Lex's shirt. "More of you. More..." His eyes flitted momentarily to the bed. "More of this. More than this."

Lex's eyes were dark, his voice low. "Are you sure, Clark? I don't want to do anything you're not ready for."

Clark was sure. He wanted this. Oh, how he wanted this. "Please?" he whispered, and kissed Lex again, deeper this time, their tongues mingling, exploring. Clark felt Lex's hands at his shirt buttons, and he let the material be slipped off his shoulders. Sadly, they had to pull apart in order for Clark to get his T-shirt over his head, and Lex took the opportunity to take off his own shirt.

Clark moved towards him again, but Lex held up a hand. "Pants, too," he said. "It'll save us time later on."

Clark felt himself grow even warmer, but gamely reached for the fastenings of his jeans. Seconds later, both he and Lex were naked, each man taking a long moment to look his fill of the other.

Clark had been right: no amount of peeking in the world could come close to being offered the sight by a consenting - and obviously appreciative - Lex. What he'd thought was perfection when he'd caught a brief glimpse of it in the Talon was... well, it was even more perfect when it was presented to him in all its glory.

Lex was all soft planes and smooth skin, completely hairless except for the faintest trail of red creeping down from below his navel, becoming slightly thicker at his groin. Standing proudly from that soft nest was his cock, long and sleek like its owner, flushed red at the tip and very, very hard.

He realised abruptly that he'd been gaping at Lex's body like an... like an inexperienced idiot, which, in this case, he supposed he was. But he noted with a mixture of satisfaction and sudden shyness that Lex was doing the same thing.

"Breathtaking," Lex murmured, reaching out to run a hand across Clark's abs.

Clark blushed at the worship in Lex's tone. "Come on - you're the breathtaking one. I'm just the big, bulky goof -"

"I beg to differ," Lex told him firmly. And as if to prove his statement, Lex ran his hands over Clark's chest and shoulders, pulling them together again and cupping Clark's ass. "You have a magnificent body, and I'm going to thoroughly enjoy making love to every inch of it."

Clark growled, and before he knew it they were on the bed. He hoped he hadn't superspeeded them, but if he had, Lex didn't seem to have noticed, busy as he was running his hands over Clark's body, following their trail with his tongue, and generally driving Clark out of his mind.

Clark grabbed handfuls of comforter as Lex's talented tongue found a nipple, and he arched his back into the sensation as Lex nibbled and sucked it to hardness. He finally regained enough motor control to gently grasp Lex's head and move it over to his other nipple, and felt a soft puff of laughter against his skin before it, too, was ravished.

He'd never felt anything like this. He'd never imagined anything like this. And when Lex finally moved further down his body, Clark tensed in anticipation. Lex licked at the crown of Clark's cock, once, twice, and then Clark was lost in a haze of pleasure as his entire length was engulfed in Lex's hot mouth.

The sensation went on and on, agonising, exquisite, as Lex worked wonders with his tongue and his lips. Clark felt long, strong fingers caressing his balls and moving beyond them, and he parted his legs with a trembling sigh, allowing Lex access to every part of his body, not wanting to deny himself any sort of new pleasure Lex might decide to bestow on him.

Lex's fingers joined Clark's cock in his mouth momentarily, and then Clark felt them move slickly between his parted legs, spreading his buttocks and inching between them. He hissed as they circled his hole, and Lex raised his head long enough to murmur, "It's okay," before bending his mouth back to its task and slipping a finger deep into Clark.

Clark howled at the new sensation, bucking his hips as gently as he could without hurting Lex, wanting to feel more of that finger, wanting more of Lex. A second finger joined the first, moving deeper, searching, finding, and Clark's vision exploded in a shower of white sparks. He was aware of Lex's mouth moving, of Lex making soft sounds as he swallowed Clark's essence, and he cradled Lex's head, pulling it off his sensitised cock and tugging Lex up for a kiss.

He tasted himself in Lex's mouth and he deepened the kiss, wanting to taste Lex in turn. He felt himself hardening again and he brushed his returning erection against Lex's thigh. Lex stared at him with amusement and no little arousal. "Already? What the hell do they feed you, farm boy?"

Clark smiled. "Organic produce works wonders."

"I think I should double my order, then," Lex said thoughtfully.

"What you should do," corrected Clark, "is lie back and let me do that to you."

Lex closed his eyes, took a shuddering breath. "While that sounds wonderful, Clark," he said huskily after a second, "I had something else in mind. And since your teen metabolism has been kind enough to oblige me..." He leaned over to nip Clark's earlobe, then whispered, "I want you to fuck me."

The words sent a jolt through Clark but, while he would have liked nothing better than to flip Lex over and do just that, there were things to consider. "I don't want to hurt you, Lex."

Lex smiled wryly. "I admit it's been a while for me, Clark, but I think I'll be okay. Just go easy at first."

He could do that. He wanted to do that, more than anything in the world. But it was such a big step, a bigger step than he'd been prepared to take before this moment, especially with everything else that was going on, and he could think of many reasons why this was a bad idea.


He pulled Lex in and kissed him, slowly, deeply, then asked, "We need lube, right?"

Lex grinned, looking relieved, and glanced down at Clark's crotch. "Definitely," he stated emphatically, and while Clark blushed Lex reached over to his bedside table, removing something from the drawer. "Use lots," he instructed Clark, handing him the lube, then lay back, bending his knees and spreading his legs, presenting himself to Clark.

Clark stared for a long moment, mesmerised by the sight, then opened the tube in his hand and squeezed a generous amount of the slick substance onto his fingers.

"Start with one," Lex said, and Clark nodded. His hands trembling just a little, he reached down and traced a fingertip along Lex's cleft. Lex made a noise somewhat like a purr and shifted his hips, urging Clark to continue. Hesitantly, Clark touched the small opening, then slipped his finger inside.

"Yes," Lex hissed.

Encouraged, Clark explored for a bit, then added a second finger, and a third. He watched Lex carefully for signs of discomfort, but Lex's head was thrown back, his eyes squeezed tightly shut, and the expression on his face certainly didn't seem to be one of pain.

Clark knew there was something more he should be doing, something he should be trying to find - and with a burst of inspiration he switched to his X-ray vision. He stared in amazement at his own fingers deep inside Lex - he wiggled them a little, loving the moan that brought from Lex - and finally found the little gland he'd been looking for. Moving his fingers there, he stroked Lex's prostate and was gratified when Lex thrashed in response, his breathing growing ragged.

"Clark, enough!"

"If you're sure?"

"Get your cock in me now, Kent."

Well, who was Clark to argue with that? As gently as he could, Clark removed his fingers from their tight, warm haven and replaced them with the tip of his cock. He gave a tentative push, not quite sure how much pressure was required. Lex breathed in sharply, and Clark froze.

"It's okay," Lex reassured him through clenched teeth. "Just give me a second. You're very.... Just wait a second."

Clark waited, worried that he was hurting Lex, worried more that Lex might decide he wanted to stop this. Instead, to his relief, after a moment he felt Lex relax around him, and he was able to slip further into Lex's passage until, finally, they were joined completely.

"Oh, yeah," Lex breathed, "Now, move."

Clark moved - to do otherwise would be unthinkable. He thrust his hips, sliding in and out of Lex, tentatively at first and then, with Lex's encouragement, more and more forcefully. He was vaguely aware that he was making some sort of noise with each stroke, and that Lex was being equally vocal; there was the tightness of Lex's hands on his shoulders, the barely noticeable bite of fingernails not quite scoring his back. All that mattered was the pleasure he was feeling, overwhelming, unimaginable, the pleasure he was giving Lex, and then he heard his name being called, cried out a name of his own, and he was gone, spilling himself into Lex, feeling Lex's own orgasm clenching around him.

As worn out as he was, Clark still had the presence of mind not to collapse on top of Lex, and he - regretfully - eased out before dropping to the bed beside him. Lex made a sound of protest as he was emptied, but turned towards Clark, draping an arm around him and pulling him close. They lay in silence, wrapped around each other, as their breathing evened out and their heartbeats slowed.

"God, Lex," Clark said at last. "That was...."

"Mmm hmm...." Lex mumbled into Clark's shoulder.

It felt so right lying here with Lex in his arms. How could he possibly give this up?

"Lex, I...." he began, but halted, horrified, as his voice broke. He felt alarmingly near tears.

Lex's head shot up, and he looked at Clark in concern. "Clark?"

Clark shook his head, not trusting his voice yet. Understanding dawned in Lex's eyes, and he wrapped Clark in his arms, repositioning them so that he could support Clark's body. Grateful to be out of his friend's scrutiny, Clark hid his face in the crook of Lex's neck.

Lex stroked his hair. "Was this a bad idea?"

"No!" Clark protested. "It was wonderful. Perfect! It's just...."

"Just bad timing, maybe," Lex conceded.

"Yeah," Clark agreed. "I'm sorry, Lex."

"Do you regret what we just did?"

"Never!" Of that, Clark was absolutely certain.

"Then don't apologise, Clark. I just wish you'd tell me what has you so upset."

He wanted to, badly, but it would bring about too many other questions right now. "I wish I could, Lex."

Lex was silent for a moment, then the fingers in Clark's hair started moving again. "A year ago, even a month ago, I would have insisted. I guess my father's right - love does make you weaker."

Love.... "Not weaker, Lex, patient. I will tell you someday, I promise."

Lex sighed. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

*'If only you could,'* Clark wanted to cry, but he said instead, "I don't think so."

He felt Lex nod. "Will you still be coming here on Fridays?"

It was harder than anything Clark had ever done, to say, "I don't think so. Not for a while." He doubted Lex would want him to, anyhow. He lifted his head, forcing himself to meet Lex's eyes. He found them filled with resignation and not a little pain. But love, there was love there, too, and it nearly broke his resolve. He opened his mouth to say something, he wasn't entirely sure what, but Lex cut him off with a kiss.

"Can you at least stick around a while longer?" Lex asked him softly.

Clark nodded, and kissed Lex back. They settled together once more, holding each other tight as the October sun faded from the sky.

Chloe was sitting on the front steps when Clark arrived at the Sullivan house the following day. She smiled at him in greeting and hopped into the truck, settling herself beside him with a bit of a wince. Pretending not to notice, Clark said, "You're looking better." She was, too - she had some of her old colour back, though she was still too thin.

"I feel a lot better. Hopefully, I'm finally kicking this stupid bug. Though," she added ruefully, "it's probably the Doctor's Office Law coming into effect."

"The what?"

"You know, when you're feeling sick but the minute you walk into the doctor's office, your symptoms disappear. Only to reappear when you get home, of course."

"Oh, yeah," Clark hedged. He'd never been sick a day in his life. Unless kryptonite was involved, and he didn't think that counted. "That's weird, all right."

Chloe glanced at him. "Are you okay, Clark?"

Clark immediately put on his best fake smile. "Yeah," he assured her. "I was just thinking about school. Got a couple of tough assignments coming up."

"Well, you'll have to tell me all the news," she said. "I can't believe how much I've missed in just a week."

"I would have thought that Lana'd be giving you all the juicy details."

Chloe's face fell. "Actually, I haven't seen much of Lana lately. She's been pretty busy."

"No busier than usual."

"Yeah, well." Chloe sighed. "She probably doesn't want to catch whatever I've got. The last thing the Talon needs is a sick manager."

Clark said nothing - then - but seeing the hurt in Chloe's eyes he thought of a couple of words he'd like to have with Lana Lang in the near future. Instead, he reached over and took Chloe's hand. "Well, I'm not worried about getting sick. The cows won't care if I sneeze on them."

Chloe giggled, and gave his hand a squeeze before releasing it. "Thanks, Clark."

He spent the rest of the ride filling her in on the goings-on at Smallville High, assuring her that the Torch was running as smoothly as was possible with Clark at the helm, and that he'd hand-deliver the next issue to her personally. By the time they were in the doctor's waiting room, he found himself holding Chloe's hand again, feeling her nervousness and trying his best to calm her. When the nurse called her name, they both jumped.

Chloe looked at Clark apprehensively, and he gave her an encouraging smile. "I'll be right here when you're done." She nodded, steeled herself, and followed the nurse out of the waiting room.

Clark fidgeted a bit, unsure of what to do to pass the time while he waited. There were a few other people seated around him: a young man reading a - probably outdated - Sports Illustrated, an elderly lady knitting something fuzzy and pink, an harried-looking woman holding a pale, quiet little girl. He thought momentarily of practising his super vision on them, maybe trying to figure out what was wrong with them, but he quashed the thought immediately. He'd already done that once, and he really didn't want to know what he'd find. It occurred to him that he might 'look' in on Chloe, but he dismissed that idea almost as quickly. He'd invaded her privacy more than enough already.

He was almost at the point of picking up the magazine sitting on the chair next to him - a Reader's Digest his mom had gotten months ago and which he'd already read cover-to-cover - when the door opened and Chloe came out, looking definitely worse than she had earlier.

He stood and hurried over to her. "Chloe?"

She shook her head, looking around. The old woman was looking at them curiously. "Not here."

When they were back in the truck, she said, "The doctor ran a bunch of tests. He says they'll call me when the results come back."

"Blood tests?" Clark asked, thinking about his own all-too-recent experiences.

Chloe grimaced. "Yeah, and some other ones you probably don't want to know about."

Clark's cheeks grew warm. He was definitely glad he hadn't looked in on her. "Um." He cleared his throat. "Did he say how long it was going to be before you get the results? Or what he's looking for?"

"He said he was a bit concerned about my symptoms, but you know how it is. 'Flu-like symptoms' can indicate a heck of a lot of things."

Maybe that was all it was, Clark thought hopefully. Maybe he'd been wrong, and had been driving himself nuts over nothing. It wasn't like he knew all that much about the female anatomy. Not the inside part, anyway - he was, after all, a teenaged boy with Internet access.

As they pulled up outside Chloe's house, she looked at him hopefully. "Do you want to come in for a bit?"

He shook his head regretfully. "I'd love to, but I have some stuff to do with my Dad. Plus, I have an article to write about the new gym they're planning on building at the school. You know what a slave-driver my editor is."

She smiled, but there was a hint of disappointment in her voice as she said, "Maybe some other time, then." As she reached for the door handle, though, he put a hand out to stop hers.


She looked at him in surprise. "Yes?"

"Do you.... There's a Hitchcock marathon playing at the Talon on Friday. If you're feeling better, would you like to go? Or, I mean, if you don't want to go out, we could just rent the movies and hang out here, or something."

She raised an eyebrow. "Is Lex going out of town?"


"Isn't Friday night your guys' night out?"

"I just...." he trailed off, searching for the right words to say. He must have looked a little lost, because Chloe laid a comforting hand on his arm.

"It's okay, Clark. I'd love to spend Friday night with you."

His stomach tightened, but on impulse he leaned over and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "It's a date, then."

Her eyes widened slightly. "A date," she said, as if testing the words. "Yeah. That'll be cool, Clark."

He waited until she'd entered the house, giving him a wave as she did so, before driving away, his mind a jumble of thoughts and one driving hope - the hope that, someday, Lex might forgive him.

The rest of the week passed in a whirlwind for Clark. Between school, chores, and his extra work on the Torch, not to mention trying to avoid his mother's worried looks and doing his best to keep his mind off Chloe and Lex, the days flew by. The dreams of Lex that woke him up messily every morning certainly didn't help. He was brought short out of just such a daydream when, after the lunch bell rang, he turned from his locker to find Lana Lang watching him.

"Clark, we need to talk."

Oh, he really did not need this right now. Stifling a sigh, he said, "I have to go work on the Torch, Lana. Can it wait?"

Ignoring his question, she said, "What do you think you're doing with Chloe?"

He frowned. "What do you mean?"

"She's all excited about some date you two have tonight."

"And this would be your business because...."

"Clark, you know how she's been lately. I really don't think she's up to having her emotions toyed with right now."

Clark's eyes flashed with anger. "Yeah, as a matter of fact, I do know how Chloe's been. I'm surprised you do, though. Geez, Lana, you live in the same house as Chloe and I see more of her than you do."

"This isn't about me, Clark."

For once, Clark thought, a part of him wondering idly just when his infatuation with this girl had died off. "What makes you think I'm toying with her, anyway?"

"That's the way it always is with you, Clark. You keep letting people get close to you, then push them away."

"That's the way it was with you, Lana. You kept pushing me and pushing me to open up to you before I was ready. You wanted to be close to me, but on your terms only. Has it occurred to you that what I have with Chloe might be different? She's the intrepid reporter, but at least she respects me enough, she trusts me enough to let me live on my own terms. And if she ever tries to force that, at least she feels bad about it."

Lana flushed. "So you can betray her trust by running off on her with no explanation, and acting all crazy and expecting her to just shrug it off like nothing happened?"

"Why not? You did that with Byron. You forgave Whitney for stringing me up in a cornfield, but it's unpardonable for me to stand you up because I was saving someone's life? That's a bit hypocritical, isn't it, Lana?"

She drew in a sharp breath. "That's low, Clark."

He said nothing, watching her, his expression guarded. Finally, she said, "Look - I don't want to argue with you. I just don't think you're what Chloe needs right now."

"What Chloe needs right now," Clark said coldly, "is a friend. And since those seem to be in short supply these days, I'm what she's going to get."

He left her looking forlorn by the lockers, and stormed to the Torch office, keeping himself through a mighty effort from slamming the door behind him. The last thing he needed today was to have to explain a broken wall to the custodial staff.

"What the heck was that about?"

Clark looked up to find Pete at the door, watching him anxiously.

"What?" he snapped.

Pete raised his hands placatingly. "Hey, man. Don't bite my head off! I just, you know, wanted to see if you were okay."

Clark sighed. "Yeah, Pete. Thanks."

"No problem." Pete came in to the office, perching himself on the edge of Clark's desk. "So, what's going on with Lana? I thought you two had an 'amicable separation'."

"Yeah, well. She got in my face about Chloe, and I lost my temper."

"Chloe? What about her?"

"Have you seen her lately?"

Pete looked troubled. "Yeah, I was over to visit her yesterday. She's not doing too good, is she?"

"Not really," Clark said. "I made a date with her for tonight - thought I'd go over to her place, try to cheer her up a bit. Lana thinks that's a bad idea."

Pete snorted. "Now there's a surprise."

"What are you talking about?"

"Lana's still hung up on you, buddy. It's not like she still wants to date you, or anything, but she likes to have you around when she needs a convenient punching bag."

Clark was stunned. "What do you mean?"

"C'mon, Clark. You know what I'm talking about. She kept you on a short leash all the time she was dating Whitney, and even more so when he was missing. She doesn't want you not to date Chloe, she's just upset that the guy who's been drooling on her for - what, six, seven years? - is after someone else now."

Clark stared at Pete. "Should I call you Doctor Ross, now? When did you become a shrink?"

Pete grinned. "Just telling it like it is, Clark. Sometimes it helps to look at this from the outside."

"I guess," Clark admitted, feeling slightly better. Some of what Lana had said had cut closer to home than was comfortable, though.

"Hey, wait a minute!" Pete said suddenly. "You're seeing Chloe tonight?"

"Yes," Clark said. "Why? Do you have a complaint to register, too?"

"What? No - you and Chloe, that's cool, man. Way to go. But isn't Friday your Luthor night?"

Clark forced his jaw to unclench. "Well, tonight's a Sullivan night. Okay?"

"Okay, okay."

Clark did his best to ignore the glint of happiness in Pete's eyes when he'd realised that Clark wouldn't be seeing Lex this week. He didn't quite manage to ignore the pain he himself felt at that same thought.

<hr width=%60>

"Bye, Mom, Dad. I'm off to Chloe's," Clark said hurriedly, passing through the kitchen after supper that evening.

"Wait a second - don't you mean Lex's?" Jonathan asked in surprise.

Clark really wished people would stop saying that. "I mean Chloe's, dad. I'm going over to keep her company tonight."

"Like a date?" Martha asked, her brow furrowing.

"Yeah, Mom. A date. Don't worry, though - Mr. Sullivan'll probably be around."

Looking away uncomfortably from her searching gaze, he focussed instead on his dad. "You told me you thought I should take a break from Lex, right?"

"Well, yes, but..."

"So," God help him, "that's what I'm doing. "Besides, Chloe needs me more than Lex does right now."

"You're a good friend, Clark," Martha said softly, and Clark saw understanding and sympathy in her eyes.

"Well, have a good time, then," said Jonathan, looking pleased by his son's sudden change of heart. "Say 'hi' to Chloe for us."

"I will, Dad." He left the kitchen as quickly as he dared, wanting to get away from his dad's happiness and his mother's look.

He made a brief stop on the way. Smallville's only movie rental store was a pitiful place, and Clark thought with a pang of regret of Lex's extensive video library. He managed to find what he was looking for, though, and, adding a package of microwaveable popcorn to the stack, he headed for the line at the rental counter. As he waited, he wondered idly whether his X-ray vision could have any effect on the videotapes around him. It was food for thought.

Chloe opened the door for him, greeting him with a grin. "C'mon in! Dad says 'hi', and that he's staying in the den for the evening."

"Be sure to thank him," Clark said with a smile of his own. Brandishing his movies, he asked, "Hitchcock okay?"

"Are you kidding? I love his movies. They make me think of life in Smallville."

They both laughed, and Clark headed for the kitchen to make the popcorn while Chloe set up the first movie. He entered the living room a short time later, bowl in hand, to find Chloe settled on the couch amid a pile of blankets, holding the TV remote.

"I get cold," she said, waving a hand at the fuzziness around her. "Dad overcompensates."

"It is a bit chilly," he admitted. "Mind if I join you in there?"

She smiled and said, "Be my guest," moving over so that Clark could slip under the blankets beside her. She cuddled up to his side and, as the FBI warning flashed on the screen, he placed his arm around her, drawing her close.

Clark tried to focus on the movie, but It was a blur as he became distracted by the warm figure pressed against his side. His mind kept drifting to a different sort of body against his - stronger, harder - and despite his best efforts he couldn't help but imagine what he and Lex might have been doing right now. Which was certainly not fair to Chloe, he chastised himself. If this was going to work, he was going to have to stop thinking about Lex, that's all.

And maybe he could stop breathing while he was at it.

As the ending credits rolled down the screen Chloe stirred, stretching a little but not moving out of Clark's hold. "This is nice," she said softly. "I don't know what brought about this change of heart, Clark, but I'm definitely not complaining. It's almost worth being sick, to have you paying so much attention to me."


She looked contrite. "I'm sorry, Clark - that came out all wrong. It's not like I think you're just doing this because I'm sick, or that I'm doing this just to get close to you, or -" She sighed in frustration. "You know what I mean."

"Yeah, I think I do," said Clark, fighting a smile. Chloe, having trouble expressing herself? That was a new one.

"You know, I've been worried about you, Clark."

"You've been worried about me?"

"There's been something different about you since last summer. I mean, other than you taking off and pulling that James Dean act on us. I know you have secrets, Clark."

"Chloe," he began, alarmed.

"No," she interrupted. "Let me finish. I know you have secrets, probably even Wall of Weird calibre stuff. But, you know, I honestly don't care anymore. Your friendship means more to me than any news story in the universe."

He looked at her, stunned. "That's... Thanks, Chloe. But you don't have to do this."

"Yeah, Clark, I do. If there's going to be anything at all between us - even just friendship - there's a couple of things I want to come clean to you about."

"Chloe, really, this isn't necessa-"

"Clark, I fed Lionel Luthor information about you."

He froze. "You what?"

"He came to me last summer, around the time you took off to Metropolis. I was angry, I was hurt - and I made a stupid, stupid mistake. I thought I could hold my own against him."

Oh, God. "Chloe, people don't hold their own against Lionel Luthor. Even Lex couldn't, half the time. They sell their souls to him."

She blinked back tears. "I know that, Clark. God, I was such an idiot! I wasn't selling my soul, I was selling yours, for a damned job! I tried to put a stop to it when I finally came to my senses, but he told me he'd fire my dad." She was crying now, and he pulled her into his arms, stroking her back.

"But you did stop eventually, didn't you?"

"Yeah. I was so scared, wondering what he was going to ask me to do, wondering what he was going to do to you. So I," she hesitated. "I told Lex."

"What?" Clark asked, shocked. Lex had known about this?

"I didn't know what else to do, Clark. And besides, he's always claimed to be your friend, right?"

"God, Chloe!"

"You know," she said, smiling a bit through her tears, "I even wondered a little about you two. I thought maybe you and Lex were.... You know, together."

Clark closed his eyes. "No," he whispered. "We weren't." Not then, at least.

"Anyhow, he told me not to worry, that he'd take care of it. He told me to destroy anything his father might want - everything on you, your parents, even the farm - so I did. I even ghosted the Torch computers in case there was anything hidden in them he could get to."

Clark thought suddenly about an empty room in Luthor castle. "Thanks, Chloe," he said softly.

She peered up at him, searching his face. "Clark, I'm really sorry."

"It's okay," he told her, grabbing a Kleenex from the box on the coffee table and handing it to her. "It's not like Lionel can do much damage anymore, anyway. But I'm glad you told me."

"It's funny," she said, wiping her eyes. "I've only ever seen Lex cool and collected. But when I told him about what Lionel was doing, the look in his eyes...." She shuddered. "I was more scared of Lex for a minute there than I've ever been of his father."

Clark didn't doubt it. He'd seen that look on Lex's face himself, and had been thankful that it hadn't been directed at him. That had been the day before Lionel Luthor had been arrested for conspiring with Helen Bryce to kill Lex. Now, Lex had LexCorp back, not to mention a large percentage of LuthorCorp, and Lionel was in prison, where he belonged.

He had to wonder, though, what Lionel had wanted him for. He knew that the question had probably driven Chloe nuts. For her to give that particular quest up....

"You're not angry?" Chloe was saying.

"Maybe I was a bit, at first. But I understand why you did it. I wasn't exactly endearing myself to you or anyone else at the time. It's over, though, Chloe. You can stop worrying about it."

She looked at him for a long moment. "You know, Clark, I really am glad you're here."

"Me too," he murmured, looking into her eyes. The despair was fading from them, replaced by - hope? And he told himself firmly that this was Chloe, one of his oldest friends, one of his closest. A girl who'd loved him for a long, long time.

I'm sorry, Lex, he thought, and kissed her.

"Sorry I'm late," Clark said, bursting into the kitchen just as Martha was setting down supper. "I was at Chloe's."

"Again?" Jonathan asked with a smile. "That's, what, the third time this week?"

"Dad!" Clark objected, blushing. "We're just going over the homework she's been missing."

"Ah, yes. 'Homework'. That's what we used to call it when I was your age, too. Martha, I think our boy's smitten."

Martha's smile didn't quite reach her eyes, which were fixed on Clark. "I get that impression myself."

Clark sat down at the table, resigning himself to more parental teasing, but thankfully Martha - perhaps taking pity on him - moved the conversation away from his love life.

"Is Chloe feeling any better at all? Even if she's pregnant, she shouldn't be this sick."

Clark felt a little sick himself. "Maybe she's not pregnant after all," he heard himself suggest. "I mean, I only got a quick look, and maybe I was wrong." He couldn't tell them his real suspicions; not yet.

"But you did see something?" Jonathan persisted. "Have you tried looking again?"

"Jonathan!" Martha exclaimed, shocked. "Once was bad enough! Imagine what Chloe would think if she knew Clark had been looking into her." She turned to Clark. "Chloe hasn't told you anything?"

Actually, she'd told him a lot, both after the movie on Friday and since then. Personal stuff - nothing he wanted to discuss with his mother. "Not really," he said. "She's still waiting for the test results. They should be back soon; then we'll know for sure."

"Well," said Jonathan, "I'm glad she has you to stick with. She'll need all the support she can get to get through this."

"I know," said Clark. If his suspicions were right, Chloe would need him more than ever. And Lex.... He'd be lucky if Lex ever spoke to him again, after all of this.

He bolted down his supper, helping his mother with the dishes in record time, then headed for the barn, needing some time alone. Once he was up there and settled in his hammock, he tried to focus on his homework but unbidden thoughts kept interrupting him. Finally, he cast aside his textbook and lay back, surrendering, for once, to the fantasy.

Lex was splayed out in front of him in all his smooth, naked glory. The satin sheets beneath him glowed in the shaft of moonlight that fell across his bed. Wordlessly, Lex ran a hand down his own chest, pausing to tease his nipples before moving down to clasp and caress his hardening erection.

"Lex," Clark moaned. The sight was the most erotic thing he'd ever seen. He unbuttoned his jeans, lowered the zipper, and slipped a hand inside to stroke his own throbbing cock. When Lex said, "I want you, Clark," his grip tightened hard, keeping himself from coming at the sound of that low, sexy voice.

He quickly disposed of his clothing and joined Lex on the bed, where they kissed and caressed each other to maddening hardness.

"I want you inside me, Lex," Clark whispered and Lex moaned, flipping them over so that he lay atop Clark. Clark lost himself to sensation as Lex stroked his body, and when he felt a wet finger at his entrance he gladly spread his legs wider and granted Lex access. If one and two fingers within him had felt good before, three drove him absolutely wild, but he needed much more, needed to be filled completely.

"Please, Lex," he said. "I need you."

Lex raised Clark's hips, winding Clark's legs around his waist, and moved his cock to Clark's hole, pressing relentlessly inwards until he was fully sheathed. Clark cried out at the intrusion, feeling no pain but only a pleasurable sense of fullness. Then Lex began to move, and that slight pleasure exploded into full-fledged delirium.

Lex set up a pounding rhythm, driving deeply into Clark with each thrust, sending Clark closer and closer to the peak of ecstasy. Clark groaned harshly as he came, pounding furiously at his cock with his right hand, the fingers of his left buried in his ass. "Lex..."

When he'd regained a little of his composure, he cleaned himself up with a rag he kept nearby for occasions like this and, readjusting his clothes, he curled up in the hammock, lost in a haze of agony.

"Clark, can I talk to you for a minute?" Martha asked as Clark was finishing breakfast the following morning.

"Sure, Mom. What's up?"

She sat down beside him, taking his hand. "I'm worried about you, Clark. You've been under so much stress lately."

He squeezed her hand comfortingly. "It's okay, Mom."

"No, it's not. Clark..." She hesitated, searching for the right words. "What you're doing with Chloe is very noble, but have you really thought it through?"

"What are you talking about?" he asked warily.

"You've been exactly what Chloe needs right now, but she's not the only one whose feelings have to be taken into consideration. You have to think about what's best for you, too."

He looked away from her, down at the table, and said nothing. With a sigh, she stood, dropped a kiss on the top of his head and started to leave the kitchen. She paused at the door when Clark spoke, softly. "Lex told me once he'd do anything for his friends. How can I do any less?"

"Clark, doing 'anything' can sometimes mean not doing anything at all," Martha said, and left the room.

Clark sat for a long time, lost in thought. For once, he knew, his mother was wrong. She had to be. He couldn't leave this be; he'd seen what was wrong with Chloe, and as much as he wanted to deny it, he knew what the consequences might be. As much as he dearly wished it were otherwise.

He was late for school, of course, despite his superspeed. He probably shouldn't have bothered going at all, though, for all the attention he paid to his classes. Pete seemed to have dropped out of sight again, too, which did nothing to alleviate Clark's state of mind. On his way home, Clark noticed Lex's Porsche outside the Talon, and was tempted to go in, to submit to the torture of seeing Lex again. Maybe tell him that they were, in fact, studying The Tempest in English class.

He doubted that Lex would appreciate the irony.

When he got home, he found the Sullivans' car parked in the driveway. Curious, he debated going inside, but on a hunch he headed instead for the barn. He found Chloe seated on the couch, staring out into the cloudless sky, a strangely blank expression on her face.


She turned her face to him and, all of a sudden, he knew.

"Hey, Clark," she said tonelessly.

No! He wasn't ready for this! He crossed over to the couch and sat down next to her.

"I got my test results," she continued.

He knew. Dear God, he knew what she was going to say, but knowing didn't make hearing it any less terrible.

"I have ovarian cancer, Clark."

No, no, no. He'd been so sure he was wrong. He'd hoped so hard that he was wrong, that he'd seen something else, that it would turn out to be nothing.

"God, Chloe," he said, and pulled her into his arms.

"The doctor says it's probably not that far gone. I'm going in for surgery in a couple of days, and they say the survival rate is pretty-" Her voice broke, and she buried her face in his neck. Her body shook with silent sobs.

He held her tightly, trying to give her comfort as best he could.

A long while later they entered the Kents' kitchen to find Martha and Jonathan at the table, sipping coffee with a pale and shocked Gabe Sullivan. When he looked up and saw his daughter, though, he immediately pasted on a smile.

"Ready to go, hon?"

Chloe nodded, and Gabe stood, accepting a hug from Martha and a handshake from Jonathan. Chloe, too, got hugs, and entreaties to 'hang in there' and that everything was going to be all right.

Clark offered to see them to their car, and kept his arm around Chloe's shoulder as they walked. "I'm going in to the hospital tomorrow morning," she was saying.

"I'll come visit," he promised. "Every day."

She smiled and hugged him tightly. As she moved to the passenger side of the car, Gabe turned to Clark. "Thanks, Clark," he said simply.

Clark nodded, not trusting himself to speak. He watched their car until it disappeared over a hill, and went back into the house to face his parents. They were still at the table, looking shell-shocked.

"How long have you known, son?" Jonathan asked as Clark joined them.

"A while," Clark admitted. "I didn't know what it was at first - I really did think she was pregnant. But then Lex mentioned his mother, and it made me think about cancer, and something just clicked. I knew."

"This is what's had you so upset?" Martha asked gently. Clark nodded; she was half-right.

"Why didn't you just tell us?" Jonathan demanded.

"I couldn't, Dad! I wasn't totally sure. And anyway, even if I was, what could any of us do about it? Tell her what I saw? Tell the doctors?" He lowered his voice, suddenly aware that he was close to shouting at them. "Besides, I guess I thought... Maybe if I didn't say anything, it'd turn out not to be true."

Jonathan opened his mouth to speak again, but Martha quelled him with a look, reaching over and putting her arms around Clark. "Clark, honey, you've done all you could. We know that. Now all we can do is be there for Chloe. You know how much progress they've been making in cancer treatments - she has a good chance of pulling through this, and... Clark?"

She and Jonathan stared in alarm as Clark's grip splintered the edge of the table. "Clark, what's wrong?"

"After Chloe told me, tonight, I... I took another look." His voice quavered. "The... It's bigger, mom, and...." He took a shuddering breath.

"And it's glowing green."

The news about Chloe made shock waves through Smallville High, and Clark was kept busy answering questions over the next few days. He hadn't seen Lana at all, but Pete had been wandering around in a daze, looking as helpless as Clark felt. As promised, Clark went to see Chloe every day, and while she seemed cheered up by the visits, he always left feeling frustrated and so terribly alone. He wished he could go to Lex to talk to him about all of this, to tell him about his worries and fears or simply lose himself in Lex's arms. The fact that this was no longer a possibility did nothing to help Clark's state of mind.

Chloe's operation was scheduled for Wednesday morning, and Clark had asked for - and received - permission to take the day off school. By the time he and Martha arrived at the hospital, Chloe had already been prepped for surgery, and they were ushered into the waiting lounge, where they found Gabe Sullivan looking small and pale. He looked up when they came in, but couldn't quite summon up a smile.

"Thanks for coming," he said, his voice hoarse. Martha sat in the empty chair beside his and placed a comforting hand on his trembling shoulder. Throwing a concerned glance at Clark, she mouthed "coffee" and he nodded, heading off to the cafeteria.

He took his time, giving Gabe a chance to compose himself. When Clark returned, bearing three cups of steaming coffee and a handful of packets of cream and sugar, Gabe was looking a little better, though his eyes were rimmed red. He accepted a cup from Clark gratefully, and took a long sip despite the heat of the liquid. It seemed to calm him.

"The doctors say they're optimistic about the surgery," he said.

"It's lucky they got her in so quickly," Martha added, and Gabe nodded.

A voice from the doorway made them all jump. "I assure you that Chloe's going to receive the swiftest and best possible treatment and care," Lex said, entering the room and approaching Gabe. "We'll send her to the finest specialists in the world, if need be."

Gabe stared up at his boss, uncomprehendingly. "Mr. Luthor? Lex, I..."

Lex sat on Gabe's other side, opposite Martha, who was watching him warily. He paid her no mind - nor to Clark, either - but focussed on Mr. Sullivan. "Gabe," he said earnestly. "You're my second-in-command, and an invaluable asset to LexCorp. And Chloe... Chloe's become a friend, and she's an extraordinary person in her own right. I promise I'll do anything within my power to help you - both of you."

Gabe was on the verge of tears again, but he blinked them back. "I don't know what to say, Lex. I... Thank you!"

Lex smiled self-deprecatingly. "I understand what you're going through, believe me. I just want to make it as easy as possible for you."

"Thank you, Lex," Gabe said again.

Lex stood, nodded to Martha, and was headed for the doorway when his gaze fell on Clark. They looked at each other for a moment, then Lex turned and left the room. Barely sparing a glance at Gabe and Martha, Clark rose to his feet and hurried after him.

Even without the benefit of superspeed, Lex was already near the end of the hallway when Clark called out his name.

Lex halted in his tracks. When Clark reached him, he turned to face him. "Clark."

The coolness in his voice hit Clark like a punch to the gut. He told himself that it was simply Lex's defence mechanism - hurt first, lest ye be hurt - but that didn't make it easier to hear.

"Lex, I...." he stammered, not quite sure what to say. "I'm...."

Lex made an impatient gesture. "Is this important, Clark? Because I have business to -"

"Lex, I'm sorry! I should have told you."

"Told me what? That what we had was nothing but a teenage gay experiment? That Chloe's worthier of your affections? Safer, perhaps?"

Clark blanched. "No! Lex, it's not like that."

Lex sighed. "Look, Clark, I really don't have time for this, not with Gabe on leave." His eyes softened for a moment, and he reached a hand out to Clark's, aborting the motion in mid-way. "I really am sorry about Chloe."

Clark tore his eyes from that hand - the hand that should be touching him, comforting him, loving him. "Thanks, Lex," he said.

Lex's gaze held his a moment longer, then he nodded, and walked away. Clark took a shuddering breath, squared his shoulders, and walked back to the waiting room. Gabe was staring blankly into the depths of his coffee cup, but Martha looked up in concern as Clark entered the room. He shook his head, wanting to avoid the question in her eyes, but sat next to her anyway. He was grateful beyond measure when she took his hand in a warm, tight grip.

Clark was shaken out of his thoughts much later by the appearance of a man in surgical scrubs at the door. "Mr. Sullivan?" he asked, and the three occupants of the room tensed.

"Yes?" Gabe's voice shook.

"Your daughter's surgery went very well."

"Oh, thank God," murmured Gabe, and Martha blinked back sudden tears.

"We removed a small tumour," the man continued, looking sober. "We've sent it for tests - we're assuming for the moment that it's malignant - and there were certain ... anomalies ... that we need to examine further."

Doctor talk for 'we don't know why it's green', Clark thought wryly.

Gabe's face had fallen at the mention of the word 'malignant'. "She'll be all right, though? You got it all?"

"I'll be honest with you," the doctor answered. "There's always the possibility of reoccurrence. We'll be starting her on intensive treatments at the first sign of any further carcinoma, though, and we'll be keeping her for observation until the test results come back."

"Can I see her?" Gabe asked.

The doctor nodded. "Family only, though, for the next day or so."

Gabe looked apologetically at Martha and Clark.

"It's okay," Martha assured him. "You go see Chloe. We'll be at the farm if you need us."

"I can't begin to thank you-"

"You don't have to," Martha insisted. "Go, be with your daughter. Give her our love."

He nodded and followed the doctor out of the room.

Martha and Clark left the hospital in silence; it wasn't until they were in the truck and on their way home that Martha spoke. "That was a very generous thing Lex did."

Clark kept his eyes fixed on the road. "Yeah, it was." He could see Martha watching him out of the corner of his eye, but, mercifully, she said nothing further.

Chloe wasn't up for visitors for a few days after her surgery, so Clark kept himself busy in other ways: doing extra chores, working on the Torch, playing hoops with Pete, who'd been hanging around more often since Clark had stopped seeing Lex. Clark tried his hardest to forget about what was going on - and he even managed it, for whole minutes at a time.

The nights were the worst. Ever since he'd seen Lex at the hospital, the man had haunted Clark's dreams. Good dreams, some of them, where Lex was gentle, loving as he thrust into Clark's willing body or allowed Clark to plunder his; bad dreams, where Lex raged at him for daring to betray a Luthor, a furious Lex who ravished him savagely even as he berated Clark for using him, for leaving him, for going to Chloe, dreams that had him waking up bathed in cold sweat, his shorts wet with come and his pillows soaked with tears.

The worst ones, though, were the dreams in which he faced a cold, indifferent Lex who paid no attention to Clark's impassioned entreaties. The side of Lex he'd caught a glimpse of in the hospital. The side of Lex he hoped he'd never see again.

He went to visit Chloe on the third day after her surgery. He was on his way to her hospital room when he ran into Lana, who'd been hurrying in the opposite direction, tears in her eyes.

"Lana!" he said, concerned. "Is something wrong?" Had something happened to Chloe?

"Of course something's wrong, Clark!" Lana replied tersely. "Chloe's dying."

Clark tensed. "Lana, we don't know that for sure. The doctors are optimistic..."

"Don't you get it, Clark? It's some sort of meteor rock contamination, Chloe told me." She smiled bitterly. "Once again, the meteors are taking someone I care about away from me."

Clark stared at her, aghast. "I don't believe you, Lana. Chloe's the one going through hell here, and you're feeling sorry for yourself?"

Lana's eyes narrowed. "Oh, that's rich, coming from you, Clark. You're the one who's been moping around because your precious girlfriend's sick."

His fists clenched. He didn't hit people, he reminded himself, especially girls. Not unless they were psychopatic murderers and really needed to be hit. It was one of the first things that had been drilled into him on this planet. He also didn't punch holes in the walls of crowded hospital corridors, no matter how frustrated he got. Instead, he shot Lana a disgusted look - without heat vision, he told himself firmly - and walked away from her.

He found Chloe propped up in her bed, looking glum. She mustered up a small smile as he entered, though. "You just missed Lana," she said, taking the bouquet of flowers he'd offered to her and inhaling their fragrance with a deep breath.

"Unfortunately, I didn't," he muttered. "I ran into her down the hall."

Chloe raised an eyebrow at his dour expression. "What happened?"

Clark sighed, no wanting to burden her with this. "Nothing. Lana was just being... Lana."

"Ah," Chloe said wisely. "Well, that can happen. Now, you just be Clark and sit down and tell me what's been going on."

He brightened. "Better yet," he said, showing her the other item he'd been holding. "The latest issue of the Torch, hot off the presses."

She snatched the paper out of his hands and he watched, amused, as she read it avidly.

"Not bad, Clark," she said at last. "You have the makings of a great editor. Someday."

He grinned. "Thanks, but I'm just filling in until our real editor gets back on her feet."

She smiled sadly. "Well, that might take a while."

Clark frowned, sitting down beside her and reaching for her hand. "Chloe, Lana mentioned something about kr- about meteor rocks."

She nodded. "That's what the tests found. And they think..." She took a deep breath. "They think it might be spreading."

To Clark's dismay, a quick glance told him that was indeed the case. "Oh, Chloe," he said softly, pulling her in for a hug.

"So I guess it's poetic justice," she continued with a sniff. "I'm going to end up Wall of Weird material myself."

"Chloe, don't say that! C'mon, you can beat this!"

She made no reply, but didn't look convinced.

"Look," Clark persisted. "Lex said he'd do anything to help. He can get someone to study the meteor rocks, find a way to neutralise them."

"Clark, those rocks have been wreaking havoc in this little burg for almost fifteen years. I don't think the scientists will find a solution to them overnight. Besides, Lex is already working on it."


"Dad told me - he talked to Lex yesterday. Apparently Lex managed to get his hands on a stockpile of meteor rocks. He's been having it studied. Though, considering the effects that stuff has on people, I hope it's in a really controlled environment."

Clark nodded absently, still stuck on the news that Lex had kryptonite. "Any idea where he got it?" he asked as casually as he could. "I mean, I haven't exactly seen Lex wandering around here with a pick-axe, digging rocks up, or anything."

Chloe looked uncomfortable. "Actually, I have a pretty good idea. Lionel Luthor had a bunch of meteor rocks. I saw them when I was in Metropolis last summer."

Clark shuddered, remembering a vault full of green bars and the terror in his mother's eyes. "He just showed them to you?"

"He said something about forging destiny, moving beyond one's abilities, something like that. I didn't pay too much attention at the time - he was always going on like that. In any case, Lex probably found the stash when he took over LuthorCorp's holdings." She paused, frowning. "Clark?"

He blinked, snapped out of his thoughts. "What?"

"You've got that look on your face."

"What look?"

"The one you get whenever anyone mentions meteor rocks. Almost as if you're afraid of them."

"Chloe, you just mentioned yourself what kind of trouble they've caused in Smallville," he hedged. "Of course I'm afraid of them."

"No," she said thoughtfully. "It's more than that. You're really afraid of them."


Her eyes flashed. "Clark Kent! You're my best friend. Lately, you've been... more. But if you're going to sit there and lie to me one more time, I'd rather you just walked out of here right now."

He looked at her helplessly, unsure of what to do, what to say. He wanted to just tell her. He couldn't tell her. The hurt look in her eyes made his mind up for him.

"Chloe, you have to promise - give me your solemn oath - that you won't tell anyone."

She frowned. "Clark..."

"No," he insisted. "I mean it. No chatting with Lana or Lex, no scoop for the Torch - or even the Daily Planet."

"Clark, I promise. Geez!" she said impatiently.

He looked around them - then looked around them - to make sure that no one was nearby to overhear. "Those green meteor rocks are called kryptonite. The reason I'm afraid of them is because they hurt me. Actually, they're pretty much the only things that can hurt me."

She opened her mouth to ask something, but he held up a hand. "Just let me say this, okay?" At her nod, he continued.

"I'm not sure why they hurt me, exactly. But I'm linked to them in some way. I came down with them; actually, my ship came down with them. I landed in a cornfield, found mom and dad, and, well, the rest is history."

Her face had gone through an intriguing transformation as he spoke - amused, sceptical, and then, amazingly, accepting. "You're an alien," she said matter-of-factly.

Clark nodded, eyeing her warily.

"Well," she continued. "That explains a lot. All those times you seemed to vanish into thin air...."

"I can run really, really fast. And, um, I'm pretty strong."

She smiled. "Could you bench-press me?"

"Chloe, I could bench-press your car."

She blinked. "Oh," she said faintly.

"I'm also pretty much indestructible, not to mention bullet proof. I can set things on fire with my eyes and, well, see through things like an X-ray."

"Hm. Can you fly?"

"No," he admitted. "But sometimes I ... float."

"Oh, darn. And here I thought you were weird."


"Clark, I've seen people turn into bugs, come back from the dead, freeze people, burn people; hell, I've even seen shape changers. All you are is a fast, tough alien."

"You're not upset?"

"Clark, finding out that you've got meteor poisoning kind of puts these things into perspective. Geez - you're the one who should be upset. Here you are with a secret that could cause a world-wide upset, that could put you in extreme danger if anyone found out about it, and we've been giving you hell all this time for not telling us what we had no right to know."

"I couldn't tell anyone, Chloe."

"I know, Clark." She reached over and took his hand. "Does anyone else know? Does Lex?"

Clark tensed. "God, Chloe! No! If I told Lex...." He might not want me anymore. He might think I'm a freak. He might not want to touch me.

"Yeah," she said softly. "You might end up in a lab down the hall from that load of rocks he's got."

No! Lex wouldn't do that, wouldn't hurt Clark. Would he? The way Clark had hurt him, perhaps?

"Pete knows," Clark whispered. "He found out by accident. Ryan knew. Kyle Tippet knows. The others... aren't around anymore."

"Our own super hero," Chloe said sympathetically. "And nobody can know about it."

He sighed. "I've always just wanted to be normal."

"Well, you know I think normal's pretty overrated. It's not super powers that make you special, Clark."

He smiled at her, touched. "Thanks, Chloe. But, I'm the one who's supposed to be cheering you up, here."

"Well, you've certainly gotten my mind off my problems! And to think of the headlines I could have written - 'My boyfriend is a little green man'."

"Hey," he protested. "Watch who you're calling 'little'!"

"Sorry." She smiled.

They sat for a while, then Chloe stirred, trying to get more comfortable. Immediately contrite, Clark helped her get settled. "Are you in any pain?" he asked.

"Not really - not yet. They're giving me stuff for it, which helps," she answered dismissively. "So, you can see through things, huh?"


"Must come in handy."

"Sometimes," he said. "Other times, it can be annoying. The first time it happened was when Tina robbed the bank disguised as Lex. I flashed on her skeleton for a second - that's how I figured out it wasn't Lex, eventually - but until I got the vision thing figured out I thought I was going nuts."

"I can imagine," she said. "So you've seen Lex's skeleton? I bet it's gold-plated."

Clark chuckled. "Nope, underneath it all he's just like anyone else. It's just that.... Chloe?"

Chloe had frozen, staring at Clark. "X-ray vision," she breathed. Then, she frowned. "You knew, didn't you?"

"What? Knew what, Chloe?"

"You knew what was happening to me. You used your vision on me, didn't you?"

"Chloe," he began placatingly.

"When did you find out, Clark?" she demanded.

Well, he'd decided that he owned the truth, hadn't he? "Just after you got sick."

"And you didn't say anything?"

"Chloe, I didn't know! Not for certain. In fact, at first I thought you were pregnant."

Her eyes widened. "Really," she said dully. "So, what, you thought you'd be nice and hang out with the poor unwed mother? Make the sick girl feel better?"

"Chloe, listen to me. I thought...."

"You did!" she gasped, understanding dawning on her face. "All this time you've been so nice to me, so perfect and attentive, and you've done it just because, what, you felt sorry for me? Chloe might not have long to live so let's throw her a bone and be her pity-boyfriend?"

"Chloe! I never...."

"You know, " she said, her eyes filling with tears, "I should have known that if ever I started dating Clark Kent, it would only foreshadow some big calamity."

"I just wanted to help!"

"Yeah, well, you can take your 'help' and your alien butt and just fuck off, Clark."

She turned her head away from him, and he slowly stood. "I'm sorry," he murmured.

As he left the room, he heard her start to cry.

"Clark?" Martha called up into the dimness of the loft. "Are you up there?"

He was tempted not to reply, but didn't want her to worry. His disappearing act last summer was still fresh in all the Kents' minds.

"Yeah, Mom."

"Are you okay?"

That question, he had no answer for.

"Well then," she continued. "Are you at least decent?"


"You're a seventeen-year-old boy, Clark," she said. "I'm not that naive."

"Geez, Mom," he said, his face flaming, though he was pathetically grateful to hear her footsteps coming up the stairs.

"What's the matter, sweetie?" she asked, joining him on the couch.

"Well, I've alienated my two best friends and made a complete mess of everything in my life. Other than that, everything's hunky-dory."


"I told Chloe, Mom."

"About why you've been spending so much time with her?"

He winced. "About being an alien," he corrected. "The rest she figured out on her own."

Martha stared at him. "Clark!"

"Mom, I wasn't going to let Chloe... to let anything happen to her without telling her the truth. She's not going to tell anyone."

She sighed. "I hope not... And she found out about the rest?"

He nodded miserably. "She didn't let me explain - she made it sound so thoughtless, so cruel. I didn't want to hurt her, Mom, I swear! I just wanted her to be happy."

"What about your own happiness, Clark?"

"I'm not the one who's sick, who needs the support. Chloe's my friend - I'd do anything, give anything up for her."

"And much have you already given up?"

He frowned at her. "I don't understand."

"Clark, please, answer me truthfully. Are you in love with Chloe?"

He looked away. "No," he whispered.

"And are you in love with Lex Luthor?"

He nearly flinched, holding himself steady through sheer force of will. "It doesn't matter, Mom. Not anymore. I had to make a choice, and once I realised what was happening with Chloe she became top priority."

"And what would you have done when she got better? Could you have gone on living out a relationship that you couldn't put your whole heart into?"

"I don't know," he said helplessly. "But, Mom... I don't know if she's going to get better. It's the kryptonite - it's spreading. That's why I told her the truth. I wanted her to know before she died."

"Oh, Clark," she breathed. She placed an arm around his trembling shoulders. "How could something like this happen? She hasn't been exposed to any more of the rocks than the rest of us."

"Actually, she has," he said darkly. "At LuthorCorp, last summer. Remember that stack of kryptonite bars Lionel had?"

"But why on Earth would Lionel bring her there?"

"Chloe told me that he was saying something about moving beyond one's abilities - Mom, I think he deliberately exposed her to it. I think he was trying to turn her into a mutant, but instead-" His voice broke.

"Oh, my God, Clark!" Martha exclaimed.

"That son of a bitch," a soft voice, barely audible, came from the stairs. Clark and Martha froze, then turned to see Lex standing there, thunderstruck.

"Lex!" Martha gasped.

"Mrs. Kent," he said, his tone apologetic. "I came to talk to Clark - I didn't mean to interrupt anything."

Martha shot a glance at Clark, whose gaze was fixed on Lex. "That's all right, Lex," she said. "I should go check on supper anyhow."

There was an awkward silence as Martha made her way down the stairs and out of the barn. When whey were alone, Clark asked, "How much of that did you hear?"

"Not much," Lex admitted. "Enough to make me regret my parentage yet again."

"I'm sorry, but it's the only answer that makes sense," Clark stated, and Lex nodded thoughtfully. After a moment, Clark cleared his throat. "You, uh, wanted to talk to me?"

Lex snapped out of his thoughts. "Yes. Clark, I need your help. For Chloe, if for nothing else."

"What can I do?"

"You know I'm doing research on the meteor rocks?" At Clark's nod, he continued. "I need more information about them if we're going to get anywhere with this in time to do Chloe any good."

"What kind of information?" Clark asked warily.

Lex made an exasperated sound. "Don't worry. I'm not going to ask you why you seem to be allergic to the stuff, or why you and your mom call it 'kryptonite', whatever the hell that means. But, Clark, like it or not, you're Smallville's expert on the rocks. You've seen pretty much every way it can affect people. I need a detailed account of every possible property those rocks have - anything that can help us find a way to neutralise them."

"And you think I can tell you all that?"

"Come on, Clark," Lex said angrily. "We don't have time for your innocent farm boy act. This stuff is meteor rock - it comes from space; there's nothing else like it on this planet. The only way we can figure it out in time is with eye-witness accounts, and you've been in the thick of things every fucking time it shows its glowing green ass."

Clark looked at him, defeated. After all, it was becoming quite the day for confessions... Why stop now?

An hour later found them on the couch, Lex furiously taking notes as Clark wracked his brains, trying to think of any mutant he might have missed mentioning. Lex seemed to be taking the whole thing calmly - he'd raised an eyebrow at the news that Ryan really had been able to read his mind, though he'd probably suspected that at the time - but the rest of them barely got a reaction from him. Clark told him what he safely could, but didn't offer any explanation as to how he'd managed to fight them; Lex didn't ask.

When Clark finished, Lex put his notes aside, dropping his head into his hands and rubbing his tired eyes.

"Is this going to help?" Clark asked.

"I don't know. We're going against a complete unknown here. My father probably had tons of research on them already, damn him, but knowing Lionel, it'll have been destroyed long ago."

"Lex, the meteor rocks you have...."

Lex looked up at him. "Don't worry, Clark. They're extremely well-protected in lead-lined rooms, with full security at all times." Seeing the hesitant expression on Clark's face, he added, "And as soon as we're done with them, I intend to find a way to destroy them; I don't want a single molecule of the rocks left on the planet."

"You'd lose a huge scientific opportunity," Clark said softly.

"Even scientific opportunity loses its appeal under certain circumstances," Lex replied.

Clark pondered that as Lex got to his feet. Noting that he was about to leave, though, Clark quickly stood and reached out to grasp Lex's arm. "Don't go!"

Lex's eyes grew hooded. "I have to, Clark."


Lex sighed. "Clark, I'm sorry for what I said in the hospital. You're young - you have every right to be with whomever you like; neither of us claimed exclusivity."

Clark's grip tightened slightly. "No, Lex! You were right. I'm not with Chloe, not like that, not anymore... not ever. I love her, but as a friend, not like I love y-"

Lex raised a finger and pressed it to Clark's lips. "How about we talk about this sometime when we're both less stressed?" he suggested.

Clark was speechless, a new, unthought-of hope filling him. He nodded, and Lex extricated himself from Clark's grasp. "Thanks for the information," he said.

Clark stayed in the loft long after Lex had gone, still feeling that soft touch against his lips.

"You know, Clark, you could have told me."

Clark looked blearily up from the computer screen to see Pete lounging once again in the doorway to the Torch office.

"Let me guess. You've been talking to Chloe."

"Yeah. She let slip a couple of things; I guessed the rest. She's really pissed at you, you know."

Clark's stomach tightened. "Can we not do this now, Pete?"

Pete deflated a bit; checking that no one was around, he entered the office, closing the door behind him. "Clark, I'm sorry. It's just, it's tough seeing her like this; she shouldn't be angry on top of everything else."

"I know," Clark said miserably. "I really fucked up, didn't I?"

"You want the truth?" At Clark's glare, he said, "Okay, okay. So, how're you doing with this?"

"Pete, how do you think I'm doing with this? God, a month ago life was - as normal as possible, for me. I was hanging out with you guys and Lex, and renting movies, and...." he trailed off, eyes widening.

"Clark? What's up, man?"

"Movies," Clark said wonderingly.

"Movies," Pete repeated, eyes blank.

"I was waiting in line to rent some movies and I was thinking about maybe being able to wipe tapes with my X-ray vision."

Pete frowned. "And this is relevant how?"

"X-rays, Pete! Maybe I can do something to help Chloe - maybe my vision has some sort of radiation that can help fight the kryptonite. I mean, what's the use of having these powers if I can't use them when I need to?"

"I don't know, Clark..."

But Clark was unwilling to release his new-found hope. "Pete, can you finish the layout for this week's issue?"

"Sure, man. But where are you going?"

"To the hospital."

"Chloe doesn't want to see you," Pete reminded him.

"I don't care. If I can stop that stuff from spreading through her, Chloe can hate me until she's old and grey."

Clark raced to the hospital, his mind filled with possibilities. When he reached Chloe's room, though, he froze by the door. Peering through the window, he watched as Lex, seated by Chloe's bed, talked earnestly with her. He stood for a bit, mesmerised, watching the tight set of Lex's shoulders, the subtle play of light on his head. There was something sad about him, something vulnerable, and Clark knew that if he entered that room now he'd go right to Lex and enfold him in his arms, all other thoughts be damned. He turned around instead and made his slow way home.

Unwilling to let go of his idea, he spent the evening experimenting with certain materials, trying to hone his vision, pushing his abilities to the limit. It turned out that he could, indeed, erase a videotape, and while he knew that his dad would be ticked off at the loss of a couple of old Dukes of Hazzard episodes, Clark took it as a good sign.

He spent a sleepless night burning with anticipation, and was up at first light the following morning. He was just finishing breakfast when the phone rang and Jonathan snagged up the receiver. After a moment's conversation, he turned to look at Clark. "That was Gabe," he said. "Chloe wants to see you."

Clerk felt a jolt of excitement, and after a hurried good-bye he made for the hospital at top speed. He found Chloe thankfully alone.

"That was quick," she said tiredly as he entered the room.

"I ran," he explained, and she nodded.

"Chloe," he began.

"Sit down, Clark," she commanded. He sat beside her on the bed, as he'd done a lifetime ago.

"Chloe, I'm so sorry," he said. "I don't expect you to forgive me, but I just wanted you to know. What I did was wrong, but I didn't do it out of pity, just friendship."

"I know, Clark," she said. "And I do forgive you."

He felt a huge weight lift from his shoulders. "What made you change your mind?"

She smiled wryly. "I saw you yesterday, when you came here. I saw the way you were looking at Lex. You're in love with him, aren't you?"

Clark felt his face redden, and he nodded.

"Those Friday nights you guys used to spend together... You weren't just hanging out, were you?"

"Not near the end, no."

She grasped his hand. "And you were willing to give all that up - you did give all that up - for me?"

He gazed into her eyes. "I do love you, Chloe," he said.

"As a friend," she amended.

"As a best friend."

"Clark," she said, and hugged him.

"I'm so sorry, Chloe" he repeated, whispering the words into her hair.

"It's okay, Clark," she murmured into his shoulder. "I love you, too."

He held her, rocking her gently until she fell asleep, and after laying her gently back onto the bed he sat watching her for a long time. At last he took a deep breath, focussed his eyes, on her midsection, and looked.

It was as dark and strange in there as it had been before, but now to his dismay he found traces of green tendrils intertwined with some of her organs. Turning his attention to them, he intensified his vision on one slender strip of green. It glowed slightly under the pressure, shrank the tiniest bit, and as Clark put more and more power behind his vision it seemed that he got a lock on it, seemed that he was going to be able to fight it after all.

Exhilarated, he took a deep breath, ready for the final onslaught, when a sudden, excruciating pain filled his head. He was jarred backwards, gagging, almost falling out of the chair, his connection with the kryptonite breaking off abruptly.

Chloe stirred, but didn't waken.

Shaken, Clark staggered out of the room, making his way to the men's room down the hall. He was splashing cold water on his face, willing his head to stop pounding, when Lex walked in.

"Clark?" he asked in concern. "I saw you rush in here. Are you all right?"

Clark's grip tightened on the edge of the sink until he was surprised that his hands weren't filled with shards of porcelain. "I can't help her, Lex," he admitted, anguished. Of course he couldn't help her - all the super powers in the world were no match for that green poison. He'd been an idiot to think otherwise.

He felt a hand on his shoulder, wanted so badly to lean into the touch. "I can't help her, either," Lex whispered, as if the very words defeated him.

And then he was in Lex's arms, shaking, holding on for dear life, feeling Lex grip him just as hard. For the moment, that brief comfort was enough.

"Are you all right, Clark?" Chloe asked him a few days later.

"I really wish people would stop asking me that," Clark stated. "I'm fine."

"Uh huh," Chloe said sceptically.

He'd been to visit her every day, and while he hadn't had a repeat of his kryptonite-induced pain, he was definitely beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable in her presence.

"It's nothing," he assured her.

She watched him for a moment. "It's the meteor rock, isn't it? You said it hurts you - makes you sick."

Makes him sick? That was nothing compared to what it was doing to her! "I can handle it," he assured her, hoping that his words were true. The further it progressed in Chloe, the harder it would be for him to be near her. He was terrified of not being able to be with her just when she needed him the most.

Deciding to trust him, Chloe changed the subject. "Have you heard from Lex lately?"

He shook his head. "Not really," he said. He'd been avoiding Lex since his little falling-apart session in the men's room.

"You know, I told him I think you should get back together."

"You what? When?"

"Yesterday," she said. At his outraged look, she added, "I want you to be happy, Clark."

"But Chloe..."

"No buts," she said. "I can see now that you two are meant to be together."

"I really hurt him, Chloe. I don't know if he'd even want me back."

"Well, I do. Women know these things. And you two are fantasy material if I've ever seen any."

"Chloe!" he exclaimed, blushing.

"Just telling it like I see it," she said with a smile. She quickly became more serious, though. "Clark, I want you to do something for me."

"If this has anything to do with my love life...."

She swatted his arm lightly. "I want you to take over as editor of the Torch."

He stared at her. "Chloe, I'm flattered, but I've only been pinch-hitting for you. I'm not that good an editor."

"Clark, I've seen your work. You are good, and with a little practise, you can be great."

"I don't know..."

"It would really mean a lot to me to have someone I trust working on it."

He looked at her solemnly. "Then it would be an honour to be the Torch editor, Chloe."

She nodded gratefully. "Take good care of her," she said.

"I promise."

Suddenly Chloe tensed, her face contorting with pain. Alarmed, Clark shot out of his chair. "I'll get a nurse!"

Chloe shook her head, her teeth clenched tightly. "No," she gasped. "It won't last long."

It lasted long enough. Minutes later she relaxed, her forehead dotted with beads of sweat. "God, I hate that!" she muttered.

Aghast, Clark took her hand and stroked it gently, ignoring the tingling sensation he felt from touching her. "Does that happen a lot?"

"Not a lot," she said. "But more and more often. And nothing helps."

"Is there anything I can do?"

"Just having you here is enough," she told him.

On a sudden impulse, he leaned over and kissed her lightly on the lips. Her eyes widened, and with a small smile she murmured, "Minty...."

He continued stroking her hand until she fell into an exhausted sleep.

"Clark?" Martha popped her head into his room. "The phone's for you - it's Lex. Should I tell him you're busy?"

Clark hesitated for a long moment, then squared his shoulders and picked up the phone.

"Hey, did you hear Lana's moving to Metropolis?" Pete asked him after English class.

"Oh," Clark replied absently, tucking his books into his backpack. "Good for her."


Clark stared at the Daily Planet's headline, then nodded in grim satisfaction.

The phone rang early one Sunday morning, a few weeks later. Martha answered with a cheerful "Hello," followed by a pause, and a broken gasp. "No!"

Jonathan was immediately at her side, arms around her, as Martha thanked the person on the line and hung the phone up with a trembling hand. "Clark," she said gently. "I'm so sorry - Chloe's gone."

Clark watched numbly as his mother was swept up, sobbing, in his father's embrace. Without a word, he stood and walked past them and out into the yard. There was a cloud of dust coming in their direction, a cloud which materialised into a silver Porsche. The car screeched to a halt in front of Clark.

Clark stood frozen as Lex climbed out of the car, not bothering to close the door as he hurried to Clark. Clark didn't move a muscle as Lex took his face in gentle hands, as he pressed a soft kiss to Clark's lips, as he whispered "I'm so sorry" in Clark's ear.

Then Clark was grabbing Lex, pulling him, in, burying his face in Lex's neck, holding on and never, never wanting to let go.

The end.