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Every now and then someone from outside would roll in, expecting to pass through Smallville without so much as a stop for gas, but circumstances (a leaky valve, a blown gasket) forced them to stay awhile. And sometimes these strangers would come across Clark, drinking coffee at the Talon or running errands all over town for his Mom, and would really see him in a way none of his friends and neighbors ever did, probably ever would.

The first time it happened, he was 13, fixing the front fence on a hot day, his sweaty t-shirt off and tucked into the back of his belt. A Mercedes convertible drove past, pulled a U-turn a hundred yards along the road, then cruised back past slowly, only to U-turn again and roll to a halt in the dusty shoulder beside the Kent driveway. A woman at least his mother's age, probably older, tanned and coiffed, wearing dark glasses, and with lips, fingernails and toes all of matching coral, climbed out and began asking him questions. She talked in a low voice so he had to stand close. She asked about Smallville and the neighboring towns, where he went to school, what he liked to do, and whether he'd ever driven a car like hers. "Would you like to drive my car?" she asked, and Clark, although dazzled by the sunlight glinting off sleek chrome, dimly understood that she was asking him something more than that. He was about to answer in the affirmative when Mom came bursting out of the house at a fast march, face white with rage, and the Mercedes woman said, "You have a nice day, baby," and let her nails graze across his belly as she turned and climbed back into her car. Her tires spun in the gravel, kicking up a cloud of dust that settled on his sweaty chest and dimmed his mother's brilliant hair.

"What did that woman want?" Mom demanded.

"She wanted to know if I liked her car," Clark said, somewhat defensively. His parents were always treating him as if he were a child.

"I'll just bet she did," Mom muttered. "You're through with the fence for today, Clark. Come back inside the house."

That night, his parents gave him a talk, an expansion on the "stranger" talk they'd had when he was a little kid. With earnest faces, they explained that he was a very good-looking boy, that he looked more mature than thirteen, and that he needed to be careful of older teenagers and adults who might try to coerce him into what his father harrumphed and referred to as "sexual situations." Clark tried not to laugh -- of course they thought he was good-looking. After all, they loved him.

But, surprisingly, it happened a few more times over the next couple of years. Notably, there was a man who kept giving him quarters for the arcade games at the pizza parlor, standing so he could watch the screen over Clark's shoulder. "You're really good at this," he'd said, standing so close his hip bumped up against Clark's ass. "How'd you get so good at this?" Realization dawning, Clark turned, wide-eyed, to stare at the man, just as Pete came up, scowling, and said, rudely, "Who are you?" The man clapped Clark on the shoulder, gave him a nod, and turned and left without looking back.

Pete stared at him. "Clark," he said, speaking slowly and carefully, as if to someone very stupid, "Didn't you know what that guy was after, man?"

Clark blinked and blushed and looked down at the screen. He'd just lost Mortal Kombat, again. He wasn't good at it at all, no matter what Quarter Guy had said. And he'd known, on some level, what the man wanted, but it felt good to be wanted at all, especially when no one in Smallville was ever going to see him as anything other than that nice, dorky, helpful, and, above all, nice Kent boy.

When he was fifteen, he met the strangest stranger of all.

It had all been so sudden: a hard slam -- he wasn't braced for it -- that he felt in every nerve ending, a shock shooting from his center to either end of his spine and out his limbs. He flew then, hanging in the air for endless seconds before plunging into surging black wetness. When he was able to think again, the most urgent thing was to get his hands on the one who made him feel this way. Thoughts of saving a life came later, much later: when they were finally on the riverbank, breathing hard, eyes locked, he had to wonder: What just happened? It seemed wrong to think so, but the truth was that the accident was good for him.

Sitting on a slippery rock, pretending to shiver in his wet clothes, Clark was confused by his reactions. He'd been hit by a car, shoved through a guardrail at 60 miles per hour, and had saved a man's life by pressing warm lips to cold. He'd come in his pants with the impact, and grew hard again when he felt cold-stiffened nipples through the shirt on the still chest. When Lex was breathing again (and he knew it was Lex, had seen pictures, read the articles and heard the rumors), he wanted to run away, pretend it had never happened, but instead he knelt in the wet gravel and let Lex hold onto his arm with a grip that would have hurt a normal person. They both panted for breath, each for their own reasons, and Lex closed his eyes.

Lex said, "I could have sworn I hit you," and Clark answered the only way that made sense:

"If you did, I'd be -- I'd be dead."

He could hear the sirens coming from a long way off. The paramedics gave him a blanket and he used it to hide while he called his father on a borrowed cell phone. Lex had scarcely seemed worse for wear once he'd been looked over and had the wound on his cheek taped up. He shed all traces of vulnerability, relaxed and curious at the center of medical and police attention. Clark listened to Lex talk to the ambulance crew, complimenting them on their quick response, asking questions about Smallville's rescue services, obliquely questioning them about funding and local politics. He looked in Clark's direction frequently, nothing blatantly odd about his gaze, but Clark felt claimed. Lex's skin was so white. Clark had never seen anyone so young without hair, and he'd never have thought it would be so beautiful. He flushed violently red whenever he tried to meet Lex's eyes, and he was relieved all out of proportion to see his father.

Jonathan brushed off the police, brushed off Lex Luthor, and hustled Clark to the truck. They didn't speak; Jonathan chewed the inside of his lip and stared stonily out the windscreen as he ground gears back to the farm. Clark's anxiety and guilt wound him tighter and tighter. He was almost afraid to speak, but he took a final deep breath and said, "Dad?"

"Clark? Yes, son?"

"I'm, um, sorry?"

Jonathan's face loosened into a fond smile. "Clark, you've got nothing to be sorry about. I'm just glad you're okay." He reached over and gave Clark's shoulder a squeeze. "You did the right thing rescuing him, and I'm proud of you. I just wish Luthor hadn't put you in that position in the first place. If he hadn't been so careless -- "

"He couldn't help it, Dad. There was this roll of baling wire..."

"He was driving too fast, Clark." Jonathan resumed chewing the inside of his lip, his face hard. "He could have killed you. The Luthor family has never been anything but trouble for this town."

Clark looked down at his hands fumbling nervously in his lap. His wet jeans were clammy on his skin. He thought of Lex's pale cheek cool and still under his hand, blue eyes flickering open, and he shuddered.

"Are you cold, son? We'll get you in a bath as soon as we get home. You know, your mother is going to be pretty upset about this." Jonathan smiled and gave Clark's shoulder another fond shake. "Brace yourself -- she's going to make a fuss, you know."

Clark smiled. Brace himself. The nose of the car slamming against his shins hadn't hurt at all. Lex's face had been so startled, and Clark had wished he could have reassured Lex that he was okay, all the way down; that he was better than okay.

Dad was still talking. "...more stop lights in town. These crazy city drivers come out here and think it's okay to drive like maniacs. Thank God he didn't hit you, son."

Clark's stomach clenched up. "Yeah. I was lucky."

Dad was right -- Mom was frantic with worry and did everything she could to make him safe after the fact: tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, leftover fried chicken, half an apple pie, and a warm bath that he didn't really want. Unlike Dad, however, she was also worried about "that poor Luthor boy," and said so as they all sat together in front of the television.

"He keeps driving like that, he'll get what he deserves," Dad said darkly from the depths of his chair.

"But, Dad, it wasn't his fault -- " Clark began, but Jonathan cut him off with a wave of his hand.

"Clark, I don't know what he said to you, but this was all his fault. Those Luthors are mighty slick talkers."

"Oh, Jonathan," Martha said, reaching a placating hand to touch her husband's arm. "It sounds like it really was an accident. That poor boy, all by himself in that big house."

"He seemed fine," Jonathan insisted. "He was all over that riverbank, glad-handing the sheriff's men. He was pretty damn pleased with himself."

Clark was compelled to defend Lex again and opened his mouth, but shut it before saying a word. It didn't matter that Dad hadn't been there; it was obvious whose version of events was going to be family gospel.

Lying in his narrow bed, listening to Mom's slow breathing and Dad's light snores, Clark went over the accident again and again. Remembering the painless impact, just pressure, followed by the bracing cold of the water, made him hard. Gasping shallowly, he slid a hand inside his sweatpants, shifting carefully between well-worn sheets to keep the creaking of the bed to a minimum. Lex had been so still, so perfectly cool and pale, it had almost seemed wrong to disturb him, but he'd had to, and not just to revive him. Something about the way Lex's blue lips had twisted under his own had seemed more like a kiss than any of the few clumsy exchanges Clark had had with the girls in his class. He came quickly, quietly, his lip held between his teeth and his breath stalled in his throat. He started to relax, but then Lex crawled out of the water and up onto the riverbank and needed saving all over again.

He'd slept pretty well, but then he spent the entire day trying to forget the previous night's confused waking dreams of cool, slippery skin, and also trying to forget that he'd been hit by a car at high speed and not only lived, but thrived. Enjoyed it.

The news was all over school and Clark was a hero. Not that it made any difference. He still felt like he'd throw up every time Lana came near, and the jocks in their letter jackets still ignored him. Actually, it was worse than before. At least then, no one had known he existed; now they were aware of him, but they still didn't care.

At lunchtime, Chloe made noises about an interview, but he managed to make his brief account sound so dull that she quickly lost interest. Pete was worse than Dad, insisting on telling the story of the Luthors ruining the Ross family for the nth time. Clark chewed his sandwich and half-listened. He was especially tired of hearing Pete's story because the sum of money offered for the creamed corn factory -- whether or not it had been a "total rip-off" as Pete claimed -- had paid for Mr. Ross to go to law school. The Rosses might no longer own the factory, but with his dad a lawyer and his mom a judge, they were still one of the wealthiest families in Smallville.

"That has nothing to do with Lex," Clark pointed out, interrupting Pete's monologue. "And it's not like getting out of the creamed corn business hurt your family any."

Pete narrowed his eyes at Clark and said, "That's not the point."

"It still has nothing to do with Lex. And what is the point, anyway?"

"The Luthors are bad news," Pete said firmly. "You're lucky he didn't hit you; he'd probably be suing you for getting blood and guts all over his car."

"Yeah, whatever." Giving up was easier than arguing. He picked up his books. "I've got to get to class."

"Later, man."

Clark walked home slowly. There had been two faint bruises on his shins in the morning, but by the time he changed into shorts for gym class, they'd disappeared. He kept remembering the acceleration, the push, the plunge, and his head felt jumbled. He wanted to see Lex again, ask him how he felt today.

He didn't understand it, couldn't stop thinking about it, and there were just no answers in his head. Wanting answers, he had resolved to tell his parents that Lex had hit him, but he was afraid. He was afraid because it was so not-normal, and he felt guilty for giving Mom and Dad so much weird stuff to deal with already. He was also worried that Dad would do something to Lex, something rash and angry. Normal people didn't live after being hit by cars moving at sixty miles per hour. Mutants might, and just because people didn't talk about the mutants in town didn't mean that everyone didn't know about them. He really, really, didn't want to have to face the uncomfortable news that he was probably -- okay, absolutely -- a mutant. Clark took a deep breath and tried to think positive. His parents would know what was going on; they'd be able to tell him everything was okay.

As it turned out, they weren't as helpful as he'd hoped.

He had two surprises when he arrived home. One was a present from Lex, a new pickup truck, which his father insisted had to be returned. The second was more personal.

Clark had always felt that his parents had a secret they were holding back, but he'd expected something different, something less than the preposterous story they told him about his birth parents.

He was devastated by the revelations about his true origins. His father had to insist that he look at the spaceship. He felt so stupid for never noticing it there, not even all that well-hidden under its tarp. He'd probably even leaned against it the few times he'd cowered there with his parents when tornadoes threatened. Toy-like yet sinister, its very existence was horrifying. He was, clearly, never, ever going to be normal

They knew nothing, his parents. Not a damn thing. He gaped at them, open-mouthed. "You don't know where I'm from? You don't know what's normal for me?"

"You're our son, Clark, and we love you."

"You don't even know what I am. I could be a...a vampire! I might grow horns. Or wings. And you just took me in?"

"Clark, you're our son."

"I'm not. I'm really not." They seemed so stupid to him right then, foolish people who would pick up and cosset a poisonous snake. He looked at his hands, his huge hands. He'd often wondered why he was so strong; it had always seemed unnecessary, overkill. When he looked at the ship, his speed seemed less like a game and more like a tactic.

Eventually, he let them hug and pet him, and told them he loved them, too, because it was the truth. Their reassurances that they were all in this together, as a family, seemed so naive -- but then again, what else could they say? His father, most un-fanciful of men, was raising a space alien to be a farmhand. His mother, apparently unfazed at finding him nearly literally under a cabbage leaf, had been cheerfully baking him cookies for a dozen years now. They were crazy people, but they loved him, and Clark really did want to believe they knew what was best -- he certainly didn't, after all. He really, really needed to believe it because he loved them, too, and there was nowhere else he could turn.

Lex in his castle, brat prince with his fencing gear and foreign cars, was also the pale boy lying on the river rocks, wet and fragile under Clark's hands. On his first visit, sullenly returning the truck, he was struck again by Lex's peculiar vibrancy. While Lex talked like someone in a book, Clark kept seeing him dead, laid out like a medieval knight carved on a tomb. When he listened to what Lex said, it confused him. He couldn't concentrate on the words. He felt hypnotized, narcotized. As Lex toweled himself off, wiping away the faintest sheen of sweat, Clark stood gaping like a bumpkin. He wished he'd touched more of the smooth skin when he'd had the chance. He wished he didn't have to give back the truck. He wished that every rumor he'd ever heard about Lex Luthor were true.

Over the next two years, Clark just assumed that Lana was The One for him. His parents liked the idea. Pete thought it was impossible, but would be impressed if Clark could pull it off. Chloe was crazed at the mere notion, which had a certain sadistic appeal of its own. And Lex, Lex wanted to help. He was fervent in his desire for Clark to be happy and, because Clark said he wanted Lana, Lex wanted him to have her.

Clark was flattered by Lex's interest in his love life, though he did think it was kind of...extreme, maybe. After all, if Pete had been as interested in Clark getting dates as Lex seemed to be, it would have seemed a little bit gay. Okay, a lot gay. But Lex liked girls! He even married one; it wasn't his fault she turned out to be a mutant. Lex was different, sure, but that was because he'd grown up all over the place. He'd been to Europe, gone to school there. Kids at those boys' schools probably did a lot of stuff that would seem queer if you didn't know the reasons behind it.

As more proof of his heterosexuality, Lex was getting married again. Helen wasn't a mutant, though she made Clark uneasy. She always seemed to be in a bad mood. She didn't love Lex the way Clark thought someone ought to, but Lex seemed reasonably satisfied. Their supposed love didn't seem big enough to Clark, not what he expected for Lex; it seemed like Lex was settling, but that didn't make sense, since Lex could have anyone he wanted. Clark couldn't imagine that there could be anyone alive who wouldn't want Lex once they got to know him.

On the eve of his seventeenth birthday, Clark spent the time from 11:53 to 1:24 kissing Lana and being kissed in return. She was so much shorter than him that it was awkward trying to kiss standing up. He stretched out in the hammock, Lana on top, and felt his body become frantically alert at the weight of her small frame wriggling against his. Her hands held onto his shoulders, occasionally slid up around the back of his neck or into his hair, but never any lower than his collarbones. For his part, he let his hands stray only as far down her back as her waist. With his hands on her sides, his right thumb brushed the side of her breast and he drew back as if burned. His heart pounded in his chest, and he felt guilty even though all they were doing was kissing, innocent teenage kissing.

Their height difference was mitigated by their horizontal position. Lana's legs spread to straddle his hips and she made a breathy, impatient sound -- a sex sound, he realized -- which she tried to hide, saying, "It's hard to get comfortable in a hammock." Her mouth was moist and hot by his ear. "I keep worrying we're going to fall out."

"Mmm," Clark replied. He shifted his hips so that his cock, trapped behind too many layers of fabric and as stiff as steel, came into contact with the still mostly-imaginary hot, juicy center of Lana's body. Lana rocked against him with another half-swallowed groan. Her soft mouth opened against his, insistent and wet. Her tongue was busy, darting between his lips, briefly tangling with his own. Her hips twisted against his and she panted into his mouth, her breath flavored like her flesh and still hot when it hit his lungs. She pressed her face into his throat and ground against him, riding him, a rough slide along his cock, and Clark realized with dull amazement that Lana was getting off and he was the reason why.

"Clark," she whispered. "Oh, Clark!" Her body shook and he thought she might be crying, but she was nothing but shy smiles when he turned her chin up to look at her face. She blushed as she asked, "Are you...I mean, did you...?"

"Oh! Yeah! I'm, uh, fine! Really!" Actually, he hadn't, and he was still hard, structurally hard, so hard it hurt, but he couldn't think of any way to make it her business without feeling completely humiliated. He felt oddly formal, compelled to reassure her and to be polite.

"Good. I'm glad." She was climbing off of him, backing out of the hammock with significantly less awkwardness than she'd shown while struggling for balance atop his body. "Well, um..." she said shyly, looking at her shoes but still smiling prettily. "It's really late. So...I should go. Happy birthday, Clark. I hope you have a great day."

"Thanks, Lana." He stood up and all the angles were wrong again. She was so small that he'd practically have to pick her up to kiss her.

She squeezed his hand, then took a step back, still smiling. "See you, Clark." She got halfway down the stairs and turned back to smile again.

"Bye," Clark said to her retreating back. He raised his hand to wave then let it drop. As soon as he heard the soft bang of the door shutting behind her, he undid his pants and took his aching cock in his hand. Lana had an orgasm. From rubbing. On him.

Lana came to see him again after Lex and Helen's rehearsal dinner. It had been a difficult evening overall, to say the least. He'd fought with Dr. Walden, and even though he hadn't hurt the man directly, he'd been left standing over a body blackened to a crisp. It was kind of traumatic, even considering his history with violent death. Besides, he didn't want Lex to marry Helen, didn't want to examine his reasons for that, and he was happy to have Lana interrupt his thoughts.

She was taller in her dressy shoes, but she was still too short to kiss standing up for very long. Thankfully, she didn't want to kiss standing up any more than he did. Lana's lust was unexpected. He'd never imagined she'd actually want sex, much less want sex with him. As much as he'd thought about Lana, wanting her in both vague and painfully specific ways, he had never really thought about her desire, or lack thereof. She was turning out to be full of surprises and secrets of her own. Clothes loosened, shoes off, they lay entwined on the couch, her hand hot against his belly. She whispered, "Can I? Clark?"

Oh, God. "Um, wow. Lana." She took it for a 'yes' and unbuckled his belt. The scrape of her sharp nails against his skin made him shiver. She touched him first through his boxers and he heard her suck in a sharp breath. "Lana? Is everything okay?"

She laughed softly. "Everything's fine." She struggled with his jeans, tugged at the waistband of his boxers. She said, "Here; I want to -- " and he got the idea, lifting his hips and pushing his clothing down, exposing his cock to the air, her scrutiny, her small, sure hands. He had his eyes closed, but he could feel her looking. "You're -- " she began. "You've got -- "

He opened his eyes. "Lana?"

"You're not circumcised," she said, blushing. Her hand hovered above his cock, which bobbed with his pulse.

"No," he agreed, reaching to pull his pants back up. "I'm, um, sorry?"

"Clark." Her hand caught his wrist. "It's okay. I've just never seen..."

"Oh." Relief washed over him. "So you don't mind?"

"No, Clark. Of course not. It's just...different. You're different." Her smile reassured him. She took hold of his cock and he groaned, arching up against her hand. So nice, really nice, just intensely good. Her fingers branded him, stripes of heat around his cock. She molded herself to his side and he felt the press of her breasts against his ribs, the prominence of her pubic bone against his hip. He let his eyes fall shut again as he reached to take her hand, show her how he'd slide the foreskin back, use it to rub against the head. She copied his movements and whispered, "You like that, don't you?" as his hips moved in time with her strokes. Her voice sounded so naughty and eager. "You're so hard, Clark."

He looked at her hand, so small, wrapped around his shaft, her manicured thumb slipping in the wetness leaking from the slit. "Jesus, Lana!" He could feel his orgasm right there, waiting, but he was afraid it wouldn't be normal and he was frightened and he didn't want to hurt her and...

"Clark," she whispered. "Are you going to -- ?" He whimpered and she sped up her movements. "Oh, that's right..."

He came, biting his lip and trying to be quiet just out of habit. All the tension left his body. Lana was petting his softening cock, kissing the side of his neck. He pulled her close, his arm looped behind her back. He drifted in a pleasant, slightly embarrassed haze, gradually becoming aware that she was shifting against him, her bare leg thrown over his thigh, her dress pulled up around her waist. Semen grew clammy on his skin and he wiped at it with his shirttail, hoping he hadn't gotten any on her.

Her lips brushed the skin of his throat. "Do you want to touch me, Clark?" She sounded both teasing and unsure.

He should have just done it, not waited for her to ask. "Oh, yeah. Sure." God, he was such a dork. He shifted onto his side to face her, tugging his clothing back into a semblance of order. She threw her leg over his hip and slid up close against him. He ran his hand down the back of her thigh, the hollow behind her knee, the satiny swell of her calf. With her thighs parted, he could smell her, a little salty, a little like his Mom's fresh bread. He slid his hand over the bare skin of her hip, taut and tan, and let his thumb drag at the elastic of her thin, silky panties. He let the back of his hand brush against the upper curve of her inner thigh and felt the heat emanating from her center.

"Oh, God, Clark," she murmured. "Please..."

He caressed her hip and thigh and she shifted against him, hooking her heel around the back of his calf, muscles tensing from ankle to pelvis as she moved closer to him. He let his hand slip between her legs, resting tentatively at mid-thigh, then sliding a little higher up. Impatient, she rolled her hips against his hand and his thumb caught in the split of her sex, sticky even through silk.

He was touching Lana's...touching her...Oh God. His vision went white and his cock was hard again. Lana clutched at his back, his shirt balled in her fist. She whimpered and ground against his hand, so much stronger than she looked. "God, Clark! Clark!"

It worked out all right, but everything he did that she liked was an accident. He didn't know what he was doing, what he was trying to do, what he was even looking for. He knew what was supposed to be there, hiding between her thighs, but he'd never seen even a detailed photo, only health class drawings and diagrams. He was trying to learn it by feel alone, like a blind man, and she was so much wetter than he'd expected, and she wasn't staying still. Hot layers, slick and delicate but fleshy, like some sort of perverse orchid. He wasn't even sure how it happened, but her panties were twisted aside and he had two fingers held tight inside her body, his thumb tentatively stroking the hot pearl of flesh at the apex of her slippery cleft. She was kissing him in a frenzy, grinding against his hand and moaning into his mouth. "Make me come, Clark," she urged. He had no idea whether that meant he should keep doing what he was doing or try something else. She decided it for him, gripping his forearm and holding his hand where she wanted it while she moved her hips against him. She threw her head back, breath coming in low grunts as her thighs tightened around his wrist. A high, thin cry accompanied surprisingly strong contractions, her body clenching around his fingers. She whimpered, sounding almost frightened, and her movements slowed. "Clark," she murmured.

He slowly withdrew his hand and that seemed to be okay; she didn't stop him, nor did she seem offended. She curled in on herself, tucking her head down against his chest. She rubbed her face against him like a cat, slid her hand up his rib cage under his shirt. He was hard again and hoped she'd notice, but he felt shy about pointing it out, or asking her to touch him; they'd had their fair trade, perhaps. He didn't want to jinx this by being demanding.

She was flushed and beautiful, her hair in snarled loops. She kissed him and said, "I should go." One of her earrings had fallen off and he fished for it deep inside the couch while she smoothed down her skirt and put her shoes back on. They couldn't stop smiling at one another, and luckily that seemed to be enough, because Clark couldn't think of anything that he might say that would make sense.

They walked down the steps from the loft hand-in-hand. She looked nearly the same to him: lovely, hazed in pink, with big, shiny eyes, but he knew something about her now, knew that she wasn't perfect. Or, rather, she might still be perfect, but it wasn't plastic perfection like a greeting card or magazine ad. She had dimension, volume, form -- and secrets. She wasn't as he'd always expected she would be. He was still surprised that she was interested in sex, even more surprised that she'd had some experience -- more than he'd had, that was certain. He knew she could tell he'd never done any of this before, and wondered how he seemed to her now. He thought he'd have to ask, but not just yet. His hand felt waterlogged -- or, rather, his fingers did -- and separate from his body, but everything looked the same. He could still smell her scent on his skin, picking it out from the barn smells of hay and axle grease and old, sun-dried wood. Lana looked up at him, touched his face, smiled, and left the barn.

He'd really thought she was the one, and the smell of her body on his skin had him mostly convinced, but that was before Jor-El called to him. Lana had barely pulled her car around and headed down the drive when his ship lit up the night, demanding his attention.

After that, and over the next day, everything was ruined, all his relationships in shambles, everyone angry with him. Everyone, that is, except Lex. But Lex wasn't there because Helen had stolen him away. There was no one for him to turn to: Chloe was bitter, Lana was bleating uselessly about love, and his parents were unreachable in their grief. Pete didn't want him to put on the red Kryptonite ring, but he didn't have anything to offer in its place. Lex might have been able to help, but, again, Lex wasn't there.

The second time Lex died, there was no one around to breathe life into his body, no one standing by to make sure the Luthor scion would live to see another press conference, photo op, or wedding day. He woke, squinting in the bright sun, on a flat expanse of sand and stone that was sharp with broken shells and darkened by oily jetsam, pieces of his plane. He could hardly move, his mouth crusted with dried vomit, and his movements hampered by an excruciating pain in his left shoulder -- broken collarbone, most likely. He surmised he must have been lying there quite some time; his sunburned scalp had blistered and the skin cracked at his touch.

He slept again, so suddenly that later he had to admit to himself that he'd passed out. It was dark when he woke again, and he could hear the soft chug of boat motors passing at a distance, almost hidden in the slap of waves against the rocks. He opened his mouth to shout, then closed it again. Who would be out there in the dark? Better to wait for morning, when at least he'd be able to get a look at his possible rescuers. In the brief glimpses he'd had of the shore in the daylight, he'd seen concrete brick, broken and crumbling, and rusted, bent tangles of rebar. It was possible that this was a military installation of some sort, or had been.

The boats, the sound of motors. Someone would be looking for him, wouldn't they? Not his father, clearly, and certainly not Helen. She was probably already back in Metropolis letting her father, the eminent plastic surgeon, give her a new face. He'd known he was playing a game with Helen, but the extent of her betrayal did come as a shock. He didn't want to think about that just yet.

Would Lionel feel the need to check Helen's work? The possibility that some of the boats were carrying Lionel's drones loomed large in his thoughts. Although the circumstances seemed needlessly extreme, there was something exhilarating about having his suspicions proven correct. He'd been telling himself for years that his father didn't love him and now he had proof; he wasn't just making up sad-little-rich-boy stories.

Someone would miss him, wouldn't they? He wondered if Clark would look for him, if anyone even knew he was missing, if Clark would even care if he knew.

He had to get off the tide line, be under cover by the time the sun rose again. He was on his left side, unable to move his left arm. When he pushed himself up off the sand with his right arm, the grinding pain in his left shoulder made him black out. When he woke again, it was still dark, and this time he was able to stay conscious through the pain, though he did vomit weakly when he moved the arm reflexively. Once he was sitting up, it wasn't so bad. He made a loop of his belt and used it to secure his left arm against his chest.

He slept leaning against a tree, too tired to be certain that he'd be out of the sun in the morning, but beyond caring; he could simply go no farther.

He was in shade when he woke, only his bare feet exposed to a slice of intense daylight. His minor pleasure at being correct when he'd made his late-night and near-delirious guess at true north was greatly mitigated by his acute awareness of the limits of his survival skills. He could tell directions, which was about as useful as a card trick in this situation. He knew the principles of building a fire without fuel, but he'd never done it and it seemed unlikely that he'd be able to do it one-handed. He doubted anything that he could get at in the shallows was safe to eat, and with his injured arm, he couldn't swim or dive or spear a fish. And even with his years of fencing and his skill with a pool cue, he probably couldn't actually spear a fish anyway. He needed to be rescued.

It rained, which was good, because it was three days and a little more before Lex was picked up by the Cubans. He drank water from cupped leaves and dreamed of steaks and cream and good, hot coffee. The Cubans had the coffee, at least, and they were friendly toward him. After all, they expected him to be...not quite ransomed, perhaps. They did expect a donation of sorts, a reward for finding him and not spearing him like a fish. Lex was fully prepared to give it to them, but first he had to get back to the States.

He could have called his father, but that would have been suicidal. He could have called Clark, but that would have been sentimental nonsense. The list of people he might call was short, and there were reasons for avoiding each and every one of them. Except, finally, for Bruce. Bruce was no stranger to violence, after all, and he had more than enough money to make Lex's Cuban "hosts" happy.

"I thought you were dead."

"Rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated."

Bruce snorted. Lex could hear him tapping a pen against his desktop. "Where are you?"

"Havana, or nearby."

"Are you hurt?"

"Not badly. I'm tired and sore, and I want a change of clothes."

"You don't sound kidnapped, particularly."

"You're very astute, Bruce. No, I'm not kidnapped; I'm rescued."

"So much better for everyone, isn't it?" Bruce mused. "Who are you with? Do they want money?"

"They say they're fishermen, and I'm grateful enough that I'll pretend I didn't notice the decided lack of nets on their boat. As for money, yes, they want some, and I want to give it to them."

"Is there someone I should be talking to? Someone who can negotiate?"

"I'll hand you over to Mr. Costas. His English is very good."

"For the record, I'm glad you're not dead, Lex."

"Thank you, Bruce."

"You're welcome -- but you know you're going to owe me for this, don't you?"

"Technically, I believe I'll owe you everything."

"I'm not an unreasonable man. I'll let you keep what's yours; we'll fight over what's your father's when the time comes."

Lex laughed and shook his head. "I'm not sure if you're better as a friend or an enemy."

"Lucky you, with the chance to find out."

He arrived in Gotham in a Wayne Industries jet. Clearly, Bruce and Alfred had worked with what they had available: Lex deplaned in sweatpants, a voluminous cashmere crewneck, and leather slippers that bore a large W over the instep. However, there had been coffee, delicious coffee, and both brandy and scotch, as well as filet mignon.

The tint on the windows of the Wayne limousine was so dark it would have made any day look dreary.

Bruce smiled from across the passenger compartment, no teeth showing, but Lex thought he was genuinely happy nonetheless. "You're...broiled."

"Exposure does that to a person." Lex smiled back at him, imagining his teeth flashing as white as Clark's. "I don't think I can adequately communicate how much I appreciate this. You have literally saved my life."

Bruce shrugged. "Anytime."

Lex put his head back against the seat, eyes closed, and used the ride to Wayne Manor to consider his options. It was a relief to feel certain that he had any.

It had been a few years since Lex had stayed at Wayne Manor, but Alfred Pennyworth still remembered how Lex liked his coffee. His solicitous inquiries as to Master Lex's well-being began to seem a little like bragging, offering, as they did, so many opportunities for Alfred to demonstrate his perfect recall of Lex's preferences in matters of food, drink, and household arrangements.

In addition to Bruce and Alfred, there were a few other day staff -- surprisingly few, considering the size of Wayne Manor -- and a new family member, Dick Grayson, a young boy who Bruce introduced as "my ward." Small, sandy-haired, with old eyes and an apparently endless source of extremely private mirth, the child had an unnerving habit of appearing and disappearing from odd angles, at strange times. He seemed very young, and Alfred had mentioned he was small for his age, but Lex was still unnerved when he learned that Dick was fourteen -- a mere child, yet too close to Clark's age for comfort. He tried to reassure himself that his lust for Clark didn't make him a hopeless pervert, reminding himself that he'd slept with a woman for the first time when he was fourteen, but it didn't really make him feel any better.

He found himself waking at odd times, gliding through the dark hallways with a cup of lukewarm tea half-forgotten in his hand. He would see Dick sometimes, a ghost behind the draperies, but they never spoke. Late in the night, unable to sleep, he couldn't decide who he was, ghost or avenger, on either side of a death that wasn't. He never discussed these thoughts, his dissociation, with Bruce; it would not have occurred to him to do so.

Early in the morning, Lex sat in a wing chair across a desk from Bruce and discussed his future. He had the coffers of Wayne Industries at his disposal. Bruce had given him free access to funds, with the understanding that Lex would eventually pay it back once he returned to "life." It was clear that it would be necessary to let an uncomfortably large group of people know that he was still alive, and all he could do was hope he would have reinforcements in place before word inevitably got back to Lionel.

The first person Lex called was Gabe Sullivan, who was gratifyingly pleased to hear from him. The news regarding LexCorp, however, was discouraging. Back when Lucas had resurfaced, Lionel had stolen the company, albeit briefly. Unfortunately, the majority of the paperwork had been in transit at the time the plane had gone down. The ownership of the company was uncertain, and, without Lex making his return to life public, resolution of the issues would be difficult. Thankfully, Gabe understood Lex's hesitation; they would work together with LexCorp lead counsel, Frieda Donnell, to protect his interests as best they could without having to call him out of hiding.

"And please," Lex said, "Forgive me for even questioning your judgment, but no one can know I'm alive, not even your daughter. Smallville is simply too small for anything to stay secret for long."

There were a team of private detectives looking for Helen and the flight crew. Dr. Edward Bryce's clinic was under 24-hour surveillance just in case the new Mrs. Luthor showed up for a little nip and tuck. There were lawyers preparing divorce papers, should she be found alive, another group exploring a restructuring of LexCorp, and a third set trying to figure out how to best bring down his father without actually getting blood on his hands.

Another investigator was assigned to Clark. It was a late decision, perhaps unnecessary, but he didn't want to approach the Kents until he was sure his father wasn't already watching them, interfering with their lives. Interfering with Clark. He didn't doubt that by now Lionel had stripped the mansion of everything of value, including his data, including his Clarkish memorabilia. He knew his father was curious, too curious, and was already contemplating possibilities that Lex could only shudder at. While there were other purposes that the stockpile of refined meteorite might be put to, the increasing association between the rock and the Kents in Lionel's plans was disturbing. While Lex was wasting time wishing that Martha Kent could be his mother, daydreaming about Clark's weight on his mattress, Lionel had been figuring out what was special about Clark and setting about discovering ways to exploit it.

He put off calling the Kent farm, but he was sure he could trust Clark, despite everything. If he asked him, Clark wouldn't tell Lionel he was alive. He was fairly certain he could say the same of Jonathan and Martha -- less out of loyalty to him and more out of hatred of his father, perhaps -- but the results were the same. He missed Clark. He needed to talk to him, just to feel human again.

There was a memorial service held for him, and for Helen. It made him angrier than he'd anticipated to see her name carved in the black marble in proximity to his mother's. Both the Gotham Sentinel and The Daily Planet had photos of Lionel putting flowers before Lex's cenotaph, his head bowed, taken from every angle. Dominic was there at his side, of course, as well as a somber-looking Dr. Edward Bryce. Interestingly, and surprisingly, Victoria was there, acting like family, a huge black hat shading her like an umbrella. Last he'd heard, she was working on her back, a paid guest for a Saudi prince. Lionel deserved her.

Presumably for security reasons, the ceremony was a private affair, although the press had been invited. Lucas wasn't there, nor the Kents, nor Clark. None of the LexCorp personnel, not Lana nor any of the Talon staff. He reminded himself that they wouldn't have been invited, and the good folks of Smallville would never dream of crashing a funeral. There might have been friends standing outside camera range, but there was no way to know.

There was a short article in the business section of the Planet about the efforts of the LexCorp executives to prevent a takeover by LuthorCorp. Gabe Sullivan was quoted extensively, as was Ms. Donnell. It sounded as though they were doing everything they could. He had to force himself to actively not care. LexCorp wasn't the most important thing at the moment.

The angry redness over the right side of his scalp had already faded, the peeling of his skin had abated, and he was tanned gold. The freckles at the corners of his eyes were suddenly visible without a magnifying mirror, and his eyes themselves were startlingly blue against the honey of his skin. His hands and forearms and upper chest were all tan, too, but the rest of his body remained cream-pale. He'd been tanned before, of course, but not like this.

Several years ago, he'd lolled nude on the deck of a yacht in the Mediterranean, coated in sunscreen but aware that eventually the sun would win out. He'd ended up golden all over, except for his cock, which he'd protected with shed t-shirts or books laid face-down across his lap. It didn't last long, but it did leave behind the smattering of freckles that reminded him of his mother, reminded him that he was a redhead like her.

Buttoning his shirt, he was struck at the sight of brown hands buttoning white cotton over the palest of pink flesh, a turquoise vein like neon forking around the flat disc of a nipple. Watching his brown fingers move on the placket made it too easy to imagine he was being dressed by Clark.

There had been a day last summer, a hot June afternoon, and he'd had some flimsy pretext or other for stopping by the Kent farm. Clark and his father were just coming in from the fields. "Come in here where it's cool," Clark had urged, stepping into the barn. "Sorry I'm so gross." He stripped off his sweaty t-shirt and smiled shyly; he hadn't understood the reason for Lex's stare. His already gleaming skin was further bronzed by the sun, darker on his arms and neck. "Farmer tan," he'd said, pointing at the demarcation at his biceps. "One of the hazards of working outdoors."

"You could just work without a shirt," Lex had blurted. Oh, fuck. Inwardly recoiling, he waited in horror for Clark's reaction.

Clark had blinked, looking a little surprised. Then he'd smiled. "I guess I could," he agreed. "That would fix it, huh? See, that's why you're going to take over the world, Lex; you're a master of logic."

Lex had rolled his eyes, and Clark had pulled a fresh t-shirt over his head, and then they went into the house for some of Martha's lemonade. But Lex couldn't keep the memory of Clark's bare torso out of his head, nor did he particularly want to. He had already imagined licking every inch of Clark's skin a thousand times or more, but now he wondered if it would taste different, feel different, when he ran his tongue over the hazy boundary between honey and butterscotch flesh.

With a brief shake of his head, Lex brought himself back to the present, finished buttoning his shirt, and prepared for another day of attempting to save what was left of his own life.

A telephone update from Evans, the investigator tracking Clark, brought unexpected news.

"He's not there."

"What?" Lex was startled. "Where is he, then?"

"We talked to the kids you suggested. Apparently, your Mr. Kent did a runner the day you left for your honeymoon. No one has seen him since."

Lex was surprised. He was surprised to be so surprised, in fact. "Clark? Left Smallville?"

"Yep. He pulled a James Dean and left on a motorcycle just about the time your plane went down. He apparently broke some girl's heart...Oh, that would be your Lana Lang, the Talon girl."

"Yes, I know Lana." Lex was still confused. Clark. Gone. Missing. "Broke her heart..."

"That's what...let's see...Miss Sullivan said. Feisty thing, that one. Tried to hide it, but she was pretty broken up about it herself."

"Oh, I imagine she was," Lex mused. He sipped his brandy, hoping to quell the trembling of his hand. Where would Clark go?

"I had an interesting conversation with a Mr. Pete Ross...he knows something, but he isn't telling, and since I'm not law enforcement, nor am I in the habit of threatening kids..."

"That's quite all right. I understand. I don't want them threatened, believe me." He thought a bit more, sipping in silence. "I think you'd better start looking for Clark in Metropolis. Your usual fees?"

"If I'm not mistaken, you've already got Roy Thomas' team there looking for Mrs. Luthor..."

"This needs to stay separate. I don't want the investigations to cross. I am asking you to look for Clark Kent, and Clark Kent only. I don't want anyone searching for Helen or the flight crew to have anything to do with this. In fact, I don't want them to even know you're looking for him. Do you understand?"

"Certainly. And when he's located?"

"I need to know immediately."

He called the Kents once he knew Clark was missing. He hesitated, worrying that his father might have tapped their phone, but decided it was worth the risk. He could have a team protecting them within the hour, and, besides, he needed to know where Clark had gone. Martha answered; it was a relief and a pleasure to hear her voice.


"Mrs. Kent?"

She was silent for a moment. Then, uncertainly, she said, "Lex?"

"Yes, Mrs. Kent. It's me."

A relieved decrescendo of breathless laughter. "Oh, my God! You're alive! You're all right!" She moved the phone away from her mouth and called out, "Jonathan! It's Lex -- he's alive." In the background, there was a sharp, "What? Who?"

"Lex, where are you?" She was gasping as though she'd run miles to answer the phone. "Are you safe? Are you home?"

"I'm with a friend," he said, hedging. "I'm safe."

"The news -- your father. They say you're dead, Lex! Don't they know?"

"No -- and I want to keep it that way. I'm staying dead for the time being."

"But...? I don't understand."

"I'm fairly certain Helen is still alive. I think she and my father conspired to kill me."

"That's awful! Lex, are you sure?" Martha sounded worried.

"I'll be sure one way or another soon -- I've got people looking for her. But I'm also looking for Clark. I've got investigators searching Metropolis. Do you think there's anywhere else he might have gone?"

"We just don't know. Oh, Lex, we're so worried. He hasn't contacted anyone."

"I don't want my father to know I'm alive, Mrs. Kent. I think you'll understand that."

"I understand. I'm not in contact with your father any more, Lex."

"If I find Clark, I'll let you know. Will you promise to do the same for me? Will you contact me if he comes home on his own? Let me give you a number..."

"Of course. Let me get a pen, dear. And Lex? If we can do anything..."

"I know there's something strange going on, Mrs. Kent. Someday, I hope you'll trust me. I only want to help. I only want Clark to be safe." Clark had to be safe; it would be cold comfort to finally know Clark's secrets without the hope of sharing the burden and bounty of that knowledge with Clark himself.

Martha sounded slightly contrite. "We'll have to...consider things, Lex. We only want to protect Clark. We -- we'll talk. When you're home again, Lex. I promise."

Lex received two important phone calls on a Saturday morning, two months after his arrival in Gotham.

The first was Frieda Donnell and Gabe Sullivan wanting to discuss strategy. There were documents to sign, deadlines to meet. The call took an hour and two cups of coffee.

The second call was Jonathan Kent.

"Clark's come home, Lex. He wanted you to know. We...Martha and I wanted you to know, also. He'd like to see you. Anytime you want to come, Lex, you'll be welcome."

He'd been gripping the pen so hard that it leaked ink. A deep breath, then, "Thank you, Mr. Kent."

"Lex..." Jonathan hesitated.

"Yes, Mr. Kent?"

"He's had a hard time of it. He's a little scared. He wanted me to remind you of a day in the barn, with Chloe and Pete, when he was cruel to you. He's been having that same problem. He said you'd know what that meant."

"I'm sorry -- why isn't he telling me this himself?"

"He's ashamed, Lex. I don't know the specifics of whatever happened between you and Clark, but I know that he wasn't himself that day. And I know why. And I think we need to talk to you about it. I'm sorry, Lex. This should have happened before, before now."

"Mr. Kent -- "

"I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive my boy for whatever he's done, Lex. I hope you understand how much he values your friendship."

Lex swallowed, regaining composure. "I'll be there as soon as I can. I'll leave -- " He thought quickly, " -- tomorrow at the latest."

"He knows you're busy, Lex. He can wait until you get your life in order." That sounded a lot more like something Jonathan would tell Clark than something Clark would come up with on his own.

Lex was busy, probably in danger, and had things which, on the surface, seemed much more important to resolve than his friendship with a small-town teenage boy. Still...Clark.

There was no question, no contest.

Lex considered flying, but the security concerns would make it impossible to travel with complete anonymity -- it had been hard enough getting back into the United States even with Bruce's connections and the large sums that exchanged hands. Besides, the drive would give him time to think. He'd walked through the garage with Bruce, teasing him about his array of exotic "Fords" - any color, so long as it was black. He shut up when Bruce pulled the cover off the last car in the row: Aston Martin V12 Vanquish, piano-black paint and violet chrome interior.

He opened his mouth but no sound came out.

"I know," Bruce said. "Here." He tossed Lex the keys. "You'll have a nice drive, I think."

"I'll buy it from you," Lex blurted.

"Oh, no question there," Bruce agreed. "But first...sort out your problems."

Two days. He had two days to decide what to say to Clark, and then he still needed to decide what to do with Helen when he found her, when to tip his cards to his father, and whether or not he should pull Lucas out of hiding.

They'd been preparing for Lex to leave all along, and Alfred ran final errands on Saturday afternoon. Alfred brought him the clothes; he couldn't do his own shopping for obvious reasons. Dick helped choose the wardrobe; he was an observant kid and he'd done a good job. Distinct from Lex's own meticulously generic choices, his undercover persona preferred discreet labels and high-end mallwear. Alfred and Dick brought in bags and boxes from Kenneth Cole and Armani Exchange, a full set of luggage from Coach, baseball caps for all the Metropolis teams. Looking in the mirror, Lex saw a rich college boy with some mysterious illness explaining the hair loss, maybe cancer. He undressed and handed the clothes off to Alfred to be laundered.

Alfred allowed Dick to put Lex's new cards in a wallet, and it was presented with peculiar mock-solemnity. His identification gave his name as Joshua Charles Wright. Josh's wallet also contained AAA, gas and credit cards, as well as a check card for Bank of Gotham and a handful of mixed, used bills.

All of it would keep him hidden in plain sight. Although he still managed to look like a legitimate driver of the Aston Martin, the car was obviously the most expensive thing Josh Wright owned. For Lex Luthor, on the other hand, the car would be just another pretty toy.

He wanted to leave right away, but Bruce convinced him to wait for morning.

"Are the Kents trustworthy?" Bruce asked, and Lex was adamant that they were, though without much evidence to support his assertion. They'd been lying to him for years now, and there was no proof they'd stopped just because he'd returned from the dead. Idly, he imagined violent scenarios featuring poisoned pies, the barrel of a shotgun nestled against the bump on the back of his skull. It was possible, of course, that Clark wasn't even at the farm, and the Kents might be planning to use Lex as a bargaining chip to retrieve Clark from Lionel's clutches. They might perform a ritual slaughter, Lex as a blood offering to the gods, his chest split open on the blade of a plow, as a means of securing Clark's safe return. It didn't really matter, though; he was going home.

While he was on the island, he'd made promises to himself. He would get away from his father, even if it meant giving up LuthorCorp; he had his own company, he'd make his own way. He'd be really certain of his choice before he got married again. He'd get some help for his crazy brother and he'd sign the Talon over to Lana. Finally, he would tell the Kents how he felt about them, for better and for worse, because they were the only family he had. He'd tell Clark, somehow, how much he loved him, and he'd take whatever Clark would give in return. Lying on his back on a crackling mat of palm fronds, he would run through his litany until he fell asleep, determined not to focus on his duplicitous wife, his murdering father. Instead, he concentrated on Clark, the Kents, the tentative ties he'd made with Smallville as a community. He'd had everything there -- or perhaps it only seemed like everything in retrospect, when he was weak with hunger, skin raw and burnt, and his teeth clenched against the throbbing pain of his healing collarbone.

Isolated from the Gotham night by thick walls and blackout curtains, lying on crisp sheets smelling of linden flower in a climate-controlled room, Lex ran through the list again, unable to sleep. Two days, and he'd be in Smallville, standing on the Kent's porch. He'd be home.

After a few hours restless tossing, he was up with the sun. Showered and dressed, he joined Bruce at the breakfast table to gulp down a half-pot of coffee.

"Would you prefer an espresso, Master Lex?" Alfred asked, with a smile. "Fewer stops on the road?"

"Thank you, Alfred, but I'll be fine."

"You just want to get going," Bruce said, the twitch at the corner of his mouth the only indication that he found Lex ridiculous, though perhaps endearingly so. "This Smallville must be a truly remarkable town. If I were to take a trip out West, do you think I'd...hmm, how should I put it? Fall in love with the place?"

Lex merely raised an eyebrow above the rim of the cup as he sipped his coffee.

"You know there have been rumors...probably started by your father, of course, but not unconvincing. Especially for those of us who had the privilege of attending Excelsior while you were there."

"Hmm." Lex set down the cup, empty. "How exceedingly interesting, Bruce. Unfortunately, I can't stay to discuss this any further. As it happens, I have a life to get back to."

"Thanks to me," Bruce said smugly.

"Thanks to you." Alfred was holding out his jacket; he slipped his arms into the sleeves, shrugged into the shoulders, and slapped a Metropolis Sharks cap on his head.

"Master Joshua," Alfred said, pleased. "Have a safe trip."

Bruce had already turned back to his paper.

The car was loaded, the gas tank was full, and the sun was just up. A piping voice shouted, "Goodbye!" and Lex looked up to see Dick waving from what must have been an attic window, a pale, happy face amidst the gargoyles. He waved back.

The car purred awake with a turn of the key. Shifting gears, Lex turned the wheel down Wayne Manor's long drive, gliding under a black canopy of leaves to the main road.

On the telephone, Jonathan had mentioned the barn incident. Lex remembered that clearly, but he also remembered a time before when Clark, dressed in an expensive, Luthorish coat, swaggered around the library, doing his best to impress and be "cool." Despite his callow phrasing and painfully evident innocence, Clark obviously wanted to know more, experience more, and he'd come to Lex for guidance. Well, that and a car. Lex had always found Clark beautiful, but when he leaned back against the pool table, hips thrust forward, arrogant and impulsive, this startling unpredictability had seemed erotic and more than a little frightening. Lex had surprised himself by inviting Clark to come live with him in the penthouse in Metropolis. Yes, it was a tactic, a way to slow Clark down -- but he'd meant it, and it meant far too much that Clark had agreed so readily.

Clark had been high obviously, though Lex still didn't know what he'd been on. He had a hard time imagining Clark willingly ingesting drugs. Besides, he was fairly suspicious that Clark, with all of his anomalies, subtle and evident, probably wouldn't even be able to get high on the same drugs other kids might try.

Clark in the library had admired him, flirted, seemed to understand and welcome what could be between them. But the way Clark had behaved in the barn had been different -- just as unpredictable, but with a brutal edge. At first, Lex thought he was overreacting, that his pride was injured. After all, he was used to Clark being a little bit in awe of him. But that time, everything had been different, wrong. And it wasn't just his pride talking.

Clark had held Chloe against his chest, carrying her easily. When Lex interrupted them, Clark had let her slide slowly down his body, a full-length rub, until her feet hit the floor. He wasn't doing anything that any other teenage citizen of Smallville wouldn't do; it was just that Clark had never behaved this way. Casual in his body, graceful, not hiding his strength. Not hiding his desire. And when Chloe was cruel to Lex, Clark laughed. He'd known that Clark was high, but the laughter still hurt.

The arm that snaked around his shoulder and drew him close had been a surprise; that he'd been pushed away, hard, wasn't. Clark had been pressed against him full-length for a moment, and Lex had realized how strong he was, how solid and willful. For the first time, Clark frightened him, a physical challenge that he knew full well he had no ability to meet. At the time, it had been worrisome, but also exciting. Arousing. Clark could make him do things; probably the only person who could, and make him like doing them, too.

Lex imagined that Clark, Clark from the barn, translated into the streets of Metropolis. He wished he'd been there to see it.

Lex spent his first 13 years in Armitage, the stately old neighborhood named after the man who'd brought gaslight to Metropolis. The Luthor house was a 38-room Greek Revival mansion with a high wall and extensive gardens. It was a house meant for state dinners, pomp and circumstance, but so long as it had been Lillian's house, Lex had been happy there. It was only after she had died that he noticed that he could never get warm indoors, and only her suite of rooms (now off limits) received any natural light. Perhaps fortunately, he'd done the rest of his growing up in dormitories, going back to Metropolis only for the summers, and only then when Lionel deigned to bring him home.

He'd driven Clark by the house one time, and he knew Clark had been hurt that he hadn't taken him behind the edifice that most Metropolitans knew as Luthor Castle. However, Lex didn't want to go inside. Even though it was, and probably always would be, fully staffed, no one lived there. Lionel had long since moved to a gigantic modern mansion in nouveau, exclusive Lionshead. Clark pouted, arms crossed over his chest, staring out the window in stony silence.

"Clark," he'd said. "Clark, listen."


"My mother died there."

The pout disappeared. Clark's hand came to rest on his shoulder, massaging gently, sympathetically. "I'm sorry, Lex. I didn't know."

He tried to make light of it. "There's no reason you would have."

Clark's fingers, warm through his shirt. "Lex?"


"Will you show me her grave?" Clark's tone was solemn, his gaze steady. "I'd like to see that instead." If Lex were forced to pinpoint a time and place for the realization that he loved Clark, he would have to reference that conversation.

They'd had a mostly silent drive, first to the florist for white orchids, lilies of the valley, and a rose with a blush so fragile that it felt like he was offering his naked heart, especially when he had to ask Clark to hold the flowers on the way to the cemetery.

He'd never had company at his mother's grave and, before Clark, no one had ever asked to join him. He had started to shake, his vision blurring with tears, and he hated himself for letting anything Clark did carry any weight or take on any importance.

Clark had said, "This is pretty," and placed his hand flat against the black marble just above her name, leaning against the stone. "It's nice here, more like a park."

Lex struggled to swallow past the lump in his throat, and, in a normal voice, said, "Dad bought up all surrounding plots so that she'd have the quiet. She didn't suffer fools gladly." He smiled without looking at Clark. "Or their families, grieving or otherwise."

He could feel Clark's eyes on his face. Clark smiled sadly back and straightened up, leaving behind a hand-shaped ring of condensation on the marble that quickly burned off in the sun. Lex slipped the flowers into the vase by his mother's name. Clark was still and quiet, respectful, and Lex bit his lip against any show of emotion.

Back in the car, Clark said, "I'd like to hear more about her some time. You know, if you want."

Lex had leaned back against the Ferrari's seat, eyes closed, suddenly feeling so tired. "I may take you up on that, Clark. But not just yet."

Afterward, he'd wanted to make up for the cemetery, somehow, so he'd taken Clark to a nightclub. It was still light out, the doors barely open, and all they did was drink soda, but he'd still felt guilty about betraying the Kents' trust.

Alfred had been right about the coffee. A truck stop, a "travel plaza" outside of Allentown, featured a restaurant, showers, and row after row of every imaginable appliance a person might want to power via the cigarette lighter in the cab of a truck. Lex was momentarily intrigued by the idea of an in-car VCR, but the itch for a new toy passed quickly and painlessly. The available music CDs were strange compilations of the hits of yesteryear, glitzy country-pop, and "contemporary Christian." The rack of recorded books featured a CD version of *Corporate Mythology: The Authorized Biography of Lionel Luthor, CEO of LuthorCorp*. Lex had been sent a copy when the book was published; it was, unsurprisingly, a glossy fiction featuring a benevolent, philanthropic Greek god as the tycoon. History, after all, is written by the victors.

Lex was given a dirty look when he stepped over the line of colored tape on the linoleum that separated the "driver's lounge" from the rest of the store. He had to smile when he heard someone mutter, "Freak." It had been years, since Excelsior, really, since he'd heard anyone call him that.

Starbucks in cans chugged in the parking lot; Lex wiped a rivulet of cold espresso with cream from the corner of his mouth and climbed back in the car, reminding himself that every mile was another mile closer to home.

Back in the car, Lex made a few impatient passes through the dial before turning the radio off. It was all shock jocks and God talk, and there hadn't been any music he'd been willing to buy at the truck stop to fill the gap. The landscape was uninspiring. A half-hour of agitated silence and racing thoughts resulted in an unnecessary call to Gabe Sullivan which, nevertheless, lasted the better part of two hours.

Nearing Harrisburg, passing Hershey, the air smelled of chocolate. He could picture Clark -- at least the Clark he'd always known -- coming here to visit the candy factory, as excited as a child. He idly imagined doing tourist things, wholesome Middle American things, with Clark at his side, taking snapshots and buying souvenirs. Eating at chain restaurants, stopping at roadside attractions, buying matching t-shirts, then fucking each other in thin-walled motel rooms, trying to keep their laughter and their cries of pleasure low, just between the two of them...

No. No fantasies, no daydreams, no foolish hopes. Just home, back to Smallville, to see what Clark needed, and to give it if he could.

When he got into Indianapolis, he was tired, cranky, and hungry. Room service provided a mediocre meal and pay-per-view provided some uninspiring porn. He fell into a restless sleep, already driving in his dreams.

Leaving Indianapolis in the early light, Lex considered his recent romantic history, trying to pinpoint where he'd gone wrong. Before the wedding, he'd thought he'd made a good choice. Helen was very smart, very pretty, very suitable. He had definitely liked her a lot. It had been flattering that someone a little older thought he was mature enough to take seriously. His desire for her was almost...practical. It wasn't the mad, unreasonable passion he'd felt for Desiree (although that, strangely, had burned off like a fog shortly after she'd left his orbit). Nor were his feelings for Helen really comparable to the deep, unsettling affection that he felt for Clark. Because it made sense to tell himself so, he had decided that his feelings for Clark were brotherly or, alternatively, just highly inappropriate. His affection for Helen was, technically, mature. An adult choice, made while in his right mind. He had tried not think much about it because consideration of their relationship always left him feeling sapless and irritable.

He'd liked fucking her. He'd really liked it a lot, actually. She was small but curvy, stronger than she looked, fond of straddling his hips and whipping her mop of curls around like a porn star while she ground herself down on his cock. She had made little grunting noises that were sexy, that spurred him on, and she had smelled good and tasted better. And although he had rarely thought about sex with her unless she was naked in front of him, he never hesitated to take the opportunity when it was there. In retrospect, there had been no problems in that regard.

They had quite different temperaments. Helen was pragmatic, resolute, opinionated, and good at calling his bluff. She disliked philosophical discussions and always seemed annoyed by the Luthor inclination to reassign pantheistic god roles to friends and family members. He actually hadn't known much about her, in retrospect. She was intelligent and at odds with her own family; initially, this common ground had seemed more than adequate, though perhaps it really wasn't enough reason to marry someone, not even combined with athletic sex and a pretty face.

He'd trusted her, and he'd been hurt by it. Maybe it was better to know that he didn't trust someone, but to go ahead and love them anyway. He could do that with Clark; it might work.

The yellow house was vivid in the late afternoon sun. There were a few sunflowers hanging their heavy heads by the porch steps, but the first chill of fall had already stripped the green from the grass. A dry rattle of orange and red leaves blew across the gravel drive.

He'd been hearing the engine for two solid days, and his ears were ringing in the sudden silence. As he got out of the car, Jonathan and Martha came out of the house to stand on the porch.

"Lex," Martha said, reaching out to bring him in close, then hugging him tight. He closed his eyes and hugged back; when he opened them, Jonathan was regarding him fondly; it was disconcerting, but pleasantly so.

Jonathan said, "Lex, son," and held out his hand. Lex took the hand and was then drawn into an embrace that was punctuated with a few manly claps on the back.

"You look well," Martha said, "but tired. Are you hungry? I've got macaroni salad, and pie, and -- "

"Is Clark here?" He'd expected to see Clark right away, wanted it. "Thank you, but I just want to see Clark."

The Kents exchanged a look, then Martha explained, "He doesn't feel comfortable in the house just yet...he's in the barn, Lex. He's been waiting for you. Maybe later you can get him to eat something."

"You go on," Jonathan added.

His shoes crunched on the gravel. His senses felt heightened, his vision clear and crisp. Dust flares marked the lower curve of the Aston's body panels, pale-gray against the shiny black. He looked down, and his shiny shoes were marked the same. There were so many birds, so many songs, and the breeze made the leaves on the trees whir like rotors. Clark was waiting for him, in the barn. Clark had been waiting for him for two and a half days, not speaking to anyone, barely eating; just waiting. It didn't matter that there were no windows facing the drive; he could feel Clark's eyes on him just the same.

Climbing the steps to the loft, he found himself consciously trying to control his breathing, slow his pounding heart. It was just Clark, maybe a little less naive, but still Clark.

Clark sat hunched on a chair, curled in on himself. The sun touched the knobs of his spine visible through the flannel shirt, the too-long curls at the nape of his neck, but all else was in shadow.

"Clark." His voice creaked like a hinge. His hands shook, so he shoved them in his pockets. His shoes echoed against wood.

"Lex." The voice was tired, more tired than he'd ever heard Clark before, but relieved, too. He looked up, smiling but fragile. He was beautiful, more beautiful than Lex had remembered. "I'm glad you're here. Glad you're alive."

"What's going on, Clark?" He moved closer, intending to kneel down beside the boy, but something in Clark's eyes made him stop.

"Don't be too nice to me, okay?" Clark looked near tears. "I'm going to ask you for your help, and I won't blame you if you don't want to give it...I've done some -- " and here Clark gasped, a panicked sob, "I've done some bad things."

"It's okay," Lex said, knowing that whatever Clark had done, he'd be all right with it. "It doesn't matter. It's going to be all right, Clark. I'm going to do everything I can to help you."

With a crooked smile, Clark said, "You always do."

It sounded foolishly ardent, but also true: "I always will."

Still seated, Clark said, "I missed you, Lex," and reached for him, pulling him into a hard, clumsy hug. Lex, kneeling awkwardly, turned his face against Clark's unruly curls and breathed him in.

"I missed you, too." He tentatively slid his arms around Clark's back. "But we're here now. So why don't you tell me what's going on?"

Jor-El stopped talking at Clark a few miles outside of Smallville. Blah, blah, you-will-obey-me, etc. There was a whine, a high hum in his head, just like he'd had before, but no headache -- the red stone seemed to neutralize the pain. Without the headaches forcing his attention, Clark was able to ignore Jor-El almost entirely. Jor-El finally shut up following a particularly dire round of warnings about his future and his destiny. Yeah, whatever. Fuck you, Dad.

The ride cleared his head, or perhaps it just gave him conviction. He would never go back to Smallville, that was obvious. Smallville was a hick town full of small-minded cock-teases and chicken shits; a bunch of people who wanted to keep him, specifically, down. His parents obviously wouldn't want him around any more. There wasn't anything or anyone there for him any more. Well, except for Lex, but Lex was gone, married to that bitch Helen. He'd kept his doubts about Helen quiet; Lex had never listened before when Clark had warned him about unsuitable women. He'd thought that maybe this time Lex would figure out for himself that she wasn't trustworthy. Unfortunately, that had never happened. Instead, Lex moved her into the mansion and his own parents had actually given her his blood. Suddenly, Helen knew all of Lex's secrets and too many of Clark's, and Lex seemed a million miles away.

How could Lex marry her? Clark hadn't thought he'd really go through with it. Who gets married twice in a year? Why was Lex so desperate? Clark had been sure -- he'd hoped, really hoped -- that something would happen to stop the ceremony, but while he stood in the corridor of the hospital waiting for news about Mom, he'd overheard the nurses discussing the wedding and how lucky Helen was. It always seemed final when Lex found someone, but this time it was worse, somehow. Before, something had always happened to bring Lex back to Clark, needing Clark, but now...Fuck it. Fuck Lex. Lex had abandoned him, left him to be with Helen, which was the most wrong thing yet. At least with Desiree Atkins, Lex had stayed in town. He hadn't gone traipsing halfway around the world so that Clark couldn't keep an eye on him, make sure he was safe. Well, if he didn't want Clark's help, then he wouldn't have it.

And Lana...fuck her, too. Timid, small-town princess, afraid of her own shadow. He'd asked her to come with him, and it wasn't like it had to be forever, but she wouldn't leave for even a day, unable to live without the headstones, courtship landmarks, and parking-metered ground zero of her parents' brief lives. He'd left her crying in his parents' drive. She was ugly when she cried; he should have told her so.

He hadn't thought much about what he'd do when he got there, but once he'd hit Metropolis city limits, he tried to formulate a plan. He didn't want to admit to himself how poorly prepared he was to spend even an evening away from his parents' home, but he was in a city he didn't really know, with a mere $47 and some change to his name. He shrugged it off; he'd figure out something. No more planning every damn minute, being so careful all the time.

He drove aimlessly for awhile, somewhat disappointed he didn't draw more attention. To all these city people, he was just a boy on a motorcycle, not some impressive hoodlum. Well, little did they know.

He rode slowly through the city, through the familiar downtown blocks by the museum, the grand Metro Mall, the Daily Planet building and the LuthorCorp Tower. The bike messengers gathered in groups by the fountains at the base of the Luthor building, smoking and ignoring the snap and hiss of dispatch calls over their radios. From the LuthorCorp Tower, Clark turned down Fountain Street, following it to the entrance to Hoyt Park. The park was full of people enjoying the sun: business people with their sleeves rolled up eating take-out on benches, little kids on the teeter-totter watched by nannies, and groups of teenagers lounging and smoking by the sundial. Clark thought briefly of stopping and joining them, but he didn't want to bother with a bunch of children. Timid, boring children like he'd left behind in Smallville. He knew they were watching as he rolled by, so he arranged his face into a mask of coolness and disdain.

Two girls, a blonde and a brunette, in skimpy tank tops and low-slung jeans, walked ahead of him, moving along the path toward the park's central fountain. They turned at the sound of the motorcycle's engine (he may have revved it a little) and Clark smirked at them. The blonde whipped her head back around, her hair moving in a shining arc, to show him she wasn't that easy. The brunette, however, smiled at him. He could see her nipples through her shirt, a tight, pink cotton that reminded him of Lana.

He pulled up alongside, the bike idling. "Hey."

The blonde turned to scowl at him, then turned her back again. Brunette, however, smiled again and said, "Hi." She put a hand on her friend's elbow, and the blonde reluctantly stopped, slowly turning to face Clark.

"Hi." Now that he had their attention, Clark realized he didn't know what to say. Usually, he didn't just start talking to girls; he had no lines to fall back on. Luckily, the girls were more experienced.

"I'm Kimber," the brunette said, "and this is Paula."

Clark held his hand out and said, "I'm Kal." Kimber put her hand in his and he held onto it a little longer than necessary, which she seemed to like. Then he said, "Hi, Paula," and held out his hand to the blonde. She looked his hand for a long moment, then extended her own slowly, as though doing him an immense favor. It kind of pissed him off. Once Clark had her hand in his, he said, "So what's your problem, Paula?" She tried to jerk away, but Clark held her fast. "You're a real bitch, aren't you?"

"Hey!" Kimber cried, startled. She took a step back, away from Clark.

"Let go of me," Paula said between clenched teeth.

"I'm just trying to be friendly, Paula."

"Let go of her!" Kimber was panicky, on the verge of screaming. Clark let go of Paula's hand, raising both of his own in a gesture of blamelessness and defeat.

"Hey, I'm sorry. Really, Paula; I'm sorry you're such a bitch." Paula stared at him and said nothing.

"Get away from us!" Kimber hissed. "Asshole!"

"Cunt. Fucking cunts." Clark gunned the engine and pulled away from the curb. He was clear of Hoyt Park in seconds, still laughing to himself about the look on Paula's face. Bitch. She was totally a bitch and he'd called her on it.

He took Hoyt Street through the business district, a left turn on Francis, a right on Mercer, and realized he'd been here before, once, with Lex. The neon sign, unlit, was different in the daylight, but the building on the corner was the club, Rabelais, where he and Lex had gone. It hadn't been much of an experience: it had been early in the evening, and Lex had ordered them both sodas, saying that bringing Clark to a nightclub, even for a cola, was a lapse in judgment, and he urged Clark to drink up. There had been a few people listlessly drifting across the dance floor to a taped mix; there wasn't even a DJ in the booth. When Clark had protested, Lex had frowned, lips pressed tight, and got an I'm-the-adult-here look on his face. "I'm sorry, but your parents would kill me if they knew, Clark. I shouldn't have brought you." He'd been right, of course, and Clark had reluctantly trailed after him, out double doors and into incongruous sunlight.

Well, there was no Lex here to treat him like a child. Clark would come back to Rabelais on his own. And while he was at it, he'd visit the rest of the clubs in the city. Quickly, he made a plan in his head:

  1. Go to nightclubs.
  2. Drink alcohol.
  3. Meet women.
  4. Have sex.
  5. Lather, rinse, repeat.

He wasn't going to be able to go to any of the cool downtown nightclubs, at least not tonight, not with basically no money. Those cokes that Lex bought for them at Rabelais had been five dollars apiece. He remembered hearing some of the football team talking about getting into bars on the infamous strip on Decatur Road without ID -- even wearing their high school letterman jackets. Obviously, that would be the place to start. He turned the bike away from downtown and toward the warehouses and cheap motels of the outskirts. It would do for now; he'd be back to conquer the bright city once he'd gotten the lay of the land.

At the third bar he tried, the Rocket Launch, they didn't want to check his ID. The place was a dive, knotty pine and beer signs and a floor littered with discarded pull tabs. The men around the pool tables hadn't nearly the moves Lex had; in fact, after his years of playing with Lex, he could probably beat them all. Clark had a beer, then another, then a third as he watched a couple of women in tight jeans dance together near the jukebox. When he went to the men's room, he was surprised outside the door by a very drunken woman, almost pretty, who fell against him, groping and giggling, and followed him inside. Her boyfriend, who joined them moments later, wasn't pleased at all, and threw Clark across the bathroom to land with his hand in a urinal. Clark retaliated with a fist to the guy's jaw that sent him flying, out cold with his head nestled against the underside of a toilet bowl, face down in piss and grit. The girlfriend ran screaming. The guy's wallet lay a good two feet from his body, attached to his belt loop with a long chain. Clark flipped it open: $146. That was Duane Lee Martin.

The Coral Cove Motor Court, just down Decatur Road from the strip of sleazy bars, charged a "Low Weekly Rate!" of $150. Clark paid for the week in full. The proprietress, a Mrs. Krishnamurti in a red-and-gold sari, said, "No noise," and handed him a key hanging from a faded orange plastic diamond with a twisted length of wire. "This is a family place."

The Coral Cove was a dump, of course, and Clark had no illusions about that. He had a passkey and he could have used Lex's penthouse, but he couldn't stand the thought of being immersed in Lex's stuff, the smell of Lex's life, without Lex there. He also dreaded the thought of finding something of Helen's -- of any woman's really -- in a closet or drawer. He couldn't think of Lex without seething, wanting to break things. He toyed with the idea of going to the penthouse specifically to destroy its contents but kept putting it off.

His new home consisted of a combined living/bedroom with a double bed, a sagging couch and armchair, a variety of small, battered tables, and a tiny kitchenette with a bizarre dual appliance -- a combined refrigerator and stovetop -- that did a poor job of either heating or cooling food. The black and white TV (the first that Clark had ever seen) gave a ghosted, snowy picture, and Clark gave up on it after just a few minutes.

Clark wanted a shower. The seat of his jeans was still wet from falling on the filthy tile of the bar's bathroom and he could practically feel the germs crawling on his skin. Shedding his clothes, he'd almost forgotten about the mark Jor-El had made on him, but there it was, stark and ugly under the fluorescent light. He stepped into the shower and pulled the curtain, and the bathroom filled up with steam as hot needles of water stung the raw flesh of his chest. Thickened scar tissue underlined his collarbones and outlined a truncated diamond, lines arcing from either side of his torso to meet a few fingerbreadths above his navel. With a tentative finger, he traced the path of the sinuous burn that curled within the border of the diamond in the shape of a figure-eight. The motel soap, gritty and redolent of chemical flowers, was harsh against his tender skin. The pain was startling, unfamiliar; he wasn't entirely sure he disliked it.

The swelling had gone down, flattening the ropy texture of the wound, and the redness had already lessened, though the heat of the water made it glow anew, seething with blood just under the surface. He'd probably heal, eventually and entirely, but maybe he'd have a scar.

He'd never asked Lex how he got the scar on his lip, whether it was from a fight or a fall, and he'd wondered but never asked if it was dead to the touch or, instead, alive with neural misfires. The friends he'd grown up with had scars beneath their clothing, only visible in bathing suits or in the locker room, and he knew the circumstances of each violent breach of flesh. Pete, Chloe and Lana had all, at one time or another, twisted before him, exposing some part usually kept hidden in order to show him vulnerabilities now girded with thicker skin.

Over the years, he'd run his fingertips over healed wounds, felt the differences between scar tissue and undamaged skin. He had been fascinated by the line of Pete's appendectomy incision when they were just little boys, and he'd liked to touch the dish-shaped scar on his mother's upper arm, souvenir of a smallpox vaccination. Chloe had a scar on the inside of her lower lip, the result of flying over the handlebars of her bike the first time she rode without training wheels; she'd turned her lip inside out to show him.

Clark discovered Lana's scar as they lay together on the couch in his loft, a pale ripple in the silken flesh of her thigh. Her horse had startled and thrown her in the woods, and she'd landed on a broken branch sustaining a deep and ominously bloodless puncture. Unable to walk more than a lurching step or two, she'd still managed to calm and catch the horse, and she'd been proud of herself for making it back to the barn without help.

He ran his fingertips over the faint pucker and asked, "What does it feel like?"

Lana said, "Sometimes it's kind of tingly, like pins and needles," and kissed him.

Lex's scar was on the outside, always visible. Perhaps that was why he never felt the need to explain it.

Clark hadn't slept anywhere but his own bedroom in years. The light from the corner pole came in through the bent blinds; he put his t-shirt over his face to block it out. The mattress had unfamiliar lumps, and the sheets, although clean, smelled of a strong detergent. He'd never spent the night in Metropolis before and he hadn't expected it to be so loud, always awake and making noise. Engines and brakes, shouting, distant sirens and the throb of basslines from passing cars kept him awake and restless. He heard voices in the courtyard, and low laughter, and got out of bed to peer through the blinds at a couple leaning against the wall beside their door, drunk and horny, kissing with a hunger that made him ache. That was what he'd come to Metropolis for, among other things. The aching didn't stop even when he realized that the pair were both men.

A loud thump against the wall shared with the unit next door made him jump, and his shoulder jolted the blinds, which banged against the window glass with a clatter. Heads turned at the sound and Clark was caught looking. Embarrassed, he slunk back to bed, hearing their laughter, and the soft thunk of their door shutting behind them.

The residents of the Coral Cove seemed to be a secretive lot, quiet during the day and active at night, like vermin. They were ashen faces driving rattletrap cars, consuming frightening quantities of liquor, and facing off in the occasional late-night brawl. Clark ignored them, for the most part. He was getting used to the noise, and they didn't keep him awake.

The only people of interest were Clark's neighbors across the courtyard, Marcus and Eddie. The kissers. Young, though older than Clark, both handsome in a dirty way, and without visible means of support, they came and went at odd hours. Clark knew when they left and when they returned because he recognized the screeching brakes and faltering engine of their primer-painted Monte Carlo from blocks away. Eddie had a motorcycle that never seemed to run, but he liked to take it apart and put it back together, spreading out the parts on grease-spotted newspapers in the scrubby grass. Marcus would sit in a lawn chair, smoking, and speaking to Eddie in a taunting sing-song that Clark eventually learned was German. They had taken over the courtyard and most of the area at poolside, leaving the door to their unit open, lounging outside half-undressed, drinking Jack Daniels at all hours.

Despite their apparent lack of jobs, they always had liquor and cigarettes, and they must have paid their rent on time, because Mr. and Mrs. Krishnamurti let them stay even though they were noisy and liked to push each other into the pool. Clark took to watching them through a break in the curtains; if he sat outside on his own stoop, they'd stop whatever they were doing and just stare at him, murmuring to one another as they gestured toward him, occasionally speaking at him in low voices. They didn't fit any of the stereotypes of gay people that Clark had grown up accepting as fact. Intrigued, he just wanted to just observe them a little longer. Marcus, with his vivid blue eyes and crooked smile, reminded Clark of someone else.

He met them on his first morning at the motel. They approached him and introduced themselves as he stood at the cracked concrete lip of the leaf-strewn pool, growing ever more dubious about actually swimming in it. Clark told them his name was Kal. Marcus shook his hand, welcomed him to Metropolis.

"Where are you guys from?" Clark asked.

"Eddie's from Detroit. I came from Berlin," Marcus said. He frowned then, perhaps at some bad memory. He put a hand on Clark's arm and asked, "So, do you have a girlfriend?"

"Um, no." He looked at Marcus' hand on his forearm, then back up into his amused face. And, because he couldn't think of what else to say, he asked, "Do you?"

"No," Marcus said. "I've got Eddie."

Eddie circled Clark's bike, eyeing it appreciatively. "Indian. Very nice. What year?" he asked.

"I don't know. It was my Dad's."

"Looks like a '53," Eddie said. "Mind if I get on?"

"Sure. Go ahead."

"This is a classic," Eddie said. "It's a great bike." Something in his tone implied that it was wasted on Clark. Sitting astride, Eddie held the handlebars and said, "Marcus, get your ass over here." Marcus climbed on behind him, wrapping his arms around Eddie's waist. He leaned forward and whispered something in Eddie's ear that made him laugh.

They dismounted and Marcus stood too close to Clark as Eddie dug in his shirt pocket, pulling out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Eddie lit two cigarettes and handed one to Marcus, who pulled him close with an arm around the waist. "Come over and visit us anytime," Marcus told Clark, putting a hand on his arm and squeezing. "We are very friendly people."

After his encounter with Marcus and Eddie, Clark took inventory. He needed to go shopping, but found he had little money left. The money stolen from Duane Lee Martin went to pay for the majority of the week's rent at the motel, but he'd needed a few dollars of his own money to make up the difference, and he'd also had a few beers at the bar. Now he had only $32 and a pocket full of change. He had just the clothes he'd arrived in town wearing, and they stank of cigarette smoke. He had no clean socks, no toothbrush, nothing to eat.

He'd always felt supremely self-sufficient and unusually mature for his age. He'd been convinced that his parents weren't giving him enough credit for having common sense, but now that he was faced with a profound lack on all fronts, Clark was annoyed by the uncomfortable thought that they might have been right. As he hunched on his sagging plaid sofa, the light caught the red stone in his ring and the glimmer reminded him that he had options, unique options courtesy of his alien gifts. If Jor-El was right, the human race should revere him like a god, and gods require tribute --Lex had taught him that. In broad daylight, however, he wasn't quite sure he was prepared to demand such tribute, even if he was well within his rights to do so. Because, well, what if he got caught? His instinct for self-preservation was strong and deeply ingrained after years of living with the Kents. But why hadn't they taught him anything useful?

Restless and frustrated, Clark left his room and stalked down the street. Decatur Road appeared morbidly squalid when exposed to daylight. Bars, cheap motels, a seller of reconditioned tires, a thrift store, a diner with windows dimmed by a greasy film. This was no place for a god among men; it sucked.

He was clearly going to have to get in another fight tonight if he wanted to ever be able to buy any food or gas, so he'd have to save enough money out for at least a beer or two. Fuck. Fucking expensive city.

The thrift store provided a pack of "slightly irregular" tube socks for a couple bucks, and a green t-shirt printed with the name of some Bible camp in blurry yellow letters; he could wear the shirt inside out. When he turned over the few dollars for the items, he wanted to complain to the woman running the register about the unfairness of his situation, but she didn't look as though she'd be sympathetic. Besides, she was ugly.

Somehow, getting around the proof-of-age issue at the Rocket Launch seemed to give him a pass for all the bars along Decatur, which was lucky for Clark, as his new money-making scheme depended on people not being entirely sure they'd seen him before. His strong-arm tactics gave him a twinge of guilt from time to time, but simply twisting the red-stone ring around his finger gave him back his confidence and sense of entitlement. Still, he found himself memorizing the names from their IDs. Roscoe Edward Tanner. Philip Thomas Gretney. Brian Foxworth.

Clark enjoyed getting drunk. It was a ride at an amusement park, climbing then plummeting. He needed a lot of liquor in order to achieve a good drunk, but since he could always get more money, he didn't hesitate to buy as many drinks as he required. Interestingly, people liked to buy drinks for him and there was a boozy camaraderie he hadn't expected; of course, he destroyed that every time he stole from one of his new friends. Luckily, that conviviality was easy to find again with a new set of drinking companions at another bar, on another night.

The city was tripwired and he walked around with his cock half-hard, so overwhelmed with sexual tension that he could barely function. A dimly lit barroom full of people, the brush of shoulders and thighs against his body. He was attractive here and people responded. Women in bars touched him, leaned against him. Hands, breasts, the pressure of a cocked hip against his leg, a certain kind of smile. The touch of skin on his skin, even a hand, made his cock so hard that it hurt. There were sexual offers, so many offers that Clark found himself unable to choose and he spent his first few drunken nights in Metropolis alone in his lumpy bed, head spinning as he jacked off.

Finally, Elaine Evers, a droopy blonde with sad eyes, took him to her apartment and offered to give Clark what would have been his first blowjob, but she passed out across the end of her bed before he even got his pants down. Clark, hard and pissed off, emptied her wallet on his way out, and also snatched a china shepherdess from her bureau, thinking his mother might like it. Once on the street, however, he realized he couldn't possibly give his mother a stolen present. Besides, he might never see her or Smallville again. He threw the figure into the gutter, shattering her.

Three o'clock in the morning, and Clark heard Marcus' Monte Carlo cough to a stop in the motel parking lot. The doors opened and shut with obvious care taken to be quiet. "Don't drop them," Marcus hissed in a loud whisper. "Take fewer at a time; make more trips." Clark pulled back the curtain to see Eddie, dressed in dark clothing, trying to carry a stack of boxes. Toshiba DVD. Why would anyone need three DVD players?

"Fuck you," Eddie said at normal volume, but he set the boxes back down on the back seat of the Monte Carlo and then picked up just the top two from the stack. Clark counted eleven boxes as they carried them in from the car. It explained a lot --everything, actually: how they could fuck around all day and still pay for rent and liquor. The deeper Clark got into thievery, the more it seemed like the perfect job.

Clark discovered that Lex was missing a week after arriving in Metropolis. He woke up at noon with a throbbing skull and a dry, sticky mouth. He put on dark glasses and slouched down the street to the Sunnyside Diner to nurse his hangover. He wanted to look anywhere but outside, where solar flares arced off the rain-wet pavement, aimed straight for his eyes. Heading for a booth at the back of the restaurant, well away from the windows, he snagged a folded newspaper section off the pile at the end of the counter. He unfolded it, covering the jam-sticky laminate of the tabletop, and began to read. According to the Metro section of The Daily Planet, the search for Lex Luthor was still on.

Clark turned the page, started reading a story about the upsurge of crime in the city, and then realized what he'd read. There was a search, for Lex. Lex was missing.

"What can I get for you?" The waitress stood, hip cocked, with a pad in hand, ready to take his order.

"What's this about?" Clark demanded, stabbing at the paper with a quivering finger. He poked through the paper, felt his finger dent the tabletop, and consciously struggled to get himself under control.

"What's what?" She leaned over, close enough that Clark could smell her gum, and looked at the picture of Lex. It was the photo he'd had taken for the LexCorp stockholder's report, a dark suit and what should have been a formal pose, but instead he was laughing at something Clark had said. "Oh, him," the waitress said, straightening up. "His plane crashed. He just got married, too. Now they're trying to find the bodies."

"He's dead? They're sure?" Clark's voice went up, up, and then cracked. Lex couldn't be dead.

"Like I would know," she said with a snort. "Are you ready to order?"

Clark slumped back in the booth. "Coffee." Lex couldn't be dead. He wouldn't be dead; it wasn't the kind of thing Lex did.

"That's all?" She seemed disappointed.

Clark ignored her and she eventually shrugged and walked away. He didn't notice when she brought him the coffee, but it was there, at his elbow, when he finished reading the article for the eleventh or twelfth time. He had to hold the cup with both hands to keep it steady enough to drink from.

Lex might be dead. Clark had to keep repeating it because he kept wanting to forget. It wasn't supposed to be true.

Still reeling from the news -- or lack thereof -- about Lex, Clark set out to obliterate himself. Alcohol was a start, but he needed something more, something transformative. He desperately wanted -- needed -- to do something he hadn't done before.

Sitting in the cafe, he'd briefly considered searching for Lex, but the mere idea that he might find his friend's body, bloated and fish-bitten, bobbing along a rocky shore was too horrible. He couldn't see that, wouldn't do it. Apparently, the Coast Guard, the navies of several Caribbean nations, and a swarm of privateers were scouring the region; if Lex were alive, someone would have found him by now. Which meant that he was dead. Lex was dead.

He'd seen her before, picked her out of the crowd. Valerie seemed to be a regular at Dexter's Corner, which was only slightly less of a dive than the Rocket Launch. Clark watched her flirt with some guys in backwards ball caps who did their best to ignore her. She was a very pretty redhead with pale, freckled skin and wide blue eyes. The baseball cap guys pointedly turned their backs on her. Whatever; their loss would be Clark's gain.

Valerie allowed "Kal" to buy her sugary drinks with stupid names like Orgasm and Blowjob, and tossed her long hair like a restless filly. A short time in her company demonstrated that, while she was even prettier up close than from across a smoky bar, there was something glassy about her gaze, something disjointed in her speech. The longer they talked, the more Clark understood why she'd been rejected by the ballcap guys. However, he decided her personality didn't matter, not for what he wanted her for.

Clark leaned over and interrupted her inane chatter to ask, "Do you want to come home with me?"

"And do what?" she asked, cocking an eyebrow suggestively. Clark shrugged, and, after a pause, Valerie said, "Just let me get my stuff." She retrieved her purse and rabbit fur jacket from a table in the corner which apparently was the permanent roost for a number of bitter-eyed women in varying stages of worn-out.

Clark started the motorcycle and gestured for her to climb on. Valerie's arms slid around his waist, her small hand fisting his shirt into a whorl of wrinkles. His cock grew half-hard as he felt her thighs tense around his hips. The wind in his ears was loud enough that he didn't try to talk to her; anyway, what was there to say? All that mattered was that he wouldn't be a virgin any more.

Back at the motel, Valerie walked around his room, touching the ugly furniture, and claimed that she liked the place. She asked, "Do you have any coke?" and it took him a minute to understand she was asking about drugs, not soda, though it didn't much matter, since he didn't have either one. He dropped down on the couch and Valerie pounced, straddling his lap and sliding her tongue between his lips. Her mouth was colder than he expected. She broke the kiss to pull her dress over her head, revealing tiger-print panties and a small, firm body marred by a really ugly tattoo of Tweety Bird on her left breast and bruises in varying stages of healing dappling both thighs. She put her hand on the bulge in his jeans and squeezed, murmuring, "So, you want to fuck me?"

Despite his erection, his body's eager agreement, Clark began to wonder if he really wanted to continue even as he let her lead him the few feet to the bed, then strip off his clothing. The scar had faded even further in just the last couple of days, but it was still noticeable.

Valerie traced it with her finger. "So, is that, like, some tribal thing? That modern primitive stuff?"

"Something like that."

"Cool," she said, disinterested. She pushed him back onto the rumpled sheets, wrapped her hand around his cock and pronounced it "Nice!" and then skewered herself down its length with some effort. In the process, Clark lost any will to stop her and ask her to leave because the friction was overwhelming and insistently pleasurable. She bent to kiss him with her cold lips and he clamped his hands over her breasts. He'd felt breasts before, of course, but these ones were attached to a girl who was fucking him, so they felt sort of special. He felt a little detached from his body, from the proceedings in general; this wasn't how he'd expected it would be. Valerie was tossing her hair around, probably putting on a little bit of a show. She raised and lowered herself along his shaft, her breath coming in more and more urgent bursts, and his breath quickened along with hers. She startled him by coming with loud, deep groans, her eyes rolling back in her head until all that showed was a narrow crescent of white, her sharp nails bending back against his biceps as she spasmodically clutched at his arms. When she collapsed against his sweaty chest, her hair snarling across his face, he shuddered at the sensation of her pussy clenching around his cock, but he wasn't quite there...

"Fuck me," she demanded. "Goddamn it, fuck me!"

He rolled her over and thrust experimentally against her pelvis, suddenly aware of how small she was, and how delicate. She squirmed and moaned, hooking her ankles across the small of his back, continuing to beg him to fuck her, and his cock was still enthusiastic even though he was already wondering how he'd get rid of her when they were done. She arched up underneath him, hissing, "Jesus Christ!" and saying his name over and over, chanting, "Kal, oh my God, Kal; fuck me, fuck me!" He moved, slowly at first, then found a rhythm and pumped into her. Her squeaks and hot breath faded into the background and all he felt was wet, gripping pressure around his cock. He closed his eyes, envisioned familiar faces, and came with his face buried against her shoulder.

He rolled off onto his back and stared into the dark. Streetlights illuminated strips of ceiling between the slats of the blinds. His blood sang in his ears, so loud he could almost pretend he was alone.

"I should go," Valerie said, breaking the silence. When Clark didn't reply, she said, "But I could stay." She pressed herself along his side and reached to brush his hair back off his forehead.

Clark stopped her hand. "You should go," he agreed. "I'll call you a cab."

They dressed in silence and Clark made the call. Valerie sat on the couch with her knees together, her purse in her lap. She bit her lip and stared at the floor. Clark felt like an asshole. He was an asshole. But then again, she was a slut; she should be used to this kind of thing

He'd let her down easy. "Hey, I'm sorry, but -- "

"What, are you married or something?" Her pretty little face was pinched and shrewish.

Clark tried again, "I'm sure you're really nice, but I've got to get up early -- "

"God!" she snapped. "You can shut up any time, Kal." When he ducked his head, embarrassed to be caught in a lie, she continued, "It's not like you're the first guy who's ever fucked me and then kicked me out." She lifted her face and there were tears shining in her big, blue eyes. "What's wrong with me? Why am I not good enough?"

Clark was saved by the purr of a motor. "Cab's here." He pressed a twenty-dollar bill into her hand and ushered her out the door.

She shuffled meekly out onto the stoop, but then turned and glared at him. "You're really an asshole, you know?" she snarled. "Just because you're good-looking doesn't mean you can treat people like shit." She wadded up the twenty and threw it at him, but the slight breeze kept it from getting very far. Instead of looking at her, he stared at the crumpled bill as she stalked away. When he heard the cab door shut, he picked up the twenty and smoothed it out flat again, then put it back in his wallet.

Lloyd Pepper. Vance Small. Wayne Bishop. Afraid of being recognized, getting noticed, Clark decided to cool it for awhile.

The liquor store on Decatur cashed checks for a fee, and on payday the place was swarming with transient workers, illegals without bank accounts. There was a guy who sold crack in the alley behind the store, catering to the payday crowds, and taking him down was one of Clark's better scores, over six hundred dollars in drug money. He could feel virtuous about it, too.

His wallet fat with other people's money, Clark bought himself a new wardrobe. Leather pants; he'd always wanted leather pants. They were cool, they looked good, and girls liked them. A black shirt of some slightly iridescent fabric reminded him of Lex. The salesman at Frost's spent almost an hour helping him choose things, staying right there in the dressing room with him while he tried them on, saying he wanted to be sure Clark got a good fit. He was actually really helpful, and, in retrospect, Clark should have realized that the guy was interested a lot sooner than he did. After all, there had to be a reason that he gave Clark the employee discount.

Intending to head down to the Rocket Launch, Clark stepped out onto his tiny porch to enjoy the last of the sun. Eddie and Marcus were outside, as usual. Marcus' shirt hung open, a cigarette balanced on the corner of his lip, and a glass in hand. He raised it to Clark in a toast, with a wink.

"Kal. Good evening." He turned to Eddie then, saying, "Pretty. So ein hbscher Kerl." (1)

"You'd like some of that, wouldn't you?" Eddie bumped his shoulder hard against Marcus', nearly knocking him off the low step.

"So would you." Marcus nudged back, and Eddie grabbed him to keep from falling off the step. Marcus lifted the glass to his lips, his teeth clicking against the rim as Eddie jolted him again with a pinch to his nipple.

"Fuck you," Marcus said, laughing. It sounded less like swearing behind Marcus' heavy accent.

"You wish!" Eddie was maneuvering to get on top of Marcus, hands holding his shoulders down, bending his back over the low step.

"I will, just wait!" Then Marcus wiggled out from beneath him and stood up, reaching back down for Eddie, who slowly uncoiled from his sprawl on the step, sliding up to stand with his back against the door jamb, watching Clark the entire time. "How are you, Kal?"

"Hi." Clark couldn't help staring at Eddie's hand weighing down the waistband of Marcus' jeans, his knuckles brushing the hard, tanned planes of Marcus' belly. Marcus smirked at him and raised an eyebrow and Clark blushed furiously -- something he rarely did any more. "I'm, uh, fine." Even with the little red rock on his finger, something about these two made Clark feel hopelessly naive.

Eddie held up the bottle. "You want a drink?"

"No, thanks, I -- "

"Aw, come on, Kal. Come drink with us..." Eddie wheedled. "Make Marcus happy."

"Please?" Marcus added. "We get so lonely." The way he smiled made Clark blush harder.

"Well, okay."

Their room was laid out as a mirror image of Clark's: bed, couch, door to the bathroom, and a tiny kitchenette. However, their bed was unmade, the floor was covered in drifts of laundry, and there were dishes and empty bottles everywhere. There were stacks of boxes, too, used as impromptu tables. Marcus caught him looking and said, "You thought Germans were tidy people, yes? But I am not a good German." Eddie snickered appreciatively. He inspected a fingerprinted glass, rinsed it out, and poured an inch of whiskey.

"Here you go." Clark reached for the glass, which Eddie seemed unwilling to relinquish. He smiled and said, "Ich will dich uberall lecken," before letting Clark take the drink. (2)


"Shut up," Marcus said, laughing and jabbing Eddie with his elbow. "You're rude."

"You'd want to watch," Eddie countered. "You'd love it." Clark turned the glass to avoid the worst of the smudges on the rim and sipped his drink.

"Hush, Eddie. Be useful, why don't you? Order a pizza." Marcus gestured for Clark to sit on the couch, sprawling in the other corner at an angle, his legs spread wide. He grinned at Clark, idly stroking his own chest and sipping his drink. Clark watched Marcus' slender fingers slide over his belly, tracing the trail of hair beneath the waistband of his jeans. Marcus chuckled low in his throat. "Eddie thinks I want to seduce you, Kal."

"Uh..." Clark had no idea how to respond. "Um, really?"

"Yes, really, he does think so. He says I flirt with you." From across the room, Eddie snorted with laughter.

Clark realized he was holding his breath. He cleared his throat, deliberately relaxed back into his own corner of the couch, and said, "I think he's right."

Marcus' smile cracked through his face, brilliant and triumphant. "Ah, so you notice. Eddie, he notices!"

Eddie hung up the phone. "Dinner in 20 minutes. And of course he does. He's not blind, Marcus." He came to stand behind the arm of the couch, leaning forward to put his arms around Marcus' neck. Marcus held his cigarette for Eddie to take a drag, then tilted his face up to be kissed. Marcus' eyes fluttered closed as Eddie's mouth opened against his. Eddie's grease-stained fingers slid through Marcus' spikey black hair, pulling his head back, exposing the long line of his throat. Marcus murmured, "Are you going to finish what you've started?"

"I'll do whatever you want, idiot." Eddie stood and grinned at Clark, his lips wet with Marcus' saliva. Marcus leaned back against him, rubbing the side of his face against Eddie's hip, looking very pleased. "So, Kal. Tell me something," Eddie said, leaning closer. "Who do you like to fuck, boys or girls?"

"I -- I don't know."

"You don't know?"

"I've only had sex with a woman." Then, since what he'd done with Lana was, technically, also sex, he amended it to, "Women."

Eddie snorted. "He's practically a virgin, Marcus!"

"I heard him; I'm not deaf." Marcus lit another cigarette and blew out a cloud of smoke. He tilted his head back and looked at Clark down over the planes of his cheekbones, smirking.

"You don't like guys, Kal?"

"Never thought about it," Clark claimed, sounding so much cooler than he felt.

Marcus leaned forward, putting a hand on Clark's knee, interested. "You think it's bad? That it's wrong?"

Clark considered. "No. Just never thought about it." That was a lie, a little one.

"Girls are great," Eddie conceded, nodding. "When you want a girl, only a girl will do."

Marcus leaned back against Eddie's thigh, wrapping an arm behind his legs. Eddie shifted a little, moving the bulge of his cock closer to Marcus' ear. "In Berlin, I had a girlfriend," Marcus said. "She was a fucking bitch; she got me in so much trouble." He turned to nuzzle Eddie's cock through his jeans. "But now I prefer men. I like cock."

"I bet Kal hat einen grossen Schwanz," Eddie murmured, petting Marcus' head. (3)

"'re very bad, Eddie."

Clark was vaguely uneasy, but also turned on. He reminded himself that neither one, and not even the two together, would be able to force him to do anything, and he did want to watch, wanted to see what they'd do, how far they'd go. He'd never -- almost never -- thought about men together, had never seen another man's hard cock. Why leave home if only to pass up new experiences?

He drained the last of the whiskey in his glass. "Can I have some more?"

"You can have anything you want," Eddie promised, tilting the bottle over Clark's glass. "We'll have a party."

The pizza was nothing but a grease stain and some crumbs in a cardboard flat. A fifth and a half of whiskey had been drunk down, followed by a half-dozen bottles of beer. Eddie had flipped through a cardboard box of unopened CDs, searching for something that Clark wanted to hear, and, in a gesture clearly meant to be extravagant, had stripped the cellophane off of whatever it was they were now listening to at top volume. Clark had noticed that there were multiples of each title in the box and asked why.

"We stole them," Eddie explained.

"Don't tell him that!" Marcus chided. "We didn't steal them."

"We did," Eddie insisted. "Do you want another beer, Kal?"

Clark stepped unsteadily to the kitchenette and took a bottle, cool and dripping with condensation, from Marcus' hand. He put the bottle to his lips, tilted his head back, and took a long drink. He felt a hand on his throat, startling but not at all unpleasant, and then he was leaning back against the counter with Marcus standing close before him. Marcus put his hands flat against cabinet doors on either side of Clark's shoulders and leaned in to taste the sweat on his neck. Clark opened his mouth to ask who was making that noise, the low keening that rose and fell through the blaring of some Top 40 radio edit, but it stopped when he said, "What -- ?" and then he no longer cared about the answer because Marcus' tongue was drawing slow swirls over his pulse, silvery tracks of a snail on a broad leaf, and that wasn't a sexy image, but his cock was hard anyway.

Marcus whispered, "Take off your shirt," and Clark obliged, peeling it off and letting it fall to the dirty floor. "Mm, nice," Marcus purred, his fingertips trailing from Clark's collarbones down to the buckle of his belt.

He must have closed his eyes, because when he realized there were four hands touching him, he had to consciously decide to open them. Eddie was there, pressing against them, diverting Marcus' mouth in a wet kiss, and Clark could smell the alcohol on their lips, the chemical tang of tobacco on their mingled breath. Marcus slid an arm around Clark's waist, leaning against him as Eddie kissed him harder, a hand tight against the back of his head. Clark was unsure where he was in space, in relation to their bodies, or to the room, except for his cock hard against Marcus' hip. Eddie growled deep in his throat and Marcus' eyes flew open, looking straight into Clark's, and suddenly Clark realized who else he knew with eyes that blue.

"Stop!" Why was it so hard to say just one word? It seemed to take forever to push it out past his teeth. He must have pushed with his hands, too, because Marcus and Eddie were tangled on the floor, looking up at him in confusion.

"Okay, okay," Eddie muttered, climbing to his feet and reaching a hand down to Marcus. "We can take a hint." Marcus got to his feet stiffly, rubbing his shoulder.

"Sorry," Clark murmured, feeling the flush rise to the surface of his skin through layers of numb. "I just -- I remembered someone."

"Ah, love," Eddie drawled, looking slightly disgusted.

"No!" Clark insisted. "It's not like that. He's my friend. Was."

"Love," Marcus agreed, nodding at Eddie. "Come on, Eddie. Come lay down with me."

Clark found his open beer and staggered after them, slumping into the armchair beside the bed. Eddie stripped off his sweaty t-shirt and flopped back against the sheets. Marcus knelt above him, swaying a little. "I like an audience," he said, smiling tenderly at Eddie, then at Clark. "You can tell me if I'm doing it right, okay?"

Clark told himself he wasn't moving because his head felt so muzzy, because the world was spinning, because he still had an almost-full bottle of beer in his hand. The people fucking practically in his lap were just a bonus.

Eddie was breathing hard as Marcus licked his way down his torso, sliding his mouth past a blurry black tattoo to circle his tongue around a tight nipple. Marcus bit him then, vicious and precise, and Eddie cried out, a helpless wail. "Are you watching, Kal? Do you see how much he likes this?"

Clark swallowed hard. "Yes, I see." His cock throbbed painfully and he shifted on the chair without relief.

Eddie clamped one hand on the back of Marcus' head and fumbled at his own belt buckle with the other. "Oh, yeah, suck me. God, Marcus, just suck me."

"Shhh, baby; I'm getting there." Long strokes of Marcus' hands along Eddie's sides, then holding his wrists to the bed as Marcus licked lower and lower down his belly. Marcus turned to Clark again, his eyes bright and unfocused. "Should I suck his cock for him, Kal? He wants you want to watch me do it?"

Jesus Christ. "Yes. Yes, do it."

"Take yours out for me, then. Touch it."

Eddie said, "Do it. I want to see you come."

Clark slowly unbuttoned his jeans as Marcus finished undressing Eddie, who seemed younger without his clothing, shy and almost frightened. He even shook a little as Marcus moved over him again, kissing his throat. Their hands moved between their bodies, and Clark only caught glimpses of Eddie's cock pushing between their fingers. Clark's own cock was already almost painfully hard, the head wet and throbbing against the palm of his hand, under the slide of his thumb. His sudden intake of breath drew Marcus' eyes.

"Look, Eddie, Er ist schon," Marcus said. (4)

Eddie turned his head, saw Clark's cock in his hand, and moaned. "Oh, God, Marcus...let him fuck me; please, make him do it."

Marcus bent over him again, murmuring, "Not this time, baby. You don't need him; let me fuck you, okay?"

"Do it, then." Eddie stretched his arms overhead, arching his back. He turned to look at Clark as he said, "Suck me. Do it now." Marcus pushed himself up, arms straight, and sat back on his heels. Eddie's cock stuck up between them, thick and dark.

"You're so hard, baby. Does it hurt?" Marcus bent down, pressing a soft kiss to the tip. Eddie whimpered and his hips lifted off the bed. Clark had to squeeze the base of his own cock tight. Marcus licked around the head, smiling as Eddie writhed, then slowly sucked it into his mouth. Clark watched, breathless, as Marcus took in more and more of the shaft and Eddie cried out, gasps of fearful pleasure coming in rhythm. Clark moved his hand in cadence with the bobbing of Marcus' head.

"Move closer," Eddie pleaded. "I want to see you. I want to watch you come." Clark scooted the chair up to the side of the bed, close enough for Eddie to grasp his knee and hold on. From this new angle, he could see how Marcus' lips stretched pale around the shaft of Eddie's cock, the wet mouth sinking to meet the curls of hair at the base. Eddie squirmed, but Marcus leaned hard on his hips, holding him down, sucking with hollow cheeks and moaning encouragement. Eddie cried out and arched up off the bed for several long seconds. Clark came with Eddie's shout, his cock pulsing in his hand and spattering Eddie's fingers where they dug into Clark's thigh.

"Look what we made him do," Eddie murmured, stroking Marcus' face. Marcus smiled, first at Eddie, then at Clark, and drew Eddie's sticky hand to his mouth to lick clean. Clark groaned, shivering, suddenly longing to have those lips and tongue on his cock, not just tasting him second-hand.

Marcus sat back on his heels and shucked off his shirt. He sighed with some relief as he undid his jeans, sliding them off his hips and revealing bare skin. His cock was bigger than his boyfriend's, longer, and uncut, like Clark's. "Kal," he said, his voice low. "Get for the drawer, there's a bottle." He gestured at the table at the end of the couch, and Clark moved awkwardly, clutching his open pants to his waist, retrieving a sticky bottle of lube.

Eddie reached low, cupping Marcus' balls. "Show him. Let him see how you fuck me."

"Just wait, baby; I'm making you ready." Marcus drizzled a generous amount of lubrication on his fingers and reached down between Eddie's thighs. Clark jerked when Eddie did, realizing what Marcus was doing, where his fingers were going, wanting to know what it felt like. He felt himself begin to grow hard again.

"God, Marcus, I'm ready," Eddie insisted, twining his arms around Marcus' neck and pulling him down for a kiss. "I want you in me. Now."

"Be patient." Marcus moved his hand, his whole arm and shoulder behind it, and Eddie cried out, a wail that cracked in the center.

He turned to Clark, his eyes desperate. "You should let him fuck you. I'm serious; you should be begging him to do it."

"Shhh..." Marcus kissed Eddie on the mouth, his arm still moving, slow pistoning. He moved his mouth back and forth between Eddie's nipples, sucked a bruise into the flesh of his neck. A few more minutes of Eddie whimpering and squirming, and then Marcus said, "I think you're ready now."

"Please, Marcus." Eddie drew his knees up, his ass exposed, and Clark could see how Marcus' fingers disappeared, then withdrew, and the wet shine of lube slick on the underside of Eddie's balls and cock. Eddie's face looked pained, his eyes screwed shut, but the soft moans and pleading tone belied his pleasure. Clark's cock was back at full attention and he wanted someone else to touch it, to rub it, make him come, but it was too late to ask Marcus to do it, because he was slicking his own shaft and nudging his way into Eddie's body.

"You feel so good," Marcus said, his voice rasping against both Eddie's and Clark's nerves. "I love to fuck you." He held his cock in his fist, easing it inside Eddie's ass.

"Do it, then! Fuck me!" Eddie insisted, his heels digging into the backs of Marcus' thighs.

All right, baby, I'll fuck you." Marcus shot Clark a heated glance. "He's watching us. He's watching me fuck you."

Eddie reached overhead and held onto the headboard. "Tell me you love me," he breathed.

"Ich liebe dich, I do." Marcus rose up on his knees, his cock still deep in Eddie's ass, and hooked his arms under Eddie's bent legs, pulling him up onto his thighs. Eddie wrapped his legs around Marcus' waist, and he cried out with each thrust, his cock filling and lengthening as Marcus slid in and out of his ass. "You're beautiful like this," Marcus said, spitting in his palm and wrapping his hand around Eddie's cock. "Come for me again, baby." (5)

Clark whimpered and stroked his own hard length. The wet sounds of bodies sliding together and apart filled his ears, his brain, and he realized he could hear their hearts, and the heaving of their lungs, almost as loud as the thudding of the headboard against the wall. Eddie's back arched and he sucked in a shocked breath, then came in silent, agonized pulses as Marcus murmured tenderly in German and bent to kiss his chest, an arm tight under the small of his back. Clark bit his lip and increased the tempo of his own strokes as Eddie flung out a hand to clutch at his thigh, and Marcus surged hard forward, deeper and deeper into Eddie's body, his eyes fixed on Eddie's face. Clark had never seen anything like it, the way they looked at each other, into each other, and it seemed too raw and rare; it hurt to watch. Marcus came with a long, shuddering moan, rocking his hips hard against Eddie's ass, then bent to kiss him. Eddie's fingers dug into Clark's leg.

"Marcus," Eddie said. "Baby, look. Kal still needs to come."

Marcus lifted his wet mouth from Eddie's throat and looked at Clark's cock. With a sly smile, he said, "What should I do, Eddie?"

"Suck him. Do it for me."

"For you? Anything for you," Marcus agreed. He held a hand out and Clark took it. "Come up here, with us." Seeing the hesitation in Clark's eyes, he added, "You don't have to do anything, Susser. Just let me make you feel good." (6)

"Okay." Clark took a deep breath. "All right, then." He leaned forward, and the great, unwieldy weight of his head propelled him out of the chair, crashing down onto the mattress between Eddie and Marcus. The sheets were gritty beneath his back and everything smelled too human, dirty but sexy. Eddie molded himself to Clark's side, and Marcus stripped his jeans off of his left leg, over his boot, but couldn't get them off of the right, leaving them bunched around his ankle. He let Eddie kiss him, even though Marcus was the one he wanted, because Marcus was between his thighs, breathing him in, touching his balls, weighing the sac in his practiced hands. Clark shook, harder and harder, until a hand on his belly helped center and calm him. He sighed, relieved, into Eddie's mouth, only to start shaking again when Marcus' fingers ran down the underside of his cock.

"So beautiful," Marcus murmured. "He could have anyone he wanted, couldn't he, baby?" Eddie stopped kissing Clark long enough to nod agreement. Eddie's tongue slid back into his mouth at the same time that Marcus' lips closed around the head of his cock, and Clark arched so hard off the bed that he nearly threw them both.

"Whoa!" Marcus held his hips, coaxing him back down to the mattress. "Let me do this, beautiful."

"I want you to," Clark gasped. "I really do!"

"Then relax a little. It will be good, I promise."

"The best," Eddie whispered in his ear. "Marcus does it better than anyone."

Even though Clark had no prior experience to compare to, it was easy to believe that Marcus was especially good at this, at sucking cock, because he was seriously concerned he might die from it. Exquisite pain, feeling like he might burst or melt into the hot, wet pressure of Marcus' mouth and throat. Eddie stopped kissing him, watching Marcus work, and Clark felt their hands clasp across his body, just below the curve of his ribs. He wanted to watch, too, but worried that he'd come instantly with the visual proof that his cock was inside someone else's body.

Still, it was so incredible, and he was going to come anyway, no stopping it, so he looked down, across the planes of his own chest and trembling belly, and Marcus was looking back up at him with Lex's blue, blue eyes, and Clark felt a violent pressure unreeling from the base of his spine, timed to his heartbeat, making him cry out in abject desire. He stayed on his back, gasping, with his eyes closed, until Marcus crawled up his body. Clark said, "I...look at me," and for a moment, it was like he was kissing Lex, tasting himself in Lex's mouth. Marcus made a surprised sound, pleased, and they kissed as though they meant it until Clark passed out.

He woke in the middle of the night, disoriented by the presence of so many limbs, too many breaths. The three of them stank of sweat and alcohol and smoke. Clark's pants were still bunched around his right boot, he still wore the left, and there was a cock half-hard against his bare ass. He was holding Marcus, clutching him against his chest, and he'd never slept with anyone before, in any sense, at least not since he was a little boy.

"Shh..." Marcus murmured. "Sleep, Kal." He reached back blindly, petting Clark's head.

Eddie wriggled closer behind and kissed the back of his neck. "Stay here," he urged. "Make Marcus happy."

But Clark had had enough of making Marcus happy; he was, in fact, freaking out. "I've got to go," he said. "I can't stay here." He disentangled himself and tried not to shake. When he sat upright, his head sloshed like a water balloon. Biting his lip against the nausea, he sat on the edge of the bed, struggling to get his jeans back on over his shoe.

"Oh, Kal," Marcus said, sounding sad, "Don't go. We'll all go to breakfast tomorrow and it will be all right."

"I need to get some sleep," Clark said, not at all convinced he sounded truthful enough, or casual enough, or detached enough to be believable. "Really, I've got stuff to do."

"Breakfast," Marcus murmured, flinging out a hand but missing. "Later."

"I've got to go." Clark found his t-shirt and pulled it over his head.

"Stay, Kal." Eddie reached out blindly, a hand slithering along Clark's slide.

"Fuck!" Clark slapped Eddie's hand away, and repeated, "I've got to go."

"Don't freak out," Marcus said.

"Too late," Eddie murmured, reaching for Marcus. "He's already freaked, baby." He seemed profoundly unconcerned, which calmed Clark a little. He stood, swaying, then overcorrected and sat down hard again on the bed.

"Easy," Marcus said. "Take your time."

Clark stood again, slowly, and staggered across the littered floor, taking care to keep his head balanced atop his shoulders. He opened the door and turned back to see Marcus watching him go, the amusement in his eyes underscored by a too-familiar smirk. He resisted the urge to go back and punch Marcus in his smug, superior face. Asshole.

Clark drank what seemed like a gallon of water to try to mitigate the worst of the inevitable hangover, then tried to sleep, but he kept picturing Lex's smooth head bobbing in his lap instead of Marcus' spiky black hair. He finally slept, but woke late and unrested, to the sound of a knock on the door. Quickly scanning, he saw Eddie's skeleton slouching on the stoop and froze, not even breathing, until Eddie shrugged and walked away. He said, "He's not there, Marcus."

"He's hiding," Marcus said disdainfully. He waited for them leave -- car doors slamming, the distinctive rattle of their car's engine -- before he was willing to breathe again, and relax.

Well, hell. He'd let a guy blow him; he'd watched two guys fuck (and the memory made his cock twitch). He had been very drunk. Teenagers were supposed to try new things, experiment. The fact that Marcus looked a little bit like Lex meant nothing, had nothing to do with it. It was too much whiskey, first and foremost, and an innocent crush on a dead guy barely factored in.

Later that evening, Clark found himself standing, knuckles bloody, over the whimpering form of the man who'd rudely shoved him and called him a "faggot." Maybe he was just a little sensitive about the issue.

After three days of avoiding the courtyard and his neighbors, Clark finally decided to just act casual, pretend he wasn't confused and pissed off and horny and missing Lex and Smallville and his parents and Lana. Marcus and Eddie were slouched on their front step, smoking and squinting at him through the last of the sun.

"Kal." Eddie gave him a nod.

"We've missed you," Marcus drawled. "We haven't seen you around."

Clark shrugged, outwardly cool, and said, "I've been busy." He shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels, wracking his brain for something to say.

Marcus exhaled a blue cloud of smoke, aiming it for Clark's face. "We're leaving tomorrow," Marcus said, offhand. "We're bored, so we're going to Gotham."

"Leaving? So soon?"

Marcus shrugged, blew more smoke.

"Want a DVD player?" Eddie asked. "Or some CDs? A cell phone?"

", thanks."

"You're sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure." Suddenly, Clark didn't want them to go. "Hey, maybe we could go get a beer or something?" Neither looked interested. Marcus, in fact, was gazing off into the distance, apparently bored. Annoyed, Clark, shifted to stand in Marcus' line of sight. "Or maybe we stay here. We could go inside, and, um --"

"And what?" Marcus smirked; slow, lazy blink. "You want to fuck?" Marcus reached to push Eddie's hair out of his eyes. "I don't think so...what do you think, baby?"

"Hmm?" Eddie closed his eyes, enjoyed Marcus' touch. "No. We should pack."

Clark couldn't believe it. They were turning him down. Belligerently, he snarled, "You're kidding, right?"

Marcus gave him a long, measured stare. "You are very pretty, Kal, but also rude. You hid from us." He sneered. "We don't have time for games." Eddie nodded agreement, leaning against Marcus' side and looking maddeningly content.

With a flash of irritation, Clark realized that he could make them, force them to do it. He could. He could keep them here and not let them go until he'd had them both, made them sorry they'd defied him. Marcus would beg; beg for more, beg for mercy --just beg.

"What?" Marcus demanded, snapping Clark out of his violent reverie. "What else?"

"Nothing. Asshole." Fuming, Clark turned on his heel and stalked across the courtyard to his own room.

They were gone by morning. They left Eddie's motorcycle behind, greasy chunks of metal on yellowing sheets of newsprint.

Clark was tired of being jostled by humans, surrounded by their dirt, their squalid little nests. He was better than them. He reminded himself that they were like grubs, soft and wet, easily squashed. He sat at the bar and, as he got drunker and drunker, imagined the things he could do to them, or the things he could make them do. If Jor-El had been right, he was going to rule the world -- and whether or not he wanted to admit it, Jor-El had been correct in his predictions thus far. After all, Clark's life was shit, and everyone he'd ever loved now either hated him or was dead. Shaking off the thought, Clark set his shot glass down on the bar with a bang. When the bartender turned his head, Clark nodded, got a nod in return, followed by another shot of tequila on the bar in front of him.

In the weeks since Marcus and Eddie disappeared, Clark had settled into a routine, making the rounds each night. Much to his amusement, Clark had found that he didn't have to hurt or bully most people to get their money. All he had to do was passively follow them to a back room, a stall in the men's room, or out the service door and into the alley, and let them suck his cock. When they were finished, he'd back them into the brickwork, loom over them, and demand their money. Always, they'd give it to him. Sometimes with tears, often with anger, but mostly with resignation.

The people who wanted to blow him had overly-complicated emotions surrounding the act. Most were guilty, even without any particular reason to be. They were desperate, too grateful for what he would let them have. Furtive and demoralized, they would drop to their knees and suck while he petted their heads. He couldn't know for certain, of course, but for some, losing their wallets just seemed to prove something essential and satisfyingly painful about their own natures.

He rotated through the bars along the strip, moving on after he'd robbed a patron, but frequently he'd see his former victims in the next club, and they'd see him, too. Usually, they simply left; no one ever called the police or caused any commotion. They just stared at him, looking guilty.

He was startled when he was approached again by Victor Perdue, a guy his Dad's age, who said, "If you want the money, just say so up front. Tell me how much it costs."

"I'm not a whore," Clark said, sneering, though the assertion didn't bear close scrutiny.

"You'd rather be a thief?" Victor sounded surprised. "Fine," he said. "Why don't you steal, say, fifty dollars from me, and I'll suck you off?"

Clark shrugged, drained his glass and stood. "Come on, then." Victor got dirt on the knees of his slacks. Clark got the fifty, and then he took the seven dollars that remained in Victor's wallet, just to show he was in charge.

But sometimes Clark liked to fight, liked to watch the weak little men posture and strut. The things they said made him laugh:

"I'm a kickboxer!"
"I'm a black-belt!"
"Say hello to ______ " (name of weapon, usually a knife)

And when he subsequently trounced his opponent, he loved to see the surprise on their faces. It was the thing that made him happiest.

It took no effort to beat them, none at all. He sometimes put on a show, pretending to crumple under punches that were nothing but a touch, a vague pressure. Other times -- and only when he was too drunk to think better of it -- he'd stand still and exposed and let them come at him with fists, with knives, even a gun once, only to laugh as they broke their knuckles on his chest, shattered the blades of their knives against his skin, or stood wide-eyed and confused as the flattened slugs of bullets fell harmlessly to the ground. And then he knocked them down like pins.

Clark didn't want to tell Lex about his brief friendship with Marcus and Eddie, and decided he needn't tell, at least not yet. After all, he hadn't taken money from either of them -- they'd had none to take.

After a couple of months on the Decatur strip, Clark decided to try the clubs downtown. It was probably time that he -- as Dad would put it -- stopped shitting in his own nest, anyway. He was well-known on Decatur as a troublemaker, and he was already banned from the Rocket Launch. It didn't matter; the people downtown had more money, anyway, and could probably spare it more easily.

He started at Rabelais because that was the club Lex had taken him to, and so it seemed a little familiar. He hadn't been consciously looking for Lex, but he found him, in a sense. The boy stood out from the crowd: white skin, blue eyes, scalp shaved bald. He wore black leather and a belt heavy with metal studs. He leaned back against the bar, smoking and looking surly and beautiful. Clark imagined Lex had looked like that during his mysterious wild years.

Clark didn't have a plan; he just wanted. But as it turned out, it had been easy to get close to Paul; Clark just walked up and smiled and Paul did all the work. They made small talk and Paul bought him a beer. They drank in silence, eyeing each other, then Paul said, "Come on," and headed into the depths of the club, confident that Clark would follow. He stopped abruptly and turned around so that Clark walked right into him. Paul pulled him down onto a couch and they kissed, a few awkward nuzzlings before they found a rhythm. Paul stretched on top of him, his mouth tasting of cigarettes and vodka. He could feel Paul's cock hard alongside his own. They ground against one another, their leather pants creaking with the pressure. Finally, Paul stood, took his hand, and led him through a door marked "Staff Only." They passed through a dim corridor that lead past office doors and exited into a courtyard. There were others in the shadows, hunched bodies moving together between the trash cans. Paul didn't look much like Lex at all in the moonlight, but he was eager and pliant.

"Please," he said between kisses. "Please." He had Clark's pants undone, a hand on his cock.

"Please what?" Clark could barely breathe.

"Fuck me," Paul whispered, his breath hot in Clark's ear.


"Yeah, here. Come on." Paul's hand was holding him, tugging.

Clark thought about it briefly. His thoughts were jumbled by alcohol and memory. "No, I can't."

A firm squeeze, and the voice hot again in Clark's ear: "Oh, I think you can."

Clark pulled away. With a warning tone, he said, "I won't."

Belligerently, Paul demanded, "Why not? You know you want to."

"I don't want to." Clark grabbed Paul's wrists, stopping his hands.

Paul made a sour face. "Ah. You've got a boyfriend, right? It's not cheating if you don't fuck." He shrugged. "Fine, whatever. What do you want to do?"

Tentatively, Clark stroked the boy's erection through his jeans. "Are you, um, shaved everywhere?"

"Better," Paul said smugly. He tilted his hips into Clark's touch. "Waxed."

That settled it. Clark gave his first blowjob on his knees behind a dumpster, thinking of Lex, moaning and stroking himself while licking a stranger's hairless balls.

Clark woke up naked, staring at an unfamiliar ceiling. His head hurt, and the light stabbed his eyes like knives.

"Oh, hey. You're awake." Clark rolled over slowly to see Paul standing in the doorway of what must be his bedroom, dressed in a thin robe. "It's Kal, right?"

"Yeah. Hi."

"I'm Paul."

"I know."

"Oh, good. So you remember last night, then?"

"Did we...?"

"You blew me at the club. All we did here was sleep." Paul seemed incredibly relaxed about the entire situation, which was cool. Apparently, this kind of thing was normal for some people, maybe even most people.

"Right, I remember." And he did. He remembered the way the grit on the pavement felt under his knees, the bloody smell of hot leather, and then that smell on Paul's balls, the taste of it on the slick head of his cock. He remembered how it felt to have a cock thick in his mouth, bumping against the back of his throat, flexing against his tongue. He could recall the flavor of skin, the wet-velvet texture of it, the way Paul's fingers hooked around his ears, slid through his hair, and brought him in until his nose bumped up against flat abs. He'd worked his hand hard and fast over his own cock and when Paul came in his mouth, he came, too, Lex's name distorted around the flesh in his throat.

Paul smiled. "I can see that you do." Clark followed Paul's gaze down along his body to stop at his cock tenting the sheets. Paul shrugged out of his robe, and knelt on the mattress, falling forward to bracket Clark's head with his forearms. Paul's lips and tongue were minty, freshly brushed, and Clark hesitated to kiss him, tasting his own sourness, but Paul murmured, "Don't care about your breath," and licked his lip. Paul's body blocked some of the light, which helped with the headache, and Paul's weight pressing full-length was good to move against. When a hand closed around his cock, Clark's hips came off the bed and Paul laughed and said, "You are too fucking beautiful, you know?"

Clark regarded him through slitted eyes, cocked an eyebrow, and said, "No, I didn't know." He shuddered as Paul stroked his shaft.

"Yeah, well," Paul said, sitting back on his heels. He then bent over and took the head of Clark's cock into his mouth. Seeing it done in full daylight was new; Clark came abruptly, with a whimper, all the air forced out of his chest.

Paul licked his lips. His hand trailed down Clark's hip, down the long muscles of his thigh. "Can I fuck you?"

"Um..." Clark's immediate thought was to say no. Would it hurt? Would it be gross? He recalled Eddie writhing beneath Marcus, whimpering. "I've never...well, I haven't -- "

"Okay, okay," Paul said, already moving on, "Roll on your side, then."

Clark complied, a little nervous but mostly curious. Paul couldn't make him do anything he didn't want to do, after all. Paul leaned over him, reaching for a bottle of lubricant. He slipped fingers wet with cool gel between Clark's thighs, making him hiss with surprise. "S'all right," Paul said, pressing a kiss behind Clark's ear. "It'll warm up." More slick, wet sounds and then Paul curled against him, throwing a leg over his hip. "Keep your legs together, Kal." Clark felt a push against the juncture of his thighs, a wet nudge at the back of his balls, Paul's cock sliding between his legs. Paul's breath hitched and held tight, then released in a contented sigh against the back of Clark's neck. He pulled Clark closer with an arm across his chest, rocked his hips against Clark's ass. Clark looked down and saw the tip of Paul's cock poke through beneath his own balls; with a groan, he reached back and grabbed Paul's hip, hauling him in closer. Slick, silken sensation, wet pressure like a tongue licking him from balls to ass. He moved back against Paul, moaning. Would it feel this good to be fucked? Would it feel better? He let go of Paul's ass and fisted his own cock instead. Paul's hand slipped from Clark's chest down to his hip, giving him leverage to thrust harder between Clark's thighs. He rested his forehead against the back of Clark's shoulder, panting in hot gusts, and came with a long shudder, blood-hot spurts against Clark's balls.

Clark's hand sped up; he was almost there, almost, and then he felt Paul's hand between them, Paul's finger massaging his asshole, pushing inside, and he came with a shout.

Paul petted him, easing him, kissing his ear and the side of his neck. Clark reached up and back, letting his fingers splay over the back of Paul's bare scalp, turning his head for a kiss. Paul's hand stroked his belly softly. Clark was disappearing into the kisses, slipping back to sleep, when Paul stopped. "Hey." Paul drew back, meeting his eyes. "Hey, Kal. Who's Lex? Boyfriend?"

Clark froze. Lex. "No one. Sorry."

Paul shrugged. "Just so long as he doesn't show up wanting to kick my ass..." He sat up. "I'm going to take a shower. Want to go get some breakfast?"

"Sure." Clark rolled onto his back, let a forearm shield his eyes. "Save me some hot water."

Clark spent the day with Paul, which was kind of nice. They didn't talk much. Paul was on his cell phone a lot, but he was attentive to Clark, always touching him or holding his hand. Clark noticed people eyeing them, some disapproving, others looking on with longing. This must be what it would be like to have a boyfriend.

His head still hurt a little, though he kept drinking water and that helped. After brunch, Paul decided he needed to buy some shoes, so they went to Frost's and Clark waited while Paul tried on about twenty pairs of nearly-identical low, black boots.

"What do you think?" he asked, pointing to his feet. He was wearing shoes from two different pairs, one with laces, one without.

Clark glanced at them, then shrugged. "Why not get both?"

Paul smiled. "Good idea."

Money didn't seem to be a problem for Paul. Not only did he live at a very fashionable address, but his clothes looked expensive, his bathroom was filled with fancy soap and skin care products, and his orange juice was the same organic kind that Lex kept in his refrigerator at the mansion. Or used to keep, before.

While Paul was paying for the shoes, his cell phone rang again. "Hello?" Paul watched Clark while a tinny voice buzzed in his ear. He reached out to touch Clark's wrist, rubbing his thumb across the bone, and said, "Yeah, sure. That sounds good. What time?" He smiled again and said, "Can I bring a friend?"

Paul signed the charge slip and said, "Want to go to a party?"

Clark shrugged again. "Sure."

"You don't talk much, do you?"

Clark just smiled and let Paul take his arm.

Paul's friends were a lot more like Clark's preconceived notions of gay people than either Marcus or Eddie had been. Actually, they reminded him of Lex. The building had a doorman, the apartment was more like a loft, and the crowd was mostly men -- a bunch of attractive people in expensive clothes, drinking fancy drinks. Paul got him a drink right away and, thankfully, the alcohol seemed to erase the last of his headache. He felt a little out of place, but Paul was sort of showing him off, which was flattering. He felt good, relaxed; after the shopping trip, they'd gone back to Paul's apartment and Paul had blown him again, which was great, and then they'd taken a nap.

Clark burped quietly behind a polite hand, and scanned the room. Everyone here was so clean and shiny, and most of them seemed to think he was exotic somehow. Actually, they behaved as if he weren't quite human, which was amusing -- at first. People kept asking Paul, "Where did you find him?" in the same tone they used to ask about the source of his new boots. No one asked Clark where they'd met. No one asked Clark anything.

As they'd been coming up in the elevator, Paul had said, "Don't tell anyone where we met, okay?" and Clark had agreed. Now, as people asked, Paul skimmed over the truth. He said they'd known each other "awhile," and that they'd met "socially" a few times. He squeezed Clark's hand while he said these things, which Clark understood meant he should keep his mouth shut. Obviously, stretching the truth like this sounded better to Paul than admitting that he'd picked up Clark at a nightclub and sucked his cock without having any idea what kind of person he was, where he was from, or even what his last name might be.

Paul squeezed his hand and said, "Kal, hey, meet my, uh, friend, Jeremy. We used to date."

"Pleased," Jeremy said. They shook hands and Jeremy said, "God, look at the hands on you. You're huge!" There wasn't really anything for Clark to say to that, so he said nothing, merely shrugged.

Jeremy turned to Paul, "So, what have you been up to -- other than picking up farm-fresh trade?" They both laughed and Clark bristled. "Kidding, kidding," Jeremy said insincerely, giving Clark's arm a squeeze. Clark looked at the hand on his arm, tempted to burn it.

Paul said, "That's not even funny," but he was still laughing. Blowjobs aside, he was turning out to be kind of an asshole. And a hypocrite. And a snob.

Clark was bored and irritable. He considered hitting someone, anyone -- starting with Jeremy -- but, unlike the fights he started in the bars on Decatur Road, the police probably made it a priority to break up fights in this neighborhood. The last thing Clark wanted was police attention, any official scrutiny.

Clark watched Paul bragging to Jeremy about how great his life was going without Jeremy in it, and idly wondered if it was possible to have all the trappings -- a nice place to live, and clothes, and cars, and toys -- and also be with someone you would like anyway, with or without the trinkets. Paul was very attractive, but he didn't really look much like Lex. He was short, for one thing, barely clearing Clark's shoulder, and his mouth was wrong. His eyes were more gray than blue, and there was the issue of the five-o-clock shadow on his scalp. Plus, it was obvious that Paul was embarrassed now about the way they'd actually met, although it seemed a little late for regrets. Whatever. Clark didn't owe him anything; other than liking to rub against each other, they didn't have much in common after all.

Clark let go of Paul's hand and pushed through the crowd, heading for a dim corridor off the expansive living room that, presumably, would yield a bathroom or two. Someone caressed his ass as he passed. No one here seemed to think there was any reason to talk to him; they just liked his looks. Considering how many years he'd spent hoping that someone would find him attractive, it was pretty ironic how much it bugged him now that it was happening.

The bathroom was, like Paul's, stuffed with expensive lotions and special toothpaste and big bottles of cologne. It was also like the bathroom in Lex's house, but Clark didn't want to think about Lex. His initial notion that these people resembled Lex, or belonged to his world, was completely off base. Paul and his friends thought he was pretty and dumb, a big toy. Lex had never treated him like he was too stupid to talk to, or like an object that he couldn't wait to misuse. Irritably, Clark left the seat down on the toilet while he peed, deliberately careless, and when he was done, he headed deeper into the apartment instead of back to the party.

Clark opened doors, peering inside, until he found a bedroom with coats piled on the bed. There was a couple lying on the coats, but Clark just whispered, "It's okay -- I'm just looking for my jacket," and they shifted away, trying to ignore him. He found four wallets in coat pockets, stripping out the cash in the dark. He held a leather jacket up in the weak light coming through the bedroom window; it looked large enough to fit him, so he folded it over his arm and ducked out of the dark room.

Paul's back was turned. Clark slipped through the crowd, out the front door, and pushed the button for the elevator. He shrugged into his new jacket -- a designer label that he recognized from Lex's closet, so he knew it was nice. It fit well, too.

He leaned back against the wall of the elevator, waiting to reach the ground. Lex had always treated him with respect and interest, had listened to what he had to say, had been curious about his thoughts. Given the power to make the exchange, Clark would happily put Paul in Lex's plane and sink him in the ocean; anything to see Lex again.

On what turned out to be Clark's last night in Metropolis, he made his way up one side of Decatur, down the other, too lazy to go downtown. He sat at the bar at Dexter's Corner, seven beers and five shots of tequila into the evening, working on beer number eight and trying to remember the last time he'd robbed someone at Dexter's. Was it too soon? Blearily, he peered around the dark room, looking for any too-familiar faces.

Valerie. Oh, shit.

She was looking a bit worse for wear. Her hair was dull and stiff with hairspray, and there was a line along her jaw where her orangeish makeup stopped and the white of her neck began. When she saw him, she blinked, looked ashamed, and then squared her shoulders and approached him with resolve.

"Kal. Haven't seen you in awhile." She tossed her hair and leaned into the bar, letting her breasts rest on the back of her arm, pushed up. She looked him in the eye, attempting come-hither.

"I've been around," he said, draining his beer. "I'll bet you have, too."

"Hey!" She looked offended, but seemed to decide he'd been joking. She shifted closer and asked, "Buy me a drink?" Clark shrugged and motioned for the bartender. Valerie leaned over the bar, nearly spilling out of her shirt, and ordered a Bunny Hug.

"Don't you ever just have a drink?" Clark asked. "Does it always have to be some cute sex thing?"

"What's your problem?" She narrowed her eyes at him, frowning. Clark shrugged and, again, she seemed determined to believe he was just teasing her. She inched closer, reaching out to stroke the back of his hand with a long, ice-blue nail; he allowed it for a moment, but then swatted at her as though she were a gnat buzzing.

"Touchy," she said, retracting her hand with an exaggerated flourish. After a moment's quiet, she asked, "Hey. Want to dance?"

Clark raised an eyebrow and snorted. "With you?"

"Yeah, with me." She shot him a defiant look, playing tough.

"No." Clark smiled, dazzling and feral. "I don't really want to be seen with you, to tell the truth." He watched her face crumple. "When I first came here, I couldn't figure out why a pretty girl like you got the brush-off from so many guys, but now I understand."

"Understand what?" Valerie was a glutton for punishment, apparently.

"That you're a slut. You're pathetic." He smiled at her again and took another sip of beer.

Her eyes were wet, sparkling like the sequins on her top. "Why are you so mean to me?"

Clark countered with, "Why do you want to talk to me, or dance, or fuck me, when you know I'm mean?"

"Fuck you, Kal!" she snarled. "You're such a prick!" People were turning to stare.

"I know," he said, smugly. "I don't have a problem with that." He swiveled his stool back around to face the bar, watching her seething face reflected in the mirror on the back wall. Was she crying? Frankly, the fuck had been good, but it hadn't been worth this much trouble.

Eventually, she disappeared into the crowd, but Clark could still hear her voice, rising above the bar chatter, distressed and upset. No doubt she'd gravitated back toward her barfly friends and they'd all be commiserating about what fucking pricks men were.

"Hey. You." A male voice, and the mirror showed that it came from one of the ballcap guys. "You called Valerie a slut?"

"She is a slut."

"Valerie's got some problems, but you don't got to be mean."

"Who are you, anyway?" Clark asked. "If you think she's so great, you fuck her."

"You liked her well enough before, but now she's not good enough?" The sense of righteous anger seemed misplaced. What was she, the bar mascot?

Clark knew before he felt the hand clap down on his shoulder that he was going to hit the guy. He turned slowly, swiveling on his stool, wearing his naive, boyish expression (and it was an expression now, not just his face), wanting the guy to take the first swing -- because once that happened, he could do whatever he wanted.

The bitch couldn't take a hint. "No, she's not good enough."

"Why, you fucking -- ," the guy said, and he swung --

-- and Clark ducked the punch and took his own swing, just a tap in the teeth (or that's how it felt) and the guy went sprawling --

-- and the stone flew out of the bezel of Clark's ring and disappeared under the milling feet --

-- and it was as though a light had gone on, illuminating the darkest corners of the room, and Clark was flooded with shame and fear and worry.

"Oh, God," he cried, springing toward the unconscious man. "Is he okay?"

Valerie was screaming so hard that she sprayed him with spittle. "No! Get away from him! GET! AWAY!" She pummeled him with her tiny fists.

"I'm sorry!"

"You asshole! You could have killed him!" she shrieked. It was best just to back away, leave the bar, ride back to the Coral Cove, and cry himself to sleep.

When Clark woke the next morning, he called his parents. He'd been afraid, but they were happy to hear from him. They wanted him to come home. They had good news, too: Lex was alive. They offered to come get him, but he pointed out he'd be faster carrying the motorcycle, and he needed the time to think, anyway. He needed time to come up with good apologies, but he had a feeling they'd all fall short.

Lex realized he was holding his breath. Clark had stopped speaking and looked at him with wounded, worried eyes.

"Jesus, Clark."

"I know." Clark bowed his head. "I'm so sorry, Lex. I'm so sorry. I shouldn't ask you..."

"It's okay, Clark. Anything you need."

"I don't want to ask anyone, but I don't know what else to do. I've got to do something to pay them back...and secret produce deliveries just don't seem like enough." A sweet, crooked smile twisted his pretty mouth. He took a deep breath and then continued, "You're the only person I know who doesn't care about money and doesn't have to. I thought you'd help me with this if you could."

"I'll help you." He liked what Clark had said, what he'd noticed. Because Lex didn't care about money: he cared about security, power, winning. Money was a means, not an end. But in the interim, money would buy cars and liquor and shirts in every shade of violet he'd ever been bruised. But the money itself? Clark could have it; Lex would make more on the way to the control he really wanted.

"Thank you. I'll do anything I can to pay you back. I'll get a job after school, or...or something. Whatever you want."

The relief on Clark's face was enough. Lex was suddenly convinced that Clark would, in fact, give him anything; there was nothing he'd reserve, nothing he feared being taken from him.

"Don't worry about it, Clark."

Clark smiled. "Come on, Lex. Don't you want anything from me? If not money, maybe...I could tell you something. Something you want to know -- really, Lex, anything. I would, you know."

"I know you would. I believe you."

"When I got back, your um...Helen. She, uh, left me a letter. She told me about your room, Lex, with the stuff about me. She said you have my blood."

"That's right. I'm sorry, Clark, but it's true."

"It's okay. I'm glad you have all that stuff, and not..." Clark's voice trailed off. "Well, I'm glad you had it. Your dad...You know he emptied out the mansion, right?"

"I'd heard," Lex replied dryly. He met Clark's eyes, expecting to see some blame, some anger, but there was still only the mix of fear, relief, and timid affection that had been there since his arrival in the barn. "He's got my mother's jewelry, then, too. Her things."

"I'll help you get stuff back if you want. There's a lot I can do, a lot you don't know about." Clark blushed then. "Or, maybe not. Maybe you know." His shy, beautiful smile was familiar, maybe all that remained of the innocent Clark he'd loved. "Whatever I can do, Lex, okay?"

"Okay." Lex slumped back against the dusty cushions of the old couch. They'd taken care of all their business, so far as he could tell. Clark, willing to tell him whatever he wanted. He'd made a promise to make sure Clark's victims were well-compensated for their troubles. They had an alliance: they'd work together to keep Clark's secrets, with the implication that Lex could ask questions. It was good, wonderful, and he was glad he'd come. It wasn't, of course, quite enough. He wished he had a drink.

"I'll call some people tomorrow, Clark." He closed his eyes, thought for a moment. There would be disclosure agreements in exchange for compensation checks, complete anonymity. Clark was still so young, no matter what he'd done in Metropolis. He was used to having someone else -- someone responsible -- take care of any problem not solvable by brute force; his palpable relief at the lifting of this burden was gratifying. Maybe he shouldn't have encouraged it, but he wanted Clark to need him, and need his help.

"I know you'll think of everything," Clark said. "I wouldn't even know where to begin." He rose from his chair, blocking out the sun, his lanky frame backlit with a corona of lemony light. The broad-shouldered silhouette ran a hand through messy curls, and moved toward the couch. A few steps, passing through bars of light and shadow, and Clark dropped down beside him in a puff of hay-scented dust. "So. Are you sure you don't want to ask me anything?" His voice was low and teasing, almost flirtatious.

Lex could almost feel the effects of the imaginary scotch, the lassitude and warmth. It was the weight of the air and Clark's radiant proximity lulling him. Relaxation -- something he had a hard time achieving on his own. "Someday, Clark, I'll ask you all those questions. But right now, I'm just glad to be alive, and that we're both all right." Maybe it was because he was tired, though more in spirit than body. Maybe it was because he was truly relieved he hadn't died, and that Clark had returned home safely. Whatever the reason, Lex let his head roll so that he could see Clark, and lifted a hand to touch the flushed cheek.

Clark gasped, and Lex moved his hand away instantly, but Clark caught his wrist and laid the cool palm deliberately against his cheek. "No," he said. "Please. Stay like this." He laid his head in Lex's hand, eyes closed, and kept hold of his wrist. He murmured, "I wouldn't have been able to handle it if you'd died, Lex. I didn't even know you'd been missing for, like, a week. If you'd needed saving, I wouldn't have been there."

"You can't be everywhere, Clark. And, anyway, look: I'm here and I'm okay."

"But you're so -- breakable!" Clark sighed. He tilted his face into Lex's palm.

"We all are."

"Not me." Clark said sadly. "Not in the same way, anyway."

"Why does that make you unhappy, Clark?" Lex was genuinely puzzled. Clark's seeming invulnerability had no downside he could imagine.

"I get frightened...Even if I can't be hurt physically, I'm scared of being hurt in other ways. I want to tell you things, Lex, things about me. Not just the 'secrets' you always want to know about, but things that I -- things I feel. What I want."

"Like what?"

"This," Clark said, as he pressed his lips against Lex's palm in a tentative, dry kiss. His eyes were dark and wet, worried as he looked up at Lex.

Lex shifted in his seat. "Is that all? he asked, voice low, almost a taunt. "Is that all you want?"

Their eyes met and, with a solemn, "No," Clark kissed his hand again, lavishing it with the soft press of his beautiful mouth. Fingers spread across the jut of cheekbone, Lex caressed his face, stroking the parted lips with the pad of his thumb. Clark whimpered a little, the sound sending a surge of blood to Lex's cock. He put his free hand around the back of Clark's neck and leaned in to kiss him.

Clark's face felt hot under his hands, almost feverish. Left hand buried in the silky curls, fingers of his right hand curled around the back of Clark's neck, Lex drew him close. He held Clark's gaze for a long, speculative moment until the wide green eyes fluttered shut. Lex's heart beat wildly as Clark's breath burst hot and ragged against his parted lips. There was space between them, a fraction of an inch that took forever to close, time like honey, blood like thunder, and then soft pressure; dry and sweet and almost innocent.

Lex had kissed a lot of people. A lot. His first serious kiss with a girl was at age thirteen. He kissed a boy for the first time at age fifteen. In between, he'd lost his virginity to a classmate's scary, predatory mother. With nine years of recreational kissing behind him, he thought he'd honed it to an art, and expected no surprises. But this...this was Clark.

Clark pulled back. "Oh, God!" he cried, his voice uneven and frightened.

Shit. "Clark? Is this okay? I'm sorry if -- "

"Jesus, Lex!" Clark's hands clamped down on Lex's shoulders, bringing him in close for another kiss. A deeper angle this time, a tighter grip on Clark's hair; Lex broke the kiss only to come back harder, a long lick erasing the last hesitation, the last doubt. His tongue slid against Clark's, slick and muscular and sure, and the needy sounds Clark made deep in his throat resonated in Lex's own chest. His hands traveled down Clark's back, clutching at handfuls of flannel, drawing their bodies closer. Clark leaned back down onto the cushions, pulling Lex on top of him. It took a few moments to adjust twisted shirts and pinching slacks, and then they were kissing again.

It was perhaps a minute before Lex realized Clark was crying. Not sobbing, just a few rather dignified drops sliding from the corners of his eyes.


"I'm sorry," Clark whispered, his face flushed and damp, eyes tightly closed. "I'm just...this isn't how I wanted it to be."

Lex immediately sat up, ignoring Clark's attempts to hold him. Already closing off, putting up barriers of formality and ice, Lex said, "I'm sorry, too, then. How did you want it to be?" He should have known; he'd always known it would never really happen.

Clark looked stricken. He propped himself up on his elbows. Messy hair, t-shirt untucked, an obvious erection straining his jeans. "No, Lex. I didn't mean -- "

"It's all right Clark. You don't have to do this. I already agreed to take care of the people you robbed. You don't need to worry about repaying me."

"It's not about that," Clark said, his voice angry and clipped. "It's about things that happened while I was..." He paused for a moment, composing himself. "Things I wanted to do with you."

Lex was confused. "And now you can't?"

"Not for the first time." Miserable, Clark sat with downcast eyes, shoulders slumped.

Foolish, romantic boy full of idealistic nonsense. Lex was immensely flattered.

"It's all right." He put a hand on Clark's chest. "You do realize that I'm not exactly innocent myself?" Though it would have been nice to have been Clark's first.

"It's okay?"

"It's not like you're tainted, Clark." Imagining Clark with someone else, anyone else, was arousing and infuriating both. He wanted to ask what, exactly, had Clark already done, and if there was anything left to be first at, but bit his lip against the question.

"I might be." Although he still looked sad, Clark was cheering rapidly. And he hadn't lost his erection. He tried not to smile, looking up at Lex from under his lashes. "I might be completely ruined. How would we know?"

"We wouldn't. But I can live with the ambiguity." He could; he definitely could. He leaned in between Clark's legs and kissed him, a relatively chaste kiss, then picked up his hand, interlacing their fingers. "I'm serious, Clark. Whatever you've done, I'm going to be fine with it. And we don't have to do anything, now or any time. You don't owe me anything, Clark."

"Don't be stupid," Clark said. "I want you like crazy." He reached for Lex, who found himself on his knees, straddling Clark's lap, a big hand curved around the back of his head and a silky tongue in his mouth. Soft lips, firm and plush, the graze of faint stubble, an occasional nip from those pointy teeth, and the shy probing of his tongue. He put a hand on the side of Clark's face and felt the boy lean into it, breaking the kiss to moan and rub his face against Lex's hand like a cat.

Clark wanted him. Clark wanted this, wanted them to happen. Lex felt a wave of lust and longing so strong he thought he might be sick. Clark wriggled beneath him, trying to arrange their bodies without letting go, or allowing any space to open between them, and with a shift of Lex's weight, he gasped in surprise. "Oh, God, Lex," he said, his voice rough, "You're so hard!" Lex moaned into Clark's mouth, reached down between them, and felt how hard Clark was, too...

...and found himself on the floor.

"I guess the couch isn't big enough for both of us," Clark said, sheepishly, blushing a deep crimson.

"It's okay," Lex said, resisting the urge to rub the back of his skull. "I'm fine. And, anyway, maybe we shouldn't -- "

"No," Clark insisted. "We should. We definitely should. Let me just..." He stood and crossed the loft, rummaging in a box marked 'camping gear.' "Ah-ha!" He presented a fat bolster, a rolled-up sleeping bag. "This will work."

They reclined on an unzipped sleeping bag spread before the open doors of the loft, lit by the last of the sunset, early moonlight, and the flickering flames of candles half-melted onto a chipped dinner plate.

"I've always wanted to do this," Clark said, pressing a kiss to the corner of Lex's eye.

"Do what?"

"Kiss your freckles."

"No, you didn't."

"I did!"

"You couldn't even see them before today; they were barely there."

"I could see them. I've always seen them. Haven't you ever noticed how much I look at you, Lex? That's, like, my hobby."

"You've always seen them?"

"Yeah, and the ones on your arms. But you've got more on the left, you know."

"What, because I'm left-handed?"

"No, because you drive so much. They're driver's side freckles. My mom has them, too."

"You notice the strangest things."

Clark shrugged and smiled. "I notice you."

Lex couldn't remember the last time he'd done this, made out for what seemed like hours. Maybe he'd never done this. Clark was an enthusiastic kisser, not unskilled, and, well, he was Clark. He was also quite vocal, moaning and whimpering, crying out whenever some new boundary was crossed (Lex's hands on his ass, hands on the bare skin of his stomach, a tongue in his ear). Even as lanky as he was, Clark still weighed a ton. Lex had always known Clark was big, but it was different to be lying half underneath him with a hard floor under his back. He felt oddly small and a little squashed.

"What about your parents?" Lex murmured against Clark's throat. "I don't want you to be in trouble."

"They won't come up here. They pretty much know how I feel about you, Lex."

"That's a rather unsettling thought."

"Then don't think about it." Clark propped himself up on his elbow and began unbuttoning Lex's shirt. "Do you know how long I've wanted to do this?"

"Actually, no." Lex stretched, arching his back, then linked his hands behind his head, elbows spread like wings. "You'd better tell me."

"A long time. Almost as long as I've known you."


"Almost, yeah." Clark spread open Lex's shirt with shaking hands, then ran a tentative hand the length of his body, from collarbone to his loosened belt. He bent his head to kiss the knob of Lex's collarbone, his thumb just brushing a nipple as if by accident.

Lex gave a pleased little grunt. "Not from the very instant we met?"

Clark lifted his head in mock alarm. "You were dead when we met."

"But you kissed me anyway. That's a little creepy, Clark."

"Ha, ha," was apparently the best rejoinder Clark could come up with; he'd seemingly lost interest in talking. His mouth marked Lex's skin with wet, broken circles that overlapped and blurred together. His tongue made a circuit of Lex's nipple, and he pulled back to watch it contract, then bent again to trace the tense, sensitive ridge delineating juncture of cream-white skin and the pink of nipple. Clark murmured, "Beautiful," and Lex growled and slid both his hands into Clark's curls. Clark kept licking, leisurely swipes, and Lex writhed under the hot point of contact, arching up off the floor. Clark got up on his hands and knees, swaying over him, and leaned down to lick the other nipple with precise, tight flicks. Lex howled and hooked a leg around the back of Clark's thigh.

"Jesus, Clark!"

Clark kissed him on the lips, then rolled off, onto his back, wriggling out of his shirts. "I can't wait any more, Lex. I need you to touch me."

Lex propped himself up, leaning on his right elbow, and stroked the shuddering skin of Clark's belly with his left hand. Clark wriggled impatiently, panting open-mouthed. Lex bent over his chest, placing a soft, wet kiss on first one nipple, then the other. Clark whimpered and clutched at Lex's shoulders, one hand sliding up the back of his neck to cup his skull.

"Don't tease," Clark begged. "Please, Lex." His hand against Lex's scalp burned hot as a star.

Lex bent and sucked a nipple hard, then harder and Clark gave a ragged groan and rolled toward him. Lifting his mouth from Clark's chest, Lex smeared a sloppy kiss against Clark's lips.

Clark shuddered and said, "Feel me." He took Lex's hand and pressed it against his erect cock, straining against his jeans, and Lex groaned. Clark cupped Lex through his trousers and sucked in a hissing breath, begging, "God! Please."

"Please what?"

Clark laughed, low and shivery. "I don't know...just please. Please do something, anything you want." He buried his face in the curve of Lex's neck, pressing against him full-length.

Lex pushed him back flat against the floor. "I want to suck you."

"Oh, God. Lex!" Clark's hands began to shake and his fingers just got in Lex's way, first at his belt buckle, then the buttons of his Levi's.

"You're so nervous," Lex said. "Don't be."

"But it's you," Clark said with a shaky laugh. He lifted his hips and pushed his jeans down to his knees. Pale blue boxers, reminiscent of that disturbingly erotic scene in the field, wet over the head of his cock.

Lex bent and kissed Clark's stomach, then had to hide his smile against the golden skin when Clark groaned out "Jesus, Lex!" and trembled under his mouth. He slid slow kisses, open-mouthed and wet, from the soft dip of his belly just below his ribs to the hard prominence of hipbone. Clark's erection bumped at the underside of his jaw ever more insistently, slick even through the thin cotton. Clark's big hands ranged over his shoulders, the back of his head, and he could feel how very careful Clark was being.

He lifted his head, looking up along Clark's body to meet his eyes. "Try to relax, Clark. And don't worry -- you're not going to hurt me."

"I might." Clark appeared to be a very uncomfortable combination of worried and aroused. "I don't want to, but I might."

"Trust me," Lex said. "You won't." He rubbed his cheek along the thick shaft, breathing in the musky scent of Clark's skin, his excited state. Pressing his mouth against the fabric tight over the swollen head, he licked at the slickness there as Clark gasped and clutched at his shoulders. With his left hand, Lex stroked the thick shaft, cupped heavy balls; with his right hand, he reached up and clasped Clark's wrist. He let his head rest between Clark's hip and his cock, and stayed there a few moments, just breathing him in. Clark's body shuddered at his touch, cock bobbing with his pulse. Lex kept petting him through his boxers, lapping at the translucent fabric slick over the head, listening to Clark's breathing become ragged. Clark let go of his shoulder and fumbled with the elastic waistband, and Lex sat up to help him get out of his boxers.

Once Clark was uncovered, Lex sat back on his heels and said, "Oh, Clark," because he'd always imagined how good Clark would look, and yet this was better. He took Clark's cock in his left hand, held onto Clark's hip with his right, easing the foreskin down to expose the moist, tender flesh of the head. He licked at the moisture from the slit at the head, but there was always more of it so he had to keep licking, then licked some more. Clark kept calling out for him and for Jesus, sometimes God, as well. Slow, deliberate suction as lips and tongue drew the head into his mouth and Clark's whole body contracted, back arching and knees drawing up as he cried out, sounding almost afraid. Such fragile sounds coming from someone so strong made Lex hard, cock surging with his pulse. His mouth stretched wide, sinking toward the root, sucking Clark deeper into his throat and using the whole length of his tongue to rub along the shaft, squeezing it against the roof of his mouth. He felt full, almost choked, but it was absolutely good, absolutely right, and as he imagined Clark's cock thick in his ass he groaned around the flesh in his mouth. Clark answered the reverberation with a frantic thrust.

"Lex, Lex, Lex," Clark whispered hoarsely, hands ranging nervously over Lex's head and shoulders "I'm almost...I'm gonna...God, oh, God, Lex!" His body tensed, arching like a bow, and Lex could feel the blood rushing under the thin skin as Clark froze. The moment seemed to last forever, but then, with an agonized cry, Clark bucked up into his mouth, spurting thick jets of semen. Lex kept sucking him until Clark twitched, and he reluctantly pulled away.

"Oh, Lex; oh, God," Clark said weakly, "Wow, um...thank you!" He stroked Lex's scalp tenderly.

Lex laughed softly. "You're welcome." He crawled up Clark's body and let himself be drawn in for a kiss, Clark tasting himself and moaning softly, big hands on either side of his face holding him still as Clark's tongue licked into him. Without breaking their kiss, Lex shifted, sliding a leg between still-trembling thighs and pressing his cock against Clark's hip. Clark slid a hand down to his ass and their kisses intensified as they rocked against each other.

"Lex." Clark's voice was low and shaky in his ear. "Let me..." Clark's hands were at his waist, opening his fly.

"Okay, okay." Lex rolled onto his back, ran his hand down Clark's arm to his wrist, and held his hand there, against his cock, and tilted his hips up into the pressure. He could feel Clark's gaze on his face and smiled with his eyes closed. "Clark. God, you're..."

"So are you." Clark swayed awkwardly up to his knees, pulling his jeans back up over his hips. "There; now I can..." He didn't finish his sentence, instead sitting back on his heels between Lex's thighs. Without further ceremony, he pulled Lex's boxers down along with his trousers, exposing his cock. "Jesus!" He smiled up at Lex. "You're beautiful. Really, really beautiful." Big hand closed around his shaft as they groaned together; Clark's thumb slid over the bare, wet head and Lex just managed to choke off a scream. He dug his nails into Clark's forearm, desperate for him to never, ever stop.

"You like that," Clark said, his voice darker and more amused than Lex had ever heard it before. "You like me touching you."

"Fuck! Yes, Clark, I do." Lex couldn't believe how good it felt just to have Clark's skin against his own, Clark's fingers wrapped around his shaft, Clark bending to lick slow circles around a nipple. He found himself panting in rhythm with the spiraling stroke of Clark's tongue, writhing in his grasp. "Clark, I -- I need...oh, please!"

"I know, I know," Clark reassured him. "I want to..." but he didn't finish the sentence, only bent to take a pink nipple between his teeth and tug, making Lex growl and arch beneath him. Clark's shoulders were hard as sun-warmed stone under his hands; he couldn't make Clark move, couldn't make him do anything at all. Clark's wet mouth burned his skin, sharp teeth scraping his belly making him jump, and then Clark put his lips against the swollen head of his cock, tongue describing a slow swirl, and sucked it into his mouth.

Pulled so tight, arching up off the floor, no possible way to get enough of himself inside Clark's mouth. "Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck," with his hands white-knuckled in Clark's hair. Clark murmured something that thrummed through his nerves, hottest at his center but making his hands shake. Clark shifted, rising up higher on his knees, and began to slide his lips up and down the shaft, taking Lex deeper into his mouth. There was tightness, hesitation at the back of Clark's throat, and then he swallowed and his lips were stretched pale at the base of Lex's cock. He gagged, adjusted, rose and sank again and again, his hands holding Lex's thighs apart. With each descent of Clark's mouth, a gush of saliva slid hot over Lex's balls into the cleft of his ass. Where had Clark learned to do this? And maybe he wouldn't think of that, maybe it didn't matter, because Clark was doing it, Clark was whimpering around his cock and sliding his wet, wet mouth all along the length. "Clark! Clark, oh, God..." He sounded like he was pleading and maybe he was. Clark groaned encouragement, hands sliding under his hips to clutch his ass, pulling him in, deeper. His body disappeared where it wasn't in contact with Clark's skin, teeth, tongue, and he dissolved completely with a shout, his orgasm like a hard impact that didn't hurt, not at all.

Clark coughed, smiled up at him with shiny lips, and flopped down next to him on the sleeping bag. "That was good?"

"Jesus, Clark." Soft, dark head nuzzled at his throat. Big hands claimed his body, stroked bare skin. He pulled the boy closer, buried his face in the silky hair. Clark wriggled against him, making contented little grunts.

Maybe they should have a discussion. Maybe he should explain to Clark all the reasons why this was a bad idea, why it wouldn't work in the long run, why it was better to forget this had ever happened. No hard feelings, but no regrets, either. That would be best, the right thing to do, the obvious solution. And there was no fucking way he was going to say any of it.

"Can we stay like this for awhile?" Clark asked hopefully.

"Sure," Lex said. "Just let me get my -- " and he lifted his hips, pulling up his pants and quickly fastening them. Clark gathered him back against his chest, spoon-style; his head tucked beneath Clark's chin, light scrape of stubble and then a soft, dragging kiss. He toed his shoes off, feeling Clark do the same.

"I'm glad you're here, Lex. Not just...this, tonight, but always. I'm glad you're okay."

"Thank you. That means a lot." It meant everything.

Clark held him close, his head pillowed on Clark's arm. Soft lips explored the sensitive spot behind his ear, the curve of his skull. He whispered, "I missed you so much. I went...kind of crazy when I thought you were dead."

Lex whispered back, "I went kind of crazy when I found out you were missing."

His phone rang, loud in the dark, and Clark jumped.

"You need to get that?"

Yes. Only a few people had the number, and none would call for a frivolous reason. "No," he said, shifting closer to Clark's warm bulk. He'd be on the phone all day tomorrow to keep Clark safe, to keep Clark. Tonight, this -- being here -- was all that mattered. Anything else could wait.

"Really? I think you'd better get it, Lex. It might be important."

Clark was right, of course. Lex reached for his coat, crumpled on the floor, and dragged it close, fumbling in the pocket. "Luthor."

Without greeting, the excited voice of Roy Thomas said, "We've found her."


"Helen. We've found her. She's in Edge City living with some dyke."

Lex sat up, breaking out of Clark's embrace. "Some dyke? She's with a woman?" He couldn't hide his surprise; he really needed to find out a lot more about people before he married them in the future.

"Yeah. Mrs. Luthor seems to have a lot of secrets." Thomas paused, then said, "She's changed her appearance, but no surgery as yet. Bleached hair, a lot of leather...she looks pretty good, actually -- for a murderer."

"Thanks for the editorial," Lex said dryly. Clark was looking up at him, concerned and worried. Lex touched the boy's face and felt calmer. "Just keep an eye on her for now. I'll call you tomorrow -- "

"But we could...finish this tonight. It was my understanding when we originally contracted that -- "

"We'll discuss it tomorrow," Lex said again, firmly. "I'm busy tonight."

Thomas sighed. "It's your call, Mr. Luthor, but I'd suggest -- "

"Tomorrow." Lex repeated firmly. "Goodnight." He flipped the phone shut and smiled down at Clark.

"Helen's alive?" Clark asked, looking panicky. "What are you going to do?"

"Shhh." He sank down onto an elbow, stroking Clark's hair. "I'll deal with her tomorrow."

"But -- "

"No, really. Tomorrow, Clark." He kissed Clark softly, first on his lips, then each of his fluttering eyelids, and let himself be drawn in against the broad chest. "I want to stay here with you a little longer, but then I'll have to find someplace to spend the night -- "

"You're staying here."

"Clark -- " He tried to sit up, but Clark held him still.

"Don't be stupid, Lex. Everyone in town knows you. You'll be recognized, and someone might tell your dad. I mean, it's bad enough you drove that fancy car -- "

"It's understated!" Lex insisted. "It's a classic."

"Whatever." Clark was obviously not convinced. "Please, Lex. Stay. We've got room. And you belong here."

"You think so?" Lex, also, was unconvinced.

"Of course," Clark said. "You're family."

Family. He took a deep breath, let it out. "Okay. Fine. I'll stay. As long as it's okay with your parents."

"It was Dad's idea." Clark smiled at Lex's shocked expression. "Come on, Lex. He might not like you, but he doesn't want to see you dead or anything." He got to his feet and held out a hand. "Get up. Mom made way too much food just in case you showed up today, and I'm kind of hungry."

Lex stood and tucked in his shirt. "They'd better not ask what we've been doing out here -- and don't say, 'They know,' or I won't be able to go in the house."

Clark snickered. "Okay, I won't say it."

"Jesus." Lex felt his face burning. "I can't believe I'm going along with this, Clark." He sighed and knelt to tie his shoes. "What kind of pie did she make?"

"She couldn't decide so she made two -- apple and blueberry."

Lex smiled. "My favorites."

"Well, duh. She made them for you." Clark shifted his weight impatiently from one foot to the other. "We're all glad you're back, Lex. Even Dad." He eyed Lex's hands. "God. Could you tie your shoes any slower? I'm hungry."

"Okay, okay, I'm done." Lex stood and followed Clark down the stairs.

Halfway down, Clark turned and took his hand, his face serious. "Thank you for not dying."

"You're welcome."

Clark led him down the rest of the stairs, out the barn door and across the grass, not letting go of his hand. The moon was almost full, the stars piercingly bright. His shoes crunched on the gravel of the drive as they neared the house and Clark still had his hand, wouldn't let him have it back.

The bright, warm kitchen seemed suddenly forbidding and Lex stalled on the threshold, resisting Clark's gentle tugging, and asked, "Wait --your parents. You're sure they're okay with this? Me being here, and you...?"

Clark shook his head and smiled, squeezing Lex's hand. "Stop stalling, Lex. Come inside."

Had he learned anything? Had Clark? While he'd waited for rescue on the island, helpless and broken, he'd made promises to himself and cut deals with fearsome deities, willing to do anything if he could just get back home. But now that he was back among his landmarks, he was reluctant to initiate change; so much easier to be forced, to react instead of act. He could take the next step, or he could be pulled. Or, he could spend the rest of his life standing on the porch, wondering what might have been.

Clark held the door, inviting. Lex took the step.

*Just to say the word *
home, that one word alone,
so pleasantly cool

  • -- Issa*