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by Lady Ra


Standing in the lobby of the building that housed Lex's penthouse apartment, Jonathan gave his son a hug. Clark was staying in the city having been offered a three week internship at the Daily Planet. As Lex was in Japan, Jonathan and Martha had agreed to his invitation for Clark to stay at his place. As much as it grated to accept his help, Jonathan wasn't sure they would have been able to afford putting Clark up in a hotel for all three weeks.

"You have everything you need?" Jonathan asked. Clark had already been here for a week, long enough to figure out what he'd forgotten to pack.

Clark smiled at him. "No, I'm fine. Lex has everything I could possibly need."

Jonathan kept a frown off his face. He tried to keep his worries about their friendship to himself now, as his words had as much effect as spitting into the wind. He didn't understand it, but Clark and Lex's friendship had endured.

Come fall, Clark would be starting college at Metropolis University on a full scholarship, which Jonathan suspected Lex secured for him, maybe even invented for him. They'd been waiting for the announcement from Clark that he'd be living here, something Jonathan would not be happy about. But Clark was already eighteen, and past the point where Jonathan could dictate his actions.

"I'm glad you had time to meet me for lunch," Clark said, smiling at his dad.

"Are you sure it was all right that we ate here?" Jonathan asked, not at all comfortable at having eaten at Lex's.

Clark let out a laugh. "Oh, yeah. Lex's housekeeper likes me. She says Lex eats like a bird so she feels like she earns her keep when I'm around."

The sentiment was so genuine, Jonathan assumed it was true and decided to let it go. It had, after all, been an excellent lunch.

"Well," Clark said, backing toward the door that led to the street. "I need to go or I'll be late."

Jonathan followed him, then snapped his fingers. "Damn it, I left Martha's present upstairs." Jonathan had come to Metropolis on business, but had found the time to find his wife a small gift.

Clark called over to the security man. "Jack? I'm gonna let my dad go up, okay?" He headed back to the elevator and started punching in the security password that would allow the elevator to open onto the penthouse.

"Sure thing, Mr. Kent."

Clark grinned and rolled his eyes at his dad. "I can't get him to call me Clark." He finished the code, then slid his passkey into the slot. "Okay, Dad, you're all set. I hope you don't mind going up without me."

Jonathan did mind, but he didn't want Clark to be late. "I'll be fine, son. You go on."

He got another smile, a quick hug, and then Jonathan watched him race out the front doors as the elevator slid shut.

Lex's penthouse had actually surprised Jonathan. He wasn't quite sure what he'd been expecting, maybe some sort of den of iniquity, like an oldfashioned opium den, shadowed, pictures of questionable taste on the walls.

Instead, it looked like a place a young man lived. A rich young man, and Jonathan guessed that a couple of the paintings hanging on the walls probably cost more than his farm. But, if they had been fakes, and something he could afford, Jonathan would have put any of them over his own fireplace.

The furniture was comfortable, stuff strewn around. It was a place, much to Jonathan's amazement, where he would feel relaxed enough to sit down and put his feet up on the coffee table.

Jonathan, however, still managed to feel uncomfortable. Not because of the furnishings, but because it was a Luthor home, and that made it enemy territory. He thought he'd done a pretty good job keeping it from Clark; he didn't think he could stand to see that disappointed look on his son's face.

It was difficult when the lessons you taught your own son bit you on the ass.

So, when the elevator opened up and deposited him back into Lex's apartment, Jonathan had every intention of grabbing Martha's gift and then letting himself back out.

That was when the phone rang. Jonathan knew the housekeeper was gone; she'd left after cleaning up lunch. He had no idea what made him stand there as the phone rang, but he did, as if glued to the floor. After several rings it flipped over to the answering machine. "Clark, Clark, are you there? Pick up."

Jonathan frowned as Lex's voice filled the room with his peremptory order.

"Damn it. I'm calling your cell phone and you better have it with you."

Jonathan jumped a foot in the air when the cell phone sitting on the coffee table began to ring. Clark's phone. Jonathan grinned at the thought of Lex being thwarted. "Serves him right," Jonathan mumbled to himself, as he went into the kitchen to find his package. While he was in there, he helped himself to another brownie. They weren't as good as Martha's but they were pretty damn good.

Finally, package in hand, he headed for the elevator. The main phone rang again. And again, Jonathan stood there.

"Clark." A frustrated noise came over the phone. "Listen, I need to know you're all right. Damn it. I swear when I get home I'm going to shove that phone down your throat." There was a pause punctuated by a heavy sigh. "I left a message on your cell phone. When you get it, call. I don't care what time of day or night. Just call me and let me know you're safe. I think everything's fine, but I need to hear from you. Please." The call disconnected.

Jonathan stared at the cell phone in question. Ordinarily he would never invade his son's privacy, but Lex's call had worried him. He supposed he could just contact Clark at the Planet and tell him to call Lex, but he might not even be there yet. Plus, he knew Clark was going out with other journalists and wouldn't be easy to catch.

He knew he was rationalizing. The truth was that Jonathan wanted to listen to that message. He wanted to know what Lex thought was so important. He wanted to know if his son was really in trouble, and if it was because of something Lex had done. He wanted proof that Clark needed to get out of this friendship and look elsewhere for companionship.

Knowing that Martha would kick his ass from here to Gotham City, Jonathan sat on the couch and picked up Clark's cell phone. Finding the message center was easy enough, and there was only the one message. He selected it and held the phone to his ear.

"First of all, where the fuck are you?" Lex's voice yelled into Jonathan's ear so loud he had to pull it away a few inches. "And why aren't you answering your phone? The phone you promised you'd always have charged and always carry with you." A beleaguered sigh followed this accusation.

"Anyway," Lex continued, his voice growing conversational but with that edge of circling shark that let Jonathan know the bad news was on its way. "Here I am, in Japan, minding my own business, when my assistant comes into my office and hands me a plain brown envelope, saying it had just been dropped off--for my eyes only."

Jonathan's eyes widened, his heart suddenly pounding, even though he had no idea what was coming next.

"After drinking a fortifying glass of scotch I open up the envelope and you'll never guess what I found."

Jonathan wished he'd get to the damn point.

"Were they pictures of you and me having sex?" Lex asked, as if it were of only mild import.

Jonathan made silent plans to meet Lex somewhere dark with his shotgun.

"I fucking wish," Lex's voice boomed in his ear. "That might have been something to see. That might have made my day. I could have taped them to the wall and enjoyed looking at them the rest of the day." Another sigh, and then a softly muttered, "Fuck."

Then, "I shouldn't have said that, because you'll probably see it as an invitation, and it's not. I don't care what you do, or what wiles you ply, we are not having sex until you're in college. And while I know you keep telling me you're eighteen, I don't care. Once your dad finds out, I want to be able to look him in the face and tell him I didn't touch you until you left home."

Jonathan got up and headed for the kitchen, remembering there was some beer in there. He needed alcohol.

"And that means no more being naked in my bed when I get home. Jesus, Clark, you could tempt a damn saint with that body of yours, but I'm trying to do the right thing, so help me out a little. If you try that particular trick again, I'll just have to stay away from you."

Jonathan desperately twisted off the cap of a beer and took a long swallow. Jesus.

"But, I digress." Another long sigh. "Clark. Clark. Clark. Let me tell you what the pictures were. One was of you lifting the tractor for your dad. One was a blur of you running. One was of you shooting flames out of your eyes to start a bonfire for your dad. And the last one, my particular favorite, was of you carrying a cow like it was a kitten."

Jonathan could feel his face pale and he reached out for a chair and sat down in it, clutching the beer like a lifeline.

Lex's voice inexorably marched on. "What do you not understand about being discreet? And what the fuck is up with your dad? He hates my guts because he thinks if I ever find out about you that I'll sell you to the highest bidder, but he lets you do this stupid shit? Has he never heard of helicopters or airplanes, or stealth planes, or zoom lenses? You'd think after Phelan and Nixon he'd work a little harder to keep your powers under wraps. Fuck."

Jonathan finished off the beer and went in search of another one. He really needed alcohol now. Lex knew about Clark. And so did someone else.

"You have to be more careful. You have to be. One of these days, we won't get lucky. One of these days, they won't come to me with this shit. They'll go to my dad, or to someone worse and that will be the end of everything. You'll fucking disappear and--" the voice got dangerously softer, "--and that's not fucking okay with me. Got it?"

Jonathan was taken back by the emotion in Lex's voice. He sounded like Jonathan felt. He twisted the cap off the second bottle.

"Don't worry, I'll pay this bastard off just like I did the rest." There was a long exhaled breath. "I know I'm made of money, Clark, but do you have any idea how much all these bribes are costing me? And seeing as you won't let me execute a more permanent solution to the problem, I'm sort of stuck."

A huge sigh came over the speaker, and Jonathan could totally relate, in a way he'd never related to Lex before.

"In fact, maybe I'll adopt a new policy. Maybe if I tell you that the next person who comes to me with pictures or videos of you using your powers is getting a bullet through their fucking heart, it will keep you from being so fucking stupid."

There was the sound of ice clinking and Jonathan imagined Lex helping himself to another fortifying drink. That reminded him and he took another long swallow.

"Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that the next time I see you, I'm exposing you to meteor rock and beating the crap out of you."

A bark of laughter escaped out of Jonathan. There might have been a shade of hysteria in there, but Jonathan wasn't going to admit it.

"Call me so I know you're not dead or strapped to some table in some fucking laboratory." The phone disconnected.

Jonathan stared at the phone in his hand, stunned into immobility. When he found himself sucking on an empty beer bottle, he realized he'd somehow kept drinking. Not that that surprised him, in fact he decided he needed another one. That made three. He'd have to call Martha to tell her he wouldn't be home for a while.

As he walked, he stared at Clark's cell phone, still in his hand, like a piece of chewed bubblegum that had gotten stuck there. He'd give almost anything not to have heard that message. But he had, so he did the only thing he could think of. He listened to it again.

And again.

And then two more times.

Finally he put the phone down and, third beer in hand, went in search of paper. He found it in what he assumed was Lex's office. Jonathan tried hard not to like it, not to think it was cozy, like someplace he might like to work.

He sat on the desk chair and started shuffling under neatly piled folders until he found a legal pad. Then he searched for a pen. A third search didn't turn up a coaster, so he stuck the beer between his thighs as he applied himself to making a list.

  1. Lex knows about

Jonathan lifted his pen from the paper, years of caution making it impossible to actually write what Lex knew on the paper. He started over.

  1. Lex knows.
  2. Lex knows.
  3. Lex knows.

Jonathan could see he was stuck. So he wrote the next thing he thought of.

4. My son is a slut.

No. No. No. Jonathan crossed that item off so forcefully, the tip of the pen ripped the paper. It wasn't fair to say that about Clark, and besides, Jonathan had no idea if it was true. For all he knew, Clark was still a virgin. In fact, now that he was thinking about it, Jonathan was pretty sure Clark was, although apparently there was a date on the books for his, well, not being a virgin anymore.

Still, he didn't want to blame Clark for any of this. Not yet.

5. Lex has seen Clark naked.

There, that was better. Somehow it shifted all the blame to Lex. Jonathan had a strong and familiar comfort level with that. He ignored the small voice inside saying that perhaps it wasn't quite fair.

Right now, after that phone message and three beers, Jonathan didn't care about fair.

6. Lex knows and he's seen Clark naked.

That about summed it up. Before he could even think about adding to the list, he needed another beer. He drank down the last of beer number three on the way to the kitchen, and then retrieved beer number four which accompanied him back to the office.

He wondered if he should listen to the message again. He thought about it as he took a long swallow. Then he took a look at the label on the bottle. He was unfamiliar with this brand of beer, but he liked it. Probably cost a hundred bucks a six-pack.

He picked the pen back up, twiddled with it for a moment, then put pen to paper.

7.              Lex has known for a while.
8.              Clark has been naked in a room with Lex.

Jonathan hoped it didn't mean he needed therapy that he couldn't seem to get past the idea of a naked Clark with Lex. After a moment's reflection and another swallow of beer, Jonathan decided it wasn't the naked Clark thing so much as the Lex part that gave him pause. After all, he'd given Clark baths when he was a young boy.

Jesus, the kid had loved baths. Jonathan snorted at the memories. His clothes would always be soaked from his socks to the collar of his flannel shirts, but he'd had one damn happy son. He frowned and added to the list.

9. Lex has designs on Clark.

Jonathan snorted again at the formality of his statement.

10. Lex wants to fu-

Nope, he'd stick with designs. He crossed that one off, too. Jonathan got up and retrieved the cell phone from the kitchen. Just in case, he checked the refrigerator and saw there was still a reassuringly large amount of beer left. Still nursing beer number four, he made his way back to Lex's office.

Jonathan liked this office. He liked the whole apartment. It was nice. It was--nice. He wondered if Lex had hired someone to decorate it for him. Wondered if Lex had done it himself. Glancing around again, he decided if this was what Lex was like inside, where no one could see, maybe he could understand why Clark liked him.

He listened to the message again, this time taking notes. By the time he was done listening to it three more times, beer four was history.

Good thing, Jonathan thought, as he carefully made his way to a standing position, that he had a high tolerance for beer. Another trip to the kitchen was made, and beer number five made its way back with him. He sat down, leaning back into the chair. The very comfortable chair. Yeah, he really liked this chair.

He slowly spun it around, letting his eyes light where they wanted to. There was a sitting area to the left, comprised of a leather couch, two easy chairs and a coffee table, underneath a huge, make that wall-sized window looking out on Metropolis. Jonathan bet this view would be spectacular at night.

He continued spinning. There was a door that Jonathan suspected led to a bathroom flanked on both sides with floor to ceiling bookshelves. Jonathan could tell some of them were business books, but not all. Maybe he'd take a look later. Now that he'd seen the bathroom, he decided he urgently had to use it. So, he helped himself and then made his way back to Lex's desk.

Behind the desk was a credenza with shelves on top. Some of them held more books, but others held personal items, including a few photos. Jonathan froze, beer to mouth, when he saw them. There were three of them. One of Clark, one of Clark and Lex, and one of Jonathan, Martha and Clark.

Jonathan leaned forward and grabbed that one, running his finger over Martha's face. He liked this picture; it was one of his favorites. They looked so happy. Not that they hadn't had plenty of happy moments, but it was nice to catch it on film. He thought Chloe had taken it but he wasn't sure.

He wondered if Clark had brought this with him, to help keep the homesickness away, but just as fast, he shook his head. Clark didn't need to be homesick; he could be home in minutes any time he wanted.

The one of Clark alone was a close-up and looked professionally taken. Clark looked, Jonathan decided, like a freaking movie star. It was weird. The picture of Clark and Lex was a candid shot, probably more of Chloe's work. It didn't look like either of the boys had even known their picture was being taken. They were staring at each other and smiling. The looks on their faces--Jonathan shook his head and wondered how he could have missed it.

Having no idea where the impulse was coming from, Jonathan turned the picture of him, Martha and Clark over and moved the prongs holding the backing in place. He gently dumped the contents out and carefully held the picture up, not wanting to smudge it. He turned it over and read: Lex, this is what family looks like. Only thing missing here is you. Love Clark.

For some appalling reason, Jonathan had to blink away a sting of tears. Ridiculous getting all moony over a picture.

He replaced the picture and secured the backing in place. Then, after returning it to the shelf, he pulled down the picture of Clark and Lex and took that one apart as well. Lex, the inscription on the back of the picture read, this is what love looks like. Clark.

When, Jonathan thought, as he ran the heels of his hands over his eyes, did his son grow up? Only yesterday he was giving him those baths and now-- He shook his head, putting the frame back together again.

On a roll, he took down the last picture and took it apart. There was nothing on the back. Jonathan decided Lex had procured this picture for himself, whereas the other two had obviously been given to him by Clark. When the last frame was reassembled, Jonathan tried to make sure they were back in the same positions they'd been in before.

He turned back to the desk, staring at his list, finishing up beer number five. He looked for a trash bin and found it under the desk, throwing the empty beer bottle within.

Jonathan referred to his notes and picked up his pen.

11. Lex

After a few seconds of no further words, the pen lifted from the paper and a sort of sorrow crept up on Jonathan that he was so resistant to writing something even vaguely positive about Lex. He didn't like what that said about him. He didn't like thinking that even after getting hit in the head with a brick, he could be so stuck in his ways he couldn't even entertain a change.

How could he have grown up raising an alien son and not realize that things aren't always what they seem? Like Lex being the bad guy. Clark being the naive child. Jonathan being the good guy, the one who protects his family. Protects Clark. Jonathan liked those roles. They fit like a comfortable old robe and a pair of ratty old slippers.

Deciding it was better to just rip off the bandaid than prolong the torture, Jonathan started writing feverishly.

12. Lex has known about Clark for a long time and has been protecting him.

13.     Lex pays money to keep Clark safe.
14.     Lex is terrified that something will happen to Clark.
15.     Lex is as terrified as me that something will happen to Clark.
16.     Lex yells at Clark the same way I do.
17.     Lex would kill for Clark.
18.     Lex has killed for Clark.  And for me.

Thinking about Nixon made Jonathan sweat a little. After a few moments he kept writing.

19.     Clark loves Lex.
20.     Lex loves Clark.
21.     I am a stupid, stupid man who has put his child at risk

Jonathan jumped out of the chair and moved to the window. "Fuck," he said to no one in particular. He watched the lines of traffic snake down the streets of the city, looking like tiny Matchbox cars. He had no idea how long he stood there, but his eyes grew weary and he let out a yawn.

He picked up Clark's cell phone and used it to call Martha. When she didn't answer, he left a message, saying he was planning to stay a little longer, maybe have dinner with Clark as well. He hung up and tossed the phone on Lex's desk.

He moved to the couch and sat down. It had its back to the desk, which meant it was facing the city. Jonathan gazed at the view until his eyes grew heavy. He lay down, grabbing the blanket off the couch arm, throwing it over his body. His fingers rubbed it a little. Soft. Nice. He yawned again and closed his eyes.

Some noise reached Jonathan while he was deeply sleeping, and he
started the journey to wakefulness. Most of it was spent in confusion as
he tried to figure out why nothing sounded the way it should, why there
wasn't a nice breeze coming in through the window, why Martha wasn't
there, and why the ceiling looked so different.

A backpack sailing over the back of the couch landing on his legs with a sharp impact woke him up fully, and reminded him that he was at Lex's penthouse and apparently had been sleeping all afternoon, as Clark was home.

He was about to speak when he heard a click and then a phone dialing, and then ringing.

"This better be you," Lex's voice shot over the speaker phone.

"Wow. What happened to, 'Hey, Clark, how was your day?'" Clark responded. Jonathan heard him sink into Lex's desk chair.

"Where the fuck is your cell phone?"

"Uh." There was a pause. "Right here, uh, on your desk?" Clark answered, chagrined.

"And where is it supposed to be?"

"Lex, stop it, all right? Jeez, it's just a cell phone. I'm sorry." Clark sounded just this side of annoyed. Jonathan winced, waiting for Lex's explosion.

"I got more pictures today, Clark. More pictures and more threats. And I've spent all fucking day wondering if you were safe or not. It is not just a fucking cell phone, all right?"

Jonathan could almost hear Clark cringe.

"Lex. I'm fine. Everything's fine." Clark's voice was aiming for soothing. Jonathan, guessing his efforts would be spectacularly unsuccessful, could almost see the lighter fluid making its way through the phone lines to squirt on the metaphorical bonfire on Lex's side of the connection.

"Have you listened to your messages?" Lex barked out.

"I just got in. And the first thing I did was call you. So, whatever message you left, you can just tell me. And I promise I'll be better about the phone. I had lunch with my dad and I was running late--" Clark's voice sort of fizzled out on a hopeful note.

Jonathan waited to see if Lex would let bygones be bygones. He was betting no.

"I'm putting a god damn chip in you when I get home. You know, the type they put in dogs so they can be found when they run off."

"You won't be able to--"

"I'll figure it out," Lex interrupted with a yell. "I'll figure out some way to put a fucking leash on you so I know you're all right. Jesus, Clark, if I had hair, I'd be prematurely gray. You're taking fucking years off my life, here."

"I know, I'm sorry. I'll do better, I promise."

"If I had a dollar for every time you've said that to me--" A huge sigh.

"I really am sorry, Lex."

"I love you, Clark. I don't want to live without you."

"I know that." There was a long pause. "How did they find you in Japan?"

"I have no idea."

"Were they, um, were they bad?"

There was a long sigh, and Jonathan saw the mental image of Clark lifting tractors and cows like they were made of air. He covered his face with his hands, thinking of all the times through the years he'd had Clark helping around the farm, and honestly never given a thought to Clark being under surveillance. Lex was right. Certainly after Nixon and Phelan, Jonathan should have thought of it.

"It doesn't matter." Lex sounded exhausted.

"Lex," Clark said, contrite and almost pleading now, as if suddenly realizing how much he'd screwed up. "Lex, I'm really sorry. I keep messing up. I don't mean to. I don't mean to make you keep paying for my mistakes."

"One of these days, I'm going to turn on the TV and there's going to be one of those infomercials on how to get rich quick." Lex's voice changed to one of a radio announcer. "Yes, folks, you, too, can be a millionaire. For the price of an instamatic camera and a few hours traipsing around the Kent farm, you can earn an instant 200,000 percent return on your investment. Don't worry about your photographic skills, simply get a hint of Clark Kent moving too fast, or lifting something too heavy, and you, too, can be drinking Mai Tai's on your own private resort beach."

Clark groaned.

Jonathan did, too, though very quietly. It would almost be amusing if it wasn't so terrifying. What would they have done, he suddenly wondered, if Lex hadn't been Clark's friend? If he hadn't cared so much? The possibilities were chilling. Maybe Lex being shunted to Smallville by his father was the luckiest thing that had ever happened to the Kent family.

"Lex. I'm sorry. I know I keep saying that--"

"I don't know what to do, Clark." There was a long sigh. "I can't keep paying everyone who comes out of the woodwork. You think I'm kidding about that ad, but I'm not. I can't countenance the way you put yourself at risk anymore."

"What are you saying?" There was real fear in Clark's voice now. And Jonathan was betting it had nothing to do with exposure, and everything to do with Lex writing him off as a bad investment.

There was another long sigh. "I don't know, Clark." There was a pause, and not a happy one. "I better go; I have another meeting I need to prepare for." Lex's voice conveyed a bone-deep weariness.

Jonathan ached for the both of them, which surprised him.

"Can I come see you?" Clark finally said tenderly.

There was a soft snicker. "Not unless you've learned to run on water."

"I mean on a plane," Clark corrected him gently. "I can get the next flight and be there tomorrow, or yesterday, or two days from now, whatever the time difference is."

"You can't leave. You have your internship."

Jonathan could hear the yearning in Lex's voice, and it made him sound so young. Just a young man dealing with too much pressure from all sides.

"The hell with the internship, Lex. I really think I need to come see you and hold you for a while. I love you, and I, well, I just love you. And if my powers are putting our relationship at risk, I'll stop using them. I'll just stop. You're more important to me than anything."

There was long silence.

"Lex?" Clark asked nervously. "Are you still there?"

"I'm still here."

"I love you. I love you so much I can't even begin to tell you. And I don't want to lose you. Please tell me I'm not going to lose you. Please."

Clark sounded close to tears.

"You're not going to lose me. I just don't know what to do. I'm tired. My father--" There was a bitter laugh. "Never mind."

"I'll come push him out a window for you, if it would help," Clark offered.

Jonathan suspected his son meant it.

"I'm tempted to take you up on that."

"Tell me what to do to make this better. To make you feel better. Anything."

"Tell me why my father hates me so much," Lex said in a rush. "Tell me why your father hates me so much. What did I do? I don't understand. What does it say about me that both of them can't stand me?"

Jonathan felt another appalling prick of tears against his eyelids. He knew he shouldn't be listening to this. This was private. Jonathan knew Lex would never, ever say this to anyone but Clark. It made him proud that his son was the person Lex could be so vulnerable to, even as it made his heart hurt knowing how much he'd contributed to Lex's pain.

"They don't hate you," Clark protested. "They just don't understand you."

Jonathan appreciated the effort on his behalf, but Lex had the right of it. Or at least he had until this much needed and painful wake up call.

"And besides," Clark continued, "I think it's a good thing Lionel doesn't like you. That means you're not playing his game, following his rules. That's something to be proud of. I'm proud of you."

"And your father?" Lex asked, his voice asking to be convinced.

"Well, you know that sometimes my dad can hold a grudge like nobody's business. Just look at that stuff with my grandfather. Once my dad's convinced he's right about something, he gets kind of stuck there."

Jonathan winced, especially as it was true.

Clark continued. "He doesn't really hate you, Lex; he hates the thoughts in his head. They don't have anything to do with you. One of these days he'll figure it out."

Lex sighed. "I wish I was there. I wish I was there with you. I wish I could take you someplace and we could be alone without anyone intruding."

"I wish that, too. And remember, I love you. I think you're wonderful, and sexy, and smart--and sexy."

Lex let out a soft laugh. "I get it. Thanks, Clark."

"So, I'll just stop using my powers, okay? I promise."

"Clark, that's not the answer. You have those powers for a reason, and I know as well as you do that you won't be able to stand by and do nothing if someone needs help. We just need to come up with a way for you to use them without putting yourself at risk."

"You'll think of something. I know you will."

Jonathan could hear the complete belief Clark had in Lex. That he knew, beyond any doubt, that Lex would take care of him. Jonathan believed it, too.

"I miss you," Lex said in a voice stripped of all pretense. Jonathan wondered, feeling that squeeze around his heart again, if Lex had anyone besides Clark.

"I miss you, too. And I'm having sex with you on the first night I get to college," Clark added in a determined voice. "Which will be in four weeks, five days, and about 1 hour."

"Jesus, your father is going to kill me."

Jonathan was relieved that he could hear a smile behind Lex's comment. Like maybe dying wouldn't be too high a price if he got to have sex first. Jonathan tried not to focus on exactly who Lex would be having sex with. He heard Clark swivel in the chair and the sound of paper being shifted on the desk. With a sinking feeling, he remembered the pad of paper and his list.

"Shit," Clark said nervously.

"What's the matter?" Lex asked sharply.

"My dad's been here." Clark said ominously.

"I thought you had lunch with him."

"I did. We had lunch here. Then he forgot something so I let him back up."

"And?" Lex asked in a frustrated will-you-get-to-the-damn-point sort of tone.

Jonathan put a hand over his face.

"My son is a--" Clark read out loud. "My dad thinks I'm a slut?" Clark yelped.

"Clark," Lex snapped, "what's going on?"

"Did you, uh, say anything about you and me and sex on that message you left on my cell phone?"

There was a long silence. "Fuck. He really is going to kill me. He heard that? He heard that message? Fuck."

There was an equal silence on Clark's side. Then, "Dad? I can hear your heartbeat."

Busted. Jonathan cursed under his breath. "Yeah?" He lifted himself up and glanced at Clark over the back of the couch.

"He's there? He's been listening to this conversation, too? Fuck. Fine. I'm staying in Japan. I just thought you might like to know that. I'm putting the penthouse up for sale."

Clark grinned at the phone, even as he glared at his dad. "It's not that bad."

Jonathan supposed he deserved that glare. This had been an unforgivable breach of privacy.

"You say that now when I'm an ocean away from you. But he'll be after me with a shotgun the minute I'm back in Kansas. Shit, is he still listening?"

"Um, yeah?"

Jonathan got up, ran a hand through his hair, and walked around the couch, leaning on the end of Lex's desk.

There was a tinkling of ice, then, "Mr. Kent, I apologize for anything I might have said. Needless to say, I had no idea you were listening."

Jonathan cleared his throat. "Actually, Lex, I owe you an apology. I know this was a private conversation. Once it started, I was sort of--well, no, it was private and I should have let Clark know I was here. I'm sorry. Truly."

The grateful smile on Clark's face helped Jonathan think he might just get out of this with his relationship with his son intact.

"Thank you. I appreciate that. I'd also appreciate knowing what sort of damage control I need to do here. I wouldn't want Clark penalized for anything I said."

Jonathan decided there was no time like the present to show Clark he could get unstuck. "If there's anyone who should be penalized, it should be me. I've said some pretty unforgivable things to you, Lex, and you didn't deserve it. It's clear to me that you've been taking care of my family for a long time and I'm grateful. And you're right. I have been taking stupid chances with Clark. I can't believe it never occurred to me I was putting him in danger."

Jonathan almost enjoyed the dumbfounded expression on his son's face. Almost. He would have been able to truly enjoy it if the reason his son was looking so pole-axed wasn't because he'd never imagined his father could be this reasonable.

"I'm--I don't, uh, I don't quite know what to say," Lex stammered out uncharacteristically.

Lex sounded as pole-axed as Clark looked.

"Maybe you could give me some hints on how to keep Clark safe. I think together we can do a pretty good job." Jonathan was determined he'd start doing a hell of a better job than he'd been doing.

There was a quickly exhaled breath, then, "Mr. Kent, as I'm sure Clark would be the first person to assure you, there isn't exactly a manual on how to deal with a situation like this. And I know you rely on Clark to help out at the farm. There's no reason he has to stop, you just both have to be more cautious. Push the tractor into the barn before he works on it. At the very least, before he does anything, have him use his powers to listen for anything airborne or for the sounds of recording or taping devices. Just that alone will take care of 90% of the risk."

"And the other 10%?" Jonathan asked.

"That's what Clark has me for."

"Sounds like you've been taking care of 100% of the risk, Lex."

"I wasn't about to let anything happen to Clark. He's too important to me."

Jonathan looked at the floor for a moment; the lump in his throat felt like the size of Kansas. He cleared his throat. "Lex."

"Yes, Mr. Kent."

"If your father hates you, it's only because he's a very stupid man. Anyone should be proud to have you as a son."

Jonathan heard Lex clearing his own throat. He also thought he heard a sniff. Glancing up, he saw that Clark's eyes were very bright.

"I'm in love with your son," Lex stated, sounding as if the comment might lose him everything he'd just possibly gained.

"I know. I think he's in good hands." Jonathan suddenly found himself being hugged by his son. He patted Clark on the back, enjoying the sentiment. "I'll let you and Clark finish up your conversation in private." He pulled back and pointed toward the kitchen. "Maybe I'll go eat some of our leftovers from lunch."

"I'll join you in a few minutes," Clark said.

Jonathan nodded, and headed toward the kitchen. He heard Clark lower the pitch of his voice, heard his softly spoken endearments. It made Jonathan ache for Martha. Wishing the penthouse wasn't quite so large, he walked slowly, wanting to hear for as long as he could.

Clark was telling Lex he loved him, that he missed him, to please hurry home. Lex was asking Clark to make sure his father wasn't a pod person, that he loved Clark, that if it was up to him he'd be home on the next flight, that he'd try to wrap up his business as soon as possible.

Eventually, Jonathan was out of range. He'd have stayed to eavesdrop but he had no doubt Clark was listening out for him. Not that it mattered. Jonathan didn't think there was much they could talk about at this point that could shock him.

But he had to admit he was drawn. Lex and Clark. They seemed like some sort of day time drama, the kind of stuff Martha watched when she wasn't feeling well. How had they managed to stay together all this time, their relationship growing so strong? He certainly hadn't helped.

He opened the refrigerator but before he could pull anything out, Clark was there. Jonathan looked at him but couldn't think of a single thing to say. He smiled at Clark, hoping it came across like he meant it: that everything was fine, that despite the fact that his world view had been turned on its ass, it really was okay.

Clark smiled back. "Does Mom know you're still here?"

Jonathan winced. "I better call her. I did tell her I'd be late, but I didn't expect to be this late. The animals need to be fed."

"I'll go do it," Clark offered. "You give her a call, and I'll be back in a little while. Maybe we could have dinner before you head home?"

Denying that hopeful look in Clark's eyes was beyond Jonathan. "Sure. I'd like that." Lunch aside, it had been a long time since Jonathan had had the luxury to spend so much time with Clark. Besides, they had a few things to talk about.

"Great," Clark said with another smile.

"And, son? Please make sure you're careful. I don't want to have to answer to Lex if someone sees you."

Clark let out a snort and then was gone in a fast blur. Jonathan moved back to Lex's office. He liked it in here. Maybe he should have Lex redo Clark's fortress into a room like this. Of course, it wouldn't have quite the same view. He snickered, reaching for the phone.

"Kent Farm," came the sound of his lovely wife.

"Martha," Jonathan said in response, loving her so much, knowing she was largely responsible for making Clark into the man he was today. Someone who could look beneath the bullshit and see the worth of what lay underneath.

"Jonathan. Where are you?" she scolded.

"Still in Metropolis. Clark should be there any second to get the chores done." Just that minute, even through the phone, Jonathan heard Clark rush in, kiss his mom on the cheek and rush out.

Martha let out a surprised laugh. "Why aren't you here doing your chores, Mr. Kent?"

"It's a very long story, and I'll tell you all about it as soon as I get home. I thought I'd have dinner with Clark when he gets back, and then I'll get on the road."

"Everything's all right?" she asked a little nervously.

Jonathan thought about it for a few moments. He glanced down at his list and mentally wrote number 22: I have someone to love, and my son has someone to love. We are both very lucky men. "Yeah, everything's great. I love you."

"I love you, too, Jonathan. Don't be too late."

"I won't." He disconnected the phone, placing it back in its cradle. Tearing the top sheets off the legal pad, he folded the papers and tucked them in his pocket. They'd be a good visual aid for Martha.

He spun in the chair again and saw the three photographs. As soon as Jonathan could arrange it, he wanted a new picture taken for Lex to add to his collection. And this one wouldn't need an instruction booklet written on the back of it, telling Lex what it meant. This one would speak for itself.

Jonathan thought about Lex and what he'd been doing to protect Clark for years without drawing any attention to himself. Thought about his struggle to keep his head above water with a father, two fathers, who made it plain how much they didn't approve of him. Thought about how Lex had still managed to find the wherewithal to love Clark so completely.

Yeah, Jonathan thought, as he imagined a fourth picture sitting on Lex's shelf--this is what family looks like.

The End
May 21, 2005