The scarecrow's head lolled forward, straining against the twine tying it to the post. Rough-spun overalls covered faded flannel with old work gloves secured at the wrists. A straw hat shaded its head. Buttons and colored yarn decorated the burlap face in a rictus of a smile.
Clark Kent stared at the scarecrow sullenly, as he speared a piece of trash on the ground. Around him, laughter and conversations mixed with the live country band playing Charlie Daniels. The Annual Arts and Crafts Fair drew Smallville residents and out-of-town visitors alike. Smoke from the barbeque tinged the scent of cooking chicken. Racks, booths, and tables spread across the open yard behind the Retirement Center, hemmed in by Lemaris Pond and the woods. Baked goods, handcrafts, woodcrafts, paintings, and sculptures were on display, for sale or for simple enjoyment.
A couple of kids knocked into Clark as they rushed past. He received an apologetic smile from their harried mother as she hurried after them. The warm June sun beat on Clark's head and made him uncomfortable. With his body temperature higher than a human's, summertime wasn't his favorite season.
Clark stuck the trash in the garbage bag he carried and continued on with his litter clean up. He exchanged polite greetings with those who said hello, but was otherwise left alone. He didn't receive dirty looks or edged comments. He didn't overhear people talking about him behind his back. It was like no one cared that Clark Kent, the Gay Boy was around.
Clark had spent his life hiding his sexuality in fear. He expected repercussions – to be ostracized or hunted – after being exposed. It had been three weeks since he'd been released from detention at the Juvenile Justice Center and, in that time, he'd overheard comments about what had happened with Desiree Atkins but hardly anything about his being gay. At the Talon, the hotbed of teen gossip, his and Lex Luthor's kiss in front of the school had been the topic of conversation for less than a day before everyone had gone back to their self-absorbed lives.
Clark didn't quite know what to do. He'd anticipated the worst and was left floundering by it not coming to pass. It reminded him of Eric Summers and the hero worship he'd received when he'd had possession of Clark's kryah. If Eric had had Clark's control over his powers, the town might still be praising its 'Super Boy'.
That didn't mean Clark wanted his other secret outed, though. He might not end up an experiment in a lab somewhere if it was revealed, but he wouldn't risk his family and friends to test that theory. He'd let those that thought he was one of the meteorite-affected keep thinking that and have faith that the few who knew the truth wouldn't tell. He had no desire to be splashed across the front page of the newspaper.
Popping up from the opposite side of a painting exhibit rack, in a bright red bucket hat, Chloe Sullivan grinned unrepentantly over the frame of her digital camera. "Say cheese!"
Clark glared, though he wasn't sure if it was aimed at Chloe with all the white spots dancing in his vision.
"Dude, orange is so not your color." Justin Gaines, wearing the same kind of hat as Chloe only in blue, propped his chin on his girlfriend's shoulder and looked at the camera display. "You're much more of a winter."Clark tugged at the fluorescent orange work vest he wore over a green t-shirt and jeans. "The Parks Department is making me wear it during community service." "And blinding people helps the community how?"
Clark flicked off Justin, who blew an obnoxious kiss in return. Immediately, Clark felt his neck heat in self-consciousness and glanced around. The exhibit racks made eight rows near the woods, with paintings and photographs hanging on each side of the displays. Cards beside the pictures indicated price and which booth to go to for purchase. A handful of people wandered through the displays, dressed in shorts and t-shirts. No one was paying attention.
"I think I'm going to enlarge this one and hang it on my wall," Chloe said, "so when my life is sucking I can just look at Clark and remember: at least I'm not wearing something like that in public."
"Don't you guys have other people to bother?" Clark said, stabbing at a crumpled napkin on the ground.
"We've bothered them already." Chloe looped her camera strap around her wrist. "Now, we're bothering you."
"Mission accomplished, so go away. I have work to do."
Justin's dark brows rose. "Did someone wake up on the wrong side of the hammock this morning?""No," Clark said, straightening a painting of a dilapidated barn standing in the middle of a field, forgotten. "I just want to put in my hours and be done." "Last day?" Chloe asked, squinting despite her hat. Her shoulders and the tip of her nose were sunburned.
"Yeah. I managed to get two weekends in a row, to get it over with," Clark said.
"Maybe we'll see you around more, now that your weekends are free." Chloe feigned recollection. "Oh, wait, that's right, you've been out of school since the beginning of the month. Entire days with nothing to occupy your time."
"I had finals to make up—""On two days." "—and essays to write—"
"Which you can do in your sleep."
"—and my Probation appointments and anger-management classes."
"They only meet for an hour each a week." Chloe folded her arms, resting them on top of Justin's around her waist. "Face it: you're playing ostrich."
"Am not." Clark's response sounded childish even to his own ears. He scowled and poked a candy wrapper with the trash stick.
"Maybe you've got the wrong bird, Chloe," Justin said. "Maybe he's a chicken." He pretended to peck her cheek.
Clark hunched his shoulders, annoyed and unhappy. "Will you guys just leave me alone?"
"We have left you alone and where has it gotten you?" Chloe stared pointedly at him. "Hiding in your loft, not answering your cell and barely saying two words in response to emails."
"I've been busy."
"Liar, liar, pants on fire," Justin sang, earning an acidic look. Justin wasn't fazed. "Look, we get that coming out is After School Special-hard, but, dude, nobody watches After School Specials anymore."
"They replaced it with Will & Grace," Chloe picked up the thread and Clark wondered if they'd rehearsed or if it was natural. They were both offbeat enough for the latter. "People don't care that you're gay, Clark. And those that do will only say stupid things behind your back. They're not going to pretend you touched them because you're on that list."
"Chloe," Clark hissed, gaze darting to the nearest people looking at the artwork.
Chloe flapped a hand dismissively. "Nobody knows what I mean, and no one is going to know."
"Some people already do," Clark said between clenched teeth, "and they don't know how to keep their mouths shut."
"We're your friends, Clark. None of us would ever use that information from your juvie file against you," Chloe said. "Not even Lana, and I don't think anyone could be more pissed off at you than she is right now."
Clark's forehead furrowed in confusion. "Why is Lana mad at me?"
"Uh, could it be that you broke Lex's heart?"
Clark winced. "Oh."
"Yeah, 'oh'." Chloe studied him. "You're hiding because of that, too, aren't you?"
"No," Clark said, but it sounded false even to his ears. He moved away from them quickly, sidestepped an elderly gentleman peering closely at a black-and-white photograph of an ear of corn, and turned the corner to go down another row.
Chloe's tenacity had her dogging his heels, dragging Justin behind her. "You are. You're doing the classic avoidance technique so you don't have to see Lex."
Clark didn't respond, though she'd hit on the truth. Lex was in love with him and he was scared to deal with it. He'd gotten good at not thinking about it, especially since he hadn't seen Lex since the day Lex had revealed his feelings. Lex worked at the KentCorp plant and no longer came to the farm, and Clark hadn't sought him out. He didn't know what he'd say, anyway.
"You do realize you're being stupid," Chloe said.
"Drop it, Chloe."
"He made you float, Clark."Clark stopped abruptly and she bumped into his back. He turned around with a glower. "Drop. It."
Chloe's jaw thrust forward at a mulish angle. "I'm not going to let you throw away something great just because you're a chicken with his head in the sand."
"Mixing metaphors there, honey," Justin said from behind her. "And I thought you gave up on getting Clark and Lex together. You're the one who set Lex up on his date today."
Clark's head jerked. "Date?"
"That's right, I did," Chloe said with a nod, after a pause. "Lex and his date are probably here right now."
A growl erupted from Clark's throat. "Who is it?"
Chloe folded her arms. "I don't think so. You don't get to be jealous if you don't do anything yourself."
"Tell—" A sharp crack cut off Clark's demand for an answer. All three of them whirled in the direction of the sound.
"Was that a gunshot?" Justin said, just as a woman let out a scream.
Clark dropped the garbage bag and trash sticker as he, Chloe, and Justin ran towards the woman. She stood three rows over from them, pointing at something on the ground, still screaming. They rounded the corner of the exhibit racks and found a teenager lying in the grass with a bullet wound in his forehead.
"Oh my—!" Chloe's exclamation was drowned under another shot ringing out.
Everything slowed around Clark, as he searched with his eyes for the flying bullet with superspeed. But the Retirement Center yard was vast and cluttered with booths, tables, and displays, people hovered in mid-motion as they'd turned to flee, and he didn't know from which direction the shot had been fired.
He was searching so far out that he almost missed spotting the bullet as it connected with Justin's temple. He reacted instantly, grabbing Justin by the front of his shirt and yanking hard. Justin's hat came off and he rammed into Chloe on his way forward and the two went sprawling on the ground. Clark watched as the deflected bullet angled towards the display rack. Normal time returned as the framed picture shattered on impact.
Around him rose screams and shouts of chaos as people ran. The woman who'd seen the other teenager go down collapsed in a faint. Clark spun in the direction of the woods, where the bullet had come from, and narrowed his eyes slightly. His telescopic vision kicked in and he zoomed in on the trees. A short distance in stood a man with a rifle, wearing camouflage and half-standing behind a thick tree. He jerked when he found Clark looking right back at him through the scope and Clark got a good look at the shooter.Van McNulty.
Looking spooked, McNulty shouldered his rifle and took off deeper into the woods. Clark was about to go after him when Chloe's terror-filled voice stopped him.
"Um, ow," Justin's voice was shaky with pain. He knelt beside Chloe, clutching the side of his head. Blood curved along his cheek and dripped on the collar of his shirt. A line cut from his temple to the back of his head where the bullet had grazed him, as Clark had pulled him to the ground."You're bleeding!" Chloe took of her hat and pressed it to Justin's head. She was as pale as a ghost and her hands shook visibly. "Did you get hit? Are you hurt anywhere else?"
"I don't think so." Justin swayed and Chloe clutched his shoulder. "I think I might need to go to the hospital, though."
"Oh, god, Justin! Justin!" Chloe exclaimed in fear, as Justin's eyes rolled back. He passed out. "Justin!"
"I'm calling for help. Just keep the hat pressed against the wound," Clark told Chloe, trying to stay calm. He crouched beside the body lying next to them in the grass, checked for a pulse, and pulled his cell from his pocket. He dialed 911. "This is Clark Kent. I'm at the Arts and Crafts Fair. Two people have been shot. One is dead, the other is bleeding from a head wound…"
"You're sure about this, Clark?"
Sheriff Ethan Miller's mustache twitched as he flipped closed his notepad and tucked it in the front pocket of his brown uniform shirt. "I'll get my deputies right on it, then."
Nurses and orderlies in colorful scrubs moved between the rooms in the Intensive Care Unit of the Smallville Medical Center. Observation windows with slatted blinds broke the uniformity of the seafoam green walls. Clark ducked into one of the individual rooms after Sheriff Ethan left. Justin sat propped in a hospital bed in a cheery yellow hospital gown. Thick white gauze was wrapped around his head. Chloe perched beside him, still pale, speaking on her cell phone.
"I will, Dad. Tell Le—, er," she glanced at Clark as he dropped into the hard plastic chair under the window, beside the bed, "Leslie we're all okay. Bye."
"The Sheriff's on his way to arrest McNulty," Clark said, after Chloe terminated the call.
"I can't believe he'd do something like this," Chloe said. "He doesn't even know Justin. Why would he shoot him?"
"Maybe I wrote something in the paper he didn't like," Justin said with a shrug. "Otherwise, I have no clue."
"Justin wasn't the first person he shot, though," Clark said. "That other guy was hit first. Maybe Justin was next by proximity. It could've easily been Chloe or that other lady.""Or you," Chloe said.
"I guess we'll find out after he's in custody," Clark said.
"After who's in custody?" Whitney Fordman appeared in the doorway, wearing the salmon-colored scrubs of a volunteer with a security badge clipped to the hem. He came into the room and clasped hands with Justin in a teammate-like grip. "Gaines, I heard you were shot. Chloe sick of you already?"
"Don't joke like that," Chloe said sharply. "Justin could've died."
"I know." Whitney became serious. "Gaines is the first gunshot victim who hasn't been DOA in the past three days."
"There have been others? Besides the kid we came in with?" Clark said.
Whitney nodded. "Eight of 'em. They've been stacking up down in the morgue."
"Eight?" Chloe's nose twitched, as she smelled a news lead. "I haven't heard or read anything about it."
"The Sheriff told us to keep a lid on it until they find the shooter," Whitney said. "I don't think anyone knows about it outside the Sheriff's Department and us in the basement."
"Of all the times for me not to be listening to the scanner," Chloe grumbled.
"Have you got a list?" Clark asked, his own investigative nose twitching.
Chloe exchanged a look with him, picking up on his train of thought. "You think Van shot them all?"
"Van? You mean McNulty?" Whitney sounded surprise. "He's the killer?"
"He shot Justin and one other guy, that we know for sure," Clark said. "Get us the list and we may be able to figure out if he shot the others and why."
"Be right back, then." Whitney smirked at Clark on his way out the door. "Nice vest, by the way."
"Nice scrubs," Clark scoffed in return. He removed the orange vest and balled it up once Whitney was gone.
"What would make someone just start shooting people?" Justin said, touching the gauze wrapped around his head.
"I don't know," Chloe said, moving closer to him. "I'd have to do some research."
Justin put his arm around her and she leaned her head against his chest. "I'm going to run to the restroom," Clark said, figuring they needed another moment alone.He ran across Justin's mom still arguing with the billing department about insurance and was reminded to call his own parents to reassure them he was all right. "Oh, something happened at the fair?" was the distracted response he received and shook his head with fond amusement at them.
He returned to the room at the same time as Whitney. Whitney's mouth curved in a jeer when he saw Clark no longer wore his vest. Clark flicked him off behind his back.
"Here's the list," Whitney said, unfolding a copier page. He handed it to Chloe. "I starred the ones that are the gunshot victims."
"I recognize these names," Chloe said, scanning the list.
"How so?" Justin said, reading over her shoulder."I think they're all MAs."
Clark didn't like the sound of that. He reached for the list. "You sure?"
"I updated the database recently and I think they were all in there." Chloe looked at Justin. "You're in there, too."
"McNulty's shooting MAs?" Whitney said. "Why?"
"Karen McNulty." Clark stared at the list, as his brain put together some unpleasant puzzle pieces. "Van's mom. Remember, she was killed by a MA?"
"Trent Shivs," Chloe said with a nod.
Whitney frowned. "You think this is a revenge gig?"
"I don't know," Clark said. A bad feeling settled in his gut. "I guess, once they arrest him, we'll find out."
Pete Ross dropped the bomb later that evening. Clark had gone over to Chloe's house after the hospital, to compare the list to the MA database and found that the names did match. They'd been working on making other connections between the victims as they waited. One of Pete's brothers was a Deputy Sheriff and Pete had promised to badger him about McNulty, after Chloe's call.
"What do you mean missing?" Chloe said. She sat in front of her computer in her bedroom, with the police scanner crackling on the shelf above the desk. Clark rolled from his stomach into a cross-legged position on her bed, knocking several of her stuffed animals onto the floor.
"As in he wasn't home." Pete tossed his ballcap onto the bed beside Clark. "The house was empty. They canvassed the area, but nobody's seen him since school let out."
"So, he's still out there with a gun?"
"Maybe he'll lie low since there's an APB out for him," Pete said. "Jack told me they're putting his face on TV21 news at six and ten tonight."
"A lot of good that does for the people he's already hurt or killed," Chloe said. "The public should've been informed that there was a shooter on the loose when it started."
"And create a panic?" Clark shook his head. "Public attention is what serial killers crave and it makes the police look incompetent."
"The police are incompetent," Chloe snapped. "Eight people are dead and Justin was nearly number nine."
"Don't make this personal, Chloe," Clark said. "Good journalists don't let emotion cloud their judgment."
"Well, let's see if emotion clouds your judgment when it's Lex lying there in the hospital."
"Guys, guys!" Pete moved between them and held up his hands. "Don't we have more important things to do besides fight? Like finding McNulty?"
Chloe's cell phone trilled before she or Clark could reply. "Hello?" she said into the receiver. "Hi, Whitney—what? Another one? Two!"
Clark climbed off the bed and hurried to her side as she began typing a name into the database on the computer. Pete crowded beside him on the other side of her desk chair. "Jake Pollen and Gabby Hayes," Chloe repeated their names. The hourglass icon turned over on the computer screen as the database was searched. A few seconds later, Jake's MA page came up on the display. The search results were the same for Gabby. "God, they're both MAs, just like all the others."
"Shit, Jodi." Pete whipped his cell phone out and hit a couple buttons.
Clark's heart thudded against his breastbone, as he ripped his own cell from his pocket. He thumbed through the speed dial until Lex came up and put the call through. "We need to warn the other MAs," he said in a tight voice, the line ringing in his ear.
"That's, like, thirty percent of Smallville!" Chloe said, then spoke into the phone again. "Whitney, what's the security like at the hospital? Van is going after the MAs…""Jodi, stay inside with your dad tonight. Some lunatic is killing MAs. Lock your doors and keep away from the windows. If anyone comes over that isn't me, eat them."
"Lex, pick up, pick up." With each ring that went unanswered, Clark's panic grew. What if something had happened to Lex already? "Chloe, do you know the number to the KentCorp labs? Lex isn't answering."
"He didn't go in today," Chloe said, lowering the receiver from her mouth. She looked over her shoulder with worry. "He went to the fair with my dad. Dad said he was taking Lex home after I called from the hospital."
Clark was out the door before the last word left her mouth. He didn't even connect Chloe's dad with being Lex's date. Fear fueled his steps as he raced across town. He'd check Lex's apartment, then KentCorp. Lex had to be at one of those places, safe and unhurt. Anything else was unthinkable.
Bile from terror choked him when he reached downtown and found yellow police tape cordoning off an area near the Talon. Small numbered cones marked points within the taped square. Silver and black cases sat open on the ground filled with evidence-gathering equipment. Investigators from the Sheriff's Department hovered mid-action over dark splotches on the sidewalk, as the red and blue lights from the squad cars rotated over the scene.
Clark took out a chunk of brick wall as he rounded the corner to the alley at superspeed. The sun was still out, the shadows just starting to lengthen. A cat was frozen in the air, having leapt from a trash dumpster. At the top of the metal steps, Clark saw Lex standing with someone else on the small landing outside of his apartment.
"Lex!" he called, dropping into human-speed at the bottom of the steps. Disgust knotted his gut when the other person turned. Sam Phelan.
The bug-eyed rat of a Metropolis Detective sneered, as Clark took the steps two at a time. His footsteps rang hollowly against the metal. "Kent, how surprising to see you," Phelan said sarcastically.
"What are you doing here?" Clark ground out, crowding onto the landing. He cased Lex quickly. Lex appeared fine, if unhappy. He stood in the open doorway of his apartment, his hands tucked in the sides of his overalls, which were buttoned over his bare shoulders. The sun curved along his bald scalp, painting his smooth skin gold. Seeing him again felt like giving a drink of water to a parched man.
"I'm paying my respects to Rickman's new employee," Phelan said, motioning to Lex.
"He doesn't work for Rickman and he never will," Clark said, tearing his gaze away from Lex.
"Oh, I don't know about that." Phelan half-turned, looking at Lex. "He seemed mighty interested before you showed up."
Clark's eyes snapped to Lex again. Lex bit his lower lip and dropped his chin. "Lex…?""He'll post bad things about you in public places if I don't," Lex said, rocking on his heels. He stopped and lifted his chin, the intensity of his gaze boring suddenly into Clark. "I won't let that happen."
"Aw, isn't that sweet?" Phelan cooed. "Standing up for your butt-buddy."
"Shut up, Phelan," Clark snapped, giving Phelan a shove.Phelan tsked. "Assaulting an officer's against the law, you know. I'd hate to have to arrest you, what with your ticket to Boys School already waiting for you to step out of line."
Clark clenched his fists, his nostrils flaring in anger. Phelan took a step closer, standing toe-to-toe with him. "You thought you'd won, with your stunt in Court and that suppression order being issued to the press. I think it's time you learned that you don't mess—"
The retort of a rifle close by drowned Phelan's words and froze Clark to the bone. The world around him stilled, as his head whipped around at superspeed. His fears took form when he spotted McNulty on the building across the alleyway, rifle braced on the edge of the roof. He sought the bullet along the line of McNulty's scope. The sun glinted on its surface as it sliced through the air. He could see the stream of displaced particles like waves trailing behind it.
A flick of his eyes predicted its trajectory and he knocked Phelan aside. The bullet sailed over the garden box filled with flowers in bloom. He threw his hand out to catch it before it hit Lex in the head. The heated metal touched his palm and his hand was suddenly on fire. He sucked in a pain-filled gasp, time snapping back to normal, as the bullet speared through his hand.
He stumbled dizzily with a bitten cry, clutching his hand to his chest. "Clark!" Lex yelled, as Phelan crashed into Clark with a gurgle, his bug eyes almost popping out of his head. Blood spurted from his neck, splattering Clark as he grabbed Clark's shirt. The bullet's path had veered when it went through Clark's hand, hitting Phelan instead of Lex. Phelan sank down on his knees. Another crack sounded as Lex rushed towards Clark. Clark could see the bullet as it passed over the garden box and he threw himself at Lex.
Pain exploded in his back and licked through his body when the second bullet hit him. He and Lex crashed to the ground and he heaved, blood and vomit staining the threshold. His lungs felt like they were boiling.
"Clark! Clark!" Lex shouted in his ear, shoving at Clark's prone form.
Clark's vision faded in and out as he tried to push himself up. "Not safe," he gasped around the metallic tasted in his mouth. He had to get Lex out of there. Lex would be a sitting duck in the apartment, with the door to the Talon locked. Clark didn't think he could break it at the moment and by the time they called Lana or her Aunt Nell, McNulty could be inside already.
He gathered his strength, fighting the encroaching darkness. A third retort echoed in the air, jolting him into action. With a fierce roar, Clark shoved himself to his feet, grabbed Lex like a doll, and shot down the stairs. He hit the bottom and the world went out from under him. His legs collapsed and his speed sent him into a skid along the gritty pavement, dragging Lex with him. He tried to push himself upright again when they came to a stop. He had to get Lex safe.
He heard the clank of a manhole cover and suddenly he was being jostled and jerked across the ground. He retched again and choked on blood. "Don't die, don't die, don't die," Lex begged in a frantic voice.
The boiling feeling spread through his chest and fiery lashes tore at his neck. Blood clogged his nose and filled his mouth. He couldn't breathe, strangled by agony. He faded in and out, hardly aware of his arms and legs bouncing and banging against cement and metal.
"Cyrus!" he heard from what sounded like a tunnel, and he was dragged across the ground again. His eyes rolled back and everything went dark.
"He's waking up."
"Clark? Are you okay?"
Was he okay? He did an internal check and found the pain had completely gone. A rotten taste lingered in his mouth, but otherwise he felt fine. "Lex?"
"I'm right here." Lex shifted beside him and the fingers stopped brushing through his hair. "Do you still hurt?"
"No." Memories flitted through his mind: the hot metal searing his palm, Phelan's blood, a bullet meant for Lex striking Clark in the back instead. Clark shoved up onto his knees abruptly, knocking someone over. The warmth left his back. "McNulty. We have to get you…," he trailed off as he took in their surroundings. They were the front yard of an unfamiliar white house, near the road. Alicia Baker was helping her boyfriend, Cyrus Krup sit up. Most importantly, Lex knelt beside him, with abrasions on his arm and cheek, along with dried blood and vomit on his forearm. Black marks scuffed along one side of his denim overalls. He wasn't lying dead from a bullet wound in front of his apartment.
Clark reached out and touched Lex's injured cheek. Lex pressed into his hand. "You're hurt."
"I'll heal," Lex said. Clark could feel him trembling slightly.
"Here, Lex. I'll fix you up," Cyrus said.Clark dropped his hand and took a deep breath. His lungs no longer felt like they were boiling. "What happened?"
"You were shot," Lex said, as Cyrus laid his hands on Lex's arm. "Cyrus healed you."
Clark turned to Cyrus, who shrugged. Dried blood streaked his forehead and blue-tipped hair. "It's what I do." His hands began glowing with a golden light. Clark knew, from his matchmaking research, that Cyrus could heal physical injury with a touch. Clark was still amazed as he watched the abrasions on Lex's arm faded away entirely within seconds.
"Here's the bullet." Alicia held out her palm in front of Clark. Green glowing flecks emanated from the blood-smeared, compacted rifle shell. A faint roll of nausea turned Clark's stomach. Kryptonite.
"You can throw it out," Clark said.
Cyrus leaned closer and checked Clark's back. His hands radiated warmth as he ran them over Clark's shoulder blade. "Seems like it's all healed. Let me know if there's any pain and I'll dose you again. Otherwise, you should be fine."
"That's…" Clark didn't know what to say, so he went with a simple, "Thanks."
Cyrus shrugged again and handed Clark his t-shirt. The material was caked with blood and singed around a jagged hole where the bullet had hit. Dried blood itched his hand where the other bullet had gone through his palm. The skin was unblemished beneath the blood.
"I'll let you use my bathroom to wash up." Cyrus got to his feet. "Follow me."Clark glanced at Lex, who stared back with worried eyes. "I'm okay," he tried to reassure.
Lex nodded jerkily, but didn't seem relieved.
In Cyrus's bathroom, Clark cleaned up quickly, invading Cyrus's medicine cabinet for toothpaste and mouthwash. His t-shirt had gone in the trash. He looked a bit wild around the edges in the mirror's reflection. He could feel adrenaline buzzing under his skin, transmuted from fear and pain. Flashes of McNulty on the roof, the bullets aimed for Lex, and the blood spurting from Phelan's neck ran again through his mind. It was horribly wrong of him to hope Phelan had died, but at the moment he didn't care.
Lex, Cyrus and Alicia were waiting in Cyrus's bedroom when Clark came out. The small bedroom was decorated with alien movie posters and astronomy photographs. Complex electronic radio equipment cluttered a countertop built along one wall. Cyrus and Alicia sat cross-legged next to each other on the single bed. Lex picked at the small tear in the knee of his overalls, sitting in the desk chair in front of a computer, with one bare foot tucked under his opposite knee. He'd cleaned up in another bathroom. Clark fought the urge to embrace him and never let go.
"What's going on?" Alicia asked. "Lex said he didn't know why someone was shooting at you guys."
"Van McNulty is hunting mutants," Clark said. Alicia gasped and Cyrus paled. "It'd be best if you two popped out of town until he's caught.""What about you two?" Cyrus said. He glanced at Alicia, who nodded to him. "Alicia can take all four of us out of here."
"I need to help Chloe warn the other MAs." Clark turned to Lex. He hadn't thought about getting Lex out of town and was itchy about letting him out of sight. Lex would be the safest, though, if he weren't in Smallville. "Lex—"
"I'm not leaving you," Lex said, with a stubborn tilt to his chin.
Clark heard the finality in Lex's tone and unless he had Alicia take Lex by force, Lex wasn't leaving. He knew where Lex could go, however, where he wouldn't be found. "We'll call when it's okay to come back," Clark said, dropping the argument. "The Sheriff's Department is out looking for him. They would've heard the gunshots at Lex's, but since Chloe or Pete hasn't called, he probably wasn't caught."
"Okay. Let us know if there's any way we can help," Alicia said.
"We will. Stay safe."
"You, too."Clark followed Lex out of Cyrus's house and across the road to the storm ditch. Lex's board lay halfway out of the drainage pipe, the spelunker's band with attached light tossed a few feet away. Clark felt exposed and hovered protectively as Lex turned the board around. "Take us to your old place, in the sub-basement," Clark said, when they were ready to go.
The underground ride to KentCorp was tense. Arousal coiled tighter with every shift of Lex's leg muscles beneath Clark's grip, reminding Clark why else he'd been avoiding Lex. The adrenaline coursing beneath his skin amped his response, weaving it with the fear, anger, and protectiveness roiling inside him, forming a knot deep in his gut. By the time they arrived, he was nearly vibrating with need, his erection throbbing against his thigh, along the inner leg of his jeans.
"You have to stay here," Clark said, as soon as they were past the hinged grate. The sub-basement seemed to have shrunk in size. The construction lamp spotlighted the nest of blankets that looked freshly rumpled. The board-and-sawhorse workbenches hemmed them in, crowding them towards the bedding. He tightened his clenched fists and inhaled deeply, trying to fortify himself. Instead, Lex's scent filled his nostrils, stirring the flames.
"So do you," Lex said, closing the distance between them. Anxiety shaded his features. "You're not invulnerable to him. It scares me."
"The bullets contained kryptonite. It surprised me." Clark forced himself not to step back. This would've been easier if he'd taken the time weeks ago to talk to Lex. "He won't surprise me again."
"You may not love me, but I love you." Lex's gaze stripped him to the core. "I can't bear seeing you hurt in any way."
Clark felt helpless under the sudden onslaught of emotion that hit him. "Lex…"
Lex threw his arms around Clark's shoulders abruptly, hugging him tightly. "You can't leave. You almost died."
Clark's heart squeezed painfully when he felt Lex trembling. He wrapped his arms around Lex's back and held him close. "I'll be okay. I promise."
"I don't want you to die," Lex whispered in a wavering tone, his face tucked against Clark's neck.
Clark pulled back slightly, slid his hand under Lex's chin and urged him to look up. Lex's eyes shined damply, but no tears wet his cheeks. "I promised you wouldn't be lost again, remember?"
"Yes," Lex said, "but—"
Clark moved his thumb, pressing it over Lex's lips. "No buts. I promised and I always keep my word."
Lex's reddish-gold lashes lowered. Clark felt the smoothness of the scar bisecting Lex's lip, as Lex responded quietly, "Okay."
Clark lowered his hand and Lex's eyelashes swept up again. Clark fell into his trusting gaze and the world suddenly narrowed to just them. His breath hitched as suppressed arousal thrummed back to life under his skin. An awakening spark lit in Lex's blue eyes as the air around them charged. In the back of his mind, Clark could hear shouts of warning: that he couldn’t have this; that he needed to run away.
Lex tugged the back of Clark's neck, his grip unyielding, as he tilted his chin, and the voice was washed away in a tidal wave of desire that struck the moment their lips met.
Need slammed through Clark, overpowering rational thought. He hadn't had sex since mid-May and his alien libido surged hungrily at the touch. He cupped Lex's face and plundered his mouth with pent-up passion. Lex's fingernails scratched at the back of his neck and bare shoulders. He pressed himself closer to Clark, as if he were trying to meld them together.
Clark's breathing was harsh and heavy, echoed by Lex's gasping gulps for air as Clark mouthed sharp kisses down his chin and along his jawline. Lex's head tilted back, granting access and Clark sucked a bruise on the taut cord of his neck. He popped the catches on Lex's overalls and the pocketed bib bunched between them.
"Clark, please, I want…" Lex sounded broken and needy, and he pushed his hips against Clark's. Clark felt the rigid line of Lex's erection through the confining layers of denim and a growl of possessiveness reverberated in Clark's throat.
Clark dropped to his knees, yanking the overalls down with him. Lex's cock bounced up from dark auburn curls, flushed and eager. The long, thin length slid easily past Clark's lips and rested hot and heavy on his tongue. "Oh," Lex gasped, his eyes huge as he stared at Clark, and then he was coming with the suckled hollowing of Clark's cheeks and the stroke of a hand.
Lex staggered and went to his knees when Clark released him. Pink splotches from orgasm covered his face and bare scalp and his chest heaved with heavy breathing. He gaped at Clark in wonder and shock, and Clark's erection nearly burst his pant-seams. Clark unbuttoned his jeans, pushed them around his thighs, and wrapped his hand around his turgid cock. Sitting on his heels, he jerked himself hard, slicking his thumb through the wetness at the tip, straining with the need to come. Lex's gaze dropped and Clark's lips curled back from the spike of arousal caused by Lex's intense stare.
Lex touched him hesitantly, wrapping strong fingers around his length above his own hand. Clark made a reedy noise at Lex's first stroke, and grunted with the second. "Harder."
Lex tightened his fist, falling into the rhythm of Clark's jacking. He glanced up at Clark from under his lashes. "Like this?"
Orgasm struck at the look, rushing up from Clark's toes and exploding with jarring force. He came all over Lex's hand and spurted far enough to splatter Lex's bare knees. His heart hammered in his chest and echoed in his ears. Panting roughly, he stared at Lex. Color suffused Lex's face, but Lex didn't look away. Tendrils of hunger reached out greedily again. Clark stood and removed his sneakers, socks, and jeans. Naked and still aroused, he pulled Lex to his feet. The damp head of his cock bumped against Lex's body.
"Need you," he rumbled, and seized Lex into another kiss.
Mind blanked by the bright haze of passion, Clark tumbled Lex into the nest of blankets. He shed Lex's overalls, tangled around his feet, and rose over him with a hot gleam in his eyes. The heady air surrounding them was pungent with sex. Clark kissed Lex again, pressing his erection against the coarse curls on Lex's lower abdomen. Lex pushed his fingers into Clark's hair and kissed him inexpertly back.
Threads of emotion wove around Clark with each tentative lick of Lex's tongue. He rutted unconsciously against Lex, slotted in the groove of Lex's hip. His elbows pressed into the blankets on either side of Lex's body, beneath his arms. Lex's cock was beginning to harden again, swelling between them. He made noises of pleasure with every rock of Clark's hips.
Clark broke the kiss, rising for air, and looked down at Lex's sex-flushed face. Happiness and wonder curved Lex's lips and darkened his eyes. Something reached from inside Clark to capture that smile and keep it forever.
His breath whooshed out of him as he came without warning, balls tightening before he spilled across Lex's abdomen with a few snaps of his hips. The shock of it yanked him out of his sex daze and brought his ability to think back in a horrifying rush. What the hell was he doing?
Lex must have become aware of the change, because the happiness faded from his face. A piece of Clark shriveled as it did. "What's wrong?"
Clark put on a fake smile. "Nothing."
"Lying is bad." Lex lowered his chin, a feat since he was lying down. "Did I do something incorrectly?"
"No!" Clark replied swiftly. "I just…" Am a complete and total asshole who took something precious without regard. Fuck. What could he say without hurting Lex irrevocably? "McNulty!"
Lex's brows furrowed. "I don't understand."
"We're fooling around, when I should be helping Chloe and Pete." Clark shifted off of Lex as casually as possible and averted his eyes from Lex's semen-splattered, naked body.
"Oh," Lex said, and Clark wished the ground would open and suck him into Hell where he belonged. "I don't want you to go. It's dangerous."
Clark used his speed to get dressed. He had to get out of there, but he needed Lex to stay where he was safe. "I have to go. I promise I'll be careful. I'll let you know when it's okay to go home."
"Okay."Clark looked back from halfway up the ladder at Lex's solemn response. Lex was propped on an elbow in the rumpled nest of blankets, a vivid hickey on his neck, wiping his hand across his stomach with a dejected expression.
Clark swallowed back an apology for destroying his innocence and quickly left.
Dressed in a faded college football t-shirt and blinding orange-and-blue tiger-striped lounging pants, Gabe Sullivan appeared surprised to see Clark when he answered the doorbell. "Clark, what are your parents doing, letting you roam around? Didn't they see the news?"
"What news?" Clark asked, as he was ushered inside the Sullivan home. The modest two-story in the newer subdivision was cluttered with half-folded laundry, a few dirty plates and mugs, and papers, bills, advertisements, and other mail. Walls and shelves were lined with pictures of Chloe at various ages, a testimony to a single parent's top priority.
"There's a shooter on the loose, a kid by the name of Van McNulty. It's the top story on the six o'clock local news" Gabe leaned outside, looked around for prowlers, and closed and locked the door. "Your parents should've kept you at home.""They would've, if they'd seen the news," Clark lied. After running away from Lex, he'd stopped at home to self-flagellate in the shower and brought his parents up to speed on McNulty. He'd promised to be careful, but they knew his investigative itch wouldn't let him sit at home wondering what was happening.
"Well, now that you're here, you're staying," Gabe said. "I'll call your parents and let them know where you are. Chloe's still up in her room."
"Thanks, Mr. Sullivan," Clark said, touched that Gabe cared about keeping him safe. He took the steps two at a time and went down the second-floor hall, past the bathroom, to Chloe's bedroom.
"Where were you?" Chloe demanded the second Clark stepped through her open door. Lamplight shined from its spot on the night table beside the bed. The shades had been drawn over the windows. His community service vest hung from the back of her desk chair, where he'd left it earlier. "I left twenty thousand messages on your voice mail. Why didn't you answer your phone?"
"I was busy." Between being unconscious and having his jeans off, he hadn't felt the vibration of the cell phone in his pocket.
"Busy with what? I thought maybe Van had gotten you." The corners of Chloe's eyes and mouth were creased from anxiety. The scanner hummed with police traffic from the shelf.
Clark bent and gave her a hug. "I didn't mean to worry you."
"Next time, just answer your phone," Chloe pulled back, still looking anxious, "because Lex is missing. A cop was found dead in front of his apartment and Lex is nowhere to be found."
"He's okay, Chloe." Physically, at least. Emotionally, however, remained to be seen and for Clark to castrate himself over. "I stashed him somewhere safe."
Chloe slumped on her chair. "Thank God. When I heard the news over the scanner, I freaked. Pete said you wouldn't let anything happen to Lex, but I was afraid you hadn't made it there in time or that you were already dead."
"You were wrong on both counts, thankfully," Clark said, giving her shoulders a squeeze. He dropped his hands and glanced around for Pete's ballcap. "Where's Pete?"
"His mom made him come home after she saw the news," Chloe said. "They're calling Van a serial killer and a cop killer. Everyone was warned to go out as little as possible until he was caught – which they should've done the first day people turned up dead. The public had a right to know they were in danger of being shot."
"I stick with what I said before, Chloe: the Sheriff's Department probably had their reasons for keeping it quiet." Clark held up his hands before she went on a tirade. "I agree the public should know, but I'd investigate first as to why the Sheriff wouldn’t want it in the news right away."
"And that's what we'll do," Chloe said, getting fired up. "We'll write an expose on Smallville's law enforcement and how they didn't bother to act until one of their own was killed."Clark sighed inwardly. His own nose was twitching from wanting to know the reasoning, but he wouldn't jump to conclusions. "The cop's definitely dead, then?"
"Yeah, and it was definitely McNulty who shot him. I called Whitney and he said the Coroner had found the same bullet type in this Phelan guy as the other victims." Chloe spun on her chair to face her computer. "I can't figure out why Phelan got shot, though. He's not a MA. Unless he took the bullet for Lex—"
Clark snort of derisive laughter interrupted her. "I know Phelan. He's corrupt and wouldn't trade his life for anyone's. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time." Or the right place at the right time, an evil, gleeful part of him chimed.
"So, Van was after Lex." Chloe chewed on her lower lip, the blue glow of the monitor tinting her features. "It's a good thing you there first, then, or Lex would be…"
Dead, Clark's mind filled in, and he saw an image of Lex lying over the threshold of his apartment as a bullethole bloomed in the center of his forehead. A bright, beautiful life snuffed abruptly.
Clark felt the blood drain from his face and dropped on the edge of Chloe's bed as his knees went out. He'd been so busy chastising himself about taking advantage of Lex that it hadn't hit him until now: Lex had almost died. If Clark hadn't had the abilities he did, Lex would have died. "Oh god."
"Clark, what's wrong?" Chloe turned at his choked words and was immediately concerned. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
Clark bent double suddenly and dry-heaved between his knees, as Lex's vacant eyes stared sightlessly at him in his gruesome imagination. "Clark!" Chloe exclaimed, and he felt a small hand on his back as a garbage can was shoved under his face.
"I'm okay," he said in a shaky voice, squeezing his eyes shut, trying to block out the horrifying mental image. He held his arms tightly around his middle.
"You're not okay. You're sick. I'll go get my dad."
"No. I’m fine. I just— when you said that Lex—," Clark shuddered hard, "—that Lex would've—"
"But he's not, right?" Chloe said, rubbing soothing circles on his back. "You said he was safe."
Clark nodded and tried to reign in his unfounded reaction. Nothing had happened to Lex, so there was no reason for him to flip out. "Sorry."
"There's no need to be sorry. I understand. I wigged when Justin got hurt. It's what people do when they're in love." Chloe brushed a lock of hair away from his face. "And no matter how much you deny it, you are in love with Lex."
Clark sucked in a ragged breath, held it a moment, and blew it out slowly. "I know."
"You know?!" Chloe's caring touches were gone in an instant. She thumped the garbage can on his foot and whapped him upside the head. "Then why haven't you told Lex?"
Propping his elbows on his knees, Clark pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes. "Because I'm terrified," he confessed in a whisper. "I love him so much it terrifies me."
"That doesn't make any sense."
Clark remembered kneeling in a cemetery surrounded by gravestones as far as he could see, while blood rained from the heavens. He would destroy the world if Seget were no longer in it. "I've been in love before, Chloe, back in Noblesville, but what I felt for him feels nothing like this. I want to—to—," he searched for a word that came remotely close to the unexplainable urge he had, "—to cleave to Lex. I want to consume him utterly, until all that he is, is a part of me."
"Don't you think Lex is scared, too?" Chloe said, her body a warm presence beside him on the bed. "The people he loved most in the world abandoned him, for all intents and purposes. Now, he loves someone again and is probably terrified that he'll be abandoned once more, but that didn't stop him from reaching out to you."
"I'll hurt him, Chloe." Clark lowered his hands and looked at her through pained eyes. "You saw my juvenile record. I'm as out-of-control around him as I was back then."
"Lex has a mutant healing ability."
Clark's gaze narrowed, anger rising. "Why does everyone think that it's okay if I injure Lex, just because he has super-healing?"
"That's not what I meant." Chloe folded her arms, offended. "Of course it's not okay if you hurt Lex purposely. But getting swept up in the passion isn't a novel thing. I've got the bruises to prove it, too. You may have more strength than most people, but Lex has the equal ability to handle it. It's like you guys are made for each other."
"But what if—"
"Arrgh!" Chloe threw up her hands. "Stop but-but-butting! You love Lex, Lex loves you, that's all you need to start. If something happens or it doesn't work out… well, we'll deal with it then. This is your reality check. If you don't make a move, I'm setting him up on another date."
"With your dad?" Clark said with an arch of his brow. He tried ignoring the refrain of her words going through his head: 'You love Lex, Lex loves you, that's all you need…'
"My dad happens to be a great catch," Chloe said, sticking her nose in the air. "He's single, handsome, and makes pretty good money."
"Isn't he straight?"
Chloe waved her hand. "A small glitch. Besides, I'm sure I can find someone who's gay who'd love to get into Lex's overalls."Clark growled without conscious thought and then felt his face heat in embarrassment. Chloe snickered and nudged him with her elbow. "Face it, Kent, you're destined to be with Lex whether you like it or not. Stop trying to fight fate and go for it. I want to see my best friend happy and in love, like me."
"Insane and in love, is more like it. How you can be with someone who has hair like Justin's—ow!" Clark faked a wince at her punch to his arm, but didn't fake his smile. He'd been lucky the day Chloe Sullivan decided to be his friend.
"At least my boyfriend has hair." Chloe flounced from the bed to the computer. The orange vest hanging from the back fluttered as she spun the chair. "Now, how should we go about investigating the corruption in the Sheriff's Department?"Clark flopped back on the bed and threw an arm over his eyes. He boxed up his thoughts and feelings about Lex as best as possible and tucked them into the corner of his mind. He would sort through them later. "We've gone from incompetence to corruption already?"
"I think it's a viable conclusion."
"I think you've been watching too much TV. Not all cops are crooked.""Not all cops like donuts, either, but that doesn’t mean the stereotype isn't true."
Clark raised his arm and looked towards Chloe in confusion. She'd totally lost him with that comment. "Shouldn't we be more concerned about finding McNulty?"
"You're right." Chloe clicked links with her mouse as rapidly as the web pages loaded. "The investigation into Van's whereabouts is probably stalled by the corruption. We need to find him and stop him before more MAs get killed."
Clark was thinking more along the lines of giving what they found to the Sheriff. While he would never turn his back on someone in need of help, there was a difference between heroism and vigilantism.
"I'll start by googling him and see where that leads," Chloe said, at the same time as her cell phone rang. She stretched to reach it, perched on the edge of her computer desk, and glanced at the caller ID. "Don't tell me another one has come in," she said into the receiver as a greeting.
Clark sat up quickly. It had to be Whitney calling.
"He's right here." Chloe pivoted and passed the phone to Clark. "Whitney wants to talk to you."Clark put the receiver to his ear. "Why didn't you call my cell?"
"You think I have your number?" Whitney scoffed over the phone line.
"True. What do you want?""Chloe has me keeping an eye on Justin while I'm here and they just brought a guy in to ICU that keeps calling your name."
"My name?" Clark's forehead scrunched. "Do I know him?"
"Like I'd know that. The board says his name is Earl Jenkins."
"Doesn't ring a bell. What's he look like?"
"I'm not your servant. Come down here and see for yourself."
Clark rolled his eyes. "Thanks. You've been a great help."
"I called, didn't I? And now I'm hanging up."
The line went silent in Clark's ear.
"Fordman's such an ass." Clark hit the End button and tossed the cell phone on the bed beside him.
"You like ass," Chloe said with a saucy grin over her shoulder. Clark stuck his tongue out at her. "What did he want?""Somebody named Earl Jenkins is apparently calling for me." Clark stood and went over to her window. "I'm going to head over to the hospital and check it out."
"Um, we have a front door," Chloe said, looking at him sideways, as he opened the sash.
"Your dad said I had to stay here because of the warning on the news." Clark drew his leg over the windowsill, letting it dangle outside. "Call me if you find anything on McNulty."
"Wait, what do I tell my dad?"
Clark smiled toothily at her and jumped out the window. He took off down the street at a jog.
"Bastard!" he heard her yell from behind him. He laughed, rounded the corner of the block, and blurred into a run.
Clark followed a young couple with a squalling infant into the Smallville Medical Center and raised his hand in a half-wave of greeting as he passed the reception nurse. Unlike more modern hospitals, security was minimal and visitors were allowed to roam relatively freely through the seafoam green halls. While the building had been updated, it was the same structure that had been in Smallville since the 1860s, built after the Civil War by the Society of the Precious Blood Catholic Priests. Religious icons and stained glass remained in their original places, preserved by the local historical society volunteers.
In the ICU, Glynis Palmer looked up from the computer at the nurses' station. A dry-erase chart with patient names, room numbers, and ailments hung on the wall overhead. File folders, metal clipboards, and manila envelopes marked with various department names piled on the desk behind the counter.
"Hi again, Mrs. Palmer," Clark said, resting his arms on the chest-high countertop. She was still on duty from when they'd brought Justin in that afternoon. "I was told a patient in the ICU is asking for me?"
"For a Kent," Mrs. Palmer said, a small furrow of consternation marring her brow. "I just got off the phone with your parents about it a minute ago."
"I know," Clark lied with an easy smile. "My folks called me on the cell and said to meet them here. I was lucky I was already nearly here to check on Justin for his worrywart girlfriend."
Mrs. Palmer's face relaxed. "Tell Chloe that Justin is fine. We're taking good care of him."
"Okay." Clark glanced up at the board. "Which room is asking for a Kent?""Mr. Jenkins, room one-five-three," Mrs. Palmer said. "Don't agitate him when you go in. He has a serious medical condition that requires as much rest as possible."
Clark accepted the warning, knowing that laws prevented her from saying what this Earl Jenkins had. Clark would look it up later through his hack into the hospital computers.
Through the slatted blinds covering the window, Clark peered into room 153. He didn't recognize the heavily sweating African American lying on the bed, with his limbs twitching violently. Padded straps restrained his wrists and ankles and one crossed over his torso. Knocking lightly on the open doorway, Clark gave him a polite greeting. "Mr. Jenkins? I'm Clark Kent."
"Kent." Jenkins had a deep, rough voice and spoke through clenched teeth. His prominent nose and the muscles in his face convulsed. An IV-line and monitor wires swung wildly between the medical equipment and Jenkins. "Are you— a KentCorp— Kent?"
"Yes." Dizziness rolled slowly over Clark with every step he took further into the private room. A frown tugged his lips and he glanced quickly around, searching for kryptonite.
"Come closer. I have— to tell you— something." Jenkins' jerky words coincided with the jerks of his body. He reached out a strapped hand towards Clark.
Nausea made Clark wrap an arm around his stomach as he approached the bed. It was then that he saw the telltale green glow glimmering in the sweat drops on Jenkins' face. Fighting the effects, Clark triggered his telescopic vision and suppressed a gasp of shock. The man's pores oozed kryptonite-tainted sweat. It wasn't confined to his face, either. The green shimmer coated his neck, arms, and hands exposed by the hospital gown, visible only to Clark's alien eyes.
Clark struggled not to dance away from Jenkins. "What is it?"
"You must stop— Rickman."
Tension seized Clark's shoulders and he grasped the bedrail. Rickman."Level three—Grandville plant," Jenkins said anxiously. The heart monitor beeped faster. "Meteorite—experiments. Human—" Jenkins' throat spasmed suddenly, cutting off his words, and he gasped for air. The monitors went crazy. Clark stumbled back as Jenkins' whole body began shaking viciously, as if volts of electricity were coursing through him. Mrs. Palmer and another nurse burst into the room.
"Clark, I need you to wait in the hall," Mrs. Palmer said, tending to Jenkins with rapid, efficient movements. Clark left without being told twice.
Jonathan and Martha Kent were just arriving as Clark dropped into a plastic chair in the waiting room. They spotted him and came right over. "Is something wrong? We thought you were at Chloe's," Martha said with worry, sitting beside him, "but then Gabe phoned and said that you'd left."
"Fordman called me about Mr. Jenkins, so I came to check it out," Clark told them. "Do either of you know him?"
"No, we have no idea who he is," Martha said, while Jonathan shook his head.
"It's possible that he asked for us because we're rivals of Rickman Industries." Clark gave his parents a solemn look. "Jenkins has been affected by the kryptonite."
Jonathan took the chair across from Clark. He glanced at the other people walking around and lowered his voice. "Another mutation?"
"Don't know," Clark said. "But he's practically seeping kryptonite out his pores. He also has the extreme shakes. The nurses kicked me out of the room a second ago because he went into convulsions.""Were you able to talk to him beforehand?" Jonathan said.
"Yeah." Clark's hands balled into fists. "It sounds like Rickman's doing experiments with kryptonite at the Grandville plant."
"We've known that since the AgExpo," Martha said. "What he's doing with the kryptonite isn't illegal.""Jenkins didn't get to finish telling me, but I think Rickman's doing human experiments, too," Clark said gravely.
Jonathan and Martha exchanged looks. "That's not something to be bantered about," Martha said."We can ask Jenkins more once the nurses say it's okay to go in," Clark said. He searched his parents' faces. "What are we going to do if it's the truth?"
"I can make a few calls," Jonathan said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Get some spot checks done on the facility."
"Dad might know of a PI we could use," Martha said. "I can ask when they come to dinner next week."
Clark's cell phone vibrated in his pocket. He pulled it out and checked the caller ID before answering the call. "Yeah, Chloe?"
"My dad says you're grounded."Clark grinned. "What about you?"
"Special dispensation because you're bigger than me and I couldn't stop you from going," Chloe said over the line.
"Well, let him know that I'm with my parents, so he can stop worrying."
"I'll tell him, but you won't be with them for long," Chloe said. "I found Van.""You did?" Clark straightened in his seat. "Did you call the Sheriff?"
"No, of course not."
"Chloe," Clark said with exasperation into the receiver. His parents appeared amused, not hiding that they were listening to Clark's side of the conversation.
"Clark, we don't know that they aren't corrupt and that the information I give will even get to the good cops," Chloe said. "Besides, I'm not sure exactly where Van is."
"I thought you said you'd found him."
"I did. In a picture." Clark could hear clicks of the computer mouse in the background over the line. "It's a hunting picture of him and his dad standing outside of a wooden shack."
"Yep. It was posted to an online site for hunters.""Does it say where this shack is located?" Clark said.
"No, but it's somewhere in the woods in Smallville," Chloe said.
"How do you know that?"
"Where else would someone be able to bag a three-headed deer?"
"True," Clark admitted, rising from his seat. "I take it you want me to try and find the shack.""You read my mind. I can see what could be the front corner of a truck, so maybe there's a road, or at least some way for a vehicle to get to the shack. Otherwise, it's just a shack surrounded by trees."
"If they owned the place, the County Recorder would have the location," Clark said, "but investigators would've checked that out already and since McNulty isn't in custody, it may belong to someone else."
"Unless it does belong to the McNultys and the corruption is keeping it from being looked at."
"Enough of that," Clark said a little harsher than necessary, earning looks from his parents. "Don't make allegations unless you have the proof to back it up. You're smarter than that."
"Sheesh, sorry," Chloe said over the phone. "I'm just airing theories."
"No, you're stuck on a single theory and that could cause your focus to become narrowed." Clark blew out a breath and dragged his hand through his hair. "You know what, never mind. Telling you how to think is just as bad."
"So make it up to me by finding Van and discerning the reason behind the cover-up."
A corner of Clark's mouth quirked. "Yes, ma'am."
"Good. That's what you should say. Call me when you've found him."
Chloe disconnected and Clark thumbed off the cell on his end of the line. He turned to his parents. "Chloe got a lead on McNulty. I’m going to go and check it out."
"So we heard," Martha said with a brief smile. "Just be careful. You might not be able to get hurt, but others still could. "
Clark hadn't told them about his own injuries at McNulty's hands, or they might not have let him out of their sight. He still took his mother's warning to heart. "I will. Let me know later if Jenkins tells you guys anything else."
Night had settled in, making it difficult for Clark to navigate at high speed through the woods. The stars twinkled brightly overhead, but with the new moon, there wasn't much natural light. He'd left more than one man-shaped dent in the thick trunks and uprooted a few thinner trees altogether. With all his alien tricks, night vision wasn't something he'd been graced with having and some of the trees he didn't see until he was already upon them. The nocturnal animals chattered with laughter around him as he tripped over a root and left a furrow in the ground. Scowling, he quickly covered it up and continued on his search.
For being located in the middle of Kansas, Smallville certainly had a lot of forest. Clark ran in a grid pattern, counting off his steps. He splashed around the edges of Hobb's Pond and Crater Lake. He'd passed through Kyle Tippet's old homestead and stopped briefly to piss on a leftover metal sculpture. He circuited Schuster Woods behind the KentCorp plant and Lemaris Woods surrounding the Retirement Center.
He stumbled upon the shack almost literally, losing his footing as dizziness swamped his senses. Nausea-inducing waves lapped at him, radiating from the area beyond the shack. The shack stood at the edge of a clearing and he could see the outline of a metal building rising a short distance away. Around the building, scattered spots of color glowed faintly green, red, silver, and gold. Kryptonite. The shack was on the property of Creekside Foundry.
Clark swallowed the desire to vomit as he crept closer to the rear of the shack. A light shone through the propped-open window. He winced with every crunch of groundcover underfoot, his balance shaky from the kryptonite's effects. Bracing himself on the side of the shack, he peered cautiously around the edge of the window.
Van McNulty sat at a table in the small shack, his back thankfully to Clark. A laptop was open in front of him. Empty dishes were piled in a sink of a kitchenette. Camouflage gear was dumped on a cot under the window. A workbench stretched along the far wall, with tools and other equipment spread over it. Clark could see a pile of green kryptonite rocks on the workbench, beside a chisel, mortar and pestle. Finished bullets with flecks of green stood in a holder beside what Clark thought might be bullet-making paraphernalia. McNulty was purposely adding kryptonite shavings to the bullets as they were being formed. It was ironic, in a morbid way: kryptonite had caused the mutation that killed Karen McNulty and kryptonite was being used to kill mutants.
Clark swayed slightly as he shifted his gaze back to McNulty. A rifle with a scope rested against the table leg near him. McNulty concentrated intently on the computer screen. Clark ducked to the other side of the window, hoping he could see better, and nearly keeled over from the kryptonite's effects. He braced himself against the outer wall, breathing shallowly, until his head stopped spinning. It didn't matter, though, because his head spun with horror when he saw what McNulty had on the screen.
Chloe's MA database.
Clark recognized it in an instant, after having watched her input it and having used it himself from time to time. The database gave McNulty the names of the known MAs, painting targets on their foreheads in pixels and code.
Clark shoved away from the shack, stumbled into the woods, and collapsed behind a tree a safe distance away. He buried his face in his hands. It was his and Chloe's fault that so many MAs had been shot: Chloe for creating a computerized database to begin with and Clark for not anticipating that it could be hacked. Both of them hacked into many other databases, such as the Smallville Medical Center. They were arrogant not to think that her computer wouldn't be victim to the same.
Clark pressed his thumb and forefinger hard against his eyes and cursed himself up and down. Chloe had worked on the database when they'd been at school. All McNulty, or anyone really, would have had to do was look through the window of the Torch office and they would've seen it. Lex had kept his MA research secret for years and it took Chloe and Clark less than ten months to reveal it to everyone. The entire Sheriff's Department would have access to those files once they apprehended McNulty. And though the deputies would say that it wouldn't have an effect on police work, they'd start to watch the MAs more than unaffected people because it was human nature to be afraid of what they didn't understand. The names could slip out – one of the deputies trying to protect his family, and his kid spreads the word at school, and soon all of Smallville would be divided between "us" and "them."
As much as he'd like to pretend otherwise, Clark knew it could come true. He saw in the news about people being bashed because they were gay (which had fueled his own fears of being outed before it happened), and if people got bashed simply because of their sexual preference, what would happen to those who could shoot fire from their eyes? Or shapeshift into someone else? Or had immeasurable strength?
Clark had to get McNulty's computer. They had to purge the database completely, before anyone else found out.
"Well?" Chloe said in his ear when his call connected.
"You were right," Clark said into the cell phone, leaning his head back against the trunk of the tree. Overhead, the leafy branches blocked the view of the night sky. "The shack's in Smallville, at the Creekside Foundry to be precise. McNulty's inside."
Chloe squealed like a junior high girl. "I'm so goooooood."
"Not really," Clark said. "We have a problem: McNulty's hacked into your computer. He's using the MA database to choose his victims."
Chloe's gasp was followed by stunned silence.
"Unhook your DSL line and purge the database immediately," Clark told her, rubbing his forehead. "You worked on it at school, too, so we'll have to break in and erase those hard drives."
"Already done," Chloe said, sounding horrified. "I did it before we left school for the year.""Good. I'll check my computer, too, and erase any tracks of it." "Oh my God, Clark, it's our fault."
"Kinda. Yeah." Clark knocked his head lightly against the tree trunk. "McNulty might've killed people anyway. We just gave him access to the right targets."
"An MA killed his mom, so he'd want to kill MAs."
Clark chuckled. "Understatement."
"Okay, I'm purging. I'll make sure to get all the hidden files, too."
"I'll check it over later. Just keep it unplugged from the Internet until I can."
"Will do. Are you calling the Sheriff about Van?"
"In a minute. Don't be surprised if you suddenly have visitors."
"My dad'll be thrilled."
Clark terminated the call after finishing up with Chloe and thumbed through the speed dial list on the cell. Unlike Fordman, he added and kept everyone's phone numbers when he could, because one never knew when a contact would come in handy.
"Hello?" Alicia's perky voice came over the line.
"Hey, Alicia, it's Clark. I need your help."
Alicia, Cyrus, and Clark peered around the tree trunk at the shack standing at the edge of the Creekside Foundry property. Light spilled from the open window. "You ready to do this?" Clark said."Piece of cake," Alicia replied.
"Don't forget the Internet line may be plugged in.""I won't."
"You'll have to be fast. I don't want you getting hurt."
"I can do this, Clark." Alicia gave Cyrus a quick kiss and vanished with a small pop.
Clark looked at Cyrus, who returned the look with a shaky smile. "If something goes wrong, I can heal her," he said with false reassurance."Let's hope that doesn't happen," Clark said, peering around the tree again at the shack. Shadows moved through the windowlight and he tuned his hearing in to hear a clatter of a chair falling on the floor. Then, Alicia was in suddenly front of him again, grinning broadly with a laptop clutched to her chest.
"Mission accomplished!" she chirped with her usual bubbly exuberance.
"And here he comes." Cyrus pointed, as McNulty burst around the corner of the shack, carrying the rifle.
"Go," Clark said, and bent his knees. He leapt straight up, caught the tree branch, and swung himself onto the limb. The leaves rustled and a few drifted the twenty feet to the ground. Below him, Alicia grabbed Cyrus's hand and the two winked out of immediate sight.
The plan was simple: Alicia teleported into the shack and took the computer, McNulty came after her, and Clark would get the drop on him as soon as he was far enough away from the shack that the kryptonite wouldn't affect Clark. Crouched on the limb, Clark took a small regular rock from his pocket and threw it hard against the tree across from him. It shattered into pieces, hopefully making enough noise to draw McNulty.
Clark waited, listening to McNulty moving towards the woods. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness and he could see relatively well. McNulty, having just come out of the lighted shack, would be at a disadvantage. Clark hoped the riflescope didn't have any sort of high tech abilities. He didn't relish being shot again.Luck was with Clark. McNulty crept into the woods with the rifle tip lowered, searching with his eyes. His head turned side to side in slow sweeps, his boots making hardly any noise as he took careful steps like a seasoned hunter. He wouldn't get a bead on Alicia, though, as she and Cyrus had teleported a good distance away. He wasn't close enough that Clark could jump down behind him, but with a judicious use of superspeed, it wouldn't matter. Clark waited until McNulty had passed further into the woods before striking. He launched off the branch, swooping forward through the air faster than a bullet. He aimed for a spot behind McNulty, tucked into a ball, and landed with a roll to his feet. Dirt and ground cover flew up where his body impacted with the ground, leaving him standing in a small crater. Exhilaration flowed through him from the dive that had made him feel like he'd been soaring like a bird. He should have been feeling tremendous anger at McNulty for shooting at Lex, but instead he grinned hugely and thumped McNulty on the head without pause. McNulty collapsed unconscious from the blow.
"He's down!" Clark shouted, and a pop later, Alicia and Cyrus returned.
Cyrus checked McNulty over, his hands glowing with golden light. "No injury that I can feel." He glanced up at Clark. "We saw you hit him. You have to be careful knocking people on the head. You could cause brain damage that way."
Clark ducked his chin, chastised. "Sorry."
Alicia shoved the laptop in Clark's hands. "Here. We'll take him back." She looped the rifle strap over her shoulder and waited until Cyrus was touching her shoulder. She put her hand on McNulty and the three of them disappeared.Clark pulled his cell phone from his pocket and put in a call to the Sheriff.
"We put him on the bed like he's sleeping," Alicia said when she and Cyrus came back. Clark was already off the phone. "How long until the Sheriff gets here?""About five minutes, maybe," Clark replied. Cyrus nodded. "He should be down that long. You knocked him out pretty good."
"You guys get out of here," Clark said, chagrined. He passed the laptop back to Alicia. "Chloe's expecting you. Tell her I'll call when I get a chance."
"Okay." Alicia tucked the laptop under one arm and took Cyrus's hand. "See you later."
"Bye," Clark said. Alicia and Cyrus popped away once again, leaving Clark alone.Leaning against a tree with a clear view of the shack, Clark waited for the Sheriff to arrive. Excitement from before still ran under his skin. He glanced upwards at the branches, wondering if he pushed off hard enough maybe he could fly. He'd defied gravity before, floating from a kiss. The library in the caves had told him some past Kryptonian visitors to earth had been able to fly, most notably his biological father.
Clark had found a memory cache in the cave that had belonged to his father, Jor-El, when he'd been reading up on the kryah after his incarceration. (The kryah did, in fact, react to his emotions, just as he was physically affected by his emotions, too, which explained the development of some of his powers.) During Jor-El's visit to earth, he'd apparently had sex with Lana Lang's great aunt, which amused Clark. The visit ended in tragedy, though, with Lana's great aunt being murdered, Jor-El being blamed for it and finding help from Hiram and Elizabeth Kent, thus paving the way for Clark to be sent to the Kent family when Krypton suffered its own tragedy. It was kindness returned in kind, with Jonathan and a barren Martha getting a child to call their own. And Clark couldn't ask for two better parents than them.
Clark heard sirens in the distance, which cut off as they drove down Creekside Drive. He triggered his x-ray vision and saw McNulty's skeleton lying on the cot, unmoving. The metal outlines of the furnishings and solid forms of the bullets and rifle stood out in stark relief. Tires crunched on the gravel as the Sheriff's Department vehicles turned into the foundry.
Clark's cell phone vibrated in his pocket, as expected, and he answered it as he moved further back into the woods. "Hello, sir. I see you've arrived in good time.""That's our job," Sheriff Ethan said over the phone line. "Where are you at, son?"
"I'm in the woods. I'm far enough back that I can see the shack without getting in your way. McNulty's still inside."
"Okay. You stay put until we have him in custody." Sheriff Ethan disconnected, but Clark could still hear him with his abilities. The beep of a radio being operated sounded in a vehicle and the Sheriff began speaking to the other deputies. "All deputies, be advised Clark Kent is in the woods behind the shack, so don't draw your weapons on him. The suspect is inside. Repeat: the suspect is inside."
Clark wished he could see the front of the shack, where the action would be, but the kryptonite prevented it and he had to be content with listening. Vehicle doors opened and footsteps crept quickly across the gravel. He could hear the fast patter of the deputies' hearts and their rapid breathing, caused by adrenaline. He heard a count to three and then the door banged open with Chief Deputy Sheriff Nancy Adams declaring, "This is the Sheriff! We're placing you under arrest!"
McNulty was roused by her voice, but by the time he asked what was going on, he was cuffed and being led to a patrol car. Clark smiled, satisfied. McNulty's arrest wouldn't bring back the dead, but justice would still be served.
"Kent!" Sheriff Ethan called, stepping around the corner of the shack. Clark emerged from the trees, getting as close as he dared without being completely affected by the kryptonite. He felt lightheaded, though, and leaned against a trunk to keep from swaying. He wasn't surprised Sheriff Ethan's shrewd gaze took in his stance and made note of it. "You all right, son?""I'm fine," Clark lied. "Too much excitement catching up with me, I guess." "As much as your help's appreciated, you shouldn't have been running around out here." Sheriff Ethan gave him a pointed look. "The Coroner noted all the victims shared Smallville's brand of peculiarity amongst them."
"They were all MAs, I know," Clark said. "Chloe and I figured it out. McNulty was getting revenge."
"Except for Phelan, it looks that way," Sheriff Ethan agreed. "Good thing Lex wasn't home when McNulty came calling."
"Yeah." Clark swallowed back the nausea that had nothing to do with the nearness of the kryptonite. "Will Lex be able to go back to his apartment tonight or will it still be a crime scene?""No, the scene's been cleared," Sheriff Ethan said. He'd asked about Lex when Clark had called with the information on McNulty, worried that Lex was being held hostage. Clark reported falsely that Lex had gone out of town after the Arts and Crafts Fair had ended violently. "The blood might stain his steps, though. He should think about bleaching then painting it."
Clark nodded, wrapping an arm around his stomach. He'd clean and paint it himself before he'd let Lex see death on his doorstep.
"I'll also make sure word gets around about your assisting the law, rather than breaking it." Sheriff Ethan shot Clark a small smile. Beyond the shack, the other deputies secured the area. Sheriff Ethan's radio buzzed with voices, the volume turned low. "Do you mind telling me how you found this place?""From a picture on a hunting website."
"And you decided to check it out yourself instead of informing the Sheriff's Department immediately."
Clark didn't beat around the bush. Sheriff Ethan was the type who answered more to honesty than insinuating allegations. "We're investigating corruption in the Department. We were afraid that if we just called, the information would be covered up. I came to see whether you guys showed up or not."
"Corruption in my Department, eh?" Sheriff Ethan rocked on his heels. "What gave you that idea?"
"The fact that the other murders were kept quiet until today." Clark looked sideways at the Sheriff. "Chloe and I differ as to the reasoning behind it. We'd like to hear the truth from you, if we could."Sheriff Ethan studied him a moment. His mustache twitched as he smiled. "Very smooth. I like your method better than Sullivan's bull-charging."
"Sir?""Don't play coy now, Clark," Sheriff Ethan said affably. "You're digging for information to report on in the Torch." Clark grinned sheepishly. "It's the Torch Online during the summer."
Sheriff Ethan chuckled. "Well, whatever it's called, I think you'll find the answer isn't all that newsworthy.""Oh?" Clark prompted.
"It's simple: folks want hope, not fear thrust into their faces," Sheriff Ethan said. "It's an election year and reporters would have been all over the Department, indicating incompetence under my command since we didn't have any leads. Depending on how long it went on, the public may have tried to take things into their own hands and others may have accidentally died because of it."
"Makes sense." Clark kept his tone conversational as he asked a leading question. "Is someone running against you for Sheriff?"
"Chief Deputy Adams," Sheriff Ethan replied, with a nod in her direction. "She's an excellent officer, but a bit too black-and-white for this town. There's a lot of extenuating circumstances around these parts. I know you know what I mean."
"Yeah." Clark thought of Whitney volunteering at the hospital instead of being in jail. Still, part of the reasoning that wasn't mentioned about keeping the shootings quiet was that Sheriff Ethan didn't want to look bad in an election year. It wasn't corruption, per se, but it wasn't completely honest, either. It was politics.
"You know, the Department is always looking for open-minded recruits," Sheriff Ethan said. "Juvenile record notwithstanding, you have a good nose for investigation. Ever think of a career in crime-fighting after high school?"
"I don't know." Clark gave him a grin. "Wearing a uniform would be cool, but I look terrible in brown."
Sheriff Ethan laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "Do you need a ride home?" he asked. The other deputies appeared to be wrapping up to leave.
Clark shook his head and regretted it immediately when the world spun. "My truck's parked nearby."
"All right. Drive safe, now. And say hello to your folks for me."
"I will." Clark watched Sheriff Ethan walk away before fading back into the woods. He felt better as soon as he was a distance from the foundry property. He took out his cell phone and called Chloe. "McNulty's been arrested."
"Yes! They got him," Chloe said, slightly muffled. Clark heard Alicia and Cyrus in the background. "How soon can you write up my article, Clark?"
"I'll have it for you tomorrow," Clark said, hitting the Indiglo button on his watch. It was pushing ten already. "I'm gonna go let Lex know it's safe to go home."
"Okay. Meet me at the Talon around nine."
"See you then."
Clark terminated the call and thumbed through the speed dial listings glowing on the display. Before he went to get Lex, he'd fix up the landing in front of the apartment, as previously planned. It'd also give him time to think of what to say to Lex when he saw him again. He hit a button on the cell phone and the other end of the line rang in his ear. "Fordman, are you done playing candy striper yet? I need some paint and cleaning solution from the hardware store…"
Smelling of bleach, paint, and turpentine, Clark stood in front of the door at KentCorp, gearing up to confront Lex. With a promise to pay for Whitney's coffee at the Talon in the morning, Clark had gotten the supplies from Fordman's Hardware store to rid Lex's doorstep of blood. He'd spent the time cleaning and painting trying to think of what to say to Lex, only to come up blank. He didn't have a rational explanation, anyway, just fear of destroying something precious and irreplaceable.
Clark tugged at the collar of his black t-shirt and combed his hands through his hair. He couldn't avoid Lex forever. "You can do this," he said. He squared his shoulders and went inside.
The HVAC machinery clanked and hummed as it pumped controlled air throughout the plant. Clark skirted the equipment and opened a metal grate set into the cement floor. Lex looked up at the sound of the hinge opening and Clark nearly fell in the access hole at the sight of the breathtaking smile he received. "Hi, Clark."
"Hi," Clark's voice cracked on the word and he cleared his throat. His heart started beating ridiculously fast for just seeing a smile.
"Is McNulty in custody?" Lex asked, as Clark climbed down the ladder.
"Yes. The Sheriff picked him up about a half-hour ago. He said you can go home at any time," Clark said."Okay." Lex adjusted the strap of his overalls, which had fallen over his shoulder. He stood in front of one of the workbenches, a used mortar and pestle and cuttings of bright yellow, daisy-like flowers Clark recognized from the garden behind KentCorp littering its surface. A creamy yellow-tinged substance filled a shallow dish, with a heavier pestle resting against the side of the bowl. Lex must've gone above ground instead of staying in hiding while Clark had been gone. Clark smelled the plant cuttings but not any lingering traces of sex. He couldn't tell if he felt happy or upset about that.
In fact, Lex didn't appear changed at all by the sexual experience or the fact that Clark had run like a big chicken afterwards. The hickey had faded away. He'd gotten cleaned up, redressed, and was puttering around with organic chemistry in his usual way. Clark expected, at the very least, blushing and head-ducking. What he got was Lex meeting his eyes dead-on and companionable nonchalance.
"Um…" Clark was at a loss. How was he supposed to bring up an issue that didn't seem to be an issue? So, Lex, are you traumatized by having sex with me? "What are you making?"
"Cream to use as an anal lubricant."
"What?" Clark stared at Lex. He couldn't have heard right."I'm making cream to use as an anal lubricant," Lex repeated, turning to the dish on the workbench. He dipped his finger in the yellowish substance and rubbed the cream between his thumb and forefinger. "Oil would work better, but I'd need dried flowers and I'd like to try anal intercourse tonight."
Clark stumbled back a step, feeling like he'd been sucker punched. The blood rushed from his head straight to his cock.Concern washed over Lex's features and he steadied Clark. The cream made a gooey smudge on the black t-shirt. "Are you all right?"
No, he wasn't. Lex's hands seemed to burn where they held Clark's shoulders and sexual heat coiled in his gut. Clark's mouth opened and closed several times before he was able to make a sound. "You- you want to try anal intercourse?"
"Yes." Now, there was the blushing and the head ducking. Lex released Clark and crouched, and Clark thought he might keel over if Lex reached for his jeans zipper. But instead, Lex reached under the workbench and came up with a book. The blush darkened and spread over Lex's bald head and down to his chest, exposed beneath the overalls. He opened the book to a dog-eared page and read, "'Anal intercourse is the most intimate two men may get, without crossing into the more risqué sex play.'"
Lex clutched the book to his chest and glanced at Clark from under his lashes. "I would like to be most intimate with you."
A surge of desire shook Clark visibly, but he held firm to his control. His gaze dropped to the book Lex held and a laugh bubbled from deep inside him. "Is this how you learned about sex?" he said, feeling almost giddy. He tapped the bright yellow and black cover proclaiming Gay Sex for Dummies.
Lex nodded and held out the book to Clark. "Kyle gave it to me for my sixteenth birthday. It's very complex, despite the title."
Clark's sneer at Kyle's name twitched into a smile when he paged through the book and saw all the highlighted sentences and notes in the margins.
"I reviewed what we did before: the masturbation, fellatio, and the frottage," Lex said self-consciously, stuffing his hands in the sides of his overalls. "I'll be able to do them correctly now."
Clark didn't think he'd ever heard anything more innocent and adorable. It reminded him why they needed to talk. He set the book on the workbench. "I'm surprised you aren't upset that I ran off."
"You had to rescue people and catch the bad guy so he could be put in jail, where bad people belong." Lex half-shrugged. "It's not the first time and I know it won't be the last. It's what you do. I understand."
Clark realized that Lex was right. The first time he'd met Lex, he'd run off immediately to stop Jeremy Creek. Then came saving Lana from Greg Arkin, Chloe from Coach Walt Arnold and Sean Kelvin – though Chloe had saved herself and he'd brought Lex with him – and a slew of other instances when he'd abruptly left to help.
"You always come back, and that's what matters." Lex gave him a sly, sideways smile. "But if you want to make it up to me, I'll accept a kiss of apology."
Butterflies took flight in Clark's stomach, even as he laughed it off. "If it were me, I'd want more than that."
"I do want more." Lex took a step closer, nervousness and intent reflecting in his eyes. Clark could see his pulse start to race on the side of his neck. "I want to try anal intercourse with you."
The words knocked the breath out of Clark and his mouth went dry. His cock surged to full hardness again. "Lex," he croaked, brain fighting with his hormones, "that isn't a good idea."
"Why?" Lex unhooked his overalls with a flick of his thumbs and the denim slid down his body to pool at his feet. His bared erection bobbed and Clark lost the ability to think coherently.
With a growl of hunger, Clark yanked Lex against him. His mouth descended over Lex's, one hand holding the back of Lex's head and the other cupping his bare ass. Lex made a throaty sound, his mouth opening beneath Clark's. He clutched Clark's shoulders, arching into him. Clark tasted fresh mint on Lex's breath, another herb cutting from the garden. He lapped at the mint traces and ground his hips against Lex.
Lex moaned and hooked his leg behind Clark's knee, bringing their groins tighter together. His cock rubbed against the rough ridge of Clark's denim-covered erection. Clark bucked in reaction and clenched Lex's asscheek, and his fingers slipped through a slickness that shouldn't be there, piercing through the impassioned fog.
Lifting his head, he blinked open his eyes, his chest heaving for air. Lex panted for breath, too, with a sex flush spotting his cheeks. Clark dipped his fingers in the slicked cleft of Lex's ass, earning a sharp intake of breath and a shudder. "What- why—?" he tried to ask, his voice thick and rough.
"I was testing the cream." Lex's passion-clouded eyes stared into Clark's, as he reached back and his fingers joined Clark's. "It seems to work very well."
An image of Lex with his overalls around his ankles, fingering himself, splashed across Clark's vision. He made a strangled sound and mindless lust swept the last tethers of control away. Heat and desire burned in his loins and rushed through his veins. He kissed Lex like he was trying to crawl inside of him. Lex clasped to him, his fingernails digging into Clark's shoulders. He lifted his leg higher, almost wrapping around Clark's waist. His asscheeks parted with the move and Clark's middle finger slipped right inside the cream-slicked hole.
Lex gasped and threw his head back. Clark kissed bruises on his exposed neck as Lex writhed on his finger. A second finger went in and Lex clawed blindly at the nape of Clark's neck. "You're touching me inside."
Clark grunted and worked a third in as he sucked on Lex's Adam's apple. Lex made a reedy cry, humped wildly against Clark's abdomen, and came all over Clark's black t-shirt.
Lex tasted of salty sweat and the musky odor of sex wafted from his limp form. Clark inhaled deeply, the scent ingraining, his senses telling him it was how Lex was always supposed to smell. He licked along the line of Lex's collarbone to the curve of his shoulder before manhandling him against the workbench and bending him over it, with fingers still in his asshole, working him wide. The equipment on the workbench clattered as Lex shoved it out of the way. Perspiration glistened on his back and the curve of his ass, and for an instant he gleamed brightly until Clark blinked and Lex's tanned skin spread before him once more.
"Clark," Lex rasped, pushing back against Clark's hand, begging with his body. Need puppeted Clark's actions and he ripped open his jeans. The button pinged when it hit the wall. His cock throbbed in his hand as he pulled it free of the confines of his jeans. The blunt head oozed with precome, prominent veins crisscrossing along the blood-darkened shaft.
Clark scooped the organic cream from the dish teetering on the edge of the workbench and slathered his erection with it. He pumped his fist over his cock and thrust his fingers in and out of Lex at the same rhythm. He watched reverently as Lex's slicked asshole stretched and took his fingers to the knuckles. Lex scratched fervently at the wooden surface of the workbench, his head arched and his back bowed. His harsh panting and choked cries were music to Clark's ears.
Clark's fingers slurped out and he pressed his cock right in. Lex didn't seize up at the bigger invasion. His body took Clark in with one long slide, until Clark's pelvis was flush with his ass. Thoughts tried to entangle Clark, telling him it shouldn't be possible, but Lex squeezed around his cock and he whispered like a prayer, "You're in me."
Clark's eyes rolled back into his head as an intense sex-shiver shook through him. He wrapped an arm around Lex's waist and the other over Lex's shoulder, clutching him crosswise over the chest, and started fucking him. Lex gurgled wordlessly, lifting his ass into Clark's thrusts. The scent of sex grew stronger, fanning the flames of lust. Clark pulled Lex upright, red and black swirls twining feverishly behind his closed eyelids. Lex dropped his head back against Clark's shoulder.
Holding on tightly, Clark snapped his hips hard, lifting Lex clear off his toes with each drive into him. Clark pressed his cheek against the smooth curve of Lex's scalp, with his mouth at Lex's ear, to let him hear every alien grunt and growl of passion. Lex clung to the arm crossing over his chest. The flap of his flaccid cock smacking against his abdomen punctuated his repetitive ohs of pleasure. "Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh."
Intense heat built behind Clark's tightly closed eyelids. Sweat dripped from his hairline and made his t-shirt cling to his back and beneath his arms. His balls lifted and the muscles in his neck corded as he strained for the orgasm hovering out of reach. He squeezed Lex harder, pumping his hips faster. Skin slapped loudly against skin. The teeth of the jeans' zipper scraped the underside of his cock.
"Nh-nh-nh-nh-nh," Lex's vowels vanished as his body was ravished. Clark's thrusts became jagged, the pressure almost painful until orgasm finally burst through and he came with a feral sneer. Blood rushed from his head, roaring in his ears. His back arched and he lifted Lex completely off the floor, his cock pulsing deep in Lex's ass, marking his territory.
When every droplet of come had painted Lex's insides, claiming him intimately, the heat behind Clark's eyes snuffed out abruptly and he went limp. Slouching, he dropped his forehead on Lex's shoulder blade, gulping for air. His heart hammered in a post-orgasmic rush. Balancing with his toes, Lex dangled in his hold, slumped forward against his arms.
"I like anal intercourse," Lex said suddenly.
A laugh tickled Clark's throat, but it was short-lived as guilt and dismay set in. He'd been so rough, just as he'd feared. Worse, he could feel a part of himself banging his fists against his chest proudly because of it. He disentangled from Lex quickly, tucked himself away, and turned Lex around to examine him for injury.
"What are you looking at?" Lex asked, glancing down at himself. He rubbed a small patch of yellowish cream that had transferred from Clark's hand onto his sweaty skin.
"Nothing." Clark stared in confusion. Not a mark marred Lex's body. No bruises. No redness. Not even the hickey on his neck was there, from earlier. There was nothing to show where Clark's arm had crossed Lex's chest and wrapped around his waist, or how hard Lex had been held.
"Oh!" Lex blushed brightly at the squelchy fart that was natural after anal sex. He crossed his hands over his ass. "Pardon me."
"Does it hurt?" Clark said, brushing Lex's hands aside to check for damage where it should be worst. But he found no redness, blood, or anything to indicate Clark's cock had been inside Lex, other than the remains of the cream.
"No," Lex said, craning around to look, too. "The book said it wouldn't hurt if we did it right."
"All first times hurt," Clark said. Except for his first time, but that was because he was an alien and didn't feel regular pain. He straightened and studied Lex's face for lies. "Are you sure?"
"I feel open and need to go to the bathroom, but I don't hurt," Lex said, tilting his head slightly. "I don't understand your concern. If we did it right…"
"It's just odd, and fuck," Clark slapped his forehead, "I didn't use a condom."
"You don't have to," Lex said. "Condoms are used to protect from STDs and I don't get sick."
"That's no excuse for me to forget." Clark sank down onto the nest of blankets, threw an arm over his eyes, and sighed. He was a horrible person who'd not only had sex with Lex when he was supposed to be telling Lex they couldn't do it again, he'd endangered Lex's life doing so. Sure, Lex didn't get sick and neither did Clark, but STDs weren't something to toy with, especially since Clark had multiple partners in the past.
"Clark," Lex said quietly, "did you not like anal intercourse with me?"
Clark's heart twisted and he sat up. Lex was putting on his overalls, a long expression on his face. Clark knew he deserved nothing but the truth. "No, I liked it a lot. I liked it so much that I lost control and could've hurt you badly."
"But you didn't."
"I…" Clark started, but then it truly sank in. He stared at his hands. He hadn't hurt Lex at all. He knew he'd been violent, knew he'd held Lex so tightly there should've been some damage. It was Lex's first time, too, and Lex sat down beside him without a hint of a wince. Even his last boyfriend, back in Noblesville, winced when he sat down after they'd been at it, and he'd been well broken in. Come to think of it, Clark's cock had slid right in all the way, as if Lex had been broken in already. But Lex had said he was a virgin and he wouldn't have forgotten having sex.
Unless his partner was Kyle Tippet.
Clark snarled and shot to his feet. Unhindered rage coated his vision red and he charged for the ladder. He was going to kill Tippet by ripping him into shreds, starting with his cock.
Clark jerked to a halt and was pulled right off the ladder so suddenly that he yanked the metal rung out of the wall. He hung in mid-air with nothing supporting him but the arm around his waist. It shocked him out of his haze of anger. No one could just snatch him up like a recalcitrant child at his size. He turned his head and his eyes grew huge when he saw who had him.
Lex stood behind him, his grip firm around Clark's waist. He looked as startled as Clark.
"One more time."
Clark set his jaw and adjusted his stance. Lex's grin threatened to engulf his face, as he set his elbow on the lab table and clasped Clark's upraised hand. They were in Lex's lab at KentCorp, a space he shared with several other science technicians. Eight rows of gleaming metal lab tables stood parallel to each other throughout the center of the large off-white room. Counters ran along three of the four walls, with the fourth wall being taken up by multiple glass-fronted cabinets and an industrial refrigerator. Microscopes, measuring equipment, and other science paraphernalia spread over the pristine work surfaces. A laptop computer sat at each station and an emergency wash shower, which they'd used to clean up before Clark began the experiment, hung in one corner.
"Ready? Go." Clark pushed and Lex's arm started giving immediately. It didn't relieve Clark, because, like the other four times, Lex countered within seconds and the arm-wrestling match came to a standstill. Clark pushed with all his might and Lex withstood being pinned with extraordinary strength of his own.
"Wow," Lex said, still awed by the result.
"Yeah." Clark was less thrilled, more confused. How in the world had Lex suddenly developed strength on par with him? "Do you think you mutated?"
"I haven't been in direct contact with kryptonite," Lex said. "I can test my blood, though. A high percentage of the mutations are visible within the cell structure, as the DNA changes."
"Good idea." Clark unclasped their hands and then pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes, which ached with tiredness. It had been a long day, fraught with tension, fear, and two mind-blowing orgasms. Anger nibbled at the edges of his consciousness, wanting him to go after Kyle Tippet for lying about having sex with Lex, but the puzzle of Lex's strength stayed him. Affection, alien-based pride, and other emotions that he wasn't quite ready to verbalize were also gratefully put aside for the time being.
Clark heard drawers open and close and the clink of vials. "Clark," Lex said a few moments later, "I broke the needles."
"Broke the needles," Lex repeated, as Clark came up beside him. Sure enough, three needles were on the stainless steel counter, two bent like accordions and one broken clean in half.
"Watch," Lex said, attaching a new needle to the syringe. He pressed the needle's tip to his inner elbow, where the vein was prominent beneath his skin. The needle bent and snapped. Lex frowned in puzzlement. "I don't understand."
"You and me both." Clark picked up one of the needles and examined it. Some MAs had increased invulnerability as well as strength, evidenced by his past fights with them. "Are you sure you haven't been around kryptonite?"
"I'm positive. I've only been in prolonged contact with you." Lex stared at Clark. "Is that why you were upset that you didn't wear a condom? Did you think you'd infect me with your alien semen?"
Clark choked on a laugh. It wasn't really that funny, as it might have been the truth if he hadn't tested it already, but that didn't stop it from sounding like something out of a sci-fi porno. "No. If that were the case, anyone who'd sucked me off or given me a handjob would've been affected."
A wash of jealousy splashed across Lex's face. "There were many?"
"Yeah." Clark felt ashamed suddenly about his promiscuity. "I, uh, have to have sex regularly and I’m not always in a relationship—"
"You are now," Lex stated, his fierce gaze boring into Clark. "You can have sex regularly with me, so you don't need anyone else."
Arousal coiled around Clark at Lex's possessiveness. He looked away, cleared his throat, and rubbed the back of his neck. "Then we'd better figure out what caused this and if it's permanent or not."
"If it's not kryptonite exposure and you're sure it wasn't caused by you, what else could it be?"
"Latent abilities?" It sounded lame even as Clark said it. "Maybe some sort of chemical or biological agent?"
"Like a virus?" Lex examined his hands, turning them palms down and palms up.
"Maybe." Clark narrowed his focus, triggering his telescopic vision and zooming in on Lex's skin, even though he knew he wouldn't be able to see a virus. He wracked his brain for possibilities, playing with the broken needles. "What about your binders? Do you think there could be an answer in there?""I only list MAs, not naturally-caused mutations."
"But you've had to deduce the non-kryptonite ones. Do you remember who they were? Maybe that'll give us a clue."Lex nodded and began ticking people off his fingers. "You, Cassandra Carver, Bart Allen, Ryan James, Eric Summers, Mikhail Mxyzptlk—"
Clark's head jerked sharply. Eric Summers. Someone who'd suddenly gotten powers like Clark's with little exposure to kryptonite, because he'd gotten Clark's powers. Or rather, Clark's kryah.
Clark crushed the needle between his fingers into powder and was relieved. He did, in fact, still have his kryah. Clark's eyes settled on Lex's hands again. It would've been a logical answer for Lex's sudden abilities. However, Clark's kryah remained in place and it wasn't as if Lex could be infected by it.
A memory niggled at Clark, about the kryah and babies. The kryah somehow reproduced during Kryptonian conception. Asexual reproduction. The formation of a new kryah, that shaped around the fertilized Kryptonian egg.
The remembered information wasn't that useful, as Lex wasn't a baby Kryptonian. Clark swept the powdered metal into the garbage bin and caught a glimpse of his watch. "Wow, it's late, and I promised I'd meet Chloe at the Talon at nine."
"I have to clean up downstairs before we go," Lex said, dropping the other broken needles into the trash.
Clark waited while Lex put away the unused syringe and blood vials, and shut off the lights before returning to the sub-basement. The workman's light still shone brightly in the small cement enclosure, deepening the shadows in the dips and wrinkles of the nest of blankets in the corner. Twin workbenches made up of plywood stretched across empty metal barrels were cluttered with tools, parts, jars, and miscellaneous things. Traces of sex scented the air and Clark adjusted his jeans as they became tighter. He distracted himself with the Gay Sex for Dummies book, trying not to watch Lex while he cleaned up the lubricant-making supplies.
"Is there a reason this is down here instead of at your apartment?" Clark asked, amusement and adoration tickling him as he paged through the highlighted how-to guide.
The tips of Lex's ears pinked. "I didn't want to be interrupted while I studied. Lana comes over a lot unexpectedly."
"You guys are good friends, huh?"
Clark knew from Whitney how angry she was at Clark on Lex's behalf for breaking his heart. Lex was lucky to have such a friend. Then again, Lex inspired loyalty in a lot of people, a reason why he'd been known as a ghost for so long. His shyness had previously made him skittish of being in public and he'd limited his contact to individuals who had reasons of their own for privacy. Clark was sure he didn't know even a quarter of the friends that Lex had made in Smallville over the years.
He did know Tippet, however, and his lips drew back in a snarl when he found a folded note from the bastard in the book. He had no compunction about reading the private letter.
This will answer all the questions you're too shy to ask
and won't find answers to in the library. If
you want to learn more, I'm always here. Happy birthday.
The snarl grew as Clark read over the note again, then again. He'd bet Tippet was there for when Lex wanted – or rather, was "persuaded" to want – to learn more. He should've gelded Tippet when he'd had the chance. Then again, it wouldn't take long to run to Vancouver…
"I'm ready," Lex said, strapping a spelunker's band around his head. A canvas bag hooked over his shoulder, dirty mortars and pestles clinking inside.Clark set the book on the surface of the workbench, tilted Lex's chin, and pressed a claiming kiss against his lips. Lex blinked at him, and then smiled. "I could get used to that," he said.
"Yeah," Clark said, curving a possessive arm around Lex as they headed towards the grate where Lex's mechanized skateboard waited. "Me, too."
Tippet would get his comeuppance one day. Clark would bide his time until then.
Despite being tired, sleep proved elusive and Clark gave up rocking in his hammock. The stifling heat coming through the open hayloft window made his boxers cling at the creases of his groin. He could go into the air-conditioned house and crash on the sofa, but instead he found himself changing into a pair of ratty shorts, tank top, and sneakers, pocketing the octagonal Kryptonian key, and jogging into the night.
He'd left Lex on the newly painted doorstep of his apartment an hour earlier with a fierce kiss to replace the memory of what had happened in that spot. Lex, in turn, had hugged Clark tightly and whispered roughly, "I'm glad you're not dead." Considering Van McNulty had been aiming at Lex, Clark had returned the sentiment with vehemence.
He would've stayed at Lex's, but respect for his parents had sent him home. While the occasional weekend in Metropolis was permitted due to necessity, spending the night at a boyfriend's was definitely not allowed.
The buzz gleaned from giving Lex the boyfriend title was tempered by lingering fear. Clark shifted into a faster pace. Lex hadn't gotten hurt during their rough sexual encounter, but that didn't reassure Clark. He did know now, for a fact, that he could not control himself when it came to sex with Lex. If he couldn't find an answer as to why Lex hadn't been injured and whether or not it was just a fluke, he didn't know what he'd do.
The Kawatche Tribe caves descended below the flat Kansas field, carved by man centuries ago. Hanging bulbs lit the chipped walls painted with fading pictograms about a prophetic savior of the world. Symbols interspersed the Kawatche cave paintings, Kryptonitan words hidden in plain sight. Clark dodged the sensor alarms and entered the chamber in the rear of the cave. An octagonal hole was carved in the rock surface, surrounded by Kryptonian sentences arranged in the same octagonal pattern. Clark lined up the symbols and fitted the metal key into the hole.
The symbols etched into the key glowed briefly as the unlocking mechanism engaged. He shut his eyes as a blinding white beam of light shot from the key and hit him in the face. The download of information he'd thought he'd received the first time he'd accessed the library was really caused by his brain "reading" the information contained in the light waves. The light itself was the Kryptonian version of a computer controlled by the mind. Anyone who possessed a key could access it, but only Kryptonians had the correct brain capacity to read the waves. He'd felt pain the first time because he'd unknowingly accessed all the information stored at once, causing his brain to overload. Focusing his concentration, Clark sought the threads of data on kryah. He'd felt as though he'd missed something ever since Summers' name had been brought up.
Clark reviewed the things he'd already learned about the kryah: that they were an energy-like species that lived in a symbiotic-type relationship with Kryptonians; that they reacted to the physical indicators of the host's emotional state; that the yellow sun caused a kryah's cells to mutate, giving the host body extraordinary abilities; and that they asexually reproduced once in their lifetime, budding at the time of intense emotion that usually coincided with the conception of a new Kryptonian life.
Clark had stopped his research at this point last time because vaginas were involved with making babies and the thought of it made him shudder. The word "usually" caught his attention now, though, in bold font Kryptonian letters – that meant budding didn't only happen during conception.
He delved further into the archive, following that train of thought, and the more he read, the more excited he became. Budding could happen with any intensely emotional prompting, with a visible indicator, so long as the correct physical symptoms were triggered. However, two kryah could not occupy the same host body, and the newly budded kryah that would try to attach to the host's partner would be fought off and destroyed by the partner's primary kryah. A newly conceived baby didn't have its own kryah, though, and therefore the budded kryah could attach unhampered. Logic followed that any partner who wasn't a host already could obtain a budded kryah.
A smile stretched across Clark's lips until it felt like it touched both ears. Lex hadn't been in prolonged contact with kryptonite, but he had had more than one intense sexual encounter with Clark. Clark wouldn't deny that both times hadn't been extremely emotional for him. He remembered the bright gleam he'd seen for an instant and whooped when he realized what it meant: Lex was in possession of his own kryah.
Clark pumped his fists in the air with another whoop of excitement. "Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!" He tapped the key out of the wall, tossed it in the air, and caught it behind his back as the archive locked down, the beam of light extinguishing. He did a little dance, tripped over his own big feet, and almost fell flat on his face. He grinned hugely and undoubtedly looked like a dork, but there was no one there to see him anyway. "Yes!"
A chuckle caused him to spin and discover he wasn't as alone as he'd thought. Joseph Willowbrook's weathered face crinkled with his smile. Twin graying braids lay on either shoulder, a dark blue bandana tied around his head. Dressed in a faded plaid short-sleeved shirt and jeans, he came further into the cave's back chamber.
"I'm sorry, did I wake you? I thought I skipped all the alarms," Clark said quickly.
"We installed a new one last week," Joseph said, pointing towards a shadowed corner. "There have been incidents of graffiti at the reservoir and we wanted to be certain the entire cave had sensors, not only the entrance."
"Smart idea," Clark said. "Still, I'm sorry to get you out here when it's just me."
"There is no need to be sorry. The caves belong to you, after all," Joseph said.
Legally, the caves belonged to the Kawatche Tribe, of which Joseph was the current tribal leader, but Clark knew it was futile to correct him. "I'll call and let you know that I'm here next time. And I'll try not to come in the middle of the night."
"I appreciate the kindness," Joseph said, "but do not let it hinder you from learning about your world or from revisiting the prophecy written on these walls."
Clark glanced at the pictograms painted on the craggy walls, as he followed Joseph into the main chamber. The prophecy of Naman, written centuries ago in colors of red, yellow, black, blue and purple. It was the guidepost towards one possible future for Clark as Naman, with the role of Seget played by Lex. The conjoined body of Naman and Seget suddenly took on a whole new meaning and the back of Clark's neck heated.
"What brings you out here so late?" Joseph said. "Is there something I might help you with? Although, judging by your joyous expression before, my assistance may not be necessary."
"No, I'm good." A bright feeling bloomed in Clark's chest as possibilities spread before him. The kryah had no harmful qualities to Kryptonians or humans and, unless Lex happened to get hit by lightning while holding kryptonite, the kryah would remain with him until death. He'd be as invulnerable as Clark, and permanently so. "I'm very good."
Joseph's eyebrows climbed beneath his bandana. "Do you realize that you're floating?"
Clark looked down and found he was hovering a foot above the floor. It didn’t take him much to connect the light feeling in his chest with his apparent disregard for gravity. After all, the last few times he'd floated, he'd felt the exact same way due to Lex.
Lex. Clark could really have Lex. He could have a relationship with the man he was crazy for without fear. The feeling in his chest intensified and he floated higher. He grinned at Joseph. "I don't know how to get down."
Joseph laughed. "The savior of the world requires saving himself. Where is Seget when he is needed?"
"It his fault I’m up here to begin with!"
Joseph laughed even harder, as Clark's head bumped against the rock ceiling. Clark started laughing, too, and sputtered, "Help!"
Joseph grabbed his ankles and pulled down, crouching as Clark lowered until his feet were on the ground. Clark pretended there were weights on his feet and he was happy to find that he stayed put when Joseph let go. "Thanks."
"Just don't do that outside, or you might float off into space," Joseph warned with a twinkle in his eyes.
"I'll try not to," Clark said. As with any other power, he'd practice when he got home until he could control it. He'd make sure he was inside with the windows closed and he'd have a rope handy, just in case. "Not thinking about Lex is kind of hard at the moment." He grinned again.
"You said it was Seget that caused your floating." Joseph tilted his head curiously. "Does this mean you're giving credence to the prophecy?"
"I still believe destiny's what you make of it," Clark looked at Naman and Seget on the wall, "but any future where Lex and I are together doesn't sound all that bad."
A flick to his ear woke Clark and he lifted his head from the pillow of his arms. He blinked the sleep fuzz from his eyes and wiped the drool from the corner of his mouth. Wearing a spaghetti-strapped deep red top and shorts, Chloe dropped into the chair beside him with an amused look. She set her laptop case on the table. "Maybe I should be buying you coffee, instead of you buying mine."
"You might have to," Clark said, stretching his arms above his head. "Lana refuses to serve me."The Talon was slowly filling with the post-church crowd of teenagers given leave from family breakfasts and single people in need of caffeine. Sunlight streamed through the front windows of the coffee shop. Lana served patrons with light conversation and a smile. Alicia and Cyrus gave their order to Nell Potter, who stood behind the counter that held covered glass dishes of muffins, croissants, and cookies. The strong scent of percolating coffee was pungent the air.
"If you weren't you, I might not serve you either." Used to how Chloe spoke, Clark translated it to mean if she weren't his best friend, she wouldn't be speaking to him, either, because he'd broken Lex's heart. He opened his mouth to tell her Lex's heart was quite fine now, but instead was blinded by a neon orange vest thrown over his head. "Here. You left that at my house," Chloe said. "Now, tell me what happened with Van so I can get the story online. The Ledger ran theirs this morning and I want to one-up them with my eyewitness."
"I'll do you one better." Clark tugged the vest off his head and took a computer disk from the breast pocket of his navy t-shirt. "Here's the article, including the slant on the Sheriff's Department cover up."
Chloe squealed girlishly and snatched the disk from him. She popped the disk into her laptop. "Did you find out the reason? Was I right about the corruption?"
"It's all about politics." Clark hadn't been able to sleep once he'd gotten home from the Kawatche caves. How could he have, when not only could he have Lex, he could fly?
(Or rather, he could float at will, and he could propel himself in a direction if he pushed off of something, but he knew it was only a matter of time before he could truly fly.)
After practicing in the horse barn that doubled as his bedroom, and gaining some control over his new airborn ability, he'd still been too wired to sleep and had killed the time before he was to meet Chloe by alternately writing the article and masturbating to the thoughts of all the dirty things he was going to do with Lex's body.
"What's about politics?" Cyrus asked, as he and Alicia joined them. Both had muffins on plates and fat cappuccino cups.
"Why the Sheriff didn't announced the shootings right away," Clark said, adjusting his budding erection beneath the cover of the table. He explained more about what he'd learned regarding the cover-up.
"We'll have to keep an eye on him, especially come September and October, when the real election race begins," Chloe said, as her cell phone rang. She checked the caller ID and answered. "You're up this early on a Sunday morning?"
"You guys got to Chloe's okay last night, I take it," Clark said to Alicia and Cyrus, even though he'd heard them on the other end of the line when he'd called Chloe.
"Yeah, and Chloe's dad grounded us for being out with a killer on the loose," Cyrus replied. "We had to spend the night."
"Mr. Sullivan makes good pancakes, though," Alicia said, her nose crinkling when she smiled.Clark had had Gabe's pancakes before and agreed. Chloe'd once told him about how hard her dad had tried to make the perfect pancake after her mom had gone, and the number of burned ones she'd eaten before he'd gotten the hang of fixing them. "He never believed me when I told him the burned ones were perfect, even though it was the truth."
"Pete'll be here after he picks up Jodi," Chloe said, dropping her cell phone back into her purse. "His mom got called a short while ago for a secondary warrant to search for Van's laptop. He apparently told the Sheriff that's how he picked his victims and that some blonde chick stole it." She grinned at Alicia.
"Did you wipe the MA database from it, yet?" Clark said.
Chloe nodded. "I cleared the caches and temporary files, including the hidden ones."
"I can pop the laptop back to Van's house," Alicia said, rising from her seat.
"Probably a good idea," Chloe said. "Try not to give my dad a heart attack."
"Be careful." Cyrus half-rose to kiss her. "Don't get caught."
"Be right back." Alicia waggled her fingers and headed in the direction of the restrooms."Dude, that's so not cool." Justin playfully shoved Whitney as they ambled up to the table. Stitches lined the shaved spot on the side of Justin's head, from where a bullet had grazed him. Snagging an empty chair, Justin dragged it around and straddled it backwards between Chloe and Clark. "Is this a private meeting or can anyone join in?"
"Anyone can join, as long as you pay the membership fee," Chloe said. Justin leaned over and she giggled into the smacking kiss he gave her on the lips.
Whitney eyed Clark, who'd puckered up and batted his eyelashes. "Not even for my life," he said, as Cyrus choked on his muffin from laughter. Whitney shed his Sunday best suit coat and took Alicia's empty seat. "Was Lex okay with the doorstep?"Clark and Whitney might not get along, but he definitely heard a note of concern for Lex in Whitney's voice. Then again, it was hard for someone not to care about Lex once they met him. "Yeah. He was a little shaken up still, but not too badly."
"I can't believe your mom let you out of sight already," Chloe said to Justin."Ten minutes after being released from the hospital, she couldn't wait to get rid of me," Justin said. He rubbed his chin in a mock-thoughtful manner. "It could be because I wouldn't stop begging until she gave in."
"Whitney," Lana came up to the table, shot Clark a disgusted look before turning a questioning one on Whitney, "I'm surprised you're sitting here."
"Kent owes me," Whitney told her, snaking his arm around her waist. "Bring me my usual and give Kent the check."
"Can you bring me a triple shot of espresso, too?" Chloe said. "And put it on Clark's tab."
"I'll take a venti dark," Justin said, and shot Clark a sideways glance.
Clark rolled his eyes. "Yes, I'll pay for yours, too."
"Anything else?" Lana said, jotting the order on her bill pad.
"Your order will be right up," Lana cut off Clark and flounced away.
Clark sagged in his chair as the others snickered at his expense. "Ooh, burned," Justin said, licked his finger, and touched Clark's shoulder with a sizzling noise. "Sssss."
"What'd I miss?" Alicia said, as she rejoined them. Cyrus stole another chair from a different table and set it between him and Chloe. He passed over her muffin and cappuccino.
"Lana dissing the Clarkster," Justin replied.
Clark shrugged. "Hopefully not for too much longer. Everything go okay?"
Alicia nodded. "I put the laptop in Van's bedroom. The Sheriff pulled up just as I was leaving."
"What laptop?" Whitney said.
"The one that Van used to get a list of targets," Chloe said. "He hacked into my computer and the MA database."Whitney whistled. "I'd wondered about them all being MAs." "The database is off of your computer, too, right?" Clark asked Chloe. He'd erased his own copy after he'd finished his article.
"Yes, but I kept a copy on disk," Chloe said. "We're probably going to need it."
Clark didn't like it, but he agreed. "Just make sure you keep the hard drive clean."
"I will." Chloe turned her attention to the laptop in front of her, coding Clark's article for the Torch Online. "The Sheriff will most likely be in touch with me about it, though. Add together a blonde chick and a list of MAs and I'm the first name that comes up on the other side of the equal sign."
"You can tell him the partial truth," Clark said. "You had a database but erased it. He doesn't need to know about the backup. He probably won't press about it."
"Here we go." Lana returned, carrying a round tray balanced with ceramic coffee cups. She eased between Whitney and Cyrus. "Venti dark for Justin, triple shot for Chloe, and here's yours." She set Whitney's order down, put the check in front of Clark, and tucked the tray under her arm.
"Do you have time for a break?" Whitney asked her.
Lana glanced towards the door as another customer entered the Talon. "I will in a few," she replied, and headed in the man's direction as he took a seat near the window.
Clark sighed and picked up the check as he rose. "Be right back."
Pete and Jodi had arrived while Clark stood at the counter register, paying for his friends' coffees as well as getting his own. The seats had shifted so everyone would fit around the table. Clark pulled his chair back a bit to stretch his long legs, resting his mug of plain black house coffee on his thigh.
"Mom said McNulty will probably take a plea instead of it going to trial," Pete was telling the gathered group of friends, his arm draped over the back of Jodi's chair. "Either way, McNulty will be behind bars for a long time.""Heck of a way to spend life after high school," Chloe said, typing rapidly on the laptop keyboard.
Whitney shifted and Clark knew he was thinking about how lucky he'd gotten after his own brush with the law. Sheriff Ethan had known, too, that Whitney was involved with the burglary at Clark's house, along with Wade Mahaney and two other friends, but had let him slide with a flimsy lie and the urge to volunteer at the Smallville Medical Center until the end of July. Things weren't black-and-white, as Sheriff Ethan had said to Clark, and Clark agreed. It was one of the reasons he was an investigative reporter; the truth had many sides and it was his duty to show all of them or none at all.
"I feel sorry for him," Jodi said, ducking her blonde head in shyness when everyone looked at her. "Not th-that he's going to jail, but about what happened to his mom."
"If someone hurt my family, I'd want revenge, too," Pete agreed. "McNulty probably went after the MAs because he couldn't get to Shivs."
"Or he wanted to stop other MAs from killing," Cyrus said. "A blanket solution."
"I'm just glad everyone here's okay," Chloe said. "It was close enough to be too scary." Justin took her hand and squeezed it.
"Definitely," Alicia said, with a relieved smile for Clark. Cyrus had healed the wounds caused to Clark by kryptonite-laced bullets that McNulty had been packing in his rifle. Clark had taken those bullets in place of Lex, so he was in full agreement with Alicia.
Speaking of Lex, a smile bloomed on Clark's lips when he saw Lex come through the swinging door from the back room of the Talon. Wearing a royal purple polo shirt tucked in to tan trousers with a belt, he padded on bare feet over to the table with an echoing smile that lit up his features.
Clark felt like he was floating and grabbed the edge of his seat. He could have this gorgeous man. There was nothing holding him back any longer. He was free to touch, to love, and to be with Lex for as long as Lex wanted him. His heart soared.
"Hi," Lex said, stopping beside Clark's chair."Hi." Clark stared up at him, tingles flooding through his body. His heart started racing. He hardened beneath his shorts. He continued to smile hugely, and probably dopily, at Lex.
Clark jumped at Chloe's sudden exclamation, sloshing coffee on his hand. He was shocked – though, he really shouldn't have been – when money started exchanging hands.
"Oh, maannn," Justin said, pulling out his wallet.
Pete looked in his own wallet. "I only have three bucks on me."
"I have a ten," Jodi said, reaching for her purse slung over the back of the chair.
Chloe held out her hand. "Gimme, gimme."
Cyrus and Alicia looked highly amused. "What was the bet?" Alicia said.
"That Clark would get his head out of his ass about Lex." Chloe beamed proudly at Clark and reached past Justin to pat his head like a puppy. "I knew you could do it."
"We- I- we didn't say anything!"
"You didn't have to," Chloe said, tapping her money into a pile. "It's written all over your faces."
Clark glanced at Lex, who merely grinned happily. It made Clark's toes curl. He set his mug on the table and stole Cyrus's napkin. "Okay, you're right. But will you guys please stop betting on our love life?""There's nothing left to bet on now," Chloe gave them a sly look, "unless…"
"It's none of your business," Clark stated. He should've just kept his mouth shut.
Justin whooped, drawing attention from the patrons around them. "You dog," he said, clapping Clark on the back. Pete whistled with his fingers and Cyrus chuckled. Jodi hid her laugh behind her hand, while Chloe cackled and Alicia's nose wrinkled cutely as she giggled.
"You're being kind of loud," Lana chastised, as she came up to the table again.
"Hi, Lana," Lex said.Lana took one look at him, pulled some cash from her apron pocket, and handed a five-dollar bill to Whitney. It set off everyone again and Clark's jaw dropped. "You bet in my favor?" he said in disbelief. "I figured you'd find your balls eventually," Whitney said with a shrug, tucking the money in the breast pocket of his white dress shirt.
"Why is everyone laughing?" Lex asked, bending to speak only to Clark.
"It's not important." Clark turned his head and their noses brushed. His breath caught at the instant surge of want for a kiss. All he needed to do was tilt his chin, and bliss. Pure bliss.
"Excuse me." Clark broke from the softness of Lex's lips at the disgusted tone of voice. Behind Chloe and Alicia's chairs stood Rick Sanchez and two other former football players that had helped Whitney string up Clark as the scarecrow back in October. The three were dressed similarly to Whitney in suit coats and nice shirts.
"This is a public place and we'd like to drink our coffee without having to see your pervertedness," Sanchez said with derision. Clark's shoulders tensed in anger teamed with a feeling of dread. He couldn't afford to get in a fight, not with Boys' School hanging over his head from his brush with the law last month.
"This is a privately owned business and we don't serve bigots here," Lana said, folding her arms. "It's best you find your coffee elsewhere."
Sanchez snorted and gestured his friends towards the door. He paused to look at Whitney with disdain. "I can't believe you're sitting with homos right after you've been to church."
"Where I sit isn't any of your business, Sanchez," Whitney said with a tight jaw.
"You're probably a fag, too, like these other freaks of nature."
Whitney stood abruptly, his chair scraping back across the floor. Lana put her hand on his arm, stopping him from striking. Clark held the used napkin clenched in a balled fist. But it was Lex who spoke up in defense, surprising them.
"Homosexuality is found in every species," Lex stated, half-sliding behind Clark's chair when attention was turned to him. The Talon had grown quiet before from their raucous laugher and Lex's confident voice carried to those listening. "It's nature's form of population control. Religion twists the truth and makes something biologically natural be wrong. There is nothing scientifically freakish or abnormal about it."
Sanchez appeared taken aback briefly, and then scoffed. "It's still gross."
But the expressions on people's faces in the Talon were thoughtful or in agreement with Lex, and the atmosphere became hostile towards Sanchez and his friends. "Lana told you guys to get lost," Whitney said. "I suggest you do."
"Come on," Sanchez said to his friends. "We'll catch fag germs drinking from the same mugs."
"Wow. Well said, Lex," Chloe praised, once they were gone.
Lex ducked his head bashfully. "I only told the truth."
Whitney retook his seat and pulled Lana onto his knee. He looked directly at Clark. "Sorry about that."
Clark got the distinct feeling that Whitney meant the apology for more than what'd just happened. He inclined his head in thanks, then shifted over and patted half the seat. "Here, Lex. It's a little too crowded for another chair."Lex sat down and a twinkle shone in his eyes. "Does this mean we're in love?"
"Yeah," Clark slung his arm around Lex's shoulder, with an undoubtedly dorky grin, "I guess it does."
Pete gagged. Clark flicked him off.With light laughter, the conversation swung back to the goings-on of the night before, while Clark murmured to Lex, "I figured out what caused your changes. I'll tell you later, when we're alone."
"Okay." Lex laid his hand on Clark's thigh, and Clark knew talking wouldn't be the only thing they'd do when they were alone.
"Clark got grounded, too," Chloe said, tacking on to the end of Alicia's tale, filling in Lana on what she'd missed. She pointed at Clark. "And don't think my dad won't remember. Next time you're over, you'll be doing chores."
Clark grinned. "I'll make sure not to come over, then."
"Did you find out who that Jenkins guy was?" Whitney asked, sipping his coffee.
"He worked for Rickman." Clark lost his joviality, as the others came to attention at the name. "Rickman may be doing human experimentation at the Grandville plant."
Jodi gasped. Alicia and Cyrus exchanged fear-tinged looks. Pete, Whitney and Lana stared at Clark in disbelief. "Are you serious?" Chloe said, while Justin whistled low. Lex turned his head, a frown tugging at the corners of his lips.
"That's what Jenkins implied before he went into convulsions and the nurses kicked me out," Clark said. "My parents waited around, but the guy lost consciousness and so far as I know he's still out."
"Do you think he's telling the truth?" Lana said.
"Not sure," Clark said, "but there's one way to find out."
"Security is probably tight there," Pete said, leaning forward.
"Just cameras and a few security guards."
"It'd have to be right away before that changes,"
Chloe said, sliding her finger over the mousepad on her laptop.
"Once Rickman finds out about Jenkins, security will be beefed up or
they'll shut down any experiments completely."
"Wait, you're thinking of breaking in to the Grandville plant?" Jodi said.
"A firsthand account will be the only way to prove whether it's true or not," Clark said. His parents had promised to contact a PI and have a few government agencies do spot checks, but it might be too late. By then, Rickman was sure to have moved any experiments of that nature."I'm in," Alicia said, with a glance at Cyrus. Cyrus nodded. "So is Cyrus."
"Me, too," Lex said. "I want to help."
Clark shook his head. "Too many people is just begging to be caught.""There could be people who are hurt," Cyrus said.
"And I can get us in and out without being caught," Alicia said."Do you think you can loop the security camera footage like in the movies?" Whitney said to Chloe, joining in. "That would help keep a group from being seen."
Chloe nodded. "If someone can find and splice into the video feed, it's just a matter of hitting record then playing back the footage."
"I can get the equipment from my dad's store," Whitney said. "The most likely place for a video line would be in the electric room, which'll be a separate building at a production plant like that. We'd just have to look for the sign."
Lana swung to stare at him. "You're not thinking about going, too?!"
"You just want me to sit back and do nothing when there might be people being experimented on?"
"You don't know that—"
"We do," Chloe interrupted, eyes flicking over the laptop screen. "Maybe. I've still got that hack into Rickman Industries that you asked for, Clark. They'd have to keep data on their experiments."
"I doubt it'd say anything about human test subjects," Justin said, leaning in to read over her shoulder."No, but information they record would fit within human parameters, even if they called it something else."
"Blood pressure, temperature readings," Clark said, catching on. "Cell counts."
"My brother left his old med school texts at home," Pete said. "I can find out the norms for comparison."
"Are we going tonight?" Lex asked.
"We should. Chloe's right about tightened security once they get wind of Jenkins," Clark said. "You should stay home, though. I don't want you getting hurt or into trouble."
"No." Lex's jaw tilted stubbornly. "I want to help."
Short of tying Lex up – something he'd be able to get out of with his new strength – there wasn't a way to prevent him from coming with to the Grandville plant. Clark rubbed his hand over the curve of Lex's shoulder. "All right. But you have to promise to do everything I say.""Okay," Lex agreed, and smiled happily.
"What time should we meet?" Pete asked.
"How about around ten?" Chloe suggested. "It'll take about forty minutes to drive out to the Grandville plant—wait, how are we going to get there? Pete's the only one with a back seat and it'd be ridiculous to take three or more cars."
"My dad has a van," Jodi said. "I can borrow it."
"I can bring coffee," Lana blurted, then blushed when everyone stared at her. She folded her arms defensively. "Well, if everyone else is going, I'm going, too."
Justin grinned. "No mission can take place without the Nectar of the Coffee Gods. It'd be sacrilegious."
"So, we're set, then, for ten o'clock," Chloe said. "We should probably meet upstairs at Lex's, since he's the only one who doesn't have parents breathing over his shoulder. Is that okay, Lex?"
"Yes," Lex replied with a nod.
"I'll go get that medical book," Pete said, rising to his feet. Jodi stood with him.
"Good. I'll keep trying to find some numbers that look like what we're looking for," Chloe said, clicking links with her laptop mousepad.
"I need to get back to work." Lana kissed Whitney and headed off to buss a table.Whitney rose and slid on his suit coat. "I'll see you guys later."
"We should get going, too, before someone mentions that we're wearing the same clothes as yesterday," Alicia said with a crinkle of her nose.
"Bye," Lex said. Cyrus raised his hand in a half-wave and they headed towards the darkened hall outside of the restrooms.
"Lex and I have things to do, too," Clark said, nudging Lex to stand.
"I'm sure you do." Chloe shot him a wicked grin. "We'll be listening for thumps and moans."
Clark scowled playfully, as Justin cackled. Lex appeared somewhat confused. "Thumps and moans?"
Placing his hand on the lower curve of Lex's back, Clark urged him in the direction of the swinging door to the Talon's back room. "Never mind. They're being perverts," he said. Not that he wasn't going to cause thumps and moans the moment they got upstairs. His half-hard cock firmed completely in anticipation.
The walk upstairs seemed to take forever. The pinwheel in the flowerbox reflected the morning sun, on the landing outside of Lex's apartment. Clark was thankful, for once, that Lex hadn't locked the door and he swooped Lex into his arms the moment they were inside. Lex squeaked in surprise but then melted into the voracious kiss.
Kicking the door shut behind them, Clark kneaded Lex's ass and ground against his pelvis. He could feel the rigid length of Lex's cock pressing against his abdomen and his erection surged when Lex humped against him. His mind hazed with lust, control shattered in knowing that he could have this without fear.
With a growl of want, he broke the kiss and manhandled Lex prone on the hardwood floor. He had Lex's trousers down in a flash and buried his face between Lex's asscheeks. "Clark!" Lex gasped and writhed as Clark rimmed him with fast licks. Lex tasted like soap and skin and smelled of desire, and grunted as he came in the hem of his polo shirt.
Clark sucked on Lex's tailbone, as he unbuttoned his shorts and freed his erection from the confines of his briefs. Rising over Lex, Clark's plum cockhead popped past the tight ring of muscle of Lex's tongue-slicked asshole. Lex whined like a dog and shoved up and back, impaling himself fully on Clark's cock. Clark's eyes rolled back in pleasure. He shifted his balance forward and braced his weight with a grip on Lex's shoulders, pressing Lex flat on the floor. Mounted with his knees on the outer sides of Lex's thighs, he fucked Lex with short, hard thrusts, owning the body beneath him.
Lex's cheek was pressed on the hardwood, his scalp and face flushed from the sex. He panted loudly, breaths interspersed with short whimpers. Clark's hips slapped steadily against Lex's ass. Lips furled, Clark grunted as he took what was his and used it as he wanted.
Climax struck, blinding Clark with its intensity. He pumped Lex full of come, leaving evidence of his possession, before collapsing onto Lex's back. Partially formed thoughts of pride drifted through his mind, as the scent of sex permeating Lex's body tickled Clark's nose. Lex reached an arm behind him and held Clark as he descended slowly from his orgasmic high. Eyes closed and breathing heavily, Clark mouthed kisses on the curve of Lex's scalp, half of them missing full contact.
Eventually, the buzz faded and Clark found syllables again. "I'm not squishing you, am I?"
"No." Lex sighed contentedly, his ear pillowed on the crook of his folded arm. "I like you there. You're like a warm blanket with a handle."
Clark snorfled into the fold of Lex's neck. "A handle, huh?"
"Yes. A handle that likes to poke me in pleasurable places." Lex wiggled his hips a little, moving easily under Clark's weight. "I like anal sex."
"I took you kind of dry. I didn't hurt you, did I?"
"No. Sex doesn't hurt if it's done right, remember?" Lex said. "And with you, it's always right."
Clark's heart squished and he found Lex's hand to interlace their fingers. "I couldn't agree more."
They basked comfortably in the sunlight coming through the southern tall windows of Lex's apartment. Clark felt freer than he had in as long as he could remember. Rough sex didn't faze Lex; in fact he seemed to enjoy it a lot. Clark didn't have to worry about taking it slowly, or keeping a tight reign on his body. He could give himself over to his alien differences without fear. He could stop thinking and fretting and just feel.
The phone rang, causing them to stir. "Do you want to get that?" Clark asked, moving with reluctance. They made decidedly unsexy noises when they parted, causing Lex's cheeks to pink. Clark chuckled, flopped onto his back, and adjusted his shorts.
"No." Lex sat up and scratched his belly under his shirt. The answering machine picked up the call.
"Hello, Mr. Luthor. This is Harry Hardwick calling to let you know that the offer still stands. In fact, I'll even raise the offer. Give me a ring and we'll have lunch."
Clark looked sideways at Lex, as the machine clicked off. "Offer?"
Lex shrugged. "People keep calling me, wanting me to go and work for them."
"Yes. I'm not going to accept. I like where I am." Lex smiled. "But I guess I'm not a ghost anymore."
Clark slid an arm around Lex's waist and hauled him close. "I guess you aren't," he said, and lowered his mouth for a kiss.
Lex hummed and his eyes sparkled when Clark broke away. "I'm happy."
"Me, too," Clark said, bussing a kiss on the tip of Lex's nose. "Let's get cleaned up, then I have things to tell you."
"Okay." Lex hitched up his pants as he stood, shuffled off towards the bathroom and paused in the doorway. Looking over his shoulder, he asked with true bashfulness and a bit of hope, "Do you want to take a bath with me? It's big enough for two…"
Clark felt a grin stretch across his face. "I'd love to."
Clark took the neon orange work vest tucked in his back pocket and draped it over the banister leading to the second floor of the house. A stack of plates, glasses, and silverware waited on the kitchen table to be set out. He sniffed the air. "Something smells good. They must've ordered in."
Lex's stomach rumbled in agreement and he blushed as Clark chuckled. Looping an arm around Lex's waist, Clark pulled him close and gave him a deep kiss. It felt great to be able to just do it without any sort of fear or doubts hanging overhead. Lex responded enthusiastically and with a passion of newly plucked virgin who really enjoyed sex. They'd both gotten off several times already, in the bath, in Lex's bed, and in the shower after their romp in bed. In between orgasms, Clark filled Lex in on what he'd learned about the kryah and what it meant for Lex.
"I can keep you safe now," Lex said, darting
glances at his skin, trying impossibly to get a glimpse of the kryah.
"More than I could before."
"Don't put yourself in harm's way because of
this," Clark told him, caressing the curve of Lex's bare hip.
"I don't think I'd survive if something happened to you."
"Why do you think I want to protect you?"
"I take it you two made up." Jonathan's dry tone filled the kitchen, breaking the kiss.
"Hi, Mr. Kent," Lex said, blushing as he extracted himself from Clark's hold. He smoothed the front of his violet shirt.
"Hello, Lex. It's been a while since you've come around." Jonathan clapped his hand on Lex's shoulder. "Hopefully, you won't be a stranger anymore."
"He won't," Clark said. He refrained from pumping his fist and shouting "Woohoo!" Obviously, his feelings still showed on his face by the amused look he received from Jonathan.
"Martha will be pleased." Jonathan said. He dropped his hand and headed around the island counter towards the stove. "Set the table, will you, Clark? You boys are right in time for dinner."
The note Clark had found on the refrigerator earlier that morning indicated he should be home for dinner, which was unusual. If he hadn't been delivered to them via spaceship, he was sure his parents would've wasted away, getting so involved in their work that they forgot to eat."Lex, hello," Martha enthused, coming downstairs. She smothered him in a cloud of spring-scented soap and affection. "It's good to see you."
Lex bloomed like a flower in her motherly embrace. "I like seeing you, too. I missed you."
"Well, you're always welcome here, no matter what," Martha said, wiping her lipstick kiss smudge from his cheek.
"Thank you," Lex said, ducking his head with pleased bashfulness.
"When did this happen?" Jonathan asked Clark, as Clark came to help him put the food from the supermarket's Family Dinners To Go containers into serving dishes. He tilted his head in Lex's direction.
"I guess officially this morning." Clark stuck a serving spoon into the mixed vegetables and tried to explain without detail. His parents knew enough already about his sex life to embarrass him for eternity. "I kind-of-have-sort-of-have-may-have given him the means to be unaffected by my strength."
Jonathan's eyebrows raised. "Do I want to ask?"
"Not really," Clark said. "It's a Kryptonian thing."
"Ah." Jonathan picked up the platter of pork chops. "So everything's magically resolved, then?"
"No. Nothing's that easy, but it gives me a real chance at something wonderful." Clark looked in Lex's direction. Lex was speaking animatedly with Martha, almost glowing with happiness. Clark felt love and a contentedness that he hadn't had in a very long time. "I think he's it for me."
"You're only seventeen, Clark," Jonathan said, but not in a way that belittled Clark's feelings.
"Nearly eighteen," Clark said. "And that just means I'll have to work to make this last, like you and mom."
"Speaking of your mother and I," Jonathan said as he carried dinner to the table. "The reason we wanted you home for dinner is to discuss where you'll stay while we go out of town for a week, for our anniversary."
"Can't I just stay here?" Clark said, as they all took their seats.
"Normally, we'd say no, just like we do every year," Martha said, joining in the conversation. "But your grandparents will be out of town at the same time, so you won't be able to stay with them."
"He can stay with me," Lex said, perky about the idea.
Jonathan chuckled, as they all took their seats. "I don't think that's going to work."
"No good parent would let their seventeen-year-old son stay with his boyfriend without supervision," Martha said, dishing vegetables onto her plate.
"Oh." Lex looked crestfallen.
"And with this new relationship of yours, I don't think it's wise that we let you stay here alone, Clark," Jonathan said. Clark opened his mouth to make promises, but Jonathan cut him off. "I know we can trust you, but I also remember what it's like to be a teenager in love."
Clark squirmed a little in his chair. He supposed they were right. As much as he respected them, the temptation would be too great to sleep over at Lex's, or to have Lex overnight, while they were gone. "Maybe I could stay with Chloe or Pete."
"Those are two options."
"What about Pam?" Lex said, taking a pork chop and passing the platter. "She used to take care of me. She's really good at it.""That's another possibility," Martha agreed. She glanced sympathetically at Clark. "Once you turn eighteen, we'll be more flexible. There'll still be rules because you're in high school, but they'll be more for propriety's sake."
The phone rang, interrupting further conversation. Jonathan rose to answer it, as they finished passing around the food. "Kent residence… Yes?… That's too bad. Thanks for letting us know." He hung up and returned to the table. "That was the hospital. Earl Jenkins passed away.""Oh, no," Martha said with sympathy. "Did they manage to get in touch with his family?"
"They didn't say, but I would hope so," Jonathan said. "They gave us the courtesy of calling since he'd been asking for us."
"Did you ever find out anything more, about what he told me?" Clark asked.
Jonathan shook his head. "He never regained consciousness that I know of."
"We'll have to proceed as if he told the truth, then." Clark shared a determined look with Lex. Their trip to Rickman Industries' Grandville plant might not prove anything, or if they did find evidence of human experimentation, linking it directly to Rickman would be difficult, but Clark couldn't sit idly by and, he knew, neither could his friends. "If Rickman is doing human experimentation, he has to be stopped."
"Yes," Lex agreed firmly. "It's wrong."
"Don't do anything foolish, you two," Jonathan warned.
"We won't," Clark said.
Necessity made fools into heroes, after all.
Their friends started arriving at Lex's apartment around nine-thirty, forcing Clark to stop molesting Lex against the counter separating the kitchen from the living room area. Lex greeted them, looking rumpled and self-satisfied.
"So what finally prompted your change in tune?" Chloe asked when she cornered Clark alone.
Clark's thoughts flickered past an image painted on a cave wall. His lips curved in amusement. "Maybe destiny changed it for me."
Chloe poked him playfully in the stomach. "You don't believe in things like fate."
"I will, if it gives me Lex."
With a roll of her eyes, she rejoined the others gathered in the living room. Clark jumped up onto the counter, using it as a chair. Dressed in variations of black on black, Clark was amused by his friends' attire, thinking they looked like they were either about to commit a felony or break into slam poetry. Chloe and Justin sat side-by-side cross-legged on the floor, their knees touching. Whitney and Lana shared the couch with Jodi and Pete. Cyrus and Alicia had pulled chairs from the kitchen table into the living room area. Lex boosted himself up onto the counter beside Clark and rested his hand on Clark's thigh. Clark enjoyed the proprietary display.
"Okay, here's what we found out," Chloe said, opening her computer. She balanced it on her lap. "There are about twelve files with experiments in them that correspond with human data. It looks like only two are still actively going, though."
"It doesn't happen to say where they're taking place, does it?" Whitney said.
Chloe shook her head. "All we have to go on is what Earl Jenkins said about Level Three.""We should stop by the hospital and try to get more information from him," Pete said.
"Can't." Clark gave them a grim look. "Jenkins died earlier today."
A short silence filled the room. "Damn," Justin said. "This is getting serious."
"It's always been serious," Alicia said. Cyrus put his arm around her.
"I think Justin meant that finding the truth means more now," Lana said. She worried her lower lip and leaned against Whitney. Clark wondered if she feared that she might see Jenkins' ghost. "You don't think Mr. Jenkins was one of the experiments?"
"Whether he was or wasn't, that doesn't change what we need to do," Pete said, sounding angry. Jodi touched his leg in comfort. "I looked at those files earlier when I was helping Chloe. All of them say they're using the meteorites in the experiments and that's just messed up. We know what the meteorites do to people."
"Some of us better than others, dude," Justin said, sending a stray pencil floating through the air.
"We're definitely going and getting the evidence we need to expose Rickman," Chloe said. "It'll be the best front page story I've ever done."
"What if it doesn’t work?" Lana said. "What if he just moves the experiments elsewhere?"
"Rickman will be stopped," Clark stated. No matter what happened tonight, or in the future, he would make sure that truth and justice prevailed.
"I think we've had enough discussion. It's time for action," Whitney said.
"Now, you're talkin'," Pete said, pumped up. "This bastard is going down."
"Then let's go people," Chloe said, putting her laptop away. She stood, hooked the bag over her shoulder, and made for the door. "If we hurry, we can make the deadline for the morning editions of the major papers."
"Who's riding with who?" Justin said, following her out.
"I have room for two or three more," Lana said.
"I'm going with Jodi, in the van," Pete said. He and Jodi trailed Lana and Whitney out of Lex's apartment. Cyrus and Alicia were right behind them.
"We can go with Jodi, too," Alicia said.
Clark paused on the landing outside, while the others continued downstairs. He glanced at Lex. "It's not too late to back out."
Lex shut the apartment door with a shake of his head. "I'm going."
"Okay," Clark knew it would be futile to try and fight him, "but promise you'll stay close to me."
Lex slipped his hand in Clark's and gave him a smile. "Always, Clark."
"Yeah." Clark suddenly felt a sense of rightness, like everything was finally as it was supposed to be. He squeezed Lex's hand. "Always."
Lex's smile grew bigger, his eyes crinkling in the corners, and love swelled in Clark's heart. They turned and followed their friends down the stairs, together.
“I like you, Clark,” Lex said simply, and began folding the sweater.
Clark didn’t know what to say, other than the truth. “I like you, too, Lex.”