�I want it to be catchy.� Lana Lang tucked her long, dark hair behind her ear and leaned further over Chloe Sullivan�s shoulder. �Something people can�t get out of their heads.�
Chloe typed a few words on her computer keyboard. ��A coffee a day keeps the doctor away?��
Lana wrinkled her nose. �That�s not quite what I�m looking for.�
�O coffee! My coffee! Our horrid day is done/This body has weathered every class, the grade we sought is won/The end is near, the bell I hear, the students all exalting/while follow eyes the homework deal, the Talon open and calling.�
Lana and Chloe both stared at Clark Kent, who grinned innocuously. �Too pretentious?� he said.
Chloe snorted. �You are such a nerd, Kent.�
�I kind of like it,� Lana said with a smile. �Walt Whitman is one of my favorite poets.�
�Mine, too,� Clark said, winking.
�Oh brother,� Chloe said under her breath. Clark�s brows rose as he glanced questioningly at her, but she didn�t shift her gaze from the computer monitor. What was her deal?
A timid knock sounded on the open door of the Torch office. �Um� hi,� Jodi Melville said softly, her head bowed shyly. �Pete wanted me to collect his homework?�
�Sure. His stuff�s right over here.� Chloe indicated a pile of papers and books on the desk across the room. �How is he feeling?�
�Sick still,� Jodi replied.
�That flu bug is nasty,� Lana said sympathetically. �I hope you�re taking care not to get it.�
�I am,� Jodi said. She zipped her overfull backpack, smiled faintly at them, and hurried out of the office with a quick, �Bye.�
Clark frowned at the empty doorway. �Has Jodi lost weight?�
�I thought she looked thinner,� Chloe said in agreement. �Good for her.�
�I don�t know.� Lana appeared concerned. �I have fourth period lunch with her, and she ate an awful lot, if she�s on a diet.�
�She really likes Pete,� Clark said. �And I�ve seen the girls he usually hooks up with.�
�You think she could be bulimic?� Chloe said.
Clark shrugged. �It�s possible.�
�I�ll keep an eye on her,� Lana promised. She shook her head sadly. �I don�t know how anyone could do that to themselves.�
�Don�t judge,� Clark said. He stood and gathered his coat and backpack. �The hardest thing to fight for is control over your own body.�
Chloe looked at him with an upraised brow. �What do you know about being different, Mr. Tall, Dark, Rich and Handsome?�
��Are you the new person drawn toward me?�� Clark began quoting quietly. ��To begin with take warning, I am surely far different from what you suppose/ Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal?/ Do you think it is so easy to have me become your lover?/ Do you think the friendship of me would be unalloyed satisfaction?/ Do you think I am trusty and faithful?/ Do you see no further than the fa�ade, this smooth and tolerant manner of me?/ Do you suppose yourself advancing on real ground toward a real heroic man?/ Have you no thought O dreamer that it may be all maya, illusion?��
He left both girls staring after him, and headed home.
Clark wondered sometimes � really all the time � if he had been sent away from his home planet because he was different. It was hard being an alien amongst humans, but what if he�d been an alien amongst his own people? Did he have a birth defect? Were his abilities an abnormality? Was he as dangerous there as he was on earth? Was it because he was gay?
He stopped the truck at the stop sign, hit the signal, and turned onto Hickory Lane. Late at night when he couldn�t sleep, he�d sometimes stare out the open window at the sky and wonder what it would be like to be normal, in human terms. He�d be able to play sports and roughhouse with the other boys. The Kents could�ve been his biological parents. He wouldn�t have had to be careful all the time, and could get sick and miss school like other kids. He might have been straight, less physically aggressive, and what had happened with Ian McMurphy and the others would never have occurred.
�If wishes were nickels, everyone would be rich, Clark, and then where would the economy be?� Jonathan Kent said in Clark�s mind. Jodi probably wished she were thin, Pete probably wished he were taller, and Lana wished for her parents to be alive. Clark wasn�t the only one who felt powerless over his life, and dwelling on it didn�t change anything.
�Hey, I�m home.� Clark dropped his backpack and coat inside the door and frowned at the subdued atmosphere. Jonathan and Martha were seated at the table, looking as though the world had ended. He saw none of the usual cooking disasters in the kitchen and became worried. �Guys? What�s wrong?� He curved a hand over Martha�s shoulder. �Is someone hurt? Did you lose a patent?�
Jonathan choked a bitter laugh. �We lost more than that.�
�The greenhouse?� Clark�s gaze whipped to the window and triggered his telescopic vision. The greenhouse came into sharp focus.
�No, nothing like that.� Martha patted Clark�s hand. �It�s the pesticide we were working on.�
�What about it?�
�It�s gone,� Jonathan said, sinking his face in his hands. �All of it, gone.�
Clark sat, looking between his parents. His worry had abated, but he was still concerned. �What do you mean, gone?�
�All of our notes and files have disappeared, both hard copies and on the computer,� Martha explained. �The boards have been erased, the plants have been dug up, and the samples are missing � everything related to the pesticide has vanished.�
Clark stared in surprise. �What happened?�
�We don�t know,� Martha said. �We suspect Bob Rickman had something to do with it, but we have no idea how.�
�The Pesticide King,� Jonathan said bitingly. �He owns Rickman Industries. You know him by the Sunflower label.�
Clark�s evident confusion prompted Martha to clarify. �Mr. Rickman was here today, asking questions about his �new competition.��
�And you think he stole your research?� Clark said.
�It�s the only hypothesis we have,� Martha said. �We were working on the pesticide when Mr. Rickman arrived. We spoke for a few minutes, and then he said goodbye. The next thing we knew, all of our research was gone.�
�That does sound suspicious,� Clark said, his investigative itch flaring. �Do you think you were drugged?�
Martha shook her head. �We checked. Our blood is clean.�
Blood work was a big part in his parents� experiments, so Clark had no doubt on the accuracy of Martha�s results. �Neither of you are holding ice packs, so I guess you weren�t knocked out.�
�What�s stranger is that nothing is out of place,� Jonathan said. �It�s like Rickman, or whoever, knew exactly where everything was, even on the computer. Only the pesticide related files have been deleted.�
�You can recreate them, though, right?�
�Yes, but we have to start from scratch.� Jonathan rubbed his hand over the back of his neck. �That�s months of work. What�s worse, Lex�s original notes are gone, too. How do we explain to him what happened?�
�He�s going to be so disappointed,� Martha said unhappily.
�He�ll understand,� Clark placated, but he ached suddenly for Lex. Lex was proud of his research and developments, and now his hard work was gone without concrete explanation.
�We should call him,� Martha said, beginning to rise. Clark�s hand on her arm stopped her.
�He doesn�t have a phone,� he said, rising. His parents didn�t know Lex lived in the factory basement and it was up to Lex whether to tell them. �I�ll swing by his place and pick him up. Unless you want me to break the news to him?�
�No,� Jonathan said. �We�ll do it. An apology should always be given sincerely and face-to-face.�
�Tell him he�s invited to dinner,� Martha said.
�Okay.� Clark felt even more sorry for Lex now. Not only were his notes gone, he would have to eat Martha�s cooking. �I�ll be back soon.�
Snow crunched underfoot as Clark walked from the main house to the barn. He wanted to grab his cell phone before heading out to the plant. It was odd that Lex wasn�t already around. Lex spent more time at the Kent residence than Clark did.
Which was why Clark�s surprise was minimal, when he saw Lex huddled in the corner of the couch beneath a blanket. He should have figured Lex would have been in the loft. Next to the greenhouse, the loft was Lex�s favorite place to be, much to Clark�s consternation. He enjoyed Lex�s company a little too much for it to be proper.
The desk lamp was on, casting light into the loft and over Lex. Lex�s blue eyes alit on Clark, and Clark�s gut twisted at the hurt and confusion he saw in them. Dark streaks ran down Lex�s cheeks, tear tracks wiped with a dirty hand.
�Lex�,� Clark was drawn to Lex�s side, sitting close to him on the couch. ��what is it? What�s wrong?�
�Mr. and Mrs. Kent gave our project to some man and destroyed the rest.� Lex clenched the blanket in his fists, eyes imploring Clark�s for explanation. �I don�t understand. Why would they do that? Why did they give our project away?� His voice dropped to a pained whisper. �Don�t they want me anymore?�
�Of course they do.� Clark�s need to comfort overrode his common sense. Ignoring the smell (obviously, Lex had been too upset to shower - he was rarely unclean anymore), Clark slid an arm around Lex�s shoulders, drawing him closer. �Of course they do,� he repeated. The silly tuft of hair tickled his chin.
�I�m not a child,� Lex said, sitting stiffly for a moment before leaning into Clark�s embrace. �Mr. and Mrs. Kent could have just told me they were ending the project.�
�I don�t think that�s what happened,� Clark said, mind whirling. �I spoke with my parents before I came in here and they�re as upset as you are that the project is gone. Only, they don�t know what happened.�
Lex pulled away, to Clark�s inappropriate disappointment, and looked questioning at him. �I don�t understand.�
�This man you saw, do you know who he was?� Clark asked, crossing to the desk before he was tempted to hold Lex again.
Clark booted up the computer. �Tell me what you saw exactly. Where were you when this happened?�
�I had gone to the restroom and when I returned, the man was with Mr. and Mrs. Kent,� Lex said. �Dad says it�s impolite to interrupt business, so I stayed out of the lab. I saw Mr. and Mrs. Kent pack a box with our research, notes, samples and meteorites, and parts from the computer, and give it to the man. Then the man did something on the computer while Mr. and Mrs. Kent erased the boards and dug up the test plants.�
�No,� Lex said. �I left the greenhouse and came up here to wait for you.�
With a few keystrokes and a couple clicks of the mouse, Clark pulled up a photograph on the Internet. �Is this the man you saw?�
Lex�s bare feet made no noise on the floor as he came up behind Clark. He laid his hands on Clark�s shoulders and looked at the monitor. �Yes,� he said. �Who is it?�
�Bob Rickman, CEO of Rickman Industries. He makes pesticides.�
�I know that name.� He moved to put on his coveralls and boots.
�You do? From where?� Clark said.
�I�m not certain.� Lex finished dressing for the cold and pulled on his knit hat. �Bye.�
�Wait, where are you going?� Clark said, as Lex went downstairs.
�To the plant,� Lex�s answer floated up to Clark.
�But why?� Clark called, but it was too late, as he heard the barn door open and close. The loft was suddenly very empty. Clark was surprised by Lex�s abrupt departure. He could also feel Lex�s hands still weighing on his shoulders.
�He is off limits,� Clark stressed to himself for the millionth time. He scowled at Rickman�s picture.
Lex was brilliant, open, honest, occasionally sneaky and sweetly shy. He was beautiful even when filthy and Clark desperately wanted to touch him. Unlike anyone before, he had gotten under Clark�s skin and Clark was almost helpless in his presence. Lex had Clark wrapped around his pinky finger and didn�t even know it.
Off limits, Clark repeated in his mind. Lex�s mental capacity was still up in the air, but he had a definite childish innocence about him and Clark was not going to corrupt him.
Clark focused on Bob Rickman�s smarmy mug. If there ever was someone who looked like a corrupter, or a sleaze, it was Rickman. From what Lex relayed, good ol� Bob had Jonathan and Martha�s pesticide research, given to him by their own hands. But why? And how? Clark�s parents said they had no idea what had happened, which made no sense in light of Lex�s story.
Clark back-clicked and pulled up the biography on the Rickman Industries website. Within moments, Clark�s investigative itch grew to a rash. Rickman was from Smallville originally. It didn�t take much to learn that the former salesman was in town at the time of the meteorite strike, but that didn�t necessarily mean anything.
Other than the Smallville connection, Rickman was a textbook �risen to success� story. He started his own company and its fast track growth was phenomenal. He dominated the Midwest pesticide industry to the extent that a majority of retailers didn�t sell anything but the Sunflower label. It seemed like a monopoly, but Clark could find no investigation or legal actions against Rickman indicating that possibility.
Good salesmanship or shady dealings? Rickman�s selling technique wouldn�t be outlined in the papers. The only way to find out would be to talk to clientele and business associates.
Clark pulled up the Smallville Ledger online and entered Rickman�s name in the archive search engine. He�d start with people close to home and work outward.
The search results focused primarily on the year following the meteorite strike. Nearly every article on Rickman included his partner at the time, Kyle Tippett. Clark�s curiosity was piqued. Rickman was rich, Tippett, Clark recalled, was the hermit who lived in Burnham Woods. Had they had a falling out? Or was Tippett forced out of a lucrative business? Either way, if anyone would know Rickman�s business practices, it would be a former partner.
�I�m here, Dad,� Clark called down to Jonathan. He added another name to the list of persons to possibly speak with, as Jonathan�s footsteps sounded on the loft stairs.
�Homework?� Jonathan asked, taking a seat on the couch.
�Research,� Clark said. �On Rickman.�
�You shouldn�t get involved, son,� Jonathan said.
Clark grinned over his shoulder. �Since when has that stopped me?�
Jonathan shook his head. �We don�t know for sure if Rickman is involved.�
�Yes, we do.� Clark minimized his browser, turned around, and gave his father a grim look. �Lex saw you and mom give the pesticide research to Rickman.�
Jonathan frowned. �I highly doubt��
�Lex doesn�t lie, you know that,� Clark forestalled disagreement. �He said he�d gone to the bathroom and when he returned, Rickman was there and you guys were giving him the research.�
�When did Lex tell you this?� Jonathan said.
�Right after I talked with you and mom,� Clark said. �He was waiting for me up here. He was really upset about it.� Clark�s chest tightened at the memory of Lex�s tremulous voice. �Don�t they want me anymore?�
He had the urge to hit his father suddenly.
�Damn,� Jonathan cursed quietly. �Why didn�t you ask him to stay for dinner?�
Clark forced his clenched fists to unfurl. �He was upset. I forgot. You�re sure you don�t remember giving that stuff to Rickman?�
�Not at all,� Jonathan said. He blew out an unhappy breath. �We need to try and to explain what happened to Lex. Even though we don�t know what happened.�
�I�m going to figure that out,� Clark said. He glanced at the clock. �What time is dinner?�
�That�s why I came out here. Your mother burned the pizza again.� Jonathan gave Clark a dry smile. �We�re calling for take out. Anything you want in particular?�
�Whatever�s fine,� Clark replied. He picked up his list and looked at Kyle Tippett�s name. �I�m going to follow up on a lead, but I won�t be gone long.�
�Pick up Lex, if you can,� Jonathan said. He clapped his hand on Clark�s shoulder. �Thanks for wanting to help.�
Clark shrugged off the acknowledgement. He wasn�t comfortable with being praised for helping people. He grabbed his coat and cell phone. �I�ll be back soon.�
Burnham Woods was on the northwest side of town, encompassing Crater Lake. Clark�s truck bumped along a dirt road, headlights cutting through the dark, winter evening. Kyle Tippett lived in a trailer at an old campsite in the woods. He was an artistic recluse that Smallvillians were wary of and avoided.
Clark found Tippett�s trailer and parked the truck. Scrap and garbage sculptures littered the yard and Clark wondered at the definition of �art�. Lights shone behind curtains in the windows of the rusty Airstream. A jeep was parked nearby.
Clark knocked on the door. He saw a shadow move in front of a window and stepped back a moment later as the door swung open. �Mr. Tippett?�
�Yeah, I�m Kyle.� Kyle Tippett stood shirtless and barefoot, with the button on his faded jeans undone. Stubble covered his strong jaw and piercing eyes pinned Clark in place. His lean, defined muscles and dark bedhead sent a spark of arousal through Clark. Kyle was in his thirties and still hot. By the way Kyle�s eyes swept down Clark�s body, the physical attraction was mutual. The night was looking up.
�I�m Clark Kent,� Clark said, voice dropping a seductive notch. �I�m working on an article for the paper and wondered if I could ask you some questions.�
�What about?� Kyle said.
�About your sculpture�s.� Clark flicked his gaze along Kyle�s half-naked form. �Among other things.�
A corner of Kyle�s lip curved sensuously and he turned sideways in the doorway, in invitation to enter.
Clark was about to accept, when he looked past Kyle. Kyle wasn�t alone. Clark saw into the small trailer toward the bedroom area. Another male was bent over, bare backside with the shadow of a ball sac facing Clark, as he dried his legs with a towel. Clark�s brows lifted. While a threesome would be fun, Clark didn�t have that much time to spare.
Kyle noticed his gaze and glanced to the bedroom area. �Don�t mind him. Lex will be leaving momentarily.�
The other man straightened as Kyle spoke, and Clark�s nostrils flared, inhaling sharply. The naked man was Lex, his Lex, with the tuft of red hair toweled dry and sticking up every which way, sans clothing in Kyle Tippett�s trailer.
Clark took in Kyle�s nearly undressed state and his vision went red. There was a rushing sound in Clark�s ears, adrenaline crashing through his veins. With a deep-throated snarl, he grabbed Kyle around the neck, yanked him out the door, and slammed him bodily against the side of the trailer.
�I�m going to rip your dick off!� Clark roared in rage. He stood right in Kyle�s face, pinning him to the trailer. Kyle�s dangling feet kicked uselessly at Clark. �How dare you lay a hand on him!�
Kyle grabbed Clark�s bare wrists and gasped, �Release me and leave!� Clark bared his teeth ferally and squeezed harder.
�Clark! Stop it! Let him go!� Clark felt the tugging on his arm. He saw Lex out of the corner of his eye. Lex�s unfastened overalls were hardly staying on his hips, gooseflesh raised on his bare skin.
The red haze darkened over Clark�s eyes, fire burning hot in his belly. �Get in the truck, Lex,� he ordered.
Lex started, and then straightened to his full height, eyes narrowed in challenge. �No. Not until you release Kyle.�
�Lex�,� Clark said warningly.
Lex set his jaw stubbornly and folded his arms across his bare chest. �I�m waiting.�
Clark cursed viciously, lifted Kyle away from the trailer, tossed him through the open doorway, and leaned inside to snarl, �This isn�t over.� He slammed the door shut, grabbed Lex by the elbow, and force-marched him to the truck. �IN!�
�I don�t have my belongings,� Lex said, glaring at Clark.
�I don�t care,� Clark snapped. He opened the passenger door. �Get in.�
�You can�t tell me what to do�ahh!�
Clark snatched Lex around the waist, deposited him in the cab, and snapped the seatbelt into place. He shot Lex a warning look, shut the door forcefully, and stomped around to the driver�s side.
Lex held onto the door handle with both hands as Clark peeled out. Clark seethed as he drove, putting fast distance between Lex and that pervert. If Clark couldn�t fuck Lex, no one could.
�Did he hurt you?� Clark asked with a clenched jaw, the red haze coloring the world in bloody shades. He tried not to destroy the steering wheel at the thought.
�No. Why would Kyle hurt me?� Lex said in a tight voice, wide gaze plastered to the front window. �Kyle is nice.�
�Nice?� Clark hunched closer to the wheel, nostrils flaring. He was going to pulverize Kyle.
�Yes,� Lex said. �He�s my friend. He allows me to use his shower whenever I want.�
�I bet,� Clark muttered.
�Tell me exactly what Kyle did to you.� Clark didn�t want to hear it, but he the monster clawing inside his chest demanded to know.
�I don�t understand,� Lex said in confusion.
Kyle Tippett was a dead man.
Clark pulled roughly to the side of the road, parked and lowered his head to the wheel. Rage shook his body, blood roared in his ears, and it took all his concentration just to breathe. If Lex didn�t understand what Kyle had done�
Clark jumped, startled, when he felt Lex touch him tentatively. He held himself perfectly still as Lex began petting him, smoothing his hair repetitively like an animal�s fur. The rage drained with every stroke.
Eventually, he took a shuddering breath and turned his head to look at Lex. The red had faded from his vision. Lex continued petting him, fingers sliding along the contours of his face.
Lex�s features were marred with concern. Clark smiled shakily and straightened. Lex�s hand fell away. �I�m all right.�
�What happened?� Lex asked. He was sitting very close, half-naked and smelling of soap and toothpaste.
Arousal was beyond inappropriate at this moment. Clark began fastening Lex�s overalls in the dim cab, securing his body from violating eyes � his, and everyone else�s. �I�m angry with Kyle.�
�Why?� Lex asked.
�Because he touched you and he shouldn�t have,� Clark said. The fury stirred again, but he clamped down on it. Only an intense desire for vengeance remained.
�Kyle didn�t touch me,� Lex said, brow furrowed in confusion. �Kyle doesn�t touch people.�
Kyle�s once-over and implied invitation for sex contradicted the second statement, but Clark was hung up on the first. �Kyle didn�t touch you?�
�Are you sure?�
�Oh, thank God.� Clark slumped with relief, as the green-eyed monster finally let go. Lex never lied.
Lex looked contemplative. �Clark, why did you think that Kyle touched me?�
�What else would I think? You were both naked in his trailer,� Clark replied. Besides, who wouldn�t touch Lex if they could?
�I have to take my clothes off to shower,� Lex said logically.
�True,� Clark said. �But why didn�t you take a shower at my house, like you usually do?�
Lex flushed faintly. �I wasn�t thinking of it at the time, and Davenport�s Auto Shop dumped automobile fluids in the sewer again. I got even dirtier riding my board to the campground.�
�Well, next time, use my shower, okay?�
�Okay,� Lex agreed, looking down at his lap. �I need to go back to Kyle�s. My board and outer clothes are still there.�
Clark felt shame heat his neck. He�d gone apeshit on someone who hadn�t done anything wrong. Someone he needed information from, too. And Lex was barefoot and barely dressed for the winter cold. Great going, jerk.
�I�ll drive you back. Seat belt.� Lex scooted over and did as told. Clark made a u-turn and started back to Kyle�s.
What Clark didn�t know, and it occurred to him now, was why Lex was at Kyle�s in the first place. �Lex, what were you doing at Kyle�s? Besides showering,� he said. The image of Lex naked was burned into his mind, something that would give him masturbation fodder for a long time.
�Bob Rickman was Kyle�s former partner,� Lex replied.
Clark was surprised. �I know. That�s why I was there to see him. But how did you know?�
�I remembered the name and verified it with my notes on Kyle,� Lex said. �I wanted to question Kyle more about Mr. Rickman.�
�What did he say about Rickman?�
Lex looked guilelessly at Clark. �I didn�t have a chance to ask.�
Clark cringed. �I hope he�ll still supply information.�
�He always answers my questions,� Lex said matter-of-factly. He hesitated before adding perceptively, �But I don�t know if he will with you there.�
The situation might have been innocent, but Clark hated the idea of leaving Lex at Kyle�s alone. �I forgot to tell you earlier: Mom and Dad want you over for dinner. I�m supposed to give you a ride.�
Lex withdrew visibly, hurt splashing across his expressive face. �I don�t want to go.�
�Lex, they want to apologize to you,� Clark said. �They feel awful about hurting you, even though they have no idea what happened. They don�t remember giving your research to Rickman.�
Lex was quiet a moment, looking out the side window. Clark pulled up outside of Kyle�s trailer. �I need to verify that Mr. Rickman is like Kyle, and then I�ll come over.�
�How about if I wait here in the truck?� Clark said. �I�ll drive us home after you�re done.�
�Okay,� Lex said.
Clark watched through the window as Lex padded barefoot across the snow from the truck to Kyle�s door. A fully dressed Kyle answered Lex�s knock, allowed him inside, and stared challengingly at Clark before closing the door.
Clark growled unconsciously. Kyle may not have touched Lex, but Clark recognized another predator when he saw one.
Lex wasn�t gone long. He emerged wearing his coveralls, boots, and pom-pommed hat, and carrying a thick binder. He appeared unmolested, as he set the binder on the bench seat in the cab. �I have to get my board.�
The drainage grate near the campground wash station lifted off easily, and Lex dropped nimbly into the hole. Clark heard Lex messing with the board and assisted when he passed it up. The handles and trailer board folded over the main board, making it carryable.
�I see you put the new motor on the board,� Clark commented, once they were underway. �How does it run?�
�Twenty miles-per-hour faster,� Lex said proudly. �I need to practice on the corners, though, so I stop crashing.�
�Be careful,� Clark warned. �You could break your neck riding that fast.�
�I think I broke it last week. It shouldn�t happen again. At least, not at that particular turn.�
Lex was startled by Clark�s shout. �Pardon?�
�You said you broke your neck last week?�
�Yes,� he replied tentatively. �On Wednesday morning.�
Clark pulled over to the side of the road for the second time that night. He was trembling again, in fear rather than rage, as he unlatched his belt, scooted closer, and frantically ran his hands over Lex�s neck, shoulders, and head. He triggered his x-ray vision, sweeping his gaze over Lex. �Are you okay? Do you need a doctor? We should take you to the hospital. Why didn�t you say you were hurt? What are you doing riding around if you�re injured?�
Lex caught Clark�s hands against his cheeks. �I�m no longer hurt. My neck healed by the afternoon.�
�You healed?� Clark questioned, slightly wild-eyed. His heart triphammered in his chest.
�How?� Clark asked faintly.
Lex�s lashes swept down and he hesitated before answering. �I�m a mutant.�
Clark was stunned. �A mutant?�
�Yes. From what I�ve determined, I heal at a rate of one inch of bone per hour. The healing of internal damage is not measurable, though it seems fast. External damage, such as bruises and contusions, takes much longer. I hypothesize that it�s because the outer layers of epidermis are dead. I don�t get sick, either.� Lex looked nervously at him. �You�re not afraid of me now, are you?�
�No,� Clark said, pulse rate lowering. He dragged in a shaky lungful of air and let it out slowly. �I�m relieved.�
A beautiful smile spread across Lex�s features in response, stealing Clark�s breath. He was so close, cupping Lex�s cheeks almost intimately, with Lex�s hands covering his. He could see every detail of Lex�s face, down to the last freckle dotting his eyelid, even in the dim cab light. The moistness of his lips, the dip of the scar bisecting them invited tasting. Clark�s mouth lowered, pulled by invisible strings, coming within a hairsbreadth of the fading smile, and he felt a hot trickle of air against his upper lip from Lex�s breathing. Yes. He imagined Lex opening under him, mouth and body, so hot, and Clark couldn�t hurt him, no matter how roughly he was taken. Yes. There was no reason for control, no need to hold back, no fear, and Clark moved in for a kiss. Lex�s eyes widened, confusion reflected in the vivid blue irises, and Clark suddenly realized what he was doing.
He jerked away, sliding forcefully back to his side of the truck. His heart slammed wildly in his chest and he breathed harshly through his nose. He gritted his teeth, fighting for control. His jeans were tight across his swollen crotch, his palms itching to touch.
�Clark?� Lex said.
�I�m fine,� Clark bit out. �Let�s get home. Mom and Dad are waiting.�
Okay. Clark snapped on his seat belt, put the truck in gear, and cursed himself silently all the way home.
The Smallville Dam, built in 1961 by the military, dammed the Elbow River, which ran through town. The military had blocked the river as they excavated the area for unknown reasons. Once they found what they were searching for, or had given up looking, they left Smallville with an extended dam and giant hole in the ground that became the Morley Reservoir. (Chloe said they had been searching for an alien-landing site, but that was too farfetched even for Clark. What were the chances of two aliens landing in Smallville?)
Clark�s advanced physics class had taken a mini-field trip to the Smallville Dam for a lab experiment. The ten-story dam was a few miles from the high school, easily accessible during the class period. After Mr. Fisk explained the lab and partnered them up, he left them alone and sat in the bus with the driver. That meant, while the work was getting done, students were also goofing off. Eric Summers, Clark�s lab partner, was listening to music on his iPod and collecting rocks for whatever reason. Clark was on his cell phone, which he�d brought to school that day because Chloe was sick.
�I�m not sick,� Chloe said in Clark�s ear. �I�m ditching the geometry test I didn�t study for.� She sniffed grossly, however, before continuing. �Now, what�s this about Bob Rickman?�
�He�s a Smallville mutant, and he used his abilities against my parents yesterday,� Clark told her. He tossed a ping-pong ball and a tennis ball over the side of the dam and watched them fall at 9.81 meters per second per second. �According to Lex, Rickman has the same mutant powers as Kyle Tippett.�
�According to Lex, huh? Now there�s a reliable source.�
�Your Wall of Weird doesn�t come close to the amount of information Lex knows.� Clark bristled.
�Chill, lover boy. I�m not dissing Lex.�
Clark paled. �What did you call me?�
�I�m teasing, Clark,� Chloe said over the phone. �Your manliness is safe. Heaven forbid if someone implies that you�re hot for Luthor-Ghost ass. Or would that be Ghostly-Luthor ass?�
�Chloe, that�s not funny,� Clark bit out more harshly than was wise. He didn�t need her picking up on the unwitting truth of her commentary.
�You�re right. I guess it�s in poor form to make jokes about homosexuality,� Chloe said. �Let�s get back to Rickman and Kyle.�
�So tell me, what are Kyle and Rickman able to do? My Wall of Weird could use some new material,� Chloe said.
�Apparently, they can make people do things with a touch, things the victims won�t remember doing later on,� Clark said. Phone tucked between his ear and shoulder, he dropped another two objects over the side of the dam.
�Like power of suggestion? Subliminal messaging through their hands?� Chloe asked with a disgusting sniff. �What kind of things are we talking about?�
�Absolutely anything,� Clark said. He leaned against the safety rail, looking pensively below. If he would�ve known about Kyle having mutant abilities last night, he never would�ve let Lex return to the trailer alone. He voiced the fears that had given him a sleepless night. �Including� sexual things.�
Chloe was smart enough to get what Clark meant. �You think Rickman or Kyle put the whammy on Lex and made him do sex things?�
Bile rose in Clark�s throat and the phone cracked under his hand. He loosened his grip with effort. �Kyle may have, yes. If Lex�s information is accurate � and I have no doubt it is � Lex would have been helpless against Kyle.�
Chloe whistled. She'd met Lex, and had asked Clark after-the-fact if Lex was less than normal. It had brought up all of Clark's doubts again, and he'd shared with her his research on abandonment. �That�s a pretty big accusation. Do you know for sure?�
�No,� Clark said. It was the only reason Kyle was still in one piece. �That�s why I called. I wanted you to come with me to Kyle�s, if you�re up to it. I may not be very objective on my own.�
�Pick me up after school. I�ll be waiting.�
�Thanks, Chloe.� A rumble of thunder made Clark look up. The overcast sky was darkening rapidly. �I�ll see you later.�
Clark disconnected and tucked his cell phone into his pocket just as Mr. Fisk came out of the bus. �Looks like time�s up, class,� he said. �I need a volunteer to collect the balls.�
�I�ll go,� Clark said. He needed a moment alone, anyway. His temper wasn�t as white-hot as last night, but anger still bubbled beneath the surface, tightly contained until he had proof. A good journalist didn�t make speculations, he got substantiated facts.
�Thank you, Clark,� Mr. Fisk said. �Everyone else, back on the bus.�
Clark grabbed the empty milk crate and headed into the enclosed, cement stairwell that ran down along the dam. Another rumble of thunder echoed as Clark circled down the steps.
He emerged at the bottom of the dam and began collecting the dropped balls from the snow. The repetitive bend and pick up soothed him temporarily.
Lightning flashed and Clark raised his eyes to the sky as a thunderclap almost immediately sounded. It would probably rain any second. Clark checked for witnesses, planning to use his speed to gather the remaining balls so he didn�t get soaked. He saw someone, though, on the far side of the stairwell at the top of the dam.
He kicked on his telescopic vision, bringing the person into focus. It was Eric, and he was climbing on top of the dam�s safety rail.
Where was Mr. Fisk? Clark scanned for the teacher, but his position at the bottom of the dam hampered his viewpoint. Lightning flashed again, a clap of thunder close behind it. Eric was now standing upright on the rail.
�Eric!� Clark shouted, concerned and angry with his classmate for doing something so stupid. He ran human-speed into the stairwell before zipping alien-fast up the steps. At the top, he exited the stairwell building, dropped the milk crate, and hurried towards Eric. The building blocked Eric from view of the bus, and that explained why Mr. Fisk wasn�t dragging Eric�s ass off the rail.
�Eric!� Clark yelled again. Eric didn�t act like he heard. The headphones, Clark realized.
Lightning and thunder crashed one on top of the other. Eric spread his arms outward, hands clenched around semi-large rocks. Clark�s anger turned to fear. Eric looked like he was going to take a swan dive off the dam.
Clark shot forward, grabbed Eric by the wrist and the back of his coat, and yanked him off the rail. He released Eric immediately. Eric spun around with an angry expression twisting his face. He dropped one of the rocks, pushed off his headphones, and shoved Clark. �Why did you do that?�
Clark felt nauseous suddenly, but that didn�t stop him from shoving Eric back. �Why the hell do you think? You could have fallen?�
�That was the point!� Eric yelled. He went to shove Clark again, but Clark grabbed his hand. The rock still clenched in Eric�s fist glowed green upon contact with Clark�s palm. The skin-crawling burn of the meteorite was instant and agonizing. But it didn�t compare to the pain that came next.
The crack of the lightning bolt striking Clark drowned out his scream. Pure electricity seared through is body, across the rock clasped between Eric�s and his hands, and into Eric himself. Jolts of unleashed energy in its rawest form speared through them both in less than a second.
Clark collapsed when it ended, falling bonelessly to the ground. Everything hurt, including breathing. He lay there with his eyes shut tightly, happy despite the pain, glad to be an alien. Humans rarely survived being struck by lightning.
�Kent? You okay?� Eric shook Clark by the shoulder and Clark groaned. Eric, who looked a little smoked around the edges, peered anxiously at him. �Are you okay?�
�I feel like I�ve been hit by lightning,� Clark joked with another groan.
Eric helped Clark to his feet, laughing nervously. �Yeah. I wonder why.�
�How about you?� Clark asked, looking Eric over.
�I�m fine,� Eric said. �In fact, I feel even better than I did before.�
�Huh.� Clark didn�t question it, only happy that neither he nor Eric were crispy critters. �We should get back to the bus.�
�Good idea,� Eric said. He kicked a clear rock out of the way. �Any second now it�s going to rain.�
In agreement, the clouds opened upon them, pouring bucketfuls of rain on their heads. Lightning struck with a clap of thunder following a short distance away. Clark and Eric exchanged glances and hurried to the bus.
Soaked, Clark deposited the milk crate of ping pong balls by Mr. Fisk, sank onto the bus seat, and waved off Mr. Fisk's apology. He wrapped his arms around his torso, feeling cold and listening to Eric make excuses for not being on the bus, as told.
Clark still felt sore as he pulled on dry sweats and his P.E. t-shirt in the gym locker room. He was cold, too, with goosebumps raised along his arms, a phenomenon he�d only ever seen on others. Getting struck by lightning might�ve been a little more than his alien physiology could handle. Hopefully, he�d be back to his usual freaky self soon.
The bell rang, signaling the beginning of passing period between fourth and fifth hour classes. Wearing gym clothes as well, Eric brushed past Clark on the way out of the locker room. �Excuse you,� Clark muttered, but watched Eric pensively as he joined the students in the corridor.
It was colder in the halls than it had been in the locker room, and Clark shivered. Maybe Pete had left a sweatshirt or jacket in the Torch office. It wouldn�t necessarily fit, but he�d be warmer.
Clark glanced left, standing in front of his open hall locker. �Hey, Lana. Fordman.�
�Kent,� Whitney said. He looked Clark up and down and smirked derisively. Clark ignored him.
Lana�s face wrinkled in concern. �Are you feeling okay? You look pale.�
�I�m fine,� Clark said. It was the first time he�d pretended not to be hurting when he was, instead of the opposite. �I just got caught in the rain, that�s all.�
�Do you have a heavier shirt? You�re going to catch a cold,� Lana said, rubbing his bicep.
�Whitney has a sweatshirt in his locker. He�ll let you borrow it. Right, Whitney?�
Whitney looked like he�d rather have poison ivy on his crotch again, but he agreed tersely. �Sure.�
Clark�s lips twitched at poor, whipped Whitney, and was mockingly grateful. �Thanks. I�d really appreciate it.�
Whitney glowered. �I�ll be right back.�
�How did you get rained on?� Lank asked, as Whitney fetched the sweatshirt.
�Physics class,� Clark replied. He hesitated before asking, �Do you know Eric Summers?�
�No, I don�t think so,� she said. �Why?�
�He�s my lab partner. I thought if you knew him, you could talk to him. He seemed depressed,� Clark said. He refrained from telling her about the possible suicide attempt.
�Sorry,� Lana said with a small shrug. �Maybe you should tell the guidance counselor.�
�Maybe,� Clark agreed, and he might do it. Or at least leave an anonymous note for the counselor, so he wouldn�t have to explain his involvement.
Whitney returned and handed a navy sweatshirt to Clark. Clark looked suspiciously at it. Whitney rolled his eyes. �It�s clean, Kent.�
�I�ll return it tomorrow just as clean,� Clark said sweetly and put it on. He tried not to appear orgasmic at the warmth.
Whitney glanced at his watch. �C�mon, Lana. We need to get to class.�
�Okay.� Lana smiled at Clark. �See you in P.E.�
�Bye.� Clark watched them join the students walking down the hall. Whitney still had the best ass, except for a certain bare one he�d seen yesterday�and he was not going to go there. Especially not while he was wearing sweats.
Clark turned back to his locker. With Chloe and Pete both out sick, Clark would have the Torch office to himself during lunch. He had wanted to do more research on Rickman and, now, some on lightning strikes. He was feeling a little tired, though. Maybe he�d just take a nap�
�You look like crap,� Chloe announced as she joined Clark in his truck. Heat blasted from the vents. �You�d better not get me sick.�
�I�m not sick,� Clark said. He�d slept through his afternoon classes, not waking until he nearly fell out of his chair at the Torch office, a few minutes before the final bell. He felt groggy still, and cold and sore from the morning�s events. �I don�t get sick.�
�Just keep your germs to yourself,� she sniffed and took out a notepad. Clark got underway. �I did some research on Kyle. Aside from the man making ugly art, I didn�t find much about him. He doesn�t have a police record in Smallville and he�s not on the statewide Sex Offender List.�
Clark stopped breathing. His knuckles whitened around the steering wheel and he heard a rushing sound in his ears. Oh god. �Sex Offender List?�
�It�s a list of child molesters, rapists, and other perverts, and where they live in the state,� Chloe explained, making a disgusted face. �I plugged Kyle�s name into the search matrix, with no results. If he�s sexually molested someone in the past, he didn�t get arrested for it.�
�That�s it?� Clark said tensely.
�That�s all I could find,� Chloe said, snapping her notepad shut.
Clark inhaled shakily, relaxing his grip. Surprisingly, he didn�t see any finger indentations in the steering wheel.
The truck bumped down the road to the old campsite in Burnham Woods. Chloe�s eyes held a gleam of anticipation, as Clark parked in front of Kyle�s trailer. �I�ll let you do most of the talking,� Clark said, staring darkly out the windshield at the rusty Airstream. �I wasn�t very nice last night.�
�Understandable, from what you�d told me earlier,� Chloe said.
It was freezing outside, Clark noted with his arms wrapped around himself. Whitney�s sweatshirt provided a thin barrier against the mid-January weather. It was worrying to Clark to be feeling the cold, but he pushed aside his concern for the time being.
Chloe sniffed and fingered the edge of an unrecognizable sculpture made of rusty metal. �Can you believe people actually buy this stuff?�
�They pay good money for it, too.�
Clark and Chloe turned sharply. Kyle had come up behind them, his expression hostile. �But I�m sure you two aren�t here because of my art.�
Clark felt a low spark of rage in his belly, hands balling into fists. He took several controlling breaths so as not to attack. He could not afford to be mistaken.
�Mr. Tippett,� Chloe said, stepping in front of Clark. �You�re right, we�re not here about your art. We�re here because of Bob Rickman.�
Kyle�s lips compressed in a thin line. �What about him?�
�You two used to be partners. In 1989, you were both caught in the meteor rock shower that hit Smallville and it gave you both the same meteorite-induced powers,� Chloe said. �You can make people do things with a touch so that they�d forget doing whatever afterwards. We were hoping to get a demonstration.�
�Is that right?� Kyle looked suspiciously between Clark and Chloe, before focusing on Clark. �Sometimes Lex is too honest for his own good.�
Clark�s eyes narrowed and he took a step forward. Chloe blocked him bodily. �Lex is helping us,� Chloe said, including herself as Lex�s confidant rather than a third party. �I�d hoped you�d do the same.�
Kyle�s jaw worked a moment, before he said, �All you want is a demonstration, Miss Sullivan? Then, you�ll get off my property?�
If Chloe was surprised that he knew her name, she didn�t show it. �Yes.�
Kyle held out his hand. �All right. I�ll agree to that.�
�Thank you,� Chloe said, accepting the handshake.
Clark tensed as Kyle clasped his other hand over Chloe�s, holding her captive. �Give Mr. Kent a kiss.�
Clark was surprised by the suggestion. �Now, hold on��
Kyle released her hand, and Chloe spun on her heel, threw her arms over Clark�s shoulders, and planted an enthusiastic kiss on his lips.
Wide-eyed, Clark tried gently to push her way. From the corner of his eye, he saw Kyle smirk infuriatingly. And holy shit, that was Chloe�s tongue in his mouth. Ick!
Chloe released Clark as abruptly as she�d accosted him and faced Kyle again. A moment later, she crossed her arms and tapped her foot. �Well? Are you going to demonstrate?�
�He just did,� Clark said, wiping his mouth with his arm.
�What? He did?� Chloe said. �I don�t remember.�
Blood drained suddenly from his face. Oh god, Lex. Clark�s fears were truth.
Lex wouldn�t have had a chance to say no, his ability to refuse taken away with a touch. He would�ve been powerless to do anything other than what Kyle said, and then he would have forgotten what was done to him.
�You bastard.� Clark�s voice was a cracked whisper, a red haze of fury washing over his vision. With an inhuman snarl, he shoved past Chloe, grabbed the front of Kyle�s coat and yanked him close. �You fucking bastard! I�m going to kill you!�
�Clark!� Chloe shouted from behind him. She latched onto his elbow and pulled hard.
Clark resisted her. He shook Kyle by the lapels. The exertion of effort it took didn�t shock him out of his anger. �How could you?� he spat. �How could you do that to Lex?�
Kyle clasped his hands over Clark�s. �Release me and leave.�
Clark�s veins burned beneath Kyle�s touch. He clamped down on the yelp of pain and shoved Kyle forcefully away. Kyle only stumbled back a few steps.
Clark rubbed his hands, the greenish-black meteorite effects crawling under his skin. It was becoming difficult to breathe. �You�re dead,� he rasped.
�Clark, that�s enough!� Chloe exclaimed.
�No,� Clark snapped, eyes stinging. His chest hurt. �He raped Lex. I�m going to kill him.�
�I did what?� Kyle said incredulously.
�The Sheriff will handle this, Clark,� Chloe said, tugging on Clark�s arm.
�Now, hold up there,� Kyle said. �There�s been some misunderstanding. Plus, I think you�re about to pass out.�
Kyle was right. It hurt Clark to breathe, his short gasps making a wheezing sound, and his chest was painfully tight.
�Shit, Clark. You�re hyperventilating.� Chloe sniffed and wrapped an arm around his waist to hold him up. �Do you have a paper bag?� she said to Kyle.
�Yes. Come on.� Kyle led the way to the trailer. Clark stumbled along with Chloe�s assistance nearly tripping onto his face in the doorway.
�I�ve got my eye on you,� Chloe warned, depositing Clark on a bench seat. Clark wheezed in an echoed warning.
Kyle shoved a paper sandwich bag at her in response.
Leaning against the narrow counter, Kyle watched as Chloe held the opening of the bag over Clark�s mouth. �Concentrate on breathing into the bag, Clark.�
Clark trusted Chloe and breathed into the bag, though he had no clue why. He watched the paper bag inflate and deflate with his painful wheezing, and slowly found control in the rhythm. His harsh breathing calmed as he regained power over his own lungs.
Chloe was perched beside him on the bench seat, rubbing soothing circles on his back. �Better?�
Clark nodded, lightly pushing her arm and the bag away. �Thanks,� he rasped, his throat sore.
A glass of water appeared in front of him. He raised his eyes to see Kyle holding the offering. �I did not touch Lex last night,� he said.
The red haze of anger didn�t return, Clark was too worn out for that, but he was skeptical of Kyle. He accepted the glass warily. �How can I be sure?�
�You can�t, other than by my word,� Kyle said.
Clark inhaled raggedly, clenching the glass in his hand. His knuckles were white, but the glass didn�t break. �I don�t trust your word.�
�And I don�t make it a habit of forcing myself on people or coercing them into having sex,� Kyle said. He gave Clark a pointed look. �I don�t need to.�
�Even if you didn�t use your powers on Lex, he�s not smart enough to make a consensual choice,� Chloe said, glancing back and forth between them.
Kyle laughed abruptly. �Where did you get that idea? Lex is smarter than all of us put together and then some.�
�Intelligence isn�t the same as emotional maturity,� Chloe said.
Kyle shook his head in amusement. "Lex is a good person down to his very core, and he sees everything black and white. He doesn't have any walls, probably because he never had to learn to use them in middle and high school. He's also shier than a newly shorn sheep, especially with crowds. But there's nothing mentally wrong with him."
Clark didn't want to talk about Lex anymore. �Chloe, let�s go.�
�Well, um, thank you for the demonstration, even though I can�t remember it,� Chloe said, rising to her feet. She held out the paper bag. �Thanks for this, too.�
Kyle nodded in acknowledgement. Clark stood and handed Kyle the water glass. He didn�t apologize for accusing or attacking Kyle.
They left the trailer. Once ensconced in the truck, Chloe punched Clark on the shoulder without warning.
�Ow!� Clark exclaimed and rubbed his arm. It had actually hurt. �What was that for?�
�What do you think? You disrupted the interview and attacked the subject,� Chloe said, sniffed, and smacked him again. �You call yourself a reporter?�
�Ow. Quit it.� Clark glared at her, while inside, the pain confused him. He turned the truck onto the road heading into downtown Smallville.
�Next time, no going Jerry Springer on the subjects,� Chloe said. �Stop at the Talon. I need caffeine badly. And tell me what Kyle did to demonstrate.�
�Kyle shook your hand and told you to kiss me.�
�Kiss you?� Chloe�s eyes widened. �Like on the mouth?�
�Complete with tongue,� Clark leered.
�Oh my god.�
�Then, you just stopped, crossed your arms, and told Kyle to demonstrate.�
�Right after he�d already done so,� Chloe said, cheeks reddening. �I definitely don�t remember kissing you, and that�s something that would�ve stuck in my mind.�
�What do you remember?� Clark asked, parking the truck along Main Street.
�Shaking Kyle�s hand, then waiting for him to do something.�
�So up to his touch and suggestion,� Clark said. He climbed out of the truck and shivered immediately. Had it gotten colder?
�Is there a way to counter the suggestion, or refuse?� Chloe asked.
�Lex�s notes say no,� Clark replied. �That�s why Kyle supposedly doesn�t touch anyone.�
Chloe glanced questioningly at him, as they made their way to the Talon. �I thought you believed Kyle didn�t do bad things to Lex.�
Clark shrugged, rubbing his arms for warmth. �Sort of. But have you seen Lex? It�s surprising he doesn�t get molested even at his dirtiest.�
�If you say so,� Chloe said with disbelief, eyeing him suspiciously. �Considering nearly everyone thinks he�s a ghost��
�Hey! My purse!�
Clark and Chloe looked up sharply to see a guy running straight towards them, clutching a purse in his arms. Further behind him, a woman was giving chase.
Clark calculated the visibility factor versus the inherent need to help. It would take minimal use of Clark�s powers to stop the purse-snatcher. He needed only to step in the guy�s path and grab him. Any normal human would be able to do it.
That was the theory, anyway. What happened actually was that Clark stepped left, directly in front of the purse-snatcher, and the guy slammed into him. Clark�s breath whooshed out in pain and he stumbled backwards, off-balance from the collision. Chloe's quick hands prevented him from falling on his ass.
The purse-snatcher caught his footing and continued rushing past Clark. Clark stared after him, stunned by the pain and the fact he hadn�t stopped the guy. He didn�t feel any effects of meteorites nearby, and unless the thief was a mutant, Clark should�ve been able to stop him. Instead, he could only stare after the thief as he sprinted up the street.
The woman whose purse was snatched ran past Clark, still chasing the guy and yelling. �Someone stop him!� The purse-snatcher dodged and wove past people on the sidewalk. He turned down an alley, running out of sight.
A second later, a surprised shout was heard and then the thief came back into view � with his feet dangling off the ground.
Eric Summers held the thief aloft by the neck. The thief clawed at Eric�s hand wrapped around his throat, feet kicking uselessly in the air. Eric glanced around almost casually. The victim slowed her running, jogging to a stunned stop in front of Eric.
�Is this yours?� Eric asked, holding out the purse.
The woman nodded and took her handbag. Others on the street gathered closer to Eric, pointing, staring, and whispering.
�I think you owe the lady an apology,� Eric said to the would-be thief with a small shake.
The red-faced purse-snatcher choked out, �Sorry! Sorry.�
�All right?� Eric asked the woman. She nodded again. �Good.�
With a negligent flick of his wrist, Eric threw the thief clear across the street, where he landed in a snow bank and didn�t get up.
�Oh my god, did you see that?� Chloe said, voice rising in a near-squeal at the end. She pushed past Clark and rushed over to Eric.
�Yeah. I saw,� Clark said faintly. A small crowd had gathered around Eric, and Chloe elbowed her way right up to him.
What had just happened? Not only had Clark been unable to stop a simple purse-snatcher, but Eric was apparently a mutant. Clark didn�t recall seeing Eric�s name in Lex�s notebooks.
Knowing Chloe would more than adequately question Eric, Clark went into the Talon to wait for her. The cold was getting to him, so he ordered two coffees at the counter. Leaning on his elbows, he twisted a stir straw between his fingers. He was puzzled by Eric�s sudden strength. Eric certainly hadn�t seemed that strong during science lab earlier. Then again, he had been holding a meteorite, and from Lex�s studies, Clark knew the effects of repeated, prolonged exposure to the space rocks. Perhaps the strength had developed since fourth period class.
Clark tugged the ends of the straw and frowned heavily when it didn�t break easily. He pulled harder, putting some muscle into it. The straw still didn�t break.
Adjusting his hold on the straw, he yanked hard. The straw end slipped from between his fingers and he elbowed the person standing next to him. �Oh! Sorry.�
�That�s all right,� Bob Rickman said, smiling with false pleasantry. �It was an accident.�
Clark recognized him immediately from the researched pictures. He narrowed his eyes in hostility. �Rickman.�
Rickman�s brows lifted at Clark�s rudeness. �You know me apparently, but I haven�t had the pleasure.� He held out his hand. �Bob Rickman. You can call me Bob.�
�Clark Kent,� Clark said, ignoring the hand and folding his arms in blatant disrespect. �You can call an attorney, because my parents are suing you for stealing their research.�
Rickman�s smile didn�t falter. He lowered his hand. �Now, I�m sure I don�t know what you�re talking about.�
�Uh-huh.� Clark scoffed. �You just wait. My parents and Lex will have their pesticide on the market before you can even decipher their notes.�
�Lex?� Rickman cocked his head slightly. �Would that be Lex Luthor?�
�Yes.� Clark was wary now.
�I hate to tell you this, son, but Lex Luthor works exclusively for me.� Rickman picked up the coffee set in front of him and nodded at the flabbergasted teen. �Say hello to your folks for me, Mr. Kent.�
Clark made it home in record time, considering he had to corral Chloe and drop her off. He�d get the scoop on Eric later. If Lex wasn�t at the Kent farm, Clark would go looking for him after changing into warmer clothes.
He didn�t have to search, because Lex was, indeed, at the farm, curled in the corner of the loft�s couch, just like yesterday. And just like yesterday, misery etched his features and clouded his eyes. A large manila envelope sat on the cushion beside him.
Clark squashed his instinct to gather Lex in his arms. After the near-kiss, Clark needed to keep a friendly distance from Lex if he didn�t want to lose Lex as a friend entirely. It was too dangerous otherwise. If what Kyle said was true, Lex might not be incompetent, but that made things worse. Lex was not some random guy Clark could fuck, nor did Clark seem to have complete control around him, as indicated by the events in the truck. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt Lex, physically or emotionally.
Instead, Clark crouched in front of Lex, the ghosts of his past hanging over his shoulder. �What�s wrong?�
�I did something bad,� Lex said quietly, lowering his chin. Finger streaks of dirt curved along the top of his scalp and crusted the red tuft of hair. �Mr. and Mrs. Kent are going to hate me.�
�They could never hate you, Lex,� Clark reassured. �Why would you think that?�
�Because anything I develop belongs to Rickman Industries now.�
Clark sucked in a sharp breath. Rickman hadn�t been lying. �What happened? How can you be working for Rickman?�
�I signed a contract.� Lex touched the manila envelope beside him, his words pouring forth in a rush. �I didn�t do it on purpose. Mr. Rickman came here, looking for Mr. and Mrs. Kent, but they were gone. Then, he asked me who I was and if I knew Lex Luthor, and I didn�t know what to do. I tried to run but he was blocking the door to the lab and grabbed my shoulder before I could get away, and I don�t remember anything after that.�
Clark closed his eyes, jaw clenched. Lex had been victimized. There was no way to resist Rickman�s powers, either. Distressed, Clark drew out the contract and read it. His eyes didn�t flit over the words at his usual superspeed, which was disconcerting, but he was able to comprehend the legalese. It said basically that anything Lex created, developed, or formulated in the past, present, and future was exclusive property of Rickman Industries and its CEO, Bob Rickman.
�But why?� Clark thought out loud. �Why would Rickman come after you? Why not my parents? And how did he get your name to begin with?�
�My name is in my research notebook on meteorite-induced plant mutations,� Lex said. �Mr. Rickman had it with him when he was here.�
�The research notes mom and dad were talking about,� Clark placed the source. He slumped unhappily and looked at the contract in his hand. �Damn. This is not good.�
�Mr. and Mrs. Kent are going to be angry with me,� Lex said, upset.
�No, they won�t,� Clark said. He put the contract back into the envelope. �They�ll be furious with Bob Rickman, not you.�
�Are you sure?� Lex asked, peering at Clark with wary hopefulness from behind reddish blonde eyelashes.
Clark stood up quickly and put distance between them. Needy Lex was hell on Clark�s anti-touching resolve. �I�m sure,� he said. �As soon as I tell them what happened, they�ll sic their attorneys on Rickman and break this contract.�
�Okay.� Lex�s belief in Clark�s words was instant and unreserved. An unscrupulous man would take advantage of that sort of trust. It made Clark want to protect Lex more.
Clark rubbed his eyes, an ache developing behind them. �Do you know if mom and dad are home?�
�They went to the plant for a meeting. They said they�d be home around five,� Lex said.
Clark glanced at the clock. �Okay. I�m going to start dinner. Oh, hey, do you know of a mutant named Eric Summers?�
Lex�s brow wrinkled in thought. �No.�
�He must�ve been affected just today, then,� Clark said. He hesitated a moment before explaining, knowing that Lex would add it to his research binder on Smallville�s human mutants. �Eric had a meteorite in his possession this morning,� he said finally. �This afternoon, he showed examples of enhanced strength. Chloe will have more information, if you want it.�
�May I speak with her?� The familiar gleam of scientific interest lit Lex�s eyes.
�I�ll call,� Clark agreed with a nod.
�Okay. Excuse me.� Lex stuffed his bare feet in his boots and scuttled downstairs. Clark heard the barn door open and shut and figured Lex had gone to retrieve his binder.
Clark called Chloe on his cell phone. He turned up the thermostat as he waited for her to answer.
�You got me sick,� was Chloe�s greeting when she picked up. She blew her nose in emphasis over the line.
�I did not,� Clark protested. He rubbed his eyes again. �You were already sniffing in the truck.�
�That was a runny nose. Now, I�m sick. Do you know how difficult it is to write a Pulitzer Prize winning article while doped up on cold meds?�
�I take it Eric talked?�
�Did he ever!� Chloe said excitedly. �Not only can he throw people around like The Rock, he can run superfast, and see funky things with his eyes. Someone sure hit the mutant jackpot.�
Clark was opposite of thrilled. It sounded like Chloe was talking about him, not Eric. �Um, did he say how he got these powers?�
�Not outright, but he implied he�s had them all his life,� Chloe replied. �I wonder if his parents knew.�
Clark wondered if Eric�s parents were human. Maybe Eric was an alien, like him, if he�d always had the abilities. Maybe Clark wasn�t alone on earth.
He sat down abruptly as it fully hit him. He might not be the only alien on the planet. Woah.
Clark needed to speak with Eric directly and would have to tread carefully. It would be too dangerous to ask bluntly, �Are you an alien, too?�
Lex returned to the barn and stomped the snow from his boots. Glancing over the rail, Clark saw that Lex had his binder.
�Hey, Chlo�, I�m going to give you to Lex. He�s adding Eric to his �Binder of Weird.� Be nice and answer his questions, okay?�
�Only if I can ask him questions in return.�
�You can ask, but I�ll leave answering up to him. Try not to scare him this time,� Clark said. �Here he is.�
Holding the phone to his chest, Clark waited while Lex shed his boots and settled on the couch. He explained Chloe�s deal to Lex, adding the caveat, �If she gives you trouble, come and find me.�
�Okay,� Lex said, and Clark passed him the phone.
Lex studied the cell phone a moment, turning the slimline over in his hand, and then put it to his ear. �Hello?� he said tentatively. He blinked several times and held the receiver away from his ear at the audible burst of Chloe�s voice. He spoke again when she paused for breath. �Clark says you have information on a new mutant?�
Clark toed off his gym shoes and rooted through the chest of drawers for a warmer set of clothes. He changed quickly, cursing the coldness of the loft when it hit his naked skin. He wondered suddenly if it was just him feeling the cold and glanced over his shoulder at Lex as he pulled up his jeans.
He found Lex was staring at him.
Lex ducked his head abruptly and a wash of red flowed up his neck, over his cheeks, and splotched his nearly bald scalp. He shifted on the couch, almost upsetting the open binder on his lap. He fumbled to prevent it from falling and lost his pencil in the process. The pencil rolled under the couch, which flustered Lex more.
Clark pulled on a fleece shirt, snagged a pen from his dresser, and gave it to Lex. �Thank you,� Lex murmured, pressing the binder hard against his lap. Eyes averted, he had the cell phone still pressed to his ear, and he replied to Chloe, �No, not you. Clark.�
Clark left Lex to his conversation, heading for the main house. Forbidden arousal pooled in his groin as one question repeated in his mind: Had Lex been checking him out?
As he did every morning, Clark stood naked in front of the full-length mirror hanging on the back of the bathroom door. He had not grown horns, antennae, or a tail overnight, but his body showed a new alienness he�d never seen before: visible injury.
Bruises spotted his oddly gray-tinged skin, purplish-blue splotches that were sore to the touch. A puffy, rose blob splashed across the back of his right hand and wrist, burned by hot water. A scratch that had bled cut across his forearm and a second one sliced across his shoulder blade. He had a bump on his head near the hairline that throbbed in sync with his heartbeat.
His face wasn�t aesthetically pleasing, either. Lavender circles rimmed his bloodshot eyes from poor sleeping. The hammock had left his neck, shoulders, and back aching, and he�d spent most of the night shivering from the cold.
He was sure his muscle aches came from doing chores last night, too. For reasons he couldn�t explain to his parents, other than guessing about the lightning strike, Clark was powerless. He�d had to do everything the human way, slowly and exerting effort. He�d gotten most of his injuries banging into and dropping things doing his chores. It had been awful.
Jonathan and Martha had been extremely concerned, too, when he�d told them. They�d run tests after Lex had gone home the night prior, worried about Clark�s sudden lack of abilities. And they were all gone, from what they could tell. He was measurably more allergic to the meteorites, too.
Clark rubbed his eyes, pressing his fingers against the ache behind them. His chest rattled with each inhale and exhale. It sounded marvelous. He hoped he felt better as the day went on.
After dressing in layers, Clark grabbed his schoolbooks and tromped through the fresh snow to the main house. �Damn, it�s cold outside,� he commented with a shiver, closing the kitchen door behind him.
Martha sat at the kitchen table, the newspaper spread in front of her and a mug of coffee between her hands. �That�s odd. The weather report says it�s in the mid-thirties already.�
Clark goggled at his mother. �You�re saying it�s warm outside?�
�For January, yes,� she said. Amusement warred with worry on her face.
�I think I�m glad I�m not human.� Clark opened the fridge, took out the milk, and lifted the bottle to his mouth, �Warm outside my frozen��
�Glass, Clark. Use a glass.� Martha studied him with concern. �You�re still feeling the effects of the lightning strike?�
�Yes.� Clark smiled faintly at her. �I�m a �real, live boy� still.�
�Hmm,� Martha was clearly not amused. Clark changed the subject. �Where�s dad?�
�He went into town to FedEx the contract Lex signed to Kaminski & Clark,� Martha said. �I spoke with your grandfather this morning, and he said he�d do what he could.�
�Good.� Clark joined Martha at the table, with his glass of milk, trying not to moan with muscle pain as he sat down. Martha noticed.
�I didn�t sleep well. The hammock isn�t very comfortable,� Clark explained.
Martha pursed her lips. She closed the Ledger to the front page and turned it rightside up for Clark to read. �Read this.�
Clark�s eyes scanned the main headline, and then read it again. Super Boy; Smallville�s Newest Hero, by Chloe Sullivan. The article was on Eric Summers and the purse-snatching. Chloe had written in depth about Eric�s abilities, which matched Clark�s power for power. Strength, speed, telescopic vision, x-ray vision, and imperviousness; Eric had them all. There was no mention of anger or libido-control problems, but that wouldn�t be something anyone would want publicized, Clark knew from experience.
�I told you all of this last night, Mom,� Clark said, somewhat confused. �We thought that maybe Eric was an alien, like me. Or that the meteorite caused a mutation.�
�There�s another possibility,� Martha began. �I was thinking about this overnight, and now with your abilities still gone� what if Eric has your powers?�
�You were touching him when you were struck by lightning, and you did say Eric wasn�t a known mutant before yesterday,� Martha said.
�So my powers � what? Jumped to him?� Clark shook his head. �How? My abilities come from the fact that I�m an alien, or so you�ve always told me.�
�I don�t know, Clark,� Martha said. �But it�s too much of a coincidence that Eric would develop your exact abilities at the same time yours disappear.�
Clark rubbed his eyes. �We won�t know unless we ask him.�
�Invite him over after school and we�ll find out.�
Clark slid gratefully into his seat in History class. He was tired from the walk from the student parking lot to his locker and on to class, which was disconcerning. He massaged the heel of his palm against his sternum, where it hurt whenever he inhaled.
�Hey, Clark.� Lana frowned worriedly as she took her seat beside him. �You don�t look very well. Are you okay?�
�Yeah. I think I might be getting sick,� Clark said. Frighteningly, it was the truth, and he shivered not only because he was cold.
�Why didn�t you stay home?� Lana said.
�We have that test in English,� Clark replied. Unlike Chloe, he didn�t skip exams, despite not studying. Then there was the fact that he needed to talk to Eric. �Plus, Chloe wanted me to pick up her homework.�
�I�m surprised she�s not here today, sick or not,� Lana said. �Did you read her article in the Ledger? About Eric?�
�Isn�t it scary?�
�Huh?� Clark looked sideways at her. The gossip in the halls had all been positive, thinking Eric�s powers were cool and badass. It was almost enough to make Clark really sick, with jealousy. His parents� fear and paranoia had always held his tongue and kept him from revealing his abilities. Someone would have to be pretty damn special and trusted for him to share his secrets.
�I think it�s scary,� Lana went on. �If Eric has all the powers he says he does, no one could stop him from doing something wrong.�
�I�m sure he won�t,� Clark said, but her comment sparked concern.
�Maybe,� Lana said. �But even if he didn�t, he could still hurt someone badly. If he got mad and punched someone, he could put them in the hospital.�
�You have a point,� Clark said. It made the need to speak with Eric doubly vital.
Eric proved elusive, however. He�d ditched physics and Clark hadn�t seen him between classes. Clark knew Eric was at school, though, by word of mouth. Lunch and computers both came and went with Clark sleeping in the Torch office like the day before, feeling like crap.
It wasn�t until P.E. that Clark finally found Eric. Having skipped the day before, Clark forced himself to attend gym class, which was a very bad mistake. The boys ran laps during the second half of the class period, with Eric showing off his speed and Clark dragging with every step. The teacher was too distracted by Eric to notice Clark, allowing Clark to collapse on the bleachers. By then, Clark had a stabbing pain in his side, his wheezing lungs felt like they were on fire, and his head ached fiercely.
Drenched with sweat, Clark staggered into the locker room behind the others at the end of class, wiping his arm across his blurry eyes. He was so glad P.E. was his last class of the day. He wanted to go home and die on the couch (the thought of the hammock made him whimper).
But he couldn�t do that until he spoke with Eric. He spotted Eric in the weight cage, straddling the press bench and fiddling with the weight key. Going over, Clark latched onto the fencing as he swayed slightly and rubbed his other hand against his sternum. �Hey, Summers. Got a minute?�
Eric glanced at Clark and smirked. �You look like shit, Kent.�
�Thanks for the startling observation,� Clark said sarcastically. �We need to talk.�
�About?� Eric lay back on the bench and grabbed the press bar.
�About what happened yesterday,� Clark said. He watched Eric easily lift 1,000 pounds and waved his hand at the machine. �About why you can do that.�
�Read the Ledger, like everyone else.�
�Chloe wants me to interview you again for the Torch,� Clark lied. �We can do it today at my house after school.�
�No can do. I have a date.� Eric pumped the weight bar.
�How about after your date?� Clark pressed.
�Maybe another time, Kent, when you�re not bleeding from your nose.�
Clark felt the trickle at the same time Eric spoke and wiped under his nose. Somewhat horrifyingly, his fingers came away bloody.
He left Eric and hurried over to the sinks. One look in the mirror was all it took for Clark to slide into panic, as blood dripped from his nose. His face was more ashen than it had been that morning. His eyes were red and irritated where there should have been white. His cheeks had sunken, deeper circles lined his eyes, and his lips were cracked and chapped.
He splashed his face with cold water, stuffed toilet paper up his bleeding nostril like he�d seen other kids do, and changed into street clothes. He�d save showering for home, despite stinking as bad as Lex occasionally did. His flannel shirt stuck to his sweaty skin. His head thumped and his lungs burned with each breath. Bleeding was a Very Bad Thing. He wanted his mom.
The bell rang, signaling the end of the school day. Clark joined the noisy crowd, gritting his teeth each time he was jostled by the other students. He kept the toilet paper pressed to his nose, instead of up it � image was everything, even if he looked like death warmed over � and decided to make his parents shell out money to build wider halls at the school. Sighting his locker, Clark diverged from the herd and leaned his forehead against the cool, hard metal.
�Clark, are you okay?� Lana touched his arm lightly. Whitney hovered behind her.
Clark straightened and smiled faintly beneath the tissue. �I�ll live.�
Lana didn�t look convinced. �It�s a good thing it�s the end of the day. You need to go home.�
�That�s the plan,� he said, opening his locker.
�Kent, do you have my sweatshirt?� Whitney said, obvious in his disregard for Clark�s well-being.
�Yeah.� Clark bent to get the sweatshirt from the bottom of the locker. It was a big mistake. Dizziness hit him worse than meteorites, the world tilting wildly before his eyes, and he stumbled sideways, smacking his head against the locker�s edge.
�Clark!� Lana exclaimed, but it was Whitney who had his arms under Clark�s, helping him upright.
�You okay, man?� Whitney was concerned now, supporting
Clark with a frown.
Clark closed his eyes, but the world continued to spin rapidly. His head pounded like a sledgehammer and it was getting harder to breathe. The toilet tissue fell out of his hand.
�I guess not,� Whitney answered his own question. He shifted and Clark couldn�t smother a sound of distress. A set of keys clinked. �Lana, get the truck. I�ll help Kent to the door and we�ll take him home.�
The dizziness ebbed, but Clark was still having trouble breathing. �I�m fine,� he wheezed.
�Uh-huh.� Whitney shut Clark�s locker, snapped the padlock closed, and started assisting Clark down the hall.
Clark hated needing help. Worse was the fact that Whitney Fordman was doing the helping. Clark would have been humiliated if he�d felt anything other than sick.
The drive to the Kent Farm was made with his head tilted back, nose plugged by a tissue from Lana. He focused on breathing through his mouth. It was more difficult than it should be. Every shortly drawn breath felt like fire, and it sounded as if he were hyperventilating again. Neither Whitney nor Lana shoved a paper bag over his face, though.
�Hello? Mr. and Mrs. Kent?� Lana called as she held open the kitchen door for Whitney and Clark. Whitney�s arm was firm around Clark�s torso, but the grip didn�t make Clark think of sex, for once.
�They�re probab-�-ly in the� greenhouse,� Clark rasped.
�I�ll go get them,� Lana said, and went back out the door.
�Your sweatsh-�s�still in my lock-�er,� Clark said, as Whitney helped him towards the living room couch. He really didn�t feel too good.
�Don�t worry about�shit! Kent! Kent!�
Without warning, Clark�s knees buckled and his eyes rolled back. His chest seized. He couldn�t breathe at all He pawed helplessly at Whitney, collapsing like a marionette without strings, and the world snuffed out.
��at school in the hall��
��Mom says, when you can�t breathe, you have��
��Clark, wake up��
��has got to be something we can do��
��ear is bleeding��
��not going to let him die!��
��think we should take him to the hosp��
��wait until tomorrow��
��yle Tippett. I�m a friend of Lex�s.�
The sound of Kyle Tippet�s voice roused Clark out of his semi-conscious stupor, as a flame of antagonism lit in his belly. He pried open tacky eyelids and took stock. He was lying on the couch, Kleenex stuffed up both nostrils and in one ear. His chest wheezed audibly, his breaths coming in short, painful pants. He sounded like an overheated dog that�d swallowed a squeaky ball. It would have been funny if it hadn�t hurt so much.
Drained physically, he could barely move his head. When he did, he saw Lex crouched beside him, fear clouding those beautiful blue eyes. He held one of Clark�s limp hands.
�Clark, stay awake,� Lex�s voice choked, and his fingers tightened around Clark�s hand. �I got Kyle�s help. We�ll get you to the hospital.�
�No,� Clark was barely audible. �Can�t.�
�You have to. You won�t stop bleeding and your breathing is wrong,� Lex said, getting louder in panic. �Mom says, when you can�t breathe you have to go to the hospital.�
Clark heard his mother and could see shapes moving from the corner of his eye, before Lex�s tremulous plea drew his attention and pierced his heart. �I don�t want to be lost again.�
�Oh, Lex.� Clark wanted to gather Lex close and hold him tightly, but only had the energy to squeeze Lex�s hand.
Martha came up behind Lex�s crouched form and put her palm against Clark�s forehead. �Clark, how are you feeling?�
�Bad,� Clark wheezed weakly, not looking away from Lex. �But can�t� hospital��
�I know, sweetie,� Martha said with quiet resignation.
�You have to!� Lex pressed with a wobbly cry. �Kyle, make them take Clark!�
Clark forced his arm to move, and he brushed Lex�s ink-smudged cheek with his fingertips. Martha disappeared from view and Clark heard her speaking with Jonathan and Kyle in the background, but his concentration was focused on Lex.
It was funny how easy it was to tell Lex the truth. There was no hesitation, second thoughts, or feelings of regret, as his secret tumbled softly from his lips. �I�m not� human��
Lex clutched Clark�s other hand more tightly. �The Smallville hospital knows about the mutants. They can make you better.�
Clark caught a tear with his fingertip. �Not mutant� Alien� From ano-�ther planet��
Lex�s eyes grew round and his scarred mouth parted. His fear for Clark turned to wonder, as he understood. It was a Lexian thing to not question the veracity of Clark�s statement, like anyone else would; he simply believed. �Wow.�
Clark�s lips curved faintly. �Yeah� wow��
Lex�s brow furrowed and Clark could almost see the wheels spinning in his mind. �Did you fall from the sky in a rain of fire? Do you have the strength of ten men?�
�Yes�� Though Clark had the strength of no men at the moment. If Kyle managed to �persuade� his parents to take him to the hospital, he had no way to resist.
Lex appeared awe-stricken by Clark�s response. �Naman.�
Clark had no clue what Lex meant, but didn�t have a chance to ask. The front door banged open and Eric Summers� voice bellowed in the house. �Kent!�
�Who are you?� Jonathan demanded from out of Clark�s sight.
�Where�s Clark Kent?�
�Here, Eric,� Clark called weakly, struggling to sit up. Oh fuck, he hurt.
Lex looped an arm around him and propped Clark upright with his body. Clark leaned heavily against Lex, with an odd feeling of security in the supporting embrace.
Eric stormed into the living room, looked briefly startled by Lex, and then glared at Clark. �Take them back.�
�Take what� back?� Clark said. Jonathan and Kyle flanked behind Eric, ready to protect Clark.
�These powers you gave me!� Eric exclaimed angrily. �Holly is afraid of me. I accidentally put my best friend in the hospital, and to top it off, my parents think I�m a freak, and they called the police and FBI to take me away.�
�You don�t normally have these abilities?� Martha asked from behind Clark.
�No. I was normal until yesterday at the dam.�
�When Clark and you were struck by lightning,� Martha confirmed.
�Yes,� Eric said tersely. He jabbed a finger in Clark�s directly. �Now, reverse this.�
�How� do you know that I� did anything?� Clark said.
Eric scoffed. �Like this isn�t why you wanted to talk to me in P.E. I don�t want your mutant powers anymore, Kent.�
�I don�t know� how to take them back� Or how� they trans-�-ferred to begin with.�
�We�ll get struck by lightning again,� Eric stated. �It worked the first time.�
Clark had forgotten Kyle was there until he spoke. �There are no storms tonight.�
�We also don�t know if it would work,� Martha said.
�It might,� Lex spoke up tentatively. He glanced nervously at Eric, and then turned his head to Clark. �You had the abilities that Mr. Summers has now? The ones Chloe told me about for my notes?�
�Yeah,� Clark replied hesitantly. He hoped Lex didn�t say anything about Clark being an alien, and added the false clause to protect himself. �I�m one of the� many Smallville� mutants.�
Lex stared at him funnily. �But you said��
�I don�t like� to talk� about it in front... of strangers.�
Lex glanced at Eric. �Okay,� he said, and fell quiet.
The following silence stretched uncomfortably. Eric burst finally. �Will you do something already? I don�t want the FBI to take me.�
�They might anyway,� Kyle said flatly. �Whether you have returned to �normal� or not.�
�Why don�t we go sit at the table and discuss this?� Martha said. �I�ll put on more coffee.�
�Come on,� Jonathan said, clapping a hand on Eric�s shoulder. �We�ll figure out a way to fix everything.�
Eric allowed Jonathan to urge him towards the kitchen, with Kyle following. Clark soon heard Martha opening cabinets. Clark was thankful his parents were so level-headed and unfazed by the strange and unusual. Having grown up with him as a son must�ve been an interesting experience.
Left alone, Clark sagged against Lex, drained from the confrontation. Lex settled his arm more firmly around Clark. Clark would�ve been very comfortable if he didn�t feel so badly.
�Sorry for� lying,� Clark murmured, keeping his voice down so as not to be overheard. �I don�t want� anyone else know-�-ing I�m� not human.�
�But you are Naman, right?� Lex asked uncertainly.
Lex had called him that before, and Clark still didn�t know what it meant. He�d ask later. �What was your� idea� about returning� my abilities?�
�You need to recreate the conditions that caused the shift,� Lex said.
�Eric was right?� We have to get� hit by lightning� again?� Clark closed his eyes. �Why do you think� that will� work?�
�I theorize, since you are Naman, it�s possible that Matu fled from you to Mr. Summers when you were hit by lightning.�
Clark slitted open his eyes and looked up at Lex. �Ma-who?�
�Matu. Naman is joined with Matu in a mutalistic symbiotic-type relationship,� Lex explained.
�Oh.� Clark rubbed his aching chest. He had no clue what Lex was talking about. It hurt too much to think.
�If we recreate the lightning strike in reverse, I hypothesize Matu should return to you,� Lex went on.
At this point, he�d do anything to feel better. Clark licked his chapped lips. �Where do we� find� lightning?�
�The Kansas Electric Power station,� Lex said. He leaned forward to grab paper from the coffee table. Clark fell over onto his side behind Lex�s back without the support. Being this close to Lex�s ass should�ve shot him over the edge of arousal, but Clark only felt dizzy and nauseated from the sudden fall. �Are there other factors that should be considered in the equa-oh!�
Lex made a noise of surprise when he leaned back and quickly sat Clark upright again.
�Thanks,� Clark said, watching the world spin behind closed eyes. �I don�t know� of any additional� factors.�
�Was it raining? Were you wearing conductive material?� Lex wrote awkwardly on the pad of paper, jostling Clark with his supporting arm.
�It hadn�t start-�-ted raining yet.� Clark rested his cheek on Lex�s bare shoulder, the edge of the denim overalls pressing against his temple. Lex�s skin was warm and the muscle padded comfortably. If only Lex would stop moving. �Summers� had been holding rocks� though.�
�What kind of rocks?� Lex said.
�Meteor and� another�� Clark whimpered as sharp pain stabbed his head. �Ask Summers.�
�Okay.� Lex was more careful this time, shifting Clark gently so he was lying flat on the couch.
But lying down once more was a mistake. His headache grew to excruciating proportions. He couldn�t get enough air and was left gasping for breath. Clark could hear Lex and the others talking in the kitchen, but he was too immersed in pain to follow the conversation. He wanted to cut off his head. He wanted to carve out his chest. He would give anything to make it stop hurting.
It only worsened, however, as he was shifted and moved again. He whined in distress and clutched the shirt of whoever was carrying him. His head whirled in dizziness. He squeezed his eyelids tightly shut against the flashing agony, tears trickling from the corners of his eyes.
�Hold on, son,� he heard from a distance, followed by swearing. �Shit, his other ear is bleeding.�
Both of Clark�s ears were plugged then, and he couldn�t hear anything. He wanted desperately to pass out or fall into another stupor. What was happening to him?
Unidentified hands touched his body, shoving, moving, and causing pain. He cried out. Fingertips brushed in soothing lines along his cheekbone after he was laid on something hard and rocky.
Something pressed into his hand and heavy nausea swept over him. Meteorite. His veins felt like they were crawling, spreading up his arm and into his chest. He gurgled, his throat filling with gorge.
Someone turned his head and the metallic taste of blood coated his tongue. He felt a hand clasp over the meteorite, and then the shock of thousands of volts of electricity coursing through him. He writhed helplessly, his body contorting in pain. His brain felt like it was going to explode. Finally, there was a whiteout behind his eyelids before everything went blessedly dark.
The first thing Clark was conscious of was that he felt no pain. The second thing was a familiar odor of soap, sweat, earth, and the underlying natural male scent of a clean Lex Luthor. Clark�s alien nose would recognize Lex anywhere. Funny how he couldn�t recognize his parents that way.
Clark opened his eyes and saw the ceiling of the living room. He was lying on the couch again, a quilt thrown over his body. He turned his head on the sofa pillow, without any pain or effort, and saw the back of Lex�s scalp six-inches away. Lex was seated on the floor, leaning against the couch. The bump on the back of his bare head, where his spine and skull met, looked vulnerable and tasty.
A surge of lust tightened Clark�s groin and he cursed silently. Then, he grinned at his body�s normal response, still with a complete lack of pain.
Lex glanced over his shoulder. Immediately, a large smile crinkled his eyes. �You�re awake,� he said, rolling to his knees, facing Clark. �How do you feel?�
Lex was within kissing distance, his lips pink, moist, and parted invitingly, and not even his breath was a deterrent. Clark wanted to pounce. Instead, he sat up quickly, glad for the quilt over his lap, and tamped down on his rampant libido. �I feel� normal,� he replied with relieved glee, silently embracing the guilty attraction he had for Lex. He�d never been more ecstatic to feel horny.
�Good.� Lex continued smiling, brilliant eyes reflecting his happiness.
Clark tore his gaze from Lex�s before he did end up kissing Lex senseless. He looked around for his parents. �Where is everyone?�
�Mr. and Mrs. Kent and Kyle are in the dining room,� Lex said. �Mr. Summers is sleeping upstairs.�
�I take it, it worked?� Clark said.
�Mr. Summers reports that he no longer has extraordinary abilities.� Lex cocked his head and squinted at Clark. �We are awaiting verification that Matu has returned to you.�
�Matu?� Clark had to think a moment before remembering what it meant. �Oh, your symbiote theory.� Clark guessed it was a plausible way for his abilities to transfer to a human, if his powers were a result of his being an alien and therefore biologically different from humans. �It could�ve been a virus or an enzyme, too.�
�Yes,� Lex said after a pause. �But it would not explain why you got sick, or why Mr. Summers� skin crawled when he touched the meteorite, like yours did.�
�Eric was allergic to the meteorite?� That made a big difference, because Eric hadn�t been negatively affected by the rock while standing on the Smallville Dam. Which meant that whatever gave Eric Clark�s abilities also gave him Clark�s weakness.
Clark glanced down at his arm. He couldn�t see anything living on his skin, even with his telescopic vision. The burn and scrape had vanished, though.
It clicked, then, that he had his powers back. He switched from telescopic to X-ray vision, grinned, and took off around the living room. He lapped the room and was back on the couch in less than a blink. Lex didn�t realize he�d moved.
Rising to his feet, he picked up the couch with one hand like it was a feather. His strength had returned. He went into the kitchen, Lex following at his heels, and turned on the gas stove. He heard his parents getting up in the dining room as he passed his fingers through the gas flame. Lex watched with wide-eyed wonder. No burning, no pain; he didn�t even feel the heat. It appeared as though he was back to normal.
He promised never to want to become human again.
�Clark, you�re up,� Martha said with gladness. She came into the kitchen and embraced him briefly. �How do you feel?�
�Better. Normal,� he replied, shutting off the stove. He scratched his chin and dried blood flaked off beneath his fingernails. �Also, in need of a shower.�
Jonathan came up behind Clark and clapped him on the shoulder. �Glad to see that you�re all right. Everything in working order?�
�Yeah.� Clark spotted Kyle in the dining room doorway and suppressed a growl. �Is there a reason Tippett�s still here?�
�Don�t be rude,� Martha admonished with a light swat to his arm. �Kyle is waiting for Eric to wake up to get underway.�
�You�re leaving town?� Clark said hopefully, feigning a wince with the second swat from Martha.
�Yes.� Kyle glanced at Lex, returned his eyes to Clark, and smirked. �The� town is all yours.�
Clark sneered. Jonathan�s hand tightened on his shoulder, feeling the tension in the air. Lex looked sad, though, and Martha was oblivious � or faking it rather well.
�It�s not safe for Eric to stay in Smallville,� she said, bustling over to the coffee maker. �He caused plenty of damage and scared a lot of people before coming here for help. We also know, with the government involved, he might be in danger of being detained and �tested,� despite the fact that he no longer has your abilities.�
�Kyle said he�d take Eric and head north to Canada,� Jonathan continued. �With Kyle�s powers of persuasion, Eric will be able to lie low for a few years, until he�s eighteen. After that, he can legally change his name and start over with minimal fear.�
�Wait, Kyle is taking Eric with him?� Clark�s features darkened. �I don�t think that�s a good idea.�
�Why not?� Martha said, surprised.
�He knows why,� Clark stated, staring hard at Kyle.
Kyle�s lips thinned, but he said nothing.
Martha definitely sensed the tension this time. �Clark, unless you have a good reason, Eric needs to go with Kyle.�
�I do.� Clark didn�t break eye-contact with Kyle. Anger bubbled in his stomach. �Lex, go wait out in my room.�
�Pardon?� Lex said.
�Go wait out in my room,� Clark repeated sternly.
�Because I�m asking you to,� Clark said. He looked at Lex, then, his face softened slightly. �Please?�
Lex was obviously confused, but he nodded in agreement. �Okay.�
After putting on his boots, Lex left as requested. �Honey, why did you ask Lex to leave?� Martha said, as soon as the back door shut.
�He doesn�t need to hear this,� Clark replied. �You asked me why Eric shouldn�t go with Kyle? It�s because I don�t trust Kyle.�
�Any particular reason, son?� Jonathan said, his hand still firm on Clark�s shoulder.
�He thinks I�m going to molest Eric,� Kyle answered for him.
�It�s called �rape� when you take the person�s choice away,� Clark said between clenched teeth.
�Rape?� Martha said in confusion and worry.
�I�m not going to touch the kid, Clark,� Kyle said.
�Just like you didn�t touch Lex?� Clark started forward a step, but his dad�s grip tightened on his shoulder.
�What are you looking for? A confession?� Kyle said.
�The truth would be good.�
�The truth is, I care about Lex and that�s all that matters� Kyle stated. He addressed Martha and Jonathan. �I�ll take care of Eric, too. You have nothing to worry about.�
�Clark, why don�t you go pack some clothes for Eric,� Martha said. �He�s not your size, but they�ll do for the time being.�
�Good idea,� Jonathan said. �Throw a hat and gloves in there, too.�
Clark caught on that his parents wanted to speak with Kyle alone. He agreed with little fuss, because unless he was going to pummel Kyle, there was nothing else for him to do. �All right.�
�Do you want anything to eat or drink?� Martha asked.
�I�m good,� Clark said, snagging a bottle of TyNant water from the refrigerator on his way out the door.
The cold January air didn�t register at all to Clark and for that he was very thankful. He jogged to the barn, wanting to shower and brush his teeth before getting together clothes for Eric. The taste of dry blood on his tongue was bitter and gross, and the shower would relax the tension caused by Kyle.
Lex was sitting in his usual corner of the loft�s couch, and he looked questioningly at Clark. �May I go back in the house, now?�
�Not yet,� Clark said, toeing off his shoes. �Wait for me to take a shower first.�
Lex ducked his chin, a faint pink color sweeping over his face and head. �Okay.�
Clark made note to dress in the bathroom. Remembering Lex�s prior reaction to Clark�s brief nudity, it was obviously too much for the shy man to handle. �I�ll be quick, so you can say goodbye before Kyle goes,� he said, even though he would prefer to keep Lex and Kyle separated forever. But that would hurt Lex�s feelings, if he didn�t get to say goodbye, and Clark wouldn�t be that cruel.
Lex�s expressive face became sad. �I don�t want Kyle to leave.�
�I know you don�t,� Clark said, �but he has to go.�
Lex pressed his top teeth against his lower lip. Clark was instantly aroused. He was at the dresser, away from Lex, in two steps.
�Do you think Kyle will forget me?�
�No one could forget you, Lex,� Clark said, as he gathered post-shower clothes.
�Mom did,� Lex said in softly spoken hurt.
Clark turned and stared awkwardly at Lex�s bowed head. �Not on purpose.�
�Then, why didn�t anyone come for me?�
�I don�t know why your Mom didn�t find you,� Clark said, unsure how to comfort Lex. He had the same questions and no real answers. �Maybe it was out of her control. The meteorite shower was a scary, confusing time, from what I�ve read.�
�The sky rained fire that day.� Lex looked over his shoulder, his blue eyes full of wonder even as a tear slid down the side of his nose. �And the prophecy of Naman became truth.�
Clark rubbed the back of his neck. �I don�t know if I�m this Naman person, Lex. I don�t even know where you got this prophecy thing from.�
�I�ll show you, after Kyle and Mr. Summers leave,� Lex said. �The Kawatche people have preserved the caves where Naman�s destiny is painted on the walls.�
�And you believe in this destiny?�
�No,� Lex replied with all seriousness, �but I do believe in you.�
Clark massacres/quotes Walt Whitman.
"Naman" and "Seget" will be the spellings used for the Kawatche caves in this series.