Clark Kent had been kissing other males since he was twelve years old, but none of them could compare to the purity of emotion behind Lex Luthor�s kiss.
Lex�s dry, chapped lips pressed hard against Clark�s own, their noses squashed side-by-side. His blue eyes were wide and blurry, so close up. Around Clark�s neck, Lex�s arms trembled and held too tightly. His breath came short and fast out his nose, gusting against Clark�s upper lip.
The kiss was innocent. Simple. Everything that a first kiss should be. Clark�s heart thudded audibly against his breastbone. Butterflies took flight in his stomach and their wings tickled the backs of his knees. A single, nervous kiss was about to knock him off his feet.
It was the worst thing that had ever happened to him.
An icy bucket of guilt and misery dumped over Clark�s head. He should�ve stopped Lex from gifting his first kiss to someone who didn�t deserve it. He pulled Lex�s arms from around his neck and stepped back.
Mid-morning sunlight streamed through the open hayloft window, making Lex�s purple sweater shimmer and highlighting the curve of his face. A blush stained Lex�s cheeks and scalp. His red-gold lashes lowered shyly and a tiny smile curled the corners of his lips.
Clark swallowed what felt like green kryptonite in his throat. There was no way around it, not if he wanted to keep Lex safe. �I can�t see you anymore.�
Lex�s expression was slow to change from joy to confusion. �What?�
�This isn�t working. I can�t see you anymore.� Clark was having trouble finding the words. �It was a mistake. You need to leave.�
�Why?� Lex reached out for Clark again. Clark back-stepped immediately and Lex�s hand hovered in the air a moment before falling to his side.
Pain sliced through Clark�s heart, as his mouth twisted. �What you want, I can�t give you. I can�t touch little boys without hurting them or getting into trouble. And that�s what you are, Lex: an innocent little boy who should stay the hell away from me.�
Hurt colored Lex�s face, but he tilted his chin mulishly. �I am not a little boy.�
Clark laughed bitterly. �Do you really think I�d be doing this if you weren�t? I�d have fucked you six ways from Sunday already if you were a normal guy. But you�re not normal and I can�t be with you.�
Lex stared at Clark. "Just because I don't have the experiences to draw on like you, and I don't like being around a lot of people at once, doesn't mean there's anything wrong with me."
Clark knew Lex was right, but Clark couldn't chance it. "If you continue to hang around me, I will hurt you."
�You won�t,� Lex whispered.
Clark struck like a scorpion, hands flashing out to grab Lex�s shoulders with bruising strength. �Does this hurt?�
�Or do you get off on pain?� Clark tightened his hands until he saw Lex wince. �Do you like that? I can do it harder. I will do it harder.�
�Stop it.� A tear escaped from the corner of Lex�s eye.
�I thought you said I wouldn�t hurt you?� Clark spun Lex around and shoved him. Lex stumbled backwards and collapsed awkwardly onto the couch. If he had to hurt Lex in order to protect him, he would.
�Why are you doing this? I don�t understand,� Lex said, looking at him with distress.
Clark steeled his jaw and stalked to the couch. Lex cowered back into the cushions as Clark loomed over him, hands pressed against the seatback on either side of Lex�s head.
�I was going to rape you on Friday night,� Clark said in a low, dark voice, inches from Lex�s face. �I was going to fuck you brutally, bruise that beautiful skin of yours, use you as my own personal sex toy.� He could see the pulse fluttering rapidly under the skin of Lex�s neck. �I�m not human, Lex. I�m an alien, with an alien libido and an alien strength. Sex with me is not wine and candles and a bed of roses. Sweetness and gentleness don�t exist in my bed. You do not understand that beautiful boys like you would be torn to pieces. I can�t be with you because of that. I don�t want to be with you because of that.�
Lex swallowed, lowered his wet lashes, hiding his eyes, and whispered brokenly, �Okay.�
Clark covered the knifing pain that slashed across his chest by shoving away from the couch and turning his back to Lex. �Good.� He cleared the frog from his throat. �I�m going to the house.�
Lex didn�t respond, but Clark heard him sniffle and fought the urge to take everything back and apologize profusely. Instead, he quickly escaped the loft.
Clark cursed himself up and down as he walked from the barn to the bright yellow house set back from Hickory Road. Way for him to be gentle and explain things rationally. He knew he�d hurt Lex�s feelings no matter what he said � all breakups hurt � but he�d really gone overboard. He was such a dick.
Martha Kent bustled about the kitchen, fixing a pitcher of iced tea as she leafed through the mail. She didn�t ask about the blood-red Lamborghini Miura parked on the driveway, which meant she expected him to confess on his own. �There�s a letter here for you, Clark, from Canada.�
�Canada?� Clark took the envelope she held out. There was no return address on the front, but the postmark was from Vancouver. �Do we know anyone from there?�
�No relatives, if that�s what you mean.� Martha poured a glass of tea over ice and put the pitcher into the refrigerator.
Clark opened the envelope and unfolded the letter. A second, smaller envelope fell out and Clark caught it before it dropped to the floor. The smaller, sealed envelope had Lex�s name on the front. Curious, he glanced at the salutation on the letter and his brows shot up in surprise. �It�s from Eric Summers.�
�That�s wonderful. I was hoping we�d hear from them.� Martha peered around his shoulder at the letter. �Is everything all right?�
�Eric says he likes Vancouver and that Kyle is treating him good.� Clark sneered at Kyle�s name, as he scanned the note from Eric. �Kyle apparently has used his powers of persuasion a lot to get them settled there, which he finds freaky and is very glad that I took my powers back. He also wants any news about the FBI or his parents sent his way.�
�Jonathan has been keeping tabs on that situation. I�ll have him write to Eric,� Martha said, taking the letter from him. �What�s in the smaller envelope?�
�It�s for Lex, from Kyle.� Clark debated on crumbling it in his hand and lighting it on fire with his eyes.
�I�m sure he�ll be happy to hear from Kyle,� Martha said, giving Clark a mom-look, indicating she knew what he was thinking. �I�ll have to ask Lex what Kyle said, after you give him the letter.�
Clark looked at the envelope and exhaled heavily. �You should probably be the one to give it to him. I doubt Lex will want to see me for a while.�
Martha was concerned immediately. �Why?�
�We broke up.�
�Oh, honey.� Martha set the letter from Eric aside and gave him her full attention. �What happened? Does it have anything to do with what happened on Friday night?�
�Yeah.� Clark stuck the small envelope for Lex in his jeans pocket and dragged his hand through his hair. �Remember the hunk of red meteorite at the Rickman Industries table at the Expo?� Martha nodded. �Well, it�s definitely a piece of my home planet.�
�Kryptonite?� Martha frowned. �I don�t recall you saying anything about red kryptonite from your Kryptonian archive research at the caves.�
�But I did say that the irradiation from entry into earth�s atmosphere is the cause behind the kryptonite�s effects,� Clark said. �Different types of rock from Krypton would have different properties when irradiated. Green mutates cells at a molecular level. I guess red does something to the mind. When I picked up a piece on Friday, I immediately felt like I had no reason to restrain myself anymore, in anything. I got that car, I destroyed the hotel room, I hurt that Rickman Industries lady��
�What lady?� Martha interrupted.
�Desiree Atkins. The pamphlet woman with the cleavage.� Clark�s lips curled in a snarl. �I caught her in the hotel room trying to force Lex into having sex.�
Martha gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. �Are you sure? Lex never said anything��
Clark gave his mother a dark look. �That bitch had him tied to the headboard with her hand on his cock. He told her to stop and she didn�t � until I made her.�
�And then I attacked Lex myself.� Martha appeared startled. Clark smiled bitterly. �Yes, it happened again. My self-control was erased by the red kryptonite. I know I broke someone�s bones having sex at a club. Then, I went back to the hotel because I wanted to rape Lex, and nearly succeeded, after I got rid of that Atkins woman. My vanity saved him from his own set of broken bones and internal injuries. The kryptonite had been in my pocket and when I took off my clothes to shower the effects vanished.�
�Lex said nothing about any of this,� Martha said, sinking onto one of the stools surrounding the island counter in the kitchen. �He was very quiet on Saturday, but Jonathan and I thought that was because you�d gone. Your note stopped us from asking him what had happened to the room. And this morning, he was asking all sorts of relationship questions. It seemed like he wanted to progress your relationship, not end it.�
�He didn�t end it. I did,� Clark said. �He doesn�t get the danger he�s in being involved with me. He�s doesn�t understand how badly he can be hurt.�
�Clark, while I am worried for you both, you�re not putting much faith in Lex,� Martha chided. �He�s matured into a lovely, albeit shy, young man and understands more than you give him credit for.�
�Even if he did get it, I won�t do that to him,� Clark said. �He doesn�t deserve to be saddled with my issues.�
�Don�t you think that�s his decision to make?�
Clark shook his head. �It�s not worth the risk.�
�For him?� Martha looked pointedly at Clark. �Or for you?�
with his mother always had layers, and Clark spent the remainder of the day
doing homework in the loft while trying to figure out what she'd meant by
"For him or for you?" The
answer was the same either way, wasn�t it?
The risk that Lex would be irrevocably injured was too great for them to
be together, it was a simple as that.
blew out a frustrated breath and slammed his textbook shut.
He was getting nowhere, with his homework or with puzzling out Martha�s
words. He wished mothers came with
instruction manuals, or at least a translating program, so he could understand
what she had been saying. It was
probably important; most of what she said usually was, even if she didn�t
press him to take her advice.
out of the hammock, Clark shoved his textbook into his backpack and pulled the
broken zipper shut. His stomach
rumbled, and a glance at the clock showed it was past dinnertime.
When Martha had retrieved the red kryptonite from his discarded clothing
earlier, she�d mentioned having take-out for dinner. He�d go ask what they wanted before heading out to pick it
dragged a comb through his hair and headed out to the greenhouse.
The cows lowed in the field nearby.
In the distance, the farmhands still worked.
The slowly setting sun glinted orange off the glass walls and roof of the
greenhouse. When he reached the
door, he hesitated. Lex could be
inside, working with his parents on that plant from Rickman Industries.
He�d been gone when Clark had returned to the loft with Kyle�s
envelope. The envelope still burned
a hole in Clark�s back pocket, waiting delivery.
used his reflection in the windowpane to school his features into a false mask
of pleasantry and went inside. Lex
was employed by Jonathan and Martha and would be at the Kent Farm daily.
Avoiding him forever wasn�t an option and the faster Clark got the
first confrontation post-breakup over with, the better for everyone involved.
walked down the aisle, passing rows of spring blooming flowers and sprouting
herbs. The dry erase board had a
new formula and notes written on it by three different hands.
He stepped over a bucket full of planting tools and pushed open the door
to the lab annex.
smelled sex in the air before he saw them.
His parents were naked and fucking on one of the metal tables in the lab.
His father�s white ass was bouncing between his mother�s spread
thighs. One of his mom�s bare
feet was hooked around his dad�s waist, her hands clutching at his shoulders.
She had green nail polish on her toes.
Clark spun around, horrified. He
wasn�t supposed to know his parents had sex.
Children were delivered by storks, or in Clark�s case, alien vessels.
left the lab very quickly. He�d
decide on his own what they�d have for dinner.
parked his blue pick-up outside of the Talon and peered up at the second-floor
window above the front doors. He
didn�t see a light on in Lex�s apartment.
Maybe he wasn�t there. Clark�s
plan was to drop off the letter, then go pick up the food he�d ordered from
Mama �Pasghetties further down Main Street, wasting enough time so that his
parents would be showered and have all their clothes on again by the time he
Clark wasn�t sure if he wanted Lex to be there or not.
He�d steeled himself to see Lex preparental mental scarring, but guilt
had since set in. He�d made Lex
cry and that twisted Clark�s gut, even though it had been for Lex�s own
good. He also didn�t think Lex
would want to see him. First time
breakups hurt the worst.
in the truck wouldn�t solve anything, though.
Clark scooted out of the cab and sidestepped a couple strolling down the
sidewalk. The pleasant May evening had locals out in droves,
window-shopping along Main Street. The
Talon hummed with activity, light rock playing from the speakers overhead.
Waitresses wove between the tables, delivering trays of iced coffees,
teas, and mochas.
spotted Lex�s distinctive bald pate and fan of red hair.
He sat at the service counter near the swinging door, talking with Lana
while she filled orders behind the counter.
Clark gave half-hearted greetings to those he received, as he made his
way towards Lex and Lana. Lana
spotted him first, said something to Lex, and Lex turned on his stool.
The expression that crossed his face shredded Clark inside.
stood and left swiftly through the swinging door.
�Lex!� Clark called after him, picking up his pace.
He found his path blocked suddenly by a furious-looking Lana.
eyes spat fire as she glared at him. �I
never thought you would be a homophobe, Clark.�
Clark was surprised. �I�m
Then why were you so mean to Lex after he kissed you?� Lana said
vehemently. �Just because
you�re straight doesn�t make it all right for you to call him names and hurt
him like that. You could�ve
turned him down gently.�
Clark glanced around, shoulders tightening. Those sitting at the surrounding tables were listening
it. I don�t want to hear any of
your excuses. Just stay away from Lex.
He doesn�t need any of your kind tainting him with cruelty.�
Lana slapped something hard against Clark�s chest and Clark took it
reflexively. It was a navy placard
that read: We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.
blinked at the sign, then looked at Lana. She
crossed her arms and stared daggers back at him.
He bit the inside of his cheek, handed her the placard, and turned on his
heel. He could feel the stares
prickling his neck. Whispers
followed his footsteps as he was ejected publicly from the Talon.
the sidewalk out front, Clark shoved his hands in his pockets, closed his eyes
briefly, and pushed away the ache in his chest.
He should have expected that. Lana
was Lex�s friend, too. Clark
should just be relieved that Lana still thought he was straight.
that didn�t make him feel better.
sighed and looked up at the second floor apartment.
Lex stood framed in the tall bedroom window.
Their eyes met. Lex turned
flat-haired kid in a trench coat bumped into Clark.
Clark tore his gaze from the window, dropped his chin, and slumped off
towards Mama�s. It was his own
fault, so he had no permission to feel hurt by Lex�s actions.
Watch where you�re�Mom? Mom!�
heard the shout from behind him and looked with everyone else, but to him,
everything appeared to happen in slow motion.
He saw a woman laying on the sidewalk, a guy about Clark�s age leaning
over her. He saw the flat-haired kid with the trench coat with an arm
raised above the other guy�s head, a large blade extended from the sleeve of
the coat. He saw every witness on
the street, couples and families, classmates and out-of-towners.
If Clark used his abilities, there was no question that he�d be seen.
Clark didn�t, someone would be dead.
his life, Clark had been taught to be careful, to hide his alienness for fear of
being caged or his loved ones being hurt. He�d
also been taught that helping others was the greatest gift he could give. It was a fine balance between the two and what he chose to do
rested solely in his own hands.
moved faster than they eye could see, grabbed the flat-haired kid, and pinned
him against the cement light post lining the street.
Time seemed to unfreeze. He
ignored the gasps and voices pointing out his sudden appearance and the way he
held the kid by the neck a few inches off the ground.
flat-haired kid swung the blade in a chopping arc at Clark�s shoulder.
Clark grabbed the blade and squeezed.
The kid screeched reedily, his airway cut off, as the metal shattered.
Metallic-green blood spurted from the jagged edge that extended from the
kid�s sleeve. It burned
where it splashed on Clark�s hand and Clark felt immediately woozy.
A kryptonite-affected mutant.
Mom! Oh, god!
Mom!� The other guy
pressed his hands over his mother�s chest.
Blood stained the front of her white blouse, blooming like a dark red
flower on the material. Her ashen features were slack, eyes open and staring blankly
towards the darkening sky.
thumped the flat-haired kid on the top of the head, knocking him out, and let
him fall to the ground. He whipped
off his t-shirt and staggered dizzily over to the injured woman and her son. He could tell she was dead, but that didn�t stop him
from wadding up the shirt and putting it over the other guy�s hands.
�Here. Hold this against
guy took the shirt and did as told. Clark
wiped his kryptonite-blood spattered hand on her blouse and felt better
instantly. He pulled his cell phone
from his pocket and called 9-1-1, though someone else on the street probably did
already, but he had information the Sheriff needed to know.
what�s your emergency?� the operator said over the cell line.
is Clark Kent. I�m on Main Street
near the corner of State. There�s
McNulty,� the guy said with a sob, tears streaking his cheeks.
�Her name is Karen McNulty.�
McNulty,� Clark repeated. Bystanders
started crowding around them. �She�s
been seriously injured by a sword-like blade.
Her son is putting pressure on the wound.
The perp has also been injured. He�s
unconscious from a blow to the head and it appears as though he�s a meteor
mutant. The sword-like blade was
possibly his hand, which has been severed and is bleeding metallic-green
stopped speaking suddenly when he saw Lex drop to his knees beside the
flat-haired kid and begin to tourniquet the kid�s metallic wrist with his
belt. Lex didn�t even glance at
Clark when he spoke. �Tell
Shirley to have someone from the Sheriff�s Department to call Chloe.
The mutant�s name is Trent Shivs.
Chloe should have him in her database.�
Clark said, and when the operator acknowledged that was her name, relayed the
information Lex told him to her. He
heard the sirens of approaching emergency vehicles.
there anyone else injured?� Shirley asked Clark.
glanced at the other guy, who was crying heavily, and lowered his voice.
�There will possibly be a shock victim.
I don�t think mom will make it.�
EMT is right around the corner, Mr. Kent. Please
step back and let them do their jobs.�
Clark disconnected as soon as he saw the ambulance.
He straightened and waved his arm to get their attention.
Two Sheriff�s cars arrived, red and blue lights flashing.
a path!� the first EMT to emerge from the ambulance yelled.
The Deputies policed the crowd. Sheriff
Ethan Miller took Clark aside for questioning.
Clark hesitated over his explanation, unconsciously searching for Lex,
but Lex had gone.
Ethan understood, however, without Clark having to say anything.
�Anything extraordinary you may have done won�t go into the report,
Clark. Just give me the bare
Clark gave him what he needed and accepted the spare shirt from one of the squad
cars. He saw the Smallville Ledger reporter and photographer
had arrived and cringed. The Ledger
tended not to print mutant-related information in their pages, not wanting to be
deemed sensationalist or a crackpot newspaper, but that didn�t mean Clark
wanted to be interviewed. Onlookers
would give enough information without his input, most of which would hopefully
be left out of the story.
left the shirt folded on the hood of the Sheriff�s vehicle and sneaked off
The Monday morning edition of the Smallville Ledger reported on Karen McNulty�s murder with minimal reference to Clark. He was mentioned as the person who�d helped apprehend the perpetrator, minus anything extraordinary. It didn�t completely relieve Clark of his worries, as there had been plenty of witnesses on the street last night. Eric�s letter reminded him that the FBI might still be focused on the town and, while residents might ignore the weirdness that went on in Smallville, the government didn�t have the same blind eye.
Clark hadn�t been able to talk to his parents the night before, as they�d moved their festivities from the greenhouse lab to their bedroom. Clark really hadn�t wanted to see them having sex again, in the flesh or as skeletons with his x-ray vision. He didn�t have time to chat this morning, either, since he was already late for school. He�d stopped in the house long enough to check the newspaper and grab a breakfast bar, and he was out the door.
The UPS truck pulled into the driveway as Clark stepped onto the side porch. He raised a hand to Mary, their local driver, who returned the greeting as she drove past. Clark watched the truck until it disappeared behind the barn, heading for the greenhouse. Once she was out of view, Clark checked for other witnesses carefully before breaking into a run.
He reached the high school a heartbeat later, coming to a stop behind the football bleachers and emerging into view at a rushed walk. He saw no men in suits hanging around the empty halls.
�Mr. Kent, I�m glad you could join us,� Mr. Price said, as Clark entered his first hour History class.
�Sorry.� Clark hurried to his seat, flashing a half-smile at Lana who sat at the desk next to his own.
Lana stuck her nose in the air and turned her face away with a disgusted sound.
Sighing, Clark got a notebook and pen out of his backpack, as Mr. Price returned to the lesson. It was hard to concentrate, however, because he felt the prickles of eyes on him throughout the class. Glances over his shoulder and around the room proved it wasn�t his imagination. His exploits might not have gotten into the Ledger, but word had obviously spread.
A large percentage of the Smallville population was mutated by kryptonite in some way, but most kept their changes to themselves. Clark had used his abilities in public, drawing attention to himself, and would have to suffer the scrutiny for it. He had to hope that the interest would die down quickly and that local loyalty would outweigh the impulse to share with the Feds. The town�s record, so far, was good in keeping silent about its oddities. If it hadn�t been for Eric�s parents calling the FBI back in January, Clark wouldn�t be worried as much.
The morning passed with Clark under observation and with whispers behind his classmates� hands. He�d tuned in at one point to find them not only talking about the events with the MA, but also about Lana kicking Clark out of the Talon. His ears burned anytime Lex was mentioned and, with one derogatory comment, had snapped: �There�s nothing wrong with being gay and Lana did the right thing by telling me to fuck off.�
By the time lunch rolled around, Clark was ready to crawl under a desk and hide. The shame of how he�d treated Lex, necessary or not, weighed equally on his shoulders with the feared or awed observations of his supposed mutant-ness. He bought lunch from the cafeteria and made his way to the sanctuary of the Torch office.
�Clark!� An arm shot out of the doorway and latched onto Clark suddenly.
�Yeeah!� Clark almost toppled the lunch tray as he was yanked into the converted classroom. �Chloe!�
�Don�t you Chloe me.� Chloe Sullivan dragged him over towards her desk. Pete Ross sat balanced on two legs of a chair in front of the old metal teacher�s desk that butted against hers. An issue of the school newspaper in production was taped to the angled board standing near the filing cabinets. Collapsed storage boxes piled across the tops of the six study carrels by the windows.
Chloe rounded on him, her blond hair stuck out at odd angles, correlating to the wildly colored obtuse triangles on her blouse. �Why didn�t you tell me you were an MA?�
Clark shook her hand off his arm with a half-heated glare. �It�s none of your business.�
�Excuse me.� Chloe fanned her fingers beside her face. �Queen of Weird here. It is most certainly my business.�
�Screw you.� Clark slapped his tray down on the desk. The paper plates of food jumped and the can of Mountain Dew fell over and rolled to the other end of the tray. �You don�t have a right to know everything.�
Pete snorted, his cheeks puffed out from the piece of candy bar he was chewing. Chloe shot him a dirty look. �Friends are supposed to share things like this,� she said.
�Says who? The Friends Rulebook?� Clark crossed his arms and glowered. �Besides, why would I tell the �Queen of Weird� anything?�
Chloe colored. �I didn�t mean��
�Yes, you did,� Clark said. �You live your life in headlines and I wouldn�t change you for the world, but it does put limits on things. I don�t want to be another Eric Summers. I don�t want to be splashed across the front page or find myself labeled as a FBI X-File.�
�I was just surprised, that�s all,� Chloe back-peddled, turning away from him to fiddle with her computer. �You aren�t in the database and I thought you would be, especially because of Lex.�
�I told Lex not to put me in there.� Clark shifted his gaze to Pete. �What do you have to say about all this?�
Pete shrugged, rocking on the back two legs of his chair. �I mack with someone who could eat me in one bite. Who am I to say anything?�
�Good.� Clark unfolded his arms, grabbed his soda, and pulled the tab.
�I�m more interested in the story behind Lana kicking you out of the Talon for having sex with Lex there.�
The Mountain Dew exploded all over Clark.
Pete nearly toppled the chair laughing and Chloe squawked. She rushed to fetch him paper towels from the photography lab attached to the office. Clark slurped the top of the depressurized can and dripped on the tile floor. He rolled his eyes at Pete. �It�s not that funny.�
�Yeah. Yeah, it is,� Pete guffawed. �You should�ve seen your face.�
Chloe returned with a roll of paper towels and bopped Pete on the head with them as she passed. �Good thing Clark wasn�t standing near anything important or you�d be a dead man, Pete.�
�He still might be dead, if he doesn�t tell me who started that rumor.� Clark dried his hands and bare forearms, and then wiped at the wet spots on his navy t-shirt.
�It�s but one of many, my friend,� Pete said. He wadded up his candy bar wrapper and made a basket with it into the garbage can. �I�ve been hearing them all day. Lana�s not talking, so the stories are getting wilder by the hour.�
�Great.� Clark tore off another paper towel from the roll Chloe held between her hands. Chloe�s lips were pursed like she�d sucked on a lemon. �Chloe, I didn�t mean for you to never question me again. I just don�t want to talk about my abilities.�
�You had sex with Lex?� Chloe blurted.
�On second thought��
�Clark!� Chloe gestured spastically with the paper towel roll, almost whacking Pete again. �You had sex with Lex?!�
�No.� Clark grabbed the roll, tore off another sheet, and mopped up the spill spots on the desk. �He kissed me. That�s all.�
�He kissed you?� Pete said. �Not the other way around?�
Clark glanced at Pete, frowning heavily. �Yes, he kissed me, and I�d rather not talk about that, either.�
Pete grinned and held out his hand, palm up, towards Chloe. �Pay up, woman.�
�What are you doing?� Clark said.
Chloe took a folded five-dollar bill from her jeans pocket and slapped it into Pete�s hand. �Losing a bet.�
�You bet on me?�
�I bet on Lex,� Pete said smugly, snapping the five open. �I knew my boy would come through.�
�I thought for sure you�d make the first move, Clark,� Chloe pouted.
Clark looked between Chloe and Pete. �You bet on me and Lex kissing?�
�Well, yeah.� Pete dug out his wallet and slipped the money into the billfold. �You came out to both me and Chloe, so we guessed you came out to Lex, too. And I knew he�s been waiting for an excuse to plant one on you.�
Clark�s discomfort level rose. He�d thought he�d been so careful, making himself and Lex look like only friends in public. �Was it that obvious?�
�Lex looks at you like I look at Beyonc� Knowles� ass: with a little hunger and a whole lotta worship,� Pete said.
�He�s head over heels for you, Clark. Everyone knows that,� Chloe said, perching on the edge of Pete�s desk. �But he�s so shy. I thought for sure you�d have to make the first move, once you got over whatever �bad things� happened in your past.�
�Bad things?� Pete asked, brows lifting. �What bad things?�
Clark glared at Chloe. Chloe ignored him and answered Pete. �Clark won�t tell me, but apparently it�s the reason why he�s been suffocating in the closet.�
�Harsh. Did you get beat up back in Noblesville or something?� Pete said. �My brother got trashed by some assholes when he first came out. I remember he almost wished he could go back into the closet again.�
�That�s horrible,� Chloe said, jumping off the desk and making a beeline around Clark to her computer. �I should do a story on bigotry and hate crimes and how mean people are, hating someone over something they can�t control. That�s like hating people because they have blue eyes! Stupid, stupid, stupid.�
Clark felt his lips curve involuntarily. Chloe was going to change the world, one headline at a time.
�Clark, you�ll let me interview you, right?� Chloe said, clicking open windows with her mouse.
A scowl replaced Clark�s smile. �No.�
�Oh, come on. You�re the only gay person I know personally besides Pete�s brother and Lex,� Chloe said. �I�ll let you be anonymous.�
�No, Chloe,� Clark repeated. �My personal life is just that: personal.�
�Don�t you want to be free to be yourself?� Chloe turned wide, imploringly eyes on him.
�Uh-oh, she�s giving you the look,� Pete said. �Might as well give in now, since it�ll happen anyway.�
�No, it won�t. Chloe, you know there�s a reason I haven�t told you about my past,� Clark said. �Why would I tell a reporter when I haven�t told one of my best friends?�
Chloe�s features softened. �You know you can tell me anything, Clark, on or off the record.�
�Me, too, man,� Pete said.
Clark shook his head. �Thanks, but no. There�s too much at stake.�
�Living in fear is no way to live, Clark,� Chloe said, leaning back from her computer. �You�ll miss out on the best parts that way.�
�But no one will get hurt,� Clark admitted, looking down at his hands.
�Are you sure about that?� Chloe said. �I can think of two people you�re already hurting. Can�t you, Pete?�
�Yeah,� Pete said, �and I know they�d both do anything to stop each other�s pain.�
Clark looked at them. �Who?�
�You and Lex,� Pete said. �Who else?�
By the time school ended, Clark was exhausted, his thoughts having run marathon circles. Chloe wanted him to abandon his fear and embrace life as an out gay man. Pete had joked about embracing Lex, too. But Clark couldn�t. He just couldn�t. No matter how much he thought about it, the results were the same: he would hurt someone. He would hurt Lex.
After his last class of the day, a miserable Clark caught a ride downtown to pick up his truck. A parking ticket graced the front window from being left overnight on Main Street. Wonderful. He pulled it from beneath the windshield wiper on the passenger side, folded, and stuffed it in his jeans pocket.
A horn blared and a pickup truck full of guys hooted and hollered at several girls walking on the sidewalk. The girls giggled as they passed Clark, glancing over their shoulders at the truck that had driven by, before going into the Talon.
Clark looked through the glass windows of the coffeeshop, eyes searching automatically for the telltale tuft of red hair. Despite breaking up with Lex, Clark couldn�t help but worry about him, especially with the rumors flying. He hoped no one would pick on Lex because of him.
Clark�s telescopic vision kicked on, drawing him into the Talon, when he found Lex seated at the service counter. He hadn�t really expected to see Lex. It was early yet; Lex should�ve been at the farm, working with Jonathan and Martha. He stiffened when he saw someone he didn�t recognize from behind practically plaster him- or herself to Lex.
Lex reacted violently, leaping off the stool with a shout that turned heads. Clark was inside before the words finished leaving Lex�s mouth. ��touch me!�
�I only wanted to hug you.� The unknown, older person was Mary, the UPS driver, who tried to drape herself over Lex again. �You look like you need a hug, sweetie.�
�Don�t touch me!� Lex sounded almost hysterical, backing away from her with his hands raised defensively. �I don�t like women touching me!�
�Get away from him!� Clark shoved his way between them, pushing Mary back with one hand. �What the hell are you doing?�
Mary clucked her tongue at Clark. �Another one who looks like he needs a hug. C�mere, honey.�
Clark found himself smothered by matronly arms and a whiff of White Shoulders perfume. �Mary?�
�Poor boy. I always see such poor boys in need of hugs on my routes. Some poor girls, too,� Mary said into his shoulder.
�Um�� Clark disentangled from her embrace when he heard the swinging door clack against the frame behind him. A glance over his shoulder showed Lex had gone. �Thanks for the hug, Mary.�
�Anytime, Clark. Beth! Oh, honey, you look like you need a hug.�
Clark left as Mary hugged one of the waitresses, going through the swinging door. He sped through the back room, catching the heavy door into the alley as it started to close. Lex was on the staircase, his footsteps ringing as he ran up them.
�No. Leave me alone.�
Clark hurried up the stairs and stopped Lex on the landing with a hand on his arm. �Please, Lex. I only want to know if you�re okay.�
�No, I�m not okay.� Lex jerked his arm free, pressing himself back against the door to his apartment. �Why do strange women keep touching me? I didn�t invite them.�
Confusion, concern, and a dose of anger welled in Clark. �Who else touched you? Did someone hurt you?�
�You hurt me.�
Clark swallowed the stinging lump that rose in his throat. �I know I did. Did anyone else?�
�Mr. and Mrs. Kent hurt me,� Lex said, dropping his chin. His lower lip quivered.
�What?� Clark said, stunned. �How?�
�They said they didn�t want me at the farm anymore.� Lex lifted his gaze, his eyes shiny with unshed tears. �I wish I stayed lost. I wish you never found me.�
He turned the doorknob behind his back and escaped into the apartment, slamming the door shut behind him, leaving Clark on the landing alone.
�Mom! Dad! Where are you?!� Clark yelled, storming into the house. The greenhouse had been empty, but their vehicles were still in the driveway. He heard movement upstairs and stalked in that direction.
Buttoning a denim shirt with pearl buttons, Jonathan came down the stairs as Clark put his foot on the lowest step. �What the hell are you bellowing about?�
�Did you tell Lex you didn�t want him here anymore?� Clark demanded, glaring at his father.
Jonathan bumped past Clark, heading towards the kitchen area. �There might�ve been a conversation had along those lines.�
�What?!� Clark�s jaw dropped. He�d thought maybe Lex had misunderstood. �Why would you do that?�
�Lex doesn�t come here to work. He comes here because he thinks of Martha and me as his parents and to hit on you, and that doesn�t make for very good profit.�
�Lex is devastated. You had to know how he would take it.�
Jonathan shrugged. �He�ll get over it.�
Clark sputtered incredulously. �He�ll get over it?�
�He�s an adult. You�re the only one who treats him like he�s five.� Jonathan grabbed his better boots from the mat by the door, pulled out a kitchen chair, and sat to put them on.
�I do not,� Clark denied reflexively, knowing it was a lie.
Jonathan knew as well and made a derisive sound. �If anyone�s the child here, it�s you. You�ve been jerking Lex around since Christmas and I�m getting mighty tired of listening to your mother talk about it.�
�Excuse me for being afraid to hurt him.�
�Don�t give me that bullshit,� Jonathan said. �Never figured I�d have a limp-wristed pansy as a son.�
Clark stared at his dad, stung. �I�m not��
�It was bad enough learning you were a fag on top of all the alien crap we put up with, but I�d hoped you�d still be a man.�
Clark took a step back, feeling as if he�d been struck by a kryptonite fist.
�Martha!� Jonathan raised his voice, as he clapped his hands on his thighs and stood. �I�m waiting.�
�I�m coming. Keep your pants on. For now.� Martha came downstairs, pushing a hoop earring through her ear. She wore tight jeans and a men�s plaid dress shirt, tied at the hem and unbuttoned low, exposing a lot of cleavage. Her purse hung on her shoulder. She saw Clark and sighed audibly. �Why did I know you�d be home?�
Clark felt like he�d been hit again. �I�m sorry,� he whispered, though he didn�t know what for exactly.
�You should be.� Martha shook her head in disgrace. �I don�t know how I managed to raise such a stupid boy.�
Clark flinched and wrapped his arms around his middle. Why were his parents saying these things?
�Well, it�s your own unhappiness,� Martha said. �I gave you all the advice I�m going to give.� Clark stood stiffly as she approached and kissed him on the cheek. �Have a good night. Your father and I won�t be back until late.�
Jonathan grabbed the Miura keys off the table, tossed them in the air, and caught them. �Thanks for the car, son.�
Martha hurried over to Jonathan, snuggled under his arm, and giggle when he squeezed. �Bye, Clark,� she said, and they left the house.
Clark stayed glued to his spot, a stinging behind his eyes and a pain in his chest. He heard the doors slam and the Miura roar to life. The tires spun on the gravel driveway as the car peeled out.
Clark typed a response to Chloe�s email about their classmates no longer being under the influence of the kryptopunch, sent it off to her, and rubbed his eyes. A glance at the clock showed it was pushing ten at night. Clark wanted nothing more than to go to bed and forget this day had ever happened, but he knew sleep would be elusive. He couldn�t stop thinking about what his parents had said or why they had said it. He�d been dressed down in the past, but he�d never been called stupid or a fag.
Something was assuredly wrong. Now that the sting had worn off and he was able to think on it clearly, Clark knew his parents wouldn�t say stuff like that. Jonathan hadn�t ever before come across as a homophobe or had shown disgust for Clark�s sexuality or alien-ness. Clark was lucky to have such a supportive family, especially after what had happened when puberty had hit.
To figure out the truth, Clark would have to find his folks, but he had a theory that they could be affected by red kryptonite, just like he�d been. His mom�s clothing gave credence to that possibility; she�d definitely looked a little wild. If their self-control had been zapped, there was no telling what they�d say or do and Clark couldn�t hold it against them. (Clark purposely ignored the fact that he�d said what truth was on his mind while he�d been affected by the kryptonite.) Clark was also concerned about his parents driving under the influence, which didn�t help him to sleep.
Clark rolled away from the computer on his new desk chair, stood, and walked over to the open hayloft window. He leaned his elbows on the closed bottom half of the bale door and stared out into the night. He could see lights on at Lana�s house. Whitney Fordman�s truck was parked in the driveway. He wondered and worried if Whitney had told Lana that Clark was gay. She would have told him about kicking Clark out of the Talon and the reason behind it. It was a strong possibility and could explain why Lana wouldn�t speak about the incident to anyone at school. She hated lying and liars.
A car pulled into the Kent driveway, headlights shining towards the barn. Clark squinted slightly, triggering his x-ray vision to look through the walls. He didn�t recognize the shape of the car. One person got out of the parked vehicle and headed for the house.
Clark blinked, bringing his vision back to normal, and jogged downstairs. He opened the barn door and called over to the person. �Can I help you?�
�Kent?� It was Doug Collingsworth, a Smallville High football player and someone Clark knew from Hoops Thompson�s Closet Parties. He had dark hair, dark eyes, and was built like a box. Hands tucked in his jeans pockets, he ambled over towards Clark. �Hey, what�s up?�
�Nothing much,� Clark said, leaning against the doorframe. �What brings you here?�
Doug glanced around nervously. �Can we take this inside?�
�Sure.� Clark stepped backwards, out of the doorway. �Come on. We�ll go up to my room.�
�Your room�s in a barn?� Doug said, coming inside. Clark shut the door behind him. �I thought you were rich.�
�I like the privacy,� Clark said with a shrug. He led the way upstairs to the loft and cleared his schoolbooks off the couch. He turned to put them on the low table and bumped into Doug, who stood extremely close.
Clark looked at Doug, apology halting on his lips. The reason for Doug�s visit was written plainly on his face. Clark dropped the books onto the table and yanked Doug in for a kiss. Maybe meaningless sex would take his mind off things for a while.
Doug was hard already and Clark didn�t waste time with the preliminaries. He dropped to his knees, undid Doug�s buttonfly with an experienced twist of his hand, and pulled the jeans and boxers down mid-thigh. Doug�s cock lifted and curved towards the right, the rounded head dark like a plum. Clark reached under the couch for the foil strip of condoms he kept under there, tore one off, and rolled it onto Doug.
Doug grasped Clark�s head as Clark sucked him down. Clark�s lips kissed his fist, tongue flicking against the latex-covered underside. He heard Doug hiss and moved with the rock of Doug�s hips. His head bobbed at a quick pace, saliva slipping from the corners of his mouth. He pressed the heel of his palm against his crotch, rubbing to get himself hard, but there wasn�t much happening down there. He gave up and concentrated on getting Doug off.
�Damn,� Doug panted slightly after he�d come, as Clark disposed of the used condom. �You have a great cocksucker mouth.�
�A benefit of having fat lips,� Clark said, dropping the tissue wrapped condom into the trash. �You didn�t have an interest in my cock-sucking skills before. What changed?�
�It�s all over school that you ploughed that weird bald guy,� Doug said, pulling up his boxers and jeans. �I wanted to get in before you come out completely and I can�t be seen with you at all.�
Clark�s features tightened. �His name is Lex, and I didn�t do anything with him.�
Doug shrugged. �You know rumors. Get a papercut and soon everyone�s saying your arm�s being amputated.�
�Damn it,� Clark muttered, leaning against the edge of his desk. He shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. �I don�t want to come out.�
�You�d better find a beard, then. Otherwise, no matter what you say, people are going to be suspicious,� Doug said. �Are you gonna fuck me now, or what?�
Clark�s cell phone rang, saving him from answering Doug. He held up a finger and answered the call. The caller I.D. said it was an unknown number. �Hello?�
�Speaking,� Clark said into the receiver. �Who�s this?�
�It�s your grandmother,� Anne Clark said over the line. �Your parents are in St. Mary�s Hospital in Camdenton.�
Clark felt the blood drain from his face. �Are they okay?�
�No, they�re not,� Grandmother Clark said with her usual bull in a china shop gentleness. �Your grandfather and I are taking the helicopter. We shall meet you at St. Mary�s. Drive safely.�
Grandmother Clark terminated the call before Clark could ask any further questions. He cursed, shoved the phone in his pocket, and searched the floor for his sneakers. �I have to go.�
�I figured,� Doug said. �I hope everything�s okay.�
�Yeah, me too,� Clark said, finding his shoes. He shoved his feet into them without undoing the laces.
�Good luck with the coming out thing.� Doug headed for the stairs. �Bye.�
�Bye.� Clark turned in a circle, looking for his truck keys. He spotted them on the low table in front of the couch, half-hidden under a stack of books.
Doug was gone by the time Clark got outside, after stopping in the bathroom to gargle mouthwash. Clark wanted to run, but his grandparents were unaware of his abilities. Instead, he sped as fast as he dared on the county highways, using the empty and usually non-policed back roads to get to Camdenton in two hours.
Camdenton was the last mid-sized town before reaching the outskirts of Metropolis. Its only claim to fame was the truck dock at the train station. Trucks from the eastern part of Kansas loaded and unloaded at the Camdenton Station, if they didn�t have business in Metropolis.
St. Mary�s Hospital stood on the far side of the town. Clark parked his truck in the visitors lot and rushed inside through the emergency doors. He saw his grandfather immediately, waiting for him. �Grandfather��
�It�s all right, Clark,� William Clark said. He wore a suit and tie despite the late hour. Putting his arm around Clark�s shoulder, he led Clark past the No Admittance door into the Intensive Care Unit. �Your parents are stable.�
�What happened?� Clark said, glancing anxiously into the open rooms they passed. Their shoes squeaked on the tile floor, sounding loud in the relatively quiet area. A few nurses in pale scrubs gathered at the nurse�s station in the center of the ICU, working on their charts and computers.
�We�re not sure,� Grandfather Clark said. �Jonathan and Martha were unconscious when they were brought into the hospital. From what we�ve been told, they were dancing at a country bar in town and simply collapsed.�
�Do you think they passed out drunk?� Clark said.
�I don�t know, Clark. The doctor said he would know more once the blood test results came back.� Grandfather Clark escorted Clark into one of the private rooms.
Martha and Jonathan lay side-by-side in white hospital beds, breathing tubes, IVs and heart monitors hooked to them. Eyes closed, they were both ashen-skinned with swollen features. Panic welled in Clark and he hurried between the beds. He grabbed his mother�s hand first. It felt cool and clammy between his palms. �Mom?�
�They can�t hear you, Clark,� Grandmother Clark spoke from her seat at the end of the bed. She was dressed as properly as Grandfather Clark, in a prim green skirt and jacket with a white shirt underneath. Her cap of steel gray hair matched the color of her eyes. �Please, keep your decorum.�
�Yes, Grandmother,� Clark said, gathering his composure. Grandmother Clark was not easy to get along with and Clark didn�t want the situation to become about him. His parents would want him to placate her. He squeezed his mom�s hand, set it down, and brushed his other hand against his dad�s arm, before walking over to his grandmother. He kissed Grandmother Clark�s proffered cheek. �It is nice to see you, even under these unpleasant circumstances.�
�Yes.� Grandmother Clark frowned at his clothing. �You look like a slob.�
�I was too worried to change,� Clark said, smoothing his t-shirt. At least he didn�t smell like sex.
�Hmph. I shall be having words with your parents about allowing you to leave the house looking like a ruffian.�
Clark glanced at his grandfather. Grandfather Clark was studiously fixing his wrist cuffs.
Grandmother Clark looked at her watch and clucked her tongue in disgust. �Where are the doctors? We are not paying them to dilly-dally.�
�I shall go see what is keeping them,� Grandfather Clark said. Clark was silently amused by how fast he�d left the room.
�Stop hovering and sit down, Clark,� Grandmother Clark said.
Clark found the second chair in the room and moved it beside his grandmother�s. Sitting, he had a front row view of his unconscious parents. Fear tickled the back of his mind. What if they never woke up?
�How are you doing in your new school?� Grandmother Clark�s routine questions provided a welcome distraction from his thoughts.
�Very well. I should receive a four-point-zero GPA again,� Clark said. �We have finals the first week of June.�
�And your extracurricular activities?�
�I�m a journalist for the biweekly school newspaper. The staff consists of only five people, so that is my only extracurricular due to the amount of work.�
�Universities do like dedication, but they also like well-rounded students,� Grandmother Clark said. �I would suggest you participate in a sport-related activity.�
�Yes, Grandmother,� Clark said, though he knew it couldn�t happen because of his abilities. Though, perhaps one of the school teams could use a manager. Not that he would be welcome in the locker room if he didn�t quash the rumors about his sexuality.
Grandmother Clark picked invisible lint from her skirt. �Is there a new young man in your life?�
Clark�s thoughts jumped immediately to Lex. He looked down at his hands resting in his lap. �I� no.�
�You sound hesitant. Is it no or is it yes?�
�No,� Clark said more firmly.
�But you want there to be,� Grandmother Clark said. �Is he of your persuasion?�
�It doesn�t matter.�
�I did not ask your opinion. I asked if he was of your persuasion,� Grandmother Clark said sharply.
Clark cringed inwardly. �My apologies, Grandmother. Yes, Lex is gay, too.�
�Lex, is it?� Grandmother Clark hummed in the back of her throat. �If he is like you, why aren�t you together?�
�It doesn�t work like that,� Clark said. �Just because we�re both gay doesn�t mean we can get together.�
�Pish,� Grandmother Clark said. �You�re a Clark. Nothing is beyond your reach. If you want this young man, take him.�
�That�s the problem,� Clark mumbled.
�Don�t mumble. It is impolite.�
�Now, whatever this problem is, it should not hold you back. Problems and troubles are only there to remind us that the end result is worth it,� Grandmother Clark said. �Face them with your head held high. If you stumble or make a mistake, fix it and move on with poise and grace. That is all there is to it. Ah, here is your grandfather with the doctor.�
Clark looked up and rose as Grandfather Clark and a bespectacled doctor entered the room. The doctor introduced himself to Clark. �Mr. Kent, I�m Dr. Jimenez. I�m the physician on call.�
�What�s wrong with my parents?� Clark said.
Dr. Jimenez glanced at the chart in his hands. �Your parents are in what appears to be anaphylactic shock. This type of symptom is usually brought on by an allergic reaction to something. I�ve taken a medical history from Mr. and Mrs. Clark, but there were several blanks left unfilled. Can you tell me if your parents are allergic to anything?�
�Dad can�t eat shellfish,� Clark said. �But otherwise, they�re not allergic to anything that I know of.�
�We�ve started them both on a corticosteroid drip,� Dr. Jimenez said. �However, if we were going to see an improvement, it would�ve happened by now.�
�What are you going to do next?� Grandfather Clark asked.
�I�ll order a round of skin tests to see if we can isolate the cause of the allergic reaction,� Dr. Jimenez said, marking on the chart. �In the meantime, can you think of anything new that they might have come into contact with? A new product at their job, a new brand of clothing or perfume, anything of that nature?�
Clark looked at the floor as he thought. �We went to the AgExpo this past weekend. They picked up a lot of samples, but mostly seeds�� His head shot up. �The flower.�
�A flower?� Dr. Jimenez said.
�Rickman Industries had hybrid flowers on display. We brought one home with us from the Expo.� Clark dug his cell phone from his pocket and dialed Lex�s number. His hand froze partway in raising the phone to his ear, his heart leaping into his throat. Lex had been in the lab where the flower would be, where his parents had been.
Clark was already moving towards the door, the ringing on the other end of the line keeping him from breaking into top speed. �Pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up��
�Clark, where are you going?� Grandfather Clark called after him.
��pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up, pick��
�Lex!� Clark stopped short, standing in the middle of the corridor of the ICU. �Are you okay? Are you having any trouble breathing? Are you dizzy? Do you feel all right? Are you sick?�
�Clark, slow down.� Lex sounded tired, but his voice came clearly over the line. �You�re speaking too quickly.�
�Just tell me if you�re feeling okay,� Clark said. �Do you feel sick or anything?�
�I don�t get sick,� Lex said.
Clark closed his eyes and slumped in relief. He�d forgotten about Lex�s hyperactive healing ability. Even if he�d had an allergic reaction, he might have recovered from it already. �Can you tell me if you felt weird at all today? Like you didn�t feel well, but then got better?�
�Good.� Clark rubbed his hand over his face, as if erasing his panicked countenance. �I was worried.�
�My parents had a bad allergic reaction to something and are in the hospital,� Clark said, moving to the side of the hall as a nurse walked past. �I was afraid whatever they touched, you might have touched, too.�
�Will they get better?� Lex asked apprehensively.
�I hope so,� Clark said. �Do you remember if they were working on that flower from Rickman Industries this morning? Or maybe something else from the Expo?�
�The flower,� Lex replied. �I remember it spat pollen on Mary when she delivered the high powered microscope.�
Clark perked, turned on his heel, and headed back towards his parents� room. �It spat?�
�Yes. And then Mary sneezed. I gave her a tissue.�
�Thanks, Lex. I�ve gotta go.�
Lex disconnected before Clark could return the goodbye. It was understandable. Clark would self-flagellate later.
Grandfather Clark moved out of the doorway as Clark approached. Dr. Jimenez hadn�t left yet, thankfully. �That hybrid flower I mentioned? They were working on it in the lab. Apparently, it spits pollen.�
Dr. Jimenez nodded and made a note on his chart. �I�ll need that flower. I�ll make a call to the CDC to contain and transport it. If it caused this violent of a reaction, I don�t want to take any chances by having others come into contact with it.�
�I�ll drive home and let them into the greenhouse,� Clark said. A question niggled at the back of his mind as he studied his parents: could their earlier behavior have been caused by an allergic reaction? He hadn�t read anything about people becoming mouthy or mean because of an allergy. He�d have to do some research on it, later.
Dr. Jimenez�s pager went off. He silenced the beeping, glanced at the display, and inclined his head politely. �If the flower is the culprit, we should be able to isolate the allergen and come up with a treatment. I�ll keep you updated once the flower arrives.�
�Thank you, Doctor,� Grandfather Clark said.
As soon as Dr. Jimenez left, Grandmother Clark chastised Clark. �That was very rude of you to run off without an explanation.�
�Sorry,� Clark said. �I just remembered that Lex had been in the lab this morning, too, and if he�d come into contact with the flower��
�Is that your young man Lex?� Grandmother Clark asked. Clark indicated yes. �Then, while it is not excusable, it is understandable. Now, run along and let those CDC persons into the lab.� Grandmother Clark shifted her focus to Martha. �When my daughter wakes up, we will be having words about her working with dangerous flora.�
stepped into the shadows outside the hospital and dialed a familiar number with
his cell phone. He planned to run
home to meet the CDC team, but on the way he was going to make a little detour.
almost one o'clock in the morning on a school night.�
weren't sleeping anyway,� Clark said to Chloe over the phone.
sleep when I'm dead. Which may be
sooner than I want, if I don't pass my math test tomorrow.�
you take a break? I need some
at your service.�
Chloe,� Clark said. �I need you
to go into your Smallville Med Center hack and see if Mary� um, Mary�crap.
I don�t know her last name. She�s
the UPS driver.�
Turnbaum,� Chloe said. Clark
could hear the clack of a keyboard in the background.
�She was brought in by ambulance about forty-five minutes ago.
She�s had some sort of anaphylactic reaction.�
Okay. Send off a general
email to the hospital that the CDC is collecting a hybrid flower from the Kent
greenhouse and anyone who may have been there yesterday or today may have been
infected by its pollen. Tell them
to contact Dr. Jimenez at St. Mary�s Hospital in Camdenton and reference
Jonathan and Martha Kent, patients at the hospital suffering from anaphylactic
no, Clark, are they okay?� Chloe�s concern was evident.
will be, if the CDC can isolate what caused the reaction and determine a
treatment,� Clark said. �Which
brings me to my second request. I
need you to try and hack into Rickman Industries computer system, specifically
the Grandville plant. You�re
looking for any of Dr. Steven Hamilton�s notes.�
Space Rocks works for Rickman?�
couldn�t help but laugh at the nickname.
�Yeah, he does. It�s his
hybrid flower, grown under the light of a red meteorite.�
meteorites? I haven�t seen them before.�
just as dangerous as the green ones.� To
Clark, anyway. He wasn�t certain
about their danger to regular humans, but if the flower was any indication�
not a good thing,� Chloe said. �All
right. I�ll do the hack.
What are you going to do?�
into the Rickman Industries Grandville plant.�
That�s dangerous! I want
to come, too.�
You hack, I break and enter,� Clark said with a fond smile.
�I�ll shoot you an email when I get home.
Cover your tracks.�
do you think I am, an amateur?� Chloe said.
Clark terminated the call, tucked the phone in his pocket, and blurred
into a run.
Rickman Industries pesticide plant in Grandville was set up similar to the
KentCorp plant in Smallville. The
factory spread out over a large parcel of undeveloped land.
A chain link fence surrounded the grounds, with cameras stationed at
various points. A few cars and
trucks were parked in the lot, but the security gatehouse was empty.
Clark ducked under the lowered security arm, unseen by the cameras at the speed
he ran. He circled the building
once, looking for an open window. He
spotted one above a closed loading dock door and leapt. Gravity fell away, and for a moment, Clark felt like he was
flying, before he latched onto the windowsill and pulled himself inside.
Clark looked around quickly for cameras and, spotting none, dropped into a
crouch on the cement floor. He was
in the loading bay. Manual conveyor
belts made of metal rollers snaked through the bay and branched out to each
loading dock door. Square openings
covered by strips of thick plastic cut into the walls of the interior of the
plant, the entry points for boxes to come into the loading bay. Clark slipped through one, checking for cameras and for an
emergency exit map.
found the layout map by a fire alarm lever and smiled inwardly when he saw the
labels for the different rooms. His
search for Hamilton�s lab was made much easier.
He zipped down the darkened corridors, the Exit signs providing minimal
light. The lab rooms were grouped together and he ducked into each
of them, looking for the hybrid flowers. His
luck didn�t hold out: he didn�t find them.
that they hadn�t been destroyed, Clark pushed through the stairwell door and
darted downstairs. He stopped at
Level Two, the steps continued further on.
He opened and crept carefully through the door.
He was pleased to find more lab areas.
He wasn�t pleased to find several scientists working there.
shadows from the corridor concealed him as he peeked into various labs.
He clenched his fists and swallowed down phantom nausea when he saw hunks
of green and red kryptonite on several tables, being used in experiments.
didn�t have the time to ponder the ramifications of his discovery.
He kept moving, glancing into lab rooms, until he finally found the
flowers. They stood under a glass
case, along with hundreds of other flowers and seedlings, lit by filtered red
hood lamps. An open shelving unit
held trays of red kryptonite. Three
metal lab tables stood in the center of the room, filled with microscopes,
Bunsen burners, beakers, vials, hoses and other science equipment. Several pieces of more high-powered computerized equipment
stood on the counters that lined one of the walls.
Two laptop computers sat open in the room, one on the lab table and one by the
flowers. The flowers seemed to turn
in his direction as he approached. He
felt warmer the closer he got to the glass cases.
It probably wasn�t the best idea for him to be near them, remembering
Hamilton�s explanation about using red kryptonite light filters.
He did not need a repeat of what happened over the weekend.
screen saver on the lab table�s laptop disappeared when Clark hit the enter
key. He double-checked to ensure no
cameras recorded his presence, took the laptop, and ducked behind the lab table,
out of sight of the door. The LCD
screen asked him for a password. The
name entered into the user field was ENygma.
tended to be chosen based on something personal, for easy remembrance.
Most people didn�t add random numbers or letters, despite warnings from
the IT departments. Clark changed
the user name SHamilton and started guessing passwords based on what he little
knew about Hamilton.
password was drspacerocks.
Chloe,� Clark said with a grin. He
hadn�t expected that one to work.
balanced the laptop on his knees, the glow from the LCD screen lighting his
face. He skipped the Windows
program and opened an MSDOS screen. Fingers
clicking rapidly, he pulled up a complete list of programs and folders on the
hard drive. His eyes flicked over
the screen as the directory scrolled past in seconds.
He found several of interest, located them in the main windows program,
and attached them to several emails. He
wished he had time to do a full dump. He�d
have to rely on Chloe�s hacking skills to get him into the company network and
return later. Rickman Industries
would have the same protections as KentCorp, making outside connections to the
computer system much harder than typing in an I.P. address.
primary concern at the moment, however, was to find an �antidote� to the
pollen. Test trials would have to
have caused similar reactions in lab animals or even with other scientists.
The information should be in lab reports and notes. Clark opened several of the files he�d emailed to himself
and skimmed through the information. The
anaphylactic reactions were listed for lab rats after displaying overly
aggressive behaviors, but most of them died.
The only notation he found was one for the need to develop a
counter-agent to the effects of the pollen.
heard footsteps in the hallway and lowered the laptop screen, hiding its glow.
He held still, waiting for them to pass. A glance at his watch showed he�d been there for over an
hour. He then reopened the screen,
sent off one more email, and cleaned his tracks.
Having a computer hacker as a past lover was something he�d never
logged off and replaced Hamilton�s user name with the one previously there and
left the laptop in the exact spot it had occupied on the lab table.
He quashed the urge to steal another flower or a seedling, in spite of
the fact that his parents were about to lose theirs to the CDC.
They�d have to do with the research notes Clark had emailed himself.
left the plant the same way he entered and dashed home.
The CDC hadn�t arrived yet, but Clark found the lights on in the
greenhouse and Lex in the lab annex. A
feeling of relief swept over Clark upon seeing him.
sat on the stool in front of the Kents� laptop, tired circles darkening under
his eyes. The strap of his overalls had fallen off one bare shoulder,
his bare feet hooked in the rungs of the stool.
Blue marker stains lined the side of his left hand, a portion of his
wrist, and the side of his nose. The
dry-erase board normally in the main greenhouse had been wheeled into the annex
and was covered with notations made in Lex�s left-handed printing.
The hybrid flower stood in its plant tray at the far end of the metal
table where Lex sat. Its bright
bloom of red-orange petals drew the eye.
Mr. and Mrs. Kent okay?� Lex asked immediately upon Clark�s entrance.
stable, according to the doctor,� Clark said.
He would�ve gotten a call from his grandparents if anything had
changed. �The CDC will be here
soon to get the flower so they can figure out how to treat them.�
million people suffer from allergic rhinitis in the United States, primarily
caused seasonally by pollen in the air.� Lex said.
He touched the laptop screen lightly.
�I�m trying to find the cross-species used to create the Rickman
Industries hybrid. I�ve narrowed
it down to a type of passiflora. The
pollen looks like tennis balls under the microscope.�
passion flowers?� Clark walked
over to the flower at the end of the counter and bent closer to study it.
The flower seemed to wave its stamen at him. �Aren�t they aphrodisiacs?�
produce anti-anxiety effects, leading to an abandonment of inhibitions in many
areas.� Lex stood and moved towards Clark.
�Don�t get so close. It
put his hand on Clark�s shoulder and started to pull him away, right as the
anthers and filaments of the hybrid flower drew in and exploded outward again,
releasing a concentrated puff of pollen. Clark
jerked back, but even with his speed, he felt tiny burns on his nose, cheeks,
and lips. He felt the effects of
red kryptonite worm its way under his skin.
his breathing, he dashed to the unused emergency shower in the corner of the lab
annex and yanked on the cord. Cold
water rained down from the showerhead set into the ceiling.
He tilted his head back and scrubbed his hands over his face.
He had to get the kryptonite-affected pollen off before it took hold of
water did the trick, washing away the burning sensation.
He pulled his wet t-shirt off and let it drop to the floor.
He left his jeans on, the wet denim plastered to his legs.
The shirt had received the brunt of the pollen spray.
under the shower, Clark looked concernedly over at Lex.
He stilled, stunned by Lex�s predatory stare.
Hunger darkened Lex�s eyes and parted his lips.
His gaze swept up and down Clark�s half-clothed body.
wet denim didn�t hide Clark�s physical reaction, his cock filling and
lengthening, snaking down the inside of his leg.
His heart rate picked up. His
ears were filled with the sound of the water rushing past his ears.
slinked towards Clark, licking his lips, drawing Clark�s eye to the pink mouth
bisected by a thin white scar. He
couldn�t move, couldn�t draw a breath, as first one overall strap and then
the second unhooked. The overalls fell open, exposing Lex�s muscular chest,
coral nipples pebbling when he stepped under the cold shower spray.
blinked several times when the water hit him and he looked startled.
He glanced left, right, and then back at Clark.
Goosebumps broke out over his bare skin and he shivered.
shiver snapped Clark out of his aroused daze.
He reached over his shoulder and pulled the chain that bumped against his
back. The water trickled to a stop.
The sudden silence in the lab seemed deafening.
and Lex stared at one another, bare chests almost touching.
Lex shivered. Clark�s
brain told him he should move away, that he needed to get towels before Lex
caught chill, that he couldn�t lick every droplet of water from Lex�s body. He needed to say something, diffuse the situation.
am not retarded.� The look in
Lex�s clear blue eyes pierced him to the bone.
�I am not mentally deficient. I
am not unintelligent, stupid, dumb, thick, dim-witted, or dense.
Mom said cowards hide behind cruelty.
If you did not want my affections, you should have simply told me.�
I�m sorry,� Clark said, feeling shame burn his cheeks.
said you would apologize, but that I�m not to forgive you.�
Lex�s damp eyelashes swept down and he added quietly, �But if you
mean it, I will.�
weren�t words to describe how disgusted Clark was with himself at that moment.
�You shouldn�t,� he said gruffly.
�We should dry off, before you catch a cold.�
don�t get sick,� Lex said, even as he shivered.
shifted his focus past Lex and at the flower sitting on the lab table.
The brightly colored bloom seemed to be looking in their direction.
�Did you get sprayed by the pollen?�
do you feel?� Clark asked quickly.
Lex said, straightening. His feet
made little water puddles as he walked over to the cabinet where they kept paper
the pollen affect you at all?� Clark stood and brushed the cracked tile dust
off his knees and the soles of his feet. He
adjusted his fading erection more comfortably in his clinging, soaked jeans.
did it do?�
made my head muzzy,� Lex replied, returning with a stack of brown paper
towels. �Like that woman from
Friday was by me again.�
connected together suddenly for Clark. �You
said the passion flower could make people abandon their inhibitions?�
menthol extracted from the plant has anti-anxiety effects.�
Lex wiped the paper towel across his chest, chasing water over the dips
and ridges of his muscled torso. Clark
half-turned so he would stop watching. �People
who have less anxiety tend to have more relaxed inhibitions.�
had gotten sprayed with the flower�s pollen before he�d looked at Clark like
he was sexual prey. Desiree Atkins
worked for Rickman Industries and when she had gotten close to Lex, he did what
she�d wanted � because maybe he�d gotten a whiff of Eau De Passion Flower
and it caused him to relax.
flower had spit on Mary, the UPS driver. Clark
remembered her saying at the Talon that she�d always wanted to give hugs out
to those she made deliveries to, and there she�d been, giving out hugs. And his parents! They�d
had sex right here in the lab, and that was something they�d never do for fear
of contaminating any experiments. They
had to have been effected by the pollen.
studied the hybrid flower from where he stood.
He knew it had grown under a red kryptonite filtered sunlamp, had felt
the burns of red kryptonite himself. Red
kryptonite, he�d regrettably learned, had made him release the reins on his
restraint. Why couldn�t it cause a similar reaction in humans?
the red kryptonite,� he told Lex, studiously not looking below neck level.
�Remember the hunk of rock at the Rickman Industries table?
It was red kryptonite. We
both know that green kryptonite mutates cells, which leads to��
kryptonite doing something similar,� Lex finished, and it was like a light
came on behind his eyes. He rushed
over to the dry erase board, erased a section of notes with the side of his
hand, and uncapped the marker from on the ledge beneath the board.
He began writing on the board. �It
wouldn�t be the pollen itself, but the menthol that causes the anti-anxiety
effects. If the menthol has
picked up a red kryptonite group, call that KR,� Lex scribbled frantically,
�we'll get either get a kryptonite-enhanced menthol or a whole new
the way you, Mary, and my folks have acted after being dosed by the pollen,
I�d say red is an enhancer.�
green alters.� Lex molecular
structure grew proportionately larger, lines and circles connecting together in
a pattern. �The bad allergic
reaction Mr. and Mrs. Kent have had could be caused simply by an overdose of
menthol to their system.�
wiggled and pushed his hand into his wet pocket to retrieve his cell phone.
He used a paper towel to dry it off and was relieved to see it hadn�t
been damaged from the soaking. He
scrolled through his saved phone numbers until he found William Clark and placed
it�s Clark,� Clark said into the receiver.
�I think we�ve figured out what made mom and dad collapse.�
Clark glanced over as Lex shifted in his sleep, making the hammock swing gently. The CDC had come and gone, taking the hybrid flower with them, leaving Clark two hours to fill before he could run back to St. Mary�s Hospital. He�d convinced Lex to spend the night after seeing him slump exhaustedly once the problem had been solved. Wearing a pair of Clark�s sweatpants and a t-shirt, Lex had been asleep before Clark had finished changing into his own dry clothes in the bathroom.
Clark returned his attention to the spreadsheet on his computer screen and the results it provided. After shooting off an email to Chloe, he�d opened the files he�d sent to himself from Hamilton�s computer. The bulk of the information was growth charts and repeated experiment results on the flower, a passiflora hybrid, just as Lex had determined. Clark didn�t find molecular studies of the plant�s genetics, but tests were conducted with the pollen from the few that had mutated into spitting flowers. Lab rats showed marked increase in aggressiveness and mounting behavior.
Clark glanced over at Lex again. It was the pollen that caused Lex to act sexually towards Clark. He should�ve known something was wrong before Lex told him off. Why would Lex want him after how he�d been treated?
The clock at the corner of his screen showed him it was time to leave. He shut down the computer and made to leave. He paused by the hammock. Lex�s lips were parted, emitting a soft snore from between them. Clark fetched a light blanket and covered Lex with it. He lingered over Lex, taking in his peaceful handsome features, and brushed his fingertips lightly across Lex�s cheek.
Lex turned his head, clicking his tongue, and Clark drew back sharply. Silently cursing, Clark left.
The run to Camdenton was quick, but the wait once he arrived seemed endless. His grandparents were still there, Grandmother Clark seated primly in the chair at the end of Martha�s hospital bed, her only concession to comfort the coffee she sipped. Grandfather Clark left the ICU from time to time, going outside to smoke a cigar, or simply to walk around the hospital. Clark had filled them in further on what he and Lex had determined about the pollen, minus the information regarding the red kryptonite, but otherwise they had little conversation as they waited.
The CDC confirmed Lex�s findings, Dr. Jimenez continued treating Jonathan and Martha for menthol poisoning, and at 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, Clark�s parents regained consciousness.
�It�s about time,� Grandmother Clark sniffed. �I was beginning to think the staff at this hospital were incompetent.�
�Mom. Dad.� Clark went to his mom first, hugging her carefully before going over to his dad and repeating the embrace.
�It�s good to see you awake, Fireball.� Grandfather Clark kissed Martha on the forehead. �You gave us quite a scare.�
Fireball?, Clark mouthed to Jonathan.
�Excuse me,� the nurse interrupted. �If you will stand back a moment, so that I may check Mr. and Mrs. Kent�s vitals.�
�What happened?� Jonathan asked in a hoarse voice a short while later, after Dr. Jimenez had been and gone and the breathing tube removed. He still looked pale and his face was slightly puffy.
�Rickman Industries is playing with kryptonite,� Clark replied quietly, so his grandparents wouldn�t overhear. He doubted they would anyway, with Grandmother Clark lecturing Martha so vehemently. �You both had menthol poisoning combined with an allergic reaction to passiflora pollen, like the doctor said. Lex figured out that the red kryptonite could�ve caused an overdose to occur when the flower spat its pollen on you guys.�
�I remember getting a face full of whatever the flower emitted, but after that, everything gets a bit fuzzy,� Jonathan said. He gave Clark a crooked smirk. �Don�t tell anyone, but it felt like your old man smoked one too many Mary Janes.�
Clark smothered a laugh of surprise. �I cannot picture you toking up.�
�Hey, I was young and stupid once.� Jonathan sobered and put his hand over Clark�s on the bed. �I can also remember saying some pretty mean things when I was high back then.�
The hurt that had lingered from yesterday�s confrontation with them rose up, but Clark forced it away again. �Anything you said won�t be used against you.�
�So, I did say something bad.� Jonathan squeezed Clark�s hand. �Don�t hold it back. I can�t apologize or explain if I don�t know what I said.�
Clark looked down, avoiding Jonathan�s eyes. �It was nothing. You expressed displeasure with my relationship with Lex, that�s all.�
�That�s not all, I can tell,� Jonathan said. �Whatever I said must�ve been pretty harsh, especially since I don�t mind your dating Lex.�
Clark didn�t quite manage to suppress his sound of disbelief. Jonathan caught it. �Clark, tell me.�
�You said you wished I wasn�t gay,� Clark said quietly. It wasn�t a lie, that�s what Jonathan had meant even if he�d said it more cruelly.
Jonathan winced. �I�m sorry you had to hear that, son.�
�It�s not like it�s true, right?� Clark said. Jonathan didn�t answer immediately, and Clark felt stinging in his throat. �Oh.�
�It�s not like that, Clark,� Jonathan said. �I don�t love you any less because you�re gay.�
�But you wish I were straight.�
�I admit it would be easier.� Jonathan looked ashamed. �The boys down at the bar talk about their sons and their sons� girlfriends, and I have to smile and lie through my teeth about you. This being Kansas, I have to put up with a fair share of bigotry, when I all I want to do is smash their teeth in, but I can�t or else everyone would figure out why.�
�What would happen if I came out?� Clark asked. �Would that make it worse for you?�
�That decision has nothing to do with me, Clark,� Jonathan said. �If you don�t ever come out, I�ll keep pretending you�re straight in public for just as long. And if you do, I�ll talk about your significant other like every other parent and keep a dentist on payroll for all those replacement teeth I�ll have to buy.�
A small laugh escaped Clark. He turned his palm over and squeezed his dad�s hand. �Thanks.�
Jonathan squeezed back. �No thanks deserved. Now, go and rescue your mom before you find out why she�s nicknamed Fireball.�
Dr. Jimenez, before he went off-duty, informed Jonathan and Martha that they would be staying at St. Mary�s for at least another day, if not longer, for treatment and monitoring. Clark had been ordered home and to go to school, and he�d left them arguing with Grandmother Clark about bringing in the �necessities, such as bottled water and proper water glasses.�
Clark decided to run back to Smallville, leaving his truck in the parking lot again, since he�d be returning after school anyway. Grandfather Clark had made arrangements for the Miura to be driven to the Clarks� residence, so he needn�t worry about it, at least.
It was a little after eight when Clark arrived at home. He needed to get his schoolbooks and homework. Loping up the stairs to the loft, he paused when he saw Lex standing by the open hayloft window, gazing outside with a pensive expression.
�Morning,� Clark said, making his presence known.
Lex turned. �Good morning.� He was still dressed in Clark�s sweats and t-shirt, both rumpled from sleep.
Clark spotted a piece of paper in his hand. �Whatcha got there?�
�A letter from Kyle,� Lex said. �It was on the desk, addressed to me.�
�Oh, yeah. I forgot about that. I tried giving it to you on Sunday, but� well�� Clark avoided Lex�s eyes and began stuffing his books into his backpack. �What does Kyle have to say?�
�He says I could go and live with him in Vancouver.�
Clark lifted his head sharply. �He what?�
�He says I could go and live with him,� Lex repeated, glancing at the letter. �If I�m unhappy here.�
A dark ball lodged itself in Clark�s chest. �Are you going to go?�
�I�m going to talk to Pam first.� Lex raised his gaze, haunted eyes piercing right through Clark. �But since you and your parents don�t want me, there�s no reason for me to stay.�