Title: A Half Dozen Photographs
Author: Drake of Dross
Rating: R
Challenge: #18 - Con artist to Lionel
Notes: Written for Clexfest #18: Gossip. Also, Seasons 2-5? What Seasons 2-5? Takes place near the beginning of Season 1, mostly during Hothead, and goes AU from there.
Summary: After three weeks of stalking the kid, Rudy had a pretty good idea of what type of trouble he was going to get Lex into.

Cover by laurab1

He did it for the money, to begin with. Lionel Luthor had a lot of it to spare, and Rudy knew how to pry it from him. He’d lived in Metropolis his whole life and everything about the Luthors was publicized - well, almost everything. It was all there in the public record, if you knew how to look for it; what they paid off, what they didn’t, and what methods worked best.

Luthors did not give in to threats, so even if Rudy had the guts to try strong-arming the money from him, that wouldn’t work. Ransom was a bad idea. Luthor wouldn’t pay it, and anybody who tried nabbing the kid usually wound up dead, in an institution, or without an identity a week later. As for blackmail, that was tricky. The Luthor policy was not to give in to it, but if done properly, it could be made to look like a bribe, and that was certainly something Luthors did. You just had to be smart about it and let them think it was their idea to pay you off.

You also needed the right subject. Try to cash in on something too large, you’d find yourself in a body bag. Try something too small, he just wouldn’t care enough to meet with you. But the confidence game was all about knowing the target and Rudy knew exactly what Lionel would pay off for, without fail.

He’d heard about the other times. It was easier back then. The kid was so high all of the time, it was like feeding candy to a baby to get him in a compromising position. Hell, he posed for the cameras.

It would be far more difficult now. He was grown and no longer frequented those shady clubs. Now he cared about his image and kept his affairs limited to having eye candy on his arm at charity events and museum openings, when he made it to them at all. With him living out in the middle of nowhere these last few weeks, even those appearances were rare.

It didn’t matter. What mattered was what Luthor believed his kid capable of, and between what Rudy knew Junior had been like as a teen, and his recent exile, Luthor probably believed him capable of just about anything. And while the kid had probably been sent out here to get him away from possible scandals, this was rural Kansas where there was nothing to do but find trouble. After three weeks of stalking the kid, Rudy had a pretty good idea of what type of trouble he was going to get Lex into.

Luthor’s kid, Rudy was certain, wasn’t actually doing anything sordid with the farm boy, but that was immaterial. It was appearances and context that were important, and he was certain Luthor would obligingly believe everything Rudy fed him. There was no reason he wouldn’t. The photographs were genuine, the evidence was real. As much as the kid was on his best behavior, he was making this absurdly easy. The shiny red truck with registration documents made out for Clark Kent that sat among the flashy sports cars in the garage was only the least of it.

The kid had a man-sized crush on the boy, and the funniest thing about it was that Rudy was almost certain neither of them recognized it for what it was. The trickiest thing he was going to face when presenting the facts to Luthor was making him think the relationship was consummated, not that it existed at all. There was plenty of documentation to support flirting, but precious little about steamy passion.

That was where his talent would have to come in. He was a con artist, emphasis on artist, and he had more than enough to work with. It was the day Lex Luthor made the business pages instead of the society pages that Rudy made contact. He might have liked to wait longer, to find more material that begged misinterpretation, but you don’t scorn opportunities like this.

He gave Luthor the morning and early afternoon to get over to Smallville, talk to Lex, come home, and bask in the knowledge that his son was making waves in the business world, even if his methods weren’t exactly what Luthor was looking for. The fact remained that the kid was now respectable and a force of his own. Luthor had to recognize that. With luck, it scared him and threatened him. It would make him more receptive to putting the kid back in the old and comfortable role of troublemaker.

At three-thirty, Rudy approached Luthor’s secretary at the LuthorCorp towers in Metropolis. He wasn’t sure whether he should be relieved for the chance to get out of the small town, or begrudge leaving his subject alone to make mistakes without Rudy there to capture them on film. It was too late anyway. This was his one chance to convince Luthor something was going on, and if he failed, that was it. He’d need to find a new mark.

He shuffled nervously into Luthor’s office when his introduction ‘Rudy McPherson, a photojournalist, about permission to print a candid shot, it’ll be quick’ was sufficient to get him inside. It was a good idea to act nervous. It put the mark off-guard, made them feel superior.

“Mr. McPherson,” Luthor greeted, standing behind his desk, and holding out a hand. Rudy took it, not squeezing too hard, but no limp fish either. Handshakes were important, and nobody would take you seriously if you had one that was too weak. “Let’s see your picture.” He sat back down behind his desk and did not offer a chair.

There were a few photos he’d thought about using as the initial display. There was the one right after the accident. From his angle, it had looked like the car had hit the boy and they’d both plunged into the river, but by the time Rudy had parked his car off to the side, called 9-1-1, and gotten near the riverbank, they were both on the shore. Lex was unconscious, and the boy was performing CPR, dripping wet but unharmed. At a guess, the boy had probably seen the Porsche heading for him and jumped over the side to avoid getting hit. Anyway, Rudy had gotten a picture of the Kiss of Life.

The problem with that one was that it was obvious that Lex was dead to the world and Kent was trying to save his life. Sweet and all, but Luthor had probably read the article about the accident and knew all about it. If he read the one from the Smallville Ledger, he might even recognize Rudy’s name as the photographer who submitted the picture of the two of them standing beside the ambulance wearing those bright red emergency towels.

The other options were less explicit; examples of Lex not enforcing his personal space, a longing look, or Lex smiling, even laughing. The one he went with was a rare treat. A hug. The angle caught Lex’s face, his eyes closed. He obviously didn’t think anybody was watching and he’d let his guards down. As for the boy, his back was to the camera and all you could tell for sure was that he was male, very tall, dark-haired, and had terrible fashion sense.

Rudy hesitantly pulled the photograph out of his portfolio and laid it down on Luthor’s desk. “It’s a good picture,” he insisted, as if he expected to have his artistic talent questioned. “It gives him a human depth not normally associated with your family. I didn’t take any of the ones that might reveal their relationship, but this one is fairly platonic and it gives-”

“Their relationship?” Luthor repeated, taking the bait.

“I assure you, Mr. Luthor, I won’t say a thing. I’m a photographic journalist, not a sleazy tabloid camera whore. That’s why I came to you first. I wanted a second opinion that this didn’t make it obvious that they are sleeping together. If it’s too obvious, I have others.” Rudy opened the portfolio and began displaying each of his other shots one at a time. Any single one by itself would have been reasonably innocent, but the volume was damning.

“You’ve been following him,” Luthor observed.

There was no point in denying it. The volume damned more than just Lex. “Of course. Metropolis hasn’t seen any pictures of him in his new environment. I thought I’d correct the lapse. I was actually trying to get a picture of him beside a cow, but the nearest he’s been to one was a field away.”

“Small mercies,” Luthor muttered under his breath.

“So, lacking that, I thought a picture of him with the farmer’s son was the next best thing.”

“The boy’s name,” Luthor asked, tracing a finger along the edge of one of the pictures where the camera had a good angle of both their faces. They were completely obvious to the picture being taken as they smiled at each other.

“Kent,” Rudy answered promptly, “Clark Kent. The boy who pulled him out of the river.” He took out the CPR photograph, but didn’t show it yet. “I did get their first kiss on film, but thought it was too personal to sell to the Ledger,” he laid it down beside the others. He wanted to mention the truck, he had a nice coda about Kent wanting Lex more than the material prize, but thought that was something that would be more incriminating if Luthor found out about it himself. Assuming he thought to look for something like that.

Luthor picked up the picture of his unconscious son, his life being returned to him by his supposed lover, and frowned at it. “Sell it to me,” he said, putting it back down and glancing over the others. “Sell them all to me.” He looked up at Rudy. “You won’t print any pictures of my son and his lover. Find some other pastoral scene to place him in.”

An opening. He took out the photograph of the inside of the mansion’s garage. “What about this one?” Expensive as it was, the red truck stood out amid the elegant sports cars like a sore thumb. “Granted, he doesn’t drive it, and it technically belongs to Kent, but the implication is-”

“Why does Lex have Kent’s,” he made a repulsed face, “vehicle?”

Excellent, he would get to say it after all. “Lex bought it for him to thank him for saving his life, but Kent wanted Lex more. He returned it to Lex, but Lex has kept it, apparently as a memento. I admit I peeked. The registration papers are still in Kent’s name.”

Luthor would be sure to check it out now, and he would find it exactly as Rudy described. “I’ll buy this one, too,” he said with a distasteful frown as he touched the corner of the photo. “How much for the set?”

It was almost too easy. Rudy named his price, a reasonable starting bid for their photographic quality plus some inflation for what they purportedly hid. It was far more than he could make selling to newspapers and there was no risk of getting sued for libel. Luthor agreed to it immediately, thinking he was getting a bargain from the idiot who didn’t realize his photographs could have been used as blackmail.

“Great then,” Rudy said with a genuinely cheerful smile. He’d just successfully blackmailed Lionel Luthor and made the man happy about it. “Should I check with you again when I have another photograph of your son in Smallville, Mr. Luthor?”

“Please do, Mr. McPherson.”

Rudy shook his head, still smiling, “Rudy, please, Mr. Luthor.”

“Rudy, then,” Luthor repeated. Rudy wasn’t at all surprised when the invitation to use his first name was not returned. “Thank you for checking in with me first.”

“Not a problem, sir. I’ve nothing but respect for you and wouldn’t want to cause you trouble.” He was putting it on a little thick, but people like Luthor took exaggerated respect for granted. They became suspicious when they didn’t get it.

He was about three quarters of the way back to the door when Luthor called after him. “Oh, Rudy.”

Rudy turned back, raising his eyebrows in question. He didn’t acknowledge his alarm to himself never mind show it to the mark. “What?” He was nothing but obligingly curious.

“While you’re out there following my son anyway. . .” Luthor trailed off momentarily, doing a decent job of a confidence game of his own. He wanted to imprint on Rudy that whatever he was about to ask wouldn’t be any additional trouble. “Keep me apprised of the situation between him and Kent. You’ll be amply rewarded for your help.”

Ample reward in Luthor speak was a hell of a lot of money, and all he had to do for it was follow the kid around and make up more believable lies about him and the boy? It sounded too good to be true and such things usually were. “I don’t know,” he hedged.

Never hit the same mark twice. It was a rule he lived by. There was less chance of them catching on that way. It would be so easy though. He was already familiar with all the subjects. He’d perfected his shadowing techniques to stay in Lex’s blind spots. He’d found all the holes (and there were many) in the mansion’s security systems so he pretty much had free reign of the kid’s home. He knew all the secluded parking places near the Kent farm. It would be so much more efficient to continue this con for nearly guaranteed return than start on a new mark.

“You’re concerned about compromising your integrity,” Luthor commented, completely wrong, but Rudy did not correct him. Photojournalism was his real job, the one he’d gone to college for, and it was as reasonable an explanation for his reticence as anything else he could come up with. “Don’t be. I’m just concerned about my son.”

Bull shit. But, again, Rudy did not correct him. There was, after all, no politic way to call a man a cold-blooded snake without coming across as unfriendly. “It’s just not something I normally do. Confidentiality, you know?”

“I respect that, I do,” Luthor assured. “But it’s not that different from what you’ve done today, really. If anything, you’re protecting Lex’s private life.” That is, from everybody but Luthor. Not that Lex had a private life to protect, but that wasn’t Rudy’s concern. “I’m his father, and I have his best interests at heart.”

That was doubtful, given some of the fleeting looks on the man’s face as he looked over the photographs, but again, not Rudy’s problem. “So . . . what? I call you up and give a weekly digest of what the boys did together? How long do you expect me to follow him?” A few more weeks, he could get away with. Any more than that and the con might start falling apart. There were only so many longing looks a disapproving father could look at before he started needing evidence to counter the natural urge to believe what he wanted to believe – that the relationship went no further than looks.

“I’d like you to keep watching them until they break up.” Well, that would be a little difficult considering they hadn’t gotten together, but Rudy was sure he could work something out. Surely they’d have a fight over something sooner or later. It was just a matter of telling Luthor that the fight was their falling out. “I doubt it will last long,” Luthor added in a tone that left little doubt in Rudy’s mind that it would have help ending.

Oh, God. He did not want to be around when Luthor confronted the kid about an affair that had never happened. “I don’t know,” he said again, his nervousness now unfeigned. “It doesn’t seem right. It’s like spying.” And okay, that was probably not the smartest thing to say.

Luthor broke out into a laugh that was absolutely real. Rudy was half tempted to pull out his camera to mark the occasion, but feared Luthor would put a hit out on him (or at least his film) if he did. “McPherson, you’ve been following my son like a shadow for weeks and taking pictures of his most private moments. How is that not like spying already?”

“I only took pictures of his clothed private moments,” Rudy corrected stiffly.

Luthor shifted through the photographs on his desk and held up a picture of a smiling Lex that took place a few moments after the hug. “This one clearly took place only shortly after an unclothed one. Just look at the color in his face and how askew his clothing is. The distinction is a fine one.”

Oh, yes, his story had been fully bought and digested. Maybe he could get away with it. Any kid would deny something like this to his father. Lex was supposed to be a slick character now. Any bafflement at the accusation of an affair would probably be taken as a front.

“All I’m asking, Rudy,” Luthor tried again, voice calm and encouraging, “is that you just keep me apprised of how often they see each other and whether their relationship seems strong or rocky. I’m not asking for any details you think should be kept between the boys.” A light clicked on in Rudy’s brain and he suddenly understood what Luthor was looking for. He needed progress reports on how well his attempts to break up the pair were succeeding. “If you do that,” Luthor continued, “I won’t need to bring you in to the police for stalking, breaking and entering, and invasion of privacy.”

Rudy’s eyes widened. Shit. Trapped. “Okay, yeah, sure. What kind of ample reward are we looking at?”

Luthor smiled a shark’s smile. Rudy might have felt like prey, but the price the man named made him stop worrying about it. Rudy wasn’t about to start employing such heavy-handed tactics, but they worked really well with the bankroll to back them up. “So do I call you or do you call me for your status updates?” Even with the monetary compensation, though, it still felt like defeat.

The one thing that really recommended Rudy’s techniques over Luthor’s was that Rudy didn’t leave his marks feeling like slimy pieces of shit for agreeing to go along with him. Rudy liked to leave his marks feeling pleased with their choices. It meant they wouldn’t go revisiting them and wondering if it had been the right thing to do. That was particularly important for Rudy since he used his real name. It was the ultimate confidence game. He withstood background checks because his background was genuine.

He was a freelance photojournalist, moderately bribable, but ultimately honest, or such was the word on the street. Anybody could find him if they doubted his claims later. That very accessibility meant they were unlikely to doubt him. So far, he hadn’t had any legal trouble and he’d been doing this for years. It helped that he had a nice round, pleasant-looking face with an open smile when he won, not a smarmy shark-toothed evil parody of a smile like what Luthor had just turned on him.

Rudy consoled himself with the irony that Luthor was blackmailing him into conning a freaking fortune out of him. The mark had no one to blame but himself. Rudy just hoped it didn’t blow up in his honest looking face.

Lex didn’t understand. He’d written his counter proposal last night, and he expected to face his father’s wrath over that, but it shouldn’t have gotten to him yet. He’d just couriered it over to Metropolis only an hour ago, and yet his father was already landing the helicopter in the backyard. They’d probably passed each other in transit, and Lex could think of no other reason for his father to return.

“Dad,” he greeted a few minutes later when the man walked through the terrace door into the library where Lex had gone to wait for him. “Two visits in one week. I’m flattered.”

But Lionel wasn’t paying him any heed. He was looking around the room, then stalking by Lex and moving into the hall and toward the stairs. Lex followed, his bafflement only compounding. “Did you forget something yesterday?” he asked, making the most logical guess.

“I’m looking for him.” Lionel said cryptically, as he stormed up the staircase.

That did not make anything clearer. “Who?” He had a few guesses, but none of them made sense and none of them should be upstairs. “Dominick? Your other drones? That Smallville Ledger photographer who’s been following me everywhere?”

Lionel stopped and turned around, his upper foot on the top landing, eyes narrowed. “You noticed the photographer? Never mind. It’s not important.” He kept going, and Lex trailed after him, wondering what the photographer had to do with the plant’s productivity. That train of thought derailed when Dad threw open the door to his bedroom like he expected to catch a team of embezzlers in the act. Lex stood behind him in the hall, looking past his father at his neatly made bed and the other hallmarks of a room owned by a fastidiously neat person who also employed a full staff of housecleaners.

Whatever Lionel was expecting to find, he was sorely disappointed.

Angry at being thwarted, Lionel turned on Lex. “Where is Kent?”

Lex stared at him in surprise. “Clark?”

Lionel gave him that irritated look that he normally gave when Lex was being intentionally infuriating. “Yes, Clark. Where is he?”

Lex still didn’t understand what Lionel wanted with his friend, but he figured, in this case, the truth wouldn’t hurt. “He’s been at school for over an hour.” He’d learned the time of the high school’s morning and dismissal bells within an hour of Clark’s returning the truck. He doubted his father would find it any more difficult.

“Oh, yes. I forgot. Your friend,” Lionel laced the word with such dirty repulsion that Lex was taken aback, “is still in high school.”

The pieces were slowly beginning to fall into place. “You’re here because you’re angry that I’ve become friendly with the locals?” Incredulity gave way to anger. “God, Dad! I’m twenty-one! You have no say over who I do or do not see!”

Lionel stepped closer and jabbed a finger against his chest. “It becomes my business when you start doing things with underage boys in full view of a photographer!”

Shock coursed through him. Dad could not be implying what he seemed to be implying. “I’m not fucking Clark!”

“Then he’s fucking you!”

Lex opened his mouth to deny it, but then he closed it and shook his head. It wasn’t worth it. Shouting never worked. He forced himself to be calm and asked logically, “I assume you have some reason to believe this insane idea?”

Lionel dropped his briefcase on Lex’s bed and snapped open the clasps. Opening it, he pulled out a photograph and handed it to Lex. He felt his face begin to burn with anger. Apparently ‘everywhere’ wasn’t an exaggeration. The photographer had been at the Kents’. “It’s a hug,” he said stiffly. “Clark’s very demonstrative.”

His father snorted. “I’m sure.” Lex normally didn’t blush, but Lionel’s tone was such that Lex’s face burned warmer from something other than anger this time.

Dad pulled out another photograph and held it out for Lex. It was the mansion’s garage. “Explain the truck to me, Lex.”

“I bought it for Clark, he refused to accept it.” There was nothing untoward in that.

“Why is it still in your garage?” Lionel snapped out. He waited a beat, then sneered, “Sentimental reasons, I suppose?”

Lex didn’t have an answer, so he just wordlessly turned and put the picture of the hug on his dresser. He was not going to give it back to his father. “Were there more pictures, or were a hug and a truck enough to convince you that I’m a child molester?”

Lionel took out a manila envelope and tossed it to him. Lex opened it and pulled out the photographs. He went through them slowly. By the time he reached the last one, he felt cold with shock. None of them were forgeries. All of them were coyly suggestive. Each of them showed in vibrant Technicolor that Lex was giving Clark signals. Until this moment, he hadn’t even known he swung that way unless he was under the influence. Looking down at a picture of a beaming Clark, Lex became vividly aware that he did. “Shit,” he cursed, more upset that he hadn’t realized what he was doing sooner than he was over the fact that his actions were already being photographed and exploited. “And that photographer is blackmailing you over this ‘relationship’?”

Lionel chuckled. “He’s too simpleminded to think of blackmailing me. I simply bought the set of photographs off him. Rudolph McPherson, goes by Rudy. I checked him out and paid him off. He’ll keep your secret.”

Lex scowled. Something felt wrong. He flipped through the pictures again. Flirting. One hug. One truck. “I assume he said we closed the door when the clothes came off?”

Lionel snorted. “You weren’t even that discreet. You were just lucky that you got a stalker with ethics.”

“Ethics,” Lex repeated doubtfully. “So it’s ethical now to report lies and get paid exorbitantly for harmless pictures?”

“I’d hardly call his fee exorbitant; though I will grant voyeurism and reporting what he saw to me does push the line of ethical.”

Lex closed his eyes and gave up. “So he saw us having sex.” Clark was better than good looking; big, muscular, and very masculine. Hell, he was the football quarterback now. Lex didn’t mind his father thinking he was getting fucked by him. He preferred not to bottom on those rare drug or alcohol induced occasions when he found men attractive, but this was an imaginary relationship originally designed to swindle Dad. Lex might as well get the full satisfaction out of it, and Dad was a far more hardcore believer in the axiom that Luthors never bottomed than Lex ever had been.

Lionel frowned. “I would have expected more discretion from you.”

Lex sneered back, “I thought I left the paparazzi in Metropolis. I’ll be more careful where in Bumfuck, Kansas, I get my ass reamed from now on.”

As expected, that drew a look of disgust from Lionel. “I’d recommend you end this thing altogether, Lex.”

That tone never failed to invoke an automatic knee-jerk reaction in Lex. “Fuck you, Dad. It’s my life.”

“Don’t cross me on this one, Lex. You will regret it.”

Lex laughed, genuinely amused by the situation. “What are you going to do? Tell the tabloids? You already paid one person off to stop them from knowing. This’ll hurt you as much as it does me.”

“You’re right,” Lionel said, but there was nothing like defeat in his attitude. “The press is staying out of this. But I will tell his parents.”

The humor was abruptly gone, and Lex went pale. Oh no. It was all fun and games when it was between him, Dad, and the sleazy photographer, but bringing the Kents into it? “No, don’t.”

“You have twenty four hours to end this, or I will.” He snapped his briefcase closed, and left the room. Lex dropped the pictures still in his hand onto the dresser then sank down onto his bed. A few minutes later, he could hear the helicopter taking off.

He waited a little while longer until he could no longer hear the rotors, and then reached for the phone on his bedside table. He punched in a number that he’d memorized almost three weeks ago. It was answered on the fourth ring. “Kent farms, Martha speaking.”

Lex closed his eyes and laid flat on his back, phone held awkwardly against his ear and near his mouth. “Sorry to bother you, Mrs. Kent, but this is Lex Luthor. I’m afraid I might have said some things to my father that could affect your family. May I come over to talk to you and your husband about it?”

She hesitated, then agreed. They set a time for fifteen minutes later, and Lex immediately set out for the farm, going the speed limit so as not to be early.

Mrs. Kent met him at the door and ushered him inside. Mr. Kent was already in the living room, seated on the couch. Mrs. Kent sat beside him, and Lex chose an armchair. He’d barely settled when Mrs. Kent asked anxiously, “Is this about Clark?”

Lex bit his lower lip and looked guiltily at his hands. “I may have implied certain things about him, yes.”

There was the sound of explosive movement, but Lex dared not look up. Mrs. Kent’s voice told him clearly enough what was going on though, “Jonathan, sit down. Let him explain.” Slower, calmer, but still not hiding obvious fear and nervousness, “Lex, tell us what you told your father. We need to know how much he knows.”

Lex swallowed and forced himself to look at her. The fear in her eyes was much more distinct than the fear in her voice, and Lex realized that whatever she was thinking he’d told Lionel, it wasn’t anything about non-existent sex. “He doesn’t know anything, Mrs. Kent. That’s the whole problem. He was fed a whole bunch of lies about me that he bought wholesale and I didn’t bother to correct him. He thinks Clark and I are having sex.”

“Oh.” It was such a tiny little word for so much shock. Her eyes were wide and stunned. Mr. Kent’s mouth opened and closed, but he made no more sound than the fish he resembled.

“He told me to break it off with him, but there’s nothing to break off. He threatened that if I didn’t, he was going to talk to the both of you. I can’t trust that his source will confirm that I did, so I’m telling you now so you’re not shocked later.” Lex took a deep breath, and pulled the envelope of pictures from inside his jacket. With slight reluctance, he gave them over to Mrs. Kent. “That’s what the source gave Dad to support his claims.”

Lex shifted uncomfortably on his chair as the two Kents went torturously slowly through the stack of pictures. Mrs. Kent occasionally smiled fondly at one of them, and they both kept giving him looks he couldn’t interpret. “Obviously,” he started, didn’t like the sound of the word, cleared his throat, and started over, “Obviously, Dad had no reason to suspect they might have been tampered with. Nothing worse than what you see right there ever happened, but his source told Dad otherwise, and Dad believes him. We got in a fight over it. I got frustrated and confirmed it was happening just to piss him off. Then he threatened to tell you two. I swear, Mr. and Mrs. Kent, nothing’s going on.”

“We believe you, son,” Mr. Kent said and Lex stared at him in disbelief.

“You do?”

Mrs. Kent laughed. “Don’t look so surprised, Lex, or we might start doubting you after all.” Then she turned more serious and held out the pictures for him to take back. He replaced them in their envelope and tucked them safely back inside his jacket. “We do believe you,” she repeated when they were out of sight, “at least in so far as nothing has happened.”

Lex nodded shortly, “Thank you. If you don’t mind my asking though, what convinced you? My own father wasn’t buying a word I said until I confessed to it.”

Mrs. Kent smiled sympathetically at him as she answered, “We know Clark.”

Lex tried not to feel disappointed, but by the sad knowing look of apology Mrs. Kent was sending his way, he doubted he had successfully kept it from his face. He kept his head up as he concluded, “So, unlike my father, you know your son is straight.” That did not surprise him. All Clark talked about was Lana and football. He was not surprised. Why did it hurt this much?

“I’m sorry, Lex.”

Lex shook his head, “No, don’t be. It’s better that way.” He forced a smile, “I don’t want to be a child molester.”

At that reminder of the age difference, they did frown. Mr. Kent voiced their concern, “But you are infatuated with him.”

Lex gave a pained look. “I wouldn’t call it infatuation. An overdeveloped case of hero-worship, maybe.” He tried to scowl at Mr. Kent but couldn’t work up the ire to make it believable. “If you hadn’t made him give the truck back I never would have given him a second thought. I would have considered the debt paid.”

Mrs. Kent looked at him seriously. “Your life is worth a lot more than shiny new truck, even with all the bells and whistles.”

Lex ducked his head and tried to deflect the strange feeling in his chest. “You’re right. I apologize. I sold you short. Next time I’ll make sure the gift is up to my net worth.”

“Lex.” He looked up in alarm at the sharp tone that he only ever got from his father. Mrs. Kent was looking at him in serious disapproval. “You do not put a price tag on human worth, Lex,” she said with enough conviction to make him flinch.


She searched his face to make sure he meant it, but the frightening intensity on her own was more than enough to make him never want to disobey the command ever again for as long as he might live. She nodded with satisfaction when she found the value newly branded into his soul. “Good.”

“Oh, one other thing,” Lex changed the subject, “There’s a photographer. Dad said his name is Rudy McPherson. That’s the guy who’s been following me and taking the pictures. I don’t know for sure, but he may still be around. I’m almost certain Dad’s got somebody watching me, and if I had to make a guess, I’d say he hired his original source to keep at it. He’s about five-eight; vaguely Irish looking with a round face, light brown-red hair that’s going gray, and blue eyes.” He hesitated a moment, then forged on, “You might want to suggest to Clark to keep an eye out for him. As you saw, he takes very high quality photographs, and I never knew he was around for most of them. The only times I actually saw him were the day of the accident and occasionally in town.”

When Clark got home from school and football practice, he was expecting more of the cold shoulder from his father and more awkward peacekeeping attempts from his mother. What he was surprised to find was them both waiting for him in the living room and his mother inviting him to take a seat. Stubbornly, he crossed his arms in front of him and insisted, “I’m not giving up football. Why won’t you trust me?”

His mother just looked seriously at him and repeated, “Take a seat, Clark. This is about Lex.”

Suddenly worried, Clark was in the armchair in a flash. Concerned by his parents’ solemn expressions and the formal seating, he asked in a small scared voice, “What happened to Lex? Did he have another accident?” If Lex had died while he was playing stupid football . . .

“No, no, nothing like that,” his mother hurried to assure him. Clark let out a breath of relief. He had to suppress the desire to run over to the mansion right then just to make sure he was still alive. Only the fact that he still didn’t know what had prompted this conference kept him in his chair. “Clark, did you know Lex is bisexual?”

Clark gaped at her. Shock filtered through him first, then the same fear that had gripped him a moment ago. “Oh, God. He’s been hazed. Is he badly hurt?”

“We’ll take that as a ‘no’,” his dad remarked dryly.

Mom gave Dad a sour look, and then turned back to Clark, “No, honey, Lex is fine. He’s perfectly healthy. Nothing physically bad happened to him. He’s just been followed and photographed. He still is, so be especially careful not to use your powers around him. This has been going on for weeks and yesterday that person blackmailed Mr. Luthor using what he collected here in Smallville.”

Clark was mystified. “But Lex hasn’t done anything.”

Dad looked ready to blow a gasket from suppressed laughter. “Clark, son, you’re going to need to break up with him.”

“I – huh?”

“Don’t be too angry with him, sweetie,” Mom said, not making any more sense than Dad. “When the would-be blackmailer didn’t find anything on Lex, he made things up. Mr. Luthor believes you and Lex are having an affair, and he wants it to end.”

This was insane. “Didn’t Lex tell him it was a scam?”

“He tried, honey, but Mr. Luthor wouldn’t believe him. Then he confessed to it.”

Clark shook his head in disbelief. “Why would he do that?”

“He said to piss off his old man,” Dad answered. If dating Clark would piss off Lionel, then, yes, Clark could see why Lex would say that he was.

Clark stood up. “I need to talk to him.”

“Clark,” Mom said, warningly. Clark looked at her in question. “Be careful. He is bisexual, and he does have a crush on you.”

Clark stared at her, that making even less sense than anything else he’d been told this afternoon. “He does? Like the one I have for Lisa in my English class?” Lisa had pretty eyes, but he wasn’t sure he’d ever mentioned Lisa to his parents before, so he wasn’t sure they’d be able to say if it was the same.

Mom gave a crookedly sad smile, “Like the one you have for Lana.”

No. Way. “That’s insane. He does not.”

“Just try to be sensitive, Clark.” Mom made it sound like she didn’t think he could do that. He scowled at her briefly before running over to the mansion.

He found Lex in his study doing something on his laptop. Lex’s whole face lit up the way Clark liked it to when he walked through the door. He beamed back, before it faded slightly and he brought up the topic of the day. “Hey, Lex, Mom and Dad said your Dad found out about Us?”

Lex’s eyes widened in surprise, then bright red spot showed up on his cheeks. It was cute. Sort of. In a totally non-gay way. Lex swallowed hard. It brought Clark’s attention to his throat. Then his mouth. Especially the mouth because Lex’s little pink tongue slipped out between his lips to wet them. “Uh, yeah. He did,” Lex said, and it took Clark a moment to remember what he’d asked.

“And he wants us to break up,” Clark added, pretending to be angry. “We’re not going to let him dictate our lives, are we, Lex?”

Lex blinked at him. “Um, no?” Wow. It was really cool to see Lex so off balance.

“Good,” Clark said, “Because I think it totally sucks to break up because Lionel Luthor said so.”

“You do?”

Oh, right. Sensitive. Giving Lex false hope was probably not sensitive. Because Clark was totally not gay. He gave an apologetic smile, “That is a sucky reason,” he repeated, but added, “But being straight is a good one.” He supposed that after Mom’s warning, he shouldn’t have been surprised by the flash of pain and disappointment that crossed Lex’s eyes, but he was.

“Yeah,” Lex agreed dully, “that’s a very good reason.”

Clark had no idea what to say, how to fix this rent in their easy friendship. “So, your dad thinks me and you,” he laughed nervously as he trailed off.

Lex quirked a grin at him. “Don’t worry. I told him you were topping.”

“Topping?” Clark repeated, not sure if being compared to frosting and sprinkles was such a positive thing. Sure, they tasted great and everything on cakes, but it seemed kind of like Lex was saying he didn’t have any real substance.

“Yeah, that’s the guy whose dick goes in the other one.”

Clark stared at Lex wide eyed. “So your dad thinks,” he said, talking very slowly because he was sure he had this wrong and he wanted Lex to correct him, “that I am taking my dick and putting it.” He stopped. He had to. Otherwise his dick might have done more than twitch.

“In my ass. Yes.” See? That was why he had stopped. Now he was hard. And it was totally Lex’s fault. Except that would make him gay, so it totally wasn’t Lex’s fault.

“Are we using condoms?” And what kind of freak question was that? He’d clearly watched way too many afternoon specials if he was worried about safe sex during an imaginary relationship.

Lex raised his eyebrows eloquently. “Well, I’m clean, and I imagine you are as well. Do you want to be using condoms?”

They way he asked it made it seem like condoms were necessary evils and if you could get away with not using them, you should. “Um, no?” He had to shut up or change the subject or something.

Lex grinned. “All right. I’ll be sure to tell Dad that you’re barebacking me.”

“That sounds . . . really dirty.”

Lex laughed. “In a hygienic sense, it is messier than using a condom, but all it means is that we’re having sex without a rubber. It’s generally frowned on by safe-sex promoters, but if there’s no chance of impregnation and neither of us has any diseases, there’s no real reason to use one. The lubricated ones do help penetration, but a properly prepared anus and generous use of KY works just as well and doesn’t leave a shell of foreign material between your bodies. Besides, the primitive brain likes to know that you left your seed inside your mate.”

Clark’s primitive brain was liking a lot of what Lex was saying. So much for being an advanced alien species. He didn’t even realize he’d moved closer until he felt the soft fabric of Lex’s pants under his hands as he held his best friend’s hips. Lex was looking up into his face, searching his eyes for something. “Clark?”

“Yeah?” his voice was a little breathless.

“I apologize. I shouldn’t have spoken so explicitly.” He made no attempt to escape Clark’s hold.

Clark looked down into his face, his eyes drawn to the mouth with the scarred upper lip. “Lex.”

“Yeah?” This close, Clark could just barely hear Lex’s rapid heartbeat.

“Do you want to pose for your dad’s cameraman?” There was something wrong in that idea, but for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out what it was.

Lex’s eyes closed and he looked to be in pain. “Clark, you need to be perfectly clear and completely honest right now. Are you straight?”

Oh, that was the problem with his suggestion. He was straight. “Yes. I thought so. Maybe?”

Lex laughed and dropped his forehead against Clark’s shoulder. “Fuck it, I’m going to hell anyway. I’ll pose with you, Clark. As much as you want to take I’ll give and I’ll take what I can get.”

Clark carefully wrapped his arms around Lex and knew Mom was wrong. This wasn’t a crush, not even a Lana sized one. He’d made a colossal mistake and Lex had just handed him his heart, fully expecting it to get mashed. Clark had no idea what to do with it.

The sane thing would be to give it back, but he wasn’t sure he could manage that without damaging it. Or Lex might not take it back at all and it would get crushed in the fight over who didn’t want it more. Or he might take it back and put it in the garage with the truck where it would never again see the light of day, and that was maybe the worst possibility.

So Clark metaphorically tucked it safely away and looked around trying to see into the dark corners of the study. His vision . . . flickered . . . and, for a brief moment, he saw a skeleton with a camera. He let go of Lex and stalked toward the stalker. He reached into the coat closet and yanked the man out by the scruff of his neck.

“How did,” Lex began, but then shook his head and approached the stalker. “Rudy McPherson, I presume?”

Rudy, as that seemed to be the guy’s name, flinched. “Look, if I’d know the old man was going to tell you I was following you, I never would have signed on for the second job.”

Clark looked dubiously at Lex, wondering if that passed as an excuse to be caught loitering on private property in the Luthor handbook.

Lex half-smirked and shrugged back. “Well, that sounds suspiciously honest, coming from a liar.” He looked down at Rudy. “Is there any reason I shouldn’t have you arrested?”

“No, none,” Clark answered for him. “Lex, this is the guy who told your dad we’re sleeping together, right?”

“Yes, he is,” Lex said, not looking away from the man. “I’m curious, what pictures have you taken of me today?”

Rudy nervously wrung his hands together. “A handful of you with the in-laws. And quite a few just now. Luthor’s going to flip when he sees the one of him,” he nodded in Clark’s direction, “holding you like that. I had a good angle.”

Clark watched in stunned bafflement as Lex nodded. “I’d hoped you got that one. How was Clark’s expression?”

The little man chuckled. “He loves you, too, kid.”

“I’ll reserve judgment on that,” Lex said dryly, but Clark was worried because he still seemed inordinately pleased with what the guy had said. “What are you going to tell Dad?”

“What do you want me to tell him? I can go either way with what I’ve got. After what I just heard in here, I’m leaning towards having you fight him, but I’ll follow your lead. No difference to me, I’m getting paid either way.”

“Lex, you’re not seriously going to let him keep stalking you, are you?”

“Rudolph McPherson’s your real name, isn’t it, Rudy?” Lex asked the man. “You live in Metropolis. You sell photographs to newspapers and magazines all over the Midwest. You’ve never had any legal trouble, but I think you’ve swindled people before. If one person starts litigation against you for scamming, the whole house of cards is going to crumble, isn’t it, Rudy?”

Rudy looked back and forth between Lex and Clark, as it trying to decide if he’d rather stick around to die or try to escape and die sooner. Lex smiled at Clark as if something had been confirmed in his favor. “See, Rudy’s not going to double-cross me because I’m the one person who knows him for what he is and that’s a liar and a conman. You’ve got Dad completely fooled, you know.”

The man nodded. “Yeah. It helped when you went along with it. Thank you.”

Lex grimaced. “It wasn’t for you.”

“Oh, I know, but I’m grateful just the same. I was worried he’d eventually figure out I was lying to him about the whole thing. That’s why I would have preferred to bow out after the first payoff.”

“So why didn’t you?”

The man grimaced. “He threatened to put me in jail for stalking, B&E, and invasion of privacy if I didn’t.”

Lex laughed, and when he looked at Clark, his eyes were sparkling. It was breathtaking. “I like him, Clark.”

Clark felt a sharp inexplicable stab of jealousy. “Why? He’s committed stalking, B&E, and invasion of privacy against you. He should go to jail.”

“He’s a con artist, Clark,” Lex said, sounding like that was somehow a good thing. Clark would never understand the way Lex’s mind worked. As if Clark were a dunce for failing to understand this bit of cryptology, Lex spelled it out, “That means he knows how to make people like him and do what he wants.”

Clark still wasn’t seeing it. He still wanted the guy in jail. Clark certainly didn’t like him or want to do what he wanted. Though, whatever magic he was weaving, it was clearly working on Lex. Clark wasn’t going to let that happen. He straightened to his full impressive height and frowned down at the much shorter conman.

“So that means he knows that to get on my good side all he has to do is tell the truth. And he’s doing it.” Lex sounded so delighted, like he could hardly believe someone might do such an outlandish thing. It made Clark feel really guilty for the lies he’d been forced to give him.

“I’m sure your dad likes the truth, too, and he sure as heck didn’t tell the truth to him.”

Lex waved that off. “It’s entirely different. He doesn’t want my money. Dad’s already paying him. All he wants from us is to be allowed to keep on robbing Dad.”

“Ach, no,” Rudy spoke up. “Please. Robbing involves guns. I just lie. It’s scamming.”

“Scamming then. Personally, I’ve got no problem with it.”

Maybe Lex’s memory was malfunctioning. “Lex. He broke into your house and was taking pictures of you to sell to your father along with lies about your personal life.”

Lex looked at him like he was blowing the whole thing completely out of proportion. “And now he’s going to sell the story I want told. What’s the problem?”

Clark stared at him for a long moment, then shook his head, wondering if maybe Mom and Dad were wrong about Clark being an alien and it was really Lex who came out of that spaceship. “Lex,” he said slowly, “he told your dad that you were sleeping around with me.”

“Clark, Dad has had whole teams of people whose primary function was to tell him who I’m sleeping with. The only difference is that Rudy lied about what he found out.”

This was beyond Clark’s skills and patience. “Your family’s screwed up, Lex.” Though, Clark was beginning to understand why Lex didn’t seem able to grasp the concept that something might be none of his business. Apparently, Lex didn’t have much personal experience with privacy.

Lex snorted. “No kidding. What was the first clue?”

Clark just shook his head. He glared at Rudy, blaming the whole situation on him, because it was totally his fault. If he hadn’t told that stupid story to Lex’s dad, then he wouldn’t be worried about hurting Lex or wanting to kiss him or, most disturbing of all, thinking about his primitive brain and how much it liked to plant seeds. He doubted gardening would be an adequate substitute.

“Clark,” Lex interrupted his glaring just as Rudy was starting to squirm. A little. If you squinted just right. “It’s up to you. We can play this out or Rudy can tell Dad we broke up and it’s over.”

The smart thing to do was to break up now. Lex would take his heart back, no harm, no foul, only a little worse for wear. They’d go on like they always had, as friends.

The problem was, Clark didn’t know if he wanted to give it back. Lex had given it to him. It was his now, so much more valuable than a dumb truck. He sensed it was a one time offer. He’d given it freely and without reservation, but he’d expected it to be scorned. Clark wondered if he would have been so generous if he thought there’d been a chance Clark might keep it. Now that he had it, he wasn’t going to risk letting it get away. Lex obviously didn’t know how to care for his own heart, so it fell to Clark to keep it safe.

“Let’s play it out the way that Mr. Luthor will hate it the most,” Clark decided, because however Lionel hated it the most had to be the way that was best for Lex. He just needed Lex to tell him what that way was.

For a moment, Lex’s eyes held surprise, and a noticeable amount of fear, but then he nodded and made himself smile. “Okay. Rudy, you go back into the closet. Clark is about to come out of his.” He moved over to the couch and indicated that Clark should do the same. “Sit,” Lex invited but did not follow his own instruction. Clark figured out why when Lex straddled his lap and sat on Clark’s thighs instead of the cushions. “Rudy’s playing an ethical stalker so he’s not going to take any explicit photographs as yet. That gives us some wiggling room, so if anything is too much for you, we don’t have to do it.”

Clark nodded his understanding, but was unable to articulate a response because Lex was in his lap.

Lex waited a beat, presumably to see if Clark had an objection to their current positioning, but no power on Earth was going to make him let Lex up just yet. “All right, great. We should get a few shots of us cuddling. Dad really won’t like that. If you’re comfortable with kissing me, please do so. It doesn’t have to be on my mouth. Forehead, temple, ear, anything Rudy has line of sight to. Any questions?”

Just one, but Clark didn’t ask Lex to stop treating it like a movie production. If Lex thought that distance was necessary, Clark wasn’t going to begrudge it. Lex had a lot more at stake than Clark did. “None,” Clark said aloud, wrapping his arms around Lex and pulling him close. He sniffed in Lex’s scent, and then nuzzled his face into soft flesh where neck met shoulder. Lex went briefly tense, but then relaxed into Clark’s ministrations. Cuddling was good. Clark liked cuddling. He thought Lex needed more cuddling in his life.

Rudy had stopped taking pictures after the first ten minutes. He’d gotten a lot of really good shots during that time, but now it was just getting repetitive. There was only so much variation possible when the subject material kept doing the same things wearing the same expressions. It was clear the boys were enjoying themselves and equally clear that neither of them intended to pull away first, but as the voyeur in the situation, Rudy was getting bored.

Rudy would take bored though. Bored was better than terrified out of his wits, which is what he’d been when Kent stormed across the room and pulled him out of his hiding place. He hadn’t thought he was going to get out of that one. Who would have thought a Luthor would be more forgiving than a small town boy? But then, Rudy had never thought of the kid as a Luthor. The kid was a means to get at Luthor’s money. More than that, he was subject material. Both boys were. As such, Rudy had studied them both, got into their heads. You had to, if you wanted photographs with any life in them. Whatever else he was, he was a still photojournalist first and foremost.

Even among his subjects, these two were special. Not at first, of course. Not even when he’d gone to Luthor. At that point, they’d still been nothing more than subjects. What made them, particularly Lex, special was when he’d snuck into the kid’s room earlier that day and found what had become of the pictures he’d sold to Luthor. A half dozen of them had been framed. They were hanging on the walls, standing on the dresser, and sitting beside the alarm clock on the nightstand. As a photographer, it was flattering. As a con artist, it was humbling. After all, they had been designed as blackmail photographs and here they were, displayed proudly in the victim’s room.

Context was everything. Rudy knew that. Nothing quite brought it to life like those six pictures. In a manila envelope in Luthor’s office, they had been nails that built the foundation of ‘proof’ that a relationship existed between the boys. Here, out in the open, they just made Lex look like a happy young man who was best friends with a farmer’s son. Unlike the serious red-haired boy in the solemn family portrait that was the only other personal touch in the room, Lex was smiling or laughing in every one of Rudy’s framed pictures. He hadn’t realized how depressing and lifeless the room was before.

Rudy’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of an approaching helicopter. On the couch, Lex and Clark turned their heads toward the window, and Rudy snapped a picture of the dismay and trepidation on both faces. “Show time,” Lex muttered, just loud enough to carry to Rudy. “Clark, you can go if you’d like. He probably wants to talk about my proposal for the plant.”

Lex tried to get up, but Clark held on to him and Lex didn’t try hard enough to escape. “Lex,” Clark said, waiting for Lex to meet his eyes before continuing, “I’m your boyfriend now. I’m not leaving you to face him alone.”

“Clark, he’s my father, not a mugger. I’ve been dealing with him for a long time.”

The boy still did not let Lex go. “He’s a bastard and I don’t like the way he treats you. I’m staying.”

Lex closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, but he nodded. “If you insist.” His eyes opened again and he looked seriously at Clark, “He will insult you.”

“I can handle that,” Clark promised. Lex just looked at him like the boy had no idea what he was putting himself up against. “Seriously, the man’s Satan and I don’t care what he thinks about me.”

“The only thing he thinks about you that matters is that he believes you’re fucking me up the ass. That makes you a disease and he will do everything in his power to cure me of you. He will vilify you. He will insinuate all manner of things. He will degrade me. To be perfectly honest, Clark, I’d rather you weren’t here. We’ll talk business and he’ll go away, but if you show your face it becomes an exercise in trying to break us up.”

Clark grimaced, “What if I stay in the closet with Rudy?”

Lex snorted, “I could comment, but I won’t. Go, he’ll be here any time now.”

The boy was strong, Rudy would give him that. He lifted Lex up off his lap like the kid weighed nothing. Even Lex looked a little surprised at how easily he was shifted over onto the other half of the couch.

Clark glanced toward the study’s door, his expression turning briefly alarmed. Then a wicked idea occurred to him and he pushed Lex over onto his back. Instinct alone got Rudy’s camera up and clicking (well, not so much clicking because he’d been very specific in finding one that took pictures silently) as Clark climbed over Lex’s sprawled body and kissed him once, soundly, on the lips, just as Luthor burst into the room.

Luthor froze, whatever opening words he’d been planning to say dying stillborn on his lips. Clark got up off the couch and walked past him, giving Luthor a look that said perfectly clearly that of the two of them, it was Luthor who was the insignificant bug. Then he was out of the room and gone.

Lex was sitting up slowly, looking stunned and a little dazed. He touched his mouth with his fingers as if he couldn’t quite believe what had just happened. Rudy took a picture of that, too.

“I need not ask if that was your farmer,” Luthor sneered. “I will count myself fortunate that I did not walk in on him plowing his fields.”

Color flushed across Lex’s face but he said nothing in his own defense. “I assume you’re here because you received my counter proposal.”

Luthor’s expression grew darker. “I specifically told you to cut your workforce. Not,” he held up a folder he’d been carrying, “this.

Lex stood, his face going hard. “I worked out how to cut the operation budget by twenty percent without losing a single job. That way we don’t get the bad PR.”

“That is not the point.”

Smiling superiorly, a confidence game of his own if Rudy ever saw one, Lex moved casually across the room and picked up a fencing sword. “Careful, Dad, you’re getting emotional.” He turned abruptly, aiming the sword point toward his father. “We could try a rematch. Winner gets their way about the plant and Clark.”

“I don’t think that’s necessary, Lex.”

Lex raised an eyebrow but lowered the weapon. “What? You afraid you can’t take your own son again?”

“You get one,” Luthor declared.

Baffled by that cryptic response, Lex asked, “One what?”

“One chance to defy me on a business decision. But you will lose Kent.”

Lex lifted his chin. “No.”

Luthor stepped closer, angry, “Then you will lose 20% of your workforce. One or the other, Lex. I will not grant you both.”

“Clark is not yours to grant. I’ll give up neither.” Lex stepped closer as well, pressing his point. “You granted me one business opportunity. I’m taking it now. The only reason you don’t like it is that I thought of it first.”

“Empires are not built on clever bookkeeping.”

“Neither are they built by unnecessarily turning your back on those who depend on you,” Lex shot back, “My plan is better. You’re being emotional and spiteful.”

Rudy made a note to himself to suggest that Lex try other avenues of contention beyond frontal assault. Luthor did not respond well to that sort of attack. “I am, Lex? I assure you, this dalliance you’re having goes well beyond where I am in the realms of emotional and spiteful. You don’t honestly believe anything good will come of this, do you? You’re doing it merely so that I will end your exile. It won’t work. I suggest you end the attempt before you cause serious harm to your future.”

“I’m not ending it, Dad. And I’m not doing it out of spite,” he paused a beat, “The spite is merely a side effect, albeit one that I find thoroughly pleasant.” Lex stepped into Luthor’s personal space and demonstrated his pleasure in wielding said spite, “Stick around tonight, Father. You don’t want to miss my farmer planting his seeds.”

The sound of a hand meeting skin echoed in the large study. Lex retreated a step and tested the mobility of his jaw. His eyes never left Luthor’s. “Get out of my home, Dad. You’re not welcome here.”

“This is my property.”

“Well I’m not. Get out.”

Luthor frowned but stepped back toward the door. “This discussion is not over.”

“Fine. We’re using my plan at the plant and the Clark issue remains unresolved. Now, leave.”

Turning on his heel, Luthor made it into the hallway before turning back and taking his parting shot. “I warn you one last time. You have four hours to break this off gracefully before I break it off for you by any means necessary.”

Lex didn’t waver except in patience. “Get. Out.”

Luthor slammed the door closed behind him and Lex sank down to the floor like a marionette with its strings cut. Rudy had no idea where he came from, but between one blink and the next, Clark was beside him, putting an arm around him and pulling him close. “I hate him,” Lex stated, voice muffled by Clark’s chest, “I hate him.” His knuckles were white where they gripped Clark’s shirt. “Oh, God, Clark, I need to talk to your parents again. He’s going to, shit, I don’t even know what he’s going to do.”

Clark stood, easily lifting Lex up with him. “You up for driving, or should I?”

“I’ll be fine. Just wait for the helicopter to leave first. Can’t look panicked. Rudy!” Clark looked startled, like he’d forgotten Rudy was there.

Rudy also jumped, having nearly forgotten himself that they’d known about him. He stuck his head out of the closet. “Yeah?”

The look in Lex’s eye was as fierce as anything his old man could generate. “If I find you at the Kents’ this evening, you will never see daylight again.”

Rudy considered sneaking after them regardless for exactly one second. Then he decided that (a) he liked Lex well enough to give him this one evening of privacy, and (b) he liked his body in a non-embalmed state. He’d follow just long enough to get a few distance photos for Luthor then get the heck out of Dodge. “I’ll be gone,” he promised. “A few shots, nothing close up, just so your old man knows I tried,” he added, just in case the boy noticed him while he skulked the perimeter. He still didn’t know what he did to give away his hiding spot in the closet.

Clark glared at him, but Lex nodded, taking the proviso as a necessary evil. “I don’t care about pictures. I just don’t want you able to hear anything.”

He felt a stab of curiosity about what they’d be talking about that could possibly be more sensitive than the things he’d already overheard, but he quashed it. He only had to briefly put himself in Lex’s shoes to understand why a young man wouldn’t want an audience when he told a minor’s parents that he was dating their son for real, after just telling them it was an act. It was bound to get ugly, and that was before Lex brought up the threats Luthor had made.

Lex squared his shoulders, drew in a deep breath, walked toward the Kent’s farmhouse with the air of a man walking to his death. Clark rolled his eyes at him and shook his head. He was nervous about what Lex intended to say because this wasn’t really how he envisioned his evening going when he’d left home two hours ago and he wasn’t quite sure he was ready for himself to know he might be gay, nevermind his parents, but Lex was acting like he expected Dad to take down his shotgun and shoot him or something.

Mom and Dad must have heard the car because they came out of the front door before Clark and Lex had reached the front porch. Lex lifted his chin, determined and stoic in the face of death, and stated ominously, “We need to talk with you.” Clark’s parents opened a pathway to let Clark and Lex walk between them and into the house. Lex swallowed hard and hesitated. Clark placed a hand on the small of his back and gave him a light nudge forward.

When they were all seated in the living room and Mom had distributed ice water or lemonade to everyone who wanted some, Lex clasped his hands together and sat up straighter. All eyes went to him at this preparatory pose of being about to say something important. He cleared his throat, looked at Mom and Dad briefly, and then dropped his eyes to his glass of water. “I had another fight with Dad about Clark.”

Mom and Dad waited patiently, if somewhat apprehensively, while Lex took a moment to swirl his glass in a slow circle on his coaster. Nobody seemed to even breathe while they waited for Lex to go on.

He let go of the glass and looked up, meeting Mom’s eyes. “I refused to break up with him. Clark made it eminently clear to him that he had no intention of breaking up with me. Dad . . . wasn’t happy.”

Clark found himself suddenly the focus of both his parent’s attention and he wondered if maybe Lex was onto something with that shotgun idea, except it wasn’t Lex they were going to shoot with it. “What did you do?” Dad asked, obviously trying to stay calm with only partial success.

Clark flushed deeply, squirmed in his seat, and would have really appreciated it if his people would pick right now to beam him up to their mothership. He, of course, was not that lucky, and the couch didn’t mutate and swallow him whole either. He was going to need to answer the question. He ducked his head and mumbled, “Isortofkissedhimreallyhard.”

“You what?” Mom asked sharply.

Clark squeezed his eyes shut, tried to mold himself into the cushions, and answered slower this time, “When Mr. Luthor walked in, I pushed Lex down on the couch and kissed him. Then I left the room.”

“Why would you do something like that?” Dad asked.

Intentionally misunderstanding the question, Clark said, “Lex didn’t want me there for the confrontation.”

“Clark,” Mom warned.

Lex said nothing, letting him handle his own outing, the jerk. Clark threw up his hands and gave up all semblance of knowing what he was doing. “I don’t know! Okay? It seemed like a good idea at the time! I’m just really confused right now, all right?”

Mom immediately softened and changed seats to sit in the empty spot on the couch next to him. “Oh, sweetie, it’s okay, we’re just worried about you.” She pulled him into a hug, which was kind of embarrassing with Lex right there on his other side, but it was also really good and made the world feel like it wasn’t spinning quite so much out of control.

Squeezing his eyes closed again because, safely enclosed in a Mom-hug or not, there was no way he was going to let himself cry with Lex in the room, he admitted out loud, “I might be a little bit gay.”

Mom hugged him tighter, and a peek at Dad showed he was glaring at Lex, but there was still no shotgun in sight. Lex was too busy warily watching Dad to notice how much of a dork and a baby Clark was being, so at least the death expectations served some purpose. Besides, Clark thought vengefully, it was totally Lex’s fault Clark might be gay so he deserved to be scared.

Dad was still looking at Lex instead of Clark as he asked in a too-calm voice, “And how did you come by that realization, Clark?”

Lex did speak up then. “Clark is a healthy teenaged boy. I was a little too specific when I told him what my father believed we were doing together.” And after eavesdropping on the fight from the hallway, Clark had an even better idea of exactly what Lionel Luthor believed Clark was doing to his son. To be honest, he’d been shocked by the way both of them behaved around the other. It was entirely because of Lex, Clark was sure, that Mr. Luthor had the level of detail he did. “It’s not surprising he had a reaction,” Lex added.

Clark could have lived a happy life without that last part being told to his parents. Particularly since thinking about his ‘reaction’ made him think of the comments that spawned it which made him have the ‘reaction’ again. He pulled quickly away from his mother and rearranged the fall of his flannel while blushing horribly. Mom and Dad looked like they could have lived happily without being told, too.

His parents shifted in their seats uneasily and exchanged married people looks with each other, then Dad turned back to Lex while Mom looked at Clark. Dad spoke first, “Did you do anything to encourage him to kiss you?” Clark wasn’t sure whether he should be relieved or angry that he seemed to be laying most of the blame on Lex.

Lex lifted his chin, bravely accepting his fate. “I let him know I’d be receptive.”

“He’s fifteen. Stop being receptive,” Dad snapped.

“Dad, he’s not making me do anything I don’t want to do,” Clark interrupted, defending Lex like a good boyfriend should. “It was my idea. If anything, I’m the one taking advantage of him.”

“Lex is twenty-one, Clark,” Dad pointed out, which was totally irrelevant to the situation.

“Lex is more emotionally involved than me and I’m a whole lot stronger than he is. In just the two hours we were at the mansion tonight, he tried to escape my grip twice and I wouldn’t let him go.”

“One of those was only a token effort,” Lex tried to dismiss it, but both of Clark’s parents realized that left one time when Lex had made a serious effort to pull away and he hadn’t been able to. They exchanged nervous looks with one another.

“Lex is in a lot more danger of getting hurt than I am,” Clark reiterated, “especially since we’re not really dating.”

Mom frowned, narrowed her eyes and shook her head. “Wait. Clark, you said you kissed Lex when Lionel came in the room. Please tell me you two are not doing this just to spite him.”

Clark and Lex opened their mouths, closed them, looked at each other, looked at Mom, and Clark shrugged while Lex said, “Dad just brings that out in people. Even Rudy’s in with us on this.”

“The photographer?” Mom asked in disbelief.

Triumphant, Clark turned on Lex, “See? I told you that was weird.”

Lex waved it off, “He’s an ally now, Mrs. Kent.” Mom looked dubious but let it pass. “Anyway, the real danger in this situation is my father. He promised to break us up by any means necessary. He’ll keep the tabloids out of it, at least at first, but anything else is fair game. I can practically guarantee a call to you. What he’ll say is a little harder to predict.”

Lex stood and began pacing. His gestures became more distressed as he spoke as well, “If he stays true to form, he’ll trying to dig up some dirt on Clark or your family that he’ll hold over your heads until Clark agrees to dump me. Normally, I wouldn’t believe a family like yours has anything he could exploit, but,” he took a deep breath and turned to look at each of them square in the eye.

“I know I hit Clark head on with my car. I know there is no possible way hitting a guardrail and a boy would tear apart the Porsche like it was. I know Clark is really very strong and by all rights I should have died that day.” He gave them no opportunity to deny what knew, and carried on, “When I get home, I’m going to destroy all my evidence about what happened in the accident. You three need to get rid of any evidence you have of Clark’s secret, too, or Dad will find it. If the secret’s good enough, he’ll find more ways of exploiting you than just getting Clark out of my pants.”

“Can’t you just tell him you broke up?” Mom asked, a little desperately.

“No,” Clark answered before Lex could. “It’s not right.”

“And you pretending to date an older man is?” Dad countered. “Clark, even I can see that it won’t stay pretend for very long.”

Mom looked warily at Lex, then added in, apparently accepting there would be no dissuading him, “Lionel Luthor is exactly the sort of person we don’t want to find out about you. We want you to be safe, Clark, and defying someone like that man is just asking for trouble.”

“Lex can’t protect you from him,” Dad added, giving Lex a look Clark couldn’t interpret. “Lex can’t protect himself from him or he wouldn’t be here.” Dad’s gaze did not waver but did become harder as he added, “Look me in the eye, Lex, and tell me I’m wrong.”

Lex held the gaze, but his lips pressed together and his chin jutted upwards. His eyes were bleak. “I’m trying.”

Dad nodded, like he’d just made an important point.

“And that’s why I can’t break up with him,” Clark interrupted, before he got too comfortable with his conclusion. “Mr. Luthor’s a bastard, but that’s no reason to break up with his son. Lex shouldn’t be punished for who his dad is. It’s bad enough he has to deal with him. Dad, he hit Lex today.”

Mom automatically looked to Lex in concern. Dad frowned. Lex was looking at Clark like he’d just betrayed a secret. “He hits you?” Mom asked, clearly upset.

Lex shook his head. “It was just a slap.”

“It took five minutes for the handprint to fade off your face,” Clark countered.

“Where’d that scar on your lip come from?” Dad asked, jumping to a conclusion that even Clark hadn’t considered. By the look of panic on Lex’s face, Dad wasn’t far off the mark.

“Stop! Both of you!” Mom called out, and Lex looked at her in relief. “Lex, are you in physical danger, staying at the mansion with this going on?”

Lex shook his head. “ No. There’s a photographer dogging my steps and Dad knows it. In retrospect, I’m surprised he slapped me even with my provocation.”

“Wait, you’re not saying you wanted him to hit you, are you?” Clark asked in something like horror. He’d clearly been understating the problem when he said the Luthor family was screwed up.

For a moment, Lex got that look in his eyes that said he was deciding whether to change the subject, pretend to answer while saying something else entirely, or just flat out lie. But then he sat down beside Clark again and closed his eyes, shook his head, and sighed. “It’s been my long standing belief that he feels guilty for it. I’ve noticed that provoking him to violence tends to make him leave. Sometimes it’s the easiest way to make him go away.”

He opened his eyes again and looked straight at each of them as Clark caught one of Lex’s hands and held it between both of his. Looking at Mom, Clark could see she was fighting the impulse to go over and make Lex cry on her shoulder. Dad was looking grim and stoic. “I recognize that my family’s dysfunctional dynamics are largely responsible for this situation and are critically pertinent to whatever solution we devise, but can we please drop this manifestation of them? I know what you’re thinking, but he’s never been physically abusive and I’m not a masochist.”

Clark had a few remarks he would have liked to make about emotional and verbal abuse, but he let the subject drop as Lex requested. “So what are we going to do? Breaking up is not an option,” he added before someone could suggest it again. “I’d be a failure as a friend and a boyfriend if I let Mr. Luthor intimidate me away from Lex.”

Lex nodded slowly, “I’m pretty sure he wants me to break off contact altogether. Clark isn’t exactly my normal choice of associate and now that he believes beyond any doubt that we’re having sex, there’s no way he’d accept that I’m hanging around a high school farm kid because we’re just friends. Even if we continue with the status quo, he’s going to assume we’re hiding the affair better and look into your family.” He grimaced, “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I thought it would be different in Smallville.”

“He’s done this before?” Mom asked, her tone oddly careful. “Do you know at least know what doesn’t work?”

“He investigated everyone I got close to at college. I don’t know what does or doesn’t work because none of them stuck around to fight it out once he threatened their scholarships. Shit,” his eyes widened. “He might go after the farm. Let me you help pay off your mortgage.”

“No,” Dad refused unequivocally. Lex looked taken aback by his vehemence. “I don’t see how Luthor money is going to protect the farm from a Luthor.”

“It’ll help because if you won’t accept an outright gift, my lawyers will draw up documents stating that it’s a loan to me, drawn on my mother’s trust fund, and non-transferable to my next-of-kin. If you don’t, Dad will just buy the Smallville Savings and Loan and threaten to foreclose on your loan there. And if you can’t handle being in my debt, I know a few associates who are reasonably trustworthy who might also be willing to float a loan. And if that’s not removed enough for you, at the very least transfer your loan to a large multinational bank that Dad can’t buy on a whim.”

Dad grunted unhappily and frowned, but conceded, “I’ll look into transferring to another bank.”

Lex didn’t look happy either, but he nodded acceptance of the decision, “Before you sign anything, let my lawyers, or Mrs. Kent’s father if you can’t trust the LuthorCorp legal department, look at the contract to make sure they can’t sell the loan.”

Clark and both of his parent stared at Lex.

Not understanding the looks he was getting, Lex asked, “What?”

Mom asked her question first, “How did you know my father was a lawyer?” Clark’s biggest question was a little different and wasn’t meant so much for Lex as it was for Mom and Dad.

Lex blinked. “Clark didn’t tell me?”

“Clark doesn’t know his grandfather.”

“Oh,” Lex said, then was quiet for a long moment before saying, “I guess it was in the initial background check I did on your family.”

As Dad’s face turned thunderous, Clark quickly spoke up, “Lex doesn’t understand privacy, it’s not his fault.”

Lex gave him a bemused look, and then tried to speak in his own defense, though what he was really doing was just proving Clark’s point. “I had to make sure you weren’t working for my father or actively engaged in a plot against him.” Then, barely pausing for breath, he asked, “Why doesn’t Clark know Mr. Clark? Obviously he was named for the man. Though, if he was adopted at three, I suppose it could just be an uncanny coincidence.”

Mom and Dad exchanged looks and Clark was surprised when Mom blatantly avoided the subject. “I suppose we’ll have to trust your lawyers, Lex.”

Lex blinked, possibly even more surprised than Clark. After weeks of having nearly every offer he made shunned, having the one that did get accepted be against a family alternative must have stunned him. If Clark was seriously considering sending in Chloe to look into whatever happened with Mom’s father, he couldn’t imagine that Lex was going to let it go either. What Lex said, though, was “I’ll make sure your trust is not misplaced.”

Mom smiled at him, and Dad frowned unhappily but nodded agreement with the decision to use Lex’s people over Grandfather Clark. “Wait, wait, wait,” Clark interrupted. “Can we go back to the whole me having a living grandfather thing?”

To his ultimate shock, Dad leaned forward and said, “Tonight we need to talk about your relationship with Lex and what we’re going to do to protect both of you from Lionel Luthor.” Clark looked at Lex to see if he was as baffled and put out by this pointed avoidance as he was, but Lex just widened his eyes slightly, lifted a shoulder in a marginal shrug, and made an open handed gesture; a wordless communication that Clark took to mean ‘let it go, ask me about it later and I’ll look into it’.

Then, Mom was picking up right where Dad left off. “We can accept that you two will start dating, but there will be absolutely no sex between you. You can kiss and make out but absolutely no nudity. Do I make myself perfectly clear? Lex? Clark?”

At that, all thoughts of his grandfather were buried under mountains and mountains of embarrassment and humiliation. He buried his face in his hands and mumbled, “Please kill me.”

Lex made a valiant attempt at offing him. Clark blamed his alien invulnerability for his failure to die of mortification. “Just to clarify, anything is permissible as long as clothes stay on? Specifically, what is the policy for reaching under the clothes?”

“None of that,” Dad refused, sounding nearly as mortified as Clark felt.

“Jonathan,” Mom snapped in a tone of disappointed ‘you’re being unreasonable.’ “Thank you, Lex, for asking. Anything above the belt is fair play. I don’t want any skin on skin contact below the belt until Clark can say ‘sex’ without blushing. Furthermore, I want him to make the first move, and I’d prefer if you waited a week before reciprocating. Is any of that going to be a problem?”

Clark wanted a new superpower for burrowing underground. Or teleporting. Teleporting would be good. His mom was talking to his boyfriend about, well, he was pretty sure they were talking about handjobs. His mom was giving them permission for handjobs. Except not, because Clark would never be able to say sex without blushing.

“I don’t foresee any,” Lex was saying. “By first move, do you mean you want Clark to touch me first, or you want Clark to ask me to touch him first?”

As if answering Clark’s unspoken prayer, Dad asked, more than a little desperately, “Can you two go out to the kitchen if you really need to talk about Clark and gay touching?”

The tension in the air seemed to change and Clark wished anew for that teleportation power. He also doubted that his skin would ever cease being red after this. “Jonathan, I hope you don’t have a problem with Clark being gay,” Mom said coolly.

Clark made a small noise of distress because Clark still had a problem with it. He didn’t blame Dad at all for having trouble.

But Dad was sighing and saying, almost pleadingly, “I just don’t want to hear the details, Martha.”

A few moments, probably filled with highly communicative glances between them, but Clark wasn’t yet willing to give up his ostrich impression. “Fine, Lex, will you help me bring the glasses over to the sink.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Shuffling sounds, clinking of glasses, and then there was only one other person breathing in the room. He could hear Mom and Lex talking over in the kitchen, but not so well that he could make out words. He was absurdly grateful for that.

Slowly, Clark lowered his hands and peeked through his fingers at Dad. Dad was watching him, and now that their eyes met, he sighed again. “Clark,” he began.

“Dad,” Clark interrupted. “Don’t. I can’t explain it. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. All I know is that Lex needs me and I’m not going to let him down.”

“But you’re not even gay. Is that fair to him?”

Clark drew in a deep breath and let it out. “Trust me, Dad, I had some pretty gay thoughts about him. They’re a little scary.”

“Well, you’re mom’s in there, probably telling him not to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.”

Clark shook his head. “It’s not what he can do that’s making me nervous. It’s what I want to do to him.” He swallowed hard and wrung his hands together. “Dad, in all the fantasies I ever had about Lana, it was all about kissing her and making out or maybe watching movies or going to Crater Lake or something. I never just wanted to tear her clothes off and take her.”

Dad looked disturbed, but asked dutifully, “And you have thoughts about doing that to Lex?”

Clark blushed horribly, not that he had ever stopped, but it somehow got worse. “Never for more than a second or two, and then I feel really guilty and embarrassed about it, but yeah.”

Clearing his throat and doing some fidgeting and blushing of his own, Dad asked in something like his figure-out-the-alien-weirdness tone, “Not to be insensitive or anything, but has Lex done anything to incite those kinds of thoughts?”

He would have blushed more but he seemed to have finally reached the maximum blood capacity in his face. “It’s pretty much how he described what we’ve been doing to his dad.”

Dad’s eyes widened in surprise. “That boy has issues.”

Clark shook his head with a small shared grin, “I’m not arguing that one.”

Dad breathed in and out, calmer now than when Mom and Lex had first left the room. “Seriously, Clark, are you sure this is what you want to do? It’s not going to be easy, and I don’t just mean with the Lionel thing. If this gets out in your school…”

Clark nodded. “Yeah, Dad. I’m sure. To be honest, I think being the guy who’s bonking Lex Luthor will only help my status at school.”

A snort of laughter made him turn and see that Mom and Lex were returning with fresh lemonade for everyone. He flushed again, but at least it was his normal I-just-said-something-horrifically-dumb blush instead of the mortified I’m-talking-about-sex-with-my-parents blush. “Lex.”

“It’s okay, Clark,” Lex said, his blue eyes still sparkling with amusement. “I’m not offended.” He then turned serious, “Though if rumor gets as far as the school, the police will probably hear it, too. Fu- dge,” the word was awkwardly changed for its original intent as Lex noticed Mom frown at him. “Maybe dad’s right. This can’t turn out good for me.”

Feeling suddenly panicked and not understanding why, Clark reached for Lex’s wrist and waist as he put down two glasses of lemonade on the coffee table. Once the drinks were safely settled and Lex was looking at him in bemused confusion, Clark pulled. Caught off balance, or perhaps just not expecting Clark tug that hard or in that direction, Lex let out a small yelp as he tumbled down. Clark guided his fall so that Lex landed sitting in his lap.

His parents were staring, but Clark didn’t have the time to be concerned about it. Lex was trying to squirm away and he couldn’t have that. The conclusion was inevitable, but Clark was a little surprised by how short the battle was. Lex capitulated without a word and after only about fifteen seconds. “Lex,” he said slowly, to make sure Lex was listening and understood that what he was about to say was important, “If the police get involved, we’ll just tell them the truth. I have designs on you but you won’t put out until I’m legal.”

“And that will be the truth,” Mom said firmly. “Lex, you’re the adult in this relationship. It’s your job to say no. I’ll hold you to that and if I think you haven’t, I will go to the police myself, understood?”

Clark wrapped his arms tightly around Lex as his boyfriend closed his eyes and hid his face against Clark’s chest. “I don’t know if I can,” he admitted. “To be honest, even if I did manage to say no, I’m not feeling remotely confident that I can make Clark stop if he wants to keep going.” Clark tensed and both his parents looked alarmed that Lex seemed to think Clark would rape him, but he continued, easing their fears, “I want it too much and Clark knows that.”

He really hadn’t, he’d just known he was never going to be able to look at planting seeds the same ever again, but now he knew it was mutual, and God, his parents were right there. Fortunately, Lex was sitting on his lap and blocking their view of just how happy he’d become by this new information. Instinctually, he lowered on of his hands to the small of Lex’s back and pulled his lower body closer.

In theory, that should have hidden the evidence better, having Lex right on top of it instead of just in the way, but he hadn’t counted on how contact would actually feel or Lex’s reaction to such proof of Clark’s returned interest. Clark groaned, but Lex leapt clear across the room. Clark could almost suspect him of superspeed or that much vaunted teleportation. Lex leaned against the arch leading into the kitchen, his face alternately blanched white and bright red. Clark himself was firmly in the red and curled up into a fetal position as he should be dying of fatal mortification any moment now.

“Clark?” Mom asked, confusion coloring her voice. “What just happened?”

Lex’s heartbeat was fast and erratic and Clark could hear it from the couch. “I just said no.” He sounded shaken.

Clark could feel his parents’ eyes on him. He wished death would just hurry up and take him. He would have liked to, um, plow fields or something before going, but he was at peace with his fate. Any time now would be good.

His heart kept beating and his lungs kept drawing in air. His stupid alien body didn’t even know when it should be dead. At least his dick had gotten the message.

“Clark,” Mom said, her voice low and stern. “I don’t care what gender your partner is. You treat them with respect and you don’t make moves on them while your father or I are in the room.” Where was the Grim Reaper when you really needed him? Was he waiting for an engraved invitation or something?

“Lex, sit,” Dad’s voice this time, encouraging and coaxing. Lex was probably still half-poised to flee the room. His footsteps drew nearer, and there was other movement. Clark peeked out briefly, and saw that Dad had stood and was indicating Lex sit in his chair. He then moved over to claim the seat beside Clark that had been Lex’s spot.

When they had all settled again, he discovered to his shock and relief that they were going to pretend he wasn’t there. “Lex,” Dad began, shifted uncomfortably on the couch, and tried again, “Lex, you are an adult.”

“To be perfectly frank, Mr. Kent, I am in the living room belonging to the parents of my fifteen year old boyfriend. I’m not feeling very adult right now. Actually, at this exact moment, after saying that, I’m feeling kind of pervy.”

“I want you to remember that feeling, Lex,” Dad told him, and Clark shifted unhappily in his fetal position. Maybe Death would like a two-for-one deal. He was pretty sure Lex would happily come with them. “And I want you to remember that you are responsible for the fertilizer plant that employs over half of the Smallville population. That is not a job given to incompetent teenagers. Think you can find it in yourself to say no, now, Mr. Luthor?”

Clark looked up in time to see Lex nod. “I’ll control myself, sir.”

“And Clark,” Dad continued, “When he says stop, you stop, understand me, son?” He nodded quickly, but Dad pressed, “I mean it, Clark. You stop. You’re bigger and a lot stronger than Lex is. He’s trusting you to stop when he tells you to.”

“Okay,” Clark agreed, because he seemed to be expecting some kind of verbal reply.

“Good, because from what I’ve seen tonight, Clark, you’re . . .” he trailed off, failing to come up with a word to describe how Clark was behaving.

“Possessive and dominant,” Lex supplied.

“Yes, that,” Dad picked up again without repeating the words so perhaps speaking them had been the problem, not finding them, “and not too concerned with following Lex’s wishes.”

Clark scowled. “If he had a real problem with anything I was doing, he’d have said so. I promise I’ll stop if he tells me to.”

“Lex, sweetie,” Martha added in, “Clark can be a little oblivious of non-verbal cues, so be sure to speak up if he does anything that bothers you.”

Lex smiled at her and nodded, “I’d figured that out already, but thank you.” He frowned at the mess of four lemonade glasses on the table. “Which one was mine?”

The next few moments were spent sorting out whose glass was whose. When that was cleared up, Lex brought up a new subject, which Clark was grateful for because it meant that they weren’t talking about sex anymore, but the new topic was just as full of pitfalls. “We discussed the farm finances, but I noticed you all deftly avoided talking about how to protect Clark’s secret.”

Dad’s face darkened. Whatever progress had been made in accepting Lex as a person and a boyfriend apparently did not extend to trusting him with that. He apparently felt no qualms about saying as much, either. “We’ll discuss that as a family after you leave.”

Lex sat stiffly for a moment before letting it go. “Fine. I’ll accept that acknowledging there is a secret is a big enough step for now. But I would like to remind you that Clark should arrive at my house either in a vehicle or he should be seen walking up the road by the gate guard and check in with him. And if he walks, he should arrive at the guard house more than one minute after I hang up the phone with him. You should assume the mansion, its grounds, and the first two hundred yards of road leading the mansion are all under surveillance because they are unless the security system is malfunctioning. Don’t worry, I’ve already destroyed all the tapes so far of Clark just appearing out of nowhere.”

Clark stared at Lex, Mom and Dad stared at him. So Lex knew about the strength, invulnerability, and speed. That just left floating and that wasn’t even a conscious power. At this point they may as well tell him and avoid the hassle of trying to keep him in the dark. “I’m an alien,” he blurted out.

“Clark!” both his parents exclaimed sharply.

Lex was straddled on his lap with both hands over Clark’s mouth. His eyes were wide as he looked around the room as if expecting to find all sorts of his father’s spies hanging out of the woodwork. When he had satisfied himself that he and the Kents were alone, he looked back at Clark, his face pale. “God, Clark, don’t say things like that.” He let his hands fall away from Clark’s mouth and instead took handfuls of flannel as he leaned in close and rested his forehead against Clark’s shoulder.

Clark was officially confused. Lex wanted to know his secret, had been asking questions for weeks, and when he finally answers, he suddenly doesn’t want to know? Okay, granted, he’d had a similar reaction when Mom and Dad told him, and he should probably take comfort in the fact that Lex was trembling in his arms instead of trying to shove him into a wood chipper, but still.

Wait. Trembling in his arms? He looked down at his best friend and new boyfriend. Yes. Clark had wrapped his arms around him, and Lex was trembling, curled up close to his chest and clinging to his shirt like he wasn’t a grown man. Clark looked over to his mom with a ‘help me’ look in his eyes.

She put a hand on Lex’s back and rubbed it in a circle. “Lex, sweetie, what’s wrong?”

Clark could tell her that. Lex just found out the person he’d given his heart to wasn’t a person at all, but a freak from another planet. Clark was shocked and relieved Lex was still willing to touch him at all.

Lex laughed, but it sounded strained. “I was just given everything I ever wanted.” Clark had no idea what to make of that statement. Maybe Lex had been driven mad?

Dad rose to his feet, his fists clenching and unclenching, unsure of how to address the perceived threat to his family. Mom made another circling motion, “You make that sound like a bad thing.”

“I’ve also realized how much risk I’ve put you in.” The trembling abruptly stopped as he went perfectly still. He sat up straight in Clark’s lap. “I’m going to kill Rudy, and then myself. That will eliminate the threa -” It was Clark’s turn to cover Lex’s mouth.

Clark turned helplessly toward his mother. “What do I do? He just went insane.” He looked toward the bathroom, looked into the bathroom, at the medicine cabinet, into the medicine cabinet. It didn’t even occur to him that he was looking through at least one wall and one mirror. “I don’t think Nyquil or Advil will help, will they? Maximum strength Bayer? Benadryl? Tylenol Cold and Sinus?”

“Clark!” His mother’s raised voice broke through his panic fogged brain and he wondered how many times she’d repeated his name. He looked away from the medicine cabinet and into her head. He screamed and dropped Lex onto the coffee table as he stood and backed into Dad.

“Clark!” His dad called the name this time, stumbling back but catching both of them before they fell. “What’s wrong, son?” At the same time, Mom was yelling Lex’s name, and Clark was vaguely aware of shattering as Lex weight crushed the lemonade glasses. Lex released a small pained sound as the broken shards cut into his hands as he tried to catch himself. Then Clark was there, picking him up out of the air before he was hurt further. Setting him down on the couch where Clark had just sat, time fell back into its normal cadence as Clark pulled the glass out of Lex’s hands.

“What just happened?” Lex asked, looking around, disoriented. “One second I was about to get glass skewered by a lot of broken glass, and now I’m over here, and barely injured.”

“Superspeed,” Clark explained shortly, “I moved you.”

“Oh,” Lex said. “Thank you.”

Clark dismissed it, feeling guilty that he hadn’t prevented even more damage. “You wouldn’t have needed saving if I hadn’t dropped you.”

“What brought that on, son?” Dad asked again, concerned. “You screamed.”

“I saw Mom’s brain,” Clark explained, certain that was a valid reason to scream and not feeling the least bit ashamed of himself for doing so.

Lex and Dad both looked at Mom, who looked a little shocked and touched her head, as if to make sure it hadn’t cracked open without her awareness. Lex looked back at him first. “You saw her brain? Through the skull? What did it look like?”

Figuring the first two were self-evident, he just answered the last one. “Gross.”

Mom looked mildly offended, and Dad tried to defend her, “I’m sure your mother has a very beautiful brain.”

Clark looked at his dad incredulously. If he’d ever seen a brain, Clark was sure he’d realize what a ridiculous statement that was. “She’s got a wonderful mind, but brains are gross,” he reiterated his original assessment.

Lex laughed and all three Kents looked at him curiously and with some concern. “You might want to check on his brain, Clark,” Dad suggested under his breath. Lex heard but only laughed more. Bracing himself, Clark tried to check on his friend’s brain. Nothing. Just bald scalp.

“I can’t control it yet,” he admitted, shaking his head.

Mom ignored them both and put a hand on Lex’s shoulder. “Are you all right, Lex?”

Lex nodded, still laughing. It was kind of creepy. Clark had never seen Lex laugh like this. Though the laughing wasn’t nearly as eerie as the way it suddenly stopped. Mom apparently thought so, too. “Lex, you’re scaring me. Talk to us.”

He shook his head, not looking at any of them. This was it. Clark wasn’t telling anyone else his secret. It drove people mad. He wondered if maybe they ought to contact Mr. Luthor to inform him that his son had lost his mind.

“I’m fine,” Lex said, though none of the Kents believed him for a second. “It’s just . . . everything suddenly struck me as patently absurd. Don’t get me wrong, I believe it all, it’s just . . . I feel like the Twilight Zone music should be playing in the background.”

On that, at least, Clark could commiserate. “I’ve felt that way since I found out, too.”

Lex looked at him curiously, “When was that?”

“After I got home the day you hit me with your car.”

For a moment, Lex started at him, dumbfounded. Then he closed his eyes and shook his head. “I suddenly get the barely constrained panic over the last three weeks whenever I asked a stupid question. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

Clark shrugged. “It’s fine. You okay? I know it’s a lot. You’re not still thinking of murder and suicide, are you?”

Lex sighed. “I suppose a less drastic solution can be found. I think breaking up -”

“No.” That was not an option. “Absolutely not.” ‘Breaking up’ was now synonymous with ‘never seeing Lex again’ and that was impossible.

Lex looked at him. “My dad will lose interest if I go away.”

“I don’t want you to go away. I want you with me.” If that sounded pathetic, Clark didn’t care.

“You’ve known me three weeks. You can’t risk a secret like this on a guy you barely know.”

For a man as smart as Lex, he could be pretty dumb sometimes. “I already did. I told you, didn’t I?”

“And I’m still having trouble believing you did that.”

“Why is it so hard? You kept asking!” Frustrated, the last part came out a little louder and angrier than he meant it to.

“I thought you were a mutant!” Lex responded, just as hotly, “I wanted you to trust me with that secret so I could tell you mine!”

Clark blinked and his parents exchanged looks with each other. “ Your what?”

“My Smallville secret.” With three pairs of eyes on him, he opened his closed fists and showed them where the glass had been embedded in his skin. The wounds were closed and partly faded, like they were hours old instead of just minutes. “I heal.”

“You’re a mutant?” Clark asked, a little stunned.

Lex nodded, smiling a little as if he were proud of it. “I’ve been bald since the meteor shower.”

Clark felt guilt churn in his gut. “I’m sor -”

“Don’t you dare apologize,” Lex interrupted sharply. “If you want to take credit for something you had no control over, I was cured of my asthma that day so the net result of the encounter was positive and I thank you. Even the hair probably turned out for the best. It used to be red.” He looked at Mom and shrugged, “No offense meant.”

She smiled wryly, “None taken.”

“This mutation of yours,” Dad spoke up, “Your father know about it?”

Lex nodded. “Almost certainly, though he’s never mentioned it. I suspect he buys the blood I donate to the Red Cross before it ever makes it to a patient.” He shrugged, like it didn’t matter, “Can’t prove it, though. The LuthorCorp charity donations might just be coincidence or an attempt to unnerve me.”

Clark didn’t like it. By the frowns on his parents’ faces, neither did they.

“So given that he clandestinely studies your blood, and you’re his son, what would he do if he found out about Clark?” Martha asked, worriedly.

Lex went white. It was answer enough. “That’s it, you’re calling your father right now and telling him it’s over between you and Clark,” Dad announced.

“No!” Clark yelled. “Lex is mine!” He didn’t realize what his mouth had said until he noticed the three pairs of eyes staring at him, all of them rather shocked. Then he blushed, but continued to glare and did not take back his words.

Lex was the last of them to look away, his blue eyes expressing so much as they stared at him. Shock, a little amusement, something like awe or maybe even love, a bit of hope, some heat and desire, and no small amount of fear and trepidation.

“One year,” Martha suggested. “Break it off for one year, let Lionel cool down, let Clark grow up a little bit more, reach sixteen, then you can try it out if you still want to.”

They looked at each other. Lex nodded very slowly. “I can work with that,” he said, giving Clark every opportunity to refute the decision should he so choose. “It’ll give me time to get used to running the factory, get the workers used to me before I go and break a scandal on their town. It’ll give you guys a chance to secure your home and your secrets before the assault.”

Clark still didn’t like it. Not one bit. But it was temporary. One year. “I want an hour alone with Lex in my bedroom, no limitations.”

“No,” Dad refused.

Mom shook her head and insisted, “Same limitations I set earlier.”

Clark scowled, unhappy with the fact that he might loose Lex to time without ever getting to please his primitive brain. “Fine. Clothes on, no skin on skin below the belt. But I get him for the whole night.”

“Lex calls his father, first, and your mother will check on you periodically.”

Clark grudgingly nodded, and Lex took that as the signal to pull out his cell phone. He punched in a number and held it up to his ear for a moment before speaking into it. “Dad. It’s over. If McPherson tells you otherwise, it’s just one last fuck tonight then we won’t be seeing each other anymore.” For that part, Lex had turned his back on Mom and Dad and did not turn back to face them. There were a few moments during which a tinny voice couldn’t quite be made out, but Lex’s back stiffened with offense. “Fuck you, Dad,” he snapped, then hung up as hard as a cell phone allowed.

His shoulders slumped as he put the phone away and he did not turn to face them. “I apologize for my language, Mrs. Kent.”

Mom frowned at his back and did not excuse it. Clark gave her an uncertain look, then went and touched his hand to the small of his back and guided him toward the stairs. “Clothes on!” Mom called after them.

After the door to his room closed behind them, Clark was suddenly at a loss. Lex looked at him curiously, but waited for his lead. “Um,” Clark said, feeling really dumb. He had Lex for exactly one night before he wouldn’t see him again for a year. “Wait here a minute,” he said after a moment, then opened the door and shouted downstairs, “We can change into pajamas, right?”

After a moment, Dad was climbing the stairs. When he reached the top, he answered the question. “Yes, but separately. Lex, out here. Clark, you change first.” He frowned at Lex, then added, “And leave something for him to wear on the bed.”

Clark changed quickly, then spent an inordinate amount of time trying to decide which of his pajamas he (a) wanted to see Lex wear and (b) didn’t think Lex would mind wearing. It was made particularly difficult because all his pajamas were pretty much the same; sweats and t-shirts. He found the two with the fewest and smallest holes in them and left them on the bed for Lex. Fortunately, they didn’t clash, and the blue t-shirt was one of the colors that Lex sometimes wore. Lex called it periwinkle (or at least the shirt’s current shade was, after hundreds of times through the wash), which was apparently very different from blue (probably by about the hundred aforementioned washings), and had gotten upset when Clark called it blue (though his shirt had only been washed once, if that many times).

Lex changed quickly, too, and Dad went back downstairs once he was sure they were both suitably covered again. Clark once more closed the door to his room. Lex made no complaint about his wardrobe, which Clark was secretly glad about. He still didn’t know how to proceed, though.

When the silence grew uncomfortable, Lex filled it. “There’s a psychological dominance given to a man who sees his partner wearing his clothes. I wonder if you father realized this when he allowed you to dress me.”

“Probably not,” Clark guessed, not sure what to make of the topic. Was Lex trying to say that he was feeling out of his depth, too?

Lex nodded, taking Clarks guess as the truth. “I wonder if finding out now would disturb him or make him viciously satisfied.”

Clark sighed. “Dad’s not like that. He doesn’t play power games like your dad does.”

The look Lex gave him stated quite unequivocally that Clark was hopelessly naïve. “The fuck he doesn’t. The only reason he’s remotely accepting of this is because I was giving off sub and fem signals and you were acting completely alpha male over me. Do you honestly think he would have let us alone together if the roles were reversed? Your mom’s no better, either, so don’t go trying to hold her up. When we were in the kitchen she basically told me flat out that I was to give you all the power in the relationship or my wardrobe would swiftly become an unappealing array of orange jumpsuits. The only control I’m allowed is the responsibility of stopping anything that starts getting too intimate.”

Clark frowned, shaking his head. “Why would -”

“Because they wanted to make me back off,” Lex answered before Clark even got the question out. “They were trying to manipulate me. They didn’t think I would find the conditions acceptable.” Lex stepped closer to him, close enough that their breath mingled. “They don’t know me half as well as they think they do. There are three things I want from you, Clark, and to be perfectly honest, I can get them faster and easier and more completely by following their rules.”

Their faces were so close, Clark just wanted to bend down that little bit and kiss him, but this was important. “What three things, Lex?”

Lex smiled wryly, and a little self-deprecatingly. “Oh, nothing big, Clark, just your trust, your loyalty, and your love.”

Clark chuckled softly, putting one hand on Lex’s waist, the other behind his head. He leaned down, but just before their mouths should have met, Clark said quietly, “You have them.” Then he closed the small distance in a brief, chaste kiss.

“You say that so easily.” His voice was doubtful, which was perfectly understandable given his background.

There were a lot of ways to respond to that, all of the true. Clark opted for the one Lex would understand the best. “I got a good exchange for them.”

“Yeah? What did you get?”

“You.” It was a totally dorky and sappy thing to say but Lex seemed to like it. He even blushed a little bit. He didn’t even protest when Clark swept him up into a bride carry to cross the three steps to his bed and laid him gently down on his mattress.

“I’m not breaking your mother’s rules, Clark,” Lex warned.

“I know,” Clark told him, laying down beside him and arranging them so Lex was on his side and Clark was spooned up behind him, arms wrapped around Lex. “I don’t want you to.” He kissed the back of Lex’s head. “Seriously, I’m still working on the gay thing. It comes and goes with my hormones. I just want to literally sleep with you.”

Lex settled against him and seemed to relax. “Okay.”

“I’m going to miss you this year, Lex.”

“Yeah. Me, too, Clark.”

There had been something really sad and lonely in his tone. Clark gave him light squeeze. “Just remember I’m waiting for you. Stay out of trouble, okay?”


“Good, because when this is over, I really want to plow your fields.”

“!” It wasn’t really a word, it wasn’t even a sound, but Clark could hear the exclamation point as the whole body in his arms suddenly went taut. “I can’t believe you just said that, Clark!” Lex hissed after a moment’s shock.

Clark laughed and turned out the light next to his bed. “It’s the truth. Go to sleep, Lex.”

“Sleep?” Lex repeated in disbelief. “I’ve got a hard-on pressed against my ass and one of my own and you want me to sleep?”

Clark smiled and knew Lex was going to still be his in a year. “Yes.”

“And people say I’m the evil and corrupt one,” Lex muttered.

“We both know they’re wrong. Go to sleep, Lex.”

Continued in A Half Dozen Headlines