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Read Lionel's Journal

Book Cover
Chapter One

Epilogue, for MIT Challenge

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven

Monday Night Quarterback
New Man in Town
With Charity for None
Masque and Mirrors
The Bachelor Auction
Giving Thanks

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WARNING: NC-17 Slash Fiction
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Author's Note: This Chapter begins the morning after the events in "Monday Night Quarterback." Please bear in mind that this is an Alternate Universe in which the events of Seasons Two and Three of "Smallville" did not occur.

7:04 a.m. Tuesday, September 26
One Luthor Plaza

Lionel didn't believe in jealousy. He acknowledged its existence as a concept that applied to other people, but Lionel Luthor did not indulge. If he coveted something, he acquired it. And once he possessed it, he held onto it for as long as it suited him. People, places, things... There was little difference. Absolute ownership precluded the need for jealousy.

Take Whitney Fordman, for example, the star quarterback who was upstairs in Lionel's bed, still sleeping off the effects of last nights' celebration of his victory over the Steelers. Whitney belonged to Lionel. All the right buttons had been pushed to acquire him. The proper protocols had been observed; the right negotiations had been conducted; the proper moves had been calculated and executed. Lionel was systematically giving the emotional, excessively romantic young man everything his excessively emotional nature required to bind him to Lionel. And since Whitney believed in the concepts of honor and commitment, infidelity was so remote as to be almost--but not quite--laughable, which was good, because Lionel didn't embrace the idea of sharing, either.

Therefore, since jealousy was not in the Luthor Lexicon, it stood to reason that jealousy had nothing whatsoever to do with Lionel being in his office at 7 a.m. demanding an explanation for how his investigators had missed something as monumental as the fact that Whitney Fordman had fallen in love two summers ago without Lionel knowing about it--and with his son's lover, no less.

"There was a surveillance team on each of these young men, Jacob," Lionel pointed out to the employee across the desk from him. Lionel's voice was calm, but had an edge sharp enough to rend flesh. "Two teams. How did your people miss this?"

"Actually, sir, Fordman was only under spot surveillance, and we had no operatives in Smallville during the time period in question," Jacob Manning replied, respectful but seemingly oblivious to the danger in his employers voice. Fifty-four and bald mostly-by-choice, the investigator always looked distinguished and alert, even after being roused out of bed by 2 a.m. phone calls. But then, terse, middle-of-the-night calls like last nights' were nothing new to the former FBI man who had been the head of Lionel's security force for more than a decade. "At the end of his sophomore year, Mr. Fordman did four weeks in the Kansas State summer training camp, then went home to Smallville on July 3. Since strangers are conspicuous there, our plan was to use The deMedici to keep tabs on his activities, but that was the summer Lex packed up his household and moved back to Metropolis." The deMedici was Manning's code for the coterie of moles that rotated in and out of Lex's personal staff. "My notes indicated that we discussed this in our July security briefing and decided that since Fordman was 'low priority' surveillance at that time--"

"--we wouldn't risk discovery. Yes, yes, yes. I remember," Lionel snapped as he stood and moved briskly to the coffee urn on the breakfast cart. He regretted his abrupt movement immediately. He'd ridden Whitney's cock too hard last night, and he was going to be feeling the aftereffects of his enthusiasm for another 24 hours, at least. He couldn't deny that the celebration had been worth the current discomfort, though. His cock roused at the memory of the magnificent athlete who serviced him, but he clamped the legendary Luthor control on it. Whitney was still upstairs, but Lionel didn't have time to return to the penthouse and properly awaken his sleeping beauty.

"So we have nothing on that summer?" he asked irritably as he refilled his cup.

"Precious little. Kent worked at a stable while the owners were out of the country. According to my research on the Fordman family, it was the same stable that purchased the Fordman's horses when the father became ill. It doesn't take much creativity to imagine that the stable is where the two of them connected."

"I have no intention of imagining the two of them anywhere," Lionel growled and instantly cursed his outburst. There was no place for emotion in this discussion. This was about information and the power that came from knowledge. Facts were impersonal. They conferred control to the man who knew how to use them. In the gathering of Intelligence there was no place for creativity or imagination or vexing images of Whitney lying naked and sated in the arms of Clark Kent -- handsome, virile Clark Kent, poor as a churchmouse, but young. So very young. And beautiful. And apparently intelligent and challenging enough to keep Lex panting after him all these years.

Last night, Whitney had insisted he was no longer in love with Kent. Lionel had to know if that was true.

"What about cross-referencing Whitney's file with Lex's?" Lionel suggested. He had been keeping an extensive database of Lex's activities and known associates since his son's first "peccadillo" had led to the construction of the Luthor Science Hall at Carrington Prep. He had gigabytes of cross-referenced data that spanned several continents for every friend and every enemy, every dealer who'd sold his son drugs and every addict who'd purchased the designer "chemicals" Lex had played with engineering back when he was trying to get his father's attention the hard way: Without caving in to Lionel's expectations. With the help of the Lex Files, as he referred to them to no one but himself, he could determine down to the penny every contribution, payoff, and outright bribe he'd paid to keep Lex's indiscretions from destroying the boy's future.

The Lex Files were, of course, incredibly dangerous. The statute of limitations had run out on most of the offenses against Lionel, which mainly consisted of bribery, obstruction of justice, and the like, but since there was no expiration date on murders committed at trendy clubs, Lionel kept the database under lock and key and retina scan and voice print id on an encrypted, removable flash drive. Manning had the only copy that wasn't in Lionel's personal vault.

Ironically, for all the data in the Lex Files, there was precious little on Clark Kent. But why should there be? When the bulk of your son's known associates were lowlife scum looking for a meal-ticket, a pretty high school student from a salt-of-the-earth family wasn't cause for adding extra surveillance. In fact, until last night, the only things Lionel had found interesting about Clark Kent were his police-documented proclivity for helping people in trouble and the barely-legal circumstances surrounding his adoption. Lionel had files on both, but to the best of his knowledge, neither had anything to with Whitney Fordman.

"The cross-reference leads us to a few conjectures, but not much in the way of hard facts," Manning informed him. "Apparently the two young men were rivals for the hand of a comely cheerleader named, uh--" He paused to search his notes.

"Lana Lang," Lionel said impatiently. "I know about that. What else?"

"Local rumor has it that Kent was on the receiving end of an annual high school hazing. Members of the football team hang a 'scarecrow.' Fordman apparently chose Kent, strung him up in a field, and printed some ritual markings on his body."

"By all accounts, Kent is exceedingly strong. In high school he made some miraculous rescues of classmates and friends, including Lex. He couldn't get himself off a wooden post?"

"Apparently not."

"Curious." Lionel frowned. It was hard to imagine Whitney involved in something so childish and potentially cruel. It was even harder to imagine Clark Kent standing for it. And harder to still to imagine Kent becoming the lover of the young man who had persecuted him. Apparently Clark had perverse need for domination; something that might account for the longevity of his relationship with Lex. But that wasn't the issue. "What else?"

"I found a police report in Lex's file that mentioned Fordman."

"In what capacity?"

"Related to a series of break-ins that included the castle Lex's first year in Smallville. According to the police report, Fordman figured out the identity of the burglars and enlisted Clark to beard the suspects in their lair. Lex found out what they were up to and called in the police."

"The purported walking-through-walls incident."

"Yes, well..." Manning's skepticism showed plainly. "That was the rumor."

"Anything else?"

Manning shook his head. "Nothing. And I don't need to tell you that ferreting out information about a two-and-a-half year old clandestine teenage affair would be extremely difficult. In a town like Smallville, investigating without alerting the subjects would be impossible."

Lionel's steely blue eyes glittered dangerously. "Oh, I think that depends on your approach, Jacob."

The investigator frowned. "Sir?"

"Metropolis University. Noon today. Last night, I overheard Mr. Fordman and Mr. Kent make plans to get together for lunch between Kent's classes. Later last night, Mr. Fordman confessed the summer affair with Kent." Lionel moved purposefully to the window and his commanding view of his domain. "It seems logical to me that Mr. Fordman might impart that information to Mr. Kent over lunch today."

Lionel didn't have to look to know that Manning was smiling. He could hear it in his voice when he suggested, "And a discussion of said affair might ensue?"

"A distinct likelihood," Lionel said, turning. "As well as an excellent opportunity for you to redeem yourself for your embarrassing failure to inform me of the affair at the time it occurred."

Manning inclined his head. "Audio or video?"

"Both, if possible, with a complete transcript of their conversation on my d--"

The buzz of his phone cut him off. It was the line he reserved solely for Whitney, but Manning had no way of knowing that. Holding up one finger as a gesture to wait, Lionel picked up the phone. "Yes?"

"You in a meeting?" Whitney's voice was husky with sleep and the promise of sex. Lionel could picture him in bed, hair spiky and tousled, his eyes closed, one hand lazily caressing his morning erection. Lionel forcibly quieted his quickening pulse before the blood could find its way to his own cock.

"For the moment."

"How many moments?"

"Five, perhaps."

"Good. Unlock the elevator as soon as they're gone and I'll come down there and suck your cock until you scream for me to stop."

Blood slammed into Lionel's cock with such force that no amount of discipline could stem the tide. Damn him. Lionel bit back a smile. Whitney knew very well that screaming was unlikely, but he also knew that Lionel couldn't very well contradict him with an audience in the office. Nor was he likely to be able to escort his guest to the door now.

"I think something along those lines can be negotiated, with certain modifications," Lionel said smoothly as he eased into his chair. "I'll schedule that on my calendar."

"Good. I'll be waiting in the elevator. You can't miss me -- I'll be stark naked, wearing nothing but a silver cock ring and a huge hard on."

Lionel swiveled his chair, placing his back to Manning. "You know, your estimation of the size of your assets never fails to amaze me. I'll make that determination myself, thank you very much."

"Okay," Whitney conceded, "But you better have a yard stick ready."

Lionel chuckled darkly. "I'll see what I can come up with." He swiveled back to the desk, placed the phone in its cradle, and looked at Manning, perfectly composed. "Where were we?"

If Manning knew that his employer was hard as a brick from arranging a blow job, he had the courtesy not to show it. "You were about to ask me to have a surveillance transcript on your desk by tomorrow morning."

Lionel shook his head. "Oh, Jacob. I thought you knew me better than that." Lionel smiled. "I'll expect the transcript by five this afternoon."

"Of course."

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I have another meeting coming up."

"Audio and video." Not an easy bill to fill, but with a little luck, not impossible, Jacob Manning reflected as he made his way out of Lionel's still-deserted outer office.

Audio was no problem. Whitney Fordman's SUV was in Lionel's private garage downstairs. If that phone call Lionel had taken was what Jacob suspected, he'd have a bug under the dash of Fordman's car before the cum dried. And if Fordman took Kent back to his condo, that was covered, too: Devices had been installed before the Sharks' quarterback had taken possession of his new home in the Lancer Building. They had been activated for only a brief period in August during a lover's quarrel, but reactivating them was a simple matter. Manning would have live audio and video feeds coming from Fordman's living room and bedroom by midmorning.

Kent's dorm room had a dormant audio device that could be activated, too, if necessary. Lionel had ordered it planted the previous year when he suspected Lex was behind a bid to take over one of LuthorItalia's key holdings. Lionel had thwarted the coup without ever proving Lex's involvement, and he'd had the bug deactivated so that it would be invisible to an electronic sweep in the event that Lex got paranoid.

For surveillance outside of the personal space of Manning's two targets, he'd just have to rely on telephoto video and a parabolic mike. Or maybe he'd have one of his people brush against Fordman and tag him with micro-transmitter.

There were numerous options and by the time the elevator reached Security Headquarters on the second floor of One Luthor Plaza, Manning had a half-dozen pliable scenarios in his head. Improvisation was the key to any successful surveillance and Manning knew how to improvise.

If there was such a thing as a perfect day, Whitney was pretty sure he was having one. A thundershower late last night had delivered the first real taste autumn, and as he strolled across the Met U campus, the air was crisp and clear, God was in his heaven, all was right with the world, and Whitney's life was about as close to perfect as it could possibly get. Oh, there were things he wanted and couldn't have -- like a world without homophobic prejudice where he could be himself and love whoever he wanted to, openly and honestly -- but all things considered, Whitney knew he couldn't ask for his life to get much better. He could still taste last night's victory over the Steelers just as strongly as he could taste his lover, hear the roar of the crowd and the silken whisper of Lionel's voice; he could close his eyes and see his lover's face transported by passion, move and feel the fullness of Lionel's cock inside of him. And tonight they'd have a romantic dinner at the penthouse and tomorrow Whitney would start prepping for next Sunday's home game against the Raiders.

Oh, yes. Complete and utter bliss was a wonderful thing, indeed.

"Whoa, hotshot! That's some set of moves you got there! Stylin'!"

Clark's teasing voice brought Whitney to a halt on the busy sidewalk in front of the library, and he turned to discover that he'd just walked right past his friend. "Clark! Sorry. I didn't see you up there."

"That's not surprising," Clark said, grinning as he jumped down from his perch on one of the concrete lions that guarded the long flight of stairs up to the Julian Luthor Memorial Library. "You were a million miles away."

"Reliving last night's victory," Whitney told him, dodging students to get back to his friend.

"Who are you trying to kid?" Clark murmured in his ear as they did the guy-hug thing. "That strut only shows up after a really good fuck."

Whitney shrugged. "Hey, a victory is only as good as the celebration that follows it."

Clark frowned. "Who said that?"

"I did. Just now. Have you considered having your hearing checked?"

"Sorry. I've been around Lex too long. Everything's a quote."

"Tell me about it. I guess father and son do have a few things in common, after--"

"Hey, Look! It's Whitney Fordman, the Sharks' QB! Hey, Fordman! How about an autograph!"

The anonymous voice came from out of nowhere, startling Whitney, as did the exclamations of "Where?" and "Cool" and "Holy Shit!" as people stopped and looked and recognized and flocked. Within seconds, Whitney found himself surrounded by a gaggle of students plying him with backslaps, forcing handshakes on him, and shoving notebooks and body-parts at him for autographs. Whitney went into his "meet the public" mode. He was aware of Clark being rudely pushed aside, but all he could do was smile and sign autographs and make a gracious escape as quickly as he could. It took half a block of walking backward, saying polite "thank yous," and "Gotta goes" before he was alone on the sidewalk and Clark was free to rejoin him.

"I think that falls under the category of 'be careful what you wish for or you just might get it,'" Clark said with a dazed shake of his head.

"Definitely not one of the perks of fame," Whitney replied, but he couldn't quite hold back a grin. "But it's kinda neat to be recognized."

"You mean idolized."

Whitney snorted. "Yeah, right."

"Hey, get used to it. After the way ABC canonized you last night, mob scenes like this are going to become a way of life."

"ABC said good stuff about me?" he asked brightly.

"Oh, yeah. Haven't you seen the broadcast? I figured you'd record it for posterity."

"I did, but I haven't been home long enough to watch it yet."

"Really? That's great!" Clark grinned his huge, gosh-darn grin that used to make Whitney's pulse race and his cock twitch. Now it just made him smile in return. "My one o'clock lab was cancelled--let's go back to your place and watch the game. You can give me a play-by-play. I can't wait to watch you watch yourself. "

Whitney laughed. "All right! Let's do it." They picked up their pace as Whitney's SUV came into view just ahead of them. "So tell me, what did they say about me? ABC?"

"They raved. Great arm, great instincts, great command of the field, great ass--

"They did not!"

Clark raised one hand. "Swear to God."

"Who said that? Madden or Michaels?"

"I'm not telling. Wait and see." The rest was lost in laughter as they climbed into the SUV.

A block away in an unmarked, unassuming silver van, Jacob Manning was smiling as he transferred channels from the bug his man had just planted on Whitney to the one he'd personally planted in Fordman's car this morning. He fiddled with the reception until it was clear.

"Do we follow them, Jacob?" The voice from behind the wheel of the van was the same one that had started the autograph-seeker's feeding frenzy on the stairs of the library.

A cackle of static. Fordman's voice: "Let's stop for burgers-to-go at McGinty's. It's right on the way."

"Cool." Kent's.

Manning shook his head. "Why? We know where they're going. Just head toward the Lancer Building by way of Monument Boulevard. That will keep them in range."

"Yes, sir."

Audio and video, coming right up, Lionel, courtesy of the bugs in Fordman's living room and bedroom.

Manning's smile faded. For everyone's sake, Jacob hoped that this afternoon's replay of the game stayed in the living room. The boss had a rare, emotional investment in this one, and if Fordman betrayed him, Lionel's wrath would make the earth quake and the heaven's roar.

Lionel scowled at the report from his Construction Supervisor in Visakhapatnam. This expansion into India was beginning to seem like more of a pain in the ass than it was worth. The report was carefully worded, but reading between the lines, Lionel gleaned the fact that vital excavation permits were being held hostage by a greedy bureaucrat who felt that his palm hadn't been sufficiently greased.

Lionel understood the necessity of bribery and payoffs, but at some point a deal had to be a deal.

Removing his glasses, he leaned back in his chair and lightly tapped his computer screen with the frames, weighing his options: pay up -- again -- or blow the whistle on the greedy little bastard at the Ministry of Commerce in New Delhi. Getting the bureaucrat fired and ostracized might send a valuable message to the dozens of other functionaries he'd have to deal with in the coming months, but it seemed a little too early to be exercising his power at that level. It also meant a trip to India--something Lionel avoided unless absolutely necessary. He'd set up the LuthorIndia Corporate office in Switzerland for several reasons, but one of the prime ones was to keep trips to the country a minimum.

Payment of the bribe and a carefully delivered threat seemed to be an acceptable--

Lionel's intercom buzzed.

"Yes, Grace?"

"Security just delivered a report for you, sir."

Lionel checked his watch. 4:57. Jacob Manning was nothing if not punctual. "Bring it in, Grace."

Whitney and Clark. Lionel clamped down on an unexpected surge of trepidation that coursed through him. He forced himself to be calm and unemotional as Grace crossed the room and laid the envelope in front of him.

"Thank you, Grace. You may leave for the day. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yes, sir. Have a good evening."

That all depends on what's in this envelope, Lionel thought, fingering the silver holographic security seal. Did he really want to know what had happened this afternoon? What had been said? What had transpired between the two former lovers? Lionel already knew that Whitney had taken Kent back to his condo -- he'd learned that when he'd called Whitney to change their dinner engagement from 7 to 8 to accommodate a conference call he had to initiate this evening.

Clark at Whitney's condo. Yesterday he wouldn't have given it a second thought. Today the very idea made him want to rip out Clark Kent's throat with his bare hands. An extreme reaction, yes, but Lionel believed in posting large No Trespassing signs around his property.

The irritating email from India forgotten, Lionel broke the seal. The first sheet was a note from Manning with a Time Index and a suggestion that Lionel might be particularly interested in the transcript that began at time code 14:10.

Avoiding the temptation to dive immediately into that time code, Lionel began at the beginning, scanning a playful discussion of ABC's coverage of Whitney's performance last night. That was followed by Clark's intense questioning of Whitney about various aspects of the game during ride in the SUV. More banter. Some business about Clark's classes... Brief bits of description made the dialogue easier to follow as Whitney and Clark arrived at the condo and cued up the game on the VCR in the living room. Over burgers and beer the former lovers began watching the game. Lionel kept reading.

Discussion of the game....more discussion of the game... Whitney's fears, his exhilaration. What he'd thought and felt on certain plays. Lionel scanned more quickly; most of what he was reading was nothing more than a rehash of what Whitney had shared with him last night. Lionel was irrationally pleased by the knowledge that those thoughts and emotions had been shared with him first. The intimacy of that act of sharing belonged to Lionel; Kent was getting stale leftovers.

Time Code 14:10. Lionel slowed, reading more closely when he realized which section of the taped game had sparked the conversation Manning found interesting: Those tense moments in the third quarter when Whitney had been knocked unconscious.

Fordman: Ouch! Shit, that still hurts.

Kent: I don't doubt it. He clocked you good. You had us really scared for a while, pal.

Fordman: Oh, yeah? Was--

Kent: What?

Fordman: Nothing. You want another beer?

(Fordman gets up from the sofa.)

Kent: No, I want you to go ahead and ask me if Lionel was as scared as the rest of us.

Fordman: Shit. Am I that pathetic?

Kent: No. But it's what I'd want to know if our positions were reversed.

(Extended pause.)

Fordman: Well?

Kent: Well what?

Fordman: Asshole. You really meant it when you said you wanted to hear me ask. Okay. Was Lionel scared?

Kent: Yeah. He was scared. I mean, it wasn't like he melted down or anything. He covered it really well. I don't imagine any of the others would have taken his concern as anything but an owner's concern for an expensive team asset, but he was scared. In his gut, not his pocketbook. Even Lex could see it.

Fordman: I'll bet that went over big.

Kent: You have no idea. Last night put your relationship with Lionel in a whole new perspective for Lex. I'm not sure what the fallout is going to be.

Fordman: What do you mean?

Kent: Lex has this image of Lionel as a cold, emotionless bastard who's incapable of loving anyone other than himself.

Fordman:That's bullshit.

Kent: No, that's Lex's way of coping with the certainty that Lionel does not now nor has he ever loved him. But you're shooting holes in his whole concept of himself.

Lionel stopped reading, stunned. Clark Kent was insane. Of course Lex knew that his father loved him. How could he not, when everything Lionel had ever done had been for his children? The LuthorCorp empire that spanned the globe would someday be Lex's. Granted, business had often made him something of an absentee father, but even from a distance he had never stopped giving to Lex. The lessons he had drilled into him were to teach him how to be strong. To survive. To compete and win. And after a decidedly rocky start, Lionel's efforts had finally paid off. Lex was a strong, independent, brilliant-if-sometimes-emotional businessman who'd finally started making Lionel proud to have him as a son. How could he not know that his father loved him? It was absurd.

But it also made a strange, sickening sense. If Lionel accepted Kent's assessment as truth, it explained a great deal of Lex's animosity. But Lionel didn't accept it. He couldn't.

Scowling, he returned to the transcript.

Fordman: What did you mean I'm shooting holes in his concept of himself?

Kent: If Lionel is incapable of loving anyone, then there can't be a deficiency in Lex that makes him intrinsically unlovable. Realizing that Lionel is in love with you --

Fordman: Realiz-- Wait a minute. Who told him Lionel is in love with me?

Kent: Isn't he?

Fordman: Not according to Lionel.

Kent: Then he's either in denial or he's totally bullshitting you, because Lionel Luthor is in love. I saw it last night. Lex saw it--

Oh, good grief. Lionel's scowl deepened and he shook his head. Romantic fools! For Kent and Lex to draw the conclusion that he was in love on such scant empirical observation was absurd! Not that he wasn't capable of loving, because he was. And not that he didn't believe in love or that he thought love was a sign of weakness. On the contrary, he'd never been stronger than when he'd fallen in love with the woman who had become Lex's mother. Lillian's energy and ambition had complimented his own; they had wanted the same things, shared the same desires and goals. Her beauty had been immeasurable; their passion, limitless. Loving Lillian had made Lionel stronger than he had ever imagined he could be; he had achieve more than he could ever have dreamed of on his own. Losing her, little-by-little to illness, then to Lex as she grew weaker and more determined to leave her mark on the boy, and finally to death...

Oh, yes. Lionel could love. And he could be devastated by loss. And therein lay the crux of the matter. Lionel wasn't sure you could enjoy the strength engendered by love without being crippled by the weakness of loss, and so he had spent a goodly number of years avoiding the issue, substituting lust for love, fleeting companionship for commitment, business deals for emotional nourishment.

Whitney Fordman was a passionate companion, a little less fleeting than most, but he wasn't a partner, a mate, a center for Lionel's too-tainted soul. He wasn't going to inspire Lionel to new heights of greatness. He was an incredible fuck and someone surprisingly comfortable to come home to, but Lionel didn't love him in any way that would make an appreciable difference in his life if he lost him. No matter what Clark or Lex thought to the contrary, Lionel wasn't in love.

He returned to the transcript, picking up where he'd left off.

Kent: Then he's either in denial or he's totally bullshitting you, because Lionel Luthor is in love. I saw it last night. Lex saw it--

Fordman: You were looking, projecting... And Lex-- Lex is just looking for excuses to hate me because of you. Anything will do.

Kent: Well, that's true. But it's also true that Lionel is in love. Whitney, what's wrong? I thought you were convinced Lionel loves you.

Fordman: I was. I mean, I am. Convinced he loves me. I just didn't know...I mean (unintelligible phrase)... can't explain it.

Kent: Knowing it in your heart and having it validated so your brain can process it are two different things.

Fordman: Something like that. I can "know" it all I want, and you and Lex can interpret things Lionel does till your dad's cows come home, but until he says the words...

Kent: You might be in for a long wait. Lionel is stubborn.

Fordman: Hey, I'm young. And he's worth it.

Kent: Sorry. I don't see it. But if you're happy.

Fordman: I've been in love with him since I was eighteen, Clark. Sometimes I feel like everything I've done for the last four years has been just for him, leading me to this place.

Kent: Including that afternoon at Miller's pond when we went skinny dipping?

Fordman laughs: Well, no. That wasn't for Lionel, but -- don't take this the wrong way, Clark -- but if that had been Lionel's cock that summer --

Kent: No! Don't even go there! That is NOT an image I want of my boyfriend's father!

Fordman: Yeah, well, Lionel would never admit it, but that image of you and me is not one that he likes much, either.

Kent: Likes? What? You mean he knows about us? About that summer?

Fordman: Lex overplayed his hand last night. Lionel figured out that he was jealous.

Kent: Oh, great. How'd he take it? You made it clear that we're ancient history, right? That's an analogy he would like and understand. I do not need a jealous Lionel on my ass!

Fordman: (pause) I don't think you meant that quite the way it came out, did you?

Kent laughs: Definitely not.

Fordman: Good. 'Cause you can't have him. He's mine.

More laughter was indicated in the transcript, then something on the television caught their attention and the conversation shifted back to football. Lionel closed the transcript. He didn't need to read any more. He'd learned everything he needed to know about Whitney's relationship with Clark Kent. There was nothing between them but friendship. Whitney was in love with Lionel, deeply, blindly and romantically in love. Lionel was irritated that he'd doubted it. The fact that he'd required proof was now discomforting, for it signified that perhaps he had been -- just a little -- jealous.

That was not a tolerable situation.

Disgruntled, Lionel picked up his phone and dialed Security. When Manning answered, Lionel said tersely, "Discontinue the surveillance on Fordman. And have Cannons file a flight plan for New Delhi. I'm leaving for India tonight."

When he arrived at the penthouse, Whitney noticed two things immediately. One was the magnificent piano solo reverberating through the apartment. The other was Lionel's bags stacked on his luggage cart near the elevator. A lot of bags. His next trip to Switzerland wasn't supposed to be until next week, damn it.

So much for Whitney's perfect day.

Swallowing his disappointment and preparing himself for the role of supportive lover, Whitney followed the music to the Conservatory. He stopped in the open archway to take in a scene that was pure staged theatricality Lionel Luthor-style. Painted against the dramatic backdrop of city lights, the Conservatory was sheathed in darkness, lit only by a few pinpoint spotlights that shone directly from the ceiling. One pool highlighted Lionel's Stradivarius, another fell on a crystal champagne bucket and glasses, and of course one light struck Lionel at the piano from directly overhead, illuminating his upturned face in sharp relief. Eyes closed, he was lost in the thundering chords of something wild and unrestrained. Whitney didn't recognize the composer or the piece, but it was violent in its beauty and breathtaking in its power. It built to a tumultuous crescendo, then fell like fireworks blazing bright before sparkling lightly to earth, and then softer still, into a luscious, ripe melody, like a lover's caress.


That's what the music was meant to emulate, Whitney realized. The composer had succeeded in translating an orgasm into a dazzling composition.

On the heels of that insight came the realization that Lionel was now looking at him. The heat in his gaze indicated he knew what the music meant, too; had chosen it carefully for just this moment.

Whitney sent up a silent prayer that Lionel's flight wasn't leaving as immediately as that pile of luggage might indicate. With the music enveloping him like a siren's song, he moved to the piano, stopping just long enough in one of the pools of light to pour a glass of champagne; Lionel's fluted glass was already on the piano.

There was plenty of room for him on the long, padded bench, but instead he moved behind his lover, sifted a handful of Lionel's hair off his neck, and bent to press a kiss to his throat on the pulse-point above the standup collar of his snow white shirt. Whitney's cheek and chin brushed the fabric -- silk. Embroidered. Far Eastern in design, with matching pants that encased his legs loosely and pooled around his ankles. Whitney was getting the picture, but for the moment he focused on doing wet, sexy things to Lionel's earlobe and pulse points.

"Ahem... You'll make me miss the arpeggio," Lionel cautioned, but he didn't sound particularly distraught at the prospect.

"I'd rather make you miss your plane," Whitney countered, his lips brushing Lionel's throat lightly. "You're leaving."


Whitney straightened enough to run his free hand down Lionel's chest, relishing the delicious contradiction of hard and soft beneath his fingers. "That explains the silk. When are you leaving and why do you have to go?"

"In an hour. A problem with construction permits that must be dealt with decisively."

"By you?" Was that whining? Whitney hoped not. He hated whining. He moved around the bench and sat. He made sure his voice was firmer when he continued, "Don't you have an Executive Vice-Sycophant who could go to India and throw your weight around? Send that toad, Dominic."

Lionel chuckled darkly, his hands caressing the keys in a light-as-air arpeggio. "My darling Whitney, there's no point in having weight if you can't enjoy throwing it around yourself. You should be accustomed to this by now."

"Oh, I'm used to it. Doesn't mean I have to like sleeping alone, though."

"I question whether sleeping is your primary concern."

That was true, but Whitney ignored the jibe. He was in his prime. He was expected to crave sex morning, noon, night and all compass points in-between, wasn't he? "Will you be back in time for the game Sunday?"

"Not likely. I have a meeting in Zurich on Monday," Lionel replied without missing a note. "I should be back on Tuesday. We'll celebrate your victory over the Raiders then."

"You're awfully confident."

"You're awfully talented..." The music ended on three soft chords and Lionel reached for his champagne. "I have yet to be disappointed by you, Whitney --" He brushed his glass against Whitney's. "-- on the field or off."

Whitney absorbed the deep regard in Lionel's gaze, unable to escape the feeling that some secret meaning shimmered just beneath the surface. Something was there that hadn't been there yesterday, or even this morning, for that matter. Whatever it was, it was wonderful. He gathered in the warmth behind the compliment and tucked it away for safekeeping."I'm glad. You sure you can't make that departure in two hours instead of one?"

Lionel pursed his lips thoughtfully as he covered the keyboard. "It is my plane. I suppose I can leave whenever I like."

"Good." Whitney stood. "Let's go to the bedroom and I'll see how hard I can make it." He grinned down at his lover. "To leave. Hard to leave."

"I rather preferred the inferred meaning." Lionel stood. "But wouldn't you rather eat?" Lionel's smile was pure wolf; his voice, a sexy purr. "Dinner, I mean. Eat dinner."

"You know me better than that. Come on." Whitney reached for him, but Lionel disappeared into the shadows and reappeared at the champagne table.

"I have a better idea." He touched a button on a remote panel and another pool of light swelled around a gold brocade fainting couch.

Whitney grinned. "Should I get the smelling salts?"

Lionel tossed a wicked smile over his shoulder. "Are you planning to swoon at the sight of my fully engorged manhood."

"I'll try to stay strong."

"Then I think I've taken care of everything we'll need."

"You always do." Whitney moved to him. Walking in and out of the pools of light was strangely disorienting. He reached Lionel, approaching him from behind, and slipped his arms his waist. The beam of light was so tightly focused around the table that Lionel was fully illuminated, but Whitney was cloaked in darkness. He bent his head to nuzzle Lionel's throat while his hands roamed lower. His long white shirt--called a kurta, if Whitney recalled correctly--hung loosely down to Lionel's knees, but it was only buttoned from his throat to his waist, making it a simple matter for Whitney to slide his hand beneath the kurta, into the waist of the trousers and discover nothing beneath the loose-fitting Indian silk payjamas but a cock that was quickly gaining interest in the proceedings.

A small moan of pleasure vibrated in his throat as he took the cock in his hand, but somehow Lionel managed to escape, removing Whitney's hand, caressing it lightly as he reversed their positions, placing Whitney in the light. The shadows swallowed Lionel except where he touched Whit.

"Ah, ah -- Have you learned so little in all these months?" Lionel dipped his head and placed a kiss in the palm of Whitney's hand, then gently traced lines around the callouses, finding the soft, tender spots and sending shivers down Whitney's spine as he admonished, "You always move too quickly toward the main course when there are so many delicious precursors to sample."

He pressed a soft, sucking kiss to Whitney's throat. "Shoes," he murmured and Whitney obliged by slipping out of his shoes, putting them on equal footing.

"Better. First course: Appetizer. Caviar and Creme Fraiche," Lionel murmured, kissing him. It was a slow, lazy exploratory kiss that ignited a low fire and occasionally peaked with the promise of a conflagration to come. Whitney was so focused on the kiss that he was barely aware of Lionel plying at the buttons of his shirt, pulling it free from his jeans, baring his chest.

"Or perhaps something sweeter for the first course," Lionel whispered against Whitney's throat, then nibbling a trail lower, across his collarbone, pressing little nips and licks across the hard, smooth pectoral muscles. "Like French Chocolate Truffles," he murmured, and then his lips and teeth and tongue punctuated the suggestion by working the most incredible magic on one very responsive nipple, savoring, devouring. The sensation jolted hard downward, hitting Whitney's cock and spreading out to his veins. He swallowed hard and did his best not to moan, but the sensations were just too good. He wove his hands in Lionel's hair and tugged, silently begging for equal time on the other crest.

He tried to put his arms around Lionel, but that wasn't allowed. Instead, Lionel moved behind him, kissing and stroking, seemingly intent on sampling every ripple of lean, corded muscle. He brushed the shirt off Whitney's shoulders as he circled him, kissed his shoulder as the shirt slid down his arms, and before Whitney realized it, his shirt had become soft shackles for his wrists and forearms.

"Second course..., Caesar salad chiffonade, I think," Lionel murmured, tugging on one of the knots.

"Evil. You are so evil," Whitney said with an appreciative chuckle that turned to a gasp when Lionel came round to face him again, his hands at Whit's waist this time, releasing his belt, unbuttoning his jeans, splaying his fingers against Whit's side, then running them down his flanks, over his hips; hands so hot against his skin, peeling away jeans and boxer-briefs, skillfully freeing Whit's aching cock. Crouching but never kneeling, Lionel pressed soft, moist kisses against Whit's groin as he pushed the jeans into a pool at Whit's feet.

Whitney gasped a delirious, "Yes, Please!" when Lionel took the cock into his mouth, tongue swirling lightly around the head, flicking over the slit, then sliding deeper; back, then deeper again, sucking and sliding until the Conservatory sang with Whit's pants and curses and pleas for completion that he knew would be denied.

And so it was. With technique born of skill, practice, and an instinct for knowing his lover's body more intimately than he'd ever known anyone's, Lionel pulled off Whitney's cock an instant before it would have been too late.

"Fuck!" Whitney swore. He claimed Lionel's mouth in a searing kiss when Lionel stood and slid one arm around his waist, balancing them so that Whit could step out of the jeans and kick them away.

Their bodies bound together, Whitney ground his cock against Lionel's, staining the white silk that still separated them. With his free hand, Lionel wove his fingers into the soft blond curls around Whitney's cock, then filled his hand with the sac, tugging, rolling, applying the perfect pleasure to make Whitney moan. The hoarse rumbling was lost in Lionel's mouth.

"Your third course better be soup," Whitney cautioned him between kisses.

Lionel shifted his exquisite exploration to the shaft of Whitney's cock. "Butternut squash."

Whitney dropped his head to Lionel's shoulder. "Followed by Lemon Thyme Sorbet to cleanse the palate, and then the main course? Please, God, the main course."

Lionel chuckled. "Since you ask so nicely."

"Soon?" Whitney moaned.

"Patience, my darling. A fine courtesan knows that patience is the most powerful aphrodisiac of all."

Whitney raised his head and sought Lionel's eyes. Despite his calm voice, Lionel's eyes were bright with the fire of his concentration. "Is that what I am? A courtesan?"

"Everyone who aspires to please a lover is a courtesan, Whitney."

"Even you?"

"Do I please you?" He made sure to punctuate the question with a gentle squeeze of Whitney's cock.

"God yessss," Whitney hissed, closing his eyes and fighting the overpowering urge to come all over the hand that was torturing him so sweetly.

"Then follow the syllogism."

Syllogism? Sweet Jesus! How was he supposed to remember what a syllogism was, much less make one with Lionel doing that? "Ummm... Courtesans give pleasure. Lionel gives pleasure, therefore Lionel is a courtesan."

Lionel chuckled. "Not elegant, but acceptable." He rewarded the effort by increasing the friction he was applying to Whitney's cock.

Whitney gasped. "Lionel! I can't..."

"Then don't," Lionel whispered, continuing to jack Whitney as he slid around behind him, pressing his body close again. Whitney felt the heat and hardness of Lionel's erect cock pressing against his backside and he came hard, head thrown back, hips thrusting into Lionel's unrelenting fist. He was vaguely aware of Lionel's other arm wrapping around him, steadying him until every last frission of pleasure had been milked from his cock.

Whitney didn't question the miracle that allowed him to stay on his feet, but it had more to do with Lionel's strength than his own at that moment in time. He didn't try to talk and blessedly, Lionel didn't ask for conversation. He became increasingly aware of both Lionel's arms around his torso, both hands caressing his chest. Lips massaged the back of his neck; Lionel's breathing nearly matched the slowly-evening pace of Whitney's.

"Acceptable?" Lionel queried softly after several long moments.

"My compliments to the chef."

A deep, sexy chuckle. A brush of beard and lips against his shoulder. Hands tracing the contours of his chest, becoming intimately acquainted with the ridges of his abs, the hard line of his lats, the curve of his pecs, as though touching them for the first time... Whitney was astonished when Lionel moaned and whispered against his throat, "You have the body of a god."

Whitney couldn't help it. The question was out before he could call it back. "Is that why you love me?"

"That is why I fuck you. However... " Lionel moved around Whitney, hands never leaving his sweat-slick skin, just sliding, sampling, massaging until he was there in front of him, meeting Whit's questioning gaze with those fathomless blue eyes as he added, "I dine with you, play chess, debate politics and history, give you unrestricted access to my home, and on occasion make love to you because you have a keen mind, a generous spirit, and a champion's heart. Accept my regard for what it is, Whitney, and stop trying to brand it with labels."

Whitney whimpered, though whether it was from the eloquent words in the silken voice or from the hands caressing him, he couldn't have said. "Make love with me tonight," he pleaded.

"Not tonight." Lionel reached behind Whitney and released the shirt that bound his arms. "Over there," he instructed, directing Whitney to fainting couch sat in a pinpoint of light. "Sit. There's a casket on the floor."

Whitney sat on the soft velvet brocade and reached beneath the chaise expecting to find the antique chest that normally graced the living room. Instead, he found a much longer container; antique, yes, but long and narrow, more suited to a short-sword or a dagger.

He opened it and found the expected lube and condoms. He also found a somewhat chillingly realistic sex toy. The cock portion was beautifully formed, but Whitney suddenly understood the rationale behind dayglow dildos. Whitney searched for Lionel in the darkness and discovered him at the edge of pool of light. He had shed his clothes and was magnificently naked, cock jutting up, shining in the light with the dew of pre-cum. He stepped to Whitney at the end of the couch and commanded, "Suck me."

Only too happy to oblige, Whitney planted his hands at Lionel's hips to steady them both, and took him in, skillfully lathing the head and reveling in the way the cock thickened and pulsed beneath his tongue. He flicked the cleft and was rewarded when Lionel gasped and bucked hard into his mouth. A second later, though, Lionel pulled out.

"Sheathe me. Now," he demanded, and Whitney did. "Lube. Slick it." Whitney had never heard Lionel's voice that low and harsh. He looked up at Lionel's face, but it was lost in shadow. He slicked his hands and then the condom. Lionel's cock twitched in his hand, and then amazingly, inexplicably, Lionel backed away, slowly disappearing into the shadows.

"Prepare yourself for me, Whitney. I want to watch you open yourself for me, stretch yourself, fuck yourself."

Lionel had never asked Whitney to perform for him before; oh, Lionel had watched him jerk off before, but this was different. "Lionel, I don't need much preparation for you."

"Then it won't take you long to begin stroking your prostate with that cock."


"I want to see you, Whitney. I want to take pleasure in watching the play of your muscles as you touch yourself. I want to memorize the arch of your back as your fingers stretch your ass. I want to see your face as that cock pierces you, watch your hips and those incredible thighs flex as you work the cock deeper inside you. I want to see your cock grow harder and harder as you gratify yourself. Would you deny me those pleasures, Whitney?"

Whitney's cock was already hardening at the sound of Lionel's voice, the descriptions he had provided were only fuel to the fire. Shifting higher on the chaise and rolling onto his side, he reached for the lube and coated the flesh-colored dildo. Another dollop of lube went onto his fingers, and he reached behind him, smoothing the lube around his hole, then sliding one finger inside, then another, scissoring, forcing himself to relax the way he always could when Lionel came to him. He removed his fingers and reached for the dildo, but his ass tightened in reflex.

He couldn't do it.

Sex games were one thing, but this wasn't a game. Whitney had sensed it the moment it became a power trip, manipulation, punishment, payment due for words that had sounded treacherously close to "I love you."

Whitney dropped the dildo back into the casket and repositioned himself so that his back was resting against the rolling curved arch of the fainting couch. One leg bent at the knee, the other comfortably outstretched, he let his legs fall apart, affording Lionel an unrestricted view of his half-erect cock and his lube-slicked ass.

"Sorry, Lionel. I don't take plastic," he said, his heart hammering as he scanned the blackness for some sign of his lover. "Not when you're here and I can have the real thing. Of course, once you're in India..."

A dark chuckle rolled through the room. "You're defying me?"

"Kinda looks that way, doesn't it?"

"There aren't a handful of people in the world who are comfortable defying me."

"All the more reason you should treasure a pearl like me. Now, for the love of Mike, will you get over here and fuck me?"

A long pause, then, "I don't respond well to commands," Lionel told him, but he stepped out of the shadows anyway. His sheathed cock was still glistening, jutting up in defiance of gravity. Whitney's mouth went dry and he drew up his other knee. His own cock lolled wetly against his abdomen.

"You wanted me to be ready for you, and I am. I always am," Whitney crooned, running his hands along the inside of his thighs, then one hand cupped his balls while the other lightly fingered his hole. His ass flexed in involuntary response to the expectation of being filled, and suddenly Lionel was pulling Whitney to the edge of the chaise, ass perfectly placed as he knelt on the floor and positioned Whitney's legs over his shoulders.

With no ceremony, he spread Whitney's ass cheeks and thrust his cock against the hard ring of his pucker, finding only enough resistance to make Lionel moan at the heat and the pressure as he thrust in hard.

Whitney gasped against the pain of the graceless entry, but when Lionel pulled out and slammed in again, Whitney grabbed the edge of the bench to hold himself in place so that the could accept all of what Lionel was giving him. He tried once to pull Lionel to him for a kiss, but Lionel resisted, focusing instead on finding a new angle for his thrusts and quickening them when Whitney screamed, "OHGOD! FUCK!" and grabbed the sides of the couch to keep from coming off of it, grinding against Lionel, thrusting to follow him when his lover's cock retreated to his entrance and slammed back in again, eliciting another scream and jets of cum that showered them both. His ass clenched hard with the power of that screaming orgasm, and suddenly Lionel was pumping shorter and harder, erratic, desperate, as his own burst of pleasure rocked him. His body went rigid, his head fell back as Whitney's name was wrenched out of him in a shout that was half prayer, half curse. His hips thrust again and again until there was nothing left but the dazzling echo of sensation.

Sanity slowly returning, Lionel pulled out and sank back, head bowed, catching his breath. After a moment, he raised his head and looked at his astonishing Adonis, legs splayed, cock spent, heaving chest glistening with cum, eyes closed as he tried to bring his body back into control. Every fiber of Lionel's being wanted to be in contact with Whitney, screamed for him to slink onto the couch and run his body the length of Whitney's, mate their sated cocks as they lazily kissed and caressed and coddled; to finish this sex act with a tenderness that had had no part of the act itself.

Instead, he rose silently. He couldn't conquer the weakness in him that always drew back from breaking the boy, prevented him from proving to Whitney once and for all who was the master in this relationship, but at the very least he could keep the young man from seeing just how much power he had over his older, more mature lover. God, he was beautiful. Blindingly so.

Lionel didn't believe in blindness any more than he believed in jealousy or falling in love.


Suspended in a white world that existed only in the nether realm between really good sex and sanity, Whitney floated without any desire to leave. Some rational part of his brain recognized that the white behind his eyelids was the light over the chaise, but the really good sex...? That was real, and the sanity was out there, too. Somewhere.

"How do you do that to me?" he managed murmur. "Lionel?" Whitney raised his head and managed to peel open his eyelids. Lionel wasn't at the foot of the couch. "Lionel?" He peered into the darkness, but that was useless.

Rolling gingerly to one side he managed to come to his feet. Considering the punishment his ass had just taken, practice tomorrow would be a challenge. Whitney didn't care.

"Lionel?" He moved to the champagne table and punched buttons on the lighting remote until all the pin-spots were at full intensity, chasing the shadows into nothingness. Lionel was gone. His kurta and pyjamas were gone, too. Whitney snagged his jeans and slid into them, but lost any sense of urgency before he even had them zipped. Lionel was gone. He knew it even before he made his way to the foyer and discovered the luggage cart was missing. Chasing after him would have been pointless. Lionel was making a statement. "I'll fuck you senseless, boy, but it doesn't mean I love you."

Smiling, Whitney shook his head and returned to the Conservatory to collect his things. He wasn't very experienced in relationships, but he knew what running from yourself was all about. That's what Lionel was doing. Running from what he felt for Whitney. Either that, or he was a complete and total bastard who was only using Whitney for hot sex.

Whitney chose to believe the first interpretation because the second would be almost unbearable. He had another glass of champagne and went home.

7:21 p.m. - Thursday, September 28

Whitney turned away from the refrigerator, hands full. Two kinds of lettuce, scallions, carrots, radishes, and a bottle of his Mom's homemade red wine vinaigrette dressing. He spied some bacon bits in the refrigerator door, but he he didn't have a free digit to snag them with, so he closed the door with his hip and moved on. His grill was already on the counter, as was the lean, inch-and-a-half Angus porterhouse he'd picked up on the way home from practice. Now if he could just manage not to eat the damn thing raw.

The phone rang.

"Shit." Whitney dumped his soon-to-be-salad into the sink and sagged against the counter trying to decide whether or not to answer. Practice today had been grueling -- there wasn't a muscle in his body that didn't hurt, despite the whirlpool and a massage after his workout. He didn't want to answer the phone. He didn't want to be sociable. He wanted a medium rare, melt-in-your-mouth steak, some healthy rabbit food for roughage, and his answering machine to pick up and stop that damned ringing!

"Good evening, Mr. Fordman, this is Lionel Luthor."

"Shit!" All the fatigue vanished. Whitney instinctively reached for the kitchen phone, but it was cordless--not secure. He changed directions and started a mad dash for the living room phone, but had to dart back to turn off his grill as the answering machine continued to record, "I'm just calling to let you know you should expect to hear from your agent sometime tonight or tomorrow. Something very--"

Whitney hurdled over the back of the sofa, sliding onto the cushion as he snagged the phone. "Hey, Sexy. It's me. Mr. Fordman."

Lionel chuckled. "Just being cautious in case you had company."

"Nope. Nobody here but me and George Foreman." Whitney reached for the remote control and reduced Miles Davis to a mellow whisper on his stereo. He shifted to get comfortable. "So how's India?"

"It is a country with a remarkably rich history, a diverse and fascinating people, and unlimited economic possibilities."

"You hate it."

"With every fiber of my being. The stench of garbage in the streets, the animals eating it, the beggars. What passes for genius entrepreneurship here is cutting off your child's fingers so that he makes a more sympathetic beggar. And Lex finds my parenting skills questionable."

Whitney shuddered at the image. "Then come home. I'm remarkably diverse and fascinating, and I never beg. Well. Hardly ever, and I've never known you to mind when I do."

Whitney could hear Lionel smiling at that. "Tempting but hardly practical. Dominic and I are flying to Visakhapatnam this morning to meet with the rest of the LuthorIndia Executive Group, then on to headquarters in Switzerland."

"Dominic's with you?" Whitney said, frowning.

"Why does that question reek of disapproval? What do you have against Dominic?"

"He has the slimy, obsequious look of a man who can't wait for you to tell him to bend over."

Lionel chuckled. "Dominic has taken a great deal from me, Whitney, but never that. There are some lines between business and pleasure that are dangerous to cross. That would be one of them."

"Doesn't keep him from wanting it."

"Wanting and having are very different things."

"Yeah, well, he wants what I have and I don't have to like it."

"Nor would I expect you to."

"Good. So what was that about me getting a call from Carla?" Whitney asked, changing the subject to something only marginally more pleasant. Whitney had one of the best sports agents in the business, but charm wasn't her strong suit. They didn't call her Cutthroat Cathcart for nothing. "She's been on the phone every five minutes all week relaying requests for interviews -- everyone from that snake, John Vincent at the Planet, to Chris Berman at ESPN."

"Be patient with the media, Whitney. Make nice."

"I am. I will. I've given two interviews since you left Tuesday night, I have one tomorrow, and we're doing a live satellite feed from the stadium with ESPN Saturday morning."

"Is Vincent one of those?"

"Nope. Not making nice with Vincent," he said flatly. "Remember how he twisted my words last week? I'm making a media rule--I only allow a reporter to screw me once."


"Not open for debate, Lionel. I have a game Sunday that I need to concentrate on. I'm playing nice with the media because I have a responsiblity to the franchise, but that doesn't mean I have to fillet myself once a week to feed bloodsuckers like Vincent."

"You know we can't bar him from the locker room."

"Not asking you to," Whitney replied, eyeing the distance from the sofa to the refrigerator. Not enough phone cord. A Corona would have to wait. "I'll bite the bullet and talk to him like any other reporter if he approaches me in the locker room, but there's nothing in my contract that says I have to whore myself to the Daily Planet."

"Very true. I will respect your judgment."

Whitney laughed. "Bullshit! You'll just have Media Relations set up an interview with Vincent and not warn me in advance."

"Whitney, please! Give me credit for having more finesse than that."

"You'll call Carla and tell her to make me behave?"

"Exactly." They both chuckled at that, and Lionel continued, "I expect she's rather busy at the moment, though. You've been approached for a major product endorsement. She should have a deal hammered out tomorrow morning."

"You're kidding? Who?"

"I'll let Carla have the pleasure of telling you that."

"Asshole. How is it that you know about my endorsement offers before I do?"

"The fine print of your contract. In order to protect the integrity of the franchise, I have final approval on any advertisements or public service endorsements may players make."

Whitney laughed. "Oh, I'll bet Carla's loving that."

"She agreed to it."

"Yeah, but I'm vaguely recalling you didn't give her a choice. What's the product?" Whitney pressed.

"Something of which you will approve. My people are setting up a campaign pitch Tuesday morning for the company's ad reps."

"Is that when I'll see you again?"

"Most likely."

Whitney paused, then asked, "Promise me you won't do another disappearing act like Tuesday night?"



Lionel chuckled. "I see you have a new favorite word."

"No, you're just being particularly irritating. Either that or I'm in a really bad mood because I miss you. I wish you were going to be here on Sunday."

"I'm more worried about your interview Saturday with ESPN," Lionel said wryly. "Don't let Berman's wit lull you into saying something you don't want to say."

"Don't worry. I won't." There was about as much chance of getting Lionel to admit he missed Whitney as there was of Whitney flying to the moon, so he gave up trying and reached for a piece of mail he'd dropped onto the coffee table last night. "Got your invitation."

There was a slight pause. "To...?"

"The Sharks Charity Ball on the 21st. It's addressed to Mr. Whitney Fordman and Guest." He managed to keep his tone light. "I'm guessing your guest is Celeste Willingham."

"An accurate assessment," Lionel replied. "You, of course, will be escorting your friend, Lois Lane. If you haven't already invited her, you should do so immediately. This is an important occasion, Whitney -- one of the social highlights of the season. It is imperative that you make a very public appearance with your girlfriend."

Whitney sighed heavily. "Save the hard sell, Lionel. I called Lois last night."

The relief in Lionel's voice was palpable. Clearly he'd been expecting a repeat of the Fund Raiser fiasco. "Excellent! You will purchase her airline tickets, of course, and you should reserve a limo now. Oh, and I strongly suggest you gift her with a designer gown for the occasion. The Spring Collections are showing in Paris now. I might be able to get her something off the runway. I'll also pave the way for you to borrow some tasteful but spectacular jewels for the occasion."

Whitney chuckled. "Gee... And I was just going to order her two carnations in a wrist corsage."

Lionel chuckled too, but reminded him, "It's important she be dazzling, Whitney. Memorable. A woman worthy of the constancy you show her."

"And a gown off a Paris runway is going to do that?"

"It will guarantee that Miss Lane headlines the Fashion page the morning after the Ball. Once she enters the public consciousness, people will draw their own conclusions based on your behavior toward her."

"And what do I say if someone asks how a rookie quarterback got the juice to snag a runway design? You know, not everyone can call up Paris and say, 'Hey, Georgio! How's it hanging? Can I borrow a dress?'"

Lionel chuckled. "Don't worry. After Tuesday, no one will think to ask that question."

"What's Tuesday? Oh. You mean the endorsement, thing?" Whitney sat up straighter on the sofa, really intrigued now. "Who the fuck is--"

"Carla will tell you, and I want your reaction to be genuine," Lionel replied lightly. "It wouldn't do to have her know we had this conversation. There really is no reason for the Sharks owner to be calling up his star quarterback to, er, uh, dish about endorsements and fashions and their dates for the senior prom."

Whitney laughed. "You never went to a prom in your life."

"True, but I was the most coveted escort in Metropolis on the Cotillion circuit," Lionel conceded. "Now, go eat your dinner. Have a beer. Draw a bath and spend the rest of the evening imagining how we'll celebrate when I get home."

"May I touch myself and imagine it's you?"

Lionel sighed with great forbearance. "Only if you must."

Saturday, September 30

John Vincent's desk at the Daily Planet was immaculate. Folders neatly filed. CD's and datadisks separated and labeled. His stack of narrow reporter's pads all precisely stamped with his name, phone number, and the promise of a modest reward if lost and returned. Even the art on his cubical walls was perfectly balanced, from his SI Swimsuit Calendar to his journalism awards to the needlepoint sampler one of his wiseass coworkers had made for him that said, "A place for every paper clip, and every paper clip in its place."

Even the notes on Vin's bulletin board were symmetrically arranged, although that was hard to maintain because the jokers in the newsroom liked to mess with his head and every time he left he could pretty well count on coming back to find that someone had haphazardly added a message to the board: A photocopy of his Press Pass along with the legend, "Anal Retentive Asshole" was an office favorite that never failed to draw chuckles no matter how often it was used.

Known for his long memory and the ability to hold a grudge, Vincent was the Felix Unger of sports reporters and the butt of endless jokes about his neatness fetish, but the one thing no one questioned was his skill for ferreting out stories. In addition to his regular syndicated column and virtually-unlimited Travel Allowance, the Daily Planet had given him a high-profile Internet feature that was the centerpiece of thedailyplanet.com. At 41, thrice-divorced and more than passably handsome, he was at the pinnacle of his career, and there was really no place higher for him to go unless he wanted to segue into sportscasting, which he emphatically did not.

John was happy where he was, which, at the moment, was at his immaculate desk watching ESPN's SportsCenter on his 10-inch TV/VCR Combo. The one black spot on an otherwise excellent week was going to be interviewed as soon the network sold its quota of Norelco shavers.

"We're back, and you're watching Sports Center and I'm Chris Berman, talking live, in person via satellite to the Metropolis Sharks' newest carnivore, QB Whitney Fordman. Whitney! That was quite a display of pearly-whites you put on last week with the Steelers."

"Thanks, Chris. It was a thrill for me to start my first game against such a formidable team."

"Well, you certainly announced your presence with authority, as the saying goes. What are you going to do for an encore?"

Fordman gave the camera a big, friendly, blue-eyes-sparkling smile that made Vincent want to barf. He'd interviewed Fordman three times in the last two years and hadn't quite figured out if the kid's down-home Jimmy Stewart act was just that. An Act.

"I think Coach Lessening would be happy if I hit the end zone a few times and managed not to get anything broken."

"You've already beaten the Raiders once this year. You confident you can take them again?"

"Well...that was pre-season, Chris. The Raiders were re-tooling their new defensive strategy because they'd just brought Ricky Eisner on board. Only a suicidal idiot would take on Oakland thinking they were candy."

Well, he's not stupid, Vincent granted grudgingly. Most first-round draft picks who had some early success became cocky assholes overnight, if they weren't already cocky assholes to begin with. Fordman was playing a different game. Modest, unassuming, respectful and grateful to be playing with the big boys. Not many rookies went the humility route. Wonder how long it will last? Most of the media was already canonizing him, but Vin had seen too many flash-in-the-pans to hop onboard the Fordman Love Train.

Vincent listened with one ear as Berman continued to ask questions, which were being dutifully recorded by Vin's VCR, but the lion's portion of the reporter's mind was still noodling over the mystery of why Fordman had ducked his requests for an interview all week long. The QB had met with at least a half dozen reporters this week, but he'd been "too busy training" to take five minutes out for the Daily Planet.

Not only was antagonizing the Planet's heavyweight reporter a stupid move, it didn't make any sense that Vin could see. His article on Fordman the previous week had been so innocuous that Vin had been grateful he wasn't diabetic. High school heartthrob, dying father, rich benefactor, college gridiron hero, 8-figure NFL starting QB. Despite Vin's desire to prove otherwise, Fordman was a rags-to-riches Prince Charming without so much as a hangnail or a wart to spice up the Fairy Tale, and Vin had as much as said so in the article.

So why was the rookie dodging him?

"So, good looking fellow like you got a girl? I want to know if I'm breaking hearts across the country."

Vin faked a yawn and muttered, "Yeah, yeah. Longtime Sweetheart out at Cal Berkeley, incredible lady. Make with the good questions, Berman," Vin muttered as the blondie on the screen said,

"I have a long time sweetheart out at Cal Berkeley...just an incredible lady."

Vin straightened in his chair. Exact same words he'd used when Vin had asked a similar question last week. Exact down to the embarrassed 'aw-shucks-you-caught-me' delivery. What PR firm is writing dialogue for this kid?

"Marriage plans?"

"That's kind of hard to say, what with the distance and all, but Lois graduates this spring, and then we'll see. I want a family -- there's no question about that."

Berman went on to a couple of questions about Fordman's college career -- just killing time to the next commercial break, and Vincent tuned them out. Literally. He hit the mute button on the remote and leaned his chair back as far as it would go while he studied the pretty-boy with the 37 million dollar arm.

Too good to be true, Vincent concluded, and his orderly mind took the thought to its rational conclusion that if it looked too good to be true, it probably was.

What are you hiding behind that smile, kid?

9:15 a.m. - Tuesday, October 3
One Luthor Plaza

"And we're moving Bran Sutton up to Level 2 for the New Orleans game next Sunday."

Lionel groaned. "The lunatic again?"

"Yes, sir. The threats started over the weekend," Jacob Manning replied. In front of him he had the Monthly Reports for all aspects of the Luthor empire's security, including the football franchise.

Shaking his head in disgust, Lionel swiveled his chair so that he was angled parallel to the desk. He crossed his legs and smoothed the crease in his trousers. It would have been impossible for anyone not acquainted with his schedule to know that he'd been on a plane from Switzerland all night and hadn't slept more than an hour of the last 30. "Do we have any idea how much that delusional asshole has cost us in increased security for Brandon Sutton in the last three years?"

"I don't have the figures in front of me, but I can get them."

"Do, please. The numbers may come in handy when it comes times to negotiate Mr. Sutton's contract. This lunatic's personal vendetta started before Mr. Sutton came to the Sharks. I'm not certain how much longer I want to pick up the tab for his increased security when we play in the southeast."

"I'll get you those numbers."

"Thank you."

The security chief continued his Team Threat Assessment. They discussed the timing of the first random drug testing, and Lionel surprised Manning by instructing him to be certain that all rookies were included in the "random" sampling of players.

"All?" Manning asked, his voice loaded with significance.

Lionel cut him with a laser-like glare. "I rarely misspeak, Jacob. And I want the full blood panel, not just the cursory drug screen."

If he thought it was an odd request, he didn't let it show this time. "Yes, sir."

He moved on to Luthor Plaza security concerns, which included a rash of break-ins at the Lancer Building. Manning suspected an inside job; Lionel authorized a sting operation to uncover the culprit who was apparently providing internal security codes to an outside entity.

"All right, what else?" Lionel asked when it appeared that Jacob might at last be winding down. It was nearly 10 a.m., time for his next meeting, and Lionel was anxious to get to it.

Manning hesitated. Lionel raised an eyebrow, prompting Manning to continue, "I'm putting Whitney Fordman on Level Two."

Lionel frowned. "I thought I told you to discontinue surveillance on Mr. Fordman last week."

"And I have. But this has nothing to do with his activities."

Lionel uncrossed his leg and leaned forward. "There's been a threat?"

"I believe so. Credible enough to justify Level Two."

L-2 security assigned a personal body guard to a Sharks' player during home games, practices, and away games any time a credible threat was made against that player. Level Three upped the ante to vastly increased electronic surveillance in the stadium. Level Four meant direct, round the clock surveillance and body guards. L-4 had been instituted only once, when the wife of a player went ballistic over a paternity suit filed against her husband. Only Manning's diligent security measures had prevented a deadly reenactment of "Annie Get Your Gun" at one of the home games.

Given how many "crazies" there were in the world, L-2 security wasn't uncommon, but it was still worrisome because Jacob Manning wasn't reactionary. If he said there was a threat, there was reason to worry, at least a little.

"How on earth can Whitney possibly have made any enemies? Good Christ, he's only started two games. And he's on a winning streak! Who could possibly object to that?"

"Well, we've received a couple of hate-mails from disgruntled Dale Brookline fans, but that's to be expected. The communication that worries me appears to be someone from Fordman's past," Manning said, handing Lionel a divided folder. "This is the correspondence he's received since the beginning of the season -- snail mail to the Coliseum and email to the Shark's website."

The Public Relations office handled most of the fan mail for the players. The franchise even provided a "fan" email account through the Sharks' website, which was funneled directly to the PR office. Questionable correspondence was shuttled off to Security for assessment.

Lionel flipped open Whitney's folder. The first divider contained ordinary fan mail. Most of it would eventually be siphoned to Whitney so that he could see what people were thinking of him. Lionel glanced at the one of top:

To Whitney Fordman

I must say that I was most impressed with the toughness and grit you showed last
Monday Night. I was not a big fan of yours--I'm an OK grad, but you have made a
believer out of me. I have never seen such poise in a rookie. Consider me a new fan.


Brad Jones

Sane, rational. Someone obviously with a little too much time on his hands if he could afford to sit around writing fan mail to football players, but Lionel held little disdain for this class of letter-writers. They were the fans whose support made his franchise lucrative.

The mail behind the second divider was what Manning's people labeled as "Monitor Mail." Basically harmless, but worth filing for future reference. Lionel called it "Kook Mail." He glanced at the first communication -- an email -- that read:

To: WhitneyFordman@MetropolisSharks.com
From: sexybabe3295@yahee.com

Hey, Hot Stuff! Saw you chew up the Steelers and spit out the Raiders. Have only one thing to say!


A name, vital statistics, and phone number followed, but Lionel didn't waste time on it. He flipped to the third and final section of the folder. Its red tab needed no other label. There were three letters in clear plastic holders, all composed on a computer. Each one began the same way.

"My darling?" Lionel said disdainfully.

"They're classic delusional stalker," Manning told him. "Either that, or Fordman is carrying on an affair with an old college flame."

The barest hint of humor ate at the edges of Manning's usually-stoic demeanor, indicating how unlikely Manning considered that option. Lionel frowned and directed his attention back to the "stalker's" first letter.

My darling--

I can't tell you how thrilled I was to see you last night. Being with you again--

Lionel's frown deepened into a scowl. He stopped and flipped the sheet holder to look at the envelope tucked behind the letter. It was postmarked one week ago today, the morning after Whitney's appearance on ABC Monday Night Football. That ruled out the "affair with an old flame" theory. Lionel knew perfectly well where Whitney had been a week ago last Monday night. And Tuesday night, as well.

He returned to the text of the letter.

--Being with you again was like sunshine and rainbows and showers of pure joy. I gave you the time you asked for when you left K State--it was painful, but I know you had to pursue your dreams. I support you in that, my darling, and I always will, but you have the success you craved, now. It's time for us to be together.

Your only Love

It was signed with an elaborately scrawled "K".

Lionel looked at Manning. "Is this for real?"

"I think so. And I'm betting it's been going on for a long time. This isn't something that sprung up overnight. My guess is that this woman fixated on Fordman while he was making a name for himself at K State. She may have been a student in one of his classes, an anonymous fan in the bleachers--or she could very well have been one of the women he dated." Manning paused.

"Are you sure it's a woman?"

"No, but I have to believe that no self-respecting homosexual would use a phrase like 'sunshine, rainbows and showers of joy.'"

Lionel almost smiled. Manning's closeted sexuality had been Lionel's first hold over him. Now that he was divorced and his only son was an out-and-proud Gay Rights Activist, Lionel had little leverage in that department, but he didn't need it. There were other, more damaging secrets. For both of them. There was no one Lionel trusted more than Jacob Manning, and with good reason. "Just because you wouldn't use the phrase--"

"I know. I know. I haven't shut the door on the Tinkerbelle theory."

Lionel looked at the second letter. Postmarked six days ago with the same elaborate initial where a return address should have been, it was more of the same, although one comment in particular would have jumped out at Lionel even if it hadn't been highlighted in yellow with a set of numbers scrawled in the margins.

...when you fell on the field of battle and clawed at your armor, I wanted to die in that
moment because I knew you were calling for me and I could not reach you...

"What the devil is she going on about?" Lionel demanded to know. "Clawing at his armor?"

"The game against the Steelers when Whitney took that hit in the third quarter. Just as he started to come round, he began frantically trying to remove his helmet."

Lionel scowled. "That wasn't in the ABC coverage," he said testily.

"No, it wasn't. But it did happen. With all the coaches and players clustered around Whitney, it was only visible to one section of the stadium. I have the footage isolated on SC 6." He pulled a schematic of the stadium from the folder in front of him and handed it to Lionel.

Merde. "Whitney's stalker was in the stadium."

"In one of those seats." The section contained only a handful of box seats for season ticket holders. The rest were untraceable.

"Using all available footage, I'm having a computer model made to pinpoint exactly which seats had that view, but I'm guessing it will be somewhere near 8,000 fans--give or take a few hundred."

"And once you've isolated the seats, you can start compiling actual footage of the fans in that area?"

Manning nodded and pointed to an area on the chart opposite the yellow wedge that was designated SC 6. "Obviously, these cameras were focused on the game, but the field of view includes sections of the stands. It'll take work, but we can bring some faces into focus. If we need to."

Lionel glanced at the third letter, which had arrived only yesterday. It was more of the same flowery rhetoric and insane bullshit. The ending, though, was chilling.

I don't understand why you haven't sent for me as you promised, but I
forgive you. Just say the word and we'll be together always.

Don't disappoint me, Whitney, or you'll regret it very deeply.

"Her frustration is already escalating because he's not responding," Manning commented. "This is one seriously delusional individual, Lionel."

"And you think it's been going on for a while?"

"I think we should get Mr. Fordman in here and find out," Manning replied. "I made a routine inquiry about nuisance mail at the athletic department of Kansas State, but they don't monitor any of their players' correspondence. It passes straight to the players unopened. I can go down there and dig deeper, but we risk making this public and I don't think you want to do that."

"Decidedly not. What about our files?" He was referring, of course, to the stacks of surveillance reports that Manning had covertly compiled for Lionel during Whitney's college career.

"I have a list of the women we know Mr. Fordman dated, and some information on the brief homosexual liaisons he engaged in on the road. There's his relationship with Professor Zindler and some friendships that I speculated might have sexual components, but overall, Whitney Fordman was an incredibly discreet young man."

"Indeed," Lionel said sourly, thinking of the relationship with Clark Kent that had slipped past Manning's eagle eye. But unless Kent was a delusional flake with flowery journalistic skills, that relationship was irrelevant to the present situation. Still, the initial "K" did leave the question open...

Manning caught his line of thought. "You think Clark Ke--"

"Most unlikely, unless it's an ongoing joke."

Manning shook his head. "This doesn't feel like a joke to me. We need to talk to Fordman and find out what previous communication he might have had with this person."

Lionel nodded and reached for his intercom. "Grace?"

"Yes, sir?" came the prompt reply.

"What's the status of my meeting with the CK people?"

"Mr. Fordman and Ms. Cathcart were just escorted to the Hyperion Room. The Klein people called ten minutes ago to say their flight was still circling Metro Field, but they had been told they were on the verge of landing."

"Thank you, Grace. Make sure that Ms. Cathcart remains segregated from the CK people when they arrive."

"Of course, sir."

Lionel rose, disengaging the intercom. "Fortunately, we have the source close at hand. If you'll excuse me a moment..." Lionel crossed the room and exited into the private corridor that connected his office to several conference rooms and his private washroom. He moved quickly down the hall, around a corner, and swept into the Hyperion Room without knocking.

His abrupt arrival startled the two occupants. Whitney recovered first, flashing the automatic, brilliant smile that lit up his beautiful blue eyes every time he saw his lover. Lionel kept meaning to talk to him about that smile, impress upon him the need to control it, but somehow he kept forgetting. Perhaps because the adoration in that clear blue gaze was one of the things Lionel treasured most about his young lover.

Still, it wouldn't do to have a piranha like Carla Cathcart see that look and correctly interpret it.

Fortunately, Carla wasn't paying attention to Whitney. "There he is now! The Great Man himself," she said with more sarcasm than was necessary. When it came to protecting the interests of her clients, she viewed all owners as the enemy and took no prisoners in her negotiations.

"And a pleasant good morning to you too, Carla."

"Lionel, your audacity boggles the mind. Only you could believe it was appropriate to hijack a player's endorsement negotiations--"

"Carla, the ad agency's people have been delayed and I am in the middle of another meeting for which I need Mr. Fordman. I don't have time for the pistol-whipping you so obviously want to inflict upon me. Perhaps later, when we can both enjoy it." He flashed her a totally insincere smile, then turned to her client. "Good morning, Whitney."

"Hello, Lionel. Welcome back. How was Geneva?"

"It looked remarkably like Zurich, actually."

"Oh. Sorry. I heard you were off to Geneva." Whitney ducked his head, pretending to be embarrassed by his gaffe, but it was only for Carla's benefit.

"It's quite all right, Whitney. No reason you should keep abreast of my schedule. I'm only glad I could make it back in time for today's meeting. It would have been a shame to have to reschedule."

"Shame?!" Carla exclaimed. "You shouldn't even be in this process--"

Lionel cut Carla off. "Whitney, would you mind joining me in my office?"

"Of course not." Whitney started toward him, but Carla moved to intercept.

"Sorry, gentlemen. Not without me."

"It's just team business, Carla," Lionel assured her as he ushered Whitney to the door. "Don't worry.

"It's all right, Carla. I won't sign over my first born son without you being there to get your 10%," Whitney assured her, as he breezed out in Lionel's wake.

Lionel shut the door behind them, leaving them alone in the subdued lighting of the wide, fashionably appointed corridor. "You really don't like her, do you," Whitney asked as he moved down the hall with the surety of someone who had been in this territory before.

"Owners aren't supposed to like agents. It's in our bylaws," Lionel replied, stepping in beside Whitney.

"I missed you."

Lionel smiled. "Yes, well, that is to be expected. Congratulations on another stunning victory Sunday afternoon."

"Did you get a satellite feed?"

"Streaming video."

"Any thoughts on the game?"

"You handled the Raider's new defensive strategy--"

"Oumph..." The noise was somewhere between a grunt and a sigh, and Whitney made it as he reached for the door knob of Lionel's private washroom with one hand and Lionel with the other. They were barely inside before Whitney had a fist full of Lionel's hair and their mouths were sealed in a kiss designed to tell Lionel exactly how Whitney felt about their 7-day separation. The door slammed shut and Whitney sagged against it, pulling Lionel between his legs.

Lionel responded to the kiss with an ardor equal to Whitney's, diving in voraciously, but only for a second.

"No," he commanded gruffly, wrenching his mouth from Whitney's but making no move to place any more distance than that between them. Softer, "No, Whitney. No." He paused as they both regained control of their labored breathing. "It would not do for us to appear before your agent and six Calvin Klein ad agency executives looking as though we'd been recently and thoroughly kissed."

Whitney grinned devilishly. "Or fucked."

"Or fucked. Although please, do hold that thought until later this evening."

Whitney's eyebrows shot up in surprise and he wiggled suggestively against Lionel. "One of us is getting fucked tonight? Really? When was that decided?"

Lionel ground his molars together in the attempt not to smile. "Forgive my presumption, Mr. Fordman. I thought a celebration was implied in our conversation last week. One must never assume, however. Would you do me the honor of dining with me tonight at the penthouse? Cocktails at 8? Dinner at 9?"

"Well, gee..." Grin. "I'll have to consult my social secretary."

Lionel's hand slid insidiously between their bodies until he cupped Whitney intimately. "I beg your pardon?" he said lightly.

Whitney cleared his throat. "Yes, well, I believe my social secretary has found an opening. I might just be able to fit you in."

Lionel's lips were at Whitney's ear when he whispered, "You always fit me in magnificently."

The sexy sentiment sent butterflies from Whitney's stomach straight to his cock. Lionel pulled away, clearly amused. He allowed Whitney a moment to regroup, then led him into his office. The investigator stood.

"Jacob Manning, this is Whitney Fordman."

Whitney accepted the hand extended to him. "I've seen you at the Coliseum You're head of security."

Lionel motioned them to sit. "Jacob is in charge of all my security, including the Sharks. If you're ever in trouble and you can't reach me, you call Jacob. For anything."

Lionel sounded so grave that Whitney gave a nervous chuckle. "Thank you. I'll do that."

Lionel stepped to Whitney's chair. "I'm serious, Whitney. On the road. In Metropolis. Team-related or not. If you're in trouble, you call Jacob. No one else. Not your agent, not a friend. Jacob."

To illustrate just what "anything" encompassed, Lionel tenderly cupped Whitney's jaw. "Anything, Whitney."

Whitney couldn't been more shocked if...no, there was no if. Nothing could have shocked him more. It wasn't Lionel's tender touch or the soft, suggestive tone of his voice. Whitney was growing blissfully accustomed to such gestures of affection, but in private. Never in public. Never with an audience. Never in front of someone who could see and understand that Lionel Luthor and Whitney Fordman were more than owner and player. Whitney hadn't known how deeply he'd needed that validation until he received it. He could barely speak, but he managed to get out, "I understand, Lionel."

"Good." Lionel released Whitney's face and moved around his desk.

"What's going on?" Whitney asked.

"Jacob is moving your security status to Level 2."

Whitney frowned. "Why? What's Level 2?"

Manning responded, "We beef up the electronic surveillance in your building and around your condo--nothing invasive, just additional monitoring. And you'll have your own personal security man on the road and any time you're at practice. Very unintrusive--you'll hardly know it's there, but we'll be watching you."

"That's crazy. Why?"

Whitney watched with mounting frustration as Lionel and Manning exchanged enigmatic glances. Lionel nodded and Manning asked, "Whitney, did you have a stalker at Kansas State?"

"Stalker?" Whit said with an incredulous laugh. "You're joking, right?" He looked from one grave face to the other. "You're not joking. No. I did not have a stalker!"

"Whitney, we need to you be absolutely honest here," Lionel reminded him.

"When have I ever been anything else?" Whitney replied, resenting the question and its implication.

Lionel held his gaze steadily. "Are you conducting an affair -- an ongoing romantic relationship -- with someone you knew at Kansas State?"

Whitney went from resentful to offended. "You know the answer to that, Lionel," he said coldly.

"Yes, I believe I do. But Jacob needs to hear it from you."

Whitney looked at the security man pointedly. "No. I am not in a relationship with someone I knew in college -- or anyone else, for that matter. Now what the hell is this all about?"

Lionel nodded at Manning again. The security man handed Whitney a letter and envelope in a protective plastic sheath. "Is this at all familiar to you?"

Whitney glanced at the paper, prepared to toss it back with a resounding "no" but only a sentence into the letter his stomach sank. He glanced at the initial K at the bottom, feeling sicker still, and quickly scanned the content of the letter.


"This is not the first letter you've received from 'K'."


"Then you did have a stalker in college."

"No! Hell, no! It was joke. A college prank. I got some crazy letters like this my senior year, but I figured one of the practical jokers on the team was behind it."

"Someone confessed that to you?"

"No," he admitted reluctantly. "But that's all it could have been. After a while, I didn't even read most of them."

"Most? How many did you receive?"

"I don't know. A dozen. Maybe twenty. I didn't pay attention. They were a joke." He was beginning to sound like a broken record.

"You never had any suspicion that they might be more than that?"

"No. Well... No." That didn't sound convincing even to Whitney. Manning raised his eyebrows and waited until Whitney explained, "There was a friend."

"A friend or a lover?" Lionel asked archly.

Whitney glanced at him, uncomfortable. His gaze darted to Manning, then back to Lionel. This territory was uncomfortable on so many levels -- talking about this particular lover in front of Lionel was bad enough, but Manning... Lionel was prompting him to reveal intimate details of the part of Whit's life that he'd painstakingly kept under wraps since he was old enough to know that he wasn't what the rest of the world considered "normal." Lionel obviously trusted Manning, but that didn't mean Whitney did, as well.

Lionel read his mind. "Jacob, are you of the opinion that Mr. Fordman visits me so frequently in the penthouse for the purpose of receiving piano lessons?"

"I don't have opinions, Mr. Luthor," the security man replied. "I deal in facts. Nothing more."

Lionel's smile was dazzling. "A brilliant answer, Jacob! It's no wonder we get along so splendidly." He turned his steely gray gaze on Whitney. "You were about to characterize the nature of your relationship with the person you suspected might be the author of these letters."

Lionel had a point about Manning. His security card had undoubtedly been cleared by Jacob Manning. Every time he went up the elevator to the penthouse, he was entrusting his secret to Manning's security team. When he slept in Lionel's bed and breakfasted with him on the terrace, he was entrusting his secret to everyone from Lionel's valet to his chef to his houseboy to the woman who changed the sheets to...God only knew who else. And just a minute ago he'd been thrilled that Lionel had been openly affectionate in front of this investigator. It really was a little late to get finicky about protecting his "secret."

"He was a lover," Whitney confessed reluctantly. "My junior year I became involved with a professor. When I broke it off after a couple of months, he went a little overboard...became possessive, left messages. It scared me a little."

"He threatened you?" Lionel asked sharply.

"No! Not that kind of scared. I was afraid he was going to out us both."

"What happened?"

"Nothing. He came to his senses and we parted amicably."

"What was his name?" Manning asked.

Whitney hesitated, casting a quick glance at Lionel. "Kurt Zindler. He's a history professor."

Manning made a note. "Who else?"

"No one," Whitney said curtly, feeling sick inside.

"What about women you, uh, --"

"Used as a beard?" Whitney supplied, unable to keep the bitter taste in his mouth from coloring his voice.

"I was going to say 'dated.'"

"It amounts to the same thing, doesn't it?" Whit snapped.

"Whitney, please, calm down," Lionel said with stretched patience. "We need you to take this seriously."

"It's a crank letter!" Whitney exclaimed, coming abruptly to his feet, but with nowhere to go. "I don't see why you're making such a big deal!"

Lionel nodded to Manning, who offered up the other two letters encased in plastic. "It's three letters, actually," Jacob informed him, and Whitney blanched as he accepted them.

"And it's more than letters, Whitney," Lionel added. "Your stalker was in the stadium during the Steelers game last week."

As Whitney scanned the letters, Manning told him, "This is someone you knew in college, Mr. Fordman. Most likely a woman, possibly someone you dated."

"Can you think of anyone whose expectations exceeded--"

"I said no!" Whitney exploded, throwing the letters onto Lionel's desk. "How many fucking times do you need to hear it, Lionel? I don't have a fucking clue who it could be!" Anger and frustration carried Whitney away from the desk. He ended up at the window, looking out but not seeing the gray, overcast city.

Silence settled over the room and after a moment, Lionel said quietly, "Would you leave us for a moment, Jacob? But stay close. I have a few thoughts about changes in security."

"Of course, sir." He started to leave, then hesitated. "If I may...there's one thing I need both of you to understand."

"Go ahead," Lionel said tersely.

"Once a stalker begins putting herself in physical proximity of the object of her obsession as this one has, the situation can escalate to violence very quickly. Studies show that when stalkers resort to violence, it is often an act against the person perceived to be standing between the stalker and the object of his or her delusional affection. If this stalker somehow manages to connect the two of you..."

"Jesus," Whitney whispered, closing his eyes. "This is a nightmare."


The security chief nodded and left.


It was hard, but Whitney managed to face Lionel, who was standing behind his desk, one hand resting on the back of his chair.

"I know this is a disturbing situation," Lionel said calmly, "but your reaction seems somewhat out of proportion. The women you dated--"

"Used," Whitney stressed. "The women I used, you mean. That's what it was, Lionel. Do you have any concept of what it takes to keep 56 teammates from figuring out their star quarterback is a queer? There are only a limited number of virgins out there saving themselves for their wedding night, and you can do slight-of-hand for only so long without a hard-on before the rumors start and you have to deliver the goods."


"They were people, Lionel. They weren't greedy socialites who could be bought with a seat on a Foundation board. They were young women, some of them cunts, but most of them really nice girls. Some I dated and dumped, some I treated like shit so they'd dump me. Some of them got kissed goodnight at the door, and some I fucked--usually while fantasizing about you! I used them, Lionel. I fucked them both figuratively and literally! Some moved on without a second thought and some got hurt."

"And one may be obsessively stalking you," Lionel added.

"Then maybe I deserve it. Just rewards for being a fucking asshole!"

"Bullshit!" Lionel roared, turning away so abruptly that his chair twisted in a half-circle. "Peddle your homosexual guilt somewhere else, Whitney. I have no patience with self-pity. You played a role forced on you by a bigoted, homophobic social structure. Your survival depended on the appearance of heterosexuality, and you proved yourself to be a survivor! Nothing else matters! Guilt has no place in that equation."

"Maybe for you, but I find being a lying bastard makes it hard to look in the mirror some mornings!" Whitney flung back.

"Whereas I have no trouble meeting my gaze? Is that your point? If so, it's well aimed!"

"Shit, Lionel. I don't know what my point is," Whitney said miserably, falling onto the sofa that sat against the far wall. "Why am I beating up on you? This isn't your fault. I'm sorry." Eyes closed, Whitney scrubbed his face with the heels of his hands and let his head fall back against the soft leather. A few moments later he felt Lionel sit next to him.

"You are reacting emotionally, I suspect, because somewhere in your past is a young woman who attached too much significance to your attentions and was deeply hurt as a result."

Whitney raised his head and looked at his lover. "How did you know that?"

"I am an astute judge of motive and motivation, and you have a kind heart." Lionel cocked his head. "Could she be--"

"No!" Whitney said quickly. "It was after those letters started coming. She couldn't be 'K'."

Lionel frowned. "I was under the impression that during your senior year Lois Lane was your beard."

Whitney shook his head. "Lois came later. In the Spring. I dated Cheryl Bower between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. There were lots of parties and holiday shit going on. I needed a date and Cheryl was...convenient."

"Convenient?" Lionel prompted.

"She was my Language Lab partner. Very quiet and shy... I'd kind of flirted with her all semester, you know, friendly stuff, joking...just to see the adorable blush that she tried to hide whenever I'd joke with her. I was desperate to come up with a last-minute date for the Winter Carnival and Cheryl was convenient, like I said..."

"What happened?"

"What do you think happened, Lionel?" Whitney snapped. "There were other parties, she was available. Alcohol flowed, I got drunk, Cheryl got laid. I was so focused on getting the team to the Rose Bowl I didn't realize that she was falling in love, or I would have ended it a helluva lot sooner."

"Whitney, if I understand you correctly, this is someone who was in your orbit from the beginning of that semester. She could have formed an attachment to you long before you actually started dating her." Lionel stood. "I'll have Jacob look into--"

"No!" Whitney came to his feet. "No one is going near her, Lionel! She suffered enough because of me!"

"Whitney, a broken romance is hardly--"

"She tried to kill herself, Lionel. It was a serious attempt. She almost died. She would have succeeded if one of her girlfriends hadn't dropped by for some class notes."

"Her emotional instability is not your fault, Whitney."

"Yeah, well, I don't happen to look at it that way," he replied coldly. "That's when I cooked up the long-distance relationship with Lois. We'd become friends the year before and she was already at Berkeley by then. She knew I was gay. There was no one to get hurt."


Whitney knew exactly where Lionel's thoughts were headed. "Lionel, I swear to God, if Jacob Manning goes anywhere near Cheryl Bower, you and I are finished."

Lionel turned, a deep scowl cutting lines into his face. "I don't respond well to ultimatums, Whitney."

"Then don't push me!" Whitney flung back at him. "I take a lot of bullshit from you because I love you so much I can see straight. I need you to show me that you respect me at least enough to honor this one simple request."

Lionel's face became completely unreadable, and Whitney knew he might have pushed too far. But after a moment, he nodded. The movement was almost imperceptible, but it was an agreement. "Very well. Jacob won't go near the girl. But I'm having him put round-the-clock surveillance on you, Whitney. Everyone who comes near you will be covertly photographed, and you're going to study those photographs. If someone is shadowing you..."

Whitney nodded his agreement. "If I see anyone I recognize I'll let Manning know."

"Even this Bower person?"

"It's not her, Lionel." Lionel quirked an eyebrow at him and Whitney nodded. "Even if it's Cheryl."

"We think you're remarkably photogenic, Mr. Fordman."

"And hot."

Loy Nenninger, leader of the CK Team, continued as though his associate Mira Kessler next to him hadn't interrupted. "You have presence and that blond boy-next-door look going for you."

"And you're hot."

Nenninger rolled his eyes and ignored her. "After your appearance on Monday Night Football, your Q-rating went from zero to 25 in our target demographic group, and--"

"And you're hot," Mira interjected again.

Nenninger shrugged his shoulders. "She's right. You're hot. CK wants to make you hotter. CK wants to make you our 'New Man in Town.'"

Whitney got the impression that he was supposed to believe their banter was off-the-cuff instead of grossly over-rehearsed, but it was effective nonetheless. If he hadn't been feeling nauseous after his meeting with Lionel he might have enjoyed the fact that Calvin Klein thought he was hot. Well, probably not Calvin himself, but someone at the ad agency, at least.

"We'll launch a full-line multimedia campaign with print ads in three weeks, followed by TV spots, billboards, and strategic Internet placements. We'll start with Calvin Klein jeans, just to get the ball rolling, then blitz with CK's boxer-briefs and CK's newest fragrance, "New Man in Town."

"What's a...what did you call it? A Q-rating?" Whitney asked, trying to keep his head in the meeting. The CK people had arrived just moments after Lionel and Whit reached their agreement. Lionel had sent Whitney back to his agent and there hadn't been time to smooth over any of the harsh things Whitney had said to Lionel or to shake off the guilt that still stung him every time he thought about Cheryl Bower. And there was also the matter of "K's" letters, which were now folded in his breast pocket. He'd only glanced at them in the office, and his curiosity-slash-dread was overriding any pleasure he might have taken from the fuss being made over him by the CK people.

"A Q-rating is your identifiability quotient -- tells us what sectors of the public recognize you by sight and name. A mid-twenties rating is excellent for an established celebrity. Twenty-four for a newcomer is phenomenal."

"That's very interesting, Loy," Lionel said as though he wasn't very interested at all, "but I believe you've already closed this deal with Ms. Cathcart. It's just a matter of agreeing on a campaign that will be appropriate to Mr. Fordman's public persona and the Sharks' franchise. Perhaps we could skip forward into the presentation portion of this... presentation."

"Of course. Mira..."

The ad agency, as it turned out, had four potential ad campaigns for New Man in Town. Lionel hated the first one because it was too fey. He called the second one "Too West Hollywood," which amounted to the same reason as the first. When they rolled the third one out, Lionel felt obliged to remind the agency that Whitney was a football player, not a ballet dancer, though he allowed that being from the home of the New York Jets, they might not understand the fine distinction between the two. Fortunately, the fourth campaign was acceptable to Lionel and Carla. The agency people seemed pleased with the choice, too. Whitney approved too, although his opinion seemed to be the least important in the room.

The setup for the first CK Jeans print ad required a football field, and Lionel insisted that it be the Coliseum, not only for publicity value, but for Whitney's convenience. They were at the beginning of a winning season and it was vital that Whitney miss no more practice time than absolutely necessary.

There was a minimal amount of haggling over details, then suddenly, it was over. Lionel decided the meeting was at an end. In a flurry of energy, he shook hands with Loy, did a flyby kiss of the air near Carla's cheek, clapped Whit on the shoulder with a jovial "congratulations, Whitney" and then he was gone. Any hope of wrangling a private moment went out the door with him.

Maybe it was just as well. How did a guy apologize for insinuating that his boyfriend was a lying bastard?

"Well?" Lionel demanded as he strode briskly into his office, the joviality he'd exhibited in his departure from the CK meeting gone. Jacob Manning and his laptop were at a chrome-and-glass library table. "Is she in the database?"

Manning nodded as he hit a key and turned the screen toward Lionel. A marginally pretty coed with brown eyes and a shy smile peeked out from the part of a mousy auburn pageboy. Manning hit another key and a series candid of photos flashed for Lionel; Whitney looking magnificent in a tux, completely overshadowing his clearly insecure date in her J.C. Penney prom dress; Cheryl bundled to the gills hugging Whitney buoyantly after a game; a possessive Cheryl draped over Whitney's shoulder at crowded table in a pizzeria... Youth and innocence.

Lionel shoved away the discomforting shadow of age that batted its wrinkled eyelids at him.

"Cheryl Bower. She was a townie. Only child. Had a small apartment near the campus. Father is head of building maintenance at Bainbridge Pharmaceuticals. Mother is Director of Nursing at Manhattan Mercy Hospital. When Fordman escorted her to a formal social event and several informal team get-togethers we upgraded her from 'casual date' to 'girlfriend' status and stepped up surveillance on December 15. It didn't last long after that, though. Fordman appeared to have broken up with her on January 7. There were a couple of brief contacts after that, then he avoided her completely. We went back to routine spot-checks on him."

"What do we have on the supposed suicide?" Lionel had had only five minutes between his confrontation with Whitney and the meeting with the CK people. He'd put it to good use by instructing Jacob pull everything in Whitney's file about his relationship with Cheryl Bower.


"Nothing?! How could your men miss something as monumental as Whitney's girlfriend trying to kill herself?"

"We have a record of a hospitalization at Mercy on January 9. Fordman visited her on the 10th. That was the last recorded contact between them."

"No one thought to discover the reason for her hospitalization?"

Manning consulted his computer screen. "Severe urinary tract infection," he replied. "But of course--"

"The mother," Lionel completed the thought. "She had the clout and the means to keep an attempted suicide off her daughter's charts."

He nodded. "That would be my guess."

Lionel slid into the chair behind his desk. "What do we know about her now?"

"Very little. While you were in your meeting I was able to access her K State records -- she graduated last spring with a degree in Elementary Education. According to the placement service, she had four job offers from across the state. She initially signed a letter of intent for a school in Lawrence, but changed her mind and chose McKennon Elementary here in Metropolis."

"When?" Lionel asked.

It took Manning a second to find the date. "May 1st."

Lionel leaned back in his chair, tenting his fingers thoughtfully. "Interesting. If memory serves, that's shortly after Whitney signed his contract with the Sharks. I'd say she's a promising candidate for Whitney's stalker."

Manning nodded cautiously. "Certainly worth investigating."

"Then get to it. Keep me informed." He punched Grace on the intercom as Manning packed up his laptop and folders. "How far behind am I running, Grace?"

"If you can be on the 23rd floor at 11:30 you won't be behind at all, sir. I rescheduled Rafferty for tomorrow and moved Lex to 3 p.m. after your fitting," the assistant replied promptly.

Lionel checked his watch. He had five minutes to get down to R&D. "Thank you, Grace. Jacob..."

The security chief was half way to the door. He stopped and turned back expectantly. "Yes?"

Lionel stood. "In the matter of Cheryl Bower, discretion is paramount," he said gravely. "Whitney is being less than rational about this girl and I've assured him we won't investigate. If he finds out I reneged on that promise, I will hold you personally responsible."

Manning nodded. "I'll handle the investigation myself."

"Thank you, Jacob. Keep me posted."

"Yes, sir."

The security man left and Lionel moved briskly through the private entrance to his executive washroom. He was only minimally worried that Whitney might discover his betrayal. Jacob was good, and at this stage there was no reason for him to come in direct contact with the girl. Besides, Whitney's command was utterly irrational, and Lionel protected what was his. That meant doing whatever was necessary to keep Whitney -- and their relationship -- safe.... from the media, from stalkers, even from Whitney's own bad judgment when necessary.

Lionel relieved himself, washed his hands, and adjusted his clothing. The approving smile he gave his reflection carried not a hint of remorse.

The CK People wanted to take Whitney to lunch, but he begged off. His excuse that he had coaches waiting for him was perfectly legitimate, but mostly he was thinking about the letters in the breast pocket of his jacket. He hurried to his SUV in the parking garage, locked the door, and read the insane meanderings. Knowing that "K" had been in the stadium for the Steelers game chilled Whitney to the bone. How could this be happening?

He drove to the Sharks' Complex grappling with the reality of having a real, live stalker and trying to assimilate the things Manning had said. What if she really was dangerous? What if she tracked him to his lover? Lionel's personal security was stringent enough to make it hard for an amateur assailant to get close, but an attack wasn't impossible. And even if she didn't launch a physical assault, she could go to the press. The ways that "K" could damage Whitney and Lionel both were virtually limitless.

"That's an awfully grim face for someone who's about to be half a million dollars richer."

Startled, Whitney looked up from his locker keypad to find he'd walked straight past Bran Sutton without even seeing him at the locker bay. He managed a distracted half-smile and punched the number sequence into his locker. "News travels fast."

"Especially if you read the Daily Planet," Bran replied. "Haven't you seen John Vincent's column? You've been outed."

Whitney's head jerked toward Bran way too fast. The easy smile on Sutton's face didn't jibe with the bombshell he'd just dropped. "What?"

"As the new Calvin Klein spokesman. Vincent is reporting it."

Whitney was so relieved he didn't even stop to wonder where Vincent had heard the news. "Oh. That."

If Bran noticed Whitney's overreaction and visible relief, he didn't let it show. He just grinned. "You've got some other half-million dollar deal in the works?"

"No. Just..." Whitney hung his suit jacket in his locker, his hand brushed against the clump of letters in his breast pocket. "Bad day..."

Bran's smile faded. The concern on his face seemed genuine. "Anything you want to talk about?"

Whitney's first reaction was to say no, but what was the harm, really? Bran was a friend, or at least a prospective friend. Maybe this was a good time to test the friendship and see how far Sutton could be trusted. He'd tell Bran about his stalker and see if word got out.

"Yeah," Whitney said thoughtfully. "I think I would like to talk. You available for a drink after practice? Say 5 o'clock?"

Bran smiled. "Sure. How about Gallahad's on 9th street?"

Whitney nodded. "I'll meet you there."

Lionel took another step back from the cheval glass that had been set up in his office for his costume fitting. He turned left, then right, liking what he saw. The burgundy brocade of the Renaissance cavalier tunic was liberally shot-through with gold, and pristine white lawn bubbled delicately out of the slits in the full sleeves. It hugged his torso and fell to mid-thigh; black velvet breeches disappeared into the sumptuous dark-brown leather of knee-high boots. Matching white Brandenburg lace spilled from his cuffs and frothed out of the tops of the boots like foam from a mug of ale. Very expensive ale. With his long, dark hair, he looked as though he'd just stepped from the pages of an Alexandre Dumas novel.

Lionel was more than satisfied. He was thrilled. This was an unqualified bright spot on an otherwise dismal day.

It had been years since Lionel had gone all out for Halloween; the holiday had been one of Lillian's favorites and in the years since her death the associations with his late wife had made it more comfortable for him to simply decline invitations to masked balls and other holiday events. For events that he positively could not refuse, he was well-known for wearing a tuxedo or evening suit with a simple, sophisticated mask that did little to conceal his identity.

This year was going to be different. This year he had something to celebrate, and he was actually enjoying the preparations for a holiday neither he nor Whitney would soon forget.

"It's absolutely stunning, even if I do say so myself, Mr. Luthor," the costume's designer, Yvonne Blake, said as she circled him, looking for any place that needed another nip or tuck. The Oscar winner had been designing period movie costumes for three decades, including two of Lionel's favorite films: The Richard Lester version of "The Three Musketeers," and "Nicholas and Alexandra." In Lionel's opinion, no one did sumptuous period clothing like the diminutive Ms. Blake.

"What about the second costume?" he asked. This particular celebration had been in Lionel's head for months. Even before his inconvenient separation from Whitney in August, Lionel had given thought to how they would spend this anniversary. Now, every aspect had been carefully planned to maintain the element of surprise for Whitney, up to and including the creation of his costume and mask, which would be a virtual mirror of Lionel's, but constructed in burgundy and silver instead of Lionel's burgundy and gold.

"The Silver Chevalier will be ready for delivery on the 30th," Yvonne told him, "but I would feel better if we could arrange a fitting with your friend."

"You have the costume ready on the morning of the 30th, Yvonne. My personal tailor will pick it up and take care of the final fitting, as we agreed." Lionel wasn't about to trust a virtual stranger with the identity of his lover. "You have the subject's measurements -- I'm confident nothing more than minor adjustments will be required."

The designer smiled confidently. "I'll certainly do my best."

"I expect nothing less." Lionel waved his arm at the mirror, testing the fall of the lace over his hand.

When Grace hailed him over the intercom, Lionel barely turned his head in the direction of his desk. "Yes, Grace?"

"Lex is here, sir."

Lionel back flipped the lace on his sleeve and looked at his watch. Three o'clock. His son was prompt; Lionel, however, was running behind. "Send him in, Grace."

Lionel turned and looked over his shoulder at the mirror, checking the drape of the pleats in the back. The reflection also showed the door of his office opening. Lex entered, stopped, took a long, unreadable look at his father, and closed the door behind him.

"Gee, Dad," he said sarcastically as he crossed the room. "Isn't a Renaissance dress code a little archaic even for you? Can't wait to see the board of directors in pantaloons and tights."

Chuckling darkly, Lionel spread his arms wide and gave Lex a short, courtly bow. "It's good to see you, too, son. My trip was fine, thank you for asking."

Lex's pale eyebrows shot up in feigned surprise. "You were gone on a trip?"

"Indeed I was, and we'll discuss your version of holding down the fort in my absence in just a moment," he promised, then performed a cursory introduction of his son to the famous designer. Their exchange of pleasantries was interrupted by an imperious wave of Lionel's hand. "Yvonne, your assistance, please. I believe you have me pinned in. Lex, make yourself comfortable."

"But not too comfortable. Right, Dad?" Lex muttered.

Lionel ignored the jibe and led the way into the outer chamber of the executive washroom where Lionel had left his street clothes. It took a good fifteen minutes to change clothes and send the designer on her merry way. When he rejoined Lex, his son looked completely unperturbed by being kept waiting. Lionel knew nothing could have been further from the truth and he mentally awarded Lex points for keeping his displeasure under wraps.

"My apologies, Lex. It's been hellish day," he announced as he moved behind his desk.

"Not a problem, Dad. I had nothing better to do."

Lionel feigned shock. "Really? Then perhaps we need to expand the scope of your responsibilities."

"Whatever you put on my plate, I'll handle," Lex replied with an easy shrug.

"I'll give it some thought."

Lex's nod dismissed the subject for what he clearly thought it was -- idle banter -- but Lionel had been considering expanding the scope of his son's duties. This wasn't the time for telling him that, though.

"That was a nice costume, Dad. Surprising, though. I don't think I've ever seen you get decked out for Halloween."

"Really?" Lionel swallowed a stab of disappointment at Lex's selective memory. "You don't recall the year you turned nine? The Vanderhavens costume promenade where we went as the Addams Family? I as Gomez, your mother as an exquisite Morticia, and you as a delightfully diminutive Lurch. It was your idea, as I recall."

Lex's face remained passively unlined as he shook his head. "Sorry. Don't remember."

Lionel was suddenly assailed by the unwelcome memory of Clark Kent's assertion that Lex believed his father had never loved him. "Somehow that doesn't surprise me," Lionel said lightly, quelling any hint of irritation. "You always did have a penchant for forgetting the good and focusing spectacularly on the bad."

"Perhaps it was the sheer quantity of the latter that drowned out the former," Lex replied cheerfully. "Are you sure you really want to get in to what I do and don't remember from my childhood, Dad?"

"No. I'm more concerned with recent history. Last week for instance," Lionel said, segueing smoothly into the reason he'd scheduled this meeting. This was going to be unpleasant enough without refurbishing old wounds. He opened a folder to a printout of a page from the Daily Planet's online Business Section. "Imagine my surprise when I accessed my Planet online in Zurich and discovered that you'd given a very colorful interview about the appointment of Celeste Willingham to the chairmancy of the Lillian Luthor Foundation."

"They asked what I thought of the move. I told them. Sorry you didn't approve."

"A decided understatement and a grave miscalculation on your part Lex. Insinuating that I am either blinded by love or slipping into senility was not a sentiment conducive to boosting LuthorCorp stock values."

"Why, Dad! Are you suggesting I should have lied to the press?"

Lionel glared at his son through lowered brows. "We discussed this, Lex."

"No, you dictated and I protested. There was never a discussion and certainly not an agreement. Celeste has no business even being on the Foundation board, let alone chairing it."

"Celeste's contributions --"

"Her only contribution is to you getting your cock sucked by Whitney Fordman, so don't even pretend that this has anything to do with the Foundation," Lex shot back, the ice in his voice designed to cut with surgical precision. "I can forgive a mid-life crisis, Dad, but couldn't you manage to have it without trampling on my mother's memory? Oh, sorry. You never cared how you hurt her when she was alive. Why should I expect any respect for her now that she's dead?"

Lionel rocked back in his chair and applauded. "Well-aimed, son. Melodramatic, but trenchant. Pithy, even. You attack very well."

"I had a good teacher!" Lex snapped, a little of his cool control deserting him in the face of Lionel's mirth.

"Yes, you did," Lionel agreed calmly. Unlike his son, he was the grandmaster at maintaining a facade. "But if you'd truly paid attention during those lessons, you'd recall that using an emotional argument on an emotionless bastard is a losing proposition."

"At least you admit it."

"I admit that it's a fatal mistake to expose any weakness to an opponent."

This time it was Lex who rocked back. "Well... I'm really feeling the father-son warm fuzzies now. Opponent?" he said carefully, hitting each syllable. "That certainly puts us into perspective, doesn't it?

Merde. Lionel knew he'd made his first misstep. This was going to get bad before it had any chance of getting better. "In many ways, it does," he agreed in his most conciliatory voice. "Fortunately, few relationships -- particularly father and son -- are completely one-dimensional. Ours has more layers than a labyrinth."

"More dead ends and booby traps, too."


Lex shook his head, the disdain on his face making it clear wasn't buying it. "I want the chairmancy of mother's foundation."

Lionel sighed heavily. "As I said before, when you prove to me that you have the social clout to match your ingenuity and business acumen, you shall have it."

"Not acceptable. This isn't a negotiation. If I'm not chairman of the Lillian Luthor Foundation by the end of the month, the Daily Planet's headline on November 1 will be "Gay Quarterback Earns Paycheck in Owner's Bed."

Lionel carefully schooled his face to reflect none of his shock. He hadn't expected Lex to go nearly this far. "Believe me, son, when I tell you that you don't want to go there. I've tolerated your mutinies over the years, even applauded some of them. That buyout of Smallville Number 3 a few years ago was ill-considered, but the move last year against LuthorItalia was inspired and very nearly succeeded."

"Forget it, Dad. Flattery won't get you off the ropes."

"This isn't flattery. It's candor. I like you keeping me on my toes, Lex. I've always believed that if a man can't hold onto something, he doesn't deserve to possess it. Someday LuthorCorp will be yours, and I need to know that you will be able to hold onto it. It was never surprising that you would pit yourself against me, since the number of opponents worthy of your efforts is few."

Lex laughed shortly. "Your ego is--"

"Matched and surpassed only by yours. Let's leave the obvious aside and focus on the problem at hand. By taking our battle of wits out of the boardroom and into the bedroom, you just stepped over a line that should never be crossed. I strongly advise you to reconsider."

"Or what?"

"Or we engage in a Luthor Nuclear Holocaust and leave a number of people who matter to us writhing in the fallout. And for what reason? You didn't give a fig about your mother's foundation a month ago. Now, you're threatening the career of an innocent young man whose only offense is having briefly fucked your lover -- an impressionable, teenage lover whom you had callously, if temporarily, discarded, I might add."

Lionel hid his satisfaction at having scored a direct hit. Lex hadn't known that Lionel was aware of the relationship between Clark and Whitney. "Whitney took advantage of Clark."

"He comforted a friend."

"He lapped up my leftovers, Dad," Lex said smugly. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, fingers laced. "Doesn't playing in the same sandbox as your son make you feel positively ancient?"

Lionel ignored the stab at his age and feigned surprise. "Tsk, tsk! I can't imagine that Clark would appreciate being referred to as leftovers."

"Ooh, do I hear a threat?"

Lionel laughed humorlessly at the irony. "Noooo, Lex. When I make a threat, you'll know it. I was merely expressing my surprise. I believe you genuinely care for Clark, and he you. It's hard to imagine deprecating someone you love by calling him 'leftovers'."

"It's harder to imagine you being willing to watch your 36 million dollar investment go circling down the drain," Lex said, getting back to the point.

Lionel had had enough chatter, too. He stood and fastened his suitcoat. "I've never in my life given in to blackmail, Lex. Can you possibly believe that I would now?"

"I want--"

"What you want it irrelevant," Lionel announced, coming around the desk. "Do you have any idea how much simpler my life would be if Whitney Fordman were out of the closet? Clark Kent on the other hand--"

Lex stood. "No one cares if Clark is gay, Dad."

"Oh, I think Clark will care very much if the full weight of Lionel Luthor's wrath follows him for the next dozen years. I can reduce your lover's future to a cinder, Lex, and make damn sure he knows you're responsible. Not to mention all the ways I can crush you, and don't think I won't. Make a move that harms Whitney, and I'll destroy you. In fact, if I were you, I'd devote myself to making certain that not so much as a breath of innuendo is whispered about Whitney, because the first word I hear -- whispered or shouted -- I'll come looking for you."

Lionel moved briskly to the door, leaving the threat hanging in the air like the sword of Damocles. He paused and waited for Lex to join him.

Lex glared at him across the expanse, then moved to the exit. He stopped at the door and faced Lionel squarely. "This isn't over, Dad."

"Yes, it is, Lex. But it won't be quickly forgotten."

Lex swept out the door and Lionel resisted the urge to vent his anger by slamming it off its hinges. Instead, he closed it firmly and moved swiftly back to his desk. The game was on. This time the stakes were uncomfortably high, but Lionel couldn't deny that there was something thrilling about the adrenaline rush coursing through his veins. Lex had made his move -- albeit an ill-considered, nearly incomprehensible one. Lionel could look for motive and logic later. For now, an immediate and decisive response was imperative.

He stabbed Jacob Manning's speed-dial code into the phone. A second later, "Manning."

"Two things. Immediately. Clark Kent's class schedule and Lex's attention focused totally on something innocuous for the next hour. Crash his computer, vandalize his Porsche. I don't care. Just make sure it's something that looks random and can't be traced back to us."

"Yes, sir."


Bran arrived at the English-style pub early. He liked Gallahad's because it was dark and cool, it had great oak booths stained in dark hues, with tall oak dividers that were great for private conversations, and best of all, it was his neighborhood watering hole so it was rare for anyone to bother him. Bran liked fame, but he also liked solitude. It was a balancing act that he was getting pretty good at.

Bran considered himself very lucky. Being in the NFL was amazing. A dream come true. Having the reputation as one of the best if not the best Free Safety in the NFL was unbelievable. On the other hand, being the best gay Safety in the NFL sucked royally, and not in any way that could remotely be considered good.

Lying, being on guard against saying the wrong thing, making the wrong move, glancing the wrong way in the shower or lockerroom -- that was a real killer. Making friends, but never really knowing who you could trust to keep your secrets, so the friendships were only superficial, at best. And lovers... Few and far between. During the season, anyway.

The one thing Bran had going for him was Gaydar that hadn't been wrong yet. Whitney Fordman was barely a blip on the screen, but the vibe was there. Bran had felt it from their very first meeting. At first he'd thought maybe it was just wishful thinking about the hottest jock he'd met in ages. Bran had put on his best, Just-One-of-the-Guys faces and made friends with the rookie. They'd discovered a mutual interest in chess while soaking in neighboring whirlpools one day after practice and that had led to an ongoing Internet chess game and a beer after practice now and then. All very nice, friendly, and completely platonic.

Recently, though, that friendship had led to a couple of hot dreams about a mix up in team positioning; somehow Bran had ended up playing Quarterback to Whitney Fordman's Center, and all kinds of hot, sweaty things had happened on Bran's Nocturnal Football Field o' Love as a result. Too many mornings he was waking up with a hard cock that kept insisting only one ass was going to satisfy the hunger.

That was why he'd made that feeble joke about Whitney's mention in John Vincent's column. He hadn't planned it; the "outed" comment popped out before he could sensor it, but in retrospect he knew he'd been fishing, looking for a reaction, hoping for a sign that would betray Whitney's true nature.

He'd gotten what he was looking for, plus a boatload of guilt. Whitney's reaction had been so extreme, the panic so genuine that Bran had regretted the test immediately. Fortunately, no one else had been witness to the incident. No harm was done and Bran was free to formulate a stratagem for waking up some morning very soon with a satisfied cock and a warm, sexy Whitney Fordman snuggled up next to him.

"Hi, Bran..."

Sutton looked up from his ale, startled as Whitney slid into the booth opposite him. He hoped that the subdued lighting in the pub hid the guilty flush that swept through him.

"Hey, Whit-Man. What are you having to drink? This place has some great ales."

"Whatever you're having," Whit replied.

Bran thought he looked a little nervous. He flagged the barmaid and held up two fingers.

"So, how's Miami's offensive line?" Whitney asked.

Bran grinned. "Candy." While they waited for the drinks they talked about the outlook for Sunday, their second away game of the regular season, but the conversation was just a warm up. Whitney looked really miserable. He was obviously trying hard to be upbeat, but he was clearly bothered by something. As soon as the barmaid left, Bran cut through the bullshit.

"Okay, Buddy. We've shot the breeze down to a little draft. Let's get to the important stuff. What's wrong? Problem with Lois?"

"No! Lois is great. She's looking forward to flying back to Metropolis for the Charity Ball."

Whitney looked surprised by the question, so clearly this wasn't a "girlfriend" problem. Bran wondered -- not for the first time -- if Lois Lane was a beard. He'd make it his business to find out at the Sharks' annual benefit ball in a few weeks. "Then what's the problem?"

Whitney was shuffling the extra cardboard coasters the barmaid had left, and Bran fought the urge to put a supportive hand on his to quiet the nervous gesture. If they'd been lovers, he would have, but they weren't, so he didn't. He just waited until Whitney finally asked, "Have you ever had, like, an obsessive fan?"

"Obsessive? No. Belligerent, yes. But I wouldn't call him a fan. Not of mine, anyway." When Whitney looked confused, Bran explained, "There's a guy in Alabama who threatens to bash my brains in every time I play in the southeast."


"He says it's my fault he never made it to the Pros."

"What'd you do?"

"Nothing! I've never met the guy. He didn't even go to Stanford! Fans, I can deal with, but these nuts get something into their heads and there's no getting it out out. You got a problem already?"

"Apparently so," Whitney said wryly as he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out three envelopes. "There's been no brain-bashing threats, but she's got some interesting thoughts on my manly thighs."

Don't we all? Bran laughed at the deprecating humor, but he could appreciate and even share the correspondent's fixation. Whitney Fordman had thighs that were to die for. And shoulders. And abs. And don't even get started on that cock! "Good to see you can make light of it."

"Who's making light? Those are her words, not mine. She was in the stadium for the Steelers game, Bran. She rants about how she knew I wanted her to rush to my side...about how patiently she's waited for me to send for her so we can be together. She warns me not to disappoint her any longer because she doesn't know what she'll do if we're not together soon."

Bran wasn't laughing any more, but he decided not to go the tragic route. "Holy Lunatic Fringe, Batman. Maybe you should patent that boyish charm."

"Fuck you, Bran," Whitney said lightly, grinning despite himself, and feeling better for it. "This is serious."

Bran frowned down at the letters. "Yes. Serious. Okay. Getting serious and reading now."

"You're a Stanford grad, huh?" Whitney raised his hand to attract the barmaid. "Think I'll order some buffalo wings. This could take a while."

Bran threw a coaster at him without looking up from the letter; the very weird, downright scary letter. "Jeez," he said when he finally finished. "The front office knows about this, right?"

Whit nodded. "Yeah. I met with Lionel and the head of security this morning before the CK meeting."

"Bet that kind of took the shine off your big endorsement deal."

"You could say." Whitney drained the last of his ale, but there was already a second ready and waiting. "You know, it occurred to me half way through practice that this might not be the best time to raise my public profile."

"If I read these right, this chick was all over you when you were a virtual nobody at a crap school like K State. Having --"

"Hey!" Whitney protested, throwing Bran's coaster back at him, but the Free Safety continued as though he hadn't been interrupted, " -- Having your ugly mug on a billboard or two probably won't make her any crazier than she already is."

"So what do I do?"

"What does Manning say?"

"Surveillance around my apartment. A body guard on the road and at practice."

Bran shrugged. "Manning is the best. Let him worry about Miss K and you just concentrate on grinding the Dolphins into dust."


It wasn't every Tuesday that Clark came out of his News Editing class and found a black limo parked illegally at the curb in front of Met U's School of Journalism, nicknamed the "Planetarium." It was even more rare for a liveried chauffeur to single him out of the stream of students rushing back to the dorm or their 4 o'clock classes.

"Mr. Kent? Mr. Luthor would like a word with you."

Clark's face lit up. If his boyfriend had gone to all the trouble to pick him up in a limo, could hot, sweaty sex be far behind? "Lex?"

"Mr. Lionel Luthor."

Clark's smile vanished only marginally faster than the swelling in his cock. Shit. What does Lionel want?

The chauffeur opened the back door of the limo and Clark had no choice but to slide in. He chose the long bench opposite his host.

"Hello, Clark."

"Mr. Luthor."

"Lionel, please."

Clark cleared his throat uncomfortably. "What can I do for you, sir?"

"I need your help, Clark. Or more accurately, someone we both care about needs your help."

Clark came to the edge of his seat, alarmed. "Lex?"

"No. Although he is certainly involved, " Lionel said, waving Clark back into his seat. "I must tell you, Clark, that I am not happy about being here and I thought long and hard before involving you in this difficult situation. Well..., that's not exactly true," Lionel contradicted himself with a sudden, wolfish grin that only intensified Clark's discomfort. "I gave it no more than three seconds' thought, if that. But the part about being reluctant to involve you -- that is unquestionably true."

Clark felt the limo begin to crawl through the between-class traffic. "Mr. Luthor, I have no idea what you're talking about, and you're starting to make me nervous. If that means anything to you."

"It does, Clark. And I apologize. I'll get to the point. For reasons that pass understanding, Lex has threatened to expose certain aspects of Whitney Fordman's private life to the Daily Planet. I am sure you can guess which aspect that might be. Such a disclosure would, of course, end Whitney's career."

Clark was stunned speechless. "That's... He wouldn't -- Lex wouldn't do that."

"Oh, but he would! And will if we don't act quickly. Your lover is capable of devastating ruthlessness, Clark. Whatever admirable qualities you find in him to love, never doubt that he can destroy without conscience."

"And where did he learn that?" Clark flung back defensively. There was no point in denying what they both knew was true, but what Lionel was accusing him of... It was ridiculous.

Lionel chuckled darkly. "He got the training from me, but the instincts are his own. I must confess, though, I never expected him to use them so vindictively against his own father."

"I thought you said he was threatening Whitney."

"Point taken. His threat, to be precise, was a headline that reads: 'Gay Quarterback Earns Paycheck in Owner's Bed,' but I am only a bystander. My bisexuality is hardly a state secret. If it becomes common knowledge that I am being serviced by one of the most handsome, most promising, most studly young athletes in the world I will be applauded by my friends for my good taste and reviled by my enemies for being a middle-aged fool with remarkably good taste. The public-at-large will tsk-tsk for about thirty seconds, and none of that will have any negative impact on my business dealings because I can destroy my foes and topple empires no matter where I bury my cock. The danger is to Whitney. His career. His dreams. Possibly even his health and safety. I find it hard to imagine that you would willingly stand by and see that happen since this is, primarily, your fault."

"My fault!"

"Clark, surely you realize that Lex is aware of your sexual history with Whitney and is insanely jealous. The animus he feels predates my relationship with Whit by several years and stems directly from knowing that you had -- and continue to have -- feelings for Whitney Fordman. Granted," Lionel added quickly, cutting off Clark's protest, "those feelings are only of friendship now, if I am to believe my lover, and I do. But Lex, apparently, is not as secure in his relationship with you as I am in mine with Whitney."

Clark frowned. Lex's hatred of Whitney was a lot more complicated than that, but he couldn't deny that the basis for it was what had happened between him and Whitney. If Clark hadn't turned to Whit two summers ago, Lex wouldn't give a damn about who his father was sleeping with.

But hating Whitney didn't answer the one big question that suddenly elbowed Clark's guilty conscience aside.

"Why?" he asked.

"I just explained--"

"No you didn't," Clark challenged. "You gave me the 'what' and the 'who,' but the 'why' is conspicuously absent."

Lionel laughed outloud. "Spoken like a true neophyte. A little education is obviously a dangerous--"


Apparently he took heed of the warning in Clark's voice because he dropped the sarcasm. What replaced it revealed a glimpse of anger that rocked Clark back in his seat. "I just told you why, Clark. Lex wants to wreak revenge on Whitney for the crime of having fucked and, no doubt, been fucked by, you."

"That's not enough," Clark argued. "Lex has known about Whitney and me for two years. Why would he choose now to out Whitney?"

"Because this is the first time Whitney has been vulnerable," Lionel snapped. "From Lex's perspective, Whitney is sitting atop the world, quickly becoming adored by millions. Clearly he is concerned that you might find Whitney a more desirable partner and foolishly questions my ability to hold ont--"

"Bullshit, Lionel," Clark snapped. "Lex knows I love him. You did something. Lex wouldn't have threatened Whitney without a reason. What did you do?"

"Remove your blinders, Clark. I did nothing."

Clark thought about the foul mood that had been hanging over Lex like cloud of toxic waste for the last few weeks. "Does this have anything to do with the Lillian Luthor Foundation?"

"No," Lionel countered, then reluctantly allowed that, "Lex claims to be upset over the election of my friend Celeste Willingham to the chairmanship of the Foundation, but the Foundation means next-to-nothing to Lex. If you doubt me, I'll be happy to show you his attendance record for the board meetings. He's using the Foundation as an excuse."

"He wants to be the chairman," Clark said, remembering a conversation from a couple of weeks ago.

"A position for which he is grossly unqualified. Fundraising requires social clout that Lex has yet to acquire."

Clark finally put all the pieces together. "But if you don't oust Mrs. Willingham and give him the job to Lex, he's going to out Whitney?"

Lionel looked at him a long moment. "Perhaps you're not so much of a neophyte after all. At least where Lex is concerned," he said finally.

"Then make him Chairman," Clark commanded as though the answer was obvious, though he knew very well that it wasn't. "He won't out Whitney if you give him what he wants."

Clearly, Lionel wasn't buying it, either. "And what about the next time he wants something? If Lex can use Whitney to coerce me into giving him control of his mother's Foundation, the blackmail will never stop. Lex will press his... advantage until he becomes LuthorCorp's majority stockholder and can lock the doors against me and put his old man out to pasture. And then, just for the fun of it, he'll out Whitney anyway." Lionel shook his head. "No, Clark. I can't keep Whitney safe by caving in to blackmail, and I don't believe there is anything I am willing to threaten Lex with that would stop him. But you can."

Clark started to ask how, but killed the question because he knew the answer. Lex would never hurt Whitney if Clark asked him not to. Maybe. Probably. Or possibly not.

He would try, of course. There was no way he'd stand by and let Whitney be hurt because of him. It wasn't Whitney's fault that Lex had abandoned him two years ago, leaving him broken and needy. If Lex could really destroy Whitney as he'd threatened, he wasn't the man Clark thought he was. Or needed him to be.

"I'll talk to him," Clark promised Lionel. "His threat is only a bluff, anyway. To see if he can get your goat, or maybe just to see how hard you'll push back if he pushes you first. But I know Lex. He would never really hurt Whitney."

Lionel sighed heavily. "Believe what you must, Clark, but stop him. Whitney has a brilliant career ahead of him. He has the potential to be one of the greats in this sport. I'm counting on you to see that Lex doesn't take that away from him."

"He won't," Clark said firmly. It was as close to a promise as he could come.

"Thank you," Lionel said simply. "And I am sure Whitney would thank you if he knew, but he doesn't. Nor should he. His rookie season, the surge of media attention, plus recent events completely unrelated to Lex's threat have put an enormous strain on him, Clark. I can't stop you from telling him, but it would be hard to predict his reaction."

Clark had no trouble whatsoever predicting Whitney's reaction. He'd track Lex down and beat him to a bloody pulp. Clark didn't want to have to step in and stop that fight, nor did he want to risk one of Lex's new bodyguards from stepping in, either. Plus, it was unlikely that Whitney would ever forgive Lex, and that was bound to make Clark's life even more complicated that it already was. The relationship between Whitney and Lionel wasn't going to last forever, and Clark had been hoping that Lex would eventually learn to tolerate his friendship with Whitney once Lionel was out of the picture. If Whitney found out about this threat, hell would freeze over before a truce was called between his lover and his friend.

"He won't hear about it from me," Clark promised.

"Excellent. Again, thank you." Lionel gestured to the window and Clark realized that they'd been stopped for several minutes. "Your apartment building, I believe."

Clark looked out. "Yes." He reached for the handle and the door opened magically. He slid out, then turned and stuck his head back in. "Lionel..."


"You said there were no threats that you were prepared to make against Lex. That infers that there are threats you could make."

"Many," Lionel confessed.

"If you hurt Lex, you'll answer to me, and that's a threat you shouldn't take lightly."

"Clark, if Lex forces me to hurt him in order to protect Whitney, there will be nothing you can do to me that will be any worse than living with the pain of having destroyed my own son."

Clark cocked his head to one side. "You love Whitney that much?"

If the situation hadn't been so serious, Clark would have laughed at the look of shock-followed-by-irritation that betrayed Lionel. "Sandofer, the door!" He commanded and Clark found himself edged aside. The door slammed and he straightened, tossing a glare at the bodyguard/chauffeur and was surprised to find a smile tugging at the man's lips.

"Good one, kid," the bodyguard muttered as he brushed past him and circled the car.


Whit had no idea what to expect when he arrived at the penthouse at eight. There had been a palpable tension between them when Lionel sent him back to Carla this morning. Would it be there tonight? Was Lionel pissed at him for that crack about being a bastard? There was no way to know. Best to stay loose and avoid expectations.

Whit rode up the private elevator twirling the silver and gold Shark's keyring Lionel had given him for his graduation. The carriage opened into a corridor that branched in three directions: to the right, the public portion of the house -- Conservatory, dining rooms, offices, library and living room; to the left, the guestrooms and Master Suite; straight ahead, the service wing, with the kitchen, laundry, and servants' quarters.

When the doors opened, Mioshi was waiting for him. "Good evening, Mr. Fordman."

"Hello, Mioshi."

"Mr. Lionel is on the phone," the houseboy said in his perpetually quiet voice, as though he'd been shushed by a tyrannical librarian one too many times. "He asks you to wait in the living room. Dinner will be served in the Solarium at nine."

"Thank you."

Whit turned right, making his way through the Conservatory, smiling ruefully at the memory of last week's performance. "Prize-and-Punishment," Lionel's favorite game: unbelievable sex and tender sentiments followed by crushing disappointment or abandonment. Would tonight be more of the same, or would Lionel have some other game up his sleeve?

He heard Lionel's voice as he passed the alcove that led to the office, but he knew better than to duck in. For the most part, Lionel kept his business separate from their personal life and Whitney respected that. He moved into the living room, poured a drink, then moved on, down two steps into the Solarium. Encased entirely in glass on three sides, the terraced enclosure was part greenhouse, part patio. It was Lionel's favorite spot to take breakfast and lunch, but they rarely ate dinner here. Tonight, the table was laid for two, and dozens of candles burned among the lush green foliage. A fountain in the meditation garden provided a soft musical accompaniment to the sparkle of candlelight and the dazzling city skyline beyond the terrace. Whitney noticed with a smile that the fainting couch was subtly nestled in the jungle of plants.

For someone who called himself the least sentimental man on the planet, Lionel Luthor had a romantic streak a mile wide. He liked grand gestures and seduction. He thrived on theatrics. Whitney allowed himself a moment to toy with the idea of turning the tables on his lover, creating a grand, romantic gesture of his own. And he had the perfect occasion. Lionel's birthday was only a month away. He grinned broadly as ideas ranging from the absurdly sappy to the wickedly delicious danced through his imagination.

Whitney caught a shimmer of movement reflected in the glass, but before he could turn he found himself captured by strong arms. "That is a wicked smile," Lionel said softly, his lips next to Whitney's ear. "Ten shares of LuthorCorp Preferred for your thoughts."

Whitney relaxed into the hard cushion of Lionel's chest. "They're worth that much?"

"And then some."

Hmmmm.... Sexy, playful Lionel was not what Whit had been expecting. He relaxed and allowed himself to enjoy the warm, funny side of his lover. "Sorry. Not for sale."

"I usually get what I want," Lionel warned him.

Grinning, Whitney craned his neck, looking over his shoulder at Lionel, who was one step above him on the stairs, still attired in his business suit. "Oh, you'll get this one. But on my timetable."

Lionel's dark brows went up. "I'm intrigued..."

"That's me. Whitney Fordman. Man of Mystery. Learn to live with it."

Lionel chuckled darkly as he bent his head to brush a kiss against Whitney's lips. "I've had worse propositions..." Whitney instinctively opened for him and sighed at the invasion of Lionel's tongue. He turned in Lionel's arms, face tilted up, and discovered that there was something very sexy about having Lionel kiss him from this unfamiliar angle. Judging by the erection that began to press insistently into his groin, Lionel liked it, too. "Mmmm...you taste good," Lionel whispered when he finally broke the kiss.

"It's that fancy toothpaste from the designer collection you gave me. Or possibly the spicy buffalo wings."

Lionel leaned back but didn't release him. "Buffalo wings?"

"Spicy. Brandon Sutton and I had a beer after practice."

"And Buffalo Wings."

He said it way people had once said, 'Bubonic Plague' and 'Typhoid Mary.' Whitney chuckled. "Don't worry. Plebeian taste isn't contagious. I promise you won't suddenly start craving Big Macs and Chili Cheese Fries if you continue kissing me."

"Dear God, I should hope not. Fond as I am of this pastime, a fast food addiction would be a price too high to pay."

Whitney pouted. Just a little. "Glad to know where the boundaries of your commitment to this relationship lie," he said dryly.

"Why don't we adjourn to the bedroom and I'll reintroduce you to the exactly length and breadth of my commitment to this relationship."

This was just too good to be true. Whitney moved sensuously against the ridge of Lionel's arousal. "That length and breadth, I hope," he murmured against his lover's mouth.

"If you have to ask, I am obviously losing my skill at the double entendre."

Whitney slid his hand between them and cupped Lionel intimately. "Let's stop talking and go fuck."

Lionel cleared his throat and steadied his voice before he replied huskily, "If you insist."

They took the shortest route to the bedroom, with Lionel stopping briefly on the way to convey a message for the chef to hold dinner until further notice.

When he arrived in the bedroom, Whitney was reclining on the bed, braced on his elbows, shirt off, belt unfastened, sprawled in what he hoped was his best "come fuck me" pose.

Lionel came to the bed, slowly removing his suitcoat, then unbuttoning his shirt, studying Whitney with an intensity that made the younger man blush. The shirt fell to the floor and Lionel's trousers followed.

"Don't stop there," Whitney urged him and Lionel obliged. Then, with equal care, he removed Whitney's shoes and socks, trousers and boxers. When they were both naked, he crawled onto Whitney, molding their bodies together, trapping the two hungry cocks between them. He kissed Whitney long and deep, then whispered, "I've missed you."

That did it. "Okay. Who are you and what have you done with my lover?" Whitney demanded on a breathless moan. "Six feet tall, hard body, long dark hair, sexy as sin, and pissed as hell at me. You've got the sexy part down and the hair is convincing, but you are NOT Lionel Luthor."

Lionel laughed lightly. "I assure you I have not been cloned, and why would I be angry with you?"

"That crack I made this morning about your conscience."

"Or lack thereof?"

Whitney nodded reluctantly.

Lionel brushed a kiss across Whitney's jaw and whispered in his hear, "I'm not angry. On the contrary. I found it heartening that you could show such keen insight into my character and still bear a certain amount of affection for me." Lionel rolled his hips, grinding his cock against Whitney's. "Do I seem angry?"

"Well..., no," he admitted, swallowing hard because the sensuous body motion was starting to make him sweat. "You seem...hard. Very hard." Lionel's cock flirted with Whit's and Whit flirted right back, thrusting, creating more friction, more sweat, more heat. Their kiss was a hard, hot tangle of lips and tongues and breathy moans that quickly grew frantic.

Breathing hard, Lionel broke the kiss and reached for a decanter on the nightstand. Straddling Whitney's hips, he leaned back on his haunches, uncorked the bottle and drizzled a fine stream of oil on Whitney's stomach and groin. The faintest scent of apples wafted in the air.

The oil was warm... It must have been sitting on a warming plate, Whitney deduced, and as Lionel began massaging it onto his skin, Whitney had an irreverent and completely unwanted image of Lionel giving instructions for the evening to his very proper British valet...

"We'll need the hot plate and edible massage oil on the bedside table, Hemingway. I have a yen for apple-flavored cock tonight. Please see to it."

"Very good, sir. Should I set out the lubricant and condoms, as well? Will you be frotting and fucking, or simply frotting and fellating?"

Whitney couldn't help it. The imaginary conversation gave him a severe case of the giggles, which drew an immediate scowl from Lionel, who was doing a particularly effective job of applying the savory oil to every square centimeter of Whitney's cock.

Lionel stopped what he was doing. "Have you suddenly become ticklish, Mr. Fordman?" he asked archly.

"No. Sorry." Whitney was trying unsuccessfully to smother a chortle. "I just had an image."



Lionel sat back on his haunches and wrapped his hand around Whitney's cock but made no effort to stimulate it. "An unsatisfactory answer. My ministrations of this nature do not, typically, generate mirth."

Grinning, Whitney sat up, wrapping his arms around Lionel and raising his face. "I was imagining you setting all this up with your staff... What you say, what they must think... Do you have a prearranged code?" Whitney slipped into a very bad impression of Lionel. "'We'll have the Number Seven tonight, Hemingway.'"

Lionel looked perplexed. "I give very little thought to what my personal staff think of my instructions. I do know, however, that they approve of your presence in my life. You have an instinctive understanding of what it takes to generate loyalty in one's servants."

The staff's approval wasn't really a surprise to Whitney, but the acknowledgment made him smile. If only Lionel's family were so tolerant. "They like me?"

Lionel bent his head to nuzzle Whitney's throat. "You treat them with courtesy and respect. They respond in kind. Now..." He looked into Whitney's eyes, one dark brow raised archly. "...If your fit of the giggles has passed, may we please return to driving each other mad with wanton desire?"

"Oh, if you insist." Whitney flopped back onto the bed, grinning. "Ravish me, big boy."

"With pleasure."


"He said I did what? Clark, you don't believe him, do you?"

Of all the responses Clark had imagined while waiting for Lex to come home, this wasn't one he'd even considered. "Why would he lie?" Clark asked, following Lex who was moving swiftly upstairs.

Lex laughed shortly. "Why wouldn't he? Lying is second nature to Dad. Clearly he wants to drive a wedge between us."

"And risk pushing me closer to Whitney?" Clark asked shrewdly. "That doesn't make sense."

Lex slipped out of his suit coat as he breezed through the bedroom door. "Don't ask me for logic, Clark. Dad's obviously decided it's time for some father-son Fun-and-Games. This is his opening move. Or it could just be payback for that negative interview I gave the Planet last week about Celeste Whatsherface. I'll crash his office tomorrow, all indignant, lambasting him for lying to you and see how he reacts. Don't worry about it. I'll figure out what he's up to and put a stop to it."

Clark stopped in the doorway and frowned at his boyfriend. Lex was taking this too casually. "Lex--"

He stopped at the entrance to his walk-in closet, stripping off his tie. "Clark, think about it. What would I possibly have to gain from threatening Dad like that? I mean, if I had done it, don't you think it's totally predictable that he would come running to you? Why would I threaten Whitney knowing full well that you're going to find out and be royally pissed at me?"

"Unless you were convinced you could make me believe Lionel was lying," Clark countered softly.

The pained expression on Lex's face made Clark ache. "You really believe my father over me, Clark?" The bleak betrayal in his voice was heartbreaking, but after six years together, did Lex really think Clark couldn't tell when he was lying through his teeth? It was partially his tone of voice -- a touch too sincere -- and partially a certain stillness that came over him, even when he was moving. Combine that with a slight quickening of his heartbeat, and Clark had his own personal Lex Luthor Lie Detector Test.

Which Lex had just failed.

And even so, the look of betrayal on Lex's face could still make Clark feel six kinds of guilt and place just enough doubt in his mind to keep him from calling him an out-and-out liar. He settled for telling him, "I don't like being a pawn on the Luthor Chessboard, Lex. Whitney wouldn't like it either. You'd just better hope that the press doesn't get the idea that the Sharks' quarterback is gay. That wouldn't be something I could forgive, Lex." He spun on his heel and stalked off down the hall.

"Clark?" Lex called after him. "Clark!"

He stopped at the head of the stairs and looked back. Lex was at his bedroom door. "Clark, don't go! If you believe Dad, you're giving him exactly what he wants!"

"I have a history test tomorrow. I'm going home to study." He started down the steps.

"Study here."

Clark kept going.


2:25 p.m. - Thursday, October 5
Metropolis Coliseum - The CK Ad

Pleasures of the flesh notwithstanding, there were drawbacks to having a very young, virile lover with a godlike body, unlimited athleticism, the face of a fashion model, and a cock worthy of a Hollywood Porn Star. Beyond the expected issues of immaturity and unrealistic romantic expectations, there were the unanticipated irritants like obsessive female stalkers; blackmail perpetrated by jealous, vindictive offspring; the ever-present danger of discovery, and now this: Direct competition in the form of the very quietly homosexual and dangerously handsome Bran Sutton.

From his vantage point in one of the First Deck boxes at the 50 yard line, Lionel could look down on the controlled chaos that was the shoot for Whitney's Calvin Klein print ad. The head groundskeeper was having a conniption fit trying to keep the interlopers from totally decimating "his" field -- the erection of a small, canvas make-up tent with a 10' shaded awning had drawn battle lines early on and things hadn't improved as the day progressed.

Whitney, though, was being a real trooper. Based on what had been reported to Lionel this morning and what he'd observed himself in the last few minutes, Whit did what his CK handler told him to do, stood where he was supposed to stand, sat when he was supposed to sit, ran when he was supposed to run, and smiled patiently through it all. But his smile was never quite so bright or genuine as when Bran Sutton dropped by the make-up tent to say 'hi.'

Lionel was not amused. On the contrary, realizing that Sutton was pursuing Whitney irritated him in the extreme. He'd suspected as much on Tuesday when he learned that Whitney and Sutton had gone for drinks after practice. Watching the two of them together today, doing a very subtle, almost unconscious mating dance was all the confirmation Lionel needed. Knowing Whitney as he did, it was impossible for Lionel to imagine that there was anything between the two men at this stage, but if Sutton was interested -- and why wouldn't he be? -- he'd make a move eventually.

What would Whitney do when he realized he had a choice of lovers?

It was a well-known fact among NFL owners that the Sharks' management knew more about its players secrets than any other franchise in the league. Lionel's zero-tolerance drug policies had made the Sharks the cleanest team in the league long before drug testing had become mandatory. He knew which players were cheating on their wives and their income taxes; which ones gambled too much and which were abusing their spouses. And, of course, he knew which of his 56 players were living in the closet.

Bran Sutton was one of four homosexuals on the team. The most attractive of them, in Lionel's opinion -- next to Whitney, of course. Attractive enough that he'd considered a liaison when Sutton had arrived on the team three years ago. There were several reasons why he'd never pursued the handsome Free Safety: Sutton's youth had been a detriment, and the spark of mutual attraction had been noticeably absent when they'd met for the traditional Owner's Lunch after Sutton's signing. Lionel had been certain he could overcome that with a little careful seduction, but the main reason he'd passed was because the pleasure of fucking one of his players had never seemed worth the problems a sexual relationship could cause. Good football players were not a dime a dozen, and being outed as a homosexual was a career killer. Lionel had too much respect for athletes to take the responsibility of safeguarding their careers lightly, nor did he have any desire to be branded as a queer who maintained a stable of athletes to use as his own private testosterone-laced harem. Whitney Fordman had seemed worth the risks; Bran Sutton had not.

Since Lillian's death, Lionel had made no great attempt to hide his bisexuality. He rarely flaunted his occasional male lover in public, but he had generally avoided closeted lovers regardless of their profession for the very reason that was making his relationship with Whitney so complicated: Maintaining secrecy was a pain in the ass and anyone who said that fear of discovery added spice to a relationship was full of shit. Lionel had quite enough secrets in his life, thank you very much. He didn't need the added aggravation of playing cat-and-mouse with the public, the press, the NFL, and his colleagues, friends, and employees.

And yet here he was, getting deeper by the day into a relationship that was growing more complicated by the minute. On the verge of making an enormous commitment to Whitney, and asking for one in return, he was being besieged on all sides. Lex was displaying Sphinx-like discretion in an effort not to tip whatever hand he was playing, giving Lionel no clue as to whether his contact with Clark Kent had been successful. Lionel had been forced to order full electronic surveillance on Lex in the hope of gaining some advance warning if Lex decided to make good his threat. In addition to searching for clues to the identity of Whitney's stalker, Jacob Manning was revamping Lionel's secret escape route from Luthor Plaza into a completely private access tunnel that would allow Whitney to traverse the four blocks from his condo to Lionel's penthouse without being seen by a single soul. Not to mention what it was costing him both monetarily and emotionally to vacate the chair of Lillian's foundation and install Celeste Willingham.

And now it appeared that he was going to have to fend off a rival for Whitney's affections.

For Lionel, Whitney Fordman was shaping up to be the most expensive, high-maintenance paramour he'd ever taken in his life. For Whitney, a lover like Bran Sutton who shared his youth, athleticism, and an identical need for secrecy was exactly what he needed.

For all those reasons, and then some, cutting Whitney free would be the wisest move Lionel could possibly make for all concerned.

Instead, of course, he began formulating a plan to neutralize Mr. Sutton as a potential rival.

A movement at the mouth of the First Deck tunnel just below and to his left caught Lionel's eye and he focused his attention on the figure. Daily Planet reporter John Vincent was moving down the first tier to the rail and despite arrangements that had been previous agreed upon, he was carrying his camera. Lionel had manipulated the little "impromptu" meeting that was about to take place -- that's why he was sitting in the stands watching the shoot -- but he hadn't expected Vincent to be armed with a camera.

Lionel rose and moved silently down the concrete stairs until he was within hailing distance. By then it was clear that the reporter was framing a shot that included Whitney lounging in a tall director's chair, sharing a laugh with Bran Sutton beside to him. Lionel was not amused by either set of circumstances. "Why Mr. Vincent! I do believe you're about to violate the terms of your invitation to this party."

Vincent lowered the camera, letting it hang by the thick strap around his neck. "Mr. Luthor. Sorry. The scenery was just too pretty to pass up. If your press office is really serious about the franchise's desire to begin courting the under 30 female demographic, you really ought to let me snap that beauty shot of Fordman and Sutton."

Lionel laughed easily. "In this case, it's not a question of denying the ladies their eye candy, but rather, not ruffling any feathers with the sponsors of this little shindig. I'm sure the ad agency wouldn't be too thrilled if photos of their Ad Campaign made it into the papers and onto the Internet before they're ready to launch New Man."

"Then why extend the invitation to cover the event at all?" he asked, then added quickly, "Not that I'm complaining. That agency photographer I interviewed doesn't know beans about football, but he gave me some good quotes about athletes and sports endorsements. I appreciate the story, but why throw me a bone?"

"Tit for tat," Lionel said, spitting out the words with precision. "It was you who broke the story about Mr. Fordman's endorsement contract."

Vincent nodded. "Ah. And you're hoping I'll give you the name of my source."

He was no dummy, Lionel gave him that. "When a ship has a leak, a smart captain seals it off before it does any significant damage."

"Sorry, Mr. Luthor," Vincent said with a sad shake of his head. "I don't divulge my sources. But I can tell you it didn't come from inside the franchise."

Just as I suspected, Lionel thought. The leak could only have come from Whitney's agent, Carla Cathcart.

"So how do you feel about Fordman's Calvin endorsement?" Vincent asked him, withdrawing a voice recorder from his jacket pocket. He quirked an eyebrow, asking for permission to make this an honest-to-God interview, and Lionel nodded his assent.

"Mr. Fordman's only performance that interests me is on the field during regulation play, but there's no denying that star status is good for ticket sales."

"He's turning into quite a phenomenon."

"It takes three gifts to be great in this sport, and Whitney Fordman has them all. Head, heart, and hands."

"Ooh, good sound-byte," Vincent said. "Too bad there are no cameras."

"It'll work well in print, too," Lionel assured him.

"In my last interview with him, Fordman drew a very complimentary comparison between you and his late father. How did you feel about that?"

Lionel wisely decided not to point out that it was Vincent who had drawn that parallel. "A flattering comparison, certainly. Playing for the Sharks was a dream Jack Fordman never lived to see his son realize," Lionel intoned gravely. "I'm proud to have been an influence in Whitney's career, but he did all the hard work. I can say that as a parent, I know that he's a young man any father would be proud of."

Vincent nodded and went on to his next question. "The Sharks are off to the most promising start they've had in several years. How much credit do you give Fordman for that?"

"I give the team credit. And my coaches," Lionel replied, then launched into a spiel about the alchemy of hard work, patience, and the arrival of a catalyst that was spinning greatness into gold. Considering the historical and mythological references he tossed in, it was unlikely any of his statement would make it into print. Vincent handed him a question about the upcoming game against the Miami Dolphins and Lionel expressed his confidence that this one-day break in Whitney's training would have no effect on Sunday's game. More questions, and the usual bullshit answers, then,

"Two years ago you drew a lot of criticism for putting quarterback George Dugan on waiver after he'd given you back-to-back winning seasons. As a result, two losing seasons and a lot of fan anger followed, but as it turned out the Sharks' record put you in a great position to pick up Fordman in this year's draft. In retrospect, some might say that Dugan's departure paved the way for the arrival of Whitney Fordman."

Lionel chuckled darkly. "Are you giving me credit for having astonishing Machiavellian foresight, Mr. Vincent?

"Are you taking credit?" Vincent tossed back.

"Team building is a complex process," he replied and refused all of the reporter's attempts to get him to elaborate.

Vincent was frustrated and Lionel was pleased when one of the staffers from Public Relations came jogging down the stairs hailing the reporter.

"Mr. Vincent? Here's the roster you wanted for the Charity Ball." The staffer ducked her head in Lionel's direction and failed to meet his gaze. "Sorry to interrupt, sir," she muttered and darted back up the stairs.

"Bucking for a job on the society side?" Lionel asked the reporter.

"No, actually I was just curious about Mr. Fordman's girlfriend in California -- wondering if I was going to get to meet the mysterious paragon at the Ball."

"Oh, I'm sure she's attending," Lionel replied.

Vincent was scanning the list. "Sure enough. There she is. Whitney Fordman and Lois Lane. If I read these groupings right, they'll be at your table."

Lionel gave a little mock shudder. "Ooh, I wouldn't want to have to write a check for the other six seats at that table."

The reporter gave him a courtesy chuckle. "Have you met Ms., uh, Lane?" Vincent asked, glancing at the list again.

He was being much too casual about something that clearly interested him very much. That worried Lionel. "No, but Whitney sings her praises at every opportunity."

"In one key," Vincent muttered.

Lionel frowned. "I beg your pardon?


A movement caught Lionel's peripheral vision and he turned to find Jacob Manning standing there, waiting to capture his attention. Lionel was plainly puzzled by Vincent's interest in Lois Lane, but he couldn't see anything to be gained from giving the reporter any more time. "Vin, it's been a pleasure chatting with you. I trust you can find your way out?"

"Well, as long as I'm here, I was kinda hoping for an interview with Mr. Fordman."

Lionel glanced at the field and saw that Whitney had been called away from the tent and was back in front of the lights and camera. The set up called for Whitney -- barefoot and clad only in CK jeans and an open white shirt -- to take the snap and throw a pass as eight burly "football players" fully decked out in helmets and pads did a well-choreographed dance around him.

"I don't think that's a good idea, Mr. Vincent. Mr. Fordman needs to keep his mind on the field today. However -- " Lionel stepped to the rail and called out, "Mr. Sutton!"

Bran, who had made himself comfortable in the chair Whitney had vacated, turned at the sound of his name and trotted over when Lionel gestured for him.

"Good afternoon, Brandon," Lionel said jovially, the disparity between the first level and the playing field suddenly made Lionel feel like a Caesar looking down on one of his gladiators.

"Hi, Mr. Luthor! You here to make sure our Golden Boy does right by us?"

"Among other things," Lionel replied. "Brandon, may I call upon you for a favor? Mr. Vincent here was just leaving and I was hoping you could escort him out to his car and, perhaps, give him your perspective on the season so far."

If Sutton was disappointed at being pulled away from the photo shoot, he didn't show it. "I'd be happy to, sir." He grinned at the reporter. "I'm a poor substitute for the Whit-man, but I got a great sense of direction. Come on down, Vin. We'll go out the players exit."

"Thanks, Mr. Luthor," Vincent said with dubious gratitude as he moved off to the bleacher-access stairs a few yards down the concourse. He disappeared onto the field level and Lionel took his leave, satisfied that he'd evicted two birds with one stone.

Black coat flowing in the quickening breeze, Lionel charged back up the stairs. Manning stepped away from the concourse tunnel and met Lionel on the first deck. "Jacob! Just the man I wanted to see," Lionel said with quiet gusto. "From now on, I want your surveillance reports on Whitney Fordman to highlight all contact with Brandon Sutton."

A flash of surprise played over Manning's face, then disappeared. "Yes, sir."

"Now... What brings you out here?"

"Cheryl Bower."

That was quick. Manning never failed to impress. "Excellent! What have you got?"

Jacob shook his head. "I'm confident she's not our stalker."

"Merde," Lionel muttered, leaning back against the box railing. "I suppose a swift and simple resolution to this mystery was too much to hope for. What makes you so confident she's not our looney?"

"Ms. Bower was in the hospital on the Monday night that the Sharks played the Steelers. She couldn't have been in the stadium."

"Hospital? Not another suicide attempt?" he asked, only half joking.

"No, sir." Manning shifted from one foot to the other, betraying a discomfort that Lionel rarely saw in his security chief, even when he was delivering bad news.

"Then what?" Lionel asked with a mounting sense of dread.

"Complications." Jacob took half a breath. "From childbirth."

Lionel was grateful he was sitting down. "Childbirth," he echoed, doing the quick math in his head. Whitney had slept with Cheryl Bower at the end of December or early January. The Steelers game had taken place on the 25th of September. A nine month gestation period didn't get much slicker than that. "Full term?"

Manning nodded. "It was small and I haven't been able to get hold of mother or child's medical charts yet, but there are no indications that it was premature."

"Blood type?"

"Consistent with Fordman's."

Lionel looked out onto the field, picking his lover out of the crowd instantly. "Birth certificate?"

"Father is listed as Michael Wexler, but the baby wasn't given the Wexler surname. I've got a man trying to put together a dossier even as we speak, but our records indicate he was a former boyfriend."

Lionel watched as a photographer on a dolly crane shot down on Whitney throwing a pass that no one had been assigned to receive. He was laughing. He was beautiful.

He was, in all likelihood, a father.

"Boy or girl?" Lionel asked.

"Girl. Named Whitney Marie Bower."

"Merde," Lionel muttered again.


Chapter Posted 11/10/2003
The Usual Disclaimers Apply

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