THE CROWD WENT WILD
The yelling from the stands was so far removed from the quiet wait
for the action to begin or the deafening explosions that he remembered
from the frontlines. Still this was a way to spend the afternoon,
not slogging on a beach or getting shot in the shoulder or leg.
He looked at his friends and realized that he did not know them
anymore. Clark was chatting with Chloe, acting like the boyfriend
he had been now for two years and Lana was sitting with Pete, a
romance she tried to hide from him but he was not blind. Life had
moved on while he was away, no longer the Whitney Fordman that they
would know either.
He stood up and grabbed the cane for balance, he noted that Clark
and Pete stood as well but he motioned them down with a wave of
his hand. The pain that lingered was a reminder that it was real,
the whole thing. He looked at the scoreboard and saw the Sharks
still trailing the Dolphins.
"You know Whit, we are in the Owner's Suite, and they bring
you anything you want."
Whitney returned Lana's smile with one of his own but did not reply.
He needed to get away from the happiness of teenage love. Unfortunately,
he walked right into one of the people responsible for this whole
mess, Sen. Daniel Brown.
"Ah, Whitney, are you enjoying the game?"
It was much too loud a greeting. The man grated his nerves.
"Sen. Brown, just the man I was looking for, please can we
talk about the tax breaks?"
Whitney never thought he would be so happy to see Lex Luthor. He
went to the bar and grabbed a drink. He had developed a taste for
stuff other than beer while in the Corp. People still came up to
him, shaking his hand, thanking him for his service to his country.
He was tired of people thanking him and wishing him well, not out
of spite but out of weariness. He was watching the game on the monitor,
surreal that it was going on a few hundred feet away. Whit saw Senator
Brown take his leave; he was running late for another meeting. Many
of the VIPs followed the Senator; they were more interested in power
brokering than the game. He watched as the Smallville group got
up to leave.
"Leaving?" He asked softly.
It was Clark that answered. "Yeah, we have school tomorrow."
Whit noticed the eye contact between Clark and Lex. The handshake
was stiff and the words strained. The smile from each was genuine;
it was strange. Whit was hugged by Lana and Chloe, got handshakes
and claps on the back from Clark and Pete, neither realizing the
pain those claps radiated to his collarbone. It took a few moments
for the stars to clear from his vision and he noticed that the suite
was empty. He saw that it was still a close game, early in the third
quarter. He went to the bar and poured another drink. Whit still
had the reception to attend that evening and he did not want to
get drunk but his mood was now working against him.
"The hero got abandoned."
Whitney saw Lex standing in the doorway. "The quiet is good.
Thank you for the tickets."
Lex looked at Whitney for a moment, he did not look like he was
twenty-one, not in the eyes at least. "Not often we honor a
hero, especially one I know."
"It was a little overwhelming to be honest."
"There is still the reception in two hours."
Whitney sighed, "I know, trying not to get drunk."
Lex laughed and poured himself a drink. "Did you drive here?"
"Yeah...thanks for rescuing me from that Senator."
Lex laughed again, went and sat on the sofa. "He is a windbag,
would have talked your ear off for hours."
"I figure he was going to try to get me to some campaign appearance."
Lex appraised that statement and nodded. "You are going to
be nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor, of course he
wants you for a photo-op or two. I still have trouble reconciling
the boy from Smallville and the man next to me."
Whitney finished his drink and stood to get another one when Lex
placed a hand on his shoulder, the uninjured one.
"Can I have your keys?"
Whit handed them over and was given another drink.
"I'll see that you get home tonight and you can ride with
me to the reception. Don't worry, I'm not driving either."
Whitney relaxed one problem solved. Driving was a pain, his collarbone
was healed but his knee could not stand the pressure of shifting
the clutch. He was still recovering from the broken bone and torn
A few moments passed in an awkward silence before Lex spoke again.
"How does it feel to be a hero?"
Whitney sighed and then had a small chuckle. "I don't know
really. I don't feel like a hero to be honest. Don't understand
Lex took a sip of his drink before measuring his words. "I
am a certified cynic, Whitney and even I am impressed. Rarely does
something strike me as heroic in its truest sense, but you will
earn the Congressional Medal of Honor and deserve it."
"I didn't do anything special...I did what I had to do...my
friends were dying."
Lex stopped for a moment, considering his words again. "From
what I know, you took out a sniper nest, while wounded, and then
used their own weapons against them, freeing up the offensive. So
Whitney, the broken collarbone, the broken leg, the busted knee,
the gunshot wounds, and the blood loss, which happened before you
took out the nest?"
"I think I had fractured my tibia, climbing up hurt but I
made it. I was able to take out the sentry, a well-aimed grenade
and they were all dead, so I thought. I got up there and I realized
I could not walk on my leg."
Lex was listening intently; he could see that Whitney was lost
"I got shot in the left shoulder, the body armor absorbed
most of the impact but it broke the collarbone. I killed the guy.
I saw the emplacement on the other side. I don't remember clearly
but I found an antiaircraft missile. I fired at the other group.
Next thing I remember is waking up on the hospital ship. I don't
see what was so special. Too many of my friends and fellows died
in that assault."
Lex swirled his drink, he knew the story, sounded much more dramatic
coming from other sources. Still the man had a Purple Heart and
a Navy Cross for his actions. He freed up the advance and the gunships
were able to mount an aerial attack without fear of more losses
for a few minutes. Those few minutes allowed the Expeditionary Force
to break the defenses and achieve a victory.
"You don't have to see what you did, you acted. It is for
others to deem you worthy of the title `hero'. Mind if I change
"Please, I'm sick of talking about it."
"You don't have to answer but...I'm curious. Are the rumors
true about what Marines do...with each other in private?"
Lex got his answer in the blush that stole across Whitney's face.
The small coughing fit also added to his confirmation.
"Can I ask you a question if I answer?"
Lex wanted to say he had his answer but in this case he was curious
so he played quid pro quo. "Sure."
Whitney ducked his head and was blushing when he responded. "Yes,
they are true...not all Marines but...many."
Lex held back his smile at the blush and admission. The hero was
not so straight, maybe. "Did you?"
Whitney wanted to kick himself for blushing but he had not expected
that question. "Did you and Clark?"
Lex felt the counterattack but wanted to see where this was going.
Whitney's heart was beating rapidly; life had been a huge mess
since he woke up but here, now...time had all but stopped. He licked
his lips. "Yes, I did."
"I should not tell you this but Clark and I...dated."
"I could tell something happened...why did it end?"
"He wanted a normal life, as close to normal as he could make
it. I didn't want it to end, but he needed more than I could give.
We have a friendship but we keep a distance between us now. He knows
that I didn't want it to end, but..."
Whitney got up again and walked to the bar. The alcohol was flowing
through him; he was actually relaxing with Lex of all people. "I
saw my closest buddies die, including, my bunkmate. I wasn't thinking
when I pulled that stunt...maybe I thought I would die also."
He walked back to the sofa and sat down. "I liked it though...having
Lex laughed at the statement. "A fuck-buddy, okay. So what
are your plans now?"
Whitney looked around and then finally at Lex. "Don't know.
Any dreams of playing football again died on the battlefield, my
forced stay in the hospital made me catch up on some reading. I'll
be at Met U in the spring, at a sophomore level. If I bust my ass,
by next fall I can be a junior. Other than that...I have no plans
for my life."
"And yet your future is bright, far more than you realize."
Whitney scoffed at the notion. "Yeah, I get to go back to
Smallville when I graduate and rot."
Lex looked away, calmly sipping his drink, the roar of the game
feeling alien to the quiet solitude of the two men. "What do
you want...for your future?"
"I...I really have no clue. My life is so different from what
I imagined it would be."
"Rarely does anything turn out they way we want it to. But
by playing it safe then we don't live...do we?"
Whitney stood up and walked, limped rather, to the front of the
suite and saw the score was tied late in the fourth quarter. He
felt the hand on his recovering shoulder, the fingers tracing the
metal plate that had been used to stabilize the broken bones. He
said nothing, calmly watching the game as the Sharks took possession
with five minutes left to play. The touch was so casual but from
what he knew, there was nothing casual about Lex.
"Does it still hurt?"
"Not really, no. The knee hurts when I've been standing too
long but it has been almost three months since I was wounded."
"I was told that some wounds would never heal."
Whitney watched the Sharks as they made a critical play to keep
the drive alive. "Why?"
"Why are you being nice to me...you hated me."
"Curiosity I guess. I have followed your case closely and
the more I found out the more I was...intrigued. Talking to you
has not dampened the...interest."
He did not know how to reply, did not know if there was a reply.
He watched as the Sharks took another gamble and won. Time was running
down but they were still advancing. "Mostly, I wonder what
the future holds for me. I don't fit in Smallville anymore, I'm
not that guy...I don't know who I am."
The hand on his shoulder was joined by another on the other shoulder.
"Change is the only constant that I have seen so far."
"Lex...what...are you...doing?" He was trying to breathe
steadily, keep calm".
"I am doing what I want...satisfying my interest.
Whit exhaled the breath he had been holding. "And then?"
"It takes a great deal to satisfy me once I'm curious, Mr.
Fordman." Lex came from behind him and stood next to the former
Whitney's gaze ran to the field and the game below. He saw the
quarterback step up and make an incredible throw over the middle.
Time was almost up. "I'm not sure I'm that interesting, Mr.
Lex looked at the field, he scanned the screaming crowd. "All
that out there is nothing compared to what I see next to me."
He turned to face the younger man. "I will judge if you are
interesting and so far you only make me far more curious."
Whitney turned to meet the gaze of his unlikely pursuer. He felt
the hand on his shoulder again. He leaned over and placed his lips
on top of his host's. Fingers wove into his shortened hair, a tongue
breached his mouth. All he could taste was the scotch Lex favored.
He could not stop his moan and suddenly the roar was deafening.
He looked and saw that the Sharks had scored, beating the hated
"It is not fireworks but it is the best I could do."
"It is perfect actually."
"We have a reception to get to."
Whitney's face fell but the smile he saw on Lex's face jump-started
his heart. He walked to the door, Lex leading the way. All he could
hear was the thunder of cheering fans.
Lex stopped and looked back at the man he had spent the last few
weeks studying. He smiled and was greeted by a smile. Lex placed
a hand on the wounded shoulder again. "I promise I will protect
you at the reception and we will talk later."
"Later, okay...thanks." He saw a smile and leaned to
give him a quick kiss, it was returned. The crowd was going wild
and Whitney could understand the feeling.
The reception was at the Metropolis Museum of Art, for the new
exhibit, Heroes through the Ages. Whitney could not get the corn
taste out of his mouth and the cheese was enough to feed all the
fans at the stadium earlier. Still he was here and was not as nervous
as he had been earlier on the playing field when the whole stadium
had given him a rousing ovation. Every so often he would look over
and see Lex staring at him. Not in a blatant way but enough to send
shivers down his spine. The ride over had been a discussion of various
musical styles that either of them liked. The ride was not long
but the conversation was light and easy. Whitney saw out of the
corner of his eye that Sen. Brown was making his way towards him.
"Mr. Fordman, how has your day gone?"
He really wanted to walk away but the man deserved some respect.
"Very well, thank you. Interesting exhibit."
"Yes, the concept of heroes dates back to the very beginning
"Senator Brown, I am beginning to think you are avoiding me."
Whitney saw the humor in Lex's eyes as he said that.
"Mr. Luthor, I can not advocate the kind of tax cuts you are
"But Senator I think that such cuts can bring a new energy
to the public school system. Do you not agree?"
"Mr. Luthor, another time perhaps. Mr. Fordman." The
senator turned and talked to other people at the reception.
Whitney could not hide his smile. "Lex...are you protecting
Lex had a wicked grin on his face. "Me? No, I really think
that teachers should not have to pay taxes, of course I believe
that I should not have to pay taxes so the point is moot."
Whitney walked over to a table and sat down. His knee was beginning
to ache but he did not want the night to end, he was enjoying Lex's
"I'm fine." He saw Lex giving him a look that demanded
the truth. "My knee hurts, I've been standing up too much today."
"We can leave, you know."
Whitney looked away before his eyes gave away what he was feeling.
He knew he was lonely but Lex Luthor was not the guy you tell that
to even if he was professing interest. "Don't you have to stay?"
Lex lifted his flute and took a small swallow. "No, I'm not
hosting, that was this afternoon and you are only a guest tonight,
not the center of attention."
"Thank goodness. If you want...we can leave." Whitney
was nervous, he knew Lex had been a big flirt to Clark back when
he was in Smallville but he did not know how to take the attention
he had been getting.
"Thank you. Sorry but these things are boring, at least I
was able to still explore my...interest." Lex began to walk
to the door, at a pace that let Whitney keep up with him.
They walked out and the limo was waiting for them at the bottom
of the steps. Lex made sure he was close enough to Whitney to help
him if he asked. He could see the pain lines around the eyes and
Lex admired him for simply bearing it.
Lex handed him a drink once they were in the limo.
"Thank you. Do you need directions to my place?"
Lex smiled, "No. You are staying with me tonight." Lex
saw the look on his face and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Guest
room, I don't want you driving tonight. Your truck is in the parking
garage and I had someone pick up some clothes. I had your keys,
Whitney looked at Lex and then looked out the window. "I guess
there are only so many times I can say thank you." He did not
betray the sudden nervousness he felt with that so casual announcement.
The ride back to the penthouse was silent but not awkward. Lex
kept his hand on Whit's shoulder. The ride up to the top was also
quiet. Whitney found himself leaning on Lex as his knee was now
screaming at him. "Can I ask you something?"
Lex looked at him and nodded.
"What is it you want...not to be rude but..."
"I don't know exactly. I told you I was curious and I am,
more importantly you come across as both safe and dangerous."
"Oh." He was shown to the guest room and Lex gave him
a kiss on the check.
"I'll see you in the morning."
"I'm not sleepy." He flashed his best smile and was rewarded
with one in return. "Can we sit and talk? It is still rather
Lex walked over and helped him up. "Of course. All heroes
get what they want on their day. Why don't you change? I will too
and then we can sit and talk."
Whitney nodded and watched as Lex left the room. He walked to the
private bathroom and looked at his reflection. Stripping out of
his clothes, turned on the shower, very happy that the shower was
separate from the tub. He let the hot water relax aching muscles,
allowed his hands to roam his body, marking all the flaws on it.
Half-heartdly, he quickly washed his hair and rinsed the soap off.
Wrapping a towel around his waist, he looked around the room for
his clothes. He was stunned to find all of his clothes there, not
that he had that many to begin with. When he spotted his laptop,
with a few mental calculations he came to the conclusion that his
life was in the room. All of the truly personal belongings were
at his mom's house in Smallville. His apartment would only have
a sofa, bed and TV now. The thought was depressing but he pushed
it aside as well. He found a pair of briefs and a set of Marine
shorts and T-shirt. The walk out of the room was not painful; the
shower had relaxed the muscles enough to relieve some of the stress
on his knee. He saw Lex walking in as well, dressed in an over large
T-shirt and some pajama bottoms. Hiding his smile, he walked into
"You look better, feeling so?" Lex was grabbing two bottles
of water and handed one to Whit.
"Much..." He stretched out on the couch, resting his
legs on there as well. He felt Lex slip behind him and suddenly
he was resting against him, the warmth felt good. "What are
"Relaxing, talking. I told you I was curious...the more I
thought about you and your deeds, the more concerned I became."
"Is that why all my clothes are here?"
Lex laughed. "That I did not know, sorry."
"I don't have that many, most of my stuff is still in Smallville
but I don't want to be there much. They don't know me anymore, but
they mean well."
"Whitney, I saw you earlier, you hardly talked to your friends
and can you say that you know them? Life moved on, I cannot imagine
them being able to understand what you've been through or you being
able to sit around listening to them talk about nothing. You loved
Lana, she moved on, you liked Clark...I loved him, he moved on..."
"So this...is...about?" Whitney could feel Lex against
him and the hand slowly moving back and forth over his arm. "Lex,
we were never even friends."
"It is consolation and the future, I understand you and I
think you can understand me...if you looked."
Whit leaned back further, enjoying the contact for what it was,
could be. "The ache of loneliness, of not being able to go
back, scared to move forward."
Lex looked down at the man he was holding, could see the scar from
a bullet to the thigh, the scars from knee surgery, could feel the
plate holding the collarbone, but it was the other injuries that
worried him, the kidney failure due to blood loss, the broken spirit,
and the loss of comfort. "Now it is getting late...join me
in my bed?"
Whitney hesitated, "I don't think I'm ready to move that far
"To sleep only, I promise."
"I have nightmares, I don't want to wake you."
Lex got up and knelt beside him, looked him in the eye, while holding
a hand. "So do I, we are beginning this all wrong but perhaps
that too is what is needed." Lex pulled him from the couch
and they walked into the bedroom together. He watched as Whit stripped
to his briefs, Lex climbing in as well. They were on opposite sides,
an ocean of bedspread between them.
Whitney lay there, trying to get comfortable, the only sounds coming
from the steady breathing. Stretching his arm out, his fingertips
grazing a shoulder, in moments; he felt a hand on his chest. He
brought his other arm to encircle Lex, a mutual hug in a bed of
longing but not for each other. The beating of his heart and the
roar of the crowd earlier thundered in his ears. He did not notice
the tears that fell now. He would never be the man he wanted to
be growing up, he was dead now. Comfort was being given and taken
and he accepted that fate gave him what he needed. Still as he drifted
off to sleep, he could see the crowd cheering for him, for what
he had lost, instead of what he had won. There was no difference
for him in the roar of the crowd.
To Part Two, Hearts in Atlantis