Author's Note: This is for the Sports Night Title Challenge. Thanks to Philtre for the beta, B'Lane for making me write a complete story, and Dana who has made me a better writer. This story is set in the Fall of 2004. Dedicated to my paternal grandfather who fought in WWII, my maternal grandfather who fought in Korea, and my great uncle who received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
And 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 ACL. "Thanks."
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 the fuss"
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 in memory.
"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 the subject?"
"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. "You first."
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 a fuck-buddy."
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 Marine.
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. Luthor."
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 Dolphins.
"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 of mankind."
"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 proposing..."
"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 me?"
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 company.
"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, remember?"
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 early."
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 the den.
"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 we doing?"
"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 yet."
"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.
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