Time And Chance by Dayspring
Chapters 9-16

Chapter Nine

Martha reached out a hand to steady the bouquet of flowers on the seat as she turned into the long drive up to the manor. She knew men generally didn’t get flowers, but she felt Lex would appreciate them. And no, not because he was pregnant, but because he was…Lex. Sophisticated enough to get the symbolism without being concerned with what others might think. She liked that about Lex and was glad that Clark was absorbing some of that from him.

She refused to admit that she was nervous. This was the first time she'd seen Lex since finding out about him and Clark. She still wasn't comfortable with that, although she was trying to be understanding. Lex had taken her boy's innocence; that was a given, a hard truth that kept her awake long into several nights. But there was love involved and now, a baby. It could have been worse, right? Clark could have run off to Vegas for a quickie wedding, then brought home a bride no one knew. But Lex wasn't a stranger. Or a gold digger or a tramp after Clark only because of his good looks. Lex was a friend. Lex genuinely cared for Clark. Even if he had been sleeping with him for two years. Sleeping with a child...and paying off or threatening his servants to keep quiet about it.

No, Martha, she told herself sternly, don't go there. Don't go to places that will only cause trouble in your family. Clark loved Lex, defended him fiercely. If he even suspected she wasn't a hundred percent behind them as a couple, she could lose her son. And hadn't she prayed and promised all those years ago that if God gave her a child that she would love him no matter what? Whether he be of another race, had developmental or physical problems, or even came from outer space. She would love him and whoever he chose to love. To tell the truth, it wasn't difficult to love Lex. She already did--just not as a son-in-law. But it wasn't a huge leap, and she was going to let him know that by giving him the flowers.

She felt darn good about life as she got out of the car.

"Good morning, Mrs. Kent. Lex is in his office. Shall I get a vase?"

Martha nodded and smiled. "Thank you, Donovan. I can find the office on my own."

She shifted the bouquet and opened the doors to the office. "Knock, knock," she called.

Lex sat behind his desk, then stood as she entered. "Mrs. Kent. The flowers are a surprise. Are they for me?"

"No, they’re for Donovan. He and I are having a torrid affair," Martha said cheekily.

"The man has taste. Too bad I have to fire him," Lex teased back.

Martha smiled and took the chair Lex offered her. "Clark said you had a bad day yesterday. I thought the flowers might lift your spirits."

The conversation stopped as Donovan brought in the vase and deftly arranged the flowers before leaving.

"So, you said the flowers were a surprise. I’m not?" Martha asked curiously.

"With Clark in school, I was expecting either you or Mr. Kent to come knocking at my door."

There was something in his tone that bothered her, and a certain smugness in his direct stare. "Either? Not both?"

"No. Although you both have issues about my relationship with Clark, you are by no means a united front."

Was that a smirk? "You think that dating our son gives you special insight into our family?"

It was definitely a smirk this time. "I don’t need to date Clark to know that you and your husband fear me, however differing your reasons are."

Martha took a deep breath. "We don’t fear you, Lex."

"Convince me that Jonathan doesn’t have nightmares because I know the truth about Clark. Convince me that since the day Clark pulled me out of the river that he hasn’t been petrified by the mere thought of me anywhere near his son. He’s scared of me because I’m a Luthor, as well he should be. I’m not my father, but I was trained by him. If I wanted to destroy Smallville, your family, or even Clark, I could do it faster than you even dreamed possible. Jonathan knows that. You know that."

Martha shivered despite herself. "But you haven’t done so."

Lex shrugged. "As I said, I’m not my father."

She sat straight in the chair. What was going on here? She felt two steps behind. "You said Jonathan’s reasons are not mine. What exactly are my reasons for fearing you?" She emphasized the word to show her disdain for it.

"You know I’m a Luthor, and you’ve been using that. You believe that having the devil at your side where you can see him is infinitely better than having him at your back."

"I’ve been using you? For what purpose?" she asked incredulously.

Lex leaned back, putting his feet up on the desk. "You know Clark doesn’t belong in Smallville, that his destiny lies somewhere far less bucolic, far less ideal. And for Clark to survive in such a place, there are lessons he needs to learn, defenses that need to be online before he arrives. Jonathan couldn’t teach him these things; he likes to pretend they don’t exist. You couldn’t teach him these things; you acknowledge their existence, but you don’t have enough practical experience to really make Clark understand. You watched Clark stumble around in this backwater town and you worried--worried that when it was time for him to step out into the real world, he would be eaten alive, picked clean to his bones. And you worried about his reaction when this happened. Clark’s a very special boy. Would he lash out in bitterness? Or would he retreat so far into himself that he’d be too scared to face the light of day?

"But then, the real world literally crashed into Clark. A Luthor. Couldn’t find a better example of a devourer of souls--especially the innocent ones. An internet search could provide documented proof that I was chewing up people and spitting out their bones by the time I was twelve. The big, bad wolf had come to Smallville and was personally huffing and puffing at your door. But I was young and cut off, exiled without a hunting pack. Perhaps I could teach Clark the lessons he needed to learn without completely destroying him. After all, you and Jonathan were right by his side, there to reinforce your lessons if mine started to overwhelm Clark. I was the perfect tool. Hard, but still young enough to be malleable to a small degree. So you reluctantly allowed your son to stumble into my path, talked his father into not killing me on sight, then proceeded to negotiate a trust with me. Your son--in return for a modicum of gentleness, of care, on my part. You wanted me to forge Clark, not break him, to inure him to the ways of the unwholesome, the wicked, the evil which is so natural to a Luthor."

His sneer left her cold, and his words…there was too much truth in them. She had thought Clark could learn from Lex, but she hadn’t deliberately used him. The friendship had been beneficial to both, hadn’t it?

"You’re here this morning because you think I’ve violated that trust," Lex continued.

"Have you?"

Lex lowered his feet and came around the desk. He perched on the corner, not actually sitting but leaning, and she felt uncomfortable with him looming over her. "I don’t think so. I’ve treated Clark carefully. I’ve shielded him from my father. I’ve supported him in his endeavors. I’ve been there when he needed a friend. But I’m afraid that all you see is that I let him seduce me."

"You’re an adult, experienced. You could have said no."

"You chose me to be his tutor."

"Not in that," Martha replied sharply.

"Would you have rather he ran off and learned from someone else? Someone who would have hurt him--although at the time I didn’t know he couldn’t be hurt physically?"

"Are you trying to tell me you did this for Clark’s sake? That you didn’t want Clark? That you got nothing out of sleeping with him?" Martha asked skeptically. How naive did he think she was?

Lex laughed, a bitter sound that echoed in the cavernous office. "Of course not, Martha. I assure you, Clark is a hell of a good fuck."

Whap!

Martha stared silently at her stinging hand, then slowly raised her eyes to the face in front of her. Smooth expanse of white skin marred by a ruddy imprint. She could even make out the individual finger marks. Too horrified to speak, Martha stumbled out of the chair and backed away from Lex. She had hit him. She’d never…even when Nell was at her nastiest… "I’m…sorry."

The smirk returned. "I often wondered how you handled two stubborn Kent men. Does this make me part of the family?"

Her hand clenched around the strap of her purse. "You are a vile person, Alexander Luthor."

He patted his stomach. "There, there. Grandma doesn’t mean it. She’s just having a bad day. And don’t you worry; I won’t leave you alone with her. Good thing your Daddy Clark doesn’t bruise easily."

"I have never--"

He shook his finger in her direction. "Never say never. Or should I take a Polaroid of this moment as a reminder?"

"Bastard," she spat.

"My parents were married. More than I can say about this thing I carry."

"It’s not a thing--or a monster."

Lex nodded. "You’re absolutely right. It’s not a thing, or a monster. It’s an abomination."

This time the pain was in her wrist--caught in Lex’s tight grasp an inch from his face.

"This isn’t baseball," he ground out. "You don’t get three strikes." He released her and went back to his desk. "Our business has concluded, Mrs. Kent. Please show yourself out."

Dazed, Martha made it to her car and had to wait a few minutes before she stopped shaking enough to drive away.

*****

Clark knew something was wrong as soon as he stepped off the school bus. His mom was on the front porch--which wasn’t unusual, even if the air still had a winter’s chill. What was unusual was the thing she held in her hand. A cigarette, its smoke curving about her red hair. His mother had emphatically condemned smoking since before he could even pronounce the word.

"Mom?" he asked as he cautiously approached.

"Clark," she acknowledged, shaking ashes into a nearly full ashtray. It was apparent she was nearing the end of a pack.

"You’re smoking. I--I thought that was one of the top ten Kent no-no’s." He tried to make it sound like a joke, not an accusation.

She took a puff, blew out the smoke, then smiled. He sniffed the air, trying to scent if there was anything other than tobacco in the slender roll she held expertly between her fingers. He even looked down to see if his hand was turning green, a sure sign of meteorite mischief. Nada.

"I was once a Clark, you know. Clarks smoked. Then I married a Kent, and I didn’t think it was worth arguing about. Besides, I wanted to get pregnant, and I wasn’t so addicted that I didn’t know good moms didn’t smoke. After I found out there wouldn’t be any babies, I used to hide and smoke. Jonathan never caught on. When you came into our lives, I quit again. Although I suspected second-hand smoke wouldn’t bother you, I didn’t want to take a risk with my life." She reached out to stroke his face. "I didn’t want to do anything that might prematurely take me away from you and your father."

"So what is this?" Clark asked, anger coloring his voice. "You don’t care about hurting us anymore?"

Martha blinked. "That’s not… Something happened today, Clark, and I--I just needed a smoke."

"A whole pack?" Martha shrugged, scaring him. "Where’s Dad?" he asked anxiously.

"Hiding in the barn, I think. I yelled at him when he asked what was wrong. I couldn’t tell him, you see. If I’d said anything, if I’d confirmed his suspicions, he would have done something...rash, and the situation is out of control enough."

None of this was reassuring him. "What situation? What happened today, Mom?"

"I hit Lex."

Clark rocked back on his heels as if he himself had been struck. "With what?" he asked slowly.

"My hand."

Clark felt relieved, until he realized his mother didn’t do violence, manual or otherwise. It had to be an accident, right? "It was an accident, and I’m sure--"

"I slapped him. There’s probably a bruise."

Clark sank heavily onto the top step. "Why?"

"He told me you were a hell of a good fuck."

"He told you WHAT!" Clark couldn’t get coordinated enough to stand, so he just remained on the step, too shocked, hurt, angry to move.

"He said some other things, as well. He was every inch a Luthor. Lionel would have been proud."

Clark regained his ability to move and struck out at one of the support posts of the porch. He pulled the punch a millimeter before contact, remembering how much of his allowance he’d lost the last time he nearly brought the house down. "God, I hate him! He’s such a fu--he’s a big, fat liar. I can’t believe I was so stupid to think--" He moaned and dropped his head into his hands. "It makes no sense, Mom. Why would he…? I don’t understand."

"Here." A soft plop accompanied Martha’s voice. He raised his head enough to see a pack of cigarettes on the porch beside him. "You can ‘menthol’ your way to the answer like I did, or you can trust that your mother hasn’t nicotined her brain to mush."

"What? You’ve made sense of this? What the heck is in those cigarettes?"

Martha laughed and snubbed out her remaining butt. "I won’t be audacious enough to say I know the ‘why’ of what Lex did, but I know what he did."

"Every little bit will help," Clark replied. "Because I don’t mind admitting that figuring out Lex is way out of my league."

"You didn’t pick an easy one," Martha agreed. "But neither did your father."

"Forgive me if I disagree," Jonathan said as he stepped around the corner of the house. "You aren’t anything like Lex Luthor. You would never do what he did to you today."

"You knew?" Martha asked. "I mean, before you eavesdropped like it’s a week before Christmas?"

Jonathan shrugged sheepishly. "I knew you were troubled when you went straight for the cigarettes. I figured only one person could get you that upset."

Clark stood and faced his father. "I know I should want Lex dead after what he’s done, but he’s not, is he?" he asked anxiously. Lex wasn’t in any condition to be dodging shotgun pellets.

Jonathan threw up his hands, signaling he was harmless. "I went to the mansion, but he wasn’t there. That butler guy--"

"Donovan," Clark and Martha said together.

Jonathan just looked at them strangely before continuing. "He said Lex was out of town for the rest of the day. Coward."

Clark leaned against the post that he’d almost smashed. One thing he knew was that Lex wasn’t a coward. The fact that he didn’t run away from trouble was, at times, one of Lex’s most irritating characteristics. That was why none of this was making any sense. Lex liked Martha. Why had he hurt her bad enough to make her lash out? "Mom, you said you’d come up with some answers?"

She nodded. "What Lex did was deliberate."

Jonathan snorted. "We know that."

Martha gave him an annoyed look. "No, I mean calculated. His word choice, delivery, even his stance--everything was modified to provoke me. See, at his core, Lex is a gentleman." Another Jonathan snort. "I don’t know if it’s something he learned from his mother or just the way he pays tribute to her, but he’s very polite to women and to his elders."

"It’s an act."

Clark shook his head. All his dad had to look at was the way Lex treated him. No matter how nasty Jonathan was to him, Lex never retaliated, never gave as good as he got. "You’re right, Mom. Lex saying the f-word in front of you…it’s not something that came naturally."

Martha looked longingly at the full ashtray. "I was expertly manipulated. I don’t know who I’m angrier at--Lex for playing me or myself for falling so easily. I called him on a smug insinuation that because he was dating you, Clark, he had special insight into our family. But I was wrong, wasn’t I?"

"No, not really. My being with Lex has nothing to do with him reading you like a book. As soon as he meets someone, he automatically sizes them up, looking for which buttons to push. It’s a part of who he is, a defense mechanism, I think."

"Know thine enemies." Clark nodded at his mom's words. "That’s a sad way to live."

"He’s a Luthor. Some people judge him by his name without getting to know him."

Jonathan glared back at the eyes glaring at him. "Hold on a minute: Lex Luthor drives a perfectly sweet woman to smoke, and I’m the bad guy?"

"Actually, he drove me to slap him. The smoking was my idea," Martha clarified. "What we need to figure out is why he pushed me so hard."

Clark shrugged. "That’s easy: he wanted you to hate him."

"Why me?"

"Because you don't already."

"And that’s bad?" she asked, puzzled.

"Hey, you got off easy. He accused me of raping him."

"What!" Jonathan yelled. "If anyone’s guilty of rape--"

"Who’s pregnant, Dad?"

Jonathan reddened. "That doesn’t mean--"

"He didn’t threaten or blackmail me into bed with him, Dad. There were no mind games or tricks. And trust me, it wasn’t his idea for me not to use a condom." Clark shook his head when Jonathan paled as if he’d been given too much information. You started it, Dad.

"You don’t believe that, do you, Clark? That you…" Martha began.

"It wasn’t rape, but it wasn't totally...consensual either, because he asked me to use a condom, and I didn’t. I was kinda rough with him, too. He was leaving, and I wanted to mark him."

"Clark--"

"I’m just being honest, Mom. Dad wants this to be all Lex’s fault, and it’s not. Lex’s condition is my responsibility."

"None of this is explaining why he went after Martha," Jonathan said, obviously wanting to change the topic. "I could see him going after me, but your mother’s been nothing but understanding about this."

"Well, Lex seems to be going after the ones who under—" Clark stopped as everything started clicking together. "The scheming son of a bitch," he pronounced, then looked up in embarrassment. "Sorry."

Martha gave a half-smile. "I take it that you know what’s going on?"

"Oh, yeah. And it’s going to stop as soon as I get my hands on him." He turned as if to leave.

"Clark." He looked back at his mom. "I know this is going to sound strange coming from me, considering what I did this morning. But be gentle with him, okay? He’s handling a lot. He may not be thinking straight."

Clark laughed. "I don’t think Lex has ever had a linear thought, Mom. His mind refuses to believe that going directly from A to B is possible. There always has to be an A.1 or A.3 version before B is reached."

His mom looked amused, although he could still see the tension around her eyes. "Maybe he should have been a software developer."

"As convoluted and messed up as some of the programs are, what makes you think he isn’t?" Clark countered. "I’ll be back before curfew."

"That Donovan guy said he was out of town," Jonathan reminded him.

"Then I’ll wait," Clark said with determination. "The games end tonight."

Chapter Ten

"Sir, we're home."

Lex blinked blearily at the chauffeur standing in the limo's open door. "Geoffrey, would it be too unseemly if I got out and kissed the ground?"

"I'm sure you could make it a perfectly dignified act, sir."

Lex wanted to laugh but didn't have the energy. Throwing up all the way to Gotham and back was, pardon the pun, draining. Airsick. How humiliating. Even back in his asthma days he hadn't gotten airsick. "I must pay you too much," he said with a weak smile. The chauffeur had been Lillian Luthor's private driver. Lionel had dismissed him after her death, but Lex, in a fit of sentimentalism, had hired him as soon as running LexCorp left him little time to drive himself. "And even if I could pull it off with the elan you think I'm capable of, I doubt I could get up after the fact. I think making it to my room will be the extent of my talents tonight."

"Shall I help you with that task, sir?" Geoffrey extended his hand and helped Lex out of the long vehicle.

Lex leaning on the chauffeur for support while the ground steadied beneath his feet. The nausea had mostly faded; it was the headache it'd left behind that was now causing his world to move uneasily around him. Damn. Not getting sick all those years had left him unprepared to handle even the most benign of illnesses. "I think I can make it on my own from here, Geoffrey."

Geoffrey neither looked at him nor stepped away. "I, too, have to go up the stairs, sir."

"You should be in the diplomatic corps," Lex said as Geoffrey matched him step for step.

"They don't pay as well, sir."

The door was opened before they were halfway up the stairs. Donovan hurried down to flank Lex on the other side. "Sir?" he inquired anxiously.

"Nothing Vi can't fix, Donovan. Ask her to come to my quarters, please. And remind me not to travel without her for a while." One of her injections would have been wonderful in mid-air.

"Shall I tell Mr. Kent to return tomorrow when you're feeling better?"

"Mr. Kent? Which Mr. Kent?" Lex winced at the thought of confronting either of the men. He'd thought both of them would be too outraged to visit him so soon.

"The younger, sir. He's waiting in your office."

Lex took a deep breath and tried to shunt the pain and fatigue to a less visible part of himself. "I'll see him."

"And Vi?"

"Have her wait in my room. This shouldn't take too long." An angry Clark was surprisingly nasty, going straight for the jugular, but not longwinded.

Tugging the wrinkles out of his suit jacket, which were inevitable when one spent much of one's time heaving into plastic bags, Lex made his way to his office. He had expected to find Clark standing at the door, his arms crossed and eyes blazing. Instead, Clark was sitting behind his desk with his feet up on the glass surface.

"Clark, sorry you were kept waiting. How may I help you?" Lex grabbed a bottle of water from the mini-fridge in the corner of the room. He had no intention of drinking it, but it would give his hands something to do during the presumably difficult conversation. He walked to the sofa and carefully sat.

"You're off your game, Luthor," Clark called softly, not moving from the desk.

More than you know. "How so, Kent?" It took effort to ensure the sneer on his face could be heard in his voice.

"Dad and I might be thick-headed, but Mom's not. You should have left her alone. You see, after a pack of smokes, she realized you'd played her."

A pack of smokes? He almost groaned. Damn it. It hadn't been his intention to drive her to vice. "Am I supposed to get all defensive now? Beg your forgiveness for making your mother assault me?"

"And is this my cue to explode?" Clark countered calmly. "To tell you what a jerk you are, demand that you get out of my life or something equally dramatic?"

Lex snorted and gave into the urge to rub his temple. Couldn't even keep up with simple farm boys today. God, could this day get any worse? "That was the plan, yeah. Guess it's shot to hell, huh?"

"No." Lex looked up to see Clark looming over him. "But I'm about to get dramatic for reasons you hadn't calculated. I know why you did what you did to Mom. I forced you into making promises you didn't want to make, and since your warped Luthor sense of honor won't allow you to break them, you were hoping to make me and my family be the ones in the wrong, not you. See, if I told you to get the hell out of my life, your promises would still be intact, right, Lex? Well, you know what? If you're that set on leaving me, then just go ahead and do it! Don't fuck around with these half-assed attempts to tick me off!"

Lex flinched, despite his best attempt not to. But Clark was scary, and his shout made Lex's head hurt even more.

"Go, Lex. Walk out of my life," Clark continued. "But, goddamn it, don't blame it on me. This isn't my choice or my decision. If you walk out, it's all on you!"

Lex bit back his nausea. Where the hell did he get anything else to throw up? "Gee, Clark, what would your mom say about your language?"

"Fuck you!"

"Which is where this story began," Lex said blandly. A few more minutes. He could hold on a few more minutes. "So, shall I leave a forwarding address?"

"No, I'll give you mine: In care of I Don't Give A Shit."

Lex managed a thin smile. "I'll have labels made up. Give my regards to your parents."

The doors rattled as Clark swept out of the room.

Lex threw the bottle of water against the mantle, blue glass tinkling and rivulets of water running to the floor. Unaware of the tears falling from his eyes, he wondered why he didn't feel better. After all, his plan had succeeded. Clark was gone. Safe from the pain that Lex caused him. Leave it to a Luthor to hurt an otherwise invulnerable being. Should be proud of me, Dad. Now you can put me away for my period of confinement and give my baby away like you did your illegitimate son. Maybe if you're lucky, mine will die before the age of one, too. Or maybe you'll get rid of both of us during the travesty of birth we're going to go through. I know you'll be pissed at having to rear another heir, but at least this time you'll have some idea of what not to do.

Lex slowly got up to make his way to his room, but as he looked at the stairs, he reconsidered. A five minute rest was perfectly acceptable after the day he'd had, right? He carefully sat on one of the lower steps, and leaned against the banister for support.

He was out even as his eyes shuttered closed.

*****

Clark was so angry that he almost forgot he'd driven over to the mansion. He'd gone ten steps beyond the truck before it registered that was the vehicle he'd passed. As he retraced those ten steps, it suddenly hit him that he had even more reason to be angry. Lex was 2 and 0 for the day when it came to Kents. What the hell was his problem? Did he think Kents were life-sized marionettes to be jerked around at his will? Who did he think he was? Sure, Lex and God both had three letters, but that was the only similarity!

Instead of stopping at the truck, he stomped back to the mansion, intent on showing Lex that at least one Kent wasn't a predictable, mindless puppet. And came to a complete halt as soon as he passed through the door.

Lex was slumped awkwardly on the stairs. He looked tired, beaten. The skin around his eyes was mauve. His cheeks were sunken, hollow in places that should have been full. His breaths were shallow and came too fast. Clark stared and shivered as his anger drained away.

Lex was sick. Why did he keep forgetting that? Lex was sick, and he was scared. He had no control of the situation, so of course he was going to try to control the people around him. Probably the only way he was keeping his sanity. Being pregnant had to be rough on his self-image…the masculinity and sexuality that he'd learned to flaunt at an early age. Bi-sexual or not, Lex came off as definitely male. But now...now that was in question, especially in Lex's mind. Being tired, being sick, crying easily were all foreign to Lex.

Clark was certain that Lex would eventually regain his sense of self, but it had only been a few days since Kingsley's announcement. Not nearly enough time to rebuild whatever the reality of the pregnancy had torn down.

A sledgehammer to the brain would have been kinder, wouldn't it have, Lex? Since your mom died, the only person you've trusted has been yourself. And suddenly your own body betrays you. I know the feeling, Lex. At least you didn't put your arm in a woodchipper.

But was it the same? He'd found out he was an alien, a really good excuse for being different. Lex didn't have the luxury of blaming unknown relatives, or the fallback position that maybe he was normal where he came from. Lex was stuck with knowing he was human, and knowing he was a freak. Again.

You're right, Lex. Life hates you. What crime of Lionel's are you paying for, and why the hell isn't he serving his own sentence? It's not fair, and yes, Dad, I know life isn't fair, but come on! Everyone deserves a break now and then.

Clark sighed. Since life didn't seem inclined to give Lex a break, he was going to have to.

You're not going to ask for it. And you probably don't want it. But I'm giving it to you anyway. I forgive you, Lex. For hurting my mom. For implying that all I am is a good fuck to you, when every time you touch me, every time I look into your eyes, I know I mean much more to you. For trying to make me hurt you and leave you. I forgive you for whatever demons you're trying to slay and for the ones that are riding your back so hard that you can't think straight. You warned me you weren't going to handle this well, yet I still wasn't prepared. You don't get forgiven for that one, because the fault was mine.

I love you, Lex, and even though you don't know what that means, I do.

Clark sighed. He was probably going to have to force this forgiveness on Lex, and Lex was going to push just to see how far Clark was willing to go. But thus was the life of someone crazy enough to love a Luthor, he thought with a dramatic sigh. And now there was going to be another Luthor for him to love. At least by the time the new one was old enough to start testing the limits of his father's love, Clark should have his response down pat.

Speaking of tests, it was going to be one getting Lex upstairs and into bed without rehashing the argument they'd just had. That Lex hadn't woken and complained about being stared at was evidence of his complete exhaustion. Tomorrow would be soon enough to hit him with the whole forgiveness speech.

He wanted nothing more than to lift Lex into his arms and tuck him into bed without the waking up bit, but a) touching Lex would wake him, and b) manhandling Lex was never a good idea. Even that night before the trip, the night that had caused all this, Clark hadn't done anything without Lex's tacit permission. If Lex had truly wanted him to stop, Clark's haze of lust would have been quickly ripped away; his lover was quite resourceful.

"Lex?" he called softly, expecting a full wakening. Nothing. "Lex," he said louder, adding a cautious shake of a wiry shoulder. Still no response. Clark took a deep breath and pushed his panic into a shadowy corner. It was like at the river. He needed to stay calm and help Lex.

First, Lex was breathing. It was shallow and fast, but regular. Heartbeat was similar. No need for CPR. Check. There was no evidence of injury, so he could move him. Check. He'd take him up to the bedroom, then get Vi. Sounded like a plan.

Vi met him at the bedroom door. "I was just getting ready to come down and check on him. After Donovan told me what Geoffrey had learned from Billings, I was concerned. I've already set up an IV."

Billings? Billings was Lex's pilot. "The trip didn't go well?"

"The poor man was airsick all the way to Gotham and back. He has to be completely dehydrated, and I don't want to think about his sugar levels."

Clark watched as Vi did all her medical stuff, helping her with getting Lex undressed and situated in the bed. "It's nothing serious, is it?" he asked hesitantly as she stuffed her stethoscope into the pocket of her colorful blue smock.

Vi patted his arm. "It seems like your friend is passing out on you all the time, doesn't it? It's not as bad as it seems. He just has to adjust to his…condition."

"Can he?" Clark asked worriedly.

"The human body is remarkably resilient. And Lex seems more remarkable than most. If anyone can get through this, he can."

Vi said it to make Clark feel better, but it did just the opposite. Thanks to him, Lex's secrets were being spilled, while, thanks to Lex, Clark's were being protected. "He doesn't deserve this," he whispered.

"Things happen, Clark. I'm not saying Lex is going to look back fondly on being assaulted and impregnated, but it's happened and that can't be changed. I've only known Lex a few days, but he seems to be aware of that."

"Something he had to learn early in life. Some say it’s justice, life equaling out, stuff like that, you know? He’s rich, so it’s fair that he lost his hair and his mother when he was just a kid."

"What do you say?"

"That life sucks."

Vi smiled. "I think that's the first typical teenage comment I've heard from you, Clark."

He shrugged. "It won't be the last. You just caught me at a time when I had to be very adult."

"For him."

"Yes."

"You're a good friend," she said, checking the drip of the IV.

"Not always."

"He seems to think so."

"Yeah, well, that's because I haven't stabbed him in the back yet like the rest of his so-called friends," Clark said bitterly. Vi froze, then reached for the clipboard where she kept the info she collected on Lex. "What is it?" he asked.

"I--" She stopped, then shrugged. "He said I could talk to you." Brown eyes gazed earnestly into his. "Aside from the pregnancy, Lex is in excellent shape. So I was surprised that there wasn't any record of major physical trauma following the rape. Even with weapons involved, I don't see someone with Lex's personality allowing himself to be assaulted. But if he thought he was among friends…"

"Lex doesn't talk about it." Boy, Lex, for a lie that was never spoken, it seems to be doing well.

"And what about you? Do you talk about it?"

Clark looked at her in shock. "What do you mean?"

"Rape rarely has just a single victim. The victim's family and…partner are also affected."

Clark knew he was blushing and hated it. "Something you learned from the staff?" Lex would be furious.

Vi shook her head. "Something I learned with my own eyes. I won't mention it again if you don't want me to."

"Then don't." The whole house knew about the two of them, but no one ever said anything aloud. Someone should have warned Vi. Guess that someone was going to be him. "Lex wouldn't like it."

"I understand."

"Good. Will he wake up soon, you think?"

"He's going to start feeling better in a few minutes, so his awareness levels are going to rise--which means awake for Lex. But he's going to be groggy, and he really needs his rest."

"I just want him to know I'm here, then I'll let him sleep. Okay?"

She nodded. "I'm going to send off the blood samples I took. Call me via the intercom if you need me."

"I will."

Clark perched on the bed and watched as Lex's eyes moved beneath thin lids, finally opening a quarter inch before shutting again.

"This is beginning to be familiar," Lex groaned.

"You fell asleep on the stairs. I found you when I came back."

Lex’s eyes opened fully. "Why? Why did you come back?"

"To tell you that you can't keep jerking my family's strings like we're your private toys."

"Message noted. And since you've done the rescue thing, and I see Vi has been here and has everything under control, you can leave now," Lex said, closing his eyes in dismissal.

"Lex, you're not God."

"Should I be suitably shocked and outraged?"

"God wouldn't fuck up as much as you do."

Lex rolled over on his side, away from Clark. "I'm tired."

"You should be. Managing my life, my parents', and your own must be pretty exhausting."

"Can we not do this now?"

"If not now, then when, Lex? After you've succeeded in isolating yourself from everyone who cares about you? It's time for the games to end. I know you think that's all there is to your relationship with your father, but I'm not Lionel, Lex. We have more than that, damn it! And I'm not going to let you screw it all up because you're a selfish bastard who'd rather feel sorry for yourself than take a chance on our love."

"Fuck you, Kent."

"No! We're not going down that road again. I'm not Kent and you're not Luthor. We're Clark and Lex. We love each other and we're going to have a baby. Deal with it, Lex! Just…deal with it," Clark pleaded.

"I'm not the one having the problem dealing, Clark," Lex said softly.

"What does that mean?"

Lex's head whipped around. "You're the one who can't handle it. Damn it, Clark, you couldn't make it through one day of testing without almost losing it. There are going to be more days like that, worse days. Do you think I like lying there knowing how much all of it is hurting you?"

Clark realized his mouth was hanging open and closed it, before re-opening it to make his confused reply. "Hurting me? Lex, you were the one being poked and prodded."

"Hell, Clark, if I got offended every time I was poked and prodded, I would have been insane by the time I hit puberty."

"The time after the meteor strike," Clark murmured.

"And every year afterwards. Twice a year, Clark. Twice a year I'm subjected to grueling invasive tests to make sure that I'm not still mutating. Yesterday was easy compared to what I usually go through."

Clark paled. "My fault."

Lex sat up, careful of the IV line stuck in the back of his hand. "While we're discussing unacceptable behavior, let me say you need to get rid of the guilt. The ship came to earth and the meteors got caught up in its wake. You were little more than a baby. You didn't design your spaceship. You didn't program its destination. You had no control over the physics that caused the meteors to follow you into earth's gravitational field. I was in Smallville because Lionel brought me here, and I was in the middle of Reilly Field because I was bored and wandering around where I shouldn't have been. So who's to blame for the fucking sky falling on me? Sounds like it was me, Dad, my mother, because she's the one who told Dad to take me with him, Isaac Newton--he didn't create physics, but hey, let's give him the credit anyway--and whoever put you in the ship and sent your ass here. I don't read your name anywhere on that list, Clark. Can you deal with that?"

Clark stilled for a long moment, his eyes staring blankly at Lex. Finally, he blinked and scooted in reverse until his back rested against the headboard. Then he carefully dragged Lex into his arms and sighed in contentment when Lex's head slumped against his chest.

"We're doing this all wrong," he said as he brushed his lips across Lex's scalp.

"What was your first clue, Sherlock?" Lex asked dryly.

Clark snickered. "Mom will be expecting an apology as soon as you feel up to it."

"Done."

"I don't expect an apology."

"Good."

"I expect something more. But I'm willing to give as good as I get."

"Put your offer on the table."

"I want understanding. That I'm a seventeen-year-old alien with a chip on his shoulder and a pregnant boyfriend. In return, I will understand that you are a pregnant tyrant-in-training who admits he's not God, but can't help attempts at omnipotency every now and again, and who has a seventeen-year old alien boyfriend."

"Who should be home in bed because he has school tomorrow," Lex amended.

"And you probably have meetings."

Lex shook his head. "LexCorp has been placed in foster care."

"What!"

"I went to Gotham today and handed the reins of LexCorp over to someone else."

The words were said evenly but Clark could feel Lex's heart pounding against him. "Why? God, Lex, LexCorp is everything to you!"

"Not everything."

And Clark understood. Lex had sacrificed one baby for the other. "You will...I mean, when you're well, you'll get it back, right?"

Lex gave a sad laugh. "Foster care, not adoption, Clark. It's such a young company. I just didn't have the concentration necessary to make it flourish properly. It'll be okay without me for a while."

"Is it okay if I feel like a piece of shit because of this? I mean, I think I'm pretty prominent on this list," Clark said, swallowing painfully.

"Okay, as long as you realize feeling like a piece of shit has a time limit."

"Lex, the next time someone tells you that you're like your father, tell them to go fuck themselves."

Lex snorted. "Go home. Let your parents know the big, bad Luthor didn't gobble you up."

"Maybe when you're feeling better, huh?" Clark teased seductively.

"Geez, I must be out of it if that didn't get me going," Lex moaned. "I think I must have thrown up my sex drive. Heaven knows, I threw up everything else today."

"So I heard. Now, go to sleep before Vi tosses me out."

"She should. You need to go home, Clark. I will not have my baby fathered by someone who flunked out of Smallville High."

Clark laughed and helped Lex slide down beneath the covers. "I'm going. Just let me stay until you fall asleep, okay?"

"You promise you're going to leave as soon as I'm asleep?"

"I promise."

Lex smiled, reached out his hand, and closed his eyes.

Clark held the pale hand until it was limp in his.

Chapter Eleven

At 9:32 a.m., Martha heard a vehicle pull into the driveway. Concerned because Jonathan was supposed to be two hours away looking at a used combine, she was surprised to see a pale blue van. Nelson's Florist-Serving Metropolis for 50 Years was written on the side. Must be lost, she thought as she pasted on a smile and opened the door.

"Good morning," the driver said as he walked around to the back of the van. "This is the Kent residence, isn't it?"

So, not lost. "Yes, it is."

"I have a delivery for Martha Kent."

"That's--that's me," she said in surprise. It wasn't her birthday or an anniversary. What--oh. Had to be Lex. An apology bouquet. How very Luthor of him. It was, of course, huge, and just as she was preparing to get angry at the idea that Lex thought he could buy her forgiveness, the bouquet was in her arms and she saw how much thought had gone into the gift. Tucked amid the colorful wild flowers were a variety of anti-smoking agents. Patches, lozenges, gum, a motivational cassette… Martha couldn't do anything but laugh.

"Have a nice day, ma'am."

Martha barely noticed that the delivery man was back at the van. "Wait. I--"

"No need, ma'am. I've already been tipped by the client."

She watched the van back out before going into the house. Shaking her head, she wondered about the expense of having someone drive three hours just to bring her flowers. Why hadn't Lex just let the florist do the usual teleflorist thing? Then she realized he was protecting her. Even though Nell no longer ran the local floral shop, in fact no longer lived in Smallville, she was still the owner and kept up with the orders. It would have been all over Smallville that Martha Kent was a closet smoker.

"For someone so thoughtful," she said as a familiar form stood on the other side of the screen door, "you can be terribly thoughtless at times."

"It's a gift," he said with a shrug.

"I'd give it back if I were you," she quipped.

"If only I could," he replied solemnly. "Clark gave me the impression that you might be open to an apology."

Martha opened the door and gestured him inside. "Depends on how sincere it is."

"I had good intentions, but I was an idiot. I apologize for dragging you into something you should have had no part of."

"You set out to intentionally hurt my son. I think I should've been involved."

Lex sighed. "Fine. Then do the right thing and make sure Clark is as far away from me as possible."

"You'd give him up that easily?"

"Easy has nothing to do with it, Mrs. Kent."

"Playing the martyr doesn't suit you, Lex."

"You think that's what I'm doing? Playing the 'poor me' card?"

Martha looked at the young man standing before her, his hands crammed into his pockets, his head slightly bowed, and his body so tense that she was afraid he'd shatter if she touched him. Suddenly she flashed back to a pale figure with a few wisps of red hair and eyes filled with bewilderment because the sky had fallen on top of him and the sky wasn’t supposed to fall. The same bewilderment was there again, beneath stubborn stoicism and honest-to-god shock. Her heart went out to him. Are you wondering how many times the sky can fall, Lex? Are you wondering why it always falls on you? The meteors, the tornados, now this. But this time it’s not the sky, is it? Just when you were finding your balance, the universe decides to try something new. The sky hasn’t fallen--only you. One minute you were on solid ground and the next... "I think you don't know what you're doing, Lex. I think you're in a free fall, and you're flapping like hell trying to keep from hitting the ground. But, sweetheart, you don't have wings."

"Figured that out for myself," he mumbled.

She pulled out a chair. "Sit. I'll put on a nice pot of decaf, and we'll just keep each other company for a while, okay?"

He slid into the seat, his hands still in his pockets. "Might as well enjoy the scenery on the way down, hmm?"

"Something like that." She filled the coffeemaker with water and measured out the coffee. "Have you had a minute to yourself since you found out?"

"I'm not allowed a minute to myself."

She nodded. Clark had mentioned something about that, and it had thrown her briefly when she saw the limo pull into the driveway. A flashback to the time she'd worked for Lionel, she supposed. Poor Lex. Not even allowed to take out his frustration in one of his fast cars. "Come with me."

She led him upstairs, then pulled down a set of stairs, and urged him up them. The attic was organized, but junky as attics were wont to be. But next to a window that overlooked the farm was a clear spot. A throw rug was on the floor and a rocking chair was positioned on it.

"I used to sit here and think when Jonathan and I first got married. I didn't know how to be a farmer's wife, and occasionally I would screw up. Jonathan was very patient with me, more than I was with myself. He'd go out to the fields with his burnt lunch, or head into the barn to fix some piece of equipment I'd broken, and I'd come up here.

"After I'd finally figured out my role in life, I would still come up here sometimes, rocking my imaginary babies to sleep. I haven't been up here, except to dust or look for something, since Clark came into my life."

"Mrs. Kent, I--"

She held up her hand to quiet him. "I know Clark wouldn't mind if you borrowed his Fortress of Solitude, but I think you need one of your own. And I don't think you need the space, the openness Clark needs. Clark needs the loft because sometimes he feels crowded. You feel just the opposite, isolated--like I felt when I was new to Smallville. This is a much better fit for you."

"Mrs. Kent, I can't--"

"Just try it, Lex. For me. As part of your apology, okay?"

"You worked for my dad too long."

Martha gave a wry smile. "There's too much truth in that statement. Take a seat, and I'll be back with that decaf."

Martha knew she was being pushy. But Lex was going to break soon if his psychological needs kept being ignored, and Clark would break right along with him. That just wasn't going to happen if she could help it. Lex was part of the family now, and she took care of her men.

When she went back to the attic with a thermos and one of the many afghans she'd crocheted over the years, Lex wasn't in the rocker. He was standing at the window, the late morning sun glowing around him. Even in the crowded attic, he seemed alone. Was that what had attracted Clark to him? Despite Pete and Chloe and Lana, as well as she and Jonathan, Clark was alone, too. So different. So out of place, even in places where he was supposed to belong.

God, how much of this boiled down to her and Jonathan? So much hiding, so much lying, so much "Clark, honey, you can't let anyone know anything about yourself because, sweetie, you're a freak, and everyone will be scared of you if they found out." What had that done to his self-esteem? Had that frightened him away from girls? Maybe he'd turned to Lex because he thought a guy wouldn't be as fragile, as breakable. Lex, well, Lex probably liked it a little rough. The clubs he'd frequented in Metropolis weren't exactly known for their genteel clientele. If Clark left a bruise, drew blood…

"Maybe I'm not the only one who needs a minute to myself."

She blinked and found Lex staring at her. She blushed, glad he couldn't read her thoughts. "I have coffee. And a wrap in case you get chilled. Clark says your blood pressure sometimes drops."

"You may not be Clark's biological mother, but you are incredibly alike," he said as he took the thermos and guided her toward the rocking chair. "You both blush. And love to redirect the conversation when it suits you."

"Lex--"

He gently shoved her into the chair and took up position in front of the window again. His eyes sought hers and held. "So, what do you want to know? I promise to not play head games this time."

"What do you want from Clark?" she asked bluntly. "What do you expect from him?"

"You mean, now that I'm pregnant? Or are you talking about before this became known?"

"I'm talking about from the beginning. Clark says you're always thinking, always planning. What were you thinking when you took my son into your bed? What were your plans for him?"

"I wanted it to be good for him, to make sure he could face himself afterwards. He'd probably heard all his life that being gay was bad, that 'lying' with another man was evil, sinful."

"He didn't learn that here," she said defensively.

"But he heard it, Mrs. Kent. You know he did."

"So why didn't you just turn him away?"

"And that would have solved what exactly? Whether we did the deed or not, Clark obviously had thoughts in that direction. I could have rejected him, and he could have decided that he'd been saved from evil, or he could have gone out and found someone who wouldn't reject him."

"And who wouldn't have cared whether it was his first time. Or if he got hurt. Or thought he'd done something dirty," Martha said.

"Yes."

"So you sacrificed yourself for Clark's good," she said dryly, wondering how much of what he was saying she should believe. Not that she believed Lex was in the habit of lying just for the heck of it, but she didn't want to end up being thrown like she was the last time they talked.

Lex laughed. "Even I'm not that good of a liar, Mrs. Kent. Sleeping with Clark was definitely not a sacrifice."

"Is that why this continued past Clark's virgin jitters?"

He turned his back to her and faced the window. "It continued because it was enjoyable. We didn't believe we were hurting anyone, including each other."

"Clark mentioned something about the two of you moving in together when he got to college."

"Clark's a romantic."

"And you?"

"A pragmatist."

"Meaning, you didn't want anyone to know about you and Clark."

"Meaning, that by the time Clark graduates college, I'll probably just be an ex who he remembers fondly. Clark deserves more than I can give him, and I won't stand in the way of him getting it. I'm convenient right now. I realize that."

"Then do you realize how short you're selling Clark, for thinking he considers you a mere convenience?" Clark was right; he was in love with an idiot.

"I can't be more than that," Lex said softly.

"Why not?"

"Because I will destroy him. If not directly, then indirectly. I have enemies, my father being high on that list. You've seen the games he plays with me. What do you think he'd do to Clark?"

She'd worked for Lionel. She was pretty sure Clark could never handle him. "But doesn't he know now?"

"Yes. But he thinks I'm using Clark, that I can't do without a lover and since Clark is willing... He sees him as a pretty bauble, nothing worth trying to steal or break."

"And what does he think of the baby?"

"An anomaly expected from his son, the freak. Just another on a long list of occurrences that must be covered up or ignored."

"Which will he do?"

"Both. He's bought off the medical team and the clinic in Metropolis. The baby and I will probably be ignored until the birth."

"And then what happens?"

Lex shrugged. "That will be left up to Clark. I've had papers drawn up giving him full custody of the child. He’ll be eighteen by then."

"But still young," Martha whispered. "Would it not be better if Jonathan and I had custody?"

"That's Clark's decision to make. He may not want his child raised as his sibling."

She hadn't thought of it that way. "Clark can't stand up to Lionel."

"He can with a hand-picked legal team backing him. I won't leave him defenseless, Martha. I owe him more than that."

"Why are you leaving him at all?"

Lex whirled around. "Do you think it's my choice?" he asked angrily.

Martha stared at him, first confused, then stunned. "You don't think you're going to survive." Lex turned back to the window. "Why? What have the doctors told you?"

"They know nothing. Actually, they know less than nothing, because they don't know about Clark…and what he truly is."

Martha paled. Was keeping Clark's secret signing Lex's death warrant? "You can't be certain that you're going to die, Lex."

He shook his head. "Certain, no. But I know I'm not the right species."

Martha fell back on her vague memories of college biology. "But you and Clark…mated and there's a viable offspring growing inside you."

"It's possible that I had nothing to do with it. Some beetles lay their larva in dung heaps. As the larva grow, the dung provides nutrition and when the dung is all gone, they hatch. Perhaps I'm just a suitable environment."

"Stop it, Lex," she hissed as she pictured him being devoured from the inside out. "You've read too many comic books and watched too much science fiction."

"I suppose you're right. Next thing you know, I'll be believing in baby aliens arriving in spaceships."

"Don't do this," she whispered.

"This--thing inside me is going to subsume me, Martha. It's something I have to face not just for my sake, but for Clark's."

"You don't know that. You're making a baseless speculation," she argued.

Lex placed the palms of his hands against the window and leaned forward until his smooth forehead rested against the equally smooth backs of his hands. "It has already co-opted my circulatory system, creating a nest for itself. Whatever it craves, it has leeched from my body's own supply. Is it that big a leap of logic to assume that as it grows bigger and its needs become greater, that it will take more and more from me…until there is no me left?"

He was a desolate picture against the window and his words brought tears to her eyes. She still thought what he and Clark had done was wrong--they could have waited until Clark was an adult--but Lex didn't deserve this kind of punishment. A child shouldn't be anyone's punishment. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "Maybe…maybe you're wrong. Clark is so human. Maybe his people would want, need, two parents just like us."

Lex gave a laugh, or maybe a sob--she wasn't sure. "Okay, Martha. But until we know, I want to make sure Clark is going to be all right afterwards. He's the one that matters in this."

As Martha stood, she had a flash of taking a rolling pin to Lionel's head. Only a parent could make a child feel so worthless. "You matter, too, Lex," she said, laying a hand on his shoulder, and keeping it there even when he flinched.

"As you said earlier, playing the martyr doesn't suit me. I didn't tell you this to garner your sympathy. I just thought someone should know, someone who'll be there for Clark…if my fears come true."

"And who's there for you, Lex? Does Clark know--"

"No, God, no! He can't handle what he already knows. I'm not going to burden him with this. Yes, he knows there's a chance that I might not survive, but he doesn't accept it--not now, anyway. That's his prerogative. I can't blame him for hiding his head in the sand. If I could, I would, too."

She nodded and took a couple of steps toward the door. But with a sigh, she turned around again. "Lex, there's something I have to do. You may not appreciate it, but--"

"You want me to talk to Mr. Kent," he guessed, sounding like someone bound for the guillotine.

Martha snorted softly, took two steps forward, and wrapped her arms around Lex. "No, sweetheart. You don't have to talk to Jonathan, or Clark, or even me. All you need to do is stand here and let me do this. Okay?"

He didn't answer, but a few seconds later hesitant arms came around her and squeezed just a little.

Relaxing, Martha gave into the urge to hug the stuffing out of the man-child in her arms.

*****

As Lex folded himself into the limo, he smugly reflected that he'd gotten out of a bad situation rather cheaply. If he'd treated someone's mother in Metropolis as badly as he'd treated Martha Kent, it would have taken some serious wining, dining, and expensive gifting to get back in everyone's good graces. Here in Smallville, all it took was a single bouquet and a hug. How bucolic.

"Sir?"

Lex looked up to see Geoffrey was lowering the privacy panel, allowing him to see in front of the limo. On the road just beyond the Kent driveway sat the Kent truck. With Jonathan Kent standing next to it. Intently staring at the limo.

From heaven to hell in less than a hundred yards.

"Pull over, Geoffrey." Lex waited until the vehicle stopped, then opened the door. "Please join me, Mr. Kent. I would join you outside, but it's chilly and I've made promises to several people about taking care of myself."

Jonathan entered the limo gingerly, as if the leather interior was offensive. "I've been waiting for you, Luthor."

Lex refused to remove his hand from his pocket to rub at a suddenly throbbing temple. "So it appears, Mr. Kent. I take it you have something to say to me that you didn't want to say in front of your wife."

"So that's the way we're going to play it? Straightforward and to the point? Didn't know you knew how, Luthor."

"A recently acquired skill, Mr. Kent."

"At least your time in Smallville hasn't been a total waste, then."

"I've found it to be very educational."

Jonathan snorted. "Well, learn this, Luthor. You might have my wife and son snowed, but I know who and what you are. For the sake of family harmony--because God knows we're going to need our family when you get through with it--I'm going to do my best to be civil when you're a guest in my house. But don't be fooled; I'm not buying whatever it is you're peddling. You are your father's son, and perhaps, worse."

Lex blinked, stunned by how much that hurt. "I don't know what you're basing your conclusions on, Mr. Kent, but I can see any arguments I have would be a waste of both our time. Fine. You don't like me, aren't going to like me, and probably trust my father more than me."

"At least he doesn't pretend to have a shred of humanity."

Because he doesn't, you ass! Lex took a deep breath, remembering all the fights he'd had with Lionel. If he could hold it together with his father, Clark's dad shouldn't be a problem. "Whatever enmity you hold toward me, Mr. Kent, is your decision. However, I don't want Clark, or this child, hurt by it. That's all the consideration I want."

Jonathan gave a sharp nod of his head and reached for the door. "You Luthors ruin everything you touch. God help me, I wish you'd never touched my son."

Lex shivered from the waft of cold air that entered as Jonathan left. "Let's go, Geoffrey," he said into the intercom. Leaning back against the soft grain leather, he wondered if that was the kind of parent he might have turned into--smugly sure that he was right and his child was wrong. Sadly, he figured that that was exactly how he would have been, if not worse. God, a mix of Jonathan Kent and Lionel Luthor. Kid, you better be damned glad I'm not going to survive your birth.

"Sir."

The privacy panel was being lowered again. Ah. They were at the manor. And there was a limo already parked out front. License tag: THE LUTHOR. And he thought hell was rock-bottom. Gee, the things you learned in Smallville.

"Geoffrey?"

"Yes, sir?"

"You know, flying really isn't that big of a deal. Think Billings is up for a quick trip to anywhere-but-here?"

"The question is, sir, are you?"

"My father, or continuous retching? Difficult choice."

"The proverbial rock and hard place, sir."

"Do I pay you per 'sir', Geoffrey?"

"Would you like to, sir?"

Lex groaned. "I think I know why my father fired you," he said, and with a quick gesture indicated he was ready to get out the car. Geoffrey opened the door. "Just for the record, I also know why my mother hired you," he said softly, before heading up the steps.

"Good luck, sir," Geoffrey called out behind him.

Lex just shook his head. Luck was something in small supply at the moment.

Chapter Twelve

"Where do you think you're going?"

Clark looked down at the petite blond blocking the school's main doorway and frowned. "Home? You know, final bell, go home, etc."

"You're supposed to help me with the final layout of the Torch, remember?" She tossed her hair impatiently when his face showed he hadn't remembered. "You promised last week, Clark."

Yeah, but that was before I found out my boyfriend was pregnant. "I'm sorry, Chloe. I guess I forgot."

"Well, you were running off to Metropolis to see Lex. But now he's home, and he's getting better, right?" Clark nodded. "So, no conflict of interest, right? Meet you in the office. I just have to get a quick quote from the principal."

He watched her disappear down the hall before heading to the pay phone.

"Lex Luthor."

"Lex, it's Clark."

"Yes, what can I do for you?"

Well, that was formal. And odd. And-- "You're not alone, are you?"

"How astute of you. But I'm really quite busy at the moment."

Busy? But Lex had given his company away. That meant-- "Your dad's there?"

"Yes, that is uncanny. However--"

"Chloe wants me to stay late and help her with the paper. Is that okay or do you--"

"Your proposition has merit. I'll call you back at a more convenient time."

"Okay. I should be home anytime after 5:00."

"I look forward to further discussion."

Clark listened to the click and slowly replaced the receiver. What exactly was going on in the mansion? Mr. Luthor was a pain at the best of times, and he hadn't been all that sympathetic when Lex was in the hospital. Should he-- No. Clark had seen Lex handle his father time and time again. He didn't need Clark messing up whatever survival tactic he had going. He'd just have to wait for Lex to call him…and then he could soothe out all the knots Mr. Luthor had Lex tied up in.

He picked up the receiver again.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Mom. I sorta promised Chloe last week that I'd stay and help her lay out the latest edition. I forgot about it, but she didn't."

"You need to call Lex and let him know you're going to be late. The boy has enough worries."

Clark frowned. "I've already called Lex, and what worries?"

"Did he mention he spent the morning with me?"

"No, but that's because his dad is over there and he couldn't talk. What worries?"

"In his condition, he has to have at least a million. I just didn't want you adding to them by being late."

Clark recognized a snow job when he heard one. "Mom, what wor-- Why are you worried about him? What happened this morning?"

"Nothing, Clark. We just talked."

"And?" he prompted anxiously.

"He just seems--so alone."

"You think I should make up some excuse and head over to the mansion?"

"Clark, you can't blow Chloe off like that. And, besides, if Lionel is at the mansion, I think your presence would only make things more difficult for Lex."

"Mom, you're scaring me."

She laughed. "I'm sorry, honey. Now, run on before Chloe gets mad at you. See you when you get home, okay?"

"Okay." He hung up the phone, more confused than ever. What the heck was he supposed to do? Go see Lex? Not go see Lex? Go see his mom and try to figure out what she was hiding? Go help Chloe with the paper? Maybe Ian Randall hadn't been so crazy when he cloned himself, or whatever the heck he'd done.

With a sigh--which he was growing excessively tired of making--he headed to the Torch's office. Maybe doing something as familiar as laying out the paper would help sort out all the stuff in his mind. If he was going this crazy, what must it be like for Lex? Maybe that was what his mother had noticed. Maybe that was why she was worried about Lex. But she'd been right about his presence making things more difficult for Lex while Lionel was hanging around. There was the whole "I know you're sleeping with my son" thing, along with--well, sometimes the way Mr. Luthor looked at him scared him. Like he knew something. Something he wasn't supposed to know. He still wondered just how much Lionel had "seen" while he was supposedly blind.

"So you start page three, while I work on one, okay?"

"Sure, Chloe."

"I can't believe how well-planned the scheme was to rig the elections. I mean, the entire senior class getting together to vote in crappy officers because we're not going to be here. Well, I guess not the entire senior class, because I didn't know about it and you didn't and Pete didn't, and I'm starting to feel I missed the real conspiracy here, because it's, like, 'we can't tell Kent or Ross because they'll blab it to Sullivan and…"

Clark half-listened to Chloe's rant about keeping things from the press. It was all so…trivial compared to his own concerns. Seriously, would Chloe even care about freedom of the press if she found out she was going to be a teenage parent? Then again, Chloe was a girl, and girls had no one to blame but themselves if they got pregnant.

Clark Jerome Kent, I know I taught you better than that!

He jerked as his mother's voice yelled in his head. That really was a shitty remark. In apology for a crime Chloe didn't even know he'd committed, he spent the next two hours listening to his friend's strange theories about the prominent members of the Wall of Weird.

As soon as Chloe let him out at his house, he asked his mom if Lex had called.

"Not yet. Lex assumed Lionel was just going to ignore him. He's probably wondering if 'unpredictable' and 'Lionel' are interchangeable words." She looked at him standing in the doorway, trying to figure out if he should stay or go. "So, no 'Hey, Mom' or anything like that?" Martha chided gently.

Clark ducked his head sheepishly. "Hey, Mom." He gave her a one-armed hug. "How was your day?"

"I received flowers and anti-smoking products. How was your day?"

Clark picked at the bouquet and examined the boxes. "Cool. Lex really knows how to say he's sorry, doesn't he?"

She shrugged. "He has his moments. Tell your dad to start cleaning up for supper, okay? He and the tractor are having a heart to heart in the barn." She turned to check the oven.

"Mom, before Dad comes in, you want to tell me how it went with Lex?"

Martha looked at him. "I really frightened you, didn't I? I'm sorry, Clark. It went fine. Lex and I talked, honestly and, I think, as friends. I can see why you're…attracted to him."

"I love him, Mom."

"I truly believe the feeling is mutual."

"But?" Clark could hear it in her voice.

"But you both need to be careful, maybe pull back a little."

"Why?"

"I don't want you hurt, Clark."

"Lex won't hurt me."

"Maybe not intentionally."

Clark really hated when people forced him to read between the lines, but thanks to being around Lex for the past two years, he'd gotten good at it. "He told you he's going to…he's going to die, didn't he?"

"His reasoning had some--validity to it." She placed a hand on his arm.

Clark stepped out of her reach. "He's wrong. He may be a genius, but he's wrong."

"Clark, there's a risk with every pregnancy, even normal ones."

"Lex isn't going to die. I didn't--his tombstone wasn't there. I looked all around. It wasn't there." He shoved his hands into his jeans pockets.

"Tombstone? What are you talking about, son?" Martha asked, sitting at the table and patting the chair beside her.

Reluctantly, Clark slid into the chair. "Cassandra."

"Cassandra? Oh, the woman who thought she was a psychic--"

"She was! Remember the glimpse of the future I saw?"

Martha frowned. "You mean the graveyard?"

"Yes. When I touched her, I could see what she saw." He closed his eyes and remembered. "It was raining, and I was on my knees in a cemetery. All around me were rows and rows of tombstones. I saw everyone's name, Mom--yours and Dad's, Pete's, Lana's, Chloe's…"

"Oh, Clark." Martha leaned forward, making him feel her presence. "We told you, honey. It was just an hallucination."

"No, it was real, Mom. Everyone I knew was dead. At the time, I thought that meant I was going to be alone, that I was going to outlive everyone I love. But later I realized I hadn't seen Lex's name."

"She was elderly and in ill-health, Clark. Didn't she die a day or two later?"

"Lex was there," he said absently. "Lex was with her when she died. He thinks she died because of what she saw in his future. I think that may be why--why he's not too upset over this 'dying' business. Even when he thought it was just cancer or something, he wasn't afraid."

"We're all afraid of death," Martha murmured.

"But I think Lex is afraid of life more. So see, you really can't take what he says seriously." He looked up hesitantly and saw his mom chewing her lip a bit.

"Do you think he's suicidal?"

"No. He wants to live. I just don't think he'll fight 'not living' as hard as he should. That's why I have to do it. I have to keep pushing him to live. Cassandra's second vision showed that I was destined to help people. Lex was the first person I saved, Mom. Maybe he'll be the one I'll always save."

"Clark." She squeezed his hand comfortingly.

"I don't want to be alone, Mom," he said quietly, wanting her to understand that he wasn't being blind or just trying to fool himself. Lex was going to be fine, because there just wasn't any alternative.

"Okay, honey. We'll work together, making sure Lex is healthy and that he wants to survive this."

Clark nodded. "He has a really strong will, you know."

"I think both you boys have that. It's going to come in handy, I think."

"Dad says that things happen for a reason. Maybe this happened to me and Lex because we're the only two strong enough to take it." Clark grinned and stood. "I'm going to get Dad now. Thanks, Mom."

"For what?"

"Listening…and having faith in me and Lex. You're the best parent ever, and if Lex and I can do half as good as you, our kid is going to be very lucky." He kissed her cheek and went out to the barn.

*****

Lex heard the door close behind his father and dropped his head on the cool glass of his desk. How had one afternoon with his father drained him so much? Geez, kid, you aren't going to wait until the end to suck me dry, are you?

He forced himself to sit up. He really should have been expecting Lionel's visit. Giving control of LexCorp to Bruce Wayne was a slap in his father's face, and Lionel never let an injury go un-repaid.

"I'm hurt, Lex," Lionel had said as soon as Lex had joined him in the office. "You go to an outsider instead of your father?"

Lex refused to go on the defensive. "Bruce is an old friend, Dad, and unlike me, he never had a chance to build a company from the ground up. I thought I'd let him have a little fun while I'm 'in confinement'."

"And you think he's just going to hand the reins back over when you ask him to?"

"Yes," Lex said with assurance. Bruce's honor, however antiquated, would allow him to do nothing else. "Unlike other options I explored," he added with a raised eyebrow.

"So, what do you plan to do while you wait out your unfortunate circumstance? Sit back and eat bonbons?"

"Thought I'd get that degree you didn't allow me to complete at Yale."

"I had warned you that your behavior would have negative consequences."

Lex shrugged and settled in behind his desk. "Not all that negative. I will always look fondly upon Smallville. My biography will list it as the starting point of my illustrious career."

Lionel laughed. "Unless you fuck up."

Lex tensed. "Why are you here, Dad?"

Lionel smiled. "To help you, son. You know how you get when you aren't busy enough."

Lex wanted to say that he wasn't a child who needed to be distracted to keep out of trouble. But, unfortunately, he knew that Lionel had a point. Any trouble he'd gotten in over the years had been at times of inactivity, or when he was just bored. The psychologists said that his brain was just too "on" and had wanted to prescribe drugs. Lionel had opted to just keep his son busy. Lex had taken the required number of hours his first semester of college and had gotten kicked out of Met U. When Lionel sent him to Princeton, he'd told the administration to let Lex take as many hours as he wanted; Lex graduated in two years with a better than 4.0 average. He'd been between degrees when the Club Zero incident had occurred, as he had been when Lionel had plucked him out of Yale.

"I don't have the energy to get into trouble, Dad," Lex finally said.

"Nonsense," Lionel scoffed. "Here." He reached into a leather briefcase, pulled out a folder, and handed it to Lex. "Fix this."

Lex scanned the folder. "This is something one of LuthorCorp troubleshooters should handle."

"Exactly. As far as I know you haven't given up your position at LuthorCorp, have you?"

Of course Lionel would remember that. With a sigh, he started reading closer. "God, Dad, what part of 'possible contamination' didn't you understand when you made this deal?"

"I'm sure your deft touch will clear everything up, son. And you don't even have to leave the comfort of your mansion." Lionel took another folder from the attache. "And don't worry, I have something to keep me busy while you work."

That had been many hours and many telephone calls ago. It was sort of disturbing to realize how easy it had been, the subtle coercing of officials, adding nuances to his voice to imply what might happen if certain things weren't done. But even as it bothered him, he'd been pleased with himself...and the small amount of praise Lionel had given him before walking out.

"Lex?"

Lex jumped back to the present and managed to find a small smile for Vi. "You must have heard the departure of cloven hooves, hmm?"

Vi rolled her eyes. "I just came to see if you were ready for dinner. You're slightly off your schedule."

"Dad has that effect. But yes, please ask Cook to prepare a tray for me."

Lex silently laughed as Vi left, looking surprised that he hadn't argued about eating. Had worked for him for less than a week and thought she knew him. Heh.

But speaking of people who did know him… He reached for the phone.

"Kent Farm."

"Hi, Mrs…Martha. This is Lex. May I speak to Clark?"

She laughed. "Actually, Lex, he's standing in the doorway, shrugging into his jacket, in case this is you on the phone and he can come over."

Lex gave a full smile. "Tell him to drive safely. Neither I nor the castle are going anywhere."

"I'd pass along that advice if he was still here. So, how are you?"

Was there any wonder he was in love with Clark's whole family? "We worked on individual projects for LuthorCorp."

"You know, it never failed to amaze me at how well the two of you could work in the same room as long as you weren't working on the same thing."

"That's because we're arrogant and focus solely on our own concerns. Makes for a harmonious work environment but causes havoc at a board meeting."

"How well I remember," she said with a tinkling laugh, and he was glad that she had some good memories of her experience as a LuthorCorp employee. "Everyone screaming ideas and proposals and Lionel just sitting there. Then out of the blue, he calls out, 'Thank you for your reports, but this is what we're going to do.' I've never seen faces freeze so quickly."

"Did Bob Connelly turn a bright carmine?"

"Yes, it clashed terribly with that awful green suit."

"His 'lucky' green suit. Never seen him at a board meeting without it on. I always made sure to bring my shades."

He chatted amiably with Martha until he heard Clark's footsteps in the hall. "Your son seems to have made it in one piece, Martha." He motioned Clark inside. "Yes, I'll tell him. Goodnight to you, too."

"You and my mom been talking since I left the house?" Clark asked, taking the chair in front of the desk.

"Poking fun at the LuthorCorp board. It's an old vice of mine."

"So you and Mom were gossiping like two old ladies?" Clark teased with a grin.

"I've heard that pregnant women can get quite horny at times. You'll never know if it's the same for a man."

"But then you'll be doing without."

Lex waved his hand. "My best friend for many years."

Clark got up and moved around the desk. "Yeah, but now you have a new best friend," he said as he leaned over to brush his lips across Lex's.

"But my hand doesn't make disparaging remarks about me."

"Neither does it 'have a mouth made for cock sucking,'" Clark quoted softly.

"God, I love it when you talk dirty, but after Dad's visit, I barely have enough energy to eat."

Clark pulled back sharply. "Eat? You haven't eaten? Lex, it's night time. I don't care if your father was here or not, you should know better. Why didn't Vi--"

Lex held on to Clark's hand so he wouldn't run off to the kitchen. "Vi's arranging for Cook to send me a plate. I didn't want to be disturbed earlier."

Clark sat on the edge of the desk. "Why was your father here anyway?"

"He found out about LexCorp."

"He give you a lot of grief?"

Lex shook his head. "He was surprisingly restrained. Then he put me to work for LuthorCorp."

"Why?"

"Idle hands are the devil's workshop. Surely your dad taught you that?" Lex said without a hint of a smirk, but he knew Clark saw it anyway when he winked.

"Sure, but I can't believe your dad taught it to you."

"Life taught it to both of us. A bored Lex Luthor can be dangerous."

"I figured you had a plan for after you handed over LexCorp."

"I'm going to finish my degree from Yale. But it's just a matter of writing the dissertation; all the research and class work is done. It probably won't keep me active enough."

"How active do you have to be? I mean, you're pregnant and all."

"Don't worry. I'm sure Dad won't have special projects for me every day."

Clark looked closely at Lex. "Is this his way of trying to keep you safe?"

Lex smiled sadly and stroked Clark's cheek. "Don't confuse control with concern. It's his way of making sure I don't do anything that will leak the pregnancy. It's taken the public over a decade to accept my baldness. The scandal of a pregnancy would never go away." A discreet tap on the stained glass doors. "Come in."

A maid entered with a tray. "Thank you, Melinda. Clark, do you want anything? Melinda, bring Clark a--"

"I'm fine, Melinda," Clark said hurriedly. The maid left.

"It's her job, Clark," Lex fussed as he sniffed his dinner.

"No, her job is to serve you, not me," Clark corrected. "And don't smell, just eat."

"Might be easier if I wasn't eating alone," Lex pouted.

Clark reached for the phone and pressed the correct button.

"Sir?"

"This is Clark, Melinda. Could you ask Cook to send me a piece of the chocolate cake that Lex is having?"

"Certainly, sir."

Lex smirked and played with his fork. "Now that didn't hurt a bit, did it? Next thing you know you'll be telling Donovan to draw you a bath."

"Eat," Clark ordered.

Later, Clark lay atop the covers of Lex's bed while Lex snuggled beneath a layering of cotton and silk.

"You don't have to do this," Lex said sleepily.

"Do what?"

"Tuck me in every night."

"Actually, I'm just here to give Vi some back up."

"I didn't mean what I said about shoving that needle into an improper place."

"I know. And she appreciated your apology."

Lex yawned. "Too long of an exposure to Dad today."

"He has a very high toxicity."

"Do not expose to children, pets, and fragile plants," Lex snickered.

"How about biological life in general?"

"Watch it, Clark, or I'm going to accuse you of gossiping like an old lady."

"Go to sleep."

"Go home."

"Go to sleep and I'll go home."

"Bossy," Lex said as his eyes closed. "You've hung around with me too much."

"No, not nearly enough."

Lex wanted to reply, but sleep grabbed him and held on tight.

Chapter Thirteen

"I feel good. I think I've licked this hormonal fluctuation matter," Lex said to Vi one morning. It had taken two weeks, but it felt wonderful not to wake up more tired than when he went to sleep.

"I think you've crossed over into your second trimester. It's God's gift for the crappiness of the first trimester and the absolute horror of the third," she replied knowledgeably, writing down his latest blood pressure results.

"Did you go to school to learn your bedside manner or was it natural for you?" he asked dryly.

Vi laughed. "Just didn't want you getting too cocky. I'm still not happy with your blood pressure readings. They go up and down too often."

Lex nodded. He had a theory about that. As the fetus got bigger, so did the blood "uterus"--for want of a better word. As a result, his blood pressure increased and decreased in relation to the growth process. As always, the entity thought of itself first. Hmm. Maybe it had some Luthor in it after all.

"Well, you've already taken away my driving privileges for the remainder of the pregnancy. What other penalties do you want to invoke?"

"No penalties, just common sense. If you feel faint, stop whatever you're doing and deal with it--sit down, lie down, or put your head between your knees. Just don't think you can shake it off, and end up hurting yourself. Clark would never forgive either of us if that happened," she added with a smile.

"He's pretty focused when it comes to my health," Lex said, barely wincing as Vi drew blood. "He saved my life when we first met, and I think he's taking the Chinese proverb to heart."

"'Once you save a life, it's yours' or something like that?"

Lex nodded. "He ignores all the worthy proverbs, legends, and fables I share with him, but that one--that one he believes in."

"You don't seem to mind."

"I should. I mean, I haven't been 'mothered' since I was twelve, but…"

"But sometimes, it's nice to know someone cares."

And if I'm lucky, the memory might last me a lifetime. "So, where's breakfast? I'm starving."

*****

Clark followed the laughter to Lex's bedroom. Through the open door he saw Lex eating his breakfast at a writing desk and Vi doing embroidery as she sat on an easy chair. She was the one laughing, and Lex was looking pleased with himself. Apparently Mr. Charming had come out to play. That was a surprise, considering how miserable Lex had been for the past couple weeks.

"So when did this room become a comedy club?" he asked as he tapped on the door and entered at the same time.

"Clark!" Lex smiled--a real smile, not one of the ones that took a lot of effort. "What are you doing here this early? Why aren't you at school?"

"Spring Break." He was certain he'd mentioned it yesterday, but Lex had been focused on finishing a chapter in his dissertation.

"Already?" Lex patted his mouth with a napkin and pushed back from the desk.

"It is spring, Lex."

"Oh. Hadn't really noticed. I'm going to shower and dress. I'm sure you two can amuse yourselves sufficiently without me."

"Well, gosh, it's gonna be mighty hard," Clark said with an exaggerated drawl and requisite shuffling of feet. "But we'll do our best."

Lex shook his head. "Be glad there's a lady present, Kent. Be very glad."

As Lex disappeared into the bathroom, Clark turned to Vi. "He seems different this morning."

"He's in his pregnancy 'glory' days. Lots of energy and drive."

"That's good, isn't it?" Clark asked, hearing less than enthusiasm in her answer.

"Good for him; not so good for us."

Clark frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I've only been around Lex when he's feeling ill--and we've had our conflicts about how much work he does. I can only imagine trying to get him to rest when he thinks he's fine."

"Isn't he?"

"No, he isn't."

"Oh." Clark heard an ominous creak and peeled his fingers from the back of the chair. "What can I do to help?"

"Don't let him trick you into thinking that everything is right as rain now. There are still problems that his doctors don't have a handle on yet."

Clark took a deep breath, not wanting to ask the question he needed to ask. It was bad enough hearing it from Lex, but if Vi agreed… "He's…he's not going to die, is he?"

Vi patted his arm. "We're all going to do our best to make sure that doesn't happen, Clark. I'm not telling you this to scare you. It's just that Lex gave me permission to keep you informed, and with you spending so much time with him, I thought you should know."

Clark gave a tight smile. "Thanks for telling me. I'll do my best to make him behave."

Vi looked amused. "If you can do that, you're stronger than you look. I'm going to ready these samples. Just page me if you need me."

Clark sank into a chair to wait for Lex. Okay. Lex was in serious danger of dying. Because of him. Because of what he'd done. God, he was a killer. No way his dad could talk his way around this one. Lex wasn't a homicidal mutant or a "clear and present danger" to everyone. The only thing Lex had done to receive the death penalty was sleep with an alien pretending to be human.

Damn it! There had to be something he could do. Could he--no, he wasn't that good with his laser vision yet. If doctors couldn't cut the baby out without hurting Lex, he couldn't either. Maybe...maybe if the doctors knew he was the father. If they researched him, maybe they could figure out what was happening inside Lex and save him. Everyone, including Lex would be mad, but Lex would be alive. Wasn't that worth everything?

"Have to go home soon?" Lex's voice called from the bathroom, or maybe the closet.

Clark cleared his throat. "No. I've done my chores so Mom said I could stay until my curfew."

"Great. Then I hereby declare the day 'Clark Kent Day'. Your wish is my command." Lex stepped into the room carrying a pair of leather loafers. "What do you want to do? Shoot a round of pool? Play video games? Go for a run? I'm up for anything."

"No, you're not," Clark said softly.

Lex frowned. "Should have known better than to leave you alone with Vi. Fine. We can do something inside. I just..." He sighed. "You said it was spring. I thought it would be nice to go outside and confirm it."

Clark looked at him guiltily. Except for weekly trips to the clinic, Lex hadn't left the mansion. "How about a walk instead of a run? We'd have to ask Vi first, but a little exercise shouldn't be too bad."

Lex thought for a moment, then gave Clark a brilliant smile. "I like that idea. And I do a daily session on the treadmill, so there shouldn't be any problem. Let me change my footwear, and we'll head out."

Vi had no objections, so ten minutes later they headed out the back of the mansion.

"We'll walk down to the English gardens," Lex said, putting his hands in his jacket pockets. "I think there's a labyrinth we can explore there."

"Really? I can't believe I know a guy who has his own labyrinth. Cool!"

"Fifty-two of the sleekest, fastest, and most expensive sports cars in my garage and you're impressed by my labyrinth. Wonder why I hadn't figured out you were an alien before?" Lex questioned with a grin.

"Lex!"

His lover grinned and sped off. Shocked, Clark moved forward, catching Lex as he bounced off the body blocking his path.

"Wow! You are fast," Lex said breathlessly. "Of course some things should be done slowly." He leaned forward and pressed his lips against Clark's. Just as a moan escaped from Clark, Lex pulled away and resumed his leisurely walk. "Let's go see that labyrinth, shall we?"

Clark carefully adjusted himself and began following Lex. The view made him realize his adjustments weren't going to last long. They passed by carefully cultivated beds of spring flowers, some which were obviously not native to Kansas. "My mom would love this."

"She used to come out here all the time when she worked for Dad. I think I will always associate your mother with flowers."

"She really liked working--just not for your father."

"I know. I should have asked her to work for me, but I was too selfish. I couldn't have lusted after you with your mom in the same room, and it was just too guilty of a pleasure to give up."

"Please do not put 'lust' and my mom in the same sentence."

Lex laughed. "Aha! The secret to controlling your libido. I'll have to remember that."

"You're a very sick man, and it has nothing to do with your physical condition."

"I see you've learned flattery from your dad's side of the family."

Before Clark could formulate a suitable comeback, he saw rows of tall, meticulously maintained hedges. "Is this it?" he asked excitedly.

Lex nodded. "But I doubt there's a minotaur waiting for us in the center," he teased.

"Um, Lex? This is Smallville, remember?" Clark teased back.

"So you thought I brought you along just for your good looks?" Lex flashed him a grin and headed down the narrow path parting the greenery.

Clark laughed. It was so good having the old Lex back. As soon as the doctors examined him and found out what they needed to do to make sure Lex survived, the baby would be dealt with and he'd have this Lex back permanently. Even at his snarky-est, nosiest, and supercilious-est, a healthy, in control Lex was just way better than a sick, scared one.

Minutes and turns later, they entered the center of the labyrinth. A marble statue of some heavily endowed woman with a lyre stood in the center, surrounded by two low-lying benches. Lex probably knew who the woman was, but he figured he'd stall the lecture as long as possible by not asking.

"You were right; it is spring. And warm too," Lex said as he reached into his coat pocket. He pulled out a silver square and started unfolding it.

"What's that?"

"A space blanket."

Clark smiled. "Should have told me we were going to have a picnic. I would have brought lunch."

"I think I have all our needs taken care of," Lex said as he dropped a handful of condoms, plus a bottle of lube on the shiny material.

"Lex?" Clark asked, the hope in his voice undeniable.

"What? You think the condoms are too little, too late? Au contraire, my beautiful alien. It'd be our luck that I'd end up with a twin faux-uterus, or worse you'd end pregnant, too. And no amount of flowers would keep your mother from kicking my ass if that happened."

Clark cupped Lex's chin tenderly, forcing him to look at him. "Are you sure?"

Lex turned his head and kissed the palm of Clark's right hand. "Well, seeing as you've been terribly understanding and haven't made a single move on me in two weeks, and since today is Clark Kent Day, I thought we might find something better to do than smell the roses."

"Lex." Clark moved faster than human normal to jerk Lex close to him, crushing their lips together, and reveling in the feel of Lex against him once again. They hadn't been as close since the night Clark had brought Lex home from Metropolis, and then they had only held each other. This was...this was different.

"Careful," Lex said as Clark lowered his head to the satin smooth skin of Lex's neck. "I don't want any marks. I can't be a convincing recent rape victim if I have love bites all over me."

"It's okay. I'm going to tell them I'm the father, anyway."

Lex went still. And cold. Clark looked up quickly to see if it had started raining or something. No body should go from warm to cold that fast, but the Lex in his arms had. Oh, shit. He had been warned.

He swept Lex into his arms and sat him on the blanket. "I'm going to get Vi, okay?"

Manicured nails pressed into his arm. "You aren't going anywhere," Lex said firmly.

"But you're--"

"Trying to figure out what the hell you're planning."

Clark relaxed enough to sit down beside Lex, but he kept a close eye on him. "I'm going to tell the doctors I'm the father and then they can figure out what to do to save you. It's the only way. Surely, you can see that."

"What I can see, Clark, is that you're not thinking."

"Don't! I'm not a fucking child to be patronized. I know what I know, and I'm going to do what I have to." God, he'd never expected Lex to sound like his mom and dad.

Blue eyes glared at him. "Trust me, if I was being patronizing, you'd fucking well know it. When I say you're not thinking, that's exactly what I mean. You're doing what you always do in dire situations--reacting. And that's not the same thing as thinking. You can trust me on that one, too."

"You've never complained about my reacting before, when it was saving your life," Clark muttered. "And that's exactly what I'm going to accomplish by--"

"All you're going to accomplish is getting the three of us locked up in a research facility for the rest of our lives--however long or short that might be!"

Clark sat back on his heels. "No...that's not..." Lex was confusing him. They wouldn't--

"They would," Lex replied, and Clark wondered if he'd spoken out loud or if Lex was vocalizing his own fears. "At the moment, the baby and I are just meteor mutants, a dime a dozen in these parts. But you're an alien, Clark, an alien. Jesus Christ, do you know how many people would sell their souls to get their hands on you? And this," he patted his abdomen, "this is an alien, too. Maybe you have decided it's okay to be treated like a lab specimen, and I've already given my consent, but this...child hasn't decided. Can you honestly condemn it to being raised behind panes of glass, cared for only because of its strange DNA?"

Clark shivered. Everything he'd feared in his childhood, hell, everything he feared now, would be the child's living nightmare. His eyes filled with tears when he remembered Ryan and what had happened to him. So much pain. So much fear. And the betrayal Ryan felt. His aunt had signed him over to the researchers...just like he was about to do to his own son or daughter. But... "I can't let you die, Lex. I can't."

Hands cupped his face. "You can't always save me, Clark."

Clark turned his head. "You don't understand."

"Then make me understand."

"It's not just about you dying," Clark whispered as he stood and walked a few steps away. "If you were to die, it would hurt, and I don't know if I'd ever be able to love again. But, God, Lex, don't you get it? If you die because of this, then I'm your murderer. Don't ask me to live with that, because I don't think I can."

Hands fell on his shoulders. "Turn around, Clark."

"No. Because the last time I let you see me cry, you tried to push me away. See? I can learn from my mistakes."

"So can I."

Despite his original intentions, Clark had to turn around when he heard that.

"I'm sorry I hurt you." Lex's eyes glittered in the spring light, but either he didn't know or he didn't care because his head was held high, and he didn't avoid Clark's stare. "And I'm sorry that you feel you have to hide your emotions from me. I don't want you to be like me, to tamp your emotions back until they explode in some violent manner." He gave a weak laugh. "You won't believe the number of times I've had to redecorate an office or any room after I've had one of my 'moments' as Dad likes to call them."

"But that's the adult way to do it, isn't it? It's what Dad does."

"Just because adults do something in a particular way, doesn't make what they do right. It could just be a bad habit that has been perpetuated over generations." Lex paused, then smirked. "And I'm sure your dad would appreciate you comparing us."

"That's the weird thing, Lex--you and Dad are a lot alike. He's just too stubborn to see it." Both men were more comfortable hiding behind lots of words when at a loss to do anything else; his dad with his platitudes and Lex with his historical soliloquies. "When I'm with you both, I feel loved and protected."

"You are loved and protected," Lex said firmly.

"I know. Even when I'm being stupid."

"You're not stupid."

"Okay. Even when I'm reacting, instead of thinking. Why is that, Lex? Why is it that you don't get angry with me, even when I'm treating you like shit?" Clark thought back to the times he was influenced by red meteor rock. Somehow, Lex always ended up in the picture, rarely in a good way.

A shrug. "I remember myself at your age. I got even with those who hurt me, but I saved the worst of it for the ones who supposedly loved me. The things I used to say about my mother and Pam, the things I actually said and did to Dad… I was a royal bitch of a brat, something you'll never be no matter how much you yell and pout. You getting angry at me only means that I've made the radar, that you believe I actually do care for you."

Clark dipped his head and brushed his lips across Lex's. "I know you care. The feeling's mutual, by the way."

Lex's lips smiled beneath his. "Oh, really? I hadn't noticed. I mean, here we are--two men who haven't gotten laid in over two weeks, a handy bottle of lube, and an assortment of condoms, and we’re here--talking. What's wrong with this pic--"

Clark grabbed Lex and dropped them both to the blanket, careful that Lex landed gently on top of him. "You were saying?" he asked with a grin.

"That there's nothing wrong with this picture," Lex murmured as he straddled Clark and reached for the hem of his sweater. "Nothing at all."

*****

Lex buried his face in Clark's neck as the sun invaded the labyrinth as surely as the snake wiggled its way into Eden. Eden. Idiots. To throw away everything on a stupid piece of fruit. If Adam had been a Luthor, man would owned Eden by now, and Eve would have been pimping herself outside the perimeter.

Of course, God would have been evicted by then, as well--along with the serpent. Luthors never shared.

Lex couldn't stop the chuckle that bubbled up his throat.

"I was amusing?" Clark asked as he adjusted the second space blanket over them. Lex had known Clark wouldn't be comfortable exposed to nature.

"I would say 'amazing', but if you prefer 'amusing'…" Lex nipped softly at the warm skin at his mouth's reach. "Just rewriting the bible in my mind."

"Ambitious."

"Heretical, actually."

"That's my Lex."

His Lex. Why didn't that sound as confining as Lionel's 'my son'? Maybe because he didn't have to fit some predetermined mold to be Clark's Lex. Maybe because he had a chance at being enough for Clark. At least for a little while.

If you die because of this, then I'm your murderer. Don't ask me to live with that, because I don't think I can.

That wasn't--good, was it? "Clark?"

"Hmm?"

"No matter what happens, you are not my murderer. You know that, don't you? What happened that night was by mutual consent. There was no rape, nor even a hint of such an occurrence. I only said so because I wanted to push you away, and I knew guilt would help me to advance my villainous intentions."

Clark snorted and sat up. "Only you could get away with saying things like 'villainous intentions.'" He reached for his clothes. "I didn't leave any marks, but one sniff will tell anyone what we've been doing."

Lex got his coat. "Here," he called, pitching a couple of packets in Clark's direction.

"Wet wipes? So we can smell baby fresh?" Clark ripped one open, then sniffed the moist paper appreciatively. "It smells like your cologne," he said with surprise.

Lex nodded and started cleaning himself. "The Scouts are a blight on human society, but I have to admit, I admire their motto."

Lex dressed with his usual care, noticing Clark surreptitiously sliding one of the packets into his pocket. Would he sniff it as he jerked off at home, or wrap it around his dick, imagining it was Lex surrounding him? Smell would always take a back seat to the other senses, but it was powerful in its own right.

Lex also noticed something else. "You never answered me. You know that you aren't my murderer, right?"

"We need to get back. It's almost time for lunch and Vi likes to keep you on a schedule."

"Clark." Lex touched his arm, forcing Clark to stop folding one of the silver blankets. "You are not at fault. It's this sick relationship I have with life. I explained it to you, remember?"

"You think you're being punished for surviving."

"Yes."

A pause, then Clark started folding again. "I'm far more of a sadist than I ever thought I could be."

Clark? A sadist, getting off on others' pain? Wasn't ever going to happen. "What are you talking about?"

"Life hurts you because you are a survivor."

Lex sighed and folded the other blanket with precise movements. "We've established that."

"If that's what it takes to keep you surviving, I want you to hurt, Lex. I want you to hurt for a very long time."

"What if--what if I can't take the pain?"

"Don't even try it, Lex. I've seen you hurt. You've never let it stop you from doing whatever it is you want to do. You have the power to go beyond the pain, to push it aside when it's inconvenient, and to...to conquer it when you get tired of it."

Lex was--angry wasn't exactly the right word. Frustrated, maybe. Why was Clark expecting so much from him? "I'm not the invulnerable alien in this relationship, Clark."

"No?"

Lex's immediate reaction was hurt, and he flashed Clark a bitter glance. But the look he got in return contained nothing but sympathetic understanding.

"This is Clark Kent Day, which means I can say what I want, right?" Lex nodded suspiciously. "Lex, you fit in this world even less than I do. And it's not just in Smallville. I've seen you in Metropolis, and in other places on TV or in magazines. You…clash. It's not just the lack of hair or all the money. It goes deeper. You're a freak, Lex. You always have been."

"How long?" Lex asked, refusing to let Clark see how much damage he was doing. "How long have you been waiting to tell me this?"

"I saw it that first day. It was in your eyes when you hit me and still there when you came to on the riverbank."

"I see." Like seeking like. Clark wanting him not because of who he was, but because of what he was. He wished they were closer to the house so he could pick up a rock and smash a window or two. Maybe that would make him feel better. Maybe that would ease the vise that squeezed his chest so tightly.

"No, I don't think you do. I'm not being spiteful, Lex. It's just--something you need to know."

Shallow breaths because there was no room for deeper ones. "Why? What are you hoping to accomplish by telling me this?"

"You're acting like you're normal, and you're not. Yeah, having this baby might kill someone who's normal and human and frail. But that's not you. The doctors don't know this. Vi doesn't know this. But the both of us do. The only way I don't end up being a murderer is for you not to die. If you were Lana or Chloe, or even Pete, I'd probably be doing the whole sackcloth and ashes thing by now because I don't think there's any way they could survive having an alien baby.

"Maybe that's why I was still a virgin when I came to you. Maybe I subconsciously knew that the people here weren't...right for me. I needed an equal, or better."

"I'm not invulnerable," Lex repeated, confused as to what Clark thought he was supposed to learn from this…attack.

"But you are invincible. You can be hurt, but you heal, and you deal. You won't die unless you allow it."

"That's crazy, Clark." He was still alive because he was lucky, because his dad had money and power, because…because the last thing he remembered thinking as the Porsche plunged through the guardrail was that he didn't want to die. In fact, that was the same thing that had gone through his mind when he'd looked up to see the sky falling down on him.

"Don't die, Lex," Clark pleaded.

"Okay." Lex was sure it wasn't going to be that easy, but Clark was right; he wasn't the kind to let pain knock him out of a fight.

Clark grinned. "Good. Let's go get lunch."

"Clark?" Lex asked as they headed back to the manor.

"Yeah?"

"Call me a freak again, and the next time you get laid will be when the kid graduates--from law school."

"A Luthor as a lawyer. Now that's a concept that's just--wrong."

Lex laughed. "Yes, it is, isn't it?"

Clark's arm came around his shoulders and the two enjoyed the spring day as they walked back.

Chapter Fourteen

Being faster than a speeding bullet, Clark thought as he struggled to hold back the laser beams in his eyes, was completely useless when you had to wait on a color printer to print before you could do anything else. He really, really wanted to just fry the stupid thing, but Chloe would kill him if he destroyed the equipment in The Torch office.

The door flung open and the would-be killer came in, slamming the door behind her.

"Chloe?"

She looked up, obviously startled. Clark was startled, too. His friend had tears running down her face. "Oh, Clark. I didn't know you'd be here. Need help with something?" She sniffed and hastily swiped at her face.

"You can tell me what's wrong."

"Nothing new; dumped again."

Clark went to her and gave her a hug. Chloe only seemed attracted to jerks and/or meteor mutants. "The guys around here are stupid. In two months you can forget about them all--except me and Pete, of course."

"Of course," Chloe agreed, giving him a squeeze before escaping his embrace. "I'm not even going to miss Ned that much. I'm just mad because I already bought my dress for the Spring Formal, and since it was on sale, I can't take it back. Oh, well, Spring Formals and I don't get along anyway. So, what are you doing here, Mr. Kent? Purloining office supplies?"

"Just a little ink. I'm making a banner for Lex. His birthday is tomorrow."

"How's he doing? You're the only one who sees him, you know. He's become quite the hermit."

Clark shrugged. "He doesn't like being seen when he's sick. He only lets me in because I refuse to go away."

"Dad and the other board members are worried about him."

"Mr. Wayne's working out okay, isn't he?"

"Yeah, but he's not Lex, so they don't trust him as much."

Clark filed that away to tell Lex. He'd be surprised…and pleased. "I hope they know how hard it was for him to put LexCorp into someone else's hand."

"I know. That's why I'm currently thinking of taking away his mantle of megalomaniac. Still, he must be awfully sick."

"He is."

Chloe hopped up on the corner of her desk. "Clark, I know you can't tell me anything, but I researched parasitical infections on the internet and while some are difficult to get under control and cured…um, Lex's parasites aren't…well, should his parasites be on the Wall of Weird--if I wasn't in the middle of taking it down, that is?"

Chloe was too smart for her own good. "What happened to Lex happened in Smallville," he answered evasively.

She nodded. "I'm sorry. He's kind of a nice guy, you know. Not what I expected. Although I was just a kid when I lived in Metropolis, I knew his name. He was, like, the poster boy of who not to be and what not to do. We didn't have the slogan, 'Just Say No.' It was more like, 'Don't Be Lex.' And that sounds really bad, doesn't it?"

"Lex doesn't deny his past, Chloe. He knows what he was. I just wish more people would accept him for what he is now--not perfect, but not bad, either."

"You don't have to defend him to me, Clark."

Clark blushed. "Reflex."

Chloe's eyes flickered to the printer. "So. Birthday. Big plans?"

He shook his head. "Mom's making him a cake and Cook is fixing his favorites."

"Cook? You sound like you're getting used to manor life. Is there Butler and Maid, too?" Chloe teased.

"No, that's Donovan and Melinda. But Donovan's more than a butler. He's like--everything. He runs the entire house."

Chloe perched on the edge of the desk and cocked her head to the side, completing Clark's image of her as a curious bird. "Did you ever think your life would turn out the way it has, Clark? Best friends with one of the richest men in the world?"

"Most of the time I don't remember that, Chloe. Lex is just Lex to me."

She shook her head. "You're one of a kind, Clark Kent."

"So are you, Chloe Sullivan, and don't let those losers you date make you think otherwise."

She grinned. "No more pep talk needed. Ned is already just another bad Smallville memory. So go cheer up your billionaire best friend with a crappy banner that he'll probably like better than any of the billion dollar other gifts he'll receive just because you're the one who gave it to him."

Clark carefully folded up the banner. "You really think he'll like it?"

"Yes, Clark, I'm sure of it."

"Thanks." He picked up his backpack. "I can beat up Ned for you if you want me to," he offered as he stood in the doorway.

"Ned who?" Chloe grinned and with a toss of her hair, sat down in front of the computer.

That's my girl, Clark thought as he headed toward the corn fields so he could speed home. Chloe deserved better than Smallville could ever provide. Graduation was going to be good for her.

And what about for him? Half the thrill about winning the scholarship to Met U had been thinking about Lex moving to Metropolis at the same time. No more curfews and making sure his face didn't reveal anything, especially to his mother. But now things were so screwed up. He'd convinced Lex not to die, but there was still the issue of what to do with the baby. He could sort of see Lex and him raising it together in a Three Men and a Baby kind of way. But he knew Lex couldn't--wouldn't--see it like that. Lex was good at seeing the negative side of things, which Clark could understand considering Lionel was his father. And yes, he could definitely see Lionel being a problem if he and Lex decided to be real parents. Lionel didn't want anyone to have a stronger hold on Lex than he did.

So what would happen after the baby was born? If they kept the baby, would Lex eventually grow to resent being forced into a role he didn't want? If Clark kept it, would Lex still want him? If his parents raised it, could he live with another secret? And would the kid resent him as much as he kind of resented his parents holding back the truth about where he came from? He understood they were just trying to protect him, but it had hurt finding out they had been lying to him. Well you see, son or daughter, we weren't really lying to you. We just knew you weren't ready to hear that I'm your dad and your mother is a man, a very rich man, in fact, who didn't want to have anything to do with you. Oh, yeah. That would go over real well.

And it wouldn't be fair to paint Lex as the bad guy. It wasn't like he was being deliberately careless. He hadn't known who he was sleeping with…which wasn't half as bad as it sounded. Gee, Lex was really in a no-win situation, wasn't he? He was going to come out looking like the villain no matter how this played out, unless they raised the child together.

Stop dreaming, Kent. It isn't going to happen except in your head.

Clark spied his mom at the clothesline. They had a dryer, but she said it was a sin to waste a sunshiny day. "Hey, Mom. Want some help?" He could do it in about a second, but sometimes it was his mom wanting the sunshine more than the clothes.

Martha smiled. "Clark. Come here, honey. There's something I need to tell you."

"What's up?"

"Lex is upstairs in the attic."

Clark blinked, realized his mouth was hanging open, and closed it--just before he realized he hadn't asked the question he was dying to ask. "Why?"

"Well, I sort of gave it to him."

"The attic?"

Martha nodded. "He needed somewhere to go when he needed to think away from the mansion."

"I told him the loft was--"

"What that young man doesn't need is more solitude, Clark. The attic gives him space without isolating him."

Clark gave her a hug. "Thank you for looking after him, Mom. I don't think anyone has done that since his own mom died."

"I would hope you look after him."

"I do, but it's different. I mean, I do my best to keep him physically safe, but I don't do too well when it comes to the emotional part."

"You love him."

"Yeah, but sometimes that isn't enough. His dad really screwed him up in a lot of ways."

"Lionel's emotionally damaged, so I'm sure that affected his treatment of Lex."

"Whatever. Just because he got screwed up doesn't give him the right to pass that on to his own kid. That's one of Lex's problems with this mess. He doesn't want to raise another screwed up Luthor."

"He thinks we would allow that?"

"I don't think Mrs. Luthor had any intention of it happening either, but it did." Clark looked up at the top of the house. "He's so afraid of becoming his father. I guess that's something else he shares with Dad."

"Your father is trying, Clark."

"Are you sure?"

Martha pinned the last corner of a sheet and turned to stare at her son. "What do you mean?"

"There's something going on between the two of them. When I ask Lex about it, he just says he respects that it's Dad's right to have his own opinion. When I ask Dad about it, he says he understands the situation and has made peace with it. But he tunes out the two of us when we're discussing Lex or the baby."

Martha frowned. "I think he's just uncomfortable with the idea of Lex being pregnant. It goes against everything he thought he knew. It's not an easy concept, Clark."

"Believe me, I know, Mom. Still, I think it's more than that. But I could just be paranoid; hang around with Lex long enough, and it almost becomes a way of life."

"Then it's something you both need to unlearn."

Clark shrugged. "So, was he upset when he came over?"

"No, just…preoccupied. He asked if he could borrow the attic and when I said yes, he told his driver he'd call him when he needed to be picked up. He didn't want anyone seeing the limo and come snooping."

Clark picked up the empty laundry basket and they walked toward the house. "It probably has something to do with his birthday tomorrow. Lex had his life all planned out, you know? This stage by age twenty-five, the next by thirty… Thanks to me, it's all blown now."

"Clark, there were two of you when that child was conceived."

"Yeah, one human and one alien."

"If that's going to be your attitude, then maybe you should think about giving this child up. A child should be about love, not guilt," Martha said sharply.

"I'm sorry, Mom."

She wrapped her arm around him. "I know you're both young, and this isn't what either of you expected, but it's done. You have to move on."

"It's not like I can ask Lex to marry me," Clark grumbled.

"Would you? If it was possible?"

"Yes. I love him, Mom. It's not just a crush. I think--I think we could make it last if we were both, like, committed to the idea."

"But you don't think he is?"

"Plans, Mom. None of them include a baby and a teenage husband."

She gave him a squeeze as they entered the kitchen. "Why don't you go up and see if he's okay? But don't push. If he doesn't want to talk, just come back down and keep your mother company."

"Can I invite him to stay for dinner?"

"Of course."

Clark took the stairs two at a time, but went slower when he reached the second, narrower set that led to the attic.

Lex stood facing the window. "Clark," he acknowledged.

"Lex. You okay?"

"Yeah."

"Listen, I know that it has to be hard facing tomorrow. I know you never expected to be…well, pregnant on your twenty-fourth birthday and it's probably screwing your plans for world domination straight to hell, but I have faith in you, Lex, and I know that you'll get past this, and be all the better of a world leader because of it," Clark said in one quick breath.

Lex chuckled. "It's a good thing you're an alien or your lungs would be wondering what the hell's the matter with you." He turned and motioned for Clark to join him. "So, you think I'm up here bemoaning my fate as I stand on the cusp of my twenty-fourth birthday."

Clark wrapped his arms around the slightly shorter man. "Gee, can't you put anything into plain terms?"

"I guess you don't want to hear that my angst and subsequent period of self-reflection has naught to do with the progression of my years, but is rather a cliche-ish reaction to an inevitability of my physiological anomaly."

Clark sighed. "In English, Lex."

Lex pulled away and reached for the hem of his amethyst sweater. "I freaked because I couldn't fasten my pants this morning."

Clark looked at the unbuttoned, unbelted slacks and laughed. Belatedly, he realized that might not be the best of reactions, but when he looked at Lex, his lover was laughing, too. Clark pulled Lex back into his arms and snickered against his neck.

"I swear if you say anything remotely resembling, 'I'll love you no matter how fat you get,' promise or no promise, I'm heading for the border as fast as I can waddle there."

That started Clark laughing again and it took him a few moments to pull himself together. "Did it really freak you out that badly?" he asked, lightly rubbing Lex's back.

"Yeah. It was like the situation suddenly became real. It was okay while I worked on Dad's latest project, but after I finished, I just sat there and…obsessed. It was either come here or run screaming from the mansion."

"I'm glad you came here."

"Me, too. I'm better now. Been thinking about hitting the internet for a new wardrobe. Sports clothes. All drawstrings," Lex added with a snort.

"Works for Michael Jordan," Clark said philosophically, thinking of the bald ex-athlete and Hanes underwear spokesman.

"Please. I don't even want to think about how I'd feel in anything but boxers--lots of built-in room."

Clark slid his hand down Lex's abdomen, surprised by the rounded bulge he felt. "That wasn't there yesterday."

"I should have known this was going to happen. My blood pressure was all over the place last night."

"You were sick last night? Why didn't anyone call me?" Clark felt Lex tense and knew he'd said the wrong thing. But why was it wrong?

"It was the middle of the night, Clark, and I have my own private nurse, remember?"

"I remember, but Lex, you're important to me. I just want--"

"To what? Know everything that happens to me? Damn it, I don't need another father!"

Whoa. Where had that come from? "I'm sorry, Lex. I didn't know I was stepping into restricted territory."

Lex took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to overreact. Not enough sleep, I suppose."

"Come on downstairs. You can nap on the sofa while I do my homework. Dinner won't be ready for at least an hour."

"Dinner? Clark, I--"

"It's your rental fee for the attic."

"You know, this could be a profitable venture," Lex said as he followed Clark down the narrow stairs. "Rent places were people can think in quiet and peace. There's so much ambient noise in the world today. It's hard to focus, hard to find the 'me' in it all. So you escape it all by retreating to one of LexCorp's relaxation centers. We're not talking about a week in the country air or something so…protracted. People are busy for a reason. They just need an hour or two to get everything together in their heads. A spa for the brain."

"Lex?" Clark asked as they walked into the living room.

"Yes?"

"You scare me."

Lex frowned. "It was just a thought."

"You're putting a price tag on peace and quiet."

"Yes. And?"

Clark gave a small shudder, glad his dad wasn't around to overhear the conversation. "Those things should be free."

"Often things that are supposed to be free have hidden costs that are far less affordable. Sometimes it's just…easier to pay the quoted price and avoid any sudden surprises."

And that…made sense in a cold, logical way. "Now, I'm scaring myself," Clark muttered.

"Pardon?"

Clark shook his head. "Get comfortable on the sofa while I get my homework."

He opened his backpack and reached for his books, looking up as his mom came in the back door with an empty clothesbasket. She looked at him expectantly. "Lex is going to keep me company while I do my homework," he explained, tilting his head toward the living room.

"Everything okay?"

"Bad night. I'm hoping he's going to take a nap. Um, could you call the mansion and tell Vi that I'll bring him home in time for his night medicines. And, yeah, ask her if he needs sleep or food more. If I can get him to sleep, I don't want to wake him up unless I have to."

"How are you going to get him to go to sleep?"

Clark grinned. "By boring him. Hey, Lex," he called loudly. "Guess what? Chloe got dumped again."

Clark winked at his mom and grabbed his books.

Chapter Fifteen

Lex looked at his reflection in the full-length mirror in his closet and shrugged. It could be worse, he supposed, as he looked at his slightly altered form. The black warm-up suit and T-shirt deceptively hid the paunch he'd acquired, and the pants had enough elastic to not be binding.

Because no entity--endo or exo--would have a Luthor cowering in his room, he headed downstairs to his office. No messengered envelope on his desk. Damn. Of course Lionel wouldn't send him any work on the day he really needed it. He was twenty-four and pregnant and fat and embarrassed because he'd slept at the Kent house, slept on the drive from the Kent house, and had fallen asleep while attempting to eat the snack Vi insisted he have when he and Clark got to the mansion.

You're a sad, sad man, Lex Luthor.

Lex spent a couple of hours shopping on the internet. All athletic clothing. All dark colors. All…depressing.

"Sir? You have a delivery."

Lex looked up gratefully at Donovan. "Work from Dad?"

"No." Donovan pushed open both glass doors to allow a delivery man to bring in a large--easily six-feet by four-feet--birthday card?

"Thank you," Lex said distractedly, knowing Donovan would take care of the man's tip. Lex warily approached the card that was propped open so that it could stand on its own. "Happy Birthday!" it read on the front with a row of balloons. Inside: "Greetings to you on this special day. May all your dreams be heading your way!" A handwritten, "Happy Birthday, Boss, from all your Minions." It was signed by the workers at the fertilizer plant. All of them, Lex concluded as he read and counted the names scrawled on three pages of the card.

Lex was flabbergasted, suspicious, amazed, and…touched.

"Nice card."

"Clark! What are you--" Lex quickly checked the clock. Hmm. When had it gotten that late? He vaguely recalled eating lunch, but he hadn't realized so much time had passed while he examined the card. "It's from the crap factory."

"Chloe said that they missed you."

"Chloe said--you told her it was my birthday."

"It sorta got brought up in conversation when I was talking to her yesterday. Her dad says that Mr. Wayne is okay, but that he's not you. They can't wait for you to come back."

"I wonder what Gabe had to do to get all the workers to sign this thing," Lex murmured, hoping to hide the emotions Clark's words had evoked.

Clark slid his arms Lex. "I'm sure no bribery was needed. They like working for you, Lex. You're a good boss."

"I want them to respect me, not--fear me as they do him."

"They don't fear you. I think this card shows just the opposite."

Lex nodded, something inside of him relaxing. "It's a nice card."

Clark grinned. "Come on. Cook says dinner is ready, and I'm starved!"

Lex laughed. Clark was always starving--even if Martha had fed him just before he came over. "Guess what? So am I today."

"Cool! Vi will be happy and Cook will be happy and it's just a happy day!"

Lex looked at him with amusement as Clark tugged him to the dining room. God, had he ever been that young? "Clark, just how much sugar have you consumed to--?" Lex stumbled to a halt. His dining room was filled with purple balloons. There was a huge Warrior Angel balloon tethered to Lex's usual chair, and on the wall was a banner proclaiming, "Happy Birthday, (Future) Mr. President." A picture of the White House was on one end and a Mercator projection of the world on the other. He quickly looked at Clark.

"Options," Clark said simply before pulling out the chair with the Warrior Angel balloon. "Your throne, sir?"

Lex snorted and allowed himself to be seated. "I feel like I'm ten, but better." Ten had been the year after the meteor shower. Ten had been difficult.

"Be thankful Donovan talked me out of party hats."

Another raise. Damn, his staff was going to break him before too long. "It's frightening how well you get along with my staff."

Clark grinned evilly.

Lex gasped in pretend fear. "You didn't arrange the menu, did you?" Okay, so it wasn't all pretend. If he had to put up with beanie-weenies or spaghetti-o's or whatever the hell ten-year-olds ate…

"Don't worry. Cook made all your favorites."

"Thank God."

"You have a problem with my taste in food?"

"I have a problem with your taste in everything," Lex said matter-of-factly. He had never hidden his dislike of Clark's clothing, hairstyle, palate, etc.

"What about my taste in boyfriends?" Clark asked slyly.

"The law of averages," Lex replied with a smirk. "You have to get something right every so often."

"I'm going to let you get away with that because it's your birthday."

"I think I could get used to this birthday thing."

They quieted as they were served, for once Lex keeping up with Clark as they ate. Between the pregnancy and his new appetite, Lex thought as he cleaned his plate, if he did survive he was going to have go into serious training to get his weight back to normal.

"Have you heard from your father today?"

Lex heard the hesitation in the question and sighed. Poor Clark. Never knowing whether the mentioning of Lionel's existence was good or bad. Hell, neither did he. "Dad's in Hong Kong." Which really wasn't an answer, but was. "I usually get a car from him, but since I can't drive…" Clark snorted and shook his head. "What?"

"You say 'car' in the exact tone anyone else would say 'card'. Until you, I never thought the words could be interchangeable." Clark put down his fork and stared at Lex. "Thank you."

"For what? Introducing you to the warped world of the rich and famous?"

"For showing me that it's no more warped than my own. I mean, Mom and Dad taught me that people were people no matter the color of their skin or where they came from or how much money they didn't have, but they taught me prejudice, too. I was supposed to hate you, to be wary of you just because you were a Luthor. How is that any different from expecting a bunch of black guys to jack me? It never made any sense to me, and after getting to know you, I can't accept their opinions just on faith anymore. I guess that's part of growing up, huh?"

"You're asking the wrong person, Clark. It's been so long since I accepted anything from my father on faith…if I ever did."

"Not even your birthday cars?"

"While there aren't any visible bows and ribbons on them, there are always strings attached, strings used to jerk me around like a marionette."

"Then why do you accept them?"

Lex laughed. "Because I'm a car-whore, Clark. For the right make and model, I'll bend over for anyone. Preferably foreign, but a domestic might get you a blow job if it's exotic enough."

Clark scowled. "You know how much I hate it when you put yourself down."

Lex was ashamed of himself. It was a birthday party, not a pity party. Pity parties should only have one guest. "Sorry, Clark. So, what's for dessert? You?" He leered as comically as he could.

A real grin. "You wish." Clark reached out and rang the silver bell that was always beside the head table setting.

Just as Lex was getting over the shock of Clark "ringing" for servants, the door to the kitchen swung open and the entire staff filed into the room. Donovan came last, bearing a frosted cake on a platter. If they weren't on-key as they sang Happy Birthday, Lex didn't notice. After a few pats on the back and well-wishes, they disappeared back into the bowers of the castle, except for Donovan who sliced and served the cake.

"Make sure the staff gets some," Lex managed to say before Donovan, too, disappeared.

"Mrs. Kent made one just for us, sir. Something about her son's capacity for devouring a greater portion than polite society dictates."

Clark literally glowed with embarrassment. Lex threw his head back and laughed. "Just leave the remains here, then. I'm sure Clark won't disappoint his mother."

"My mom's determined that if I can't have red hair, I'll have a permanently red face," Clark muttered, stabbing his slice of cake with a fork.

"So, you're saying you don't want any more of your mom's excellent cake? I can call Donovan back and--"

Using superhuman speed, Clark snatched the cake plate to his side of the table. "You really need to work on that sense of humor of yours, Lex," Clark said as he sliced another hunk of cake and put it on his plate.

"If appetite is inheritable, at least I know why I've been starving lately," Lex remarked as he calmly stood and dragged the cake plate back to its original position. "I'm the birthday celebrant, remember?"

"I remem--" Clark stopped and focused. "Are you sure your dad's out of the country?"

"Yes, why?"

"I hear a helicopter on approach."

"On approach? Your hearing is that good?"

"I sorta got good at listening for helicopters when Mom worked for your dad."

Lionel was always whisking Martha away for "business". No wonder Clark was an expert at listening for her return. "Maybe--" Lex stopped as he heard it, too. "Come on." He left the table and headed out to the side porch, which overlooked the only part of the estate treeless enough for a landing pad.

"It's big."

Lex nodded. It was a mid-sized corporate model. Seated maybe five or six. "A Sikorsky S-76C+, I think. Not as large and luxurious as their S-92 Executive Transport, but comfortable and accommodating for a helicopter." Clark stared at him. "What? I can have corporate fantasies every now and then, can't I?"

Clark smiled. "No one makes me feel more normal than you do, Lex."

"I'll take that as a compliment, even though I have my doubts. So, X-ray Eyes, who's onboard?"

"Just the two pilots."

"That's odd. Maybe they had technical difficulties and had to land," Lex speculated.

Clark narrowed his eyes. "We'll know in a minute. One of the pilots is getting out."

The man wore a crisp white shirt and navy tie that matched his slacks. "Mr. Luthor?"

"I'm Lex Luthor." The man handed him a square envelope. He pulled out the simple notecard and tried to smirk, but it turned into a real smile. He looked over at Clark. "No bow, but the strings probably make up for it."

Clark's mouth dropped open. "You mean?"

Lex nodded excitedly. "My birthday present."

"I'm Captain Paul Matheson, Mr. Luthor. I've been retained as your pilot. I have copies of my--"

"Unnecessary, Captain Matheson," Lex said, shaking the man's hand. "If your background cleared my father's exacting checklist, I'm sure you're an excellent pilot."

"Thank you, sir. I am available at any time. Here is my cell number. If you'd like to go for a test ride, we're fueled and my co-pilot, Captain Samantha Martinez, is aboard."

"Clark, wanna go buzz some cows?"

"Don't you think we should check with Vi first?" Clark asked softly.

Lex started to say he didn't have to check with anyone, damn it, then remembered his last plane ride. Now that was a humbling thought. "I have to consult with a member of my staff first, Captain. You may join your co-pilot and I'll meet you at the helicopter. Even if a flight isn't possible, I'd still like a tour of the craft."

"I'm sorry, Lex," Clark said as he followed Lex back into the house. "I just didn't--"

"I'm an invalid. I get it, Clark," Lex snapped. He wasn't angry at Clark for bringing it up, just at himself because it was necessary. One small indiscretion and he was serving a nine-month term. Life--the bitch!

They walked into the office and Lex stabbed at the phone. "Vi, could I see you in my office?" He took a couple of calming breaths. He had to have his shit together before Vi came into the room or the only place he'd be going was to his room. He snorted as he flopped down on the sofa. Big, bad, independent Lex Luthor. Sent to his room at age twenty-four. Fucking, stupid life!

He stood smoothly as Vi tapped on the door. "Sorry to disturb you, Vi, but my father's present just arrived and I was wondering if I could take a short flight merely to Metropolis and back. The helicopter will surely make our weekly trip to the clinic much faster," he added with all the sincerity he could muster.

"You haven't had any trouble with nausea for a while, and your blood pressure seems to have settled since night before last. Is Clark going with you?" Clark nodded eagerly. "Then I don't see any problem. If you start feeling nauseous, come back immediately. And Clark, keep an eye on him. If something doesn't seem right--his color, breathing, etc.--"

"I'll make sure he comes straight home."

Vi smiled and patted them both on the shoulder. "Have a good time, gentlemen."

"Thank you, Vi," Lex said graciously. As soon as she left, he turned to Clark. "Call your parents and let them know. And while you're at it, notify anyone else on the planet who needs to know my every move."

"Lex…"

"I'll meet you at the chopper." Lex walked out of the room.

*****

Clark called home, then trailed after Lex. He'd hated reminding Lex of his limitations, but Lex's health was more important than his dignity. Right? God, he was sucking in the "sensitive boyfriend" role. Maybe he should go with the "boyfriend is a jerk" position. "Yo, babe, you got yourself into this mess. Ain't my fault." Yeah, and then Lex would be so busy figuring out how to kill him--and no doubt he would--that he wouldn't be frustrated by all the babying he was being subjected to. And, boy, that was the wrong word to use, wasn't it? Babying.

He watched and listened as Lex and the pilots discussed the technical details of the helicopter, including the various cockpit instruments. Bored, he checked out the passenger cabin and was shocked by the elegance of it. It was way bigger than the one Lionel Luthor had used when his mother worked for LuthorCorp. The interior was leather and wood--well, wood-like stuff anyway. There was a padded leather bench that sat three, two captain's chairs that were thickly padded recliners. Between the captain's chairs was a wet bar/refreshment station with cabinets and drawers. On the far side, it looked like there was a pull-down desk. An in-air office. No wonder Lex was about to swoon.

Hearing words like "engine ratings" and "tail rotor diameter," Clark folded himself inside the helicopter, then stretched out in one of the recliners. Not a bad fit, considering his height.

"You buckled in?" Lex climbed in and the female pilot closed the door. "Sorry about that."

"You had to get your geek on. I understand."

"Get my geek on…" Lex smiled and shook his head as he settled into the other captain's chair. "It's important to know the details of an acquisition, Clark."

"Sure, Lex. And by the way, is that drool running down your chin?"

"Okay, you found me out. It wasn't Penthouse or Playboy I hid under my mattress--it was Technology and Aviation Today."

Clark stiffened as the rotors started turning. Oops, why had he forgotten about his fear of heights? Worse, why was he remembering now? "Why hide them?"

"Hobbies are a weakness, a distraction from one's true goals."

Clark pictured turning his laser vision on Lionel and smiled. If any a person deserved to be toasted…

"Of course, now I'm wondering which of the servants kept Dad informed of the contents of my supposedly secret stash. I didn't make the connection with the cars, but now…"

Okay, that was just wrong. Beneath a kid's mattress was sacred! He started to ask Lex why he hadn't hired a hit on Lionel yet, but he knew the answer. Lex wasn't a car-whore or even a helicopter-whore. Lex whored himself for one reason, for one payoff--and it was one he wasn't going to ever get. He accepted the cars with the strings and the jobs with the strings and everything else in hopes of getting proof of Lionel's love. Maybe once it had been for Lionel's approval, but Clark was starting to realize Lex had given up on that already. If Lex ever gave up on the other… Lionel seemed to think he was creating the perfect businessman, but what he was really on the verge of creating was the perfect monster. That Lex hadn't--what was the word? It started with a T, didn't it? Oh, transmogrify--that Lex hadn't transmogrified yet was telling of his inherent moral strength, which he must have gotten from his mother.

"I'm starting to think I don't have any secrets from my father. That's a very frightening prospect," Lex said.

Clark couldn't see Lex's face because of the refreshment console, but he heard the shudder in Lex's words. "You still have the secret that counts."

"And you know I'll protect your secret with all that I am."

And this is the man, Dad, that you said would betray me without a second thought. "That's not the secret I'm talking about."

"What then? My life's pretty much an open book thanks to Dad's spies."

"Yet, he doesn't know you at all."

"Of course he knows me. That's how he's always at least one step ahead of me. When I first moved here, he told me I needed to up my game if I thought to take him on. He was right."

Lionel could give Dr. Frankenstein lessons. "Your game is fine."

"No disrespect, but, hell, Clark, I couldn't even play you and your mother for very long."

"But that's your hidden key to the next level, Lex."

"You play too many video games."

"You're the one who started talking about games."

"No, my dad was the one who started talking about games."

"Fine, let me put it in terms you can understand, then. You're the Warrior Angel fan--you know what I mean."

"If you're referring to the tripe about good always defeating evil, I hate to inform you but that's just persistent propaganda designed to control the masses. If good and evil exist, then they both have an equal chance of winning. And I have my doubts as to my lack of 'game' with you and your mother can be considered a sign of good anyway."

"Bullshit."

"Excuse me?"

"Bullshit. You believe in good and evil or light and darkness or whatever the fuck you want to call it. You believe in it and that's what your dad hates about you more than anything else. He wanted you not to believe, he did his best to make you not believe, but he failed. I don't care what happens in the future, you will always know there is a difference between good and evil, and that good will win."

"You seem so certain."

"I am certain. I have faith, Lex. Not only in good, but in you."

Lex sighed. "Don't you get tired of having this pep talk with me all the time?"

"You're stubborn." And have a lifetime of brainwashing to overcome. "And slightly thickheaded. But you're cute and that makes up for a lot of your shortcomings," Clark teased.

"If we weren't in a helicopter, I'd--"

"Don't!" Clark panicked.

Silence, then a tentative, "Something I should know?"

Clark gave a bitter chuckle. "Yeah. The invulnerable alien who floats has a thing about heights. Go ahead, laugh."

"You're afraid of heights?"

"Yeah. Ironic, huh?"

"Actually, it's understandable. You spent an unknown amount of time alone in a vehicle hurtling through space at a very young age. No matter how secure you were, it had to be traumatic," Lex guessed.

Clark relaxed for the first time since entering the helicopter. "See? That's what I was trying to explain to my parents."

"What? That you had a right to be afraid of heights?"

"No, that you're the best thing that ever happened to me. God, Lex, do you know how long I've felt stupid about this fear thing? Pete teases me about it. Chloe thinks it's a hoot. Mom tells me it's all right to be scared. Dad says everyone has fears and I'll conquer it when I have to. You--you come up with a reasonable, logical explanation for my fear. You make it normal. You make me normal."

"Being different sucks, doesn't it?"

"Not as much as it used to. It's kinda okay when I don't have to be different alone."

Lex extended his hand over the counter separating them. Clark closed his own around the warm, hairless flesh and felt something change deep inside of him. He looked out the window and saw Metropolis below him, the lights beginning to shine as twilight descended into darkness.

"Lex?"

"Yes, Clark?"

"I'm not afraid anymore."

They watched the lights in silence.

Chapter Sixteen

"You okay?" Lex asked as he and Clark stepped out of the helicopter, once again at Luthor manor. Clark hadn’t shown any sign of his acrophobia for the rest of the trip, but in his experience, Lex knew fears didn’t go away because of a single conversation.

"Yeah, I'm good," Clark said with a brilliant smile. "How about you? Too tired to go see your birthday present?"

"My birth--I thought the dinner, complete with banner and cake, was my present?"

Clark shook his head. "Chloe was right."

"And that translates to?"

"That you'd think my crappy banner was the best present you received."

God, even a high school girl could read him. What the hell had Smallville done to him? "It's not crappy. And although this--" he pointed back at the helicopter-- "is, in monetary value, several thousands times over the cost of the banner, it’s actual value is much less. You made the banner to please me; the helicopter was given with far less noble reasons."

"Maybe your dad--"

"Clark, you may be strong enough to survive accidents with maniac drivers and fight meteor mutants, but changing Lionel Luthor is out of your league. He is what he is."

"Well, at least we know he did one thing right in his life."

"What's that?" Clark stared at him and Lex got it. "Oh. So what's this about another birthday present?" he asked before he got misty. Damn hormones. Just when you thought you had them under control…

"It can wait if you're tired. Vi will have my head if you get exhausted."

Lex lifted an eyebrow. "Are we going to be doing something that will exhaust me?" He laughed as he saw the faint glow come to Clark's face. After all they'd been through, Clark still was embarrassed about sex. True innocence.

"And I thought there was nothing hornier than a seventeen-year-old guy," Clark said, gently nudging Lex with his elbow. "No sex, Lex. Your present is at the farm."

Lex shuddered. "Definitely no sex. So, I can handle whatever it is. I'm not feeling anywhere near as badly as I was after my last air excursion."

After a quick stop inside to tell Donovan of his plans, he joined Clark at the truck. Nodding patiently as Clark schooled him on the proper placement of a seatbelt--beneath the belly, not across it--he realized the stereotypical anger in labor rooms wasn't always just about the pain of labor.

"Clark, I've been thinking," Lex said as Clark finally started toward the farm.

"Is this my cue to start shaking in my boots?"

"Very funny. I'm being serious."

"Okay. What have you been thinking, Lex?"

"That you should ask Chloe to the Spring Formal."

Clark was quiet for a moment. "Why?"

"Because you both should go. You're high school seniors. This is your last chance to party with most of your friends."

Clark gripped the steering wheel. "I thought you were over this."

"Over what?"

"This obsession of yours to get me a girl. First Lana, now Chl--"

"This isn't about you getting a girl, Clark. This is about a rite of passage, a--"

"Did you go to your senior prom, Lex?"

"It was a cotillion. And no, I didn't."

"Why not?"

"Only seniors could attend. No eighteen-year-old girl wanted to be seen in public with a fourteen-year-old, not even a Luthor."

"You graduated when you were fourteen?"

Lex shrugged. "Private school isn't like public. I graduated when I learned the material."

"Wow. That's why you didn't know what happened to Principal Reynolds."

Lex nodded. "All I knew was that my expulsion--which would have kept me from graduating--was overturned. I was so glad that I wouldn't have to spend another year in another academy that I didn't pay any attention to what else was going on."

Clark cocked his head, glancing at Lex as he drove. "Even at fourteen, it's hard picturing you not being able to get a date."

"Oh, dates I could get. If it was in my room or her room or even his room. I think it was a symbol of status to have slept with me. At least the instructors seemed to think so."

"Lex."

"Don't sweat it, Clark. It was a long time ago."

"It was less than ten years ago."

"And I still remember not going, still resent it. I don't want you to have a memory like that. I don't want you to resent me because you didn't go."

He braced himself for an argument, but it didn't happen.

"Okay, Lex. I'll ask Chloe."

"Good."

They shared a comfortable silence for the rest of the short drive. At the farm, Lex was surprised when Clark didn't lead him toward the house or the barn. "Clark?"

"Your surprise is in the storm cellar."

Lex stopped walking. "Are you sure about this?"

"Yes."

"Do your parents know?"

"I told them."

Lex reached for Clark's hands. "This isn't necessary, you know."

Clark raised Lex's hands and brushed his lips across the backs of them. "It's not a car or a helicopter, but, hey, at least it's not domestic."

Lex laughed. "Hell, Clark, I know I'm a good lay, but I don't know if even I have enough skill to equal this gift."

Clark squeezed the capable hands in his. "You're not just a status symbol to me, Lex. You never have been."

"I know, Clark."

"And what you've already given me is more than enough."

"I feel the same way. You don't have to give me more of yourself."

Clark bent slightly and whispered in Lex's ear. "There's a spaceship in the cellar, Lex."

Lex stiffened and tried to sound nonchalant. "Yes, I know, Clark. And?"

"And you're drooling," Clark said triumphantly. "Twice in one day. Aren't you a special one?"

Lex set his lips and tried to get irritated. But a tremor of excitement won out in the end. "It's my birthday--give me my present."

Clark snickered and opened the doors. Lex made note of the useless lock and shook his head. These people needed help. Thank God he was here now. Clark pulled the string to the light, and Lex wondered if that was part of the security system--keep it so dim that anyone breaking in would fall down the stairs and break his neck.

"Careful. The steps are kinda uneven."

More security? Lex took Clark's hand without his usual disdain for assistance. At the bottom of the stairs were some racks on the wall, holding things not clear in the lack of light, but in the corner there was something covered with a tarp. That couldn't be--no, not even the Kents would be dumb enough to-- A tarp? The biggest secret in the universe and they hide it with a tarp? Oh, kid, I hope you get your sense of self-preservation from my side of the family.

Clark drew the fabric away and…and Lex squeaked like a girl getting her cherry popped.

To his relief, Clark didn't know what that sounded like and merely shrugged. "I know it looks small. Not exactly a space shuttle or anything."

Lex ignored him and stepped next to the craft. Not what he had expected. The bisected ovoid shape seemed…unwieldy. Wouldn't gravity--those were earth-based questions, possibly not applicable to Clark's home planet. Hmm. He was going to have to stop thinking like a human and more like a scientist. He felt in his pocket for his Palm device with one hand, and tentatively touched the ship with the other.

"Have you done any metallurgy studies on this?"

"Um, no?"

Of course not. That would make too much sense. He made a notation on his p.d.a. "How much do you estimate it to weigh?"

A shrug. "Pete needed my help to move it when he found it out in the cornfield."

Cornfield. He thought Pete had stumbled on it here in the cellar. "Why was it in a cornfield?"

Clark pointed to an octagonal depression in the metal. "After Nixon inserted the disk, the ship lit up, then I think it went looking for me. I was saving Lana and it got caught up in the tornado and the disk fell out. I guess the storm dropped it in the cornfield. We didn't know what had happened to it until Pete showed up wanting my help."

Lex shook his head in disbelief. The story was growing more pathetic every minute. How had these--God, he didn't want to call them idiots, but the evidence was piling up--how had they survived so long without anyone discovering this. Must be because it was Smallville. The lack of awareness affecting the whole town was often bewildering. "So you no longer have the disk?"

"No. It could be anywhere."

"Did you look? You know, X-ray vision and all?"

"Um…"

Lex was proud of himself when he managed to stifle his scream. After all, it would just land him in Clark's arms speeding toward the mansion and Vi's handy hypo. No, it was better that he utilize the patience he'd learned by dealing with his father. A deep breath. Fake calmness. Moderate his tone. "I would have thought you'd done a thorough search after the ship disappeared."

"Dad said we should just let sleeping dogs lie."

A growl. He hadn't growled, had he? A quick look at the concern on Clark's face and he realized he had. Let it go, Lex. "Okay. So, I'm just going to make some visual observations and maybe a few measurements. Think you can find me a measuring tape?"

"Mom has one in her sewing box."

"Will she let me borrow it?"

"I'll go ask."

"Thank you."

He heard Clark start up the stairs, then pause. "Lex?"

"Yes, Clark?"

"You aren't overly freaked out by this, are you?"

"No, Clark, I'm not."

"Good. I'll be right back."

Lex heard the door to the cellar close and went back to making notations.

*****

Instead of speeding to the house, Clark walked at what he called "earth-normal." Most of the time Lex made him feel better about himself--smarter, older, capable. But there were also times when Lex made him realize exactly what he was--a small town, country bumpkin. One of those times was now. Lex tried to cover, tried to hide his dismay, but Clark saw it. Lex thought the family was stupid when it came to the spaceship. He thought it could have been hidden better, could have been examined better…and he was right. They had learned nothing from Nixon or Pete or Dr. Hamilton.

The Kents--hicks from the sticks.

"How's it going out there?"

Clark looked up to find his father standing in the doorway. "It's okay. Lex wants to borrow Mom's tape measure."

"Why?"

Because it's something we should have done, Dad. "You never know when the dimensions of the thing might be needed."

"Clark."

"He's a scientist, Dad. Scientists measure, okay?"

"He's also a Luthor."

Clark shook his head. "I didn't think you'd gotten over that."

"He hurt your mother."

"She forgave him."

"That's right--she did."

Clark walked by him and into the house. His mother was upstairs, gathering clothes for a rummage sale for the local women's shelter. She asked if Lex was enjoying his birthday and directed Clark to her sewing basket. He gave her a kiss of thanks and headed outside, ignoring his father who still stood near the doorway.

"Clark, I'm sorry."

Clark stopped.

"I guess I'm anxious about Lex seeing all your secrets, and I took it out on you."

Clark shook his head. "No, you took it out on Lex."

Jonathan sighed and brushed his hand over his hair. "Yes, I did. I apologize for that, too. It's just…it's your ship, son."

Clark nodded. "I know. I was worried about it, too. I thought…when you told me about how you found me and stuff, it wasn't--real--until I saw the ship. I thought it might be like that for Lex, too. I thought once he saw proof that I came from another planet that he would--he would finally see me as an alien, and he'd be disgusted…or scared."

"Was he?"

"Nah. He just went into question mode, like it was just another LexCorp proposed acquisition," Clark said with a grin. He knew how pleased and excited Lex was whenever LexCorp got something new. It felt good when Lex hadn't even given him a second glance.

"Clark," Jonathan said sharply. "The ship doesn't belong to Lex, and it will not leave the cellar."

Clark remembered the look he'd seen on Lex's face. "Dad, the cellar isn't exactly secure. That guy, Nixon, taught us that."

"He worked for Luthor."

Back to Luthor. Damn, Dad. "And maybe Lex is right. I should know the dimensions of the ship and how much it weighs and what kind of metal it’s made from. It's my heritage, Dad. It's who I am."

"You're a Kent."

"From which Kent did I get this?" He focused on a tiny spot of grass and a small flame sputtered, then caught. "I was raised a Kent and I'm grateful for that, Dad, I really am. But you can't keep me safe from whatever the heck else I am anymore."

"That ship was safe in the cellar for twelve years until he came to town. Even you never went near it."

Clark shook his head. "I didn't go near it because you and Mom tensed up so much if I even took a step in its direction, I knew it had to be something bad. At school, I listened to other kids whisper about the boogeyman, but theirs never looked like mine. Theirs was a shadow in a dark room, or something living in the closet or under the bed. Mine was a covered lump in the cellar. Those nights I woke up screaming when I was, like, seven? The thing in the cellar had eaten both you and Mom--and was coming after me."

"Son, why didn't you ever say anything? We would have--"

"Would have what, Dad? Pete's dad opened the closet door and showed Pete there was nothing to be afraid of. Whitney's mom crawled under the bed with him to show him that it was safe. What would you have done?" Clark knew he sounded bitter and hated it, because he understood what his mom and dad had done, why they had kept the secret. But sometimes he thought he understood them way better than they understood him.

"We did the best we could, Clark."

"I know that, Dad. But you and Mom don't have to do it alone anymore. You have me--and Lex. He wants to help. We should accept it." Clark looked at the tape he was mangling in his hand. "Lex is going to be wondering what happened to me. We won't be out here long. Then I'll drive Lex back to the mansion, make sure he's settled, and head back home. Okay?"

"Yeah, son. We'll leave on the hall light for you."

Clark nodded and headed back into the storm cellar. "Sorry it took so long, Lex."

Lex looked up from where he squatted on the floor, looking at the underside of the ship. "Huh? Oh, Clark. While you were getting the measuring tape, I was looking for markings on the ship. There doesn't seem to be any damage; no scrapes, dents, anything of that nature. I wonder if the metal's that strong or perhaps the ship emitted a force field as it navigated to Earth. From the…"

Clark listened to Lex's enthusiastic theories, helped him measure the ship, and shared the few answers about his arrival that he did know. When Lex whipped out his cell phone to call Donovan because there wasn't enough lighting in the cellar--and the spotlights that used to surround the damaged Porsche were in storage at the mansion--Clark had to tell Lex that it was time to call it a night.

"I promise that tomorrow when I come over, we'll put the lights in the back of the truck and head straight here. Okay?"

Lex rolled his eyes, but Clark could tell he wasn't really annoyed. "You're handling me again."

"Just because you won't let my fondle you."

"Fondle, huh? Reading Chloe's romances again?"

"Yeah, I want to get lost in your heaving bosom and tangle my fingers in your lovely locks."

Lex laughed. "You know she'd kill you if she knew you'd found her private stash of lurid romances. Of course the fact that you actually read one of them…"

"One of these days you're going to be begging me to swallow your manly root, and I'm going to refuse."

"Oh, my poor neglected manly root," Lex crooned, then snorted. Then yawned.

"That's it," Clark said. "Time to get you home. It's been a long day."

Lex nodded. "But a good one. Thank you, Clark. I can't remember the last birthday I enjoyed so much."

The year before Lex had been in Metropolis. "I'm glad I was a part of it," Clark said as he turned out the light and shut the cellar door. He reached out to guide Lex toward the truck, but Lex stopped him with a touch to his arm.

"You weren't part of it, Clark. You were it."

Clark thought it was a pretty good day, too.

*****

Jonathan joined his wife upstairs, silently helping her seal the box of clothing she'd gathered.

"The boys are gone?" she asked as she stood, rubbing her lower back.

"Uh-huh. Clark's sorta fanatical about Lex's bedtime." He removed her hand and replaced it with his, massaging with familiarity.

"Clark's a good boy."

"No thanks to us, apparently," Jonathan muttered.

"Excuse me? What does that mean, Jonathan?" Martha stepped away from his caressing hand.

"It's nothing. Just something Clark said when I ran into him outside."

"He said we were bad parents?" she asked anxiously.

"No, not at all. But…did you know he was scared of the spaceship--I mean, before he even knew it was a spaceship? When he was little he had nightmares about the 'thing in the cellar.'"

"Oh, Jonathan," Martha exclaimed softly. "Why didn't he say anything?"

"What would we have done if he had?"

"Made him feel safe, of course."

But not like the other parents; not by showing him there was nothing to fear. "I realized tonight that not only did I lie to my child, but that I taught him to lie, as well. It was for his own good, but…"

Martha placed a warm hand on his cheek. "But the road to hell… I know, Jonathan. I've worried about it, too. Unless it's some big emergency, Clark can be…hesitant and unsure of himself. I know with his strength we had to teach him to be cautious, but did we over do it? I don't know the answer to that. Adolescence is difficult and often, you can't see the true measure of that person until he gets to the other side of that period. Clark's just beginning to emerge, honey. So far, I don't see much to complain about. He's loving and gentle. He's a lot more assertive than he used to be, but he's not a bully. I think he's going to be a great man and a wonderful father, just like his own." She gave him a kiss. "I'm going to get ready for bed."

He nodded and watched her leave the room. His father. I was raised a Kent and I'm grateful for that, Dad, I really am. But you can't keep me safe from whatever the heck else I am anymore. Clark wasn't just his. He'd belonged to someone else, had gotten…powers from this someone else. Now, he wanted to know about this someone else, and Luthor was standing at his side, ready and able to do things Jonathan could never do.

Who are you more jealous of, Jonathan? Lex Luthor or Clark's real father?

Unable to come up with an answer, Jonathan lay by his wife's side, listened as his son came home, and waited for the alarm clock to deliver him from his misery.


Comments? Dayspring

Chapters 17-24

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