Time And Chance by Dayspring
Chapters 17-24

Chapter Seventeen

"Hey, Chloe, wait up!"

The blonde turned, grinning at him as he loped down the nearly empty Smallville High hallway. "Clark, I've been trying to catch up with you all day, but between committee meetings and cap and gown fittings, we kept missing each other. So how did the banner go over? Lex was thrilled, right?"

Clark grinned. "Yeah, he even liked it better than the helicopter his dad gave him."

"A helicopter? Get outta here!"

"Yeah, and not one of those cheap ones, either. We're talking leather seats and a wet bar."

"Get outta here! And to think I was happy because Dad let me get my bellybutton pierced for my birthday."

His eyes widened. "You didn't tell me that!"

Chloe shrugged. "A girl has to have her secrets, Clark. So, inaugural ride or what?"

"We buzzed Metropolis."

Chloe sighed longingly. "It's not fair you get all the good friends."

"Yeah, the ones with pierced bellybuttons and helicopters," he said with a smile. "So, can we go somewhere and talk?"

"Uh-oh. That's a serious face you're wearing. Am I going to need a heavy dose of caffeine for this, because if so, we can talk at the Talon--your treat," she added, her eyes flashing a laugh.

He shook his head. "No, not at the Talon. I don't want anyone to overhear what's being said--and Lana or Pete would probably interrupt us anyway."

"You're starting to scare me."

"It's nothing bad," he rushed to reassure her. "It's just…private."

Worry was still in her eyes when she nodded. "Come on. We can figure out where to go while we walk to the car. Too bad my replacement for the Torch is as bad as I am about keeping late hours."

"If a room could talk…"

"Ah, yes. The silent witness to the Miserable Teenage Life of Chloe Sullivan."

"And Clark Kent."

Chloe smiled. "Aren't you glad we're all grown up now?"

"You mean Gotham State's editing room won't get to be a witness?"

"Shut your mouth, Clark," she said with a laugh. "God, don't let my college life be like my high school one. Not that it was all bad."

"Just that some moments sucked more than others."

"Exactly." She looked up at him. "And I'm wondering if this is going to be one of those moments."

He shrugged. "I think it might be okay. But it's really going to boil down to your reaction."

"You do mysterious so well, Clark."

"Thank you." They both laughed and walked companionably to the car.

"So where are we going?" a voice sang out.

They turned around to see Pete coming up behind them. Clark groaned. Pete had been so caught up in his romance with Meg Grant all year that he could scarcely be found. But on the day he wanted a private conversation with Chloe… "Pete! Where's your much prettier half?" he called with fake cheerfulness.

"Out shopping for her Spring Formal dress, so I'm a free agent for the afternoon. So, we're headed to the Talon? Man, it seems like it's been years since it's been just the three of us. What have you two been up to lately? Saw you've taken down the Wall of Weird already, Chlo. Gonna take it to Gotham with you or put it in permanent retirement? Clark, you're on the graduation committee, right? How about fireworks over the stadium when we toss our caps? Don't you…?"

Clark looked at Chloe and shrugged as Pete got in the backseat, still talking a mile a minute. One mocha at the Talon, then he'd pull out the old "gotta do my chores" routine. That line had gotten him out of more jams than he cared to count. He was going to miss it when he was at Met U. But then again, "my parents want me home for the weekend" might work, too.

Forty-five minutes later, he and Chloe were finally alone, sitting on a couple of rocks overlooking the river where he and Lex had met. He felt it was very apropos.

"I didn't know you had a cruel streak, Clark," Chloe said, tossing a small stone into the river.

"What?" he asked, as he tried to get his words in order.

"I'm dying of curiosity here."

"Not my fault Pete chose today to bond with us."

"Your fault that we've been sitting here five minutes and you haven't said anything."

Maybe college would bring him patient friends. "I want to ask you to the Spring Formal, but I thought you should know something before you answer." Not exactly the way he planned on asking.

"What?" she prompted when he fell silent again.

Clark jumped up from his rock, too anxious to sit still. "You're one of my best friends, Chloe, and I trust you, but…"

"But this is big, and you think I might want to publish it or something? Is that how you still see me? How many times do I have to apologize about the thing with your adoption? Do you want to check my computer? Make sure I haven't been receiving any suspicious emails?"

"Stop it, Chloe. I'm worried because this isn't just about me. You could destroy someone with this information. But it would also make you the most sought after journalism student in history. I have to make sure you keep this secret."

"Then why tell me at all?" she asked in exasperation.

"Because I've hurt you in the past, and I don't want to do it again. I'm asking you to the Formal, Chloe, but it's only as friends. I'm…I'm seriously involved with someone else."

"You're what! Clark, I haven't seen you with…" She shook her head. "What does this have to do with making me a journ--It's one of Lex's heiress friends, isn't it?" Her eyes lit up. "No wonder you're always running off to Lex's. Do you meet her there? She's older, I bet. She's not--she's not married, is she, Clark? Because I know you might think she loves you, but come on, you're a really good-looking teenager and--"

"This was really a bad idea, wasn't it?" Clark mumbled sadly.

Chloe stopped her babbling. She went over to him and placed her hand on his arm. "No, it wasn't a bad idea, Clark. It's okay. Really. I appreciate you being honest with me, and you don't have to worry. I won't say a word to anyone. I just hope she's everything you think she is and that she treats you okay. I don't want you hurt. You know that, right?" They shared a quick hug. "So, tell me, does she look like Lana?"

Clark blushed, then muttered a prayer that he wasn't making the biggest mistake of his life. "No, he doesn't."

He'd read in stories where a surprised woman would plant her hand flat against her chest in shock, but he hadn't actually seen it happen till then. Just as he was worrying about how hard to pound her on her back if she didn't take a breath soon, Chloe spoke.

"You're…you're gay?" she gasped.

Clark shrugged. "I'm in love with a guy. If that makes me gay…"

Chloe shook her head, her eyes distant. "Not just a guy. You're in love with Lex!"

"He's everything to me, Chloe," Clark whispered, not denying anything.

"Oh. My. God."

"Yeah. I wonder why I thought your reaction would be any different," he said bitterly. "Tell me that he's just using me, that he's going to rip out my heart one day, that he's a Luthor and you know what they're like, son."

Chloe blinked. "Your parents know?"

"They're the only ones."

"Shit. That means you guys are serious."

"Yes, we are."

She walked around, kicking idly at rocks as she thought. "I thought it was Lana. I mean, the reason why we never…couldn't…you know what I mean."

"I thought it was Lana, too."

Chloe looked at him with sympathetic understanding. "Until you realized it wasn't."

Clark nodded. "I never meant to hurt you or mislead you or whatever, Chloe. I just--I just didn't know."

"It's okay, Clark. And really, telling me this makes it easier."

"Because you're the wrong sex?"

She laughed. "Well, yeah, and the fact that there's no way I could compete with a billionaire."

He smiled, then sobered. "You know it's not about his money, don't you?"

She rolled her eyes. "Yes, Clark. And it probably has nothing to do with him being a hottie either, right?"

Clark winked. "I don't know if I'd go that far."

"When you get over the shock of telling me, you're definitely going to have to give me the details," she said, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively. "But for now…he treats you okay?"

"This is Lex we're talking about, Chloe," Clark drawled with a grin. "The best of everything."

"Including himself?"

"Yes."

"So, if you're in a pretty intense relationship with Lex, why are you asking me to the Spring Formal? I mean, I understand why you can't go with Lex--not to mention he's sick and everything. Guess that's why you've been spending so much time with him, huh? I mean, not that you didn't spend time with him before. Between Pete's obsession with Meg and you hanging around with Lex, I was getting lonely."

Clark snorted. "Ned kept you busy."

"Maybe. But that doesn't make him less of an asshole."

"True."

"The reason behind the invitation?"

"It was Lex's idea. By the way, Lex was really touched by the card the fertilizer plant sent over. It throws him when people are nice to him for no reason."

"There was reason--he saved their jobs."

"But that was years ago."

"They like him, too. He doesn't try to--what's that word?--micro-manage them, according to Dad. He's way different than Mr. Luthor."

"When he's well, I want you to tell him that, okay? And Lex wanted me to ask you to the dance because he didn't get to go to one his senior year and doesn't want us to miss out." She didn't look like she believed him. "He just wants…he wants me to be a happy, normal high school senior, Chloe."

"Something none of us ever are," Chloe pointed out with a smirk.

"Yeah, well, Lex has delusions about normalcy."

"And he thinks it exists here in Smallville?"

Clark laughed. "He's not that delusional. He just thinks that you and I have a better chance at something resembling normal than he did. And when you look at it that way, we do."

"No Big Daddy looming over us with a whip and chair, right? I'd feel sorry for him, except for the Ferraris, Porsches, and helicopters."

"He'd probably give you all of them for a dad like yours."

"Give me a pen and show me the dotted line."

Clark gave her a look that screamed, "Liar."

Chloe opened her mouth to protest, then just shook her head. "No fair. I've only been eighteen two months. It's too soon for me to crawl out of my 'I am the center of the world' universe and embrace the 'we are the world' crowd. I shouldn't feel bad that Lex' single parent is way worse than my single parent. I deserve the rest of my teen angst!"

Clark laughed, curved his arm around her shoulders, and sang, "Chloe is a grown-up, Chloe is a grown-up." Anticipating her next move, he shifted so she didn't hurt herself when she elbowed him.

"Come on. I need to get home before Dad thinks I pulled a Mary on him."

"Mary?" He didn't think that was her mom's name, but Chloe never really talked about her.

"Yeah, it's from one of those crappy lite rock songs he sings all the time. See, in the song this boy and his mom go to live in a place called Hazzard, Nebraska. And immediately the town sees him as a freak. Then he meets this girl named Mary, and they liked to walk down by the river." She points to the river for emphasis. "One night Mary went walking alone and never came home. The town immediately blamed him and--how does the chorus go… 'I swear I left her by the river. I swear I left her safe and sound. I need to make it to the river. And leave the old Nebraska town.' So see? That's why I said 'pull a Mary.'"

Clark nodded, then smirked. "You know, for a song your dad likes, you sing it pretty good."

"Shut up, Clark. I do not listen to lite rock oldies. I do not like them. It's just that sometimes Dad, like, blasts his stereo, okay? And what? You in the mood to walk home?"

He laughed and put his hands together as in prayer. "Please, please forgive me."

"Home or to the mansion?" she asked as they got back into the car.

"Home. I have to do my chores before I get to see Lex. By the way, you never did answer my question: will you go to the Spring Formal with me?"

"Of course. And tell Lex I'll take plenty of pictures. I'll send him the digital files so he can manipulate me out of them if he wants."

Clark fastened his seatbelt and looked at her. "You okay with all of this?"

"Yeah, I am. It's kinda cool that you're trusting me like this. I promise I won't betray you."

"I'm glad we're friends, Chloe."

"Me, too."

*****

Lex slept late, a testament that maybe he had overextended himself the day before. Vi wasn't too happy, but Lex, remembering one of the best days of his life, calmly let her scold and coddle him until mid-afternoon. After obediently eating all his lunch, he was allowed to dress and go downstairs.

"Sir, your delivery from National Scientific Supplies arrived while you were indisposed," Donovan informed him.

"Why didn't you--" Lex shook his head. He was in too good of a mood to snap at his staff. They were doing their jobs. And he was sure if Donovan thought something important enough, i.e. a packet from Lionel or imminent world doom, he would have undoubtedly disturbed him. "You have the material set up?"

"Unpacked in the proper room, but I figured you'd want to oversee the layout."

Lex nodded. He looked at the clock. Damn. He didn't have much time before Clark arrived. Well, he could at least get organized. "Actually I'll do the set up myself. From this moment on, no one is allowed access to the lab. I will give you the entry code in case I--in case I have a physical difficulty while I'm there and you can't get a response from me on my cell. Even then, however, you are to get me out, seal the lab, and then call for assistance. Understood?"

"Yes, sir. Anything else?"

"The spotlights we had for the special display? I need them prepared for transport, as well as the equipment that was stored with them. Clark will be picking up the contents when he arrives."

"Yes, sir."

"And, Donovan, notify me when it's four o'clock." Enough time to check the new inventory, but not enough to get so deep that he'd have to be violently removed from the scene.

Lex knew himself well.

Lex descended to the lab he'd had outfitted with vents and gas lines the first week he'd moved to Smallville. He'd worried that if he got incredibly bored, he'd have to provide his own "entertainment" and wanted to be ready. After all, what good was a degree in biochemistry if it wasn't put to good use? But Smallville proved to have certain distractions of its own, and he hadn't had to resort to the usage of recreational pharmaceuticals. So the lab had remained unused. However, it was quite basic and didn't have the equipment he needed to do extensive blood and serum work analyses.

And now it did. So many pretty toys, he thought gleefully as he scanned the now crowded room. After so many long hours in the CEO chair, he'd forgotten just how much he enjoyed lab work, how he could lose himself in the research literally for days at a time. But his dad hadn't wanted a full-time scientist. His dad had wanted a replacement, a clone of himself, and he'd called the shots back in those days. So every science degree was mirrored by a business degree. A happy medium.

So what if he wasn't happy?

Not true, he told himself. He was happy now. Or at least he was happy until he got knocked up. Who would have thought that Smallville, scene of the worst thing that had ever happened to him, would be the starting point of his life--his life, not Lionel's, not some form of Lionel's. Ironic as hell, but somehow fitting. So, was he and the meteor shower tit for tat now? It took away his hair and gave him a kick-ass immune system. It gave him Clark and took away his sense of gender identity. Yeah, the board was even. Time to stop the game.

He tinkered with his new toys, moving the smaller items around, and making himself content with the placement of the larger pieces. They would have to stay where they were; no one was getting into the lab, not even movers. Uh-uh. Clark's secret was now his to keep and if Luthors were good at anything, it was secrets. Lionel was going to go to hell with some gigantic ones, and his son was going to do no less. Jonathan Kent might think he was a danger to Clark, but if Clark was outed, it would not be on Lex's head. After all, he had better sense than to keep a spaceship in a storm cellar.

Speaking of...he was going to have to order more equipment. Metallurgy testing material. A heavy-equipment scale. No. He'd just have to figure out how to use the one at the plant without getting caught. Maybe he'd close the place down for Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, take the surveillance cams offline, distract Security...

Chirp.

He pulled out his cell phone. "Lex Luthor."

"It is four o'clock."

"Thank you, Donovan."

He carefully secured the lab and headed back to his office. Still a couple of hours before Clark came over. He went to his computer and pulled up his dissertation. All he had left were a few last-minute revisions of the conclusion, and it would be done, clearing the way for total concentration on a much more important issue.

The final pages were printing as Clark came in. "Something for your father?" he asked as he perched on the corner of the desk.

Lex smiled, remembering the time when Clark would never have sat on the corner of a desk. Sorry for ruining him, Martha. "My dissertation. Going to have it copied, bound, and sent off to Yale."

"What happens after that?"

"I'll defend it via a teleconference, but it's really just a formality."

"You're that brilliant, huh?" Clark asked, softly teasing.

"Not really. I've just gotten into the habit of writing as if Dad were going to read it. Since he's my harshest critic, if I feel I've satisfied all his arguments, then I'm pretty sure I've covered myself well."

Clark smiled. "See? You do have a reason to thank your dad for something."

"You’re a very strange person," Lex said and stacked the pages from the printer.

"Alien, remember?"

"In more ways than one. Donovan," he called as the man approached the glass doors Clark had left ajar. "I need twenty copies of this printed, bound, and sent to Yale via overnight mail."

"Yes, sir. I was coming to tell you that everything has been secured in the back of Mr. Kent's truck."

"Thanks, Donovan, I could have done it myself," Clark said.

"It was no trouble, Mr. Kent. Will there be anything else, sir?"

"No. I'll be over at the Kents for a while."

Donovan nodded and left.

"Why won't he call me Clark? I've asked him over and over again."

"Stubborn. He calls me 'sir' because I refuse to answer to 'Mr. Luthor.'"

"Definitely a case of 'pot meeting kettle,'" Clark observed.

"You saying I'm stubborn, Clark?"

"Why, yes, I do believe that's what I'm saying, Lex."

"Since you're so aware today, I take it that you know that you, too, are a dark cooking pan," Lex said coolly.

Clark laughed. "Yeah, I know. Made of cast iron. Won't rust, dent, or crack, even under constant pressure."

"Sounds like every Kent I've ever met," Lex muttered. He placed his laptop in its padded case and started to swing it onto his shoulder, but Clark took it out of his hand. Lex just shrugged, knowing there would be bigger battles to fight in the future. "Ready to go?"

Clark followed him out of the room. "You'll be staying for dinner--orders from Saucepan Mom," he added, and Lex knew he'd heard what he'd said about the Kent family. Have to keep reminding myself my boyfriend's an alien.

"How was school today?" Lex asked as they headed toward the farm.

"I talked to Chloe. She said she'd go to the Spring Formal with me."

"Great. I'm happy for both of you."

"I also told her why I wanted her to go to the dance with me."

Lex didn't like the way that sounded, but he was willing to give Clark the benefit of the doubt. "What do you mean? That it was my suggestion?" Clark nodded, and Lex relaxed. Nothing was wrong with him making the suggestion. Sounded like something a big brother would counsel, right?

"Actually, I told her the two of us were seriously involved."

"With who?"

"Each other, Lex."

Lex closed his eyes and his fists clenched in hard, angular lines. "Please tell me you're getting ready to turn to me and say, 'Gotcha.'"

"I had to tell her, Lex. It wasn't fair not to."

Fair? Who the fu-- Lex took a deep breath. He could do this. He could stay calm. Years of having his chained yanked by Lionel had brought him to this moment. This moment where he could keep his cool, talk this out rationally… "Fair or not, do you think it was wise?" he asked, his voice even.

"Chloe has this--I'm a weak spot for her. I didn't want--I've hurt her in the past. I couldn't in all clear conscience--she deserved to know the truth."

"Was it wise?"

"Maybe not," Clark conceded. "But I didn't want to give her the wrong idea. I started to just tell her I was involved with someone and leave it at that, but then I figured that would be a challenge for her. Trust me; we didn't want her putting two and two together without us giving her our side of the story."

Trust me, he says. That's how the--Breathe, Lex. Just Breathe. It's done. Can't change it. If she talks, pay off her and whoever she told . If that doesn't work, have them all killed. See? There are always options that don't involve screaming and hurt feelings. "I wish you would have discussed this with me before you made your decision to tell her."

"I knew you would talk me out of it."

His hands stung, and he looked down to find four crescent-shaped cuts in each palm. Okay, so maybe his control wasn't perfect. And maybe childish behavior was to be expected when one was in a relationship with a seventeen-year-old. A prime of example of sleeping in the bed one made. "I won't lie and say this doesn't--worry me, but what's done is done."

A hand enveloped his. "You okay?"

Lex laughed. "I'm trying to be understanding and you think I'm sick?"

"As you might say, it's atypical behavior."

"I'm trying to be what you want, what you asked me to be."

"Maybe I asked too much."

"I thought I was supposed to be the one with the mood swings." He sighed. "I'm trying my best here, Clark."

"Hey," Clark called softly. "What I said about wanting you to be understanding--it wasn't a criticism of you, Lex. And it certainly didn't mean that you weren't supposed to get angry with me if I did something you didn't like. I knew telling Chloe would make you mad and I expected to get yelled at."

"So I have your permission to be angry? Thanks ever so much," Lex said dryly. Clark was so much like Jonathan. Why had he blinded himself to that?

"That's not what I meant!"

"Then tell me what you do mean."

"I fucked up, Lex. Telling Chloe without discussing it with you was wrong. We both know it, but you're bottling up your anger because you think that's what I want, because you think I'm like your father, that I want you to live up to my idea of perfect and if you don't then I'm going to reject you. But I'm not going to reject you, Lex, honest."

Lex closed his eyes, suddenly grateful for his father. Lionel might be a lousy human being, but at least he was consistent in his desires, and Lex always knew where he stood with him. This--this "Lex, do it this way today and that way tomorrow, unless I say otherwise" attitude took too much effort and required him to be a mind reader, which at the moment, he wasn't. Aw, fuck it! "Yes, I'm pissed that you told Chloe. You didn't think through the consequences of your actions, consequences that would affect me a lot more than you. If this gets out, you'll be poor innocent Clark Kent, and I'll be that son of a bitch Lex Luthor who seduced you. God help me, but I agree with Dad. You acted on your emotions, and that leads to nothing but trouble. And the worst thing about it is that you knew you were wrong and you did it anyway. More than being pissed, I'm disappointed, Clark."

"Oh."

Lex could hear the hurt beneath the small exclamation, and he wondered how crazy he would seem if he put his fist through the windshield. At least the pain wouldn't change its mind all the time. "I can go back to repressing my feelings, if you like," he said, willing to do anything to put an end to a conversation he hadn't wanted in the first place.

"No," Clark said slowly. "No, honesty is good. I just…I didn't mean to disappoint you, Lex. That wasn't my intention."

"What was?"

"Fuck if I know." Clark ran a hand across his face. "I just didn't want to hurt her again. I'm tired of hurting people."

So you hurt me instead. What does that say about our future, Clark?

"That's why I want you to take your best shot at me, Lex. We don't have to hide anything from each other. I know I hurt you, and I know you know how to hurt me. So just do it and then we can get back to where we should be."

Oh, I know this game. My poor boy is looking to me for chastening so he can get over the guilt of doing something he knows he shouldn't have. Been there and done that with a particular family member of mine. Learned a lot, too. He wants punishment? I can do punishment. "Don't worry, Clark. Now that I have your permission, I'll be glad to make sure you get exactly what you deserve."

"And then we'll be okay?" he asked eagerly.

Grudges were for petty men…or business rivals. "Yes, Clark, and then we'll be okay," Lex replied happily. He'd finished his dissertation, got his new lab equipment, and now had permission to punish his boyfriend. Two good days straight in a row. He'd probably pay for them in the end, but he wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

He grinned as the adage sparked the thought of a suitable response for Clark's actions.

Chapter Eighteen

His boyfriend was evil.

Oh, Clark had known Lex wasn't as pure as the driven snow--by the way, what the heck did that mean? Snow could be some of the dirtiest, yuckiest crap known to mankind, especially when you lived on a farm--but yeah, that was beside the point. Sure, Lex was his father's son at times, but he'd never been Satan's bastard toward Clark before. He'd seen hints of Lex's devilishness--and yes, there had been a time or two when it had gotten Clark all kinds of hot--but he'd never been the focus of all that intense, malevolent, diabolic, sinister wickedness before. It had been eye-opening, awe-inspiring, and, quite frankly, better than any porn he'd caught on late-night cable.

At first he'd considered the evening anticlimactic because Lex had been so laid back about his spilling the beans to Chloe. He'd expected a tantrum and had prepared himself for cold words and cold looks. But Lex had thrown him with the whole "disappointed" thing. That piece of honesty had been unexpected, allowing him to see a vulnerability in Lex that he hadn't expected Lex to show.

Although the "disappointed" thing had added to his guilt, he knew his guilt would be--what was the big word? Assuaged (had to love the SATs)--he knew his guilt would be assuaged by Lex's verbal castigation. Lex could draw blood with his words, and Clark had been ready to bleed at the feet of his beloved. But Lex continued to keep him off-balance. Lex hadn't said anything as they arrived at the farm. They had set up the lights, and Lex had pulled out big-assed calipers to make scientific, detailed measurements of the ship. They'd joked and kidded around until Jonathan came to tell them dinner was ready. Dinner had been…okay. He was sure his dad still had a stick up his butt about Lex, but his mom and Lex had carried the bulk of the conversation with skill, and Clark could see how his mom had so easily fit into Mr. Luthor's business world. Seeing Lex laughing at the dinner table made him feel guilty again about how he'd just taken away his privacy by telling Chloe about them.

That was when he discovered his beloved was a twisted, evil being.

Dinner was done and there was a big juicy apple pie for dessert. Just as he'd been handed his piece, his mom patting him on his shoulder in reply to his "you're the greatest mom ever!," Lex had casually said, "So, don't you think you should tell your parents, Clark?"

"Tell them what?" he’d asked, a forkful of pie in his hand.

"That you told Chloe about the two of us dating."

That had done it. His parents had gone, well, ballistic was a good word for it. And Lex had sat back and watched, no smirk, no triumphant gleam in his eye…just intensity. Even as his parents had droned on and on about responsibility and self-protection and media circuses, he had felt Lex's eyes on him, branding him. There wasn't anything disciplinary in the look or even reproachful. It was just Lex--looking. Yet Clark knew he would think twice before doing something behind Lex's back again. Yep. Without a single harsh word or glance from his boyfriend, he'd learned his lesson.

Sitting through Lecture #5079 with Lex staring at him had been bad enough, but just as he was about to zone out, Lex had smiled an evil, triumphant smile, and zing! Clark had been harder than he'd ever been. While his mother and father sat there, mouths repeating phrases like "think your actions through, son" and "we know you don't like keeping secrets," he'd had to contend with an erection that threatened to rip through his pants and thoughts of nailing Lex, of Lex riding him, of Lex maybe just dropping to his knees and blowing him right under the table. Lex, for his part, seemed to read Clark's mind and flicked his tongue across his top lip provocatively. Clark had wondered briefly what his parents would do if he just threw his head back, yelled Lex's name and splattered come everywhere.

Thankfully, having alien strength came in handy and he managed to not shock his parents into an early grave. They eventually decided he'd been chastised enough, and he and Lex headed back to the storm cellar. Lex, apparently not as aware as Clark had thought--or the biggest prick tease in the history of prick teasing--had proceeded to go back to his study of the spaceship. Any accidental touches or brushes were met with gentle but stern, "I'm working here, Clark."

Which was why now he was sitting on one of the steps in the storm cellar while Lex sat on the step below him, furiously entering data into his laptop.

Evil. Nothing but.

"Hey, get down here and tell me what you think."

Clark moved to the step with Lex, their shoulders knocking in the close quarters and shifted the computer to his own lap. An animated, 3-D version of the ship sat in the middle of the screen. Using the touchpad, Clark could see all its sides and dimensions. "Cool. But couldn't you just have taken digital photos and uploaded them?"

"Actual photos would suggest the ship exists. This model could be purely from my imagination."

Clark looked at him in surprise. "You're good at protecting secrets."

"Necessity is the mother of invention."

"I was wrong in not trusting you this."

"You'd been conditioned not to tell. Besides, you were right in not trusting me simply because you love me. The emotion makes you prey to a number of vulnerabilities. Someone who loved you less than I do, could have easily used this against you."

"I expected you to be mad when you found out I'd kept this from you."

"Paranoia and I are like this," Lex said, holding up crossed fingers. "I understand and respect it. I just wish your family had a stronger dose of it."

"This bothers you, doesn't it? Not exactly your idea of a safe hiding place."

Lex's eyes roamed the tiny space. "No, it's not. If I could, I'd put it in an impenetrable vault. And find its key."

Clark nodded, looked at the ship and sighed.

"What do you think about when you look at it?" Lex asked softly. "Where you came from? The journey here?"

"The reason why they got rid of me. Was I too much trouble to take care of? Was I just not wanted?"

Lex laughed and Clark glared at him. "Come on, Clark. In a society that could build a craft like that, I'm sure there were ways of getting rid of unwanted children that wouldn't involve so much time, effort, and expense. You weren't abandoned; you were placed in a ship with life support and a guidance system that brought you to Earth. There was nothing careless or wanton about it."

Clark's eyes widened. He'd never considered that. He'd thought--Damnit, why hadn't his mom and dad come up with this instead of all that bullshit about it didn't matter why he'd come to them, just that he had? It did matter. It mattered more than it should, more than he knew his parents would be comfortable with. But Lex--for the second time since he shared all his secrets with Lex, Lex had made everything all right with a simple, logical explanation. Maybe it didn't tell him why he was here, maybe he'd never know that, but now he knew it wasn't for the reasons he'd feared. All the wasted hours. All the painful doubts. All erased.

He carefully closed the laptop and laid his head on Lex's shoulder. "I love you."

The shoulder raised and lowered. "You have a geek for a boyfriend. I always knew there was something classical about you. So were you Moses, in danger from a higher power? Or maybe Oedipus, a danger to a higher power?"

"For a big believer in destiny, you seem to be fighting awfully hard against yours," Clark murmured as he snuggled closer.

"Maybe I'm not fighting against it, but for it."

"So you don't think you're destined to be your dad?"

"I used to think it. Then, I ran into you and I'm not sure anymore. I feel--I know--you are part of my destiny, but I can't reconcile that with becoming Lionel. So one of them has to be wrong, and I know which one I prefer."

"Me, too. I've seen you evil. I wouldn't want to loose that on the world."

"Are you talking about when I was under Rickman's influence? I know something happened, but I can't remember any of it, just a vague sense of unease."

Clark smiled and nipped at Lex's neck. "Actually, I was talking about tonight."

"Oh. That was just for your own good."

Clark pulled away. "Excuse me? You might almost be a parent, but you're not my parent."

"Thank God, or else we might have to move to Arkansas or someplace."

"And at the moment there are people in Arkansas cursing your name and saying if anyone knows something about incest, it would be a Luthor," Clark said laughingly. Then he remembered he was supposed to be mad. "I knew what I was doing when I told Chloe."

"And you went ahead and did it anyway."

"I trust her."

"How much?"

Clark blinked, giving himself time to think about the question. It was a good one. He'd told her about being with Lex, but he hadn't even considered telling her about being an alien. Then again, he'd told Pete about being an alien, and wasn't considering telling him about Lex until it, like, became obvious to the world or something. Was there anyone he trusted without hesitation? He thought maybe his parents, but he really had waited until he had no choice to tell them about Lex. And the same thing had happened with Lex when it came to telling him about being an alien.

It hurt to realize there was no one he trusted with everything.

"Hey, you okay?"

"Just figured out I have trust issues," he said, his voice rough with sadness.

"Good."

"Somehow I knew you would approve. But I don't like it. I should have more faith in my friends, my parents…you."

Lex shrugged. "I can't help you with this. Faith is not my forte."

Clark chuckled. "Thought you knew everything."

"Maybe that's the problem. Faith is about not knowing. 'Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.'"

A second realization: he was a fool for not having faith in Lex. Hell, Lex was his faith, was his proof of everything he'd ever dreamed of, ever wanted. He pulled back and looked into the blue eyes that stared back at him, a little curious, a little amused. Taking his hands, he cupped Lex's chin, pulled him toward him, and kissed him like he did when he was buried balls deep inside Lex, or Lex inside of him. Hot, powerful, desperate, needy. He gentled before he broke the kiss, licking the bruised lips as he withdrew into his own body. The eyes still stared, more curious, more amused, a little worried.

"Not that I'm complaining, but what brought that on?" Lex asked.

"You did. Evil Lex is a hottie." He tugged Lex's t-shirt out of his pants and rolled it upward. "I want you."

"Yeah?" Lex purred as he raised his arms.

"Yeah." Clark tugged the shirt over Lex's head.

"Can I let you in on a secret, Clark?"

"Anything." He knew Lex didn't want any marks, but he just had to taste the dark nipple jutting out so boldly. Lex wasn't growing man-boobs or anything--he was still stubbornly underweight--but his nipples seemed more sensitive, peaking at the slightest provocation. Or maybe they always had and he'd never noticed. He'd taken to mapping Lex's body lately, the changes and non-changes caused by the pregnancy.

Lex hissed as Clark's teeth scraped against him. "I've done it just about everywhere, and you and I have done it bent over the pool table and my desk and the cabinet in my bathroom and--"

"The kitchen sink and the freezer in the pantry and the hood of every one of your cars. So?" Clark stuck his tongue in Lex's navel and laughed as Lex nearly bucked off the step.

"Never done it bent over a space ship."

"Oh, fuck."

"Exactly."

*****

Martha counted to ten before she joined Jonathan outside, where he loitered with the storm cellar in constant sight. One step forward, eight steps back, she sighed.

"A beautiful night, isn't it?" she asked as she linked her arm around his. "Come join me on the front porch."

He shook his head. "It's getting late. I'm going to tell Clark that it's time to--"

"Clark knows what time it is."

"That boy knows nothing anymore."

"That's neither fair nor accurate, Jonathan."

"He told Chloe about Lex, Martha. You think he's thinking straight?"

"He was being Clark--worried that that sweet girl would misinterpret his invitation. You and I both know Chloe wouldn't accept less than the truth. I think she will keep this secret."

"And I think Luthor has messed with Clark's head so much, Clark doesn't know what he's doing."

Martha crossed her arms and took a good look at him. "I defended you."

"What?"

"Your son, the one who can't think because he's so twisted by Lex Luthor, commented that he thought you weren't trying to get along with his boyfriend. I told him no, that you were merely uncomfortable with the thought of a male pregnancy. I led him to believe he was just being paranoid. I'm not happy that I apparently was lying to Clark. We talked through this, Jonathan. You told me you didn't want to lose your son. You let me believe you could accept Lex. Did you deliberately lie to me?"

"No! But that was before Luthor did what he did to you."

She gave a bitter laugh. "So, you're trying to defend my honor by alienating our son and his family? Because that is what Lex is now--Clark's family. Did you get a good look at Lex tonight? He's showing, Jon. That bulge is not a beer belly. It's a baby--Clark's baby, our grandchild. That's a reality you're failing to grasp. Another one you're failing to grasp is that those two boys love each other."

Jonathan raked through his hair impatiently. "How can you be so sure?"

"Because I have eyes and I have ears. I see how they look at each other. I see the joy on their faces when they're together. I hear the pain in their voices when they're worried about each other. I hear the things they've done to protect each other from more pain. Lex attacked me because he was scared for Clark. Our son is a wonderful, caring man, but he lacks experience in some things, partly because of his youth and partly because of how closely we sheltered him."

"So, everything Luthor's done is our fault?"

"Don't be an ass, Jonathan," Martha snapped. "I'm trying to explain to you that your son had a meltdown in the clinic the Sunday before Lex's performance as Mr. Evil. He couldn't hold it together, and Lex panicked. He thought everything was too much for Clark, so he sought the quickest way to get Clark out of harm's way. Was he wrong to use me? Yes. Did he overreact? Yes. Was there malice in what he did? No. He was wrong, but, God knows, we've been wrong when it comes to protecting Clark, too. Point a finger at Lex, Jon, and there are three pointing back at you and me."

Jonathan shook his head. "I know Clark can be…a little high-strung. But that's no reason for Luthor to toss him aside."

"He wasn't tossing him aside; he was letting him go." She soothingly stroked her husband's arm. "That's how I know it's love, Jonathan. I think you know it is, too."

"Love doesn't conquer all."

"But it can be a strong anchor when tides of change threaten to wash you away. Our boy has been through some massive changes in the past few years. Our love might not have been enough to hold him here. Have you ever considered that? Maybe what he needed was the extra weight of Lex's love to keep him tethered and in place. Clark can do anything, Jonathan. Remember how he was under the influence of the red meteor? How he threatened to use his power for fortune and fame? Who was it that came to us, that told us where he was? Lex could have taken him to Metropolis or any city in the world. Instead, all he tried to do was to get him home."

Jonathan nodded, his eyes closing. Before he could speak, a sound caused them both to jerk their attention across the yard. Light and laughter spilled from the storm cellar as Lex and Clark emerged. Lex started toward the truck first, Clark staying behind to disconnect the lights and lock the door. Martha knew the moment Lex saw them, a slight hesitation in his usual, purposeful stride. Clark must have thought he stumbled, because he was at his side in a blurred motion, hand helpfully cupping Lex's elbow. Then he looked straight at his parents and quickly dropped his hand.

Martha thought that was the saddest thing she'd ever seen.

"Something up?" Clark asked hesitantly as they neared them.

"No, honey, just taking in the perfect spring air," Martha said, smiling at the couple. "Jonathan and I might have to follow your example and take walks together on a regular basis." She knew Clark and Lex took walks together every other evening, mainly on the Luthor grounds, but lately they had been exploring abandoned fields and quiet woods.

"I'd always appreciated the beauty of nature, but only in a scientific way," Lex said. "But now I can truly enjoy the aesthetics of it."

"You mean the boonies are growing on you?" Jonathan teased. Martha smothered the laugh created by the expressions on the boys' faces.

"Something like that, sir," Lex said with a careful smile.

"Well, drive carefully, and pleasant dreams, Lex."

"The same to you, Mr. Kent. Mrs. Kent, thank you again for a wonderful dinner."

"My pleasure. Good night, Lex."

She watched them drive away, then gave her husband a hug. "There. That didn't hurt a bit, did it?"

"You know what they say about old dogs and new tricks, Martha."

She kissed him and looked up into those beautiful baby blues she'd fallen in love with so many years ago. "Guess my dog isn't as old as he thinks. By the way, if you find yourself slipping again, there's something you need to consider."

"What's that, dear?"

"That a Luthor knows all our secrets. Do you want him for an enemy--or an ally?"

Leaving her husband contemplating the universe and other unpredictable things, Martha went to bed.

Chapter Nineteen

"Come here." Lex reached for the bowtie Clark was mangling.

Clark grinned. "Deja vu, huh?"

Lex glanced around the familiar barn loft, then returned the grin. "Except that back then I couldn't do this." He gave the bow one last tug before tugging Clark's lips against his.

"Well, actually you could have. You just didn't," Clark pointed out.

"You were fifteen and unsullied."

"And now I'm seventeen and as sullied as they come. Have I thanked you enough for that?"

"Never enough," Lex said and let Clark show his appreciation for a few minutes before pulling back with a sigh. "We keep this up and you're not getting out of here this evening."

"That's okay by me. There's a space ship just across the yard and--"

Lex put a finger against Clark's mouth, shushing him. If they started talking about what they'd done two weeks ago in the storm cellar, Clark's tux would be balled up in a corner next to jars of home-canned corn and tomatoes, and his purple warm-up would be hanging from one of the spotlights. And Clark wouldn't get to his senior dance. Which didn’t sound all that bad after Clark began sucking his finger.

"Fuck, Clark," he hissed as he tried to regain control.

"Yeah, Lex. Now."

He could do this. He really could. "No. Think of Chloe. You don't want to hurt her."

That did it. Clark was on the other side of the room in a flash. "You're too hot, Lex."

"Me? I'm not the one prancing around in an Armani tux looking good enough to be the star attraction at a Greco-roman orgy."

"They had star attractions? I thought they just all stripped and got down to business."

"They were social events, Clark, elaborately planned and staged. And no, we are not going to have a discussion about orgies while you are getting ready for your date with Chloe," he added quickly. The deviousness of the seventeen-year-old knew no bounds apparently. "Now come here and let me straighten that bow for you. No, stay back. No body parts will touch."

"Then I'm going to have to stand real far back, Lex. You're bigger, aren't you?" Clark questioned softly.

"A consequence of the condition, Clark." In the blink of an eye he was on the sofa, his feet up and an afghan spread across him. "What the--"

"You're bigger than you were yesterday. That means you had a rough night. Why did you come over here? You should be in bed," Clark accused.

"I came because I said I would. Yes, I had a restless night, but I'm fine now. If it makes you feel any better, Vi checked me over before I left the mansion."

"Boys, everything okay up here?" Martha called before climbing the stairs. She stopped when she saw Lex on the sofa. "Lex, honey, what's wrong?"

"Nothing. Your son's a moth--is being overprotective." Maybe a mother wouldn't appreciate a mother hen reference.

"He was sick last night. He should've stayed home," Clark countered.

"I'm fine, and it's the middle of May--I don't need a blanket," Lex replied, flinging off the afghan.

"Mom," Clark whined.

Martha knelt beside the sofa and brushed a hand across Lex's forehead. "You don't feel too warm."

"Well considering what we were just doing, he should be," Clark announced.

"Clark!" Lex and Martha both exclaimed. Clark just glared at them both.

Martha, always the diplomat, backed down first. "In that case, maybe Clark has a point, Lex. Is it your blood pressure again?"

"I admit last night was--uncomfortable, but I'm fine now. I didn't get up until after eleven, and Vi didn't let me do anything more strenuous than read a magazine."

She patted his hand and looked at her son. "It sounds as if he's being very sensible, Clark. You just go and have a good time tonight. Lex will be fine."

"You'll take care of him for me?"

Lex was proud of himself for not screaming. "Clark, the limo is going to take you to pick up Chloe, and your mother is going to drive me back to the mansion. I'm sure I'll survive such a daunting evening."

"You'll stay a while here, right?"

"I'm sure your mother and father can find plenty of things to do far more enjoyable than entertaining me."

"I have an apple pie made fresh this afternoon, Lex. I was hoping you'd stay and share a piece with me," Martha said.

"That's good, Mom, because the doctors say Lex is underweight."

"Yeah, right," Lex scoffed, touching his belly.

"All baby, no fat."

Lex wondered why he thought having Clark accompany him to his Sunday examinations was a good idea. "Clark, I have breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, dinner, and a before-bed snack. I can't--"

"And now you're going to have pie with my parents," Clark ordered. "Please?"

Lex was ready to throw a tantrum at the order, then crumbled at the plaintive "please." Cock-whipped. That was the only explanation he could deduce. "Fine. I'll make sure to eat a piece of pie before I leave."

In deference to Martha's presence, Clark merely squeezed his arm, but Lex knew it would have been a kiss in better circumstances. "Guess I'm ready to go pick up Chloe," he said, taking one last look in the mirror.

"Oh, let me get the corsage for you from the refrigerator," Martha said and headed down the steps.

"You sure this is okay?" Clark asked as soon as his mother left.

"You look fine, Clark."

"No. I mean the whole going out with Chloe thing."

"It was my idea."

"That doesn't tell me how you feel."

Lex gave Clark his full regard. "It doesn't bother me. I know Chloe's your friend, and I know I'm something--more."

Clark grinned. "That's exactly how I feel, too. I'll be going out with her, but I'll be coming home to you."

Because tomorrow was Sunday and Clark would be going to Metropolis with Lex anyway, it had been decided that Clark would just take the limo back to the mansion. "And because of that, you know you can stay out as late as you want, right? Hit any and all the after-parties, whatever. Donovan is very good at getting the 'overindulged' into bed."

"Why would I want to be out late with Chloe when I can be with you?"

Lex chuckled and shook his head. "It doesn't matter how early you come back, I'll more than likely be asleep, Clark. Why sit there and watch me drool in my sleep when you can be out having fun with your friends?"

"I think you're cute when you drool."

"I was being facetious; I don't drool."

"Well, then, your mouth leaks."

"My mouth doesn't--" Lex stopped and took a deep breath. "Go pick up Chloe, enjoy the Spring Formal, and party with your friends, Clark. I won't feel neglected or jealous."

"Not even a little?"

There was wistfulness in the question. "Maybe a little," Lex assured him. "However, I'm a Luthor and we don't indulge in petty emotions."

"Yeah, right," Clark scoffed happily. "Walk me to the car?"

Lex nodded and was surprised when Clark took his hand. It was sweetly romantic, but they had agreed to not appear too romantic in front of his parents. Martha met them in the yard, handing Clark the corsage he'd bought for Chloe on his way home from school. Jonathan stood close to the house, looking proudly at his son and ignoring his son's companion. Lex decided two could play that game and ignored Jonathan as he gave Clark's hand a final squeeze.

"Have fun, sweetheart," Martha said, tugging her son down for a kiss. "Tell Chloe I want pictures."

"Sure, Mom. Take care of Lex for me."

"I will."

Lex started to roll his eyes, but stopped as Clark's bright hazel gaze swept over him. For just a moment he let his love for Clark shine freely in his eyes, and Clark got into the limo with a smile. Geoffrey closed the door, touched the tip of his cap toward his boss, and got behind the wheel.

"Ready for that pie, Lex?"

"It's not necessary, Martha. Just a lift back to the mansion. I would have had the limo drop me off, but quite frankly, I didn't trust Clark to continue on to the dance alone."

"He wouldn't have hurt Chloe by not showing up," Martha chided, defending her son.

"No, but he could have had me waiting in the limo while he picked her up."

Martha grimaced. "That might even be worse."

"Exactly. It wouldn't have been my choice, but you have a very stubborn son."

"You're preaching to the choir, Lex. Come on. I even have a pot of decaf waiting."

"I'm really not underweight. I'm just not at what the medical community deems the ideal weight for a typical pregnancy, which, of course, this isn't," Lex explained. Clark had laid a guilt trip on his mother.

"I think I want a scoop of ice cream on my pie. How about you?" Martha asked, walking into the house and holding the screen door open patiently behind her.

Lex sighed and followed her inside. He spotted Jonathan flopping down comfortably in a chair in the living room, and briefly wondered if the man thought they were going to get into a slapping match again. "Can I help with anything?"

"You can pour the coffee. Honey," she called out to the living room, "are you going to join us?"

"I'm good, Martha."

She put two mugs in front of Lex, and he picked up the carafe and filled them. He waited until she placed the pieces of pie and carton of ice cream on the table before taking his seat. "This really isn't necessary," he tried again.

"My company is that objectionable, Lex?"

"Of course not. I just don't want to impose."

"You're not imposing. It's nice getting to know the person my son loves. And, you know, you don't have to admit how underweight you are. I can tell."

Lex sipped his coffee. "It's not deliberate. This body just wasn't built to handle two alien entities."

"Two? Clark didn't say anything about twi--"

Lex threw up his hand. "Take it easy. I'm not talking about twins. I'm talking about the fetus and me."

"You're not an alien in your own body, Lex."

"True, but this isn't my body. It aches in places my old body didn't have. Its organs are shifted into different places. It doesn't respond to commands properly nor does it have the stamina of my old one."

Martha laughed. "You didn't get a new body, Lex. There's just been some changes made to the old one."

"I would agree, if it had not happened before."

"You've changed bodies before?"

He readily accepted her skepticism. A number of psychologists had also eschewed his belief. "Clark says you and your husband were instrumental in getting me to medical care after the meteor storm. A belated thank you for that, by the way. I shudder to think about what would have happened if you had not come along."

"You're welcome, dear. But we didn't do anything that anybody else wouldn't have done."

"Apparently you've been away from Metropolis too long. Anyway, the person who accompanied my father on that misfortunate trip to Smallville was a pudgy nine-year-old asthmatic redhead. I'm sure that that was more or less the child you hastened to the hospital later that day."

"More or less."

"But that was not the same child who checked out of the hospital in Metropolis two weeks later. I was seventeen pounds lighter, four inches taller, suffered from no illnesses, and was completely hairless."

"Your eyebrows…"

"Implanted, along with my eyelashes. The plastic surgeon said I needed them to protect my eyes."

"So you could have--"

"Yes, I could have had scalp implants, but as the gods had deemed me worthy of a new body, I didn't want to offend them." Lex smiled. "I think my father was rather perturbed that all his reliance on teaching me by historical and mythological example was used thusly, but he had challenged me to make my own decision and my mother forced him to keep his word."

"Do you ever regret it?"

"No. As Lionel Luthor's son I would have stood out no matter what. Being bald just adds a touch of…mystique to the sinister truth of who I am." Lex thought he heard a snort from the vicinity of the living room but didn't comment. "But the point I'm trying to make is that I know what a new body feels like. When I was released from the hospital, I could barely walk because I didn't know how to properly move longer legs. I bumped into things because my arms swung differently than before. I was as alien to that body as Clark is to this planet, and I have once again been implanted into a new host."

He smiled sadly as Martha's slightly shocked look. "Go ahead and say it. I've heard it said in more ways and more languages than you can imagine."

"And what's that?" Martha asked softly.

"'That Luthor boy is strange.' And you see, this is why when I'm in my usual body and my hormone levels are not in constant flux, I keep to myself. Aloof is what they call it." Lex was glad to have the excuse of fluctuating hormones to explain his inexplicable desire to bare his soul to Martha…and the listening Jonathan. You're just a born sadist, Alexander.

"I don't think you're strange, Lex. And although you're embarrassed, you understand how necessary it is to talk about things like this, to discuss your feelings. I think that's very--enlightened for someone of your sex," Martha said with a mood-lightening smile.

"Considering my condition, I think that's a very questionable point," Lex said, allowing his amusement to show through. "And speaking of my condition, I have a very strict pre-bed regiment, and if I don't adhere to it, I face the wrath of both Clark and Vi. So if it's not too inconvenient…"

Martha smiled. "I'll get my car keys. Jonathan, I'm leaving to take Lex home now," she called.

"Drive careful, honey."

"Good night, Mr. Kent."

"Good night, Lex. Take care of yourself."

Lex nodded, wondering at the small changes in Jonathan Kent that he'd noticed in the past few weeks. As far as he knew, the man was still just playing at being civil to him. But maybe…

He followed his hostess out, wearing a bemused smile.

*****

"I definitely have to get me one of these," Chloe said as she squirmed on the leather seat.

Clark, still blinking from the flashes of the thousand pictures Chloe's dad had taken of them, smiled in what he hoped was the right direction. "A limo?"

"A rich boyfriend."

Clark laughed. "When Lex is better, I'll have him hook you up." He looked closely at her. "You still okay about all this?"

She casually adjusted the corsage around her wrist. "Yeah, it's cool. This whole thing has really convinced me that we don't have a chance. I mean, I knew we didn't before, but I really, really know now. It's like, coming in second to Lex Luthor is totally acceptable to my ego, whereas coming in second to Lana wasn't. And the more I think about it, the more I get the two of you together. Perfect opposites, but not really."

Clark nodded. Chloe did understand. "Lex said for us to have fun tonight, so if you want to hit any of the after-parties or anything, just let me know. Oh, Talbots for dinner?"

Chloe grinned. "Considering it's the only decent restaurant open late enough around here without having to actually drive all the way to Metropolis, Talbots is fine. Just be prepared to wait; it gets crowded fast."

"That's okay; Lex made reservations for us."

"Talbots doesn't take reservations, Clark. You have to go there and get one of those lighted-up thingies and wait until a table's cleared."

Clark shrugged and smiled mysteriously.

The smile remained in place hours later when the limo pulled up in front of the restaurant. Kids were in various poses in the parking lot as they waited for tables, and no one noticed much as four couples spilled from the limo.

Pete looked around disgustedly. "We're gonna be here all night, man. Should have asked your mom to stash us some cookies in that big ass car."

Clark rolled his eyes and told his friends to follow him. Although he felt funny about it, he had his orders, and made his way past his fellow schoolmates. "Reservations for eight," he said confidently.

"We don't--" a harried hostess began.

"The name is Kent," he interrupted.

The man beside her, handing out the electronic pagers, beamed in their direction. "Bob Lundford, manager, Mr. Kent. Your table is ready. Right this way, sir."

Clark smiled at Chloe.

She took his arm and grinned evilly at the students around them. "Oh, yeah," she said softly to Clark, "I definitely have to get me one."

"Anyone but mine," Clark whispered back.

It was after four by the time Clark let himself in into the mansion, making sure to re-engage the security system behind him. The mansion was dimly lit but no one was in sight. Lex had said Donovan was good at putting the unsteady to bed. He wondered if Geoffrey had called Donovan and reported, "Mr. Kent is currently sober and in no need of assistance."

He ran up the stairs, and ignoring the room he was supposed to be using, slipped into Lex's room. Lex was sleeping on his side, swallowed up in an over-sized t-shirt that was loose in the shoulders and stretched over his belly. Clark adjusted his eyes and looked through Lex and at the small skeleton residing inside him. Their baby. He'd overheard one of the couples at the dance talking about having to go home because her mother wasn't going to babysit all night, and immediately he'd thought about how that could be him next year. Finding babysitters. Putting an infant seat in the truck. It was so unreal.

Yet, it was real. The evidence was right in front of him. Before he realized what he was doing, he knelt beside the bed and tugged the covers back from Lex. He rolled up the t-shirt and with a trembling hand, touched the protruding stomach. Noticing a change in Lex's breathing, he looked up and straight into eyes that were fully open and alert.

"I--I just needed…" he stuttered, blindly seeking an explanation for the unexplainable.

"Come to bed."

Clark nodded and stripped to his boxers, carefully draping the tux over the back of a chair. He went to the bathroom and took care of business before returning to the bedroom. He saw quickly that Lex had thrown back the covers and removed the t-shirt. The pale, distended belly was exposed with only the arrogance Lex could pull off and Clark reverently kissed the mound before wrapping himself around Lex and pulling the covers over both of them.

They both drifted to sleep, Clark gently cupping his child and his lover.

Chapter Twenty

"How was school today?"

Clark looked at his mother and politely swallowed the mouthful of food he had before answering. "Good. I’m still getting teased about slumming when I ride the bus home, but that’s cool." He watched his father frown, but it couldn’t get him down. The stunt at the restaurant had done more for his reputation than if he’d banged the entire senior class. "Oh, and we got our graduation invitations back."

"Clark Kent, I should have been told that first," Martha scolded. "We have to get them addressed and mailed out."

Clark rolled his eyes. Sure, send them out to all the relatives he’d either never met or regretted meeting the first time, just so he could show them the adopted child wasn’t an idiot. But some of them might send gifts out of courtesy. "Sorry, Mom. I’ll give them to you before I leave for Lex’s."

"Just leave them on the kitchen table, Clark. I’m working the rummage sale for a couple of hours this evening. I’ll get started on them when I get home."

"Do you want me to drop you off? You can call when you’re ready to come home," Clark offered.

"Thanks, sweetheart. I was going to ask your father to drop me off--I don’t like leaving him here without the car or the truck. But if you’re willing to drive me into town, then I’ll just call Jonathan to pick me up. That okay?" Jonathan nodded.

"You don’t have to bother Dad," Clark said. He knew his parents were being generous letting him have the truck every night.

"And how will Lex get to bed without you tucking him in?" Martha teased. She reached out and squeezed his hand. "It’s an important ritual to both you and Lex. I think with all the changes going on in your lives, you need things like that to keep you focused on what’s important--and that’s the two, no, the three of you."

Clark gave her a grateful smile. She was bound and determined to make this seem as normal as possible, giving the same advice she’d probably have given if he’d gotten Chloe or Lana pregnant. "Don’t worry, Mom. Me and Lex, we’re doing okay. Well, we will be since he can finally leave the mansion. If rain kept him inside one more day, one of us was going to strangle the other."

"Guess it’s hard for someone as active as Lex to be housebound," Jonathan said, startling him. "It’s good you two can get out and walk around."

Clark tried to find a hidden snipe and couldn’t. "Yeah, sometimes we talk, and sometimes we just walk, you know?"

Jonathan nodded. "Your mother’s right; there’s no need for you to cut your evening short. I’ll pick her up and maybe we’ll stop by the Talon for coffee."

"That’s sounds nice, Jonathan."

Clark looked at his parents and grinned. His parents were going to have a coffee date while he put his boyfriend to bed. Could a seventeen-year-old’s life get any more bizarre? Well, maybe if he was an alien and his boyfriend was pregnant and--

"You need me to carry anything, Mom?"

"I made muffins for the workers to snack on."

He loaded the muffins and his mother, then drove to Smallville Holy Covenant Church, where the sale was being held. The actual location of the shelter was, of course, a secret. Didn’t want husbands, boyfriends, and other assorted villains knowing where to find their victims. He sort of wished the villains had a hideout, too. Then one good shot with his laser vision, or whatever the hell it was, and poof, no need for a women’s shelter.

"You can let me out over there, where the white Chevette is parked," Martha directed. "Oh, and tell Lex I said thanks."

"For?" he asked as he set the parking brake and lifted the basket of muffins.

"The shelter received a rather large anonymous donation last week."

"You think Lex gave it?"

"Who else rich loves Smallville?"

Clark grinned. It was true, wasn’t it? Against all odds, Smallville had become home to Lex, and home was somewhere you loved. It was good to know, with all the uncertainty that surrounded them, they shared Smallville--no matter what.

That thought had him in a good mood even before Lex pounced on him eagerly as he walked into the mansion.

"About time you got here. Where are we walking today? Is there a breeze? I checked the Weather Channel, but I don’t trust it. They use the same weather anchors, trying to fool you into believing a familiar face, but I’m not falling for it."

Clark laughed. "Someone sounds a little hyper to get outside. You know, I was thinking we should wait until tomorrow. It’s very muddy and--"

"Ahead of you, as usual, Clark," Lex chortled and lifted a pants leg to reveal--Timberland boots!

"You’re wearing--" Clark stopped, too thrown to continue. Lex was in work boots--expensive work boots, but work boots none the less. Not hikers or chukkas--those boots that only came up to the ankle, which all the "in" guys at school wore, but high-laced work boots. "How?"

"The internet, of course. Had to fax them a drawing of my foot, though. Couldn’t figure out their sizing notations. And guess what? They asked if I would do an endorsement of their product. Might be worth it just to see Dad’s expression," Lex added with a sly grin.

"Wow," Clark finally managed to say. "What next? Overalls?"

Lex shuddered. "Maybe we better get out of here before you’re struck down by divine lightning."

"Me? You’re the one wearing shoes that cost less than $500.00."

Lex frowned. "You don’t think they’ll make my feet fall off or something…do you? I just wanted--I was trying to be practical."

Clark threw his arm around Lex’s shoulder. "Your feet will be fine--dry and warm, with less chance of you slipping. It was a very practical and wise fashion choice."

Lex rolled his eyes. "Don’t worry; I think it’s a hormonal thing. As soon as I’m back to myself, nothing less than custom-designed Italian leather."

Clark swiped his hand across his forehead in exaggerated relief. "I was starting to worry."

"Brat. Just for that I don’t think I’m going to tell you my news, the real reason why I’m so excited to see you."

"You mean you need a reason to be excited to see me?" he teased.

"Guess it’ll be a silent walk today," Lex said as he strutted to the truck.

"Leexx," Clark whined as he slid in behind the wheel.

Lex ignored him for a few minutes, then casually asked, "Where’re we going today?"

"McGinnis Woods. No one goes there anymore, not since a group of football players started a fire there four or five years ago. One of them died, and well…"

"You’re such a romantic," Lex deadpanned.

"And you’re full of it if you think you’re not going to tell me what has you so excited."

Lex smiled. "Clark, honey, I don’t know how to tell you this, but--you’re going to be a mother. Road, Clark!" he yelled as the truck drifted.

"I’m not--" Clark began as he steered back onto the blacktop.

"No, I am. But the egg came from you."

"I don’t understand."

"I didn’t either. But I finally finished the analysis of your semen today. Your seminal fluid contains both sperm and ova. My working theory is that it wasn’t the actual copulation that impregnated me. Rather, it was the tearing of my anal tissues. Your semen mingled with my blood. An ovum found the conditions favorable, traveled along my circulatory system until it found an implantation spot and now, I look like I swallowed a watermelon. What I’m curious about is what effect, if any, did my exposure to the meteors have to do with it. Are the mutations responsible for my compatibility with your ova? Would a blood-semen exchange between you and any of the meteor mutants result in a pregnancy? And, of course, still left to ponder is my part in the conception. Did my blood fertilize the egg or was it your own sperm? I know the amount of speculation and conjecture is too high, but I just had to share," Lex said, looking shyly at Clark. "I lost you, didn’t I?"

Clark nodded. "Way back at the analysis of my semen. What analysis?"

"Oh, I set up a lab in the mansion several weeks ago."

"And the sample?"

Lex snorted. "Not hard to get. I just collected one of the condoms you used."

Clark was still. "You didn’t tell me."

Lex shrugged. "No reason to. Not until I got results."

"You stole my semen and you didn’t think I should know about it?"

"Stole? God, Clark, all I really had to do was swab my mouth or my ass. Just wanted to reduce the amount of contaminants. What’s the big deal about swiping one of the condoms?"

"The condom isn’t the issue, Lex. You--you experimented on me!"

"What the fu--" Lex turned his head to stare out the window, his finger tapping furiously on his knee. "I don’t fucking believe this!" he snarled.

"That makes two of us!" Clark was beyond mad. How dare Lex use him like that! God, was his dad right? Had he made the biggest mistake of his life by telling Lex that he was an alien? What was Lex going to do next? Strap him to a lab table embedded with green meteor rock?

"Stop the fucking truck!" Lex fumbled with the seatbelt latch.

"Don’t be an idiot!" Clark reached down and yanked Lex’s hand away. "You know what it feels like to fall out of a moving vehicle," he reminded him.

"A hell of a lot better than sitting here taking this shit from you!"

"Shit? You’re the one who’s dishing the shit. God, Lex, what you want to do? Fucking cut me open? Go ahead! You couldn’t hurt me any worse than you already have."

"What the fuck did I do, except exactly what you asked me to!"

"I asked you to perform a fucking alien autopsy?"

"You asked me to fucking live."

Clark stopped the truck abruptly, his hand flying out to keep Lex from getting bruised by the seatbelt. "What?"

"What did I tell you?" Lex hissed. "From the beginning, I told you the only chance I had of getting through this shit alive was knowledge. I know you think that I have some kind of strange mutant powers that won’t let me die, and maybe I do--but I sure as hell wouldn’t be doing either of us any favors if I relied totally on that. So I set up my own personal lab, and I perform test after test after test, hoping beyond hope that I’m not missing something vital because I’m really not qualified as a xenobiologist, but since I promised to protect your secret, I have no choice but to do the work myself. So I analyze samples of you. I analyze samples of myself. And sometimes I get dizzy and I drop slides, or I fall asleep during a timed experiment, and I have to start all over again. But I persevere because you want me to live, you begged me to live. Today, I make progress. Nothing particularly helpful, but at least it’s something. I’m almost skipping around the mansion because I can’t wait to share the news with you. And what happens when I do? You turn on me like a goddamned pitbull."

"Lex, I--" Clark began, his initial rush of anger long gone. He felt like a piece of shit, but-- "I was hurt, okay? I thought--"

"You thought what? That your amoral, ethically-deficient boyfriend had screwed you over at last? Been waiting for it, haven’t you?"

"No. Lex--"

"Save it. I don’t want to hear, okay?" Lex got out of the truck, then turned toward the open window. "You know, I actually believed you when you said you loved me. The more fool am I."

"Lex!" Clark superspeeded out of the truck and stepped in front of Lex as he moved toward the woods. "I do love you."

Lex shook his head and looked squarely at Clark, his eyes both shiny and dull. "If you loved me, there would have been some hesitation, at least a five-minute window of doubt. But there wasn’t, Clark. You immediately thought the worst. That’s not love. That’s not even friendship."

"Lex, please…"

"Please what? Whatever you’re asking for, I don’t have it to give. Even we Luthors have our limits." He turned back toward the truck. "I think I’d like to go home now."

"No!" Clark yelled desperately. Things were happening too fast and going way out of control. Maybe if he could just slow it down, he could figure out what had gone wrong. "No," he said softer. "You--you’ve been stuck in the house for days. We shouldn’t let an argument run you back inside."

Lex shook his head. "You think this is just an argument?"

"I don’t know what this is, Lex. All I know is that I don’t want it. I was wrong, okay? I should have had more faith in you, but you know how conditioning works and Dad’s had years more time with me than you. And you’re the one who accused me of reacting and not thinking. It’s what I do, remember? I’m seventeen. You’re supposed to forgive me for being stupid, and insensitive, and fucking up because you’re the most important person in my life, and I sometimes act like I don’t know that, but I do, Lex. I really, really do. So, we’ll just walk for a while, and you’ll realize that your heart is big enough to forgive me, and I’ll figure out that I have shit for brains and learn to think instead of react." Clark didn’t realize he was crying until Lex wiped away a tear with a gentle touch.

"Okay," Lex agreed. "We’ll walk for a while."

Clark nodded and was relieved when Lex didn’t seem to mind entwining their hands.

He wasn’t sure which he noticed first--the pain or the sensation of falling. But what he noticed last was the darkness overcoming him.

*****

Lex regained consciousness only because of the pain. It was sharp, intense, and refused to let him continue in oblivion. Labor, he thought as coherency returned. Labor or vivisection. Or maybe it was just his internal organs trying to trade places with his external ones. Sure, his intestines were longer than his dick, but they weren’t something he wanted showing.

In appreciation of his humor, his insides did a maneuver that had him huddled in a fetal ball and whimpering.

This wasn’t good, he thought as the whimpers eased to mere moans. If he was in labor, where were the drugs? And more importantly, where was Clark? What good was having an invulnerable alien around if you couldn’t squeeze his unbreakable hand? "Clark?" he whispered. Nothing. The room remained dark.

Probably because your eyes are closed, he told himself. He forced them open. Nothing changed. Not in the hospital. Not in the mansion. Unless they’d exchanged his bed for a stone altar. And God, wasn’t that a horrifying thought for a sci-fan fan? Issue 23 of Warrior Angel, wasn’t it? Warrior Angel had been dragged through a wormhole and sent back in time to an era of superstition and ritual sacrifice. For some reason his invulnerability had been decreased and the people had staked him to a rock and… He risked taking a deep breath so he could laugh at his too active imagination.

The extra oxygen cleared his brain a little. Where the hell was he? Lex blinked, trying to remember. He and Clark had been walking. He was mad at Clark because…because Clark didn’t love him, not really. That thought brought a hurt that went beyond the physical, and Lex quickly skipped over it. They were walking and… The ground. The ground had opened up beneath them. A sinkhole?

Another serpentine pang gripped his middle and he gasped through the burn of it. The fall must have damaged the baby. Another thought he didn’t want to face. Where was Clark? Why hadn’t he saved him like usual? And why wasn’t he here? He wouldn’t--no, and that was exactly what he’d meant about loving someone. The utter idea that Clark had just left him here in this literal hellhole was ludicrous. How Clark had considered him capable of going all "alien autopsy" on him…that should have been ludicrous, too. No, Clark didn’t love him. He just thought he loved him because they’d had sex. Clark was just confusing the two like the virgin he’d been before he’d been seduced by a Luthor.

And why was he channeling Jonathan Kent all of a sudden? Probably another concussion, he concluded. He opened his eyes again to see if he was blind, concussed, or somewhere in between. This time he saw more than darkness. He could make out light far in the distance above him. Ah, the hole that he’d fallen through. But it made no sense that Clark hadn’t gotten him out yet. Hero-Boy always… Something glittered in his peripheral vision. An emerald? No. Emeralds didn’t glow. What the--

Meteor rock.

Panicking, he rolled over to his knees. "Clark?" Clark couldn’t be around the meteor rock. And neither, he thought, as he curled over so far that the top of his head scraped the rocky ground, could Clark’s baby. Not labor. Not cramps. The baby was being tortured by the green rocks.

He managed to sit back on his heels, sweeping the cavern for Clark’s form and hoping he didn’t find it. But life was enjoying her game too much to quit, so his eyes soon rested on an unmoving dark lump on the other side of the "skylight." Alternately moaning and swearing, he crawled over the rocky soil, calling out constantly to Clark. No reaction. His calls turned to a soft "oh, please, oh, please, oh, please." He tried to hurry, but the closer he got to Clark, the more intense the pain got in his abdomen.

"Come on, baby," he rasped, cupping his taut stomach. "We have to check on Mommy." Baby didn’t agree. Baby had Daddy breaking out in sweat and clawing the dirt so deeply that fingernails were torn and shredded to the quick.

With an arm that quivered as it inched along the ground, Lex managed to grab a handful of Clark’s shirt and pull himself the rest of the way to his lover’s side. The baby’s movements became frantic and between waves of pain, he could feel tiny hands and feet kicking and beating and squirming inside him. A punch in the direction of his stomach had him throwing up the healthy dinner Vi had fed him. Tears stung his eyes as he hovered over his vomit. Rolling away from the mess, he got to his knees. Calling Clark’s name, he stroked the dark hair and despite a ripping pain that he knew couldn’t be good, he managed to turn Clark over. Immediately, a nuclear bomb exploded in his abdomen and Lex passed out.

Minutes later, he struggled toward consciousness and hovered over Clark again. Next to the teen, what his body had been hiding, was a huge chunk of pulsating meteorite. Lex looked from the rock to Clark, Clark who looked oddly green and had rigid, protruding veins all over the parts of his body Lex could see. Forcing himself to stand on wobbly legs, Lex grabbed Clark’s arms and started pulling. Clark moved an inch before Lex’s legs gave out and he fell. Biting his lip, he got to his feet and pulled again. Another inch, another fall. Only distance mattered; not the acrid taste of his own blood, nor the feel of ripping skin as the ordinary rock gouged his knees and shins, nor the sound of his own rasping breath echoing in his brain.

His eyesight nearly gone due to the burning sweat of his exertions, it took him a second to realize something had changed. The pulsating light of the huge chunk of meteor rock was now just the dull glow of banked charcoal. Babbling his relief, he fell to his knees one last time and checked Clark for any signs of life.

Nothing.

He tilted Clark's head back and started CPR. He lost count of how many breaths he'd shared, how many compressions he'd given out. But he knew it had been too many when dizziness and weakness had him collapsing beside Clark--who hadn't moved, hadn't breathed, but had grown nearly icy to the touch.

There was nothing to indicate life inside Clark.

Just like there was nothing to indicate life inside himself.

Both.

He’d lost them both.

Lex couldn’t remember ever sobbing. He’d probably done so as an infant. But by the time he was old enough to have memories, he could only remember tears spilling ever so often. With the asthma, a tantrum wasn’t a good idea, and besides, his dad told him crying wasn’t allowed. And although the asthma was gone by the time Julian died, he’d spent his grief by shedding a few tears into Julian’s stuffed rabbit.

He hadn’t even done that at his mother’s death.

So he was somewhat startled when the long wail erupted from his throat, and he watched in fascination as Clark’s shirt darkened as it absorbed teardrop after teardrop until the deluge blinded him. He sagged onto Clark, his hand burrowing beneath the t-shirt to stroke the once familiar skin. But instead of the warm satin steel he was used to, he felt clammy rubber, the same that he felt beneath his lips as he pressed against Clark’s.

Then he was feeling nothing as his grief overwhelmed him.

Chapter Twenty-One

Jonathan hummed as he cut a slice of pie and reached into the refrigerator for a beer. Stopping to think for a second, he put the beer back and grabbed the milk instead. Who knew what time Martha might call? Better to be safe than sorry. Besides, the pie and milk went really well together.

He settled into a chair and picked up the remote. Ah, basketball playoffs. What were the Bulls going to do this year? Had to be better than last year, he thought with a satisfied chuckle as his fork cut into the pie.

At halftime, he washed his glass and the saucer, went back to his chair, and fell asleep through the color commentary.

*****

Lex woke with a jerk. Rubbing gritty eyes to get them open, he realized he was lying slightly on top of Clark, the position they inevitably ended up in bed. No wonder he’d been sleeping so soundly, listening to Clark’s heartbeat beneath his ear.

Heartbeat?

Lex sat up so quickly his head swam. Cautiously, he placed his hand on Clark’s chest. There was a thumping, along with a rise and fall. Clark was alive! He must have gotten Clark far enough away from the big chunk of meteorite that his alien constitution had restarted itself.

"Clark?" he called anxiously. He patted the high cheeks. They were warm and firm, but Clark remained non-responsive.

Help. They needed help. "Don’t worry, Clark. I’ll get you help. I promised to take care of you, and I will. Just hold on a little longer, okay?" He unzipped a jacket pocket and held his breath until the cell phone appeared undamaged. He gave a triumphant hiss as it lit up, but frowned when the signal bar remained at one tick mark.

"Come on, come on," he muttered. "Back in a sec, babe." He started toward the hole they’d fallen through, but a huge, body-wide cramp seized through him, and he had to stop, panting through the pain until it eased. "I'm okay," he called out. "It's just been a long time since I slept in a damp cave. At least this time I have on clothes. Long story. Remind me to tell it to you one day." He took several deep breaths and resumed his journey on his hands and knees.

Underneath the opening he could only see because of a nearly full moon, he tried the phone again. One tick mark became two, three, and stopped. Not great, but-- He winced as a streak of pain tore through his head like a lightning bolt. Shit. What an abso-fucking-lutely wrong time for a migraine.

Rapidly blinking to clear up now blurred vision, Lex pressed the appropriate numbers with muck-covered fingers and waited.

*****

The ringing phone woke him and as he got up to answer it, Jonathan realized he’d missed the entire third quarter. Getting old, Kent.

"Kent Farms." He waited patiently to hear his wife’s voice, but all he got was crackling static. Had to be a cell phone. "Sorry, friend. I’m having trouble hearing you. Why don’t you call back from a land line or something?" He started to replace the receiver, but thought he heard a voice. "Come again?...Luthor, is that you?"

He could only understand every fourth word or so, but he could grab the basics. Green meteor rock. Sinkhole. Clark hurt. "Where are you?...I’m on my way. Take care of Clark."

Jonathan went out to the barn. He needed rope. Okay. Flashlights? Okay. A sinkhole. Mud. Water. Clark would need to be rinsed off. He looked at the barrel of rainwater sitting outside the barn door waiting for Martha's late spring garden. If only he had the truck. Shaking his head at useless wishes, he sealed the barrel and wrestled it into the back of the car. With the front seat pushed all the way forward, it fit--barely. Returning to the house he grabbed Clark a change of clothes, a pair of shoes, and a stack of blankets and towels. Throwing everything he’d gathered into the space behind the driver’s seat, he took off toward the old McGinnis place. Lex had said something about Clark being dead, then not being dead. Sheesh. Should have known the boy would be useless in a crisis.

He pulled in behind the truck. He grabbed a couple of the lantern flashlights and used one of them to track the boys across the soft ground. It was easy to understand why a sinkhole had formed. The ground was soaked and if he wasn’t mistaken, there were some underground caves less than a mile away. The whole area was probably honeycombed with them.

"Clark! Lex!" He yelled periodically, but still followed the clear trail. When a quick wave of the flashlight didn’t show any distant footprints, he stopped, then began moving slowly. He called their names again.

"We’re here."

The sound was so faint he almost missed it, but it did alert him to the hole three paces in front of him. "Lex?" He squatted carefully and played the light down into the ground. He saw Luthor hold up his hand over his eyes and quickly turned the flashlight in the opposite direction. "Sorry."

"’Kay. Gotta get Clark out."

He didn’t like the way Lex was almost slurring his words. Had he been hurt in the fall? "Clark?"

"He’s still un-unconscious. Help…please."

"Lex, you all right, boy?"

"Clark…fell atop a…big piece of the rock. Moved him…away."

"That’s good, son, but I asked about you."

"Baby…didn’t like the big rock…Dead, I think."

Jonathan almost lost his grip on the flashlight. The baby. Like Clark. He hadn’t-- "Lex, have you…passed anything, son?"

"No."

Then he wasn’t bleeding to death--at least not externally. God, he had to get them out of there. "Lex, I’m going to lower a flashlight to you, so you can see what you need to do, all right?"

"Save Clark?"

"Yes, we’re going to save Clark--and you." He tied the other plastic lantern to the end of the rope and lowered it down. "Can you get Clark to wake up?"

"Tried."

"We need to get you both out of there. I want you to tie the two of you together, and I’ll pull you both up."

"Too…heavy. Send Clark…up."

Jonathan knew they both had to be brought up at the same time--or Lex wasn’t going to survive. "Clark’s unconscious. He’s going to need you to keep him from getting snagged on the way out. I’m going to see if I can get the truck closer and somehow we’ll rig up something that will work. So, I’m going to get you a piece of rope, okay?"

"Use…jackets."

"You’ll use your jackets to bind you together?" And here he was, thinking Lex didn’t know how to react in a crisis. "Okay. I’m going to get the truck, all right?"

Damn thing needed a winch, he thought as he hurried back through the woods. And was the path wide enough for the truck? If it wasn’t, it would be by the time he was through. As he suspected, the keys were in the ignition. He hit the gas and the truck jerked toward the woods. At times he didn’t think he could squeeze through the trees, but several scrapes and scratches later he was near the sinkhole, but not too close. What he didn’t need was for more of the path to collapse. He tied a length of rope to the front grill and hoped the truck would hold together.

He hurried over to the hole. "I’m back. How’s it coming, Lex?" He looked into the hole. With the light Lex held, he saw Clark upright and tied tightly against Lex’s chest.

"Heavy. Tired."

"Just hang on a little longer, son. Here’s the rope. Tie it firmly to Clark, not you. Let him take the weight of it, okay? Once he’s away from the meteor rock, he’ll heal right up. You listening to me?"

"Yes."

He watched Lex attach the rope and wished like hell there was someone else around to help, someone to drive the truck while he guided them up. But there wasn’t any time. "I’m going to back the truck up slowly, Lex. All you and Clark have to do is hold on. You can do that, can’t you? According to Clark, you Luthors can do anything."

"Clark’s…prejudiced."

"So was I," Jonathan murmured as he walked to the truck.

He was careful to keep it to a roll, desperately wishing someone was watching the ascent. He wouldn’t know if the rope snagged or maybe wrapped around the boys’ necks… God, he just wanted to stop and get out and check on them, but the mental image of them, of Lex, trying to hang on--no, it didn’t need to be prolonged. So, he rolled until he pictured them out of the hole. He finally set the brakes and hopped out of the truck, sighing with relief when he spotted Lex and Clark at the edge of the hole, the flashlight clamped in Lex’s hand a welcome beacon.

He hurriedly pulled them up the rest of the way and separated them. Lex waved away his help, and he focused on Clark. Beneath the mud he was greenish pale and his breathing hitched, like the act was painful or just damn difficult. Green glittered in the light he swept across Clark. More goddamned meteor. He had to get his boy cleaned up. "Lex, I have to get this stuff off Clark. I brought a barrel of water, but it’s back at the car."

"Go."

Jonathan looked at the muddy figure laying just as it had since he’d separated them. "Can you make it to the truck by yourself? I can--"

"Just get…Clark out…of here…I’ll be along…in a minute. Just…resting."

"Lex--"

"Please…Mr. Kent. Clark…needs you."

Jonathan gave a sharp nod, then gathered Clark in a fireman’s carry. The boy was heavy, but all he had to do was make it to the back of the truck. He drove in reverse as quickly as possible, no room to turn around. As soon as he pulled up beside the car, he got out and wrestled the rain barrel out. Filling the bucket he’d also grabbed, he climbed into the truck bed and upturned it over Clark.

"What the--" Clark sputtered and sat up.

"Get out of your clothes, son. They’re contaminated with meteor rock."

Too out of it to think about what he was doing, Clark complied. It was only after he was completely rinsed off and drying himself with a towel that Jonathan saw the telltale blush cover his son. "Not the first time I’ve washed your butt, Clark," he reminded him gently.

"Guess not," Clark said, even as he adjusted the towel around his waist. "Where’s Lex?"

"He should be just behind us."

Clark scanned the woods. "He’s not." He took a step forward and stopped when Jonathan grabbed his arm.

"You can’t go back in there, son. I’ll go check on him." Jonathan headed down the now familiar path and called back, "Look in the back of the car. I brought you some dry clothes."

When he figured Clark was focusing on getting dressed, he started running. He hadn’t wanted Clark to know how worried he was about Lex--and that worry intensified as his flashlight showed that Lex was still curled up beside the hole where he’d left him. "Lex!"

A cough answered him. He raced to the boy’s side. A quick play of light revealed flecks of blood around Lex’s mouth. "Hey, what’s this?" he asked softly as he helped him sit up. "Thought you promised to hang on?"

Lex started to speak but began coughing instead. Jonathan supported him as the spell seemed to go on forever. "Damn…Kents…and their…promises," Lex rasped after a long while.

Jonathan started prodding Lex’s chest. "You crack a rib in the fall, son? Where do you hurt?"

"All…over. Tired."

Lex’s breathing was worse than Clark’s had been a few moments ago. "You’ll feel better soon."

"Dad! What’s wrong?"

Jonathan looked up to see Clark standing about twenty-five yards away, flashlight dangling from his hand. He normally didn’t go into big stores like Home Depot, but he’d wandered in one day, and the flashlights had been on sale. Best damn impulse buy he'd ever made. "He may have punctured a lung. We’re gonna have to call for help. I don’t want to move him."

"No."

He shook his head. "Lex, if something’s broken inside--"

"It isn’t," Clark answered. "Well, at least as much as I can tell, but the meteor bits are interfering." Jonathan moved aside so Clark wouldn’t have to see through him, too. "It’s not his ribs, Dad. Or his spine. You can move him."

"Just a little bit. It would be best if you moved him any distance, Clark." Less chance of him getting dropped with the slipperiness of the ground. "Bring the water barrel as close as you can. I need to get Lex cleaned up so you can get him out of here." Lex started coughing again. This time, Jonathan lifted him so he could breathe easier.

"Dad?"

"Do it now, son!"

The water barrel and bucket were in place by the time Jonathan had lifted Lex into his arms to move him away from the lip of the sinkhole. "What’s-what’s wrong with him?"

Jonathan had to wait until he put Lex down before he could answer. "I think we may have lost the baby, son. It didn’t react any better to the meteor than you do. I don’t think it’s good for Lex either, at least not right now."

"What can I do?"

Jonathan knew how it felt to be helpless when someone you loved was hurting. He found Lex’s cell phone and tossed it the few yards where Clark waited. "Call that nurse lady and tell her what’s going on."

While Clark talked, Jonathan stripped Lex and bathed him with the water. It was easier than with Clark--no hair to double check, but it was harder, too, as he was confronted with Lex’s tautly stretched stomach. He felt disgusted with himself; suddenly everything was becoming so clear, now that it was too late. If not for tragedy, he would have been a grandfather. And the pale young man shivering beneath his ministrations would have been the one to give him that gift.

"Clark?"

Blue slits glittered in the false light. "Clark’s talking to your nurse."

"Tell him…tell him I’m sorry ‘bout baby."

"Shh. Things happen. You boys will work through this."

"Tried…to keep…promise. Tell Clark…love--ahhh!" Lex grabbed his head and started convulsing.

"Dad?" Suddenly his arms were empty, and Lex was slumped unconscious in Clark’s arms.

"Wrap him in a blanket and get in the car."

"It’s be faster if I--"

"No."

"I don’t care if anyone sees me." Clark glared defiantly.

"It’s not that," Jonathan said sharply. "Moving that fast might make it worse for him."

"Oh."

When Jonathan got to the car, Lex was on the backseat and Clark was kneeling in the space previously occupied by the water barrel. At first he thought they were kissing then he realized-- "Clark, what happened?"

"He just stopped breathing." Clark went back to his artificial respiration. A second later, there was a hiss as Lex took a breath on his own. Jonathan shut the door and hopped into the driver’s seat.

Just as he was nearing the turn onto the mansion’s private drive, lights appeared overhead.

"Vi called for the helicopter."

"How’s he doing?"

Clark’s voice was restrained panic. "Breathing, but his heart’s not beating right."

Shit. He might be a Luthor, and he might have made Clark gay, but he didn’t deserve this. "The doctors in Metropolis will know what to do. He’s paying them enough, right?" he joked weakly.

"Yeah."

A black lady and the butler guy met them in front of the house.

"He stopped breathing, Vi," Clark said shakily as he got out of the car and let the nurse in. "I did resuscitation."

"That’s good, Clark." She had a stethoscope out and placed against Lex’s chest. "Oxygen."

The butler moved forward with a canister. She fit a mask over Lex’s face and backed out of the car. "Clark, let’s move him to the helicopter. I’ll finish my examination in the air. Donovan, carry the oxygen and make sure the line doesn’t twist."

Jonathan could tell he wasn’t needed. "Clark, I’m going to pick up your mother and we’ll meet you in Metropolis."

"’Kay, Dad."

He watched them march toward the waiting chopper for a moment before he moved the passenger seat back into place and headed toward town. How had this night gotten so out of control? He was supposed to be having coffee with his wife, reminding each other just how much love they had no matter what. They probably wouldn’t have even mentioned Clark and Lex because…because he’d been such an ass about the whole thing.

Tell him…tell him I’m sorry ‘bout baby. Tried…to keep…promise. Tell Clark…love…

How could he have been so hard-headed and hard-hearted? Martha had tried to tell him. Clark had tried to tell him. Hell, even Lionel seemed to be taking it better than he had. It was a wonder Lex hadn’t hit him like he’d hit Martha’s father. He shook his head. It was a damn shame when a spoiled, pampered twenty-something had better control of his temper than a life-battered nearly fifty-something.

He pulled up in front of the church and saw Martha hurrying toward him. Had she called while he was gone, and when she couldn’t get him, called the mansion for Clark? "Martha?"

"I heard the helicopter. Lex?"

"It’s bad, Martha." She clicked her seatbelt into place and rested her hand on his arm. "The boys were out walking at the old McGinnis place. The rain…a sinkhole opened beneath them. The hole was full of meteor rock."

She gasped. "Clark!"

"And the baby. Lex managed to call me. I got them out. Clark was fine as soon as I got the meteor rock off him. Lex…Lex thinks the baby’s dead, and I’m afraid it’s--poisoning him somehow. He was coughing up blood, and he stopped breathing for a while."

"Oh, God. They’re on their way to Metropolis?"

He nodded. "I figured you might want to pack a bag for Clark. Maybe for us, too."

The fingers on his arm tightened. "My poor babies."

"He loves Clark," Jonathan blurted out.

"I know."

"Why didn’t I?"

"Jonathan."

"I should have known. I should have recognized the feeling, seen it for what it was. God, it was in his eyes, Martha. Every time he looked at me, I could see the love for Clark in his eyes." He pulled to a stop in the driveway next to the yellow house he and Clark--mostly Clark--had painted last summer.

He felt her wipe something off his face. "It’s enough that you see it now, honey."

"Yeah, when it’s too late."

"Maybe not. Lex is strong, and he’s a fighter. Lionel may not be what we consider a good parent, but he’s made Lex tough, mentally and physically. And if the worst happens…he’ll want us to make sure Clark gets through it. That’s always been his biggest worry about this pregnancy--that it would break Clark. We have to be strong like Lex, Jonathan."

Jonathan pictured Clark carrying Lex to the helicopter and knew no one but Lex was strong enough to keep Clark together in this situation. And if Clark broke…

May God have mercy on them all and let Lex survive.

Chapter Twenty-Two

They followed the signs to the front desk. Metropolis Medical Center had grown since she’d left the city, and Martha had to admit, it was mostly due to Luthor money. It was a collection of buildings and clinics that boasted the best doctors and the best equipment. The only place comparable was Gotham Medical.

"We’re here to see Joe Alexander."

For an alias, it wasn’t bad, she thought as she and Jonathan followed a "Friend of the Hospital" volunteer to a private elevator. Security met them as the elevator doors opened, and they were escorted to a room where Clark sat slumped in an over-padded chair, a large-screen television ignored in the background.

Martha hurried over to him. "Clark, honey."

"Mom." He stood and allowed her to hug him.

"How is he? Have you been waiting here by yourself all this time?"

"I don’t know how he is. Vi’s been with me most of the time, but she got tired of waiting for someone to come tell us what’s going on." He dropped his head to her shoulder. "But I don’t think I want to know," he whispered against her.

"Why, sweetie?"

"His heart stopped three times on the way here."

Martha looked at Jonathan in fear as she rubbed her hand up and down Clark’s back. She hoped Clark’s mind hadn’t taken him where hers had taken her--Lex’s mother had died of cardiac complications. Further thoughts were pushed back as the door opened and a black woman stepped inside. Clark made the introductions. So this was Vi. Martha nodded, instinctively knowing this woman cared about her son as well as Lex.

"Someone will be here in a minute to talk to you, Clark. For what it’s worth, I don’t think they meant to ignore you; they were just focused on getting Lex stabilized."

"Have they?" Martha asked.

Vi gave her a sympathetic glance. "The doctors can explain better than I can. Clark, since your parents are here, I’m going to catch an early breakfast with my daughter--actually a late dinner for her since she worked the late shift and is just getting off. I’ll be back in a few hours."

Clark shook his head. "We’ll be okay, Vi. Lex has a team of doctors and I have Mom and Dad. See your daughter and get some sleep."

Vi nodded. "Mr. and Mrs. Kent, it's nice meeting you. I’ll see you in about twelve hours, Clark." She touched his hand. "Page me if you need me, but I don't think you will. Lex is a remarkable young man. He's not about to give up. Just keep the faith."

"I will, Vi."

The door hadn’t closed completely behind her when it opened again. Another woman entered this time, blonde and near Martha’s own age. Martha was starting to wonder if any of Lex’s caregivers were men.

"Mom and Dad, this is Dr. Chelsea, Lex’s obstetrician."

The doctor smiled in their direction, then focused on Clark. "I’m sorry none of us have been here to talk to you, Clark, but it’s been rather hectic."

"Of course," Clark replied softly.

"Let’s sit down, okay?" She leaned forward as Clark sat rigidly across from her. Martha was touched by the consideration Clark was being shown. Apparently he was completely accepted as being part of Lex's family. "I want you to know we’re all here for Lex, the whole team, Clark. Since I’m the one who has the least to do at the moment, I volunteered to be the one to talk with you. The baby is doing so well, I’m really superfluous to Lex’s care."

Everyone looked at each other. "So well?" Jonathan hazarded. "Lex thought--assumed…He thought the baby had been injured because there had been so much pain."

Dr. Chelsea nodded. "I’ve no doubt there was considerable pain, but it had nothing to do with the child. In fact, we’re all amazed that Lex’s condition hasn’t been detrimental to the baby’s health."

"Lex’s condition?" Clark asked strongly.

"The news about Lex isn’t as positive. For some anomalous reason, Lex’s blood began to coagulate--perhaps the fall triggered the effect, or maybe Lex was exposed to a clotting factor in the fall. Anyway, the medical term for a free-floating clot is an embolus. Emboli travel the circulatory system and in certain areas, they’re too big and they get stuck, cutting off blood flow. Complications arise when they get stuck in areas like the lungs and heart."

Clark closed his eyes. "Which is why he couldn’t breathe and why his heart…stopped."

"Exactly. Embolisms are not uncommon and there are drugs that can break up the clots, or make them more difficult to form. Unfortunately, with the baby and its unique situation, we're concerned about using medicines that would affect Lex’s blood."

Clark paled and Martha grabbed his hand. "So, there’s nothing you can do?"

"What we’ve done is to put Lex on total life support." Martha was glad her hand was on Clark’s and not in it as she felt the corded muscles tense. "This way he receives immediate assistance when a blockage occurs. The lab reports have been encouraging. Since Lex’s arrival here, there has been a decrease in the number of emboli detected, and the instances of additional coagulation have decreased, as well. In other words, as we hoped, Lex’s own immune system is fixing the problem."

"So, he’ll--he’ll be okay?"

The doctor sighed. "Lex’s heart and lungs have been terribly weakened. Even when his blood is back to normal, he's going to be in distress. And there’s another complication that we are unsure of the extent of."

Clark slumped back in his seat. "His brain. Blood clots cause strokes."

Dr. Chelsea nodded. "There are indications on his scans, as well as the continual EEG reports, that the area has been compromised, but until Lex regains consciousness, we can’t ascertain the amount of--"

"Brain damage," Clark interrupted brokenly. "You don’t even know if he’s going to wake up, do you?"

"What I do know, what all of Lex’s doctors know, is that Lex is an atypical patient. His medical history shows time and time again that his ability to recover and recuperate far surpasses what the medical community perceives as possible. No one is going to quote you odds or limitations, Clark. Lex is too unique to fit any probability scale."

Martha gave the doctor a grateful smile. Clark needed to know the doctors hadn’t given up on Lex. "Sounds like it’s a matter of wait-and-see," Martha said, running her fingers through Clark’s hair comfortingly.

"Yes, that’s it exactly. At the moment we’re getting Lex settled into the quarantined section of the ICU, which will ensure his privacy. Someone will be in to get you when you can see him."

"Thank you, Dr. Chelsea," Martha said when Clark didn’t react as the doctor stood and headed toward the door. Neither of her men seemed very talkative.

"It’s good news about the baby," Martha said as the silence burned in her stomach.

"I don’t care," Clark said.

"Clark?"

He lurched to his feet, the chair threatening to topple over. "I don’t care that the baby’s okay. It’s killing Lex, don’t you see that? The meteor makes my blood curdle, just like old milk, and it apparently makes the baby’s do the same. But the baby somehow made Lex’s blood do it too, and Lex isn’t one of us--he isn’t some fucking alien like us," Clark sobbed. "He’s just--human, and he’s dying because of that baby, because of me. It's all my fault. Everything."

Martha held out her hand, but he just jerked past her. "Honey, the sinkhole--"

"We'd had a fight. If I hadn't been so...God, if I'd just been paying attention."

"You want to talk about it, honey?"

"Nothing to talk about. I was an idiot and now Lex is going to die thinking I never loved him."

"He’s alive. Focus on that," Jonathan said, speaking for the first time since learning the baby wasn’t dead.

"How alive? He’s heart-damaged, lung-damaged, and brain-damaged. God, Dad, not Lex’s mind, not that…" Clark’s legs folded beneath him and he slid down the wall in one corner of the room.

"He thought you were dead."

Clark looked up at Jonathan. "What?"

"Lex. He thought you were dead, too. That big piece of meteor must have weakened both you and the baby to the point he thought you were dead."

"Wish I had stayed dead."

"Clark, no," Martha said and knelt in front of him.

"You’re big, son, and solid. Lex was not only feeling the baby’s pain, but I’m pretty sure he probably got hurt in the fall. But he still managed to pull you away from the meteor. And he got you help. Those are not the actions of a quitter, Clark, and I expect he wouldn’t be too happy knowing his--boyfriend was one."

Clark blinked rapidly. "I’m not--"

"You have him already dead and buried," Jonathan said dryly. "Why don’t you ask your mother for a piece of sackcloth while I go get you some ashes?"

"Dad!"

"Jonathan!"

Jonathan just stood there with his arms folded. "Grow up, Clark. He needs your love, not your guilt; your strength, not your weakness. He not only needs it, he's earned it."

Clark nodded and wiped his eyes. "Yes, sir."

Jonathan held out his hand. "Come on, son. We need to get you cleaned up before you go see Lex. I hear he likes his boys pretty."

"Dad!" Clark gasped again, but his eyes were shining. As he stood, he pulled his father into an embrace. "Thanks. And I think I can handle the cleaning up part on my own. Back in a few minutes."

Jonathan nodded and watched Clark leave.

"What the heck was that, Jonathan Kent?" Martha asked in surprise.

"Tough love. Clark is physically strong, but he’s just coming into his psychological strength. He needs to know how to use it, to temper it like he has the other."

"And the gay joke?"

Jonathan shrugged. "The kid needed to lighten up just a little. He was too on edge."

"A gay joke?" Martha reiterated.

"Clark could do worse than Lex." Martha stared at him. "I’m a stubborn man, Martha, but even the most hard-headed mule will notice when a two-by-four cracks against his rump or his head."

"And which was it for you?" Martha asked with a grin.

"Depends on which one you’ll rub to make it feel better."

She couldn’t help but laugh. "Jonathan Kent, I love you."

He wrapped his arms around her and gave her a light kiss. "Our boys need us, Martha."

"Yes, they do. And we’ll be there for them, won’t we, Jon?"

"Always, honey."

*****

Clark was glad for alien strength as he walked into Lex’s room. He figured it was the only thing that kept him from crashing to his knees when he first saw Lex. A big blue breathing tube was crammed down his throat. A snaggle of narrow tubes and lines, inserted or otherwise attached to the pale body, connected Lex to way too many machines and pumps and plastic bags. But it wasn't the equipment that made Clark grateful for the wheeled stool beside the bed. It was Lex himself, so still between the perfectly timed inhalations and exhalations. Lex was never still, never quiet, even when he was deliberately being still and quiet. He always--well, buzzed was a good word for it or maybe hummed. But there was no buzz now, no hum that said Lex was in the room. There was only the sound of the machinery.

He sat and stared, completely lost. Five minutes. He would only have five minutes per hour to see Lex. What could he do in five minutes? Throw himself prostrate over Lex and beg him to forgive him? Damn it, he should have sensed the danger, the presence of the rocks, or something. But no. He had to be bitching about Lex doing what he’d asked Lex to do. How fucking childish was that!

"Oh, shit," he whispered as he suddenly remembered what he’d said in the waiting room. Lex isn’t one of us--he isn’t some fucking alien like us. He’d said the "F" word in front of his parents, in front of his mom. "Lex, you have to wake up and help me out of this. I said ‘fuck’ in front of Mom. No, she didn’t say anything, but…You don’t make slips like that, even though you’ve been cussing a lot longer than I have. You don’t even say things like that to your father and he deserves them. Guess all of you are right--I’m still a kid.

"Can you believe Dad told me to grow up tonight? He told me I had to grow up and be the person you need me to be. But I don’t know what you need, Lex. I know what I want to give you, and I know what I have to give you, but I don’t know if that’s what you need. You’re going have to tell me, Lex. Mind-reading not part of the overall a--" He paused, wondering if the room was wired for sound. Yeah, with all the wires present, it probably was. "It’s not part of the special package I’m equipped with. Guess it was optional, huh? Of course, you don’t do optional. You always go for the platinum version.

"Which makes me wonder why you went for me. I’m tin all the way. No, really. Take away--well, you know what to take away, and I’m just ordinary, a stupid kid from Nowhereville, who you might have hired one day to mow your grass or get your coffee. Whatever it is you see in me, I can’t see it. And if I can’t see it, I can’t be it. So if you have some insight into my destiny, you’ll going to have to be with me, to guide me and push me and make sure I’m going in the right direction. I can’t do this, or anything, without you, Lex. You have to get better. You just have to."

"Clark? I’m sorry, but…"

He looked back at the nurse standing in the doorway and nodded. "I’ll be back in fifty-five minutes, Lex. Don’t go anywhere, okay?"

Finding a tiny spot on the back of Lex’s hand that wasn’t covered by sensors or tubes, he stroked his goodbye and left.

*****

"So what’s this? My fourth visit?" Clark perched familiarly on the stool and rolled closed to Lex. "Sent Mom and Dad to a hotel. She didn’t want to leave, of course. Wanted to be here with her baby. Guess that’s a mom-thing."

He watched Lex’s chest move up and down with the rhythm of the respirator, the thin blanket covering him accenting his rounded abdomen. "Maybe I have a bit of that mom-thing, too. I wanted to blame the baby for all of this. I told my parents it was killing you. But we know who’s to blame, don’t we?

"Yeah, I’m doing the guilt whine again. No, I’m not responsible for the world, but I am responsible for you. Yeah, yeah, billionaire and all that. But come on, Lex, you have to admit I played a huge role in this. Especially if what you were telling me in the truck is true. Blood. I smelled it that night. I knew what I’d done, and…and it turned me on. I don’t think a lot would, but it was just a trace scent, just underneath what I think of as your smell. Sick, huh? A little Lex, a little blood, and wham, I’m hard enough to drill through concrete…or human flesh.

"Don’t even try it, Lex. You are the king of self-disgust. I see it sometimes when I catch you looking at me. You shouldn’t hate yourself for being with me, for not having the moral strength you think you should have had. There’s nothing immoral about the two of us being together, and if you would listen to your heart and not to the rest of the world, you’d know it was true. You’re Lex Luthor, damn it. You’re not supposed to care what anybody else thinks. I know you have this idol thing going on with my parents, but they aren’t always right, Lex. Remember what’s in the storm cellar?" Clark laughed. "They can be so very wrong, and you know it."

He heard steps in the outer room. "Time’s up again. Behave so I can return in fifty-five, okay?"

Another single stroke. Another soft goodbye.

*****

Overheard:

"So is that the father sitting in the room?"

"Nope. Just the boyfriend. Don’t know who the father is. He was gang-raped by seven or eight guys. The locals didn’t like a Luthor fucking one of their own, so they fucked him instead. Messed him up bad, so I heard."

"They in jail?"

"Shit no! You don’t go to jail for fucking Luthors. You get a ‘Go Directly to Hell' card."

"What do you mean?"

"That’s right. You’re not from Metropolis, are you? Well, there’s three things you learn real early if you grow up in Metropolis. One--look both ways before you cross the street; two--fire burns; and three--don’t fuck with the Luthors. Number three will get you killed a hell of a lot faster than one and two combined."

"So the rapists--"

"Were probably castrated and turned into fertilizer before Luthor Junior’s ass stopped bleeding. Nothing dumber than a hick from Smallville."

"Smallville? Shit. No wonder he’s knocked up. Nothing but freaks come from that place. How did Luthor Junior end up in that godforsaken piece of real estate?"

"Pissed off his pop."

"Siberia wasn’t available?"

"Luthors don’t do things halfway; if they send you to hell, it really is hell."

"Think he’s gonna survive?"

"Satan’s heir? You bet your ass."

"But his EEGs and EKGs are shot to hell."

"Doesn’t matter. Even God got sense enough not to fuck permanently with Luthors. Mark my words, in a few days Luthor Junior will be ordering our asses around like he owns us. But then again, they own the entire fucking city."

"And sign the paychecks that sign our paychecks."

Laughter. "Yeah, that too. Go tell the kid his five minutes are up, will ya?"

Clark smiled as he leaned forward to tell Lex he was leaving. Yeah, those guys had the right of it, he agreed. Even God knew not to mess with the Luthors but so much--he already had enough competition with Satan; put the Luthors in the mix and all hell would break loose.

"God and the Devil might not want you, Lex, but I do. Just keep getting better, okay?" He scritched the space on the back of Lex's hand. "See you in fifty-five."

*****

"Hey! Look at you," Clark said happily. "That little oxygen cannula is a lot better looking than that breathing tube. The doctors say there’s no evidence of clots in your blood anymore. Gotta love your immune system. Your lungs and heart have some damage, but it’ll get better. You just have to take it easy for a while.

"It was a little cloudy at dawn, but the sun’s out now. I always feel better when it’s shining. Don’t know why. Had breakfast down in the cafeteria with Mom and Dad. Mom’s gonna send Dad home. He has to rescue the truck and stuff we left back at the McCallister place. Want me to ask him to see if he can save your Timberlands? No, you don’t have to tell me: no more mass-produced shoes, and no more walking tours of Smallville, right? Between the sky falling on your head and the ground opening beneath your feet, I guess you're sort of fed up with nature--Smallville style.

"Listen, it’s going to more than the fifty-five minutes before I come back. Mom’s making me go to the hotel and get some sleep. But she’s going to take over visiting you. I know you’ll be on your best behavior because I think you love Mom just about as much as I do. Think you might love Dad, too, if he gave you half a chance. He’s not as--upset as I thought he’d be. And he’s really worried about you. He’s called, like, three times already and it’s long distance! That’s saying something for a cheap--oh, I’m sorry--thrifty farmer like him."

Yawn. "Guess I do need that sleep. When I get back we’ll both be rested and alert and all that stuff, right?"

He stood, drew his finger down the back of Lex’s hand and whispered, "I love you, Lex."

*****

"Come on, Lex. It’s everything you dreamed of--an attentive audience ready to hang onto your very word. You have to wake up now and show all these doctors and nurses that you aren’t brain-damaged or something like that. Even Mom is here. You don’t want to disappoint her."

"Clark!"

"It’s true, Mom. Lex thinks it’s rude to disappoint a lady. So wake up, Lex."

Eyeballs rolled beneath thin lids. "Lex, wake up before I say something bad in front of my mom."

Blue surrounded by red-streaked white made a brief appearance. When the lids threatened to close again, Clark touched the familiar strip on the back of Lex’s hand. The eyes opened wider. "Hey! Welcome back." Clark knew he was grinning like a fool and didn’t care. "I’m fine. The baby’s fine. You’re fine," he hurried to say.

The eyes darted around the room. "Ugh," Lex said.

Clark paled, then his mom handed him a cup of ice chips. Picking up one, he slid it between Lex’s lips. Lex gave a little smile as the ice soothed the throat abused by the breathing tube.

"Clark."

The word was almost too low to be heard by anyone but an alien. Clark bent down and put his ear next to Lex’s mouth, just in case someone realized how clearly he was hearing. When he stood again, there was tears in his eyes.

"Sweetie?" Martha asked tentatively.

"He says after this, labor should be a walk in the park--as long as it’s not a Smallville park."

Clark wrapped his arms around his mother and cried.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Lex was in a bad mood. No, Lex was in a foul mood--unusual considering how long it had been since he’d interacted with his father. But a foul mood it was, he assessed as he lay in his bed at the mansion staring at the ceiling instead of the plasma screen TV which still had a spot on it from the breakfast he’d thrown at it earlier. He needed to make a list: fire the upstairs maid, fire Donovan, fire-- Who the hell was he kidding? The mansion would fall apart without Donovan. Fuck. Might as well keep the upstairs maid, too.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

God, the beeping was going to drive him crazy. Heart monitor. Respiratory monitor. Fetal monitor. He looked down at the pale green cannula feeding him oxygen. No one to blame but yourself, Lex. The hardware had been disconnected, just clutter for the master suite until this morning. Until a temper tantrum had Vi slapping an oxygen mask on him and sticking those clammy sensors all over his body. Damn, he hadn’t felt that breathless or that panicked since his asthma days. He’d hung on to Vi’s steady voice to keep himself from spiraling back nearly twenty years into the past, and when his lungs started filling normally and his heart found a steady rhythm, he’d become angry with himself. So, he’d kicked everyone out of the room, because if they stayed, he was going to say things that he’d have to apologize for tomorrow, and he really hated making apologies.

Luthors don’t apologize, son.

Yeah, and they weren’t loved or liked or even tolerated. They were despised and feared and…and he didn’t want to live like that. He didn’t want loyalty built on fear. Donovan, Geoffrey, Billings, Cook--they worked for him because they wanted to, right? He paid well, but so did Lionel. Pay the help well, Lex. They hold your life in their hands far too often. Pay them well. Nothing about treating them well. No, that was something he’d learned from his mother. He’d seen how the help in Metropolis had cared for his mother on her good days and on her bad. He wanted that. He craved that. He wanted to be--liked.

And wasn’t that sad? The poor, little rich kid wanted to be liked. Was there nothing about his life that wasn’t a cliché? He fought moral battles on a daily basis. He lived in a huge castle and was in love with a poor, but handsome farm boy. He was the poster boy for "Look What Happens When You Don’t Use A Condom." Every other action he took seemed to end up as a paving block on the road to Hell. Oh, and yes, all he truly wanted was his father to love him.

Too bad he hadn’t eaten; now would be the time to throw up.

All he needed was to wish to be a real boy, and by golly, he’d be the king of clichés. Or would he be the queen, considering he was, well, you know, one of those homo-sex-u-als. A pregnant homosexual, with a bad heart and a pair of lungs that worked well only if he was comatose. The doctors said he should be grateful; anyone else who’d gone through what he’d gone through would be on a donor waiting list; anyone else who had died as many times as he had, would have stayed dead.

When he’d died the day Clark saved him, he remembered flying over Smallville. He didn’t remember anything from his more recent deaths. He remembered Mr. Kent saving Clark, and that was about it until Clark woke him up at the hospital. There were vague memories of Clark talking to him and cold hands touching him. Nothing else. Where was the bright light or his mother’s guiding hand? Where was all the psychic crap that was supposed to accompany near-death experiences? Christ! He couldn’t even get dying right!

And what the--

He stiffened and pressed the button to raise the head of the hospital bed that had replaced his own. He scanned the room, artificially darkened by light-blocking curtains, because the light had given him a headache. Something was wrong. Someone was… He focused on a shadow in the far corner, then relaxed.

"There’s a new invention called a front door, Bruce."

Bruce Wayne stepped forward. Impeccably dressed as always, even after scaling the mansion’s outside walls. "Your people claimed you couldn’t be disturbed."

"Which you naturally assumed was a challenge. This was cute when you did it in the dorm, Bruce. Now, it’s just slightly disturbing."

"Only slightly?"

Lex shrugged. "I live in Smallville."

Bruce looked at the equipment. "Apparently rumors about the town are not exaggerated."

"Noticed the fetal monitor, did you?"

"An experiment gone wrong?"

"An accident of the ‘oh, shit’ variety."

Bruce frowned, his eyes seeking Lex’s. "A consensual accident?"

Lex had an epiphany--he was a hero groupie. Clark, Bruce, Warrior Angel. Oh, God, how wrong was that! "Totally consensual. No need to wreak vengeance this time."

There had been a time long ago where vengeance had been necessary, and Bruce had been there as his strength--older, physically bigger, but intimately familiar with being different. Bruce had known that merely telling wouldn’t be punishment enough. Lex had known that having that "crazy Wayne boy" fight his battles would only leave him open for retaliation when Bruce wasn’t around. The resulting alliance had been effective, and surprisingly…satisfying.

"Oh, well."

"Bored, Bruce? Or do you just miss me?" In therapy-speak, Bruce was emotionally detached, but Lex knew better and considered it loads of fun to tweak Bruce’s emotional side.

"If someone’s bored, it’s not me." He examined the television. "Is that raspberry jam?"

"Bad morning. So why are you here?"

"Merchaud Pharmaceuticals is available."

Fuck. He’d been coveting that company for quite a while. If LexCorp hadn’t taken a hit with the changeover in management… "It can’t be done, can it?"

"LexCorp will be left wide open."

Double fuck. His father was probably already salivating over the prospect. "And I thought I was having a bad day before."

"Wayne Industries could--"

"Pity is so unlike you, Bruce."

"A shower gift?"

Lex laughed until a change in the incessant beeping made him realize Vi would be running in if he didn’t get himself under control. "Bruce, you do this ailing heart good."

Bruce stepped to the side of the bed. "Gotham Medical--"

"Has nothing that MetMed doesn’t have. I’m fine, Bruce, or at least I will be. You know that I don’t break easily. But…"

"Lex?"

"I’ve left instructions for you."

A solemn nod. "I will follow them to the letter--if necessary."

"I know."

Bruce reached out and stopped. When Lex didn’t flinch, he continued the movement until his hand rested on Lex’s jaw. "I do."

It took a moment for Lex to get it--Bruce’s emotional reactions were always a tad delayed. Bruce missed him. "I was in a bad place for a long time, Bruce. My anger would have destroyed you. Other people fear you; I fear what you and I could do--could be--together."

"Darkness feeding upon darkness." The words were said with the harshness they deserved.

"If we weren’t stronger, we could destroy the world. That’s not our destiny, Bruce."

"You and your talks of destiny. Do you truly believe? Do you truly see?"

"Yes."

A sharp nod and the hand withdrew. "LexCorp will own Merchaud in twenty-four hours."

"Thank you."

Bruce walked back into the shadows. "Destinies are not pursued from the grave, Lex."

"I--"

Bruce was gone.

*****

"So this is where Satan lives," Clark announced as he stepped into Lex’s room. He’d been met at the door with a report and a warning. He’d just finished a morning of senior exams and had been feeling pretty good about how he’d done. Now, he had a boyfriend to soothe.

"That’s Son of Satan to you," Lex replied, not looking up from the laptop that was perched on the rolling bedside tray. "How were the exams?"

"Tests are tests. Why isn’t your head spinning around and green spittle flying about?"

"I was giving you a blow job during that scene in The Exorcist. My technique must be flawed if you remember it."

Clark laughed and scooted onto the bed beside Lex. "No flaws. I saw it during one of those Best Movies of the Century reviews."

Lex smiled. "Oh, good. I was beginning to worry."

"Like I’m starting to. You are not the ogre that’s supposed to be in this room."

Lex shrugged and saved his work before closing the laptop. "Mood swings."

"Yeah, right." Clark sniffed the air in alarm. "Someone was here."

"You have a super nose, too? Guess who’s going to get diaper duty?"

Clark wasn’t going to be teased out of his worry. "Who was here? Why didn’t someone tell me you had a visitor? Security didn’t say anything."

Lex stared at him. "Why would Security tell you anything?"

Clark shrugged. "Um, I just, you know, check in with them every once in awhile." He stood and traced the unfamiliar aftershave around the room. "Who was here?"

"Bruce Wayne."

"How?"

"Bruce circumvents standard security precautions about as well as you do."

"Is he…?"

"Bruce is strange, but no, he was nowhere near Smallville fourteen years ago."

"Why was he here?"

"There’s a company on the market he knew LexCorp was interested in. He wanted to know if he should make the purchase."

"He owns Wayne Industries; he couldn’t afford a phone call?"

Lex laughed and held out his hand. Clark obediently came back to the bed. "He was worried about a friend."

"That I can understand." Clark lay his head against Lex’s shoulder. "I was worried about you, too. Especially when Vi told me about what happened this morning."

"I’m fine. I had a tantrum that scared the entire mansion, including myself. It’s not an experience I’m going to repeat."

"What happened?"

"I hate being confined to bed."

"Mom would have come to keep you company, or I could have--"

"You had exams, Clark. That’s the reason why I insisted on being released from the hospital, remember? You are not going to jeopardize your graduation--or your scholarship."

"What about Mom?" Clark sighed as Lex’s fingers combed through his hair.

"I love your mom. She didn’t need to see me as I was this morning."

Clark sat up quickly. "But Bruce Wayne did! Did he--"

"Figure out what was going on? Yes, but it doesn’t matter. I trust Bruce."

Clark didn’t argue. If Lex trusted the guy, he had to be trustworthy as hell. "What was his reaction?"

"He wanted to kick your ass."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. He wasn’t sure if fun was had by all during conception."

"Had he questioned the hospital staff or something? Your little non-confession of being raped has grown to huge proportions. You were gang-raped."

"Really?"

Clark nodded. "And you had all their dicks cut off before you ground them into fertilizer."

"Cool. This is turning out to be one of the better lies I never told. But no, I don’t think Bruce has been interrogating the hospital staff, although I wouldn’t put it past him."

"Then why would he assume--"

Lex’s voice was very soft when he spoke. "I told you I was raped once."

"Yeah."

"Bruce was the one who found me. It was my first year at Excelsior. Julian had died, Mom was weak, and Dad just didn’t want to deal with me. Bruce was an upperclassman. We didn’t know each other. I was prepared to argue with him about telling the authorities. We were all rich kids; everybody’s daddy would have just bought his son out of the trouble, and I would've--I would've had to tell Lionel. But Bruce didn’t mind not reporting it. He was just worried about my…physical condition."

Clark found Lex’s hand and squeezed.

"Nobody liked Bruce. He was-- Seeing his parents get murdered in front of him changed him fundamentally. Quite frankly, Bruce is insane."

"The head of Wayne Industries?" Clark questioned skeptically. Bruce Wayne was everything the Luthors weren’t--well-liked, well-respected and known for his philanthropy and dedication to improving the environment.

"To be successfully insane, you have to have the ability to function in normal society. It’s a trick we all learn."

"We? You’re insane, too?"

"Of course I am. There’s no way that any child reared by Lionel could be otherwise. If you don’t believe me, ask your mother about a certain conversation we had about new bodies. You can ask your dad, too. He was eavesdropping, I believe."

"What about me? Do I get to join your merry band of insanity?"

"At the moment you’re still borderline. Depends on how well you integrate the knowledge of your heritage with what Martha and Jonathan Kent have taught you."

Clark laughed, then pulled back to look at Lex. "You’re serious, aren’t you?"

"Yes, but it’s nothing for you to worry about. I’ve learned to deal with it, and if you have to learn that lesson as well, then I’m here to help you over the rough spots. At first, I couldn’t fool the experts, but now… It’s all in what people want to believe, Clark."

Clark shivered. "You scare me when you get in these moods."

"Good. I should scare you. Don’t ever forget whom you’re dealing with, Clark. One day I might forget who I’m supposed to be and end up being the person I can be.

Clark knew that Lex had bad thoughts, and he couldn’t blame him for it. Having Lionel Luthor as a father was a bad thought in and of itself. But what he couldn’t get Lex to understand was that having bad thoughts wasn’t the same as being bad. Evil was in the doing, not the thinking--at least that’s what his dad had taught him. Who knew what Lionel had taught Lex. He thought again about just killing Lionel and ending Lex’s misery. It wouldn’t be murder--the victim had to be human for it to be a murder, right? Heck, he couldn’t even see the ASPCA getting on him for Lionel’s death. Honestly, could they blame him for cruelty to an animal that was so cruel itself?

Bad thoughts. Evil thoughts. Didn’t bother him a bit.

"Was he…were the two of you lovers?"

"Bruce? No. There were many nights we slept together, but that’s all we did."

Clark snorted his disbelief. "He was in bed with you, and he didn’t try anything? You’re right, he is insane."

"People respond to uncertainty in their lives in many different ways. I sought control by lack of restraint, in thumbing my nose at the conventions of my father and society. Bruce did just the opposite; he sought control by control. He embraced asceticism, austere self-discipline. He wanted perfect control of his body and his emotions. He couldn’t be beat in any athletic competition, which helped to alienate him further at school. Gymnastics, martial arts…he was amazing. But he was cold, untouchable. He’d lost those he loved and was bound and determined never to love again."

"But he was willing to help you then, and wanted to kick my ass now. Was that just on principle or something deeper?"

"Maybe it was because I was bloody like his parents when he found me, but somehow I managed to slip behind his carefully constructed fortress. What he saw when he looked at me back then, what he felt when we were curled up together, I don’t know. Why he was here today--" Clark felt Lex shrug. "He loves me in his own strange way, I suppose."

"And you?"

"I trust Bruce. I guess that means something."

"I’m glad you had him," Clark whispered against Lex’s chest, carefully avoiding the sensors pasted across the hairless expanse. "I’m glad you still have him. I know why he was here today. You're always scaling fortresses like they’re mere speed bumps. You climbed over my walls before I even knew I had walls. If you hadn’t gotten beneath my dad’s skin, he wouldn’t have spent so much time trying to talk me out of our friendship. You’re a grain of sand in your father’s shell. And you’re that crack in Mr. Wayne’s armor that made him break in here today just to see how you were. You’re unforgettable, Lex, and unavoidable. Victoria came sniffing after you, and Rickman, who should have avoided Smallville like the plague since he knew Kyle was here and Kyle was stronger, he came to your town. For him touching you alone, I’m not sorry Kyle did what he did."

Lex chuckled. "So I am the center of the universe. I always thought so, but I didn’t know anyone else did."

Clark thought back to what Lex said about being raised by Lionel automatically leading to insanity. He might have had a point. Lex constantly swung back and forth between thinking himself worthy of the world and worthy of nothing. Maybe he was insane. Maybe Bruce Wayne was insane. Maybe everyone was insane.

"Do you know anyone who isn’t insane?" he murmured.

"Your mother. My father."

"Uh, don’t you mean my father?"

"Jonathan Kent is an honorable man, but I’m not sure all his wheels are on the road, so to speak."

Clark snickered, seeing his father as a pickup truck riding on the edge of the road, with one wheel slipping off. Then he sobered. "You think your father is sane?"

Lex nodded and yawned. "Definitely. That’s what makes him so dangerous. The things he does, he does knowing full well the consequences. He’s evil, Clark. I love him, and sometimes he shows--kindness towards me, but he’s evil. Never forget that." He yawned again.

"You’re tired."

"Being a brat can be exhausting."

"Go to sleep."

"The beeping is annoying."

"I’ll get Vi to unhook you."

"She’ll want to feed me lunch."

Clark didn’t move from his spot against Lex’s shoulder. "Are you pouting?"

"Yes."

"Bad mood coming back?"

"I hate this bed. I want my old bed back."

"I love you."

"Is that your standard cure-all?"

"Is it working?"

"Maybe." Another yawn. Clark figured it wouldn’t be long before Lex fell asleep, beeping or no beeping. "I don’t know why you put up with me."

"See standard cure-all named earlier."

"Know what I figured out today?"

"What?"

"I have a thing for heroes."

Lex’s fingers in his hair stilled, so Clark knew Lex was asleep. He smoothly extricated himself and stood over Lex to give him a kiss before he left to get lunch. "Guess what, Lex?" he whispered as he drank in the familiar features. "So do I."

Chapter Twenty-Four

"Get a move on, kiddo, if you want to stop by Lex’s before we head to the stadium," Jonathan yelled up the stairs. He shook his head and smiled at Martha. "He gets this from your side of the family."

"If I hadn’t personally witnessed my father taking two hours to get ready for a court appearance, you’d be sleeping on the sofa tonight, mister," Martha replied, her eyes dancing. "Clark, a mortarboard looks geeky no matter what angle you wear it, so get on down here!"

A blur of color. Clark stood beside Martha with his crimson robe folded over his arm and his mortarboard in his hand, gold tassel dangling toward the floor. "We have plenty of time, Dad."

"Not since we have to make a stop at Mrs. Robinson’s first." He winked at Martha. An inside joke for the baby-boomers in the household.

"Nice movie reference, Dad," Clark said, looping a tie around his neck.

"You’ve seen The Graduate?" Jonathan asked. He hadn’t seen the movie himself until he was in college. He was too young for it when it came out in 1967.

"Lex is into classics--books and movies. Think he had me watch it because of the whole ‘innocent being seduced by older temptress’ thing. I told him being compared to Dustin Hoffman was kinda cool, but he had better looking legs than Anne Bancroft. He asked me if I was talking about him or Dustin Hoffman. That’s when we watched Tootsie."

Martha laughed. "Lex certainly has eclectic tastes."

"The Graduate was about more than a young man and an older woman," Jonathan pointed out.

"You mean its theme of an innocent and confused youth being exploited, misled, seduced, and betrayed by a corrupt, decadent, and discredited older generation? I think that’s what drew Lex to the movie. He can relate, you know?" Clark headed for the door.

Jonathan blinked in amazement. Who was this young man and where was his boy, Clark? And how could Clark spout stuff like that when he’d had to have a semester of American Cinema before he could figure it out? "Martha, who was that?" he asked, indicating the figure just beyond the closing screen door.

"Lex Luthor’s boyfriend," she answered, picking up her purse and following her son.

Well, that answered everything, didn’t it? He pulled the door closed and joined them at the car. "Don’t forget to do your tie, son," he said as he folded in behind the wheel.

"Lex’ll do it. It’s kind of a tradition for the big moments in my life."

Jonathan refused to touch that one with a ten-foot pole. "I know he’s unhappy that he can’t come to the ceremony."

"Yeah, but he talked the local cable station into showing it live. Pete’s grandma was real excited about that. She just had hip surgery and couldn’t handle the stairs at the stadium."

"I think it’s wonderful for everyone who can’t come to the graduation. I wonder why the station never thought of it before," Martha said.

"Lex said he convinced them to think of it from an advertising point of view. The main audience would be, like, grandparents and other elderly relatives, so he suggested they get the local pharmacies and pet supply stores as the advertisers. It apparently worked, because they were at the stadium yesterday while we had practice."

Shrewd. Jonathan had to give the boy credit for knowing how to get what he wanted. And he’d done it with a far softer hand than his father would have done. An iron fist, yes, but well-padded and wielded with something less than deliberate cruelty. With the right amount of nurturing/deprogramming, Lex might actually be what Clark needed. A strong partner, someone not impressed with his gifts, someone…equal when it came to net power. Clark could run to Metropolis; Lex could fly there in his helicopter. Clark could punch through a mountain with his fists; Lex could buy explosives and manpower. Clark could walk through fire; LexCorp probably already owned the patent on a suit that would allow the same thing. Clark could yank a gun out of a man’s hand; Lex could talk it out just as easily. Different strengths but balanced.

While it would have been nice to have Lana or Chloe as a daughter-in-law, he now realized neither was suitable for Clark. Lana was so…delicate, Clark would let her walk all over him. And Chloe was so darn curious that Clark would spend most of his time getting her out of situations. Lex ended up in a lot of situations himself, but a guy who could go through what he went through in the sinkhole--he was good at taking care of himself.

He pulled up in front of the mansion and shook his head. Had he just talked himself into believing Lex was the perfect match for Clark? Nah. Lex hadn’t impressed him that much, had he?

"You coming, Jonathan?"

He looked at his wife. "Sure, why not?"

Donovan greeted them at the door. "Misters Kent, Mrs. Kent. He has been expecting you."

They followed Donovan to Lex’s office. Actually, he and Martha followed Donovan; Clark bounded ahead like a puppy eager to see its master. By the time they entered the office, Clark was kneeling in front of Lex, chatting comfortably as Lex did his tie.

"Personally, I’ve always been partial to Space Mountain. Not so much the height and the speed, but the darkness, the unknown--well, unknown until you’ve been on it thirty times straight," Lex replied to the question Jonathan hadn’t been able to overhear. "But I’m sure the ‘coasters at Adventure World all have redeeming qualities."

"Well, I can ride anything but those sudden drop ones. I don’t like those."

"Me either. Of course, once you’ve been in a real falling elevator, the thrill is gone."

"Really? What happened?"

"Brakes finally kicked in. And we’re ignoring your parents, which is terribly rude. Hello, Mr. Kent, Martha."

Martha took out her camera. "Look this way, boys." She snapped their picture. "Don’t worry. The desk hides your condition, Lex."

"I trust you, Martha."

Jonathan took in how his wife beamed at that. Lex better watch out or his second mother was going to move in permanently. "So, Lex, Clark said you wanted to give him a graduation gift?" he asked, before Martha took a whole roll of film.

Lex nodded and started to stand. Jonathan found himself moving toward him along with Martha and Clark.

"Don’t you dare!"

"Lex, don’t!"

"Son, stay!"

Lex sat back in the chair and looked at all three of them. "I was just going to--"

"I’ll get it, Lex. Just tell me where," Clark said, a hand on Lex’s shoulder making sure he didn’t move.

"On the sofa," Lex said with a sigh. "I’m allowed to move around, you know. My lung capacity is nearing normal and my heart tissue is regenerating."

"I didn’t think it did that," Clark said as he picked up an extravagantly wrapped package and shook it as if he didn’t have x-ray vision.

"Yeah, well, just one more reason to tap my veins and schedule a cardiac catheterization."

"Is that safe?" Martha asked.

"They want a tissue sample before regeneration is complete."

"Sounds as if they’re treating you like a prized guinea pig," Jonathan said, not at all happy about what he was hearing.

Lex shrugged. "Nothing new about that."

"They’ve been experimenting on him ever since the meteor incident, Dad."

"And your parents just let them?"

"Nobody knew what the meteor radiation was doing to me, Mr. Kent. I’m incapable of growing hair. I heal abnormally fast. Those things were blatant, obvious. But there could have been other changes taking place. The same thing is happening now. Being a pregnant male is abnormal. Having cardiac tissue regenerate is abnormal."

"Allowing yourself to be used as a guinea pig is abnormal," Jonathan said flatly.

Lex smiled. "Like father, like son. You explain it to him, Martha. Last time, I managed to make matters worse and get myself slapped."

"I have to keep my boys in line somehow," Martha said cheekily.

It had to be something about their Metropolis upbringing that allowed them to laugh about what happened, Jonathan concluded. He looked at Clark and saw he was just as perplexed as his father. Definitely a Metropolis oddity.

Clark gave up trying to understand and ripped into his present. "A cell phone! Oh, man! Look how tiny it is!"

"I thought you would feel better about going to the amusement park with your friends this afternoon if you knew you were only a phone call away. That’s why I wanted to give it before the actual ceremony. It’s already activated and yes, I have the number. You’ll find that your home number and my numbers are programmed in. Everything you need to know is written out for you."

"Thank you, Lex," Clark said, hesitantly looking at his parents.

Jonathan sighed. "Thank him properly, Clark, and then we have to go."

Clark didn’t have to be told twice. He raced to Lex and gave him an exuberant hug and kiss. Martha, of course, took a picture.

"I’m so proud of you," Martha said as they settled onto a bleacher in the stadium twenty minutes later. "You handled the scene at the mansion well. You really are starting to accept them as a couple, aren’t you?"

"’You can't always get what you want," Jonathan sang softly. "But if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.’"

Martha’s jaw dropped. "Why, Jonathan Kent! Quoting The Graduate and singing The Rolling Stones. Where’s that country hick I thought I married?"

"’Just two good ol’ boys, never meanin' no harm...’"

Martha giggled and held Jonathan’s hand as they watched their son, their boy delivered straight from heaven, receive his diploma.

*****

Lex turned on the local cable station and shook his head at what appeared to be Smallville’s version of the Jerry Springer Show. He’d thought the show was funny as hell back when he was in college, but since he only watched it when he was high, he wasn’t the best judge of its creativity.

"I’m going to kill ‘em," a woman was yelling. "They killed my boyfriend and now I’m going to kill ‘em. I’m going to be thirty next week. I should be married!" she wailed.

"But your boyfriend committed suicide," the host said, rolling his eyes at the audience of about twenty-five.

"They forced him into doing it. He was assaulted on the job and they did nothing. In fact, they fired him!"

"Because he was assaulted?"

"Well, no, it was because he didn’t go to work. But that was because of the assault. He was scared, always afraid he’d run up on the man who committed the assault since he was as free as a bird--bought off the judge and got sentenced to some stupid class. Not even community service." She grabbed a handful of tissues and blew her nose loudly. "My baby should have gotten psychiatric help, but he got fired instead. It’s not fair. I should have been celebrating my second wedding anniversary, but now I’m just an old maid. They gotta pay. Y’all see that, don’t cha? They gotta pay."

The host gave her a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. "I’m sorry we’re out of time. Next time on Smallville Extreme--My Neighbor Has A Thousand Cats And I Can’t Find My Dog! Be sure to tune in!"

Lex laughed and stood to get a bottle of water.

"Oh, good, it hasn’t started," Vi said as she came into the room, followed by several members of his staff. "You were heading to the sofa, right, Lex? Since you’re supposed to have your feet up and resting."

"Of course. Just getting a water before--"

"Water will spoil your appetite. Cook is making up a tray."

"I see." He eyed his staff. "Is there a revolt I’m unaware of?"

Vi smiled. "You wouldn’t begrudge us a view of Clark’s academic achievement, would you? He has quite a following here at the mansion."

"So I see." He smiled slightly to let the staff know he wasn’t upset. They relaxed and he curiously watched Donovan set up a folding table in the corner of the room. Cindy, who helped Cook in the kitchen on occasion, walked in with a heavily laden tray. "That’s not all for me, I hope."

"We thought a small reception was in order. Did you know Harry’s granddaughter is one of the graduates?"

Harry was the gardener. "No. I would have let him have the day off if--"

"He doesn’t get along with his daughter. So it’s just as well that he’s not there, but--"

Lex nodded as Harry stepped hesitantly into the room. "Come on in, Harry. Have a front row seat."

"Thank you, sir."

Lex stretched out on the sofa. Vi adjusted pillows behind him before shoving a tray onto his lap. He started to protest the amount, but just sighed wearily and focused on the television screen, which was now showing a picture of the Smallville High stadium.

By the time the ceremony was over, Lex’s tray was empty and his office resembled a reception area. He was listening to Geoffrey and Billings talk about rising fuel costs, and their ideas on how to regulate pricing, when his cell phone rang. "Excuse me," he said politely, and because Lex had orders not to move off the sofa, the two men walked away, continuing their discussion. "Lex Luthor," he said into the receiver.

"I love you, Lex Luthor!"

Lex gripped the phone. "I really hope you’re alone, Clark."

"Yes, I’m alone, you idiot! Alone in my new truck! How’d you do it, Lex? How’d you get Dad to let me accept this? Even Mom didn’t know what was going on when he led me to the truck."

Lex grinned. "It’s just a matter of marketing, Clark. I explained that you would need transportation in Metropolis, that you were mature enough to handle ownership, and that with the baby…"

"It looks just like the old truck."

"Shh. It’s supposed to be the old truck. But I couldn’t give you a four-year old gift, Clark. Luckily, the outer model design hasn’t changed much and your father probably didn’t get a good look at it anyway."

"Yeah, I wasn’t sure it was new either, until I saw the inside. They didn’t even have cd player’s like this four years ago!"

"Figured that alt-crap stuff you like to listen to needed all the help it could get." Clark snorted. "So, you on your way home to change before you go to the amusement park?"

"Yeah. I was going to ride with Pete, but now Pete’s going to ride with me. He thinks the truck is a gift from my folks. I can’t believe--God, Lex, a truck! And a phone! So, how many minutes do I have per month? I couldn’t find that listed anywhere."

"No limits, Clark."

"You’re the best boyfriend ever!"

Lex held the phone away from his ear. "You might want to scream that a little louder; not sure if they heard you in Illinois."

"Who’s that I hear in the background?"

"Seems I’m hosting a reception in your honor."

"Really?"

"My staff is proud of you, Clark. We all sat down and watched the graduation together. And did you know Wendy Wilson was my gardener’s granddaughter? The reception is in her honor, too."

"You’re a great boss, Lex. No, I didn’t speed, Mom. Guess what? Lex is having a reception in my honor at the mansion right now. Lex? Mom wants to know if you have enough food."

Lex smiled. "Tell her Cook has everything well in hand."

"She says that’s good, because you were looking too thin today. What, Dad? Dad says he’s got this special mash for the cows who look a little puny. He’ll be sure to forward it to Cook."

Lex laughed. Whatever the hell was going on with Jonathan Kent, he liked it. "Tell him thanks but no thanks, Clark. Wouldn’t want to deprive Bessie or whoever of her sacred nourishment. I know how special the cows are to your father." And why had he said that, he thought with a groan. Didn’t need anyone remembering his past had killed one herd of Jonathan Kent’s livestock.

"Dad says be quiet before Mom hears. She’s very jealous. I’m leaving, Mom and Dad. The park closes at nine. I’m going to stop by and see Lex before I come home."

"You don’t have to, you know."

"Yeah, yeah. Big hardship to stop by and visit my boyfriend. This is so cool. I love this phone!"

Lex heard the engine start in the background. "Well, you’re going to have to hang up now. You can’t talk to me in front of Pete or anyone else."

"Maybe I’ll just hang around with Chloe."

"Clarrrrk."

"I’ll be good, I promise. Going to hang up now. You’ll call if you, like, need me, right?"

"Vi and Donovan both have your number."

"Okay. Lex?"

"Yes. Clark?"

"I love you."

"Have fun, Clark. And…the same goes for me."

Lex pressed the END button and stuck the phone back in his pocket. He looked at the bulge of his stomach, listened to the cacophony of his employees’ voices, remembered how happy Clark had sounded, and discovered that while his life wasn’t perfect at the moment, it was--good.

He could count on one hand how many times he’d had that thought before.


Comments? Dayspring

Chapters 25-Epilogue

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