TIME AND CHANCE

By

Dayspring

(Posted January 25 - August 30, 2003)

     I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all. ~ Ecclesiastes 9:11

Chapter One

Clark automatically slapped the alarm clock, stretched, and soundlessly got out of the bed before he realized he didn't have to be soundless. His eyes widened as he searched for his errant partner. Sounds from the bathroom indicated his search was over. But he didn't like the sounds he was hearing.

"Lex?" He padded over to the bathroom and pushed open the door. Lex was just straightening from bending over the toilet. He pushed the lever and smiled weakly in Clark's direction.

"Now you know how I woke many mornings of my misspent youth." As naked as Clark, he went over to the sink and did a quick rinse and spit.

Clark wet a towel and wiped it across Lex's face, which was pale even for him. "Hey, you're not that worried about your presentation, are you?" Clark knew Lex had an important business deal in the works. Well, actually LuthorCorp had an important business deal, but Lex was completely in charge of it. Another one of Lionel's tests.

"It's not that; by the end of the day, Anderson Foods will be a subsidiary of LuthorCorp," Lex said confidently. "I think I picked up some bug when I was in Asia a couple of months ago, something with a long incubation period."

"I thought you didn't get sick," Clark accused worriedly.

"Even my immune system can't be expected to keep up with every germ, Clark. Besides, I was kind of exhausted at the beginning of the trip. Someone had worn me out the night before." Lex waggled his eyebrows to show he was teasing.

Clark blushed. "You were going to be gone for two whole weeks, Lex." For some reason unfathomable to both of them, Lionel had demanded Lex's company as he prowled for Asian acquisitions. "That was my whole Christmas Break! Iíd pictured us playing ĎWhatís In Santaís Pocketí or something for long hours on end."

Lex shot Clark an amused look. "ĎWhatís In Santaís Pocket?í Good thing for you my stomach is already empty, or you would see what I think of that in lurid technicolor."

"You know what I mean, Lex."

Lex relented and stopped his teasing. "Yes, I know. And Iím sorry for spoiling your Christmas plans. DadÖis Dad. But that night certainly made enough memories to get you through the holidays."

Clark ducked his head. "Yeah. Mom kept asking me why I had such a big grin on my face all the time. I told her I just really liked Christmas."

"And giving Ďunwrappedí presents."

Clark wriggled as he remembered sinking into Lex without a condom. Itíd felt like being encased in a hot, form-fitting, supple leather gloveÖ

"Earth to Clark." He blinked. "Jesus, you better be glad your mom focused on your face and not somewhere else," Lex said and Clark felt fingers brush against his cock, which was pointing up against his belly.

"You felt so good, Lex. I wish--I wish youíd let me do it again."

Lex walked across the room and fell across the bed. "You shouldnít break discipline on a regular basis."

Clark plopped down beside him. "For a wanton, hedonistic profligate, youíre awfully disciplined."

"Those tabloid reporters really need to get a life. Wearing a condom is just good sense, Clark. Especially when youíre with someone like me."

Clark sighed. "I understand. You've told me about business trips with your father before. He uses whatever he needs to to get what he wants--even his son."

Lex lifted his head, his eyes heartbreakingly blue in the dim light of the room. "I didnít sleep my way through Asia."

Clark reached out and Lex flinched. Determined, Clark finished his movement and stroked Lex's cheek. "Lex, I wasnít accusing you of anything. And even if--even if something had happened, I wouldn't blame you. I'd know it wouldn't have been your choice."

Lex gave a bitter laugh. "Because prostitutes don't have choices, right? We are subject to the whims of our pimps."

"Lex."

The bald head gave a negative shake. "No, you're absolutely right, Clark. No matter how you pretty it up, a whore by any other name--"

"Stop it." Clark wrapped his arms around Lex. "Just stop it. You know I can't stand it when you give in to what people think about you."

"It's more than just rumor. I have slept with people on my father's orders. Hell, I've slept with people just to make Dad proud of my initiative. The things you can find out by fucking the right personÖ."

Clark kissed the back of the smooth head. "And what have you found out by fucking me?"

"That it turns me on as much as getting fucked by you." Lex gave a genuine laugh. "Go on and get out of here, Kent. You need to get home before the chickens wake your parents."

"Rooster, Lex. And don't worry, for some reason he only crows at 9 a.m. Dad thinks he's defective," Clark said as he dressed.

"And he hasn't become rooster stew yet?"

"Mom feels sorry for him. She says the rooster has the right to be who he wants to be."

Lex smiled. "I think I could love your mother."

Clark zipped his jeans and looked intently at Lex. "I think, if given the chance, she could love you, too."

"And your father?"

Clark couldn't lie. "Stranger things have happened. After all, this is Smallville."

They both laughed. "I'll call you if I can't get away and make it back home tonight," Lex said.

Clark nodded. He thought Lex still looked too pale. And his pupils had contracted, signaling a headache. "Why don't you go back to sleep? The alarm is set."

Lex shook his head. "I was getting up at five anyway."

"You driving yourself?"

"The limo."

Clark was relieved. "Maybe you can catch a nap on the way."

Lex's eyes widened. "I look that bad?"

"Just a little tired," Clark hedged.

"Damn, just what I need today."

"It's not that noticeable."

"Trust me--Dad will notice." Lex disappeared into his closet, then returned to the room with a wooden box. He opened it and took out a stash of tiny bottles and jars.

"Whatís that?" Clark asked curiously.

"A little of this, a little of that. A collection I gathered back in the days when I overindulged the night before something important. Eye drops, concealer, caffeine pills. A few 'specialty items' courtesy of TobyÖ."

"Can't you just say, 'I'm sick today, Dad'?"

Pale eyes regarded him with sadness. "No, Clark, I can't."

Clark reached out and traced one of the smudges marring the beautiful face. "I hate your father."

Lex snorted humorlessly. "Join the legions."

"That doesn't mean I hate you."

"Congratulations. You're firmly back in the minority." Lex picked up a magnifying mirror from the box. "You're right; I look like Casper on crack."

Clark didn't want to laugh but it was impossible. "You're warped, Lex."

"Part of my charm. Scurry along home, Clark. One parent after my ass today is all I can handle."

A brief kiss. "Don't push yourself too hard, okay? If you're getting sickÖ"

"I'll be fine. After the meeting I'll come back here, take a nap, and be good as new. I'm virtually unbreakable, you know."

"Tell it to someone who didn't fish you out of the bottom of a river."

Blue eyes bordering on gray stared at Clark solemnly. "Don't spend your day worrying about me. If I still feel out of sorts later, I'll see the doctor. That's a promise."

Clark nodded, reassured that Lex was taking his illness seriously. He was used to his friends and family getting colds and stuff, but Lex had always been completely healthy--apart from the various injuries he'd suffered since his arrival in Smallville. "Call me tonight if you don't want me to come over."

Lex smiled. "Not going to happen. Have a good day at school, okay?"

Clark grabbed one more kiss before leaving the mansion. Once he passed the range of the gate's security cameras, he increased his speed and made it home in less than a minute.

By the time his mom came to wake him, he'd been in bed long enough to look properly sleepy.

*****

Lex leaned back against the pillowed leather of the limo and tried not to worry. It wasn't like any of this was unexpected. He'd been waiting fourteen years, and in a way, it was kind of a relief. The waiting was over; the real damage from the meteors was about to become known. From the moment he'd regained his senses after the "shower", he'd known the meteors were not through with him. He'd "felt" it, and subsequent research of the effects of radiation exposure had confirmed it. "It" was the reason why the true horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki wasn't known until many years later and why a generation of actors, who'd filmed westerns unknowingly on top of underground nuclear testing sites in the southwestern desert, had all died of cancer. It was sort of like microwave cooking--working from the inside out.

And it was the reason why he and his father had been so meticulous about his medical check-ups. Had Lionel considered, as he had, that maybe Smallville wasn't the most healthful place for him to be? Or maybe his father had held the same hope that he had--that maybe a second exposure would negate the first, like the first had wiped away his asthma.

Or maybe that was the real reason why Lionel had tried so desperately to get him out of Smallville.

Damn. That was a disturbing thought, wasn't it? That Lionel's ulterior motives weren't as ulterior as he thought they were? Next thing he knew he'd be convincing himself that Lionel loved him not just as the heir to the Luthor legacy but as Lex, his son.

So the cancer had already migrated to his brain, right?

Cancer. He thought about Pamela. Now, that was a way to die with dignity. She'd come, made peace with him, then just faded away. And he'd been the only one there to mourn her.

One more than he could count on.

He shook his head and reached for a bottle of water from the refrigerator. No, he was pretty sure Clark would mourn him. His illness was going to devastate the boy. He already harbored an unnatural guilt about the meteors anyway. And Clark had been so damned worried about him when he found him puking his guts out earlier. If he knew about the other bouts of nausea, the periods of weakness, the lethargy that had him falling asleep at his desk in the afternoonsÖ. It was leukemia, or possibly some exotic, orphan cancer never observed before. Maybe it would be named after him, and Lionel could hold fundraisers for the research. His dad would like that. Would make a decent tax break.

And in the end--in the end he'd become the spokesperson for cancer research. Because he had no intention of succumbing to anything other than old age, and he wasn't too sure about that. He not only had money, but access to the most sophisticated labs and the world's top scientists. If a cure couldn't be found, then he'd just have to settle for a delay tactic, and no, he didn't mean he was going to turn himself into a human popsicle. He was a survivor. A damn good one.

He drained the blue bottle and tossed it in the receptacle. Even if he had to resort to standard treatment, he'd still survive. And at least he didn't have to worry about propecia.

Snickering at his wayward thoughts, he picked up one of the folders from his attaché and flipped it open. Worrying was useless until the exact nature of his ailment was diagnosed. Until then, he might as well concentrate on business.

*****

Clark made it all the way to his second period math class before he allowed his worry to come out of the back corner of his brain where he'd hidden it from his mother. Hiding things from his mother was a skill he'd only become adept at in the past year or so. And he really wasn't that proud of it. If only his parents could give Lex a chance, then he wouldn't have to live a double--no, triple life of lies and deceits. He was one thing to his parents, another to Lex, and still another to the rest of the world. And he understood why it had to be like that--except for Lex. If it wasn't for the likelihood his father would just drop dead if Jonathan found out, he'd tell Lex everything. Lex would understand, and Lex would keep the secret because LexÖloved him.

Of course, he wasn't sure if Lex knew that. Lex liked to live under the delusion that he was destined to be a clone of Lionel Luthor--unlovable and unloving. It was a lie, but it seemed to help Lex get through the day so he figured he'd let go for the moment. After all, what was one more lie in their relationship?

Clark snorted. Who would have thunk it? Lex Luthor and Clark Kent. The Bad Boy Billionaire and the Innocent Farm Boy. Sounded like the plot of a video sold in the very back room of Williams' Emporium of Exotic Literature and Film, or as it was locally called--Uncle Billy's House of Kink. And how did the innocent farm boy know this? Because the bad boy billionaire had made certain internet purchases from Uncle Billy's website--under an assumed name, of course.

"Mr. Kent, would you like to go to the board and do problem six?"

Clark wondered what Mr. Wyman would do if he said no. Of course, that was what the teacher wanted. He always chose Clark to do a problem when Clark's attention wandered. Sadist. But instead of giving the man a reason to send him to see the principal, Clark went to the board and solved the problem in less than a minute. The class clapped. Mr. Wyman frowned. And Clark refused to admit that he borrowed Lex's smirk as he took his seat.

*****

"You could have gotten a better deal."

Lex sighed as he and his father walked side by side toward the exit of the building. "By letting Anderson know that I know about his mistress?"

"You know?"

"Of course I know. You're the one who taught me to know everything about an opponent before facing him."

"Then why didn't you use the information for a better deal?"

"Because I was satisfied with the deal as it was, and in the end LuthorCorp will reap more benefits from it than the few million we would have initially saved."

"Enlighten me."

Sure. Have a couple hundred of years? Lex fought not to roll his eyes. "We wanted Anderson's Foods because it's a leader in baby food products. Why is it a leader in baby food products? Because of the longstanding integrity of the company. If Anderson is exposed, and I guarantee someone somewhere would have investigated if Anderson had sold for a lower bid, then the integrity of the company would have suffered and therefore LuthorCorp would have had to spend millions trying to rebuild a market that was already in place."

"And letting Anderson remain as company president?"

"Same deal. If he gets out of line, then we spring the knowledge of his mistress on him."

Lionel laughed. "You are a constant source of wonder, son."

The linoleum of the hallway seemed to shimmer beneath Lex's feet, and it took him a belated second to answer. "Glad I'm of some use, Dad."

"You'd be of better use if you returned to Metropolis permanently."

"Have you heard the phrase, 'this town isn't big enough for the two of us'?'" Lex frowned as the world around him quivered. What the hell?

"Nonsense! We're both Luthors. I know you consider LexCorp a separate entity, but, honestly, son, we both know it's going to end up being a subsidiary of--Lex!"

Lex heard his father's shout, but couldn't stop the world from closing up around him and turning dark.

Chapter Two

"Clark!"

Clark stuck his head out of the barn, where he was doing his after-school chores. "Yeah, Mom?"

"Chloe's on the phone."

Clark leaned the pitchfork against the side of the barn and jogged over to the house. "Thanks," he called as he picked up the kitchen extension. "Hi, Chloe! What's up?"

"You tell me."

Clark squinted in puzzlement. "What?"

"You haven't heard?"

Clark thought about whapping his head against the wall. Chloe often made him feel that way, always miles ahead and impatiently looking back to see what was taking her friends so long to catch up. "Heard what, Chloe?"

"About Lex Luthor's collapse."

"His what!" Clark gripped the phone until he heard the plastic start to crack.

"Dad just told me. Lex and his dad were walking out of a meeting and Lex just went down. He was taken to MetMed. I thought you might have an inside scoop or something since you guys are friends, butÖ"

Clark tried to get his turbulent thoughts under control. He'd known Lex was sick this morning. Why hadn't he made him promise to go see the doctor immediately? "If Lex is sick, who was going to tell me, Chloe? Mr. Luthor?" he asked archly.

"Oh, right," Chloe said, seeing the flaw in her logic. "But if you hear from Lex and you find out it's something exotic or something, you'll let me know, right?"

"I'm hanging up now, Chloe."

"Don't be like that, Clark. If it's something really bad or really common, I don't need to know. But if it's something that I need to put on the wall or--"

"Bye, Chloe." Clark hung up and reached for the phone book. He flipped through it at full speed, then dialed the number for Metropolis Medical Center. A cool, professional voice turned down his request for information on Alexander Luthor. "Mom! I need to borrow your car." The truck was at the feed store with his dad.

Martha came down the stairs with a laundry basket. "Why? Something wrong with Chloe?"

"No, Lex. He's at MetMed. He collapsed after a meeting. I called the hospital, but they wouldn't give me any information."

"I can only imagine the number of calls like that they've received. The Luthors are sort of celebrities in Metropolis. The media is probably all over this. Why don't you just wait until Lex calls you, honey?"

"When I got hurt at school, after that fight with Eric, who was there right after you and Dad?"

Martha sighed. "Your father isnít going to like this."

"Fine. We can argue about it when I get back, but I have to go, Mom."

"You probably wonít even be allowed in to see him," she argued.

"Lex needs me. Iíll see him."

"I doubt itís that dire, son."

"I think it is," Clark whispered.

Martha reached out and put her hand on his shoulder. "What do you know, Clark? Has Lex been feeling bad?"

Clark nodded. "And he hasnít been sick in a long time. He must be scared, Mom, and he canítÖhe canít show any weakness in front of his father because Mr. Luthor will use it against him."

"Surely if Lex is seriously ill--"

"It doesnít make a difference. Luthors donít show emotion, even if theyíreÖdying."

Martha hugged him. "Iím sure Lex isnít dying, Clark. But if you feel this strongly about needing to see Lex--"

"I do, Mom. Iíll take the bus if I have to." He wouldnít take the risk of running to the city like he had when his mom had been in danger. But he was going to Metropolis. Maybe heíd go over to the mansion and get his truck. The staff had been informed of the true ownership and wouldn't bat an eyelash.

"Okay. Take the car. But I want you to promise me that you wonít get in the way. If Lex needs to rest, come home. I donít want him thinking he has to entertain you."

Clark snorted. "Oh, please. Lex stopped thinking that a long time ago. If heís doing business or something when I go over to the mansion, he expects me to amuse myself until heís finished."

Martha pursed her lips. "Clark Kent, have you been making a pest of yourself? Lex isnít a high school kid like yourself. He has responsibilities. He owns LexCorp and is still working for his father."

"Which is why he needs me, Mom. Iím good at distracting him from all that heavy stuff. And donít worry; Iím not distracting him too much. Lex knows what he wants, and he knows what he has to do to get it. I couldnít stand in his way if I tried." He grabbed the keys from the rack near the door. "If Iím going to be really late, Iíll call. 'Bye."

*****

Martha watched the car rumble down the driveway and out onto the road. Clark's friendship with Lex Luthor was starting to worry her. In the beginning she'd thought it was just a temporary situation. Clark was flattered by the attention of an almost celebrity, and of course Lex's collection of cool cars and his living by himself in a castle were attractive to a fifteen-year-old boy. She also knew that Lex was intrigued and somewhat flattered himself by Clark's open offer of friendship. She'd grown up in Metropolis; she knew friendship among those in the Luthor realm was a commodity bought and sold on a regular basis.

She hadn't even worried when Clark called Lex his best friend, poor Pete Ross falling down a notch without even realizing it. Clark was a teenager. They were notoriously fickle and when Clark had made the statement, she figured Pete would be reinstated before too long, or Chloe, maybe even Lana, would take the top spot. Jonathan had wanted to start an argument over it, but she had shushed him. Clark had been bruised by bullets fired by Lex, yet was still firmly in Lex's corner. The argument wouldn't have solved anything.

Okay, there had been a warning tingle in the back of her head when Lex's past had come back to bite him on the butt and she'd had to ask Clark to cool it with Lex for a little while. When he had obeyed her for all of a solitary day, she'd gotten concerned. Clark had always been obedient to a fault. Yet, before the world completed one whole rotation after their talk, Clark was dialing an impressive array of numbers looking for Lex, and Lex's people were actually giving him answers. And what exactly did that say about Clark's place in Lex's life?

It was starting to feel decidedly un-temporary.

Now Clark was running off to be with Lex at the hospital. Like he was family. Like he was more than just a friend. Like she would have run to the hospital if someone called and said Jonathan had collapsed. And how had Lex known Clark was in the hospital back when that Summers boy had taken Clark's powers? Who'd told LexÖand why did they think Lex would want to know?

"Martha?" Jonathan came through the door. "I figured you were out running errands when I saw your car missing."

"Clark has it. He's on his way to Metropolis."

"Metropolis? What--" Jonathan's eyes narrowed. "What is Luthor dragging our son into now, and why did you let him go?"

She rolled her eyes. "Clark is seventeen, two feet taller than I, and can lift a tractor with one hand. Why are you assuming I 'let' him do anything?"

He stepped toward her. "He didn't threaten you or anything, did he? I swear, ever since that boy met Luthor he's been hardheaded and--"

"Clark asked for the car, Jonathan. It seems that Lex collapsed after a meeting and--"

"Probably an overdose or alcohol poisoning."

"And the hospital wasn't giving out any information over the phone. So Clark decided he had to go to Metropolis."

"And he's still not going to know anything. They're probably not going to let him within a hundred yards of the Crown Prince of Darkness."

"I tried that argument out on him, too. To which your son replied, 'Lex needs me. Iíll see him.' If I didn't know Clark as well as I do, I'd be worried about anyone who tried to stand between him and Lex. But I doubt he'll have much trouble. If Lex is lucid at all, I'm sure he's told the hospital to let Clark in to see him. Clark has astonishing access to Lex, Jonathan. Lex apparently doesn't take their friendship lightly."

Jonathan snorted. "Clark is just one of the few of his 'adoring fans' he has in this town."

"He had enough 'adoring fans' to stage a buyout of the LuthorCorp Plant. Clark wasn't part of that. And yet the workers backed Lex, including Gabe Sullivan."

"Lex's cash, you mean. They didn't have jobs, Martha. They were desperate, and they bought into Luthor's rhetoric. Never did say the boy couldn't smooth talk like a snake oil salesman."

"Jonathan, I know you're not going to like hearing this, but I think this is more than just an infatuation. Clark was frantic with worry when he found out about Lex."

"Clark might think Luthor is his friend, but we both know Luthor is going to tire of Clark quickly. He's a novelty to Luthor, Martha, a toy to amuse him during his exile from the big city. As soon as he and his daddy get through playing their sick games, Lex will run back to Metropolis. Clark will be crushed, but he'll get over it."

"What if--what if it's something more, something stronger, Jon? Heís nearly a grown man. We can't dictate who he can be friends with. He won't even be living under our roof for much longer. Heíll be at Metropolis University in the fall."

"This fascination, or whatever it is that Luthor has for Clark, won't last that long. Or else he'll do something that disgusts Clark so bad that he won't be able to talk his way out of it. Clark's a good kid at heart, and he knows right from wrong."

"But he's also loyal, Jonathan, and there'sÖI just think they're closer than we suspect."

Jonathan frowned. "What do you mean by that? You think Luthor has done something improper to Clark?"

Martha opened her mouth to quickly deny it, but she just kept seeing Clark's face, the determination to get to Lex's side as quickly as possible. "I think they both exert a lot of influence on each other," she replied diplomatically. "And I also think we're both overreacting. If it was Chloe or Pete, we'd be worried that Clark wasn't at their bedside."

"Chloe and Pete are good, normal kids. Luthor isn't," Jonathan said strongly. "I'm going to have to have a talk with that boy when he gets home."

Martha winced at his tone. "I'd first find out whatís wrong with Lex; if it's something serious, Clark's going to be upset enough."

Jonathan kissed her lightly and headed for the stairs. "Don't worry, Martha. I'm not a total idiot. I'm going to wash up for dinner."

As Martha turned to check the pots on the stove, she concluded that being a total idiot had never been anyone's problem; partial idiocy was always enough.

*****

Clark walked up to the main floor nurse's station at MetMed with a confidence that he didn't feel. "My name is Clark Kent, and I'm here to see Lex Luthor."

"I'm sorry. Mr. Luthor is un--" The nurse looked up from the monitor which was showing Lex Luthor's records. "Could I see some ID, son?"

Clark fished his license out of his wallet.

She smiled at him. "I'm going to call Security to escort you to Mr. Luthor's suite. As you can imagine, we're sort of on high alert with all the media attention."

"Thank you, and I'm sure Lex is sorry for all the extra measures his hospitalization has caused."

The nurse shrugged. "New England has the Kennedys, Gotham has the Waynes--well, only one Wayne now if you don't count that Grayson kid--and we have the Luthors. It just comes with the territory. Ah, here's your escort now. Milton, please take Mr. Kent up to the Luthor suite."

Milton nodded and Clark followed him to an elevator which Milton accessed with a key.

"Just doing an override so we won't be stopped," Milton explained when he saw Clark looking at him. Then he looked at Clark. "You don't look like a rich kid."

"I'm not."

"A journalist?"

"No."

"An intern at LuthorCorp?"

"No."

"Part of the Luthor household staff?"

Clark was beginning to enjoy this. "No."

"A company messenger?"

Clark shook his head. "Not even close."

The elevator doors opened. "It's the last door on your left., Mr. Kent," Milton said, before giving up with a sigh.

Clark took pity on the security officer as he stepped out of the elevator. "Just so it doesn't bother you all night--I'm Lex Luthor's best friend."

The officer's jaw was on the floor as the elevator doors closed.

Another security checkpoint loomed ahead. Clark was glad to see that Lex's security here in Metropolis wasn't as slack as it was in Smallville. Probably Lionel's doing. Speaking ofÖ He could hear the elder Luthor's strident tones coming from Lex's room as he put his ID back in his pocket and approached the door. Taking a deep breath, he knocked.

"Yes?" dual voices called out.

He opened the door, quickly noting how pale Lex looked in the too white room and white satin pajamas. He barely glanced at the room's other occupant. "Hey, Lex."

Lex smiled. It didn't have the intensity of the one he gave Clark in private, but it was close enough. "Clark! Come in. Does this mean my ignoble collapse is all over Smallville?"

"Chloe told me."

"Ah, the intrigue-seeking Ms. Sullivan. She will no doubt make a newspaper editor very happy in the near future."

"How did you get in here?"

Lex threw a glare in his father's direction. "You remember Clark Kent, don't you, Dad?"

"How did he get in here?" Lionel directed the question to his son this time.

"I know you have no basis for recognition of such a breed, but he's a friend. I informed the hospital that if he showed up, he was to be escorted to me immediately."

Lionel gave Clark a calculating stare. Clark felt a shiver crawl along his spine, but controlled his body enough not to let it show.

"As a friend, Mr. Kent," Lionel began, "perhaps you would be so kind as to urge my son into telling the medical staff the name, or at least the chemical composition, of the substance that he has abused. The extensive testing is getting tedious."

"As Iíve informed my father, on numerous occasions, I am not abusing, taking, snorting, sniffing, or injecting anything," Lex stated firmly.

Lionel gave a smile worthy of a shark tank. "Come, on, son. Donít you think I recognize the signs by now--no matter how carefully applied the makeup?"

Lex flushed angrily, and Clark cleared his throat to stop Lex from emitting some scathing reply. It wasnít that Clark cared what Lex said to Lionel, but it was obvious Lex was sick and didnít need the excitement of a war of words with his father. "Lex doesnít do drugs anymore, Mr. Luthor."

Lionel laughed. "Pretty and naive. I see why heís your friend, Lex, but arenít you afraid of becoming bored?"

Lex looked at Clark, the color still high in his cheeks. "I apologize for my father, Clark. Heís woefully ignorant when it comes to friendship. It is a social deficiency that, I fear, cannot be corrected at such a late stage of his development."

"Do you really want to get into a discussion of deficiencies, Lex?" Lionel asked.

"No, I just want you to accept the fact that my illness is real. Itís not like we hadnít considered the possibility of this."

Clark caught just a flicker of something on Lionelís face before the elder Luthor whipped out a PDA. Concern, fear?

"Goldberg has the most promising research in treating radiation exposure," Lionel said as he scanned the small screen he held. "Chong is the leading oncologist."

"But Noord has worked significantly with blood ailments," Lex tossed in as he grabbed his own PDA from the bedside table. "Iíve been studying his work carefully for the past year."

"But Chong has had success in tumor shrinkage."

Tumor shrinkage? Oncologists? The past year? "Lex?"

The man in question looked up, handing his father the PDA. "Here are my findings, Dad. What is it, Clark?"

Clark glanced at Lionel and saw him engrossed in Lexís research. "Youíre sickÖand you knew it?" he asked, not able to hide the accusation in his voice.

"I didnít exactly know it, Clark. What I knew was that at some point an illness could develop. The meteor damage to me was at a cellular level. I didnít just lose my hair--I am incapable of growing it. That is an abnormality, and I would have been remiss if I thought that would be the only one."

"And cancer is the abnormal growth of cells," Clark whispered.

"Yes. Also there is the possibility of radiation poisoning, which is insidious in that its damage begins deep within the body and can take years before the injury is detected. Until we get the test results back, I wonít know which ailment Iím suffering from. It could be both."

Clark swayed as he tried to come to grips with the possible loss of Lex. He reached out blindly to regain his balance. "But you canÖyouíll get better, right?"

Lex grabbed the extended hand and gave it a firm squeeze before simply holding it. "For once, listen to your father, Clark. Luthors donít go down without a hell of a fight."

"Neither do Kents," Clark declared, his eyes catching Lexís to make a solemn vow that Lex would not be fighting alone. Lex blinked and nodded.

The moment was broken by a doctor entering the room. He looked taken aback as three pairs of eyes focused sharply on him. Then he sort of frowned at Clark. "Iím sorry, sir, but I have important matters to discuss with the Luthor family."

Clark looked at Lex, shamelessly pleading.

Lex gave the tiniest of smiles before turning to the doctor. "Clark has my permission to hear the test results, Dr. Kingsley."

Kingsley looked uncomfortable but nodded. "Your choice, Mr. Luthor. As you know, from the extreme hypotension the paramedics reported, we feared you were experiencing internal hemorrhaging."

"That was ruled out in the emergency room," Lionel said sharply.

"Yes, sir. Taking into consideration your sonís symptoms of nausea, headaches, lethargy, and periods of disorientation--"

Clark glared at Lex, letting him see the pain he felt. How could Lex keep this from him? How couldÖhow could he have not seen it? Shit. He should have seen it.

"--not to mention his previous exposure to radiation and the cellular alterations it caused, I requested intensive testing on the blood samples he provided."

"Kingsley, he is present," Lex said scathingly.

"Pardon me, Mr. Luthor. But once you hear the diagnosis, you will understand why Iím a bit disoriented myself. At the behest of your father, I convened a team of doctors to evaluate the results of the tests. The determination of hypoglycemia was expected. You were experiencing the classic symptoms of low blood sugar. Itís the other conclusion that has us thrown. Let me start by saying the tests have been redone several times and--"

"Just say it!" Lionel demanded. "We donít have time for your foot-shuffling routine. What is wrong with my son? Cancer or radiation-induced necrosis?"

"Neither."

"Well, something has him collapsing in a public building. What is it?" Lionel growled.

The doctor flinched and took a step back, away from Lionel. "Heís pregnant."

Chapter Three

The room was silent. Clark stared at the doctor, waiting for the punch line. Lionel merely looked disgusted. Lex rolled his eyes and turned to his father.

"Dad, I know your respect for my business acumen is reserved at best, but I don't think I'm out of line suggesting you reconsider any future funding of this facility."

Lionel gave a sharp nod. "It's true that you are often led by your emotions, son, but this proposition merits consideration. I'll inform the accounting department at once."

Kingsley paled. "This is not a joke, gentlemen."

"No, it isn't," Lex agreed. "Males of our species do not get pregnant, and I am most decidedly male," Lex avowed. Then he blanched and looked at his father with dawning horror etched on his face. "I was always a male, wasn't I, Dad?"

"Lex, there was a reason why I tried to keep you away from popular culture that had nothing to do with its lack of intrinsic value. You were always a fanciful child, and you really didn't need any help in creating outlandish fantasies. No, son. You were not a hermaphrodite at birth. And no, I didn't have your vagina sewn up and a penis sewn on. Of course, if you question my veracity, you can have your DNA analyzed."

"By this facility? I don't think so. I mean, the average teenager can perform a pregnancy test in her own bathroom, yet these illustrious doctors--"

"The tests are correct, Mr. Luthor." Kingsley opened the file he was carrying. "Here's the ultrasound of the fetus. It was examined by every member of the obstetrics staff."

Lex grabbed the picture from the man. "Looks like a shadowy blob to me, but I will give the experts the benefit of the doubt and say that yes, it is a fetus. Who's the lucky woman?"

"You know we did an ultrasound of you, Mr. Luthor."

"Yes, to look for masses, tumors."

"It's not a tumor, sir."

"Get out."

Kingsley blinked. "Excuse me?"

"Get out," Lex repeated softly.

"But, Mr. Luthor, this is a remarkable event! There are matters that need to be taken care of immediately. You are nearing the end of your first trimester and have had no prenatal care. We need--"

"Get him out of here," Lex warned. Despite being in shock, Clark heard something dark in Lex's voice and shivered.

His father must have heard it, too. "I think my son has made his wishes known, Doctor," Lionel said firmly. "If we require your further services, we'll contact you."

Kingsley looked at the files he had in his hand and then back to the Luthors, who both regarded him with a stare that should have been reserved for a garbage heap or sewer tank. Kingsley backed out the door.

The room was silent for far too long and just when Clark finally figured out something to say, Lionel spoke.

"Just when I think you can't disappoint me any further, you show me the error of my thoughts."

Clark felt the sting, and the barb wasn't even directed at him.

"Save it, Dad. You should know by now that I always exceed your expectations."

"But not quite in the way I had in mind, son."

"Disappointment--learn to live with it. I did," Lex snapped.

"Getting emotional, dare I say--hysterical, Lex? How apropos."

"There's no reason to insult Lex, Mr. Luthor. None of this is his fault," Clark began. Whatever the reason, Lex was sick, and he so didn't need to listen to his father's crap.

"How so, young man? How is this not Lex's fault? Are you telling me Lex didn't just roll over and let you shove your dick up his ass?"

Whatever blood Lex had left seemed to pool out of him and into Clark's face, leaving one deathly pale and the other flame red. "Don't you have a public statement to devise, Dad?" Lex said tiredly.

"And what should I say in this statement? That my son got himself knocked up by a pretty teenager? Hmm. That would take care of any LexCorp stock still floating about."

Lex closed his eyes. "Sure, Dad. Say whatever you want."

Lionel frowned and headed toward the door. "After I've fed the jackals, I'll be back to talk with you and these so-called doctors, son."

Lex nodded, keeping his eyes closed. Clark looked at his lover, frightened by the bruised circles around his eyes and the stark tracings of veins beneath the translucent skin. "Tell me how I can help you," Clark murmured, rubbing his thumb across the palm of Lex's hand.

Lex turned his head toward the bedside table. Clark opened the drawer and took out a platinum money clip. "Find a store. Buy a home pregnancy kit."

"'Kay. Anything else?"

Lex opened his eyes and the corner of his lip curled upward. "You mean like ice cream, sardines, and pickles?"

Clark smiled and bent down, brushing a quick kiss across Lex's lips. "I'll be back as soon as I can."

*****

Clark drove to the discount store he'd passed on his way into the city. Armed with Lex's money and a self-checkout line, he grabbed all the top brands of pregnancy tests, figuring that the scientist in Lex would a) insist on comparing ingredients and methodologies of the different brands and b) want to re-confirm any results.

He was rewarded with a Lexian smirk.

"You're starting to know me too well, Clark. That could be dangerous."

"There's no such thing as knowing you too well, Lex. I don't think it's possible."

"Flatterer." Lex scanned the back of the boxes. "Good thing I have a full bladder. Come on, Clark. Help me set up in the bathroom."

"Which tests do you want?"

"All of them."

"But a couple of them said you needed 'morning' pee."

"Semantics. Shouldn't really make much of a difference one way or the other."

Ten minutes later, Clark stood leaning in the doorway of the bathroom while Lex sat on the toilet looking at the line of tests laid out on the counter. Just by Lex's sudden stiffening, he knew how the results were turning out. "Lex?"

Lex stood and brushed by Clark. "Go home, Clark. We can talk tomorrow."

Clark nodded. He wasn't sure he was ready to talk either. "Let me clean this up, okay? Take it out to the dumpster so the staff won't find the tests."

Lex shrugged as if he didn't care one way or the other.

Clark gathered all the stuff together and tied it firmly into the plastic sack it had arrived in. He'd dump it in the biological waste container he'd spotted behind the hospital. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay?" he asked as he walked over to the bed. Lex lay curled atop the covers, and although Clark had decided that he'd keep the goodbye brief and unemotional--he knew he was just a hair's breadth away from cracking, and Lex was probably a good deal closer--he couldn't leave his friend looking so forlorn. "Lex, you're not alone in this, or anything. You know that, don't you?"

Lex tried for a reassuring smile but couldn't manage it. "I'll be okay, Clark. Just a bit overwhelmed at the moment. I thought I'd become reconciled with being the most visible freak on earth, and it's just taking time to realize that I've exceeded my own expectations. I guess I owe you an apology."

"For what?"

"You didn't sign on for this. You thought you were sleeping with a man, not some kind of bi-gendered freak who could get impregnated. Bet you're wishing now that you'd never gone bareback with me."

Clark squatted beside the bed so they were face to face. "I had to beg you to let me do you without a condom. So if it's anyone's fault, it's mine." Because I'm the freak, the alien, not you. "Lex, we've never--I mean, we sorta agreedÖ Hell, you know what you mean to me, right?" He didn't want to say the word, and figured Lex didn't want to hear it anyway. They'd been sleeping together for nearly a year and from the beginning, everything had been merely assumed and not spoken. It had never needed to be spoken. They weren't women, who seemed to have to hear a certain word spoken at least twice a day. They were men--in a manly relationship. No hearts. No flowers. Just sex. Really good sex.

And maybe, a little something more.

"You're still my best friend, Clark--even if you are the rake who's gotten me with child," Lex said, with an impish grin.

Clark laughed. Lex knew his heart exactly. Words were still unnecessary. "Only because you're such an irresistible, wanton wench."

Lex rolled his eyes. "Go, before you besmirch my name further, you cad. Besides, you already classify as a 'teenage father'. Let's not compound the cliché further by adding 'high school dropout.'"

"I can maybe get behind the high school dropout part, but the father partÖ" Clark let escape worriedly.

"It's not something you need to worry about," Lex said seriously. "I can't have a baby." It was a solemn and definite declaration.

Clark nodded. That was something he didn't want to think about. Generally, he was a pro-choice sorta guy. He'd grown up listening to both sides of the argument and when he was old enough to weigh the issues, he'd agreed with his mother's point of view. But there was no 'general' in this. It was his--his what? Whatever Lex had growing in him was--well, it wasn't human, that was for sure. And Lex wasn't designed for having a baby. The danger to his healthÖ.

"I better start for home before my folks send out a search party."

"And here I am, hoping my father will lose me," Lex said wryly.

Clark stood, then hesitantly looked at Lex. "Will itÖbe over by the time I get here tomorrow?"

Lex didn't pretend not to understand. "Perhaps. Depends on how willing I am to be a guinea pig. It's not like I haven't been a test subject before. After the meteor shower, I spent nearly a year being poked and prodded."

Clark started to protest that this was more personal, but it wasn't--not for Lex. And both times it was Clark's fault. Maybe it was time for Lex to learn the truth. He'd think about it overnight, letting the shock of the pregnancy die down a little. "See you tomorrow, Lex."

"Yeah."

*****

Clark sighed as the artificial haze of Metropolis dissolved into the familiar Kansas night sky. At least some things hadn't changed. Twenty-four hours ago, he'd been doing his homework at the kitchen table and wondering how soon he could get his parents to bed so he could sneak out of the house and go see Lex. It wasn't a nightly occurrence but it happened enough. There were just some days where he needed Lex, needed to be with him, needed to connect with him like he'd never connected with anyone before. Yes, he'd been a virgin, but it was more than that. Lex wasn't just his lover, or just his friend. Lex was...Lex was his balance. When the world decided to do loop-de-loops around him, Lex tethered him to the ground, reminded him that there was a ground.

His parents didn't understand how hard it was to be an alien. It wasn't just avoiding doing what he could do or figuring out how to do the things he could do without getting caught. It was a whole lot of psychological crap, too. It was the isolation of being one of a kind. It was the panic of wondering why you were like you were, why you'd been abandonedÖ. That was what they couldn't understand. He wasn't just a high school social outcast. He was DIFFERENT, and there were times when remembering that nearly broke his heart.

But Lex got it because he was different, too. Lex not only got it, but he used it to his advantage. It took balls to own up to being different, to flaunt it in the face of the "normal" people. He doubted that even Lionel himself had that much courage, that much guts. Lionel probably would have gotten hair plugs or a really good wig. Or if those options hadn't worked out, he would have become a recluse, one of those Howard Hughes types. Lex didn't use artificial hair, and he didn't hide in a dark cave. He walked openly on the street with his bald head held high and a smirk on his face. How could Clark not admire that? How could he not be drawn to the man whose inner strength was even greater than his alien physical version?

But was even Lex's great strength enough for this? This situation was beyond anything conceived. Conceived. Ha. That certainly put the "I" in irony. At first he hadn't wanted to be attracted to Lex. No. It wasn't like he could have stopped being attracted to Lex, but it was the whole gay thing. He already had the alien thing going. Adding a gay thing to that just--well, it was just too much. But when his desire for Lex told his psyche to quit bitching about being different and get some good loving from he-who-oozed-sex-with-every-movement, he'd consoled the resigned part of his psyche with the knowledge that he didn't have to worry about safe sex. He couldn't catch anything from Lex, and Lex couldn't get pregnant.

Pregnant. Oh, fuck!

Clark pulled the car off to the side of the highway, opened the door, and threw up. Pregnant. There was part of him growing inside Lex. Shit. Fuck. He'd gotten Lex Luthor pregnant. How the hell was he going to tell his parents? His dad was going to kill him and worse, his mother was going to be terribly disappointed. She'd taught him to respect women and--"but, gee, Mom, Lex isn't a girl," he would argue. And she would say, "But you treated him like one, Clark." And his dadÖhis dad wouldn't say anything about the pregnancy. Why? Because he'd be dead of an apoplectic fit when he found out Clark was fucking Lex. And if that knowledge didn't kill him, then finding out Lex was fucking Clark would seal the coffin. Of course that might win him points with his mom, equality fucking and all that. Nah, because Lex was older and more experienced. She'd probably consider Lex to be some kind of sexual predator taking advantage of her baby boy. Which would be wrong because if anyone had been taken advantage of, it was Lex.

Clark, despite his virgin status, had been the seducer in the relationship. He'd gone to the mansion with the express purpose of having sex with Lex. Jerking off in the shower just wasn't cutting it anymore. He wanted Lex and he was determined that for once, he was going to get what he wanted. He'd fucked up with Chloe and backed off with Lana. He was tired of being the noble one, the shy, unassuming one. So he had showered, brushed his teeth, lied to his parents about Lex inviting him over for an all-night movie marathon, and drove to the mansion. Lex hadn't been expecting him, but that had never mattered with Lex. He always had time for his best friend.

"Sure, Clark, What do you want to see?" Lex had asked, rolling his chair back from the desk.

"You naked."

Lex frowned. "Is that a new release? We might have to make a run to the video store."

Clark walked around the desk and stood over Lex. "How about a run to your bedroom instead?" Then he'd grinned because for the first--and probably only--time, he'd shocked Lex into speechlessness. The pale blue eyes had widened. The lips parted, but nothing came out except a quick flicker of tongue.

It seemed like an invitation to Clark so he leaned over and pressed his lips against Lex's. When Lex didn't protest, he'd deepened the kiss, sighing when he finally pulled away. Lex's eyes were still just as wide.

"Fuck me, Lex."

It was in that deep dark hour just before dawn when Lex had finally asked. "Why, Clark?"

Clark rested his head against the solid, hairless chest, and decided to be honest. "All my life I've been taught to hesitate, to wait for what I wanted. I was never to take, and rarely was I to ask. 'Let them offer, Clark,' Mom always said. 'You're a big boy, Clark. You could intimidate others and not even know it, so let them take the lead, okay? Make sure you know what they want first,' Dad said. And I've been obedient, Lex. A good boy. In school, I never chose what game to play at recess. With my friends, I let them choose what to do on a boring Sunday afternoon. Chloe said she wanted to be just friends, and I said okay. Lana said she was still confused about Whitney, and I said I understood."

"But you really wanted her--and Chloe," Lex said softly.

Clark shook his head. "I thought I did, but myÖconditioning held. Until you, Lex. When I decided I wanted you, I found I couldn't wait. I didn't even want to ask, for fear you wouldn't want me."

Lex laughed. "No chance of that."

"You wouldn't have brought up my age? Or questioned my sudden gayness?"

Silence.

"So you took what you wanted." The statement held no condemnation.

"Yes. Because I wanted it so badly."

Lex coaxed Clark's head up, the sliver of light intruding from the hallway allowing them to see each other. "And now? Are you disappointed? Remember what Spock said in 'Amok Time'? 'After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical; but it is often true.'"

Clark stroked a finger across the prominent bones of Lex's face. "You are such a fanboy. And no, it's not the same. It's more, Lex. More than I thought it would be."

Lex's eyes focused on his. "Too much?"

"No. Never."

And it hadn't been. Until maybe now. Yeah, the actual problem--the pregnancy--was going to beÖterminated, but what about the baggage that came with the situation? The fact that Lex could get pregnant? Was that a risk either of them wanted to face again? And Lex was feeling like the biggest freak on the planet. That didn't bode well at all, because Lex was always trying to protect Clark which meant he was going to try to sever the relationship for Clark's own good. Which Clark knew wasn't the answer, because Lex wasn't the biggest freak on the planet; Clark Kent was. And if Lex ever found out that Clark was letting him take the blame for this mess, then all hell was going to break loose.

Speaking of hell, now Lionel knew that they were fucking and Clark was sure he wasn't just going to let the matter rest. He'd use it against Lex, and if Lex had a vulnerable spot, Clark knew he was probably it. An emotional weakness. Lionel would chew them both up and use them as dietary roughage.

Clark pulled back onto the highway, turned the radio up loud, and continued on to Smallville, determined not to think at all. That strategy lasted until he pulled up into the yard and the kitchen door opened, revealing his parents. Then it all hit him again, and only the creak of the nearly cracking steering wheel beneath his palms convinced him to get out of the car.

"Hey, Mom, Dad. I'm not that late, am I?" He pasted on a questioning smile.

"Just glad to see you home, son," Jonathan said. "How was the traffic?"

"Not bad after I got out of the city limits."

"How's Lex?" Martha asked. "Are you hungry? I saved you some dinner."

Clark nodded. He'd forgotten about eating. "He's gonna be fine."

"His father said on the news that Lex had picked up a nasty parasite, and it was wreaking havoc on his system."

Well, that was one way of putting it. "Yeah. That's why he passed out."

"Well, you have to expect things like this, living a life like his."

"A life like what, Dad?" Clark asked. "Getting up at six every morning to run the county's biggest employer? Doing his best to keep it operating in the black so twenty-five hundred people have food on their tables and clothes on their backs? Having to constantly face bigots like you, who see the father and never the son no matter how hard he tries? What part of that life is responsible for him being in the hospital, Dad?"

"Clark, you see what you want to see--"

"And you don't? Have you seen any of the good that Lex has done in Smallville? I know he's not one hundred percent perfect. But who is, Dad? Me? You?"

"I know I'm not perfect, son. I've done some things I'm not proud of."

"Yet me, Mom, and everyone else around here are willing to overlook your mistakes and accept you on the basis of what you do now, not what you did last week or last year. Why doesn't Lex get that same consideration? Why must you condemn him for all his past faults? Why do you hate him even though you don't even know him?"

"I've known people like him," Jonathan argued.

Clark ran his hand through his hair in frustration. "No, you haven't. There is no one else like Lex."

"Thank God," Jonathan muttered.

"Stop it," Martha called softly, as Clark opened his mouth. "I want you both to stop before something gets said that shouldn't be. Clark, you're tired and worried. You know that's never a good place to be to hold a civil conversation. And, Jonathan, Clark's right; you are being a bigot. You need to take a moment and listen to what you're saying. If you heard anyone else saying the same things about someone other than Lex, you'd be appalled."

Clark dropped his eyes to the floor before looking at his mother again. "Can I borrow the car again tomorrow? Maybe even drive it to school so I can just leave from there."

"Clark, do you think it's fair to deprive your mother of her car for two days? You said Lex was gonna be fine," Jonathan added, in a reasonable tone. "And you have chores around here."

"I will do them when I come home. And, Mom, seeing Lex is important. You know that, don't you?" Lex had no one else but Lionel. He knew how that brought out his mom's maternal streak.

Martha nodded. "Remind me to give you some gas money before you leave for school."

"Thanks. I'm going to turn in now. Good night."

Sighing, Clark plopped down across his bed, feeling more tired than he'd ever felt. Even at his physical weakest, when he'd lost his powers to Eric Summers, the exhaustion had been muted by the stunning revelation that he was normal. Now, not only was he adversely abnormal, he'd taken his best friend and lover along with him into the Twilight Zone.

Maybe he should take a page out of Lex's book and protect Lex by pushing him away. No good could come from their relationship. Maybe he wasn't meant to be in a relationship with the natives of this planet. Maybe Lex was right again, and some people were destined to be alone. Maybe Lex was one of them. Maybe he was one of them.

But, God, it had felt good not to be one of them for a while.

*****

Lex woke with a start, not so much out of fear but out of sheer surprise that he'd actually fallen asleep. He'd remembered watching Clark leave. He'd closed his eyes against the pain of knowing that the recent revelations had changed everything, that he and ClarkÖwell, whatever it was they had was over. Not that he would ever get pregnant again--no one would ever come near him again without an industrial strength condom. But this situation was revealing too much. Lionel now knew about Clark and while he didn't give a damn about Lionel knowing he was sleeping with a guy, he did care that Lionel knew he was sleeping with Clark. Because Clark wasn't just somebody warming his bed or a fucktoy. Clark wasÖ

And maybe that was the most damning of the revelations. Clark meant more to him than he was comfortable with. More than a lover. More than a friend. JustÖmore. And it scared him.

Poor Clark. He'd be surprised if the boy ever got into another homosexual relationship. Probably be hesitant about a het one as well. It hadn't gone well with Lana or Chloe either. Lex had lasted longer than both of them combined. Might have gone a little longer, if only he wasn't such a massive freak. Pregnant. How the hell had that happened? It was something out of a film noir farce or a really bad scifi series. Only you could fuck up so royally, Lex. You take a perfectly normal teenager, convince him he's a gives-as-good-as-he-takes fag, then proceed to go so fem on him as to get yourself knocked up. As your father said, you've outdone yourself this time.

Not long after Clark left, a nurse had come in and turned on the television. Lex had watched Lionel spin some fairy tale about his son being sick with a parasitical infection/infestation. Sounded dreadful. And it wasn't half as bad as the truth. No wonder Lionel was disgusted with him. It was pretty pathetic to have a son who was such a colossal freak, but now he was reproducingÖ.

Lex frowned and wondered how he could have fallen asleep with all that crap on his mind. Had to be the blood-sucking parasite that now resided in him. That was what Lionel had called it, and his father was right. The thing was leaching the energy out of him, causing him to vomit on a regular basis, and had him passing out in front of the world. ItÖit had to go. He reached for the phone.

"Dr. Kingsley? Lex Luthor. When can we schedule the procedure? What? How did I get your private number? What part of 'the Luthors own this fucking hospital' don't you understand? I'm glad you're finally waking up. So when can we-- What do you mean, what procedure? The termination, Doctor. What? What! That is not acceptable, Kingsley. I don't care how many of your fellow physicians agree with you. I-- No, I don't have a death wish. IÖsee. No, I don't need visual aids. Or a fifteenth opinion. Yes. We'll talk more in the morning. Good night, Doctor."

Suddenly grateful for the brief nap he'd had earlier, Lex lay his head back against the pillow to stare blindly at the ceiling.

Chapter Four

As soon as the MetMed nurse motioned for Clark to accompany her, he knew something was seriously wrong. As he followed her, he mentally yelled at himself for not calling to check on Lex earlier. Every time heíd found himself heading for the phones outside the cafeteria at school, heíd told himself that he needed to stop being such a girl; he'd see Lex soon enough. Damn it. Hadnít living in Smallville taught him anything?

A pacing Dr. Kingsley, plus three other business-suited men greeted him when he stepped into some kind of conference room.

"Clark, isnít it?" Kingsley questioned.

"Yes, sir. Has something happened to Lex?" Clark asked quickly, his stomach and heart dropping to his feet.

"Weíre notÖweíre not certain. Heís left the hospital earlier in the day, and weíre not sure where he went."

"Left? How long ago?"

"The last anyone saw him was at approximately nine oíclock this morning."

Clark looked at his watch for confirmation: it was 5:28 p.m. Over eight hours. Where could Lex be? "Have you checked Smallville?"

"Yes," one of the unknown men said. "As well as the Luthor residences here in Metropolis."

"What about his father?"

The men looked at each other. "We didnít want to unnecessarily upset the elder Luthor until we were certainÖ"

Another way of saying that telling Lionel scared the hell out of them. Clark could sympathize, but he was worried about Lex. Thanks to the media, the entire free world knew Lexís whereabouts. If someone wanted revengeÖ "Are you sure he left on his own accord?"

"Mr. Luthor wasÖunsettled after an early morning conference I had with him," Kingsley admitted.

Unsettled. What did that mean? Had they done the procedure or hadnít they? "If he was unsettled, should you have left him alone?" It wasnít an accusation per se, butÖ

"Mr. Luthor insisted."

Lex had kicked Kingsley out. Again. Yes, it was starting to sound like Lex had left of his own accord. Something had pissed him off--or scared him. Scared him. Because a pissed off Lex didnít quietly sneak away. "Is he in any physical danger?" Clark asked quickly.

"His blood sugar level is fluctuating. Itís not harmful by itself, but if he should pass out at an inopportune time, he could be in danger."

Oh, there was an opportune time to pass out? Stop thinking like Lex, Clark, and think like Lex. Screw it; you know what I mean. Where would he go if he was frightened? Where would you go? Easy--home to Mom. But Lex didnít have aÖ Clark straightened. "If you give me a number, Iíll call if I find him."

Kingsley looked hopeful. "You know where he is?"

"I might."

"You should take a snack or some juice with you, Clark."

Clark nodded, remembering the blood drives he'd worked with Lana. "I'll take care of him, Doctor." He grabbed the card Kingsley held out and headed toward the parking lot. At the first gas station he passed, he stopped, made a couple of purchases, and asked for directions.

*****

The memorial to Lillian Luthor was impressive--and a bit over-the-top. But Clark soon stopped noticing anything but the figure slumped against the base of the imposing marble structure.

"The hospitalís in a panic, thinking theyíre going to have to explain to your father that they Ďmisplacedí you," he said softly as he slid down beside Lex.

Lexís head was thrown back against the dark gray marble, eyes closed, and long legs stretched out before him, crossed at the ankles. "Dad probably wouldnít even care. It would certainly solve a lot of problems."

"You donít mean that."

Lex was silent for a few minutes. "I canít get Ďunpregnantí," he announced.

Clark swallowed hard. "What?"

"Iím a male, Clark, which means my body lacks certain parts required for incubation processes. Therefore, the entity is making its own arrangements. Somehow it has persuaded my circulatory system to form a blood womb, a sac of interwoven vessels that protects it and feeds it and hauls away its waste. The medical community seems to think that if the womb is disturbed in any way, I'll bleed out before they can stop the hemorrhaging."

"Oh, hell," Clark whispered.

"Definitely my place of residence for the next undetermined number of months."

"Iím sorry."

Lex shrugged. "She hates me. After years of contemplation, Iíve concluded that itís because of my conception. Like I asked to be born."

Clark looked back at the name etched in marble. Surely he wasnít talking about his mother. "Who, Lex? Who hates you?"

A smirk that did nothing to hide the pain. "Life, Clark. Fucking life."

Something inside of Clark broke. "You did hit me with your car, Lex," he said softly.

Lex tensed, his eyes widening as he searched Clarkís face. Emotions flittered through the expressive eyes so fast that Clark couldnít name anything specific and by the time he gave up trying to decipher the rapidly changing images, Lex had relaxed against the marble again. "The pathogenesis of exposure to the meteors will never cease to amaze me. Before I came to Smallville, I never expected the changes to be so radical or empowering. Sure, I ended up bald and in possession of a kick ass immune system, not to mention the apparent ability to become pregnant, but thatís nothing compared to what Iíve seen here in Smallville. Perhaps itís the prolonged exposure."

A convenient out, which Clark decisively refused to take advantage of. "Iím not a meteor mutant, Lex. Iím an alien. My spaceship landed with the meteors, or perhaps they dragged the meteors here in the first place. Anyway, Iím strong enough to rip off the top of your car and faster than you can drive. I can see through things, as in some kind of x-ray vision, and I can make heat beams come from my eyes which are hot enough to melt bullets."

Lex stared at him again. Then in slow, deliberate movements, Lex drew his legs up, leaned forward, and rested his face in cupped hands.

"Lex?"

"Give me a minute."

Clark was scared. "Should I call an ambulance or something?" He fumbled in a pocket. "I have juice and cookies."

"Just back off, Clark!"

Clark scuttled to the other end of the memorial.

Lex sighed. "I didnít mean to snap like that, but you have to understand," he said softly. "Iím poised on the edge of a razor, Clark. If I slip to the right, Iím going to be swallowed up into darkness. To my left, lies madness. A step forward or a step backward and I end up bleeding to death because right now, the cold metal deeply embedded in my flesh is the only thing keeping me whole. Itís a bitch of a predicament, and I just need a few minutes to plan a suitable strategy for survival, okay?"

Clark moved back to Lexís side. "Iím pretty much invulnerable, Lex. The blade canít cut me. Let me carry you to safety."

Lex raised his head, his lips thinning into a pained smile. "The blade may not cut you, but youíre bleeding nevertheless."

Clark acknowledged the nugget of truth with a bow of his head. This was his Lex, the one who was painfully empathetic. Lionel jeered him for being emotional, but his dad didnít realize Lex wasnít always reacting to his own emotions. Lex was highly sensitive to others around him. That was why he was so good at trading barbs with Lionel, or getting Earl Jenkins to believe his lies, or Victoria to trust him when she should have known he wasnít the kind of man to be led around by his dick. It was also how heíd persuaded an entire plant of Luthor-haters to take a chance on a twenty-two year old Luthor who had less than a yearís work experience. Clark knew his own dad would say it was just a tool by which Lex could manipulate people, but Clark knew it was the reason why Lex was not Lionel, would never be Lionel. Lex felt the pain of others, and it made him more human than most, more vulnerable. The masks, the attitudes, they were all defenses that rarely succeeded.

"Save your bleeding for someone whoís worth it," Lex chided, bringing Clark out of his deep thoughts.

"I have. You are."

"Iím a Luthor."

"You are Lex, my best friend and my lover. Who should I bleed for, if not for you?"

"You have family, Clark, and friends. You shouldnít be squirming around on the edge with me. You wouldnít be on the edge if it werenít for me."

Clark shook his head. "Iím an alien, Lex. This pregnancy is my fault, not yours. Maybe itís the standard way of reproduction where I come from. Or maybe it has something to do with me being on Earth. I donít know. I donít know anything about my past. Which is why I had no business sleeping with you--or at least sleeping with you without telling you the risks."

Lex raised an eyebrow. "Do you really think that would have stopped me?"

Clark reached out to drag a finger along Lexís face. "At least it would have been an informed choice. How angry are you?"

"Depends. Who knows that youíre an alien?"

"My parentsÖand Pete."

Lex stiffened. "So, did you race here on your speedy legs or actually drive?"

"I drove Momís car."

A jerk of the bald head. "Take me home."

"The hospital," Clark began.

"Home."

Clark took out a can of orange juice and a package of cookies. "Eat something first." Lex glared at him. "Please, for me?"

Lex took the juice, opened it, took a sip--then spat it out. "What the hell is this? Made from concentrate? Concentrated what? Metal?" he asked, eyeing the can warily.

"Sorry, I didn't have time to fresh squeeze you some myself," Clark said dryly, reaching out to direct the can to Lex's lips again.

"And here I thought you were a Boy Scout."

"Drink, and eat the cookies." He opened the cellophane and held out one the dark round treats.

Lex took it. "At least you got real Oreos and not a generic brand."

Clark took a deep breath, trying to remember Lex had had a trying day. " I need to call the hospital and tell them I found you. Theyíre worried."

Lex snorted as he allowed Clark to give him a hand up. Clark's grip tightened when Lex sort of wobbled, but Lex shook off the dizziness quickly. "Theyíre worried about Dad."

"They're worried about you."

Lex pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and tossed it at Clark. "Iím not going back. If they want to turn me into the worldís greatest science project, they can damn well do it when and where I say."

Clark spoke quickly as he led Lex to the car. Kingsley gave the requisite complaints about Lex not returning to the hospital, but Clark could tell the doctor was so glad he didnít have to tell Lionel heíd lost Lex that his heart wasnít in the argument.

Clark clicked the phone off and handed it back to Lex. "He wants you to call him as soon as possible." He unlocked the door and opened it.

"Iím sure he does."

"Lex, Dr. Kingsley isnít to blame for this. I am. So if you want to be angry with--"

"Donít presume to Ďhandleí me, Clark. I can be angry with whomever I so choose. And donít worry; you are quite high on that list." Lex jerked the door out of Clarkís hand and slammed it shut.

With a sigh, Clark walked around the car. His eyes flickered back to the marble memorial across the cemetery. Hope youíre going to help us through this, Mrs. Luthor. I think heís going to need both of us. And his dad, too.

*****

Despite growing up surrounded by the nicest things money could buy, Lex wasnít a snob--much. So when he noticed the velour and plastic decor of Martha Kentís car, he valiantly suppressed a shudder and ignored the odd scent coming from the little pine tree hanging from the mirror. He definitely had to impress upon Clark the availability of his entire garage the next time he had to borrow a car.

"Why Pete?" he asked as they exited onto the highway that would take them to Smallville. "Did you have trouble hiding what you could do when you were little?"

A slight hesitation. "Pete didnít find out until after the tornadoes."

Lex blinked. "The tornadoes that dumped a trailer on your dad and part of a castle on mine?"

Clark winced at his bluntness. "Yes."

"Oh. Guess that answers the question, ĎWho is Clark Kentís best friend?í" He didnít try to hide his bitterness.

"It wasnít like that, Lex, honest. Thereís no reason for you to be jealous of Pete. You two arenít in competition."

"The hell we arenít! What the fuck do you think waving a gun in my face was all about? A creamed corn factory? Bullshit. It was about you, Clark, and I guess we know who won the competition. I got the body, but Ross got the true prize--your trust."

"I trust you, Lex. You know that. If Pete hadnít found the spaceship--"

"Found? Your father didnít bury it or something when he found you?"

"It was hidden in the storm cellar."

Lex shook his head. Just how naive was the whole damn family? Or Smallville for that matter? It took twelve years to discover a spaceship in a storm cellar? No wonder Nixon-- "Nixon found it, too, didnít he?"

"Heís the reason why Pete found it. When he inserted that little metal octagon--"

"The little metal octagon that I showed you? The one that Hamilton found and gave to me?" Clark nodded. "I was so close, wasnít I? Nixon. Hamilton. I owned both of them, you know." See? He had his own truths to dish out.

Clark focused steadily on the road. "I know. Phelan, too, right?"

"Phelan? Is that how he was blackmailing you? Hell, it seems everyone knew but me. My father always said good help was hard to find. So, anyone else in my employ? Lana, perhaps? Although technically sheís a partner not an employee."

"Lana doesnít know."

"Ah. Another one thatís good enough to fuck but not to trust."

"Iíve never done that with Lana," Clark said quietly.

"But you wanted to. So Iím guessing Chloe doesnít know either." Silence. "Did you know?"

"Did I know what?"

"What would happen when you didnít put on that condom? Was it some alien procreation instinct? The need to propagate outweighing my explicit instructions to always use a condom?"

"No, Lex. You know it wasnít like that."

Lex dug his nails into the palm of his hand to keep from doing something rash--like attacking the invulnerable alien driving the car he was riding in. "You keep repeating the phrase, Ďyou know, Lexí. Well, Lex didnít know. Because Lex was never told anything. Because Lex was good enough for fucking but not for talking. Good enough to incubate your damned spawn but not to trust. Well, fuck you, Clark Kent! JustÖfuck you."

*****

Two hours and forty-seven minutes later, Clark noted the "Welcome to Smallville" sign and looked over at his passenger. After Lexís outburst, heíd told Clark to keep his fucking, lying mouth shut, curled up against the door, and fallen asleep.

Clark had happily obeyed because he really couldnít think of anything to say to make the situation better. Lex was going to have to figure out for himself if he could forgive Clark for the liesÖand the pregnancy. All Clarkís mouth was capable of was making the situation worse. He'd known Lex was going to be mad, but what he hadnít expected had been the hurt caused by Pete knowing the secret.

He knew Pete was jealous of Lex, but why was Lex jealous of Pete? Pete was Pete and Lex wasÖwell, Lex was everything. Best friend, lover, counselor, even big brother in a non-brotherly sort of way. Why didnít Lex know this?

Maybe because you never told him. Sure, you convinced yourself that it didnít have to be stated, that Lex knew exactly how you felt. But you know how chancy it is to make assumptions when it comes to Lex. Especially when in comes to Lex and his emotions. He wasnít taught the same things you were, didnít learn the same lessons you did. You know that Peteís your best bud which means heíll always have a space in your heart--which isnít exactly the same as having your heart. Lex has never had a best bud, except for you. He warned you that youíd have to explain some things to him, to tutor him in the art of friendship. But you got so caught up in being his lover that you forgot everything else, didn't you?

"I let you down, Lex," he said softly. "You were supposed to teach me about sex, and I was supposed to teach you about love. And I never even said the word to you." Well, that was the first thing he had to do if they were going to survive this.

Clark keyed in the security code at the massive gates blocking entry onto the Luthor estate and drove familiarly up the curved drive. When Lex didnít wake up as the car pulled to a stop, he realized how tired Lex was because Lex never let his guard down that far, even with Clark.

"Lex," he called softly. "Lex, weíre home."

Lex jerked awake, blinking rapidly. "Clark?"

"Iím here, Lex."

Eyes searched him, looking for something, and Clark returned the look steadily. Whatever Lex needed from him, he was going to provide. A small sigh escaped Lexís lips before he spoke. "Can you stay for a while?"

Clark nodded. "The whole night if you let me." His parents probably werenít going to be too happy, but tomorrow was Saturday. And they were going to have to get used to him spending a lot of time with Lex; heíd meant it when he told Lex he wasnít going to have to go through this alone.

"Youíre going to tell them."

It was a statement, and a testament to the fact that Lex could read him like a book. "Itíll save a lot of arguing."

"Iíve faced the barrel of your fatherís shotgun before."

"And Iíve saved you from it before. I will this time, too, if I have to."

Lex reached out and traced the side of Clarkís face. "I have tried so hard not to come between you and your parents."

"I know. I think they know it, too."

Lex drew his hand back, curling it in his lap. "Iíve tainted you. Theyíll never forgive me."

"Your touch, your presence, doesnít taint me. It grounds me, makes me believe in myself. I love you, Lex. And if my parents donít get that, well, itíll be their loss."

"No. Donít say that. Itíll be okay. Iíll make it okay."

"Donít," Clark ordered, suddenly frightened. "Promise me, Lex. Promise me youíre not going to run off and try to do this on your own."

"ClarkÖ" Lex closed his eyes.

"If you leave, Iíll just follow. And then I'll be there, and my parents will be here, and we won't be a family anymore. You don't want that. I know you don't." Clark didnít understand why Lex seemed to put the Kent family on a pedestal, but he didnít have to be a Luthor to know how to use it against Lex. And a Luthor definitely wouldnít have felt as bad as he did when he saw a lone tear hanging crystalline on Lexís eyelash. "Damn it, I love you, Lex. I donít care if you donít feel the same. I just want you to accept the way I feel. Promise that youíll let me in just this once. Promise that weíll handle this together. Promise that when you feel like youíre all alone, youíll come to me and know that you arenít."

"Thatís a lot of promises," Lex whispered.

"I know itís a lot to ask. But I also know you have a lot to give that has nothing to do with bank accounts and ribbon-wrapped trucks. Give this to me, Lex, please," Clark begged.

Lex nodded.

"I need to hear the words." Clark didnít like forcing Lex, but he knew the Luthor games well.

"I promise to let you in. I promise that weíll handle this together. I promise that when I feel Iím alone, Iíll come to you."

"And youíll know youíre not alone," Clark prompted when Lex quieted.

"And Iíll know Iím not alone."

Clark wished Lex could have added more conviction to the barely murmured statement but he figured heíd pushed enough. "Youíre so pale. You need to eat more."

A corner of Lexís lip curled upward. "Going to remind me Iím eating for two?"

"Lex, youíre the strongest person I know and if any man can survive being pregnant, itís you. But as Mom said the first time she saw you, you need some meat on your bones."

Lex rolled his eyes and reached for the seatbelt latch. "The strongest person you know? Conveniently forgetting youíve told me your secret?"

Clark shook his head, placing his hand on Lexís. "The one thing Iíve learned from being Lex Luthorís friend is that strength is more than just sheer muscle. And that thereís more than one way to kick someoneís ass."

Lex looked down at their touching hands. "There are lessons you learned from me that people like you should never have to learn."

"People like me?"

"Good people. You, your family."

"Youíre a good man, too, Lex."

Lex turned his hand so that his thumb caressed Clarkís palm. "You made me make a lot of promises, Clark. But I only ask one of you."

"Anything."

"Promise that no matter what happens, you wonít despise me."

Clark tensed. "What are you planning?"

"Nothing. Itís never the planned events that get me screwed. Itíll be the possibilities I donít foresee, the ones I figure will never happen, that will cause me to hurt you, to break your heart someday."

"You donít know that."

"Just promise me, Clark. Iím a survivor. I can handle the mistrust, dislikeÖeven your pity. But I think the one thing that could destroy me would be your hatred."

"I could never hate you."

"Promise me."

Hazel eyes bore into pale blue ones. "I promise I will never hate you."

Lex withdrew his hand and opened the car door. "Letís go see what the cook has to offer. Iím as hungry as a horse." He stood and looked down into the car. "Coming, Clark?"

Clark frowned, then slid out of the car. "Right behind you, Lex." Always.

Chapter Five

There was a haze across the morning sky, but as Clark drove home he knew the sun would burn through it eventually. Just like he and Lex would "burn" through the pall hanging over them. Last night had been almost normal. They had sent the cook home, made grilled cheese sandwiches and played video games before exhaustion had caught up with Lex. Because he had nothing to hide from Lex now, Clark had scooped him up in his arms and carried him to the bedroom. He stripped both of them, then scooted in behind Lex, pulling him snugly against his body. For the first time ever, in this position, he didnít have a raging hard-on. Instead, he was just filled with a sense of rightness.

Moving back just a little, he scanned Lex with his x-ray vision. There, just behind the coils of intestines was something heíd never seen before, a dark mass. Closer inspection showed that it was something like dense webbing, and he realized the doctors were right; the sac was constructed of a tight weaving of blood vessels. He could see the blood streaming along. Staring harder, Clark forced his sight through the outer wall until he focused on the tiny skeleton inside. God, it was true. There was a baby growing inside Lex. His baby. Their baby. He couldnít hold back a slight gasp.

"Clark?"

"Shh. Itís okay. I didnít mean to wake you."

"X-ray vision." Silence. "You saw it. Itís real, isnít it?"

"Yes."

A sigh of resignation.

"Iím so sorry for getting you into this mess, Lex."

"Not your fault. I told you--life has it in for me. If it wasnít an alien pregnancy, it would be something else. I was getting too--comfortable here, too close to finding my path. I think Iím like the Hebrews in the Old Testament: doomed to wander for my transgressions. I just wish I knew what the transgressions were."

"Maybe Iím the one being punished."

Lex snorted. "Then why am I the one with the foreign body in my body? Why am I the one who has lost everyone who could love me? My mother, Pamela, JulianÖ"

Clark shifted until Lex was facing him. "Iím here. You havenít lost me."

"Not yet."

"Not ever."

"This," Lex said, rubbing his lower abdomen, "is going to test us, Clark. And although I have great faith in you, I know myself all too well. Iím not a nice person in the best of times, so I can only imagine how Iím going to be as a hormonal, ungainly blob. I donít want thisÖbaby. Hell, I was thinking about never having one the conventional way. Luthors have done enough damage. The line should end with me--maybe it would have ended with me if you hadnít saved me from the river."

"You canít make me sorry for saving you."

Lex ignored him. "Maybe thatís what Iím being punished for--for surviving. I should have died at birth, did you know that? Two months early. Under-developed lungs. Enlarged heart. I found a picture in my motherís things: me in an incubator, tubes literally coming out my wazoo and every other part of my body. They worried about brain damage for months afterward. Even when I surpassed every infant I.Q. test designed, there were worries about my weakened lungs and the heart squished inside a too-small ribcage. I was never allowed to run and play. If Mom had been with us in Smallville, I wouldnít have been in the cornfield when the meteors struck. I was too fragile to wander like that. But something in that field called to me, and I wanted to get away from DadÖ"

Clark wiped at the tears running down Lexís face. "Stop it, Lex. Youíre not being punished. And all this remembering hurts you."

Lex turned away, presenting his back to Clark. "Donít pay any attention to me and my ravings. Itís the damn hormone injections. Estrogen, progesteroneÖGod, Iím going to need Prozac before this is over with. Or double-strength lithium."

"Are the doctors sure you need all that?" Clark asked worriedly. Lex might be pregnant, but he was a man. According to his health class girls had trouble handling those hormones--how the hell was Lex supposed to survive them?

"The doctors arenít sure of shit, Clark. But you know that males have low levels of the same hormones, right? Just like females have a bit of testosterone?" Clark nodded. "Well, the blood tests show my body has been completely depleted of female hormones, so the conclusion is that the little monster sucked every bit of them out of my body. The Obstetrics Department assumes that means he wants more. And everything it wantsÖ" The words faded off in a sob.

Clark wrapped his arms around Lex, their hands clasped together beneath his ribcage. "Iím so sorry I got you into this, Lex."

Lex sniffed quietly for a few minutes. "You didnít know."

Clark kissed the back of Lexís neck, then leaned forward to whisper in his ear, "I love you."

He felt Lex relax into sleep, but just before he himself fell asleep, he thought he heard Lex murmur, "Iím sorry I hate our baby, Clark."

Clark could have stopped the tear that rolled down his face, but instead chose to hang onto Lex just a little bit tighter.

And heíd only let go as dawn brightened the bedroom, let go to head home and tell his parents about the mess heíd made of two--no, three lives. He sighed and turned into the driveway of the bright yellow farmhouse.

Sometimes it really sucked being an alien.

*****

As Clark got out of the car, he saw his dad standing in the doorway of the barn. "Hi, Dad."

"Son. Surprised to see you home this early."

Clark made sure that the car door closed with a gentle click and not a slam. "I told Mom Iíd be back this morning."

"Thought you were talking about a Luthor morning, not a Kent one."

Next, on the Jerry Springer Show--Romeo is an Alien and Juliet is Bald But Their Families Still Hate Each OtherÖ "Iíd like to talk to both you and Mom. ItísÖitís important."

"Your momís making breakfast. Iíll be in as soon as I get cleaned up."

Clark nodded and headed into the house. Martha was setting the table. "I can do that, Mom."

"Thank you, sweetie. Howís Lex this morning?"

"Thatís what I want to talk to you and Dad about."

Martha stopped him as he reached into the cabinet for glasses. "Itís more than just a parasitic infection, isnít it?" He nodded. "Oh, Clark." She stood on her tiptoes and wrapped her arms around his shoulders.

Even without an injection of female hormones, he almost lost it right then, but Jonathan stepped into the room and Clark pulled back from his mother. "We can talk after we eat."

The meal had never been a leisurely one--Clark was usually rushing off to school, Jonathan back to some chore or project, and Martha eager to wash the dishes and get started on her very well planned day--so it was way too soon, in Clarkís opinion, that he found himself the focus of his parentsí intense looks.

How to begin? An historical approach, as in the growth of his relationship with Lex? Start at the pregnancy and work backward? No, it was too late for word games and subtlety. "Iím in love with Lex. Iím sleeping with Lex. Lex is pregnant with my baby. And Iíve told Lex Iím an alien," he blurted out.

Stunned silence and little reaction, until Jonathan flushed a dark red. "You told him what! How could you, Clark! Why the heck would you do something like that?"

Why arenít I surprised that the "I told him I was an alien" part is the one item Dad picked up on? "Um, because of the rest of what I told you?"

The red evaporated quickly, leaving Jonathan wan and slumping in his chair. "Youíre sleeping with Lex?"

Clark nodded.

"Define Ďsleepingí," Jonathan challenged. Clark flushed and his father slammed a fist against the table.

"How long?" Martha asked softly.

"Since just after my sixteenth birthday."

"You were just a child," she whispered angrily.

"Donít, Mom," Clark said quickly. "Lex didnít take advantage of me or anything. Iím the one who--uh, seduced him."

She shook her head. "Lex is older and has more experience."

Clark gave a half-grin. "Age has nothing to do with it; Lex has more experience than a dozen old guys combined." And maybe that was something I shouldnít have said to my mother. The grin disappeared.

"Which gives him no excuse for giving in to you--no matter how Ďseductiveí you think you were being!"

Clark sobered, knowing he had to make his mom understand before she sicced the cops on Lex. "He might have resisted, but I knew how to win, Mom. I know how Lex feels about me, and that day I used it against him."

"You knew he wanted you."

"I knew he loved me."

Jonathanís eyes narrowed. "If Luthor said he loved you, son, it was just a lie to get what he wanted. And now he has it, doesnít he? Not only your body, but your secrets as well. Damned red letter day for him, isnít it?"

Clark took a deep breath. There were a lot of things to be discussed and settled. Exploding this early in the conversation would be counterproductive. He muttered a quick thank you to the Lex in his head before speaking. "It doesnít matter at all to you that I love him--that Iím in love with him--does it?"

"Clark," Jonathan began patiently, "youíre likely to be in love several times in your life. You canít tell your secret to everyone you might become intimate with."

Clark couldnít stop his eyes from rolling at that one. "Iím not an idiot, Dad. Nor as naive and in awe of the fact that Iím having sex as you both seem to think I am. Iíve been sleeping with Lex for over a year, lying to him all the while. I only confessed to him yesterday."

"Why, for the good Lordís sake?" Jonathan said, abruptly pushing away from the table.

Clark shook his head. "You didnít even bother to listen to what I said."

Martha gasped. "I assumed that was just one of those things thrown in to make sure we were listening. Lex canít be--I mean, thatís impossible."

"Unless Luthor is fruitier than I suspected." Jonathanís mouth quirked at a corner.

"No," Clark said, his voice flattening. "Say what you want to about me, but donít you dare put down Lex. I wasnít joking; Lex is pregnant. But tell me whoís to blame--the fruity human male or the fricking alien who-knows-what-sex-he-is?"

"Donít talk about yourself like that!" Martha said quickly.

"Then donít talk about Lex like that! Heís just an innocent victim--"

Jonathan snorted. "I suspect that boy wasnít even innocent when he was born."

"Jonathan, hush," Martha commanded. "Weíre sorry, Clark. You sort of caught us off-guard with all yourÖnews."

Clark sighed and started gathering the dishes. "I know, Mom. Itís a lot to take in all at once, but Lex is pregnant so it all had to be said."

Martha touched his arm as he reached for the plate in front of her. "And if Lex wasnítÖill, would you have ever told us about the two of you?"

A shrug. "Maybe when I was in college, living with Lex."

"Living with--" Martha blinked rapidly. "The two of you are that serious?"

"We havenít really talked about it. Heck, we might not even last that long. But, yeah, if weíre still togetherÖ"

"In your heart you can see that happening?" Martha asked hesitantly. "You can picture living with Lex on a daily basis?"

Clark nodded. "You guys always told me to wait for someone special, that I would know from what I was feeling inside when the time was right for me to--well, you know. And thatís what I did. Lex wasnít some kind of experiment. Nor was he just a convenient way to lose my virginity. My heart wanted Lex even more than my body did."

"Baby, Iím glad you listened to your dad and I about finding someone special, but what about the other part, about safe sex?"

"It was one time. We were exclusive--" Another snort from Jonathan-- "And I knew I couldnít catch anything from him anyway. If it makes you feel any better, Lex wasnít exactly happy about it. Heís a stickler for safe sex practices. But he was going to be gone for a couple of weeks, and I wanted something special to remember while he was away." He looked at his mom, silently pleading for her to understand. "I feel so guilty about it now. If I hadnít been so selfish, none of this would be happening. You wouldnít be so disappointed, and Lex wouldnít be suffering."

Martha reached out and took Clarkís hand. "Suffering? Thatís the reason behind the fainting spell?"

"Heís tired all the time, and he throws up a lot." Clark raked his fingers through his hair. "Heís a man. Heís not designed to be pregnant."

"Then, why--I mean, if his health is at risk," Martha began.

"Which is why I didnít say anything about this when I got back from the hospital night before last. Lex was going to have everythingÖtaken care of. But it canít be done without the high risk of him bleeding to death. Itís a no-win situation all the way around, which is why I canít let him go through this alone."

"What exactly does that mean, Clark?" Jonathan asked sharply. "Surely you donít think weíre going to let you move in with Luthor?"

"I donít know what it means, Dad. Iím just trying to do like you taught me--to take responsibility for my actions."

"And Luthor bears no responsibility in this at all?"

"Heís the one with a monster growing inside him; I think heís paying enough," Clark rejoined bitterly.

"Clark, itís notÖitís not a monster," Martha said gently.

"Thatís what Lex calls it. And heís right. At best, itís only half-human. At worst, itís entirely mine, one hundred percent alien, and Lex is just a handy incubator."

"But that doesnít make it a monster. Youíre not a monster, Clark."

"Then what am I, Mom? I can run to Metropolis before you can reach the Smallville city limits in the car. I can lift the tractor with one hand. I make toast with my eyes. And I got my boyfriend pregnant. Not exactly normal here."

"Normal is relative, honey. Whatís normal for me isnít normal for you or for your dad. And vice versa."

"I know. Itís the first thing Lex taught me."

"I donít think we need to hear a list of the things Luthor has taught you," Jonathan grumbled.

"I doubt you would appreciate them," Clark shot back. "Tolerance. Self-acceptance. Self-pride."

"Rainbow-pride."

"Jonathan, I donít think we want to go there at this moment," Martha said calmly, but with force.

"Lex didnít make me gay."

"As far as I know Lana was the only one you got it up for before he showed up."

"Jonathan!"

"Iím bi, Dad. It means I swing both ways."

"So swing back the other way and make me happy."

"Itís not about your happiness, Jonathan," Martha said sharply.

"You honestly believe Lex Luthor is going to make our boy happy, Martha? That rich brat has brainwashed Clark into thinking he likes the unnatural stuff he does to him."

"I knew you were a snob, but I didnít think you were a bigot," Martha muttered.

"A snob?" Jonathan was indignant.

"Yes. You feel youíre too good to have anything to do with anyone who has more money that you. Is that why weíve stayed on this farm all these years? So you can be with your Ďown kind?í My father was right about you!"

Clark looked at his parents glaring at each other, their son forgotten. He was mad because he should have been the center of their attention and sad because heíd never seen them fight so openly before. His alienness was destroying everyone he loved. "If anyone cares, Iím going to do my chores before I head back to the mansion."

"You are not spending the night there again," Jonathan said firmly.

"The horse is gone, Dad. No use in closing the barn door now."

"Home by your curfew, please, Clark?" Martha asked, her eyes pleading. "We still need to talk."

"Yes, we do. Because Lex is still pregnant, and Iím still in love with him. So whenever you guys are ready to focus on that, let me know."

Clark left the house and headed across the farm, wondering if the cows would listen better than his parents.

Chapter Six

Despite the heavy bedroom curtains, Lex knew it was late when he woke. He wasnít surprised that Clark was gone. Farm boys had early days, even when their parents knew they werenít sleeping at home.

He had trouble opening his eyes, grimacing as he scrubbed at the gritty evidence of the tears heíd shed. What a bitch. Lex Luthor sobbing in the arms of his boyfriend. This whole fem thing was getting old quick. Just as heíd mastered the surge of testosterone at puberty, heíd have to get a handle on whatever hormone cocktails they pumped into him. He just couldnít take this emotional crap much longer. Tears. Hadnít seen them come from his eyes sinceÖsince Julian? Yeah. Never did get around to crying when his mom died. Too damned angry about losing her, and losing Pamela, to do anything but cause Lionel excess grief.

Ah, the good olí days where he could fuck and get fucked without any consequences other than a satisfying twinge of pain the next day and maybe a couple of colorful bruises. What had happened to that bitterly jolly teen who had scared even the most jaded club veterans? Oh, yeah. He moved to Smallville, became respectable, and fell in love with an Adonis that was not only jailbait, but an extremely virile alien as well.

Wasnít love grand?

Okay, youíve had over twenty-four hours of bitching and moaning, Lex. Time to chuck that and move along.

He showered and headed to his office. A call had coffee--yes, I said decaf, Donovan--on his desk and a plain, bran muffin (shudder). Following that was a long, detailed teleconference with Gabe Sullivan. Lex admitted that while his "recuperation" was going to take an indefinite amount of time, the plant would continue without change or interruption. After all, the plant was more than one man, right, Chief of Operations Sullivan? Gabe had agreed with the assessment (surprise, surprise) but then wondered about their other shared concern, LexCorp. The question was one that had bothered Lex ever since he started feeling sick. LexCorp was new and needed aggressive, hands-on care, along with a high visibility. LexCorp needed to be there when things happened, and Lex couldn't be anywhere other than the mansion. Gamely, he assured Gabe that the company would be fine, and it would be; Lex would make sure of itÖsomehow.

Next, Lex made a series of overseas calls, moving bits of himself around. It wasnít that he didnít trust Lionel, but it would be just too easy for his father to dig around in his affairs while he wasÖindisposed. His last call was to his personal lawyer. His orders were crisp and decisive. When he hung up, he felt as if part of the load on his shoulders had been lifted.

"Lex?"

"Yes, John?" he said into the speaker to his head of security.

"Thereís a Viola Bryant at the gate. She says sheís a private nurse."

"Let her in."

A messenger had arrived during dinner the night before to deposit a supply of prescriptions. Now, a nurse. What next? A hospital bed and equipment? Gee, Dad, it wasnít like I was planning to leave the grounds and flaunt my condition anyway.

A black woman of indeterminate age tapped lightly on the door. "Mr. Luthor?"

"Come in. And the name is Lex. Mr. Luthor is my father, the man who hired you. Are you supposed to live in, or commute?"

Light brown eyes widened slightly. "You werenít told about me?"

"My father rarely consults with me about anything, Ms. Bryant. Please, take a seat. Tell me all about my new schedule and diet."

She sat on the edge of a chair and put a battered leather attache on her lap. "This isnít the way Iím used to doing things," she began hesitantly. "Illness is enough of an indignity, without other people telling you what to do."

Lex smiled. "My father must have hired you for your discretion and not your ethics."

"I know how to keep my mouth shut, butÖmy ethics are currently taking a beating. Accepting you as a patient is beginning to look more compromising than I originally thought."

"Because of my condition?"

"Because I donít know your condition." She took a deep breath. "Mr. Luthor, Lex, I want to be completely honest with you. I was offered a lot of money to be your nurse, but not a lot of information. I was told I would get the information when I accepted the position. I intended to turn the offer down right then and there. But my daughter is a physician at an inner city clinic in Metropolis and at her current rate of pay, sheís going to be paying back her medical school loans until sheís ninety-two. Thatís no way for a young person to start out. Also, I assumed I knew what kind of problems you might have; until you disappeared out here in the boonies, you had quite a reputation."

Lex smirked. "You assumed my problem was something of the sexually transmitted variety, perhaps even the most serious of those. Can I ask why weíre speaking of this in the past tense?"

She shrugged. "Quite frankly, Iím not getting that vibe from you."

"Vibe?"

"Vibe," she said, adding no explanation.

Lex smiled. "You may need to recalibrate your vibe-o-meter, then, Ms. Bryant."

"If youíre Lex, then Iím Vi. And what do you mean?"

"What I have wrong with me is very much sexually transmitted."

Her eyes quickly assessed him, and he wondered what she saw or expected to see. From the frown, and bewildered narrowing of her eyes, it was apparent he was confusing the hell out of her.

"Iíve already signed what must have been the most detailed non-disclosure agreement that I've ever read. Would you like one of the notarized copies?"she asked in lieu of directly requesting the information she wanted.

Oh, he wasn't going to be that easy. "My father is an efficient bastard. And you have unwittingly provided a tasty hostage against you if you choose to break confidentiality--your daughter and her debt. Such naivete will not serve you well in this household, I'm afraid. But if you are as proficient a healthcare provider as you are refreshingly honest, I have no objections to you staying on as my nurse." He stood and held out his hand. "Welcome to the staff, Vi. I will authorize the release of my files to you, so that you may familiarize yourself with your duties and outline a plan that we both will find mutually beneficial."

She stood and shook his hand, gracefully accepting that her unasked question had remained unanswered. He respected that. "Thank you. Iíd like to get started as quickly as possible. I assume I will be given instructions by your physician in the near future, but for now, are you currently on any medications? And are there any reactions, weaknesses, symptoms I should be watching for?"

"Iíll have Donovan direct you to the package of medications that arrived last night, and as far as symptomsÖIím not sure. What are the symptoms of pregnancy?"

Lex was amused by the look of shock. Heíd bet one of his bank accounts that Viola Bryant thought that nothing could really shock her. Probably could work the Smallville wing of Arkham Asylum without batting an eye. She was of strong, unflappable stuff. Real heartland material.

But Luthors could "unflap" the best of them.

"Breathe, Vi," he ordered gently. "Heaven only knows what the tabloids would write if an ambulance was summoned to the manor."

"Iím sorry," she said as she realized she was standing with her mouth gaping open.

"That Iím pregnant? Join the crowd."

"No, I mean Iím sorry for my unprofessional behavior. If you would prefer I leave--"

"I would prefer you be as honest as you were at the beginning of this interview. Iíve always preferred those who stared at me straight out than those who looked anywhere but at my bald head. I feel the same in this situation."

"Yes, sir. I mean, Lex. Should I assume there are complications expected?"

"Many." He sat back down and casually placed his feet on the desk. "Still think your daughterís money problems are worth it?"

She shrugged and renewed her grip on her attache. "Too soon to tell. My room?"

Lex hit a button. "Donovan will show you to your quarters." He looked expectantly at the door when it opened. "Don-- Oh, Clark!"

"Iím sorry, Lex. I didnít know--" Clark apologized as he saw Vi.

"Itís okay. Clark Kent, Iíd like you to meet Viola Bryant, my personal nurse. Vi, this is Clark Kent, my best friend. You two should get to know each other. No one worries as much about me as Clark does, Vi, so feel free to fill him in on anything that I donít expressly tell you not to." Clark glared at him. "You canít expect me to give up all my secrets, Clark. One father in my life is enough."

Vi shook her head. "Iím hired by relatives all the time, but my first allegiance is to my patients."

Lex stared at her, then motioned for the entering Donovan to lead her out.

"I think weíre going to like her," Clark said, flopping on the leather sofa.

"Oh, yes, please remind me of that when weíre whimpering as she pokes at our arm with a dull needle looking for a vein to drain."

Clark sat up quickly. "About that? They wonít need my blood for testing or anything, will they?"

"Why would they?"

"I am the father."

"But no one knows that. Kingsley and his crew think that I am the victim of some heinous sexual crime."

"You told them you were raped?"

"I told them the date and time of conception, then told them I did not know who the father was. They jumped to their own conclusions."

"But your dadÖ"

"Suspects that you and I are sexually active. That might make you the father, or not. Monogamy is not the Luthor way. And if there was a rape involved, he knows me well enough to assume that retribution has been exacted."

Clark lowered his eyes, then raised them. "Have you ever beenÖ?"

"Yes."

"And did you exact retribution?"

"Yes."

"Good."

Lex left his desk and joined Clark on the sofa. "Feeling the need to exact some retribution of your own, Clark? Was it bad with your parents? Maybe I should have been there with you."

Clark squirmed until he was stretched out on the sofa with his head in Lexís lap. "Youíre a good boyfriend."

"I am not your boyfriend," Lex declared, his fingers combing lightly through the thick head of hair spread across his lap.

"Uh-huh. We hang out together at the Talon."

"Iím part owner."

"You give me rides all the time. And advice."

"Iím your friend."

"We make out behind my parents back."

"Iím your lover."

"We sleep together in your big bed, after weíre tired of doing Ďotherí things."

"See above."

"You just offered to stand by me and fight my battles."

Lex conceded. "So tell your boyfriend all about your morning."

"Not a lot to tell. I told them that I love you, am sleeping with you, and you're pregnant with my child. My mom wanted to call the cops. My dad accused you of turning me gay. My mom called him a bigot, and they went off on some tangent about Momís dad. I have no idea what any of that was about, so I left and went to do my chores."

Lex continued to stroke the soft mess of hair . "First: is your mom going to call the cops?"

"No. I sorta made her understand that we werenít, you know, casual or anything. And once I made her realize I was serious about there being a babyÖ"

"How did you manage that so quickly? Itís certainly not an easy concept."

Clark turned over until Lex was looking directly into his aqua eyes. "Sheís the one who raised an alien baby, remember?"

"And did an excellent job of it," Lex murmured. "Think sheíd like another?"

"Lex?"

"Iíd of course arrange for generous support. Neither the child, nor you, would want for anything. The mortgage on the farm would be taken care of as well."

Clark swallowed hard. "Itís their grandchild; they wouldnít expect payment for services rendered."

"I wonít add to your familyís financial burden."

"Or your own emotional one?" Clark asked softly, with just a twinge of bitterness.

"Iíve made it no secret that I donít want this child, Clark. Besides, thereís a good chance that I wonít survive the birth. So, if youíre having any ideas about us becoming the perfect family you need to let them go."

Clark flushed and sat up, scooting to the opposite end of the sofa. "Youíre not going to die."

"Iíve spoken with my attorney and apprised him of my wishes. Youíll have to sign some of the papers when they arrive."

"Stop it, Lex."

"I donít want you or the child anywhere near my father so Iíve arranged it that LuthorCorp can buy out LexCorp, and the proceeds will go into an account for you. There are also strategies in place in case Dad decides for some odd reason that the child is his heir."

"The baby wonít kill you, Lex."

"Iíve been funding various medical research projects, and some of my estate will go to them."

"I wonít let it kill you!"

"Itís okay, Clark. Iím not like Ryan; Iíve lived a full life--some would say too full. Guess that adage about Ďonly the good die youngí didnít take Luthors into account."

Lex blinked and Clark was an inch from his face. "Shut the hell up! I saved you! I wonít be your murderer!"

"Well, maybe you should have thought of that before you decided not to wear a condom!"

Another blink and Clark was at the door, looking back at Lex with such misery that Lex wanted to take his accusation back. But he didnít because he knew that pushing Clark away was for the best. The boy--yes, boy--was having dreams of the impossible variety, and he was either going to be hurt now or devastated later. And maybe if it happened now, Lex could go crawl into a nicely decorated hole and disappear.

Lex stood to add the denouement which would make sure Clark went out the door and never came back. Sickeningly easy for a man with Lexís education in the fine art of verbal flaying. "Did you enjoy it, Clark? Riding me without a saddle in the way? You were rough that night. I had to make sure my cuffs were buttoned the entire trip because of the bruises ringing my wrists, bruises made when you pinned my arms above my head as you slammed into me. The other marks of ownership were easy to hide, no one could see the fingertip-shaped discolorations on my hips, or feel the ache of ribs squeezed too hard. If Dad noticed how gingerly I sat on the plane, the fleeting winces of pain as we hit turbulent air, he was discreet enough not to ask questions."

Horror showed on Clarkís face. His hand was curling around the doorknob. Just a few inches more. "Donít look so apologetic. Iím not accusing you of anything, Clark. Remember, Iíve been raped before. There was some difference."

"No," Clark whispered. "I didnít--"

"Of course you didnít. After all, you love me, right?"

Although he watched Clark leave, the sound of the door closing jolted Lex. A body-wide tremor made him sit and he had to take several deep breaths before achieving any coherent thoughts. Clark was gone. The teen would feel bad for a while, guilty, but then the anger would comeÖand that was probably for the best. As Lex had told him, he could handle Clarkís anger.

Now it was time to find a bolt hole, a place to get away from it all. Well, not all. Heíd have to take Vi with him and make sure he had top-notch medical attention because although he was prepared for the possibility, he had no intention of dying easily. The thing inside him may be an alien, but he had mutant powers of his own, and if it wanted to get into some kind of X-Men death battle, then bring it on!

Wryly smiling at his wild thoughts, Lex got up and headed for his laptop.

He never made it.

Chapter Seven

Clark stumbled from the room, only remembering to close the door behind him because he needed its solidity to keep from falling.

Oh, God. Had it happened that way? Had he raped Lex that night? It was true that Lex was usually the dominant one. And he remembered being more aggressive than usual, but that wasnít rape, was it? Lex had never said no. But then again, he couldnít remember asking Lex. Mostly he just remembered being in Lex and feeling Lex and losing himself in being so close to LexÖand God, he hadnít really noticed if Lex was enjoying it. Lex hadÖyes, Lex had come but that could be--what had they called it in sex ed?--an involuntary response to stimuli, right? That didnít mean Lex wasÖ

Did you know what would happen when you didnít put on that condom? Was it some alien procreation instinct? The need to propagate outweighing my explicit instructions to always use a condom? Is that why Lex had asked him that? Had what happened that night been so uncontrolled that Lex saw alienness in his behavior? Fuck. Could that be it? Could he have been acting on some "gotta make a baby" instinct? Was his whole relationship with Lex based on a need to reproduce? Maybe his people didnít have females. Maybe he was a result of date-rape himself. Hell, maybe thatís why he 'd been shot off across the galaxy.

Clark forced himself to stand, not wanting to try to come up with an explanation for having a major meltdown in Lexís hallway; Donovan knew too much already. Just as he convinced his legs to move, he heard a thump from inside the room. Automatically, he scanned the room with his x-ray vision. A skeleton on the floor. He yelled for Donovan as he rushed back into the room.

"Lex!"

Lex was on his side at the base of the desk, slightly curled in on himself, and definitely unconscious. What had Clark yelling for Donovan to get the nurse was the blood that was pooling beneath the smooth head and pale cheek. He reached to gather Lex in his arms, but hesitated. Should he be moved? What if--

"Let me see to him, Clark."

He hadnít even noticed her arrival, but he moved back, letting Viola Bryant have access to Lex. She grabbed his wrist first, and watched his chest. Only then did she reach out her hand and Donovan handed her a towel. She pressed it against the head wound.

"Lex? Lex, can you hear me?" Nothing. "Clark, call to him."

"Lex? I really need you to wake up, Lex." It wasnít said loudly, but apparently it was enough.

Lex blinked and opened his eyes. He looked at the faces peering down at him and sighed. "I passed out again, didnít I?"

"And had a fight with your desk on the way down. Iím afraid you lost," Vi said with a gentle smile.

"Explains the bitch of a headache," Lex muttered and moved to sit up.

"Careful," Vi admonished. "Howís your vision?"

"I see one of each of you if thatís what youíre asking."

"Blurriness?"

"No. Can I get up now?"

Vi scowled at him. "Clark, help him to the sofa. Make sure you keep the pressure on the towel. Donovan, get my bag from my room, please."

"Your blood pressure and sugar levels are all over the place, Lex," she explained a little later after doing a brief exam. "I want you to spend the rest of the day in bed, and until further notice I think you should have someone with you all the time. If Clark hadnít been here, you could have been hurt a lot worse, seeing as how you were bleeding quite heavily. As it is, I think you might need a couple of stitches."

Lex shook his head, wincing afterward. "That wonít be necessary. By tomorrow morning, it will have healed. The bleeding has probably already stopped."

Clark lifted the towel and nodded. The wound had clotted. Vi cleaned it, put on antibiotic cream, and stuck on a bandage.

"Clark, walk him up to his room. Iím going to call your doctor, Lex--Kingsley, isnít it?--and see about getting you something for your headache."

When they were alone in the hallway, Clark asked Lex timidly, "Can I carry you?"

"Itís only a few steps, but with the way my headís feeling, why the hell not?"

In less time than it would have taken Lex to walk to his room, Clark had him in comfortable cotton pajamas and tucked in bed.

"Seems I owe my life to you again."

And it doesnít begin to make up for all Iíve cost you. "Iím sorry you were hurt. Iím so sorry for a lot of things, Lex."

"My head hurts too much to get into this, Clark."

"Okay. Iíll just sit over here out of the way." Clark headed toward an overstuffed chair near the far wall and the fireplace.

"I thought you were leaving."

"Do you want me to go?"

"No."

Clark nodded. He understood that Lex was scared and needed someone near who he trusted. Someone to keep watch. "Then Iím going to sit over here and read or something while you rest."

Clark watched as Lex slid into a light sleep. Lex still trusted him, despite the secret of the spaceship, despite whatever happened that night. Maybe if the trust was real, so was the love.

Maybe.

*****

"Clark?"

"Hey, Mom."

"Your dad and I were getting worried."

Clark looked at the clock heíd salvaged from the attic for his loft. It was past his curfew. "Iím sorry. I was here. I just didnít notice the time."

Martha motioned for him to draw up his legs and joined him on the sofa. "We know. Your dad saw you when you came in. You were a couple hours early. Did something happen with Lex?"

Yeah. He accused me of rape. And I sorta agree. "He passed out again. Hit his head on his desk on the way down."

Martha winced in sympathy. "How bad?"

"He was out for a couple minutes. Bled a lot. But Vi doesnít think itís serious. I helped him to bed, and Vi got him some pain medicine."

"Vi?"

"The private nurse Lionel Luthor sent. She doesnít want Lex left alone, at least not until his blood pressure and stuff stabilize. I think he was too groggy to realize what she was saying tonight. Heís not going to be happy tomorrow." Not that he was happy today either. Or yesterday.

Martha reached out and brushed an errant curl from his face. "Iím surprised you left him."

"Vi insisted. The medicine is going to make Lex sleep the night through so thereís no danger. She says she needs me rested for tomorrow because she knows heís going to be difficult, too."

"Sounds like a wise woman. Come on. We better go in before your dad starts worrying about both of us."

"You two work out whatever it was?" Clark asked, watching his mother carefully maneuver the stairs. They hadnít been built for the constant use they were getting. A project for tomorrow morning. Lex probably wouldnít appreciate him showing up at the crack of dawn.

"Yes."

"Good. Me messing up my life and Lexís is enough for one week."

As they crossed the yard to the house, she stopped him with a touch on his arm. "It was an old argument, Clark, from long before you came into our lives. And you havenít messed up anything. Accidents happen--even in conventional relationships. The important thing is that weíre a family, and weíll get through this as a family."

"Lex is part of the family now, Mom. I wonít--I canít let Dad put him down."

"I know. I talked to him about it. HeísÖheís going to try, Clark. But he has a history with Lionel--"

"But Lex isnít Lionel. No more than Iím whoever my biological father is or was. Dad always taught me to judge a man by his actions. Why is he being such a hypocrite?"

"Iím not, Clark." Jonathan stood in the kitchen doorway looking out at them. "He drove you off a bridge, remember?"

"It was an accident, and he apologized. Heís also helped me, us, whenever we needed him. Doesnít that count for anything?"

"Compared to seducing my son? No."

Clark turned to his mother. "I canít do this."

"Yes, you can," Martha said firmly. "And so can you, Jonathan. Assigning blame is useless. There are more important issues. Like a child, however unlikely that seems." She tugged Clark into the house.

"So is Lex an hermaphrodite or something?" Jonathan asked, rubbing the back of his neck.

"For someone who doesnít like Lex, you think like him," Clark said as he straddled a dinette chair. "That was the first question he asked his father."

"And?"

"No. I think it may be a combination of what I am and Lexís exposure to the meteor rocks. He was out in Reilly Field when they hit."

"We know," Jonathan said sharply.

Clark stilled. "What does that mean?"

His parents shared a look. "Jonathan and I, along with a newly found you, gave Lex and his father a ride to the hospital that day. Lionel was frantic, and Lex, that poor child, was in shock. It was a while before he recovered enough to be transferred to Metropolis."

"Lex and I knew each other before?"

"I wouldnít say Ďknow.í You reached out to him right before he passed out. You never saw each other again after we got to the hospital."

"Destiny," Clark whispered.

"What?"

"Destiny, Mom. Lex says we share a destiny. I wonder if he remembers."

"Honey, he wasnít in any condition to remember anything," Martha said with a sad smile. "He looked so fragile, delicate--"

"Breakable," Clark interrupted. "Thatís how he looks when heís sleeping. But it disappears when heís awake and his defenses are in place. I donít worry about him during the day, but at nightÖat night he scares me."

"And how many nights would that be, Clark?" Jonathan asked.

"Not every night," Clark hedged.

"Letting us think you were just friends. Sneaking out of the house at night. Sex. Alcohol? Drugs?"

"No! Lex has soda for me. And drugs are something he gave up even before he came here. He says he needs all his brain cells to keep up with his dad--losing them was giving Lionel a strategic advantage."

"Games. With Luthors itís all about games and taking advantage."

"Lex works with what heís given, Dad. I give him something different so our relationship isnít like that."

"What is your relationship like?"

Clark turned to his mom. "Itís about respect, mainly, and trust. I respect who Lex is, and he respects me. He treats me like an equal."

"Like a man," Jonathan scoffed.

"Yes, like a man who has a brain and can think for himself, which is way different than some people treat me."

"Iím trying to protect--"

"I can protect myself. I outsmarted Phelan, didnít I? And Iím not the one who spilled his guts to that reporter, you know the one who evil Lex Luthor killed in order to save your life? Thereís an action for you, Dad."

"Yes, a very telling one."

"Really? I guess youíd prefer being in a grave, while Mom and I dodged the media and the Army looking to clone me or something."

"Boys, please," Martha cried. "Iím glad Lex respects you, son. I just wish he had respected you a little more."

"And when did you lose your virginity, Mom?" Clark sniped.

"Clark! Apologize to your mother right now!"

Martha rubbed at a point just above the bridge of her nose. "No, heís right, Jonathan. Heís a teenager and teens do stupid thingsÖlike that."

"Except what I did isnít stupid. Did you love him, Mom?"

She flushed and took a deep breath. "I--I liked him."

"Well, I more than like Lex."

"But we were the same age and had the same experience--none."

"And it was awkward and you wondered why everyone thought sex was so great."

"Nice job of channeling a teenage girl, Clark," Martha said uncomfortably.

"I hear things at school. The guys donít have it much better, you know. No control. No clue as to where to put their hands and stuff. But I didnít go through that. Lex made everything right for me. Iíve been a clumsy mess ever since I landed on this planet and Lex made that go away. Thanks to him, Iím comfortable with my body and who I am."

"Um, if this is going to turn into a girls night outÖ" Jonathan mumbled.

"Jonathan, I donít think you need me to remind you that it took us about five times before it became really good between us."

Jonathan and Clark wore matching blushes.

"So, baby," Martha continued. "Iím glad Lex made you so comfortable. And whenever you want to talk about that, know that Iím here for you. Respect and trust are absolutely necessary for a good physical relationship. But tonight we need to concentrate on your lack of respect for us and your breech of our trust. The appropriate punishment should be grounding, but we canít, in all good conscience, bar you from seeing Lex."

"We canít?" Jonathan asked incredulously.

"No, we canít. Lex isÖLex is carrying Clarkís child. It would be cruel to separate them under normal circumstances, but with Lexís health being so precarious, it would be a sin to keep them apart."

"Thanks, Mom."

"But there have to be rules, like no sneaking out of the house. We need to know where you are at all times. Your grades at school must remain at the same levels. No skipping school. Youíre to come home after school every day to do your chores before heading over to the mansion. If you arenít with Lex, then you will be here unless it is a school activity. We are a family. Although we canít make decisions for you, we want to be kept apprised of the decisions you and Lex make."

"Before, not after, the fact," Jonathan clarified. "And your curfew stands."

Clark started to argue, on pure reflex alone. But being with Lex had taught him the art of negotiation. One needed to pick oneís battle carefully and deliberately. An argument for argumentís sake won points only in a debate. "I agree to your terms, but with the stipulation that they can be altered if circumstances--such as Lexís health--change."

"Listen to him, Martha. Already more Luthor than Kent."

"But it is a reasonable stipulation, Jonathan. I think we shall all agree and call it a day," Martha said wearily.

Jonathan threw up his hands. "Fine. Goodnight." He headed toward the stairs.

"Goodnight, Dad." Clark smiled wryly at his mom. "Still think finding me was the best thing that happened in your life?"

"Yes, Clark, I do."

"I love you, you know. And Dad, too." Clark wrapped his arms around her. "Iím sorry for causing all this trouble."

"Weíre a family. If it wasnít this, itíd be something else."

He rolled his eyes. "Come on, Mom. Even you couldnít have expected something like this."

She swatted him on his bottom. "You put your arm in a woodchipper, move faster than I can blink, and make toast with your eyes. Getting your boyfriend pregnant isnít that big of a deal."

He laughed as they walked up the stairs together. "Nothingís a big deal for Super Mom, is that it?"

She leaned her head against his arm. "I knew you were brighter than your father, Clark."

Chapter Eight

Martha used the back of her forearm to scratch her suddenly itching nose. Always when my hands are in a sink full of hot water, she thought with a quick frown. She checked the time. The cakes in the oven had another ten minutes, then sheíd take them out and maybe grab a nap on the sofa. Sleep had danced just outside her reach last night, and the moments of dozing she managed to capture were colored by nightmares of mutant babies.

"Lex shouldnít have called it a monster," she muttered as she rinsed the final bowl.

Just as she placed the dried crockery in the cabinet, the phone rang. "The Kent residence."

"This is Viola Bryant. May I speak to Clark, please?"

Viola Bryant? Lexís nurse! "Just a minute. Iíll get him for you."

She balanced the phone on the table and headed outside to the barn where Clark was fixing the steps to the loft. Probably wanted to make sure Lex didnít hurt himself sneaking up there. The thought of Lex made her hurry. "Clark! Viola Bryant is on the phone for you."

She figured the breeze that attacked her hair was Clark.

By the time she made it back to the house, Clark had the phone at his ear while he leaned against the wall. "Uh-huh. Okay. Yeah. Okay," he murmured.

Martha shamelessly sat at the table and waited for the conversation to end. A questioning eyebrow was aimed in Clarkís direction as he hung up.

"Lexís Metropolis doctors have managed to secure the use of a maternity clinic that doesnít open on Sundays. So they want to run all kinds of tests on him and stuff, figure out whatís going on. Vi wanted to know if I wanted to go with them, and I told her to stop by and pick me up on the way."

The last was said almost as a question and Martha nodded. Of course Clark was going to go with Lex. "Go shower and change. You might want to take a book along. There will probably be tests Lex will have to undergo alone. Donít you have a history test tomorrow?"

Clark grinned. "Yeah, I do. Good. That should distract Lex. He loves giving history lectures."

"And you donít mind?"

He laughed. "I havenít had to use a book to study for a history test since I met Lex. Actually, I havenít had to use a book for most of my classes. Lex know a lot aboutÖwell, a lot. Heís real smart and I think he sort of escaped into books when he was young. Did you know heís a big Warrior Angel fan? He and Ryan sorta bonded because of that." He looked sad for a second, then shook it off and took the stairs two at a time.

"Clark?"

"Yeah, Mom?"

"What if they want to test you?" The possibility had just hit her.

"They wonít. They donít know Iím the, uh, father. They think Lex wasÖraped."

Lex Luthor was allowing people to think heíd been raped rather than name Clark as the father? That was an impressive sacrifice. "Maybe he can be trusted with your secret."

"Yeah, because he didnít even know it when he came up with the story. He just wanted to protect plain, ordinary me."

Or maybe his reputation, Martha thought as Clark disappeared from sight. Then she shook her head at the uncharitable thought. Protecting his reputation had never been one of Lexís trademarks. Lionel did all the protecting; Lex usually posed for the nearest camera. What a childhood. She wondered what had stopped his escapes into comic books and archaic history tomes. His motherís death? Lionelís interference? Or maybe it had just been life itself.

Twenty minutes later she stood on the porch watching the long black limo disappear into the horizon. The alien surprises she was used to; hadnít she just dabbed salve on Clarkís bruises after an automatic weapon attack? But this--his ease with limos and mansions, and "oh, yeah, Lex, I need a football team to come play a fantasy game for my friendís dying dad"--this was the stuff she hadnít expected. Clark was always destined to be more than a farmer, butÖa rich kidís boyfriend? Her sweet Clark, who knew how to sort through the dented can barrel at the grocery store and could estimate how many jars of home-canned vegetables would last a winter--making love on sheets that cost as much as his entire wardrobe. Her sweet Clark making love, period. Where had her little boy gone?

"Was that a limo I saw kicking up dust along the route when I was coming in?" Jonathan asked as he walked around the corner of the house.

"Lex is being taken to Metropolis for some tests. The car stopped by to pick up Clark."

"I see."

Martha sat on the porch swing and patted the seat beside her. "Since itís just you and me for the rest of the day, with no interruptions by our whirlwind of a son, talk to me, Jonathan. Youíre a good father, and I know just how much you love Clark. Whatís so intolerable about this situation that youíre willing to risk losing your son over?"

"Iím not--"

"Yes, you are. Clark loves us, but heís in love with Lex. You know how itís going to turn out if you force him to choose between us."

Jonathan sat slowly, as if his entire body ached. "God, Martha. I knew Clark was going to be different--"

"No. You donít get to blame this on Clarkís origins. We donít know what was or is normal for his birth family, but homosexuality and falling in love and telling that person you love all about yourself--those things are of Earth. And you have to face them like the caring father I know you are."

"Why did he have to save him?" Jonathan felt Marthaís concerned look and hastily clarified his statement. "I mean, why couldnít Luthor drive like a sane person and avoid the whole accident? If the boy had just used some common sense, cautionÖ

"Why Luthor, Martha? Why not Peter or even Whitney? If I could have gotten a quarterback out of the dealÖ" he joked and set the swing to swaying. "All other things aside, I guess itís Luthor I object to the most. I donít understand how he could just roar into Clarkís life and hijack it without any opposition from Clark."

"The heart has reasons, Jonathan. Clark says Lex is sure that they have a joined destiny. Maybe heís right. I keep going back to that truck ride to the hospital with both boys. Clark was fascinated by Lex. I thought maybe it was because Lex was young like he was, but it could have been something deeper. Clark touched Lex and Lex went limp, like he knew it was okay to rest, that he was safe under Clarkís watch."

"This doesnít have a higher purpose, Martha. Itís just--wrong, and Luthor is going to break our boy, and although Clark is strongÖIím not sure heís strong enough to survive what Luthor is going to put him through."

"Lex isnít his father," Martha murmured. "And I think itís his strength that calls to Clark the most. Have you noticed that Clark looks to him when heís in trouble? When he kidnapped Ryan, and when he took Kyle Tippit out of police custody? Even when you signed the farm over to that Rickman person."

"Money does not equal strength."

"Itís more than just the money. He goes to Lex because he knows Lex can protect himself, shield himself and everyone else from the fallout of Clarkís actions. Lex was raised to be a survivor. Maybe thatís what Lionel wanted after seeing his son so helpless and vulnerable in the aftermath of the meteor storm."

"And maybe Lionel is just a son of a bitch who shouldnít have been allowed to raise a dog, much less a child."

"Whatever the reason, Clark perceives Lex to be a Ďprotector of the realmí. Thatís why he runs to him for shelter."

"Instead of us."

Martha shrugged. "Weíre his parents. And we havenít exactly shown him that weíre good at protecting ourselves. Heís seen me let Nell get under my skin, and Jonathan, your temper often gets in the way. And itís not just that. He doesnít want to get us--dirty. He doesnít want you thrown in jail again. Or have you second guess your action if youíd killed Nixon."

"But itís okay for Lex to get dirty? What kind of love is that?"

"The kind thatís built on immeasurable faith. Clark isnít saying that Lex is so dirty that taking a human life isnít going to add to his weight. Heís saying that Lex is capable of supporting that weight, of supporting whatever burdens that come with being, as Clark likes to call it, Ďthe biggest freak on earth.í Clark needs to know someone can handle not only what he is, but also the consequences of what he is. Out of everyone he knows, Lex is the only one who can. For good or for ill, Lex is always standing at the end."

"Arrogant," Jonathan muttered.

"Quite."

"And Clarkís attracted to it?"

"To the power it implies."

"And youíre all right with that? That Clark is being lured, seduced, by the power Luthor wields?"

"It could be worse. It could be someone who didnít care about Clark, someone who wasnít so invested in pleasing him. But say what you want about Lex, he cares very much about Clarkís opinion of him. And heís never failed to give Clark whatever heís asked for."

"Which scares the hell out of me," Jonathan admitted. "Clark is a good kid, but if something happens that leads him in the wrong direction, and with Luthor guiding him no less, the world wonít have a chance."

"Clark knows right from wrong."

"But sometimes there isnít a right or a wrong, Martha. Sometimes itís a Ďbest you can doí situation and those are the ones I donít want him relying on Luthorís guidance."

"Then we make sure he knows he can still look to us for guidance."

Jonathan nodded. "I guess youíre right, but I still canít help but hope this mess puts an end to it once and for all. Iíve seen unwanted pregnancies break up a lot of happy couples, and this oneís added twist should go a long way in making sure that happens."

"Or it could bind them together so closely that nothing will be able to come between them."

"By all means, cheer me up, Martha."

She snickered and leaned into his shoulder. Jonathan was opening up and ready to look at things objectively; the family was going to be okay. "What if it wasnít Lex?" she said after a minute. "What if it was Pete or Whitney?"

"I was raised to believe homosexuality was wrong. But when I look around and see how much grief some of the people go through, I canít dismiss their feelings as unworthy or less genuine than mine. So if Clark came home one day and said, ĎDad, Iím in love with Pete,í I could live with it. Probably be wondering if it all could have been avoided by letting Clark play football, but yeah, Iíd live with it." He smiled, letting her know he was teasing about the football part.

"Well, all I can say is that with the two of them as parents, our grandchild is going to be beautiful," Martha murmured.

"You think Luthor is good-looking? Heís bald."

"And wears it extremely well. Surely youíve noticed how much attention he grabs just by walking into a room."

"I thought that was because he was bald."

Martha sighed dreamily. "Think again. What magnificent bone structure."

"Should I be worried?" he asked lightly.

She snorted. "Not only is he young enough to be my son, but my son would kill me if I made a move on his man."

Jonathan threw his head back and sighed at the sky. "Tell me that one day weíre going to look back on this and laugh."

"Weíre already laughing," she said, tickling his ribs. "Wanna go fool around?"

"I was thinking about going to check on the cows. They get lonely, you know," he said impishly.

"Not as lonely as a certain man who might be sleeping on the sofa tonight," Martha said as she stood and sashayed into the house.

She grinned as he joined her.

*****

Clark was very subdued when he returned home, barely speaking to his parents before escaping to his room. The day had shaken him badly, and all he wanted to do was to crawl into bed and pull the covers over his head. But, of course, his mom was at his door ten minutes later.

"Come in." He barely managed to hide the sigh.

"I wanted to make sure you were okay," she began. "You usually donít turn in at eight."

"I usually donít have a day like this one," he replied.

"Lex okay?"

Clark belly-flopped across his bed. "Better than I am."

"You want to talk about it? I could warm you a piece of apple pie, or some leftovers from dinner. Did you eat?"

"Iím fine, Mom," Clark assured her. "I--Can we just talk up here? I think Iím too tired to move."

She moved over to the bed and sat, leaning back against the headboard.

"First, I need to apologize to you, and to Dad, too. I know now why you didn't want anyone to know my secret. I'd have gone nuts if I'd been carted off to a lab somewhere to be studied."

"Is that what it felt like today? With Lex?"

"Thatís what it was, Mom. They inserted this and probed with that, and took so much blood that they were afraid Lex was going to have to have a transfusion before we left. And they didnít treat him like a human being. They just hooked him up to a bunch of monitors, not telling him anything. Then they ordered him to move this way and that way. They even checked his teeth, like he was a horse or something!"

A soft hand stroked the crown of his head. "I bet Lex had a lot to say about that."

"Thatís just it; he didnít say anything. He just lay there and took it. They touched him--everywhere. God, he hates that. He, you know, flinches when he's touched--sometimes even when it's me doing the touching. I donít know what heís remembering when he does that, and I donít think I want to know, not after watching him jump time and time again today. And did they care? Did one person say, Ďshh, itís okay,í or Ďweíre not going to hurt you?í No. They just took their glove-covered hands andÖmauled him. I finally had enough and told them that the next person who touched him was going to have a broken hand."

"Oh, Clark."

"I know. That was the only time Lex kicked the medical team out. He thanked me for being concerned, but told me it was okay, that heíd gone through a similar experience after the meteor storm. I think thatís why he and Ryan got along so well in the end. He understood what Ryan was going through better than any of us, and Ryan respected him for that. Ryan told me to take care of Lex . I understand what he meant now, and I failed him. By not using a condom, Iíve hurt Lex so bad." His eyes glistened but he refused to cry.

"Every time he was touched, it was like he was being tattooed, like the fingerprints were permanent or something. I know because I just watched him try wash all the touches away. When we returned to manor, he demanded a shower as soon as he got out of the car. After twenty minutes of waiting for the water to stop, I forced my way into the bathroom. He was scrubbing himself red, the water hot even to my skin.

"I asked him why, why was he letting them treat him like that. He wasnít a scared nine-year-old anymore with his dad calling all the shots. He could have stopped what they were doing to him, but he didn't. He smirked and said something about it being good for business, that LexCorp had signed exclusives with the doctors on anything beneficial found during the pregnancy. Said infertile couples all over the world may be thanking us one day--after paying LexCorp an exorbitant fee.

"It was all bull--he was lying, Mom. Iím not as blind as Pete and Dad and everyone seem to think I am. I know Lex has trouble with right and wrong sometimes. I know when heís not being completely honest, and I know when heís completely lying. Sure, LexCorp might benefit from something the doctors find, but that wasnít the reason why he was lying there letting them use his body like a med school corpse. So I asked him pointblank. I asked him--I asked him if he was punishing himself for lov--being with me."

Clark dropped his head on his hands, trying to stop the burning in his eyes.

"What did he say?" Martha asked softly, after minutes of silence.

"He saidÖhe said he was doing it because he loved me, because he doesnít want me feeling guilty if thisÖgoes badly. He says he has to let the doctors study him because the only chance he has for surviving this pregnancy is knowledge."

"Itís that serious?"

Clark raised his head to look at her. "Heís a man, Mom. The womb isnít attached to anything that, um, naturally opens to the outside, so that means heís going to have to be cut open and we already know the risk with that. His blood is being literally stripped of anything essential as it circulates in the womb. Lex is going to have to double his food intake or else heís going to starve to death, and heís going to have to have injections three times a day. He also has to have blood drawn three times a day."

"Maybe he should be hospitalized," Martha said worriedly.

Clark shook his head. "The media would be all over that, and he wouldnít have any privacy left. At the moment, he has all the necessary equipment at the manor and when it gets closer to the birth, heís going to move to Metropolis."

"It sounds as if his doctors know what theyíre doing. And that nurse seemed nice on the phone."

"Viís great. Sheís the best present Lionelís ever given Lex."

"Even better than the Lamborghini?" Martha teased warmly.

Clark smiled, glad heíd talked with his mom. "Well, maybe theyíre tied."

Martha stood. "How about that slice of pie now?"

Clark nodded. "Yeah, maybe I could down a sliceÖor two."

Martha took his hand and they headed out the door and down the steps. "Itíll be okay, Clark. I donít think the universe made two stronger people than you and Lex."

"You really think so?"

Martha tugged him closer to her. "Yes, Clark. I really do."

Chapter Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was definitely a smirk this time. "I donít need to date Clark to know that you and your husband fear me, however differing your reasons are."

Martha took a deep breath. "We donít fear you, Lex."

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

Martha shivered despite herself. "But you havenít done so."

Lex shrugged. "As I said, Iím not my father."

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

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

"Iíve been using you? For what purpose?" she asked incredulously.

Lex leaned back, putting his feet up on the desk. "You know Clark doesnít belong in Smallville, that his destiny lies somewhere far less bucolic, far less ideal. And for Clark to survive in such a place, there are lessons he needs to learn, defenses that need to be online before he arrives. Jonathan couldnít teach him these things; he likes to pretend they donít exist. You couldnít teach him these things; you acknowledge their existence, but you donít have enough practical experience to really make Clark understand. You watched Clark stumble around in this backwater town and you worried--worried that when it was time for him to step out into the real world, he would be eaten alive, picked clean to his bones. And you worried about his reaction when this happened. Clarkís a very special boy. Would he lash out in bitterness? Or would he retreat so far into himself that heíd be too scared to face the light of day?

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

His sneer left her cold, and his wordsÖthere was too much truth in them. She had thought Clark could learn from Lex, but she hadnít deliberately used him. The friendship had been beneficial to both, hadnít it?

"Youíre here this morning because you think Iíve violated that trust," Lex continued.

"Have you?"

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

"Youíre an adult, experienced. You could have said no."

"You chose me to be his tutor."

"Not in that," Martha replied sharply.

"Would you have rather he ran off and learned from someone else? Someone who would have hurt him--although at the time I didnít know he couldnít be hurt physically?"

"Are you trying to tell me you did this for Clarkís sake? That you didnít want Clark? That you got nothing out of sleeping with him?" Martha asked skeptically. How naive did he think she was?

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

Whap!

Martha stared silently at her stinging hand, then slowly raised her eyes to the face in front of her. Smooth expanse of white skin marred by a ruddy imprint. She could even make out the individual finger marks. Too horrified to speak, Martha stumbled out of the chair and backed away from Lex. She had hit him. Sheíd neverÖeven when Nell was at her nastiestÖ "IímÖsorry."

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

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

He patted his stomach. "There, there. Grandma doesnít mean it. Sheís just having a bad day. And donít you worry; I wonít leave you alone with her. Good thing your Daddy Clark doesnít bruise easily."

"I have never--"

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

"Bastard," she spat.

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

"Itís not a thing--or a monster."

Lex nodded. "Youíre absolutely right. Itís not a thing, or a monster. Itís an abomination."

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

"This isnít baseball," he ground out. "You donít get three strikes." He released her and went back to his desk. "Our business has concluded, Mrs. Kent. Please show yourself out."

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

*****

Clark knew something was wrong as soon as he stepped off the school bus. His mom was on the front porch--which wasnít unusual, even if the air still had a winterís chill. What was unusual was the thing she held in her hand. A cigarette, its smoke curving about her red hair. His mother had emphatically condemned smoking since before he could even pronounce the word.

"Mom?" he asked as he cautiously approached.

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

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

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

"I was once a Clark, you know. Clarks smoked. Then I married a Kent, and I didnít think it was worth arguing about. Besides, I wanted to get pregnant, and I wasnít so addicted that I didnít know good moms didnít smoke. After I found out there wouldnít be any babies, I used to hide and smoke. Jonathan never caught on. When you came into our lives, I quit again. Although I suspected second-hand smoke wouldnít bother you, I didnít want to take a risk with my life." She reached out to stroke his face. "I didnít want to do anything that might prematurely take me away from you and your father."

"So what is this?" Clark asked, anger coloring his voice. "You donít care about hurting us anymore?"

Martha blinked. "Thatís notÖ Something happened today, Clark, and I--I just needed a smoke."

"A whole pack?" Martha shrugged, scaring him. "Whereís Dad?" he asked anxiously.

"Hiding in the barn, I think. I yelled at him when he asked what was wrong. I couldnít tell him, you see. If Iíd said anything, if Iíd confirmed his suspicions, he would have done something...rash, and the situation is out of control enough."

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

"I hit Lex."

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

"My hand."

Clark felt relieved, until he realized his mother didnít do violence, manual or otherwise. It had to be an accident, right? "It was an accident, and Iím sure--"

"I slapped him. Thereís probably a bruise."

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

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

"He told you WHAT!" Clark couldnít get coordinated enough to stand, so he just remained on the step, too shocked, hurt, angry to move.

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

Clark regained his ability to move and struck out at one of the support posts of the porch. He pulled the punch a millimeter before contact, remembering how much of his allowance heíd lost the last time he nearly brought the house down. "God, I hate him! Heís such a fu--heís a big, fat liar. I canít believe I was so stupid to think--" He moaned and dropped his head into his hands. "It makes no sense, Mom. Why would heÖ? I donít understand."

"Here." A soft plop accompanied Marthaís voice. He raised his head enough to see a pack of cigarettes on the porch beside him. "You can Ďmentholí your way to the answer like I did, or you can trust that your mother hasnít nicotined her brain to mush."

"What? Youíve made sense of this? What the heck is in those cigarettes?"

Martha laughed and snubbed out her remaining butt. "I wonít be audacious enough to say I know the Ďwhyí of what Lex did, but I know what he did."

"Every little bit will help," Clark replied. "Because I donít mind admitting that figuring out Lex is way out of my league."

"You didnít pick an easy one," Martha agreed. "But neither did your father."

"Forgive me if I disagree," Jonathan said as he stepped around the corner of the house. "You arenít anything like Lex Luthor. You would never do what he did to you today."

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

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

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

Jonathan threw up his hands, signaling he was harmless. "I went to the mansion, but he wasnít there. That butler guy--"

"Donovan," Clark and Martha said together.

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

Clark leaned against the post that heíd almost smashed. One thing he knew was that Lex wasnít a coward. The fact that he didnít run away from trouble was, at times, one of Lexís most irritating characteristics. That was why none of this was making any sense. Lex liked Martha. Why had he hurt her bad enough to make her lash out? "Mom, you said youíd come up with some answers?"

She nodded. "What Lex did was deliberate."

Jonathan snorted. "We know that."

Martha gave him an annoyed look. "No, I mean calculated. His word choice, delivery, even his stance--everything was modified to provoke me. See, at his core, Lex is a gentleman." Another Jonathan snort. "I donít know if itís something he learned from his mother or just the way he pays tribute to her, but heís very polite to women and to his elders."

"Itís an act."

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

Martha looked longingly at the full ashtray. "I was expertly manipulated. I donít know who Iím angrier at--Lex for playing me or myself for falling so easily. I called him on a smug insinuation that because he was dating you, Clark, he had special insight into our family. But I was wrong, wasnít I?"

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

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

"Heís a Luthor. Some people judge him by his name without getting to know him."

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

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

Clark shrugged. "Thatís easy: he wanted you to hate him."

"Why me?"

"Because you don't already."

"And thatís bad?" she asked, puzzled.

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

"What!" Jonathan yelled. "If anyoneís guilty of rape--"

"Whoís pregnant, Dad?"

Jonathan reddened. "That doesnít mean--"

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

"You donít believe that, do you, Clark? That youÖ" Martha began.

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

"Clark--"

"Iím just being honest, Mom. Dad wants this to be all Lexís fault, and itís not. Lexís condition is my responsibility."

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

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

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

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

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

Clark laughed. "I donít think Lex has ever had a linear thought, Mom. His mind refuses to believe that going directly from A to B is possible. There always has to be an A.1 or A.3 version before B is reached."

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

"As convoluted and messed up as some of the programs are, what makes you think he isnít?" Clark countered. "Iíll be back before curfew."

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

"Then Iíll wait," Clark said with determination. "The games end tonight."

Chapter Ten

"Sir, we're home."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And Vi?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Fuck you!"

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

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

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

The doors rattled as Clark swept out of the room.

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

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

He was out even as his eyes shuttered closed.

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Can he?" Clark asked worriedly.

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

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

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

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

"What do you say?"

"That life sucks."

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

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

"For him."

"Yes."

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

"Not always."

"He seems to think so."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I understand."

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

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

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

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

"I will."

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

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

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

Lexís eyes opened fully. "Why? Why did you come back?"

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

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

"Lex, you're not God."

"Should I be suitably shocked and outraged?"

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

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

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

"Can we not do this now?"

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

"Fuck you, Kent."

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

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

"What does that mean?"

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

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

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

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

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

Clark paled. "My fault."

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

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

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

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

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

"Done."

"I don't expect an apology."

"Good."

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

"Put your offer on the table."

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

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

"And you probably have meetings."

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

"What!"

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

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

"Not everything."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I promise."

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

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

Chapter Eleven

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

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

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

"I have a delivery for Martha Kent."

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

"Have a nice day, ma'am."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You'd give him up that easily?"

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

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

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

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

"Figured that out for myself," he mumbled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Mrs. Kent, I--"

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

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

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

"You worked for my dad too long."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Lex--"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes."

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

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

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

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

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

"Clark's a romantic."

"And you?"

"A pragmatist."

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

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

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

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

"Why not?"

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

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

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

"And what does he think of the baby?"

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

"Which will he do?"

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

"And then what happens?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Why are you leaving him at all?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Don't do this," she whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

"Sir?"

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

From heaven to hell in less than a hundred yards.

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

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

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

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

"A recently acquired skill, Mr. Kent."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Sir."

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

"Geoffrey?"

"Yes, sir?"

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

"The question is, sir, are you?"

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

"The proverbial rock and hard place, sir."

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

"Would you like to, sir?"

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

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

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

Chapter Twelve

"Where do you think you're going?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Lex Luthor."

"Lex, it's Clark."

"Yes, what can I do for you?"

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

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

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

"Yes, that is uncanny. However--"

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

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

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

"I look forward to further discussion."

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

He picked up the receiver again.

"Hello?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Nothing, Clark. We just talked."

"And?" he prompted anxiously.

"He just seems--so alone."

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

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

"Mom, you're scaring me."

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

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

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

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

"Sure, Chloe."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I love him, Mom."

"I truly believe the feeling is mutual."

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

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

"Why?"

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

"Lex won't hurt me."

"Maybe not intentionally."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martha frowned. "You mean the graveyard?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Do you think he's suicidal?"

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

"Clark." She squeezed his hand comfortingly.

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

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

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

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

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

"For what?"

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lionel laughed. "Unless you fuck up."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Lex?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Kent Farm."

"Hi, MrsÖMartha. This is Lex. May I speak to Clark?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Did Bob Connelly turn a bright carmine?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But then you'll be doing without."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"He found out about LexCorp."

"He give you a lot of grief?"

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

"Why?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clark reached for the phone and pressed the correct button.

"Sir?"

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

"Certainly, sir."

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

"Eat," Clark ordered.

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

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

"Do what?"

"Tuck me in every night."

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

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

"I know. And she appreciated your apology."

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

"He has a very high toxicity."

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

"How about biological life in general?"

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

"Go to sleep."

"Go home."

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

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

"No, not nearly enough."

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

Chapter Thirteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You don't seem to mind."

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

"It is spring, Lex."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clark frowned. "What do you mean?"

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

"Isn't he?"

"No, he isn't."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Lex!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What's that?"

"A space blanket."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But you're--"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Then make me understand."

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

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

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

"So can I."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You're not stupid."

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

"Ambitious."

"Heretical, actually."

"That's my Lex."

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

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

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

"Hmm?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes."

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

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

"Life hurts you because you are a survivor."

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

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

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

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

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

"No?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yeah?"

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

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

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

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

Chapter Fourteen

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

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

"Chloe?"

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

"You can tell me what's wrong."

"Nothing new; dumped again."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"He is."

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

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

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

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

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

Clark blushed. "Reflex."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What's up?"

"Lex is upstairs in the attic."

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

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

"The attic?"

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

"I told him the loft was--"

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

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

"I would hope you look after him."

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

"You love him."

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

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

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

"He thinks we would allow that?"

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

"Your father is trying, Clark."

"Are you sure?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yeah, one human and one alien."

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

"I'm sorry, Mom."

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

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

"Would you? If it was possible?"

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

"But you don't think he is?"

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

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

"Can I invite him to stay for dinner?"

"Of course."

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

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

"Lex. You okay?"

"Yeah."

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

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

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

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

Clark sighed. "In English, Lex."

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

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

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

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

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

"I'm glad you came here."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Dinner? Clark, I--"

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

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

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

"Yes?"

"You scare me."

Lex frowned. "It was just a thought."

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

"Yes. And?"

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

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

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

"Pardon?"

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

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

"Everything okay?"

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

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

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

Clark winked at his mom and grabbed his books.

Chapter Fifteen

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

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

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

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

"Sir? You have a delivery."

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

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

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

Lex was flabbergasted, suspicious, amazed, andÖtouched.

"Nice card."

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

"Chloe said that they missed you."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clark grinned evilly.

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

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

"Thank God."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Have you heard from your father today?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Not even your birthday cars?"

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

"Then why do you accept them?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, why?"

"I hear a helicopter on approach."

"On approach? Your hearing is that good?"

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

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

"It's big."

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

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

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

"Just the two pilots."

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

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

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

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

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

Lex nodded excitedly. "My birthday present."

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

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

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

"Clark, wanna go buzz some cows?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"LexÖ"

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is the man, Dad, that you said would betray me without a second thought. "That's not the secret I'm talking about."

"What then? My life's pretty much an open book thanks to Dad's spies."

"Yet, he doesn't know you at all."

"Of course he knows me. That's how he's always at least one step ahead of me. When I first moved here, he told me I needed to up my game if I thought to take him on. He was right."

Lionel could give Dr. Frankenstein lessons. "Your game is fine."

"No disrespect, but, hell, Clark, I couldn't even play you and your mother for very long."

"But that's your hidden key to the next level, Lex."

"You play too many video games."

"You're the one who started talking about games."

"No, my dad was the one who started talking about games."

"Fine, let me put it in terms you can understand, then. You're the Warrior Angel fan--you know what I mean."

"If you're referring to the tripe about good always defeating evil, I hate to inform you but that's just persistent propaganda designed to control the masses. If good and evil exist, then they both have an equal chance of winning. And I have my doubts as to my lack of 'game' with you and your mother can be considered a sign of good anyway."

"Bullshit."

"Excuse me?"

"Bullshit. You believe in good and evil or light and darkness or whatever the fuck you want to call it. You believe in it and that's what your dad hates about you more than anything else. He wanted you not to believe, he did his best to make you not believe, but he failed. I don't care what happens in the future, you will always know there is a difference between good and evil, and that good will win."

"You seem so certain."

"I am certain. I have faith, Lex. Not only in good, but in you."

Lex sighed. "Don't you get tired of having this pep talk with me all the time?"

"You're stubborn." And have a lifetime of brainwashing to overcome. "And slightly thickheaded. But you're cute and that makes up for a lot of your shortcomings," Clark teased.

"If we weren't in a helicopter, I'd--"

"Don't!" Clark panicked.

Silence, then a tentative, "Something I should know?"

Clark gave a bitter chuckle. "Yeah. The invulnerable alien who floats has a thing about heights. Go ahead, laugh."

"You're afraid of heights?"

"Yeah. Ironic, huh?"

"Actually, it's understandable. You spent an unknown amount of time alone in a vehicle hurtling through space at a very young age. No matter how secure you were, it had to be traumatic," Lex guessed.

Clark relaxed for the first time since entering the helicopter. "See? That's what I was trying to explain to my parents."

"What? That you had a right to be afraid of heights?"

"No, that you're the best thing that ever happened to me. God, Lex, do you know how long I've felt stupid about this fear thing? Pete teases me about it. Chloe thinks it's a hoot. Mom tells me it's all right to be scared. Dad says everyone has fears and I'll conquer it when I have to. You--you come up with a reasonable, logical explanation for my fear. You make it normal. You make me normal."

"Being different sucks, doesn't it?"

"Not as much as it used to. It's kinda okay when I don't have to be different alone."

Lex extended his hand over the counter separating them. Clark closed his own around the warm, hairless flesh and felt something change deep inside of him. He looked out the window and saw Metropolis below him, the lights beginning to shine as twilight descended into darkness.

"Lex?"

"Yes, Clark?"

"I'm not afraid anymore."

They watched the lights in silence.

Chapter Sixteen

"You okay?" Lex asked as he and Clark stepped out of the helicopter, once again at Luthor manor. Clark hadnít shown any sign of his acrophobia for the rest of the trip, but in his experience, Lex knew fears didnít go away because of a single conversation.

"Yeah, I'm good," Clark said with a brilliant smile. "How about you? Too tired to go see your birthday present?"

"My birth--I thought the dinner, complete with banner and cake, was my present?"

Clark shook his head. "Chloe was right."

"And that translates to?"

"That you'd think my crappy banner was the best present you received."

God, even a high school girl could read him. What the hell had Smallville done to him? "It's not crappy. And although this--" he pointed back at the helicopter-- "is, in monetary value, several thousands times over the cost of the banner, itís actual value is much less. You made the banner to please me; the helicopter was given with far less noble reasons."

"Maybe your dad--"

"Clark, you may be strong enough to survive accidents with maniac drivers and fight meteor mutants, but changing Lionel Luthor is out of your league. He is what he is."

"Well, at least we know he did one thing right in his life."

"What's that?" Clark stared at him and Lex got it. "Oh. So what's this about another birthday present?" he asked before he got misty. Damn hormones. Just when you thought you had them under controlÖ

"It can wait if you're tired. Vi will have my head if you get exhausted."

Lex lifted an eyebrow. "Are we going to be doing something that will exhaust me?" He laughed as he saw the faint glow come to Clark's face. After all they'd been through, Clark still was embarrassed about sex. True innocence.

"And I thought there was nothing hornier than a seventeen-year-old guy," Clark said, gently nudging Lex with his elbow. "No sex, Lex. Your present is at the farm."

Lex shuddered. "Definitely no sex. So, I can handle whatever it is. I'm not feeling anywhere near as badly as I was after my last air excursion."

After a quick stop inside to tell Donovan of his plans, he joined Clark at the truck. Nodding patiently as Clark schooled him on the proper placement of a seatbelt--beneath the belly, not across it--he realized the stereotypical anger in labor rooms wasn't always just about the pain of labor.

"Clark, I've been thinking," Lex said as Clark finally started toward the farm.

"Is this my cue to start shaking in my boots?"

"Very funny. I'm being serious."

"Okay. What have you been thinking, Lex?"

"That you should ask Chloe to the Spring Formal."

Clark was quiet for a moment. "Why?"

"Because you both should go. You're high school seniors. This is your last chance to party with most of your friends."

Clark gripped the steering wheel. "I thought you were over this."

"Over what?"

"This obsession of yours to get me a girl. First Lana, now Chl--"

"This isn't about you getting a girl, Clark. This is about a rite of passage, a--"

"Did you go to your senior prom, Lex?"

"It was a cotillion. And no, I didn't."

"Why not?"

"Only seniors could attend. No eighteen-year-old girl wanted to be seen in public with a fourteen-year-old, not even a Luthor."

"You graduated when you were fourteen?"

Lex shrugged. "Private school isn't like public. I graduated when I learned the material."

"Wow. That's why you didn't know what happened to Principal Reynolds."

Lex nodded. "All I knew was that my expulsion--which would have kept me from graduating--was overturned. I was so glad that I wouldn't have to spend another year in another academy that I didn't pay any attention to what else was going on."

Clark cocked his head, glancing at Lex as he drove. "Even at fourteen, it's hard picturing you not being able to get a date."

"Oh, dates I could get. If it was in my room or her room or even his room. I think it was a symbol of status to have slept with me. At least the instructors seemed to think so."

"Lex."

"Don't sweat it, Clark. It was a long time ago."

"It was less than ten years ago."

"And I still remember not going, still resent it. I don't want you to have a memory like that. I don't want you to resent me because you didn't go."

He braced himself for an argument, but it didn't happen.

"Okay, Lex. I'll ask Chloe."

"Good."

They shared a comfortable silence for the rest of the short drive. At the farm, Lex was surprised when Clark didn't lead him toward the house or the barn. "Clark?"

"Your surprise is in the storm cellar."

Lex stopped walking. "Are you sure about this?"

"Yes."

"Do your parents know?"

"I told them."

Lex reached for Clark's hands. "This isn't necessary, you know."

Clark raised Lex's hands and brushed his lips across the backs of them. "It's not a car or a helicopter, but, hey, at least it's not domestic."

Lex laughed. "Hell, Clark, I know I'm a good lay, but I don't know if even I have enough skill to equal this gift."

Clark squeezed the capable hands in his. "You're not just a status symbol to me, Lex. You never have been."

"I know, Clark."

"And what you've already given me is more than enough."

"I feel the same way. You don't have to give me more of yourself."

Clark bent slightly and whispered in Lex's ear. "There's a spaceship in the cellar, Lex."

Lex stiffened and tried to sound nonchalant. "Yes, I know, Clark. And?"

"And you're drooling," Clark said triumphantly. "Twice in one day. Aren't you a special one?"

Lex set his lips and tried to get irritated. But a tremor of excitement won out in the end. "It's my birthday--give me my present."

Clark snickered and opened the doors. Lex made note of the useless lock and shook his head. These people needed help. Thank God he was here now. Clark pulled the string to the light, and Lex wondered if that was part of the security system--keep it so dim that anyone breaking in would fall down the stairs and break his neck.

"Careful. The steps are kinda uneven."

More security? Lex took Clark's hand without his usual disdain for assistance. At the bottom of the stairs were some racks on the wall, holding things not clear in the lack of light, but in the corner there was something covered with a tarp. That couldn't be--no, not even the Kents would be dumb enough to-- A tarp? The biggest secret in the universe and they hide it with a tarp? Oh, kid, I hope you get your sense of self-preservation from my side of the family.

Clark drew the fabric away andÖand Lex squeaked like a girl getting her cherry popped.

To his relief, Clark didn't know what that sounded like and merely shrugged. "I know it looks small. Not exactly a space shuttle or anything."

Lex ignored him and stepped next to the craft. Not what he had expected. The bisected ovoid shape seemedÖunwieldy. Wouldn't gravity--those were earth-based questions, possibly not applicable to Clark's home planet. Hmm. He was going to have to stop thinking like a human and more like a scientist. He felt in his pocket for his Palm device with one hand, and tentatively touched the ship with the other.

"Have you done any metallurgy studies on this?"

"Um, no?"

Of course not. That would make too much sense. He made a notation on his p.d.a. "How much do you estimate it to weigh?"

A shrug. "Pete needed my help to move it when he found it out in the cornfield."

Cornfield. He thought Pete had stumbled on it here in the cellar. "Why was it in a cornfield?"

Clark pointed to an octagonal depression in the metal. "After Nixon inserted the disk, the ship lit up, then I think it went looking for me. I was saving Lana and it got caught up in the tornado and the disk fell out. I guess the storm dropped it in the cornfield. We didn't know what had happened to it until Pete showed up wanting my help."

Lex shook his head in disbelief. The story was growing more pathetic every minute. How had these--God, he didn't want to call them idiots, but the evidence was piling up--how had they survived so long without anyone discovering this. Must be because it was Smallville. The lack of awareness affecting the whole town was often bewildering. "So you no longer have the disk?"

"No. It could be anywhere."

"Did you look? You know, X-ray vision and all?"

"UmÖ"

Lex was proud of himself when he managed to stifle his scream. After all, it would just land him in Clark's arms speeding toward the mansion and Vi's handy hypo. No, it was better that he utilize the patience he'd learned by dealing with his father. A deep breath. Fake calmness. Moderate his tone. "I would have thought you'd done a thorough search after the ship disappeared."

"Dad said we should just let sleeping dogs lie."

A growl. He hadn't growled, had he? A quick look at the concern on Clark's face and he realized he had. Let it go, Lex. "Okay. So, I'm just going to make some visual observations and maybe a few measurements. Think you can find me a measuring tape?"

"Mom has one in her sewing box."

"Will she let me borrow it?"

"I'll go ask."

"Thank you."

He heard Clark start up the stairs, then pause. "Lex?"

"Yes, Clark?"

"You aren't overly freaked out by this, are you?"

"No, Clark, I'm not."

"Good. I'll be right back."

Lex heard the door to the cellar close and went back to making notations.

*****

Instead of speeding to the house, Clark walked at what he called "earth-normal." Most of the time Lex made him feel better about himself--smarter, older, capable. But there were also times when Lex made him realize exactly what he was--a small town, country bumpkin. One of those times was now. Lex tried to cover, tried to hide his dismay, but Clark saw it. Lex thought the family was stupid when it came to the spaceship. He thought it could have been hidden better, could have been examined betterÖand he was right. They had learned nothing from Nixon or Pete or Dr. Hamilton.

The Kents--hicks from the sticks.

"How's it going out there?"

Clark looked up to find his father standing in the doorway. "It's okay. Lex wants to borrow Mom's tape measure."

"Why?"

Because it's something we should have done, Dad. "You never know when the dimensions of the thing might be needed."

"Clark."

"He's a scientist, Dad. Scientists measure, okay?"

"He's also a Luthor."

Clark shook his head. "I didn't think you'd gotten over that."

"He hurt your mother."

"She forgave him."

"That's right--she did."

Clark walked by him and into the house. His mother was upstairs, gathering clothes for a rummage sale for the local women's shelter. She asked if Lex was enjoying his birthday and directed Clark to her sewing basket. He gave her a kiss of thanks and headed outside, ignoring his father who still stood near the doorway.

"Clark, I'm sorry."

Clark stopped.

"I guess I'm anxious about Lex seeing all your secrets, and I took it out on you."

Clark shook his head. "No, you took it out on Lex."

Jonathan sighed and brushed his hand over his hair. "Yes, I did. I apologize for that, too. It's justÖit's your ship, son."

Clark nodded. "I know. I was worried about it, too. I thoughtÖwhen you told me about how you found me and stuff, it wasn't--real--until I saw the ship. I thought it might be like that for Lex, too. I thought once he saw proof that I came from another planet that he would--he would finally see me as an alien, and he'd be disgustedÖor scared."

"Was he?"

"Nah. He just went into question mode, like it was just another LexCorp proposed acquisition," Clark said with a grin. He knew how pleased and excited Lex was whenever LexCorp got something new. It felt good when Lex hadn't even given him a second glance.

"Clark," Jonathan said sharply. "The ship doesn't belong to Lex, and it will not leave the cellar."

Clark remembered the look he'd seen on Lex's face. "Dad, the cellar isn't exactly secure. That guy, Nixon, taught us that."

"He worked for Luthor."

Back to Luthor. Damn, Dad. "And maybe Lex is right. I should know the dimensions of the ship and how much it weighs and what kind of metal itís made from. It's my heritage, Dad. It's who I am."

"You're a Kent."

"From which Kent did I get this?" He focused on a tiny spot of grass and a small flame sputtered, then caught. "I was raised a Kent and I'm grateful for that, Dad, I really am. But you can't keep me safe from whatever the heck else I am anymore."

"That ship was safe in the cellar for twelve years until he came to town. Even you never went near it."

Clark shook his head. "I didn't go near it because you and Mom tensed up so much if I even took a step in its direction, I knew it had to be something bad. At school, I listened to other kids whisper about the boogeyman, but theirs never looked like mine. Theirs was a shadow in a dark room, or something living in the closet or under the bed. Mine was a covered lump in the cellar. Those nights I woke up screaming when I was, like, seven? The thing in the cellar had eaten both you and Mom--and was coming after me."

"Son, why didn't you ever say anything? We would have--"

"Would have what, Dad? Pete's dad opened the closet door and showed Pete there was nothing to be afraid of. Whitney's mom crawled under the bed with him to show him that it was safe. What would you have done?" Clark knew he sounded bitter and hated it, because he understood what his mom and dad had done, why they had kept the secret. But sometimes he thought he understood them way better than they understood him.

"We did the best we could, Clark."

"I know that, Dad. But you and Mom don't have to do it alone anymore. You have me--and Lex. He wants to help. We should accept it." Clark looked at the tape he was mangling in his hand. "Lex is going to be wondering what happened to me. We won't be out here long. Then I'll drive Lex back to the mansion, make sure he's settled, and head back home. Okay?"

"Yeah, son. We'll leave on the hall light for you."

Clark nodded and headed back into the storm cellar. "Sorry it took so long, Lex."

Lex looked up from where he squatted on the floor, looking at the underside of the ship. "Huh? Oh, Clark. While you were getting the measuring tape, I was looking for markings on the ship. There doesn't seem to be any damage; no scrapes, dents, anything of that nature. I wonder if the metal's that strong or perhaps the ship emitted a force field as it navigated to Earth. From theÖ"

Clark listened to Lex's enthusiastic theories, helped him measure the ship, and shared the few answers about his arrival that he did know. When Lex whipped out his cell phone to call Donovan because there wasn't enough lighting in the cellar--and the spotlights that used to surround the damaged Porsche were in storage at the mansion--Clark had to tell Lex that it was time to call it a night.

"I promise that tomorrow when I come over, we'll put the lights in the back of the truck and head straight here. Okay?"

Lex rolled his eyes, but Clark could tell he wasn't really annoyed. "You're handling me again."

"Just because you won't let my fondle you."

"Fondle, huh? Reading Chloe's romances again?"

"Yeah, I want to get lost in your heaving bosom and tangle my fingers in your lovely locks."

Lex laughed. "You know she'd kill you if she knew you'd found her private stash of lurid romances. Of course the fact that you actually read one of themÖ"

"One of these days you're going to be begging me to swallow your manly root, and I'm going to refuse."

"Oh, my poor neglected manly root," Lex crooned, then snorted. Then yawned.

"That's it," Clark said. "Time to get you home. It's been a long day."

Lex nodded. "But a good one. Thank you, Clark. I can't remember the last birthday I enjoyed so much."

The year before Lex had been in Metropolis. "I'm glad I was a part of it," Clark said as he turned out the light and shut the cellar door. He reached out to guide Lex toward the truck, but Lex stopped him with a touch to his arm.

"You weren't part of it, Clark. You were it."

Clark thought it was a pretty good day, too.

*****

Jonathan joined his wife upstairs, silently helping her seal the box of clothing she'd gathered.

"The boys are gone?" she asked as she stood, rubbing her lower back.

"Uh-huh. Clark's sorta fanatical about Lex's bedtime." He removed her hand and replaced it with his, massaging with familiarity.

"Clark's a good boy."

"No thanks to us, apparently," Jonathan muttered.

"Excuse me? What does that mean, Jonathan?" Martha stepped away from his caressing hand.

"It's nothing. Just something Clark said when I ran into him outside."

"He said we were bad parents?" she asked anxiously.

"No, not at all. ButÖdid you know he was scared of the spaceship--I mean, before he even knew it was a spaceship? When he was little he had nightmares about the 'thing in the cellar.'"

"Oh, Jonathan," Martha exclaimed softly. "Why didn't he say anything?"

"What would we have done if he had?"

"Made him feel safe, of course."

But not like the other parents; not by showing him there was nothing to fear. "I realized tonight that not only did I lie to my child, but that I taught him to lie, as well. It was for his own good, butÖ"

Martha placed a warm hand on his cheek. "But the road to hellÖ I know, Jonathan. I've worried about it, too. Unless it's some big emergency, Clark can beÖhesitant and unsure of himself. I know with his strength we had to teach him to be cautious, but did we over do it? I don't know the answer to that. Adolescence is difficult and often, you can't see the true measure of that person until he gets to the other side of that period. Clark's just beginning to emerge, honey. So far, I don't see much to complain about. He's loving and gentle. He's a lot more assertive than he used to be, but he's not a bully. I think he's going to be a great man and a wonderful father, just like his own." She gave him a kiss. "I'm going to get ready for bed."

He nodded and watched her leave the room. His father. I was raised a Kent and I'm grateful for that, Dad, I really am. But you can't keep me safe from whatever the heck else I am anymore. Clark wasn't just his. He'd belonged to someone else, had gottenÖpowers from this someone else. Now, he wanted to know about this someone else, and Luthor was standing at his side, ready and able to do things Jonathan could never do.

Who are you more jealous of, Jonathan? Lex Luthor or Clark's real father?

Unable to come up with an answer, Jonathan lay by his wife's side, listened as his son came home, and waited for the alarm clock to deliver him from his misery.

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 justÖprivate."

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 talkÖ"

"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 ChloeÖ "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 youÖ?"

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, butÖ"

"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'mÖI'm seriously involved with someone else."

"You're what! Clark, I haven't seen you withÖ" 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'reÖyou're gay?" she gasped.

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

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 neverÖcouldn'tÖyou 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 nowÖhe 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 wantsÖhe 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 goÖ '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."

"Youíre 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 rationallyÖ "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 justÖI 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 menÖor 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 beenÖokay. 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?" heíd 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 eyeÖjust 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 parentsÖyou."

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 beÖa 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 didnít 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 eyebrowsÖ"

"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 ofÖmystique 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 MarthaÖand 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 inconvenientÖ"

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 maybeÖ

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 neededÖ" 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. Iím still getting teased about slumming when I ride the bus home, but thatís cool." He watched his father frown, but it couldnít get him down. The stunt at the restaurant had done more for his reputation than if heíd 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 heíd either never met or regretted meeting the first time, just so he could show them the adopted child wasnít an idiot. But some of them might send gifts out of courtesy. "Sorry, Mom. Iíll give them to you before I leave for Lexís."

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

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

"Thanks, sweetheart. I was going to ask your father to drop me off--I donít like leaving him here without the car or the truck. But if youíre willing to drive me into town, then Iíll just call Jonathan to pick me up. That okay?" Jonathan nodded.

"You donít 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. "Itís 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 whatís important--and thatís 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 sheíd probably have given if heíd gotten Chloe or Lana pregnant. "Donít worry, Mom. Me and Lex, weíre 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 itís hard for someone as active as Lex to be housebound," Jonathan said, startling him. "Itís good you two can get out and walk around."

Clark tried to find a hidden snipe and couldnít. "Yeah, sometimes we talk, and sometimes we just walk, you know?"

Jonathan nodded. "Your motherís right; thereís no need for you to cut your evening short. Iíll pick her up and maybe weíll stop by the Talon for coffee."

"Thatís 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-oldís 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. Didnít 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 womenís 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, wasnít 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 donít trust it. They use the same weather anchors, trying to fool you into believing a familiar face, but Iím not falling for it."

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

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

"Youíre 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. Couldnít 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 Dadís 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 youíre struck down by divine lightning."

"Me? Youíre the one wearing shoes that cost less than $500.00."

Lex frowned. "You donít think theyíll make my feet fall off or somethingÖdo you? I just wanted--I was trying to be practical."

Clark threw his arm around Lexís 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. "Donít worry; I think itís a hormonal thing. As soon as Iím 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 donít think Iím going to tell you my news, the real reason why Iím so excited to see you."

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

"Guess itíll 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, "Whereíre 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 wellÖ"

"Youíre such a romantic," Lex deadpanned.

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

Lex smiled. "Clark, honey, I donít know how to tell you this, but--youíre going to be a mother. Road, Clark!" he yelled as the truck drifted.

"Iím not--" Clark began as he steered back onto the blacktop.

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

"I donít understand."

"I didnít 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 wasnít 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 Iím 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, didnít 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 didnít tell me."

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

"You stole my semen and you didnít 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. Whatís the big deal about swiping one of the condoms?"

"The condom isnít 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 donít 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.

"Donít be an idiot!" Clark reached down and yanked Lexís 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? Youíre the one whoís dishing the shit. God, Lex, what you want to do? Fucking cut me open? Go ahead! You couldnít 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 wonít let me die, and maybe I do--but I sure as hell wouldnít 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 Iím not missing something vital because Iím 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 itís something. Iím almost skipping around the mansion because I canít 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, havenít you?"

"No. Lex--"

"Save it. I donít 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 wasnít, Clark. You immediately thought the worst. Thatís not love. Thatís not even friendship."

"Lex, pleaseÖ"

"Please what? Whatever youíre asking for, I donít have it to give. Even we Luthors have our limits." He turned back toward the truck. "I think Iíd 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--youíve been stuck in the house for days. We shouldnít let an argument run you back inside."

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

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

"Okay," Lex agreed. "Weíll walk for a while."

Clark nodded and was relieved when Lex didnít seem to mind entwining their hands.

He wasnít 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 werenít 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 wasnít 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 couldnít 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 theyíd exchanged his bed for a stone altar. And God, wasnít that a horrifying thought for a sci-fan fan? Issue 23 of Warrior Angel, wasnít 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 andÖ 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 becauseÖbecause Clark didnít love him, not really. That thought brought a hurt that went beyond the physical, and Lex quickly skipped over it. They were walking andÖ 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 didnít want to face. Where was Clark? Why hadnít he saved him like usual? And why wasnít he here? He wouldnít--no, and that was exactly what heíd 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 himÖthat should have been ludicrous, too. No, Clark didnít love him. He just thought he loved him because theyíd had sex. Clark was just confusing the two like the virgin heíd been before heíd 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 heíd fallen through. But it made no sense that Clark hadnít gotten him out yet. Hero-Boy alwaysÖ Something glittered in his peripheral vision. An emerald? No. Emeralds didnít glow. What the--

Meteor rock.

Panicking, he rolled over to his knees. "Clark?" Clark couldnít 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 Clarkís 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 Clarkís form and hoping he didnít 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 didnít 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 Clarkís shirt and pull himself the rest of the way to his loverís side. The babyís 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 Clarkís name, he stroked the dark hair and despite a ripping pain that he knew couldnít 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 Clarkís arms and started pulling. Clark moved an inch before Lexís 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.

Heíd lost them both.

Lex couldnít remember ever sobbing. Heíd 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 wasnít a good idea, and besides, his dad told him crying wasnít allowed. And although the asthma was gone by the time Julian died, heíd spent his grief by shedding a few tears into Julianís stuffed rabbit.

He hadnít even done that at his motherís death.

So he was somewhat startled when the long wail erupted from his throat, and he watched in fascination as Clarkís 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 Clarkís.

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 heíd been sleeping so soundly, listening to Clarkís heartbeat beneath his ear.

Heartbeat?

Lex sat up so quickly his head swam. Cautiously, he placed his hand on Clarkís 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. "Donít worry, Clark. Iíll 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 theyíd 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 heíd missed the entire third quarter. Getting old, Kent.

"Kent Farms." He waited patiently to hear his wifeís voice, but all he got was crackling static. Had to be a cell phone. "Sorry, friend. Iím having trouble hearing you. Why donít 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?...Iím 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 heíd gathered into the space behind the driverís 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 wasnít 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 didnít show any distant footprints, he stopped, then began moving slowly. He called their names again.

"Weíre 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."

"íKay. Gotta get Clark out."

He didnít like the way Lex was almost slurring his words. Had he been hurt in the fall? "Clark?"

"Heís still un-unconscious. HelpÖplease."

"Lex, you all right, boy?"

"ClarkÖfell atop aÖbig piece of the rock. Moved himÖaway."

"Thatís good, son, but I asked about you."

"BabyÖdidnít like the big rockÖDead, I think."

Jonathan almost lost his grip on the flashlight. The baby. Like Clark. He hadnít-- "Lex, have youÖpassed anything, son?"

"No."

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

"Save Clark?"

"Yes, weíre 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 Iíll pull you both up."

"TooÖheavy. Send ClarkÖup."

Jonathan knew they both had to be brought up at the same time--or Lex wasnít going to survive. "Clarkís unconscious. Heís going to need you to keep him from getting snagged on the way out. Iím going to see if I can get the truck closer and somehow weíll rig up something that will work. So, Iím going to get you a piece of rope, okay?"

"UseÖjackets."

"Youíll use your jackets to bind you together?" And here he was, thinking Lex didnít know how to react in a crisis. "Okay. Iím 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 wasnít, 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 didnít think he could squeeze through the trees, but several scrapes and scratches later he was near the sinkhole, but not too close. What he didnít 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. "Iím back. Howís it coming, Lex?" He looked into the hole. With the light Lex held, he saw Clark upright and tied tightly against Lexís chest.

"Heavy. Tired."

"Just hang on a little longer, son. Hereís the rope. Tie it firmly to Clark, not you. Let him take the weight of it, okay? Once heís away from the meteor rock, heíll 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 wasnít any time. "Iím going to back the truck up slowly, Lex. All you and Clark have to do is hold on. You can do that, canít you? According to Clark, you Luthors can do anything."

"ClarkísÖprejudiced."

"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 wouldnít know if the rope snagged or maybe wrapped around the boysí necksÖ 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 didnít 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 Lexís 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 itís back at the car."

"Go."

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

"Just getÖClark outÖof hereÖIíll be alongÖin a minute. JustÖresting."

"Lex--"

"PleaseÖMr. Kent. ClarkÖneeds you."

Jonathan gave a sharp nod, then gathered Clark in a firemanís 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 heíd 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. Theyíre 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 Iíve washed your butt, Clark," he reminded him gently.

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

"He should be just behind us."

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

"You canít go back in there, son. Iíll 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 hadnít 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 heíd left him. "Lex!"

A cough answered him. He raced to the boyís side. A quick play of light revealed flecks of blood around Lexís mouth. "Hey, whatís 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. "DamnÖKentsÖand theirÖpromises," Lex rasped after a long while.

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

"AllÖover. Tired."

Lexís breathing was worse than Clarkís had been a few moments ago. "Youíll feel better soon."

"Dad! Whatís wrong?"

Jonathan looked up to see Clark standing about twenty-five yards away, flashlight dangling from his hand. He normally didnít go into big stores like Home Depot, but heíd 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. Weíre gonna have to call for help. I donít want to move him."

"No."

He shook his head. "Lex, if somethingís broken inside--"

"It isnít," Clark answered. "Well, at least as much as I can tell, but the meteor bits are interfering." Jonathan moved aside so Clark wouldnít have to see through him, too. "Itís 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. "Whatís-whatís 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 didnít react any better to the meteor than you do. I donít think itís 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 Lexís cell phone and tossed it the few yards where Clark waited. "Call that nurse lady and tell her whatís 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 Lexís 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. "Clarkís talking to your nurse."

"Tell himÖtell him Iím sorry Ďbout baby."

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

"TriedÖto keepÖpromise. Tell ClarkÖlove--ahhh!" Lex grabbed his head and started convulsing.

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

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

"Itís be faster if I--"

"No."

"I donít care if anyone sees me." Clark glared defiantly.

"Itís 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 driverís seat.

Just as he was nearing the turn onto the mansionís private drive, lights appeared overhead.

"Vi called for the helicopter."

"Howís he doing?"

Clarkís voice was restrained panic. "Breathing, but his heartís not beating right."

Shit. He might be a Luthor, and he might have made Clark gay, but he didnít deserve this. "The doctors in Metropolis will know what to do. Heís 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."

"Thatís good, Clark." She had a stethoscope out and placed against Lexís chest. "Oxygen."

The butler moved forward with a canister. She fit a mask over Lexís face and backed out of the car. "Clark, letís move him to the helicopter. Iíll finish my examination in the air. Donovan, carry the oxygen and make sure the line doesnít twist."

Jonathan could tell he wasnít needed. "Clark, Iím going to pick up your mother and weíll meet you in Metropolis."

"íKay, 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 wouldnít have even mentioned Clark and Lex becauseÖbecause heíd been such an ass about the whole thing.

Tell himÖtell him Iím sorry Ďbout baby. TriedÖto keepÖpromise. Tell ClarkÖloveÖ

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 hadnít hit him like heíd hit Marthaís 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 couldnít get him, called the mansion for Clark? "Martha?"

"I heard the helicopter. Lex?"

"Itís 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 rainÖa 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. LexÖLex thinks the babyís dead, and Iím afraid itís--poisoning him somehow. He was coughing up blood, and he stopped breathing for a while."

"Oh, God. Theyíre 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 didnít 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. "Itís enough that you see it now, honey."

"Yeah, when itís too late."

"Maybe not. Lex is strong, and heís a fighter. Lionel may not be what we consider a good parent, but heís made Lex tough, mentally and physically. And if the worst happensÖheíll want us to make sure Clark gets through it. Thatís 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 brokeÖ

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 sheíd 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.

"Weíre here to see Joe Alexander."

For an alias, it wasnít 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 donít know how he is. Viís been with me most of the time, but she got tired of waiting for someone to come tell us whatís going on." He dropped his head to her shoulder. "But I donít 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 Clarkís back. She hoped Clarkís mind hadnít taken him where hers had taken her--Lexís 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 itís worth, I donít 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, Iím 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. Iíll be back in a few hours."

Clark shook his head. "Weíll 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. Iíll 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 hadnít closed completely behind her when it opened again. Another woman entered this time, blonde and near Marthaís own age. Martha was starting to wonder if any of Lexís caregivers were men.

"Mom and Dad, this is Dr. Chelsea, Lexís obstetrician."

The doctor smiled in their direction, then focused on Clark. "Iím sorry none of us have been here to talk to you, Clark, but itís been rather hectic."

"Of course," Clark replied softly.

"Letís 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 weíre all here for Lex, the whole team, Clark. Since Iím 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, Iím really superfluous to Lexís care."

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

Dr. Chelsea nodded. "Iíve no doubt there was considerable pain, but it had nothing to do with the child. In fact, weíre all amazed that Lexís condition hasnít been detrimental to the babyís health."

"Lexís condition?" Clark asked strongly.

"The news about Lex isnít as positive. For some anomalous reason, Lexís 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, theyíre 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 couldnít breathe and why his heartÖstopped."

"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 Lexís blood."

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

"What weíve done is to put Lex on total life support." Martha was glad her hand was on Clarkís 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 Lexís 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, Lexís own immune system is fixing the problem."

"So, heíll--heíll be okay?"

The doctor sighed. "Lexís heart and lungs have been terribly weakened. Even when his blood is back to normal, he's going to be in distress. And thereís 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 canít ascertain the amount of--"

"Brain damage," Clark interrupted brokenly. "You donít even know if heís going to wake up, do you?"

"What I do know, what all of Lexís 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 hadnít given up on Lex. "Sounds like itís a matter of wait-and-see," Martha said, running her fingers through Clarkís hair comfortingly.

"Yes, thatís it exactly. At the moment weíre 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 didnít react as the doctor stood and headed toward the door. Neither of her men seemed very talkative.

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

"I donít care," Clark said.

"Clark?"

He lurched to his feet, the chair threatening to topple over. "I donít care that the babyís okay. Itís killing Lex, donít you see that? The meteor makes my blood curdle, just like old milk, and it apparently makes the babyís do the same. But the baby somehow made Lexís blood do it too, and Lex isnít one of us--he isnít some fucking alien like us," Clark sobbed. "Heís just--human, and heís 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."

"Heís alive. Focus on that," Jonathan said, speaking for the first time since learning the baby wasnít dead.

"How alive? Heís heart-damaged, lung-damaged, and brain-damaged. God, Dad, not Lexís mind, not thatÖ" Clarkís 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.

"Youíre big, son, and solid. Lex was not only feeling the babyís pain, but Iím 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 wouldnít be too happy knowing his--boyfriend was one."

Clark blinked rapidly. "Iím not--"

"You have him already dead and buried," Jonathan said dryly. "Why donít 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 heís 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. "Iím 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 youíll rub to make it feel better."

She couldnít 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 weíll be there for them, wonít we, Jon?"

"Always, honey."

*****

Clark was glad for alien strength as he walked into Lexís 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 heíd asked Lex to do. How fucking childish was that!

"Oh, shit," he whispered as he suddenly remembered what heíd said in the waiting room. Lex isnít one of us--he isnít some fucking alien like us. Heíd 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 Ďfuckí in front of Mom. No, she didnít say anything, butÖYou donít make slips like that, even though youíve been cussing a lot longer than I have. You donít even say things like that to your father and he deserves them. Guess all of you are right--Iím 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 donít know what you need, Lex. I know what I want to give you, and I know what I have to give you, but I donít know if thatís what you need. Youíre 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. "Itís not part of the special package Iím equipped with. Guess it was optional, huh? Of course, you donít do optional. You always go for the platinum version.

"Which makes me wonder why you went for me. Iím tin all the way. No, really. Take away--well, you know what to take away, and Iím 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 canít see it. And if I canít see it, I canít be it. So if you have some insight into my destiny, youíll going to have to be with me, to guide me and push me and make sure Iím going in the right direction. I canít do this, or anything, without you, Lex. You have to get better. You just have to."

"Clark? Iím sorry, butÖ"

He looked back at the nurse standing in the doorway and nodded. "Iíll be back in fifty-five minutes, Lex. Donít go anywhere, okay?"

Finding a tiny spot on the back of Lexís hand that wasnít covered by sensors or tubes, he stroked his goodbye and left.

*****

"So whatís this? My fourth visit?" Clark perched familiarly on the stool and rolled closed to Lex. "Sent Mom and Dad to a hotel. She didnít want to leave, of course. Wanted to be here with her baby. Guess thatís a mom-thing."

He watched Lexís 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 whoís to blame, donít we?

"Yeah, Iím doing the guilt whine again. No, Iím 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 Iíd done, andÖand it turned me on. I donít 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, Iím hard enough to drill through concreteÖor human flesh.

"Donít even try it, Lex. You are the king of self-disgust. I see it sometimes when I catch you looking at me. You shouldnít hate yourself for being with me, for not having the moral strength you think you should have had. Thereís 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, youíd know it was true. Youíre Lex Luthor, damn it. Youíre not supposed to care what anybody else thinks. I know you have this idol thing going on with my parents, but they arenít always right, Lex. Remember whatís in the storm cellar?" Clark laughed. "They can be so very wrong, and you know it."

He heard steps in the outer room. "Timeís 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. Donít know who the father is. He was gang-raped by seven or eight guys. The locals didnít 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 donít go to jail for fucking Luthors. You get a ĎGo Directly to Hell' card."

"What do you mean?"

"Thatís right. Youíre not from Metropolis, are you? Well, thereís 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--donít 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 Juniorís ass stopped bleeding. Nothing dumber than a hick from Smallville."

"Smallville? Shit. No wonder heís 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 wasnít available?"

"Luthors donít do things halfway; if they send you to hell, it really is hell."

"Think heís gonna survive?"

"Satanís heir? You bet your ass."

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

"Doesnít 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 thereís no evidence of clots in your blood anymore. Gotta love your immune system. Your lungs and heart have some damage, but itíll get better. You just have to take it easy for a while.

"It was a little cloudy at dawn, but the sunís out now. I always feel better when itís shining. Donít know why. Had breakfast down in the cafeteria with Mom and Dad. Momís 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 donít 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, itís going to more than the fifty-five minutes before I come back. Momís making me go to the hotel and get some sleep. But sheís going to take over visiting you. I know youíll 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. Heís not as--upset as I thought heíd be. And heís really worried about you. Heís called, like, three times already and itís long distance! Thatís saying something for a cheap--oh, Iím sorry--thrifty farmer like him."

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

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

*****

"Come on, Lex. Itís 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 arenít brain-damaged or something like that. Even Mom is here. You donít want to disappoint her."

"Clark!"

"Itís true, Mom. Lex thinks itís 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 Lexís hand. The eyes opened wider. "Hey! Welcome back." Clark knew he was grinning like a fool and didnít care. "Iím fine. The babyís fine. Youíre 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 Lexís 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 Lexís 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 itís 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 heíd 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 heíd 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 hadnít felt that breathless or that panicked since his asthma days. Heíd hung on to Viís 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, heíd become angry with himself. So, heíd kicked everyone out of the room, because if they stayed, he was going to say things that heíd have to apologize for tomorrow, and he really hated making apologies.

Luthors donít apologize, son.

Yeah, and they werenít loved or liked or even tolerated. They were despised and feared andÖand he didnít want to live like that. He didnít 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 heíd learned from his mother. Heíd 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 wasnít that sad? The poor, little rich kid wanted to be liked. Was there nothing about his life that wasnít 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 Donít 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 hadnít eaten; now would be the time to throw up.

All he needed was to wish to be a real boy, and by golly, heíd 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 whoíd gone through what heíd 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 heíd died the day Clark saved him, he remembered flying over Smallville. He didnít 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 motherís guiding hand? Where was all the psychic crap that was supposed to accompany near-death experiences? Christ! He couldnít 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 wasÖ He focused on a shadow in the far corner, then relaxed.

"Thereís a new invention called a front door, Bruce."

Bruce Wayne stepped forward. Impeccably dressed as always, even after scaling the mansionís outside walls. "Your people claimed you couldnít be disturbed."

"Which you naturally assumed was a challenge. This was cute when you did it in the dorm, Bruce. Now, itís 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 Ďoh, shití variety."

Bruce frowned, his eyes seeking Lexís. "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 wouldnít be punishment enough. Lex had known that having that "crazy Wayne boy" fight his battles would only leave him open for retaliation when Bruce wasnít around. The resulting alliance had been effective, and surprisinglyÖsatisfying.

"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 Bruceís emotional side.

"If someoneís bored, itís not me." He examined the television. "Is that raspberry jam?"

"Bad morning. So why are you here?"

"Merchaud Pharmaceuticals is available."

Fuck. Heíd been coveting that company for quite a while. If LexCorp hadnít taken a hit with the changeover in managementÖ "It canít 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 didnít 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 doesnít have. Iím fine, Bruce, or at least I will be. You know that I donít break easily. ButÖ"

"Lex?"

"Iíve 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 didnít flinch, he continued the movement until his hand rested on Lexís jaw. "I do."

It took a moment for Lex to get it--Bruceís 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 werenít stronger, we could destroy the world. Thatís 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 Lexís room. Heíd been met at the door with a report and a warning. Heíd just finished a morning of senior exams and had been feeling pretty good about how heíd done. Now, he had a boyfriend to soothe.

"Thatís 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 isnít 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 Iím starting to. You are not the ogre thatís 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 whoís going to get diaper duty?"

Clark wasnít going to be teased out of his worry. "Who was here? Why didnít someone tell me you had a visitor? Security didnít 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 heÖ?"

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

"Why was he here?"

"Thereís 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 couldnít 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 Lexís shoulder. "I was worried about you, too. Especially when Vi told me about what happened this morning."

"Iím fine. I had a tantrum that scared the entire mansion, including myself. Itís not an experience Iím 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. Thatís 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 Lexís fingers combed through his hair.

"I love your mom. She didnít 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 doesnít matter. I trust Bruce."

Clark didnít 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 wasnít 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 donít think Bruce has been interrogating the hospital staff, although I wouldnít put it past him."

"Then why would he assume--"

Lexís 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 didnít want to deal with me. Bruce was an upperclassman. We didnít know each other. I was prepared to argue with him about telling the authorities. We were all rich kids; everybodyís daddy would have just bought his son out of the trouble, and I would've--I would've had to tell Lionel. But Bruce didnít mind not reporting it. He was just worried about myÖphysical condition."

Clark found Lexís 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 werenít--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. Itís a trick we all learn."

"We? Youíre insane, too?"

"Of course I am. Thereís no way that any child reared by Lionel could be otherwise. If you donít 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 youíre 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. "Youíre serious, arenít you?"

"Yes, but itís nothing for you to worry about. Iíve learned to deal with it, and if you have to learn that lesson as well, then Iím here to help you over the rough spots. At first, I couldnít fool the experts, but nowÖ Itís all in what people want to believe, Clark."

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

"Good. I should scare you. Donít ever forget whom youíre dealing with, Clark. One day I might forget who Iím supposed to be and end up being the person I can be.

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

Bad thoughts. Evil thoughts. Didnít bother him a bit.

"Was heÖwere the two of you lovers?"

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

Clark snorted his disbelief. "He was in bed with you, and he didnít try anything? Youíre 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 couldnít be beat in any athletic competition, which helped to alienate him further at school. Gymnastics, martial artsÖhe was amazing. But he was cold, untouchable. Heíd 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 donít 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."

"Iím glad you had him," Clark whispered against Lexís chest, carefully avoiding the sensors pasted across the hairless expanse. "Iím glad you still have him. I know why he was here today. You're always scaling fortresses like theyíre mere speed bumps. You climbed over my walls before I even knew I had walls. If you hadnít gotten beneath my dadís skin, he wouldnít have spent so much time trying to talk me out of our friendship. Youíre a grain of sand in your fatherís shell. And youíre that crack in Mr. Wayneís armor that made him break in here today just to see how you were. Youíre 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, Iím not sorry Kyle did what he did."

Lex chuckled. "So I am the center of the universe. I always thought so, but I didnít 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 isnít insane?" he murmured.

"Your mother. My father."

"Uh, donít you mean my father?"

"Jonathan Kent is an honorable man, but Iím 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. Thatís what makes him so dangerous. The things he does, he does knowing full well the consequences. Heís evil, Clark. I love him, and sometimes he shows--kindness towards me, but heís evil. Never forget that." He yawned again.

"Youíre tired."

"Being a brat can be exhausting."

"Go to sleep."

"The beeping is annoying."

"Iíll get Vi to unhook you."

"Sheíll want to feed me lunch."

Clark didnít move from his spot against Lexís 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 wouldnít be long before Lex fell asleep, beeping or no beeping. "I donít 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."

Lexís 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 Lexís 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 hadnít personally witnessed my father taking two hours to get ready for a court appearance, youíd 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. Robinsonís 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.

"Youíve seen The Graduate?" Jonathan asked. He hadnít 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 Ďinnocent being seduced by older temptressí 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. Thatís 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 thatís 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 heíd 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 Luthorís boyfriend," she answered, picking up her purse and following her son.

Well, that answered everything, didnít it? He pulled the door closed and joined them at the car. "Donít forget to do your tie, son," he said as he folded in behind the wheel.

"Lexíll do it. Itís kind of a tradition for the big moments in my life."

Jonathan refused to touch that one with a ten-foot pole. "I know heís unhappy that he canít come to the ceremony."

"Yeah, but he talked the local cable station into showing it live. Peteís grandma was real excited about that. She just had hip surgery and couldnít handle the stairs at the stadium."

"I think itís wonderful for everyone who canít 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 heíd 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, someoneÖequal 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 manís 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 soÖdelicate, 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 hadnít 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 Lexís 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, Iíve always been partial to Space Mountain. Not so much the height and the speed, but the darkness, the unknown--well, unknown until youíve been on it thirty times straight," Lex replied to the question Jonathan hadnít been able to overhear. "But Iím sure the Ďcoasters at Adventure World all have redeeming qualities."

"Well, I can ride anything but those sudden drop ones. I donít like those."

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

"Really? What happened?"

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

Martha took out her camera. "Look this way, boys." She snapped their picture. "Donít 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.

"Donít you dare!"

"Lex, donít!"

"Son, stay!"

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

"Iíll get it, Lex. Just tell me where," Clark said, a hand on Lexís shoulder making sure he didnít move.

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

"I didnít think it did that," Clark said as he picked up an extravagantly wrapped package and shook it as if he didnít 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 theyíre treating you like a prized guinea pig," Jonathan said, not at all happy about what he was hearing.

Lex shrugged. "Nothing new about that."

"Theyíve 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. Iím 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. Thatís why I wanted to give it before the actual ceremony. Itís already activated and yes, I have the number. Youíll 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 didnít have to be told twice. He raced to Lex and gave him an exuberant hug and kiss. Martha, of course, took a picture.

"Iím 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, arenít you?"

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

Marthaís jaw dropped. "Why, Jonathan Kent! Quoting The Graduate and singing The Rolling Stones. Whereís that country hick I thought I married?"

"íJust two good olí boys, never meanin' no harm...í"

Martha giggled and held Jonathanís 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 Smallvilleís version of the Jerry Springer Show. Heíd thought the show was funny as hell back when he was in college, but since he only watched it when he was high, he wasnít the best judge of its creativity.

"Iím going to kill Ďem," a woman was yelling. "They killed my boyfriend and now Iím going to kill Ďem. Iím 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 didnít go to work. But that was because of the assault. He was scared, always afraid heíd 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. Itís not fair. I should have been celebrating my second wedding anniversary, but now Iím just an old maid. They gotta pay. Yíall see that, donít cha? They gotta pay."

The host gave her a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. "Iím sorry weíre out of time. Next time on Smallville Extreme--My Neighbor Has A Thousand Cats And I Canít Find My Dog! Be sure to tune in!"

Lex laughed and stood to get a bottle of water.

"Oh, good, it hasnít 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 youíre 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 Iím unaware of?"

Vi smiled. "You wouldnít begrudge us a view of Clarkís 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 wasnít 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. "Thatís not all for me, I hope."

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

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

"He doesnít get along with his daughter. So itís just as well that heís 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, Lexís 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 youíre alone, Clark."

"Yes, Iím alone, you idiot! Alone in my new truck! Howíd you do it, Lex? Howíd you get Dad to let me accept this? Even Mom didnít know what was going on when he led me to the truck."

Lex grinned. "Itís 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 babyÖ"

"It looks just like the old truck."

"Shh. Itís supposed to be the old truck. But I couldnít give you a four-year old gift, Clark. Luckily, the outer model design hasnít changed much and your father probably didnít get a good look at it anyway."

"Yeah, I wasnít sure it was new either, until I saw the inside. They didnít even have cd playerís 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 Peteís going to ride with me. He thinks the truck is a gift from my folks. I canít believe--God, Lex, a truck! And a phone! So, how many minutes do I have per month? I couldnít find that listed anywhere."

"No limits, Clark."

"Youíre 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."

"Whoís that I hear in the background?"

"Seems Iím 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 gardenerís granddaughter? The reception is in her honor, too."

"Youíre a great boss, Lex. No, I didnít 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 thatís good, because you were looking too thin today. What, Dad? Dad says heís got this special mash for the cows who look a little puny. Heíll 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. Wouldnít 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. Didnít need anyone remembering his past had killed one herd of Jonathan Kentís livestock.

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

"You donít 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, youíre going to have to hang up now. You canít talk to me in front of Pete or anyone else."

"Maybe Iíll just hang around with Chloe."

"Clarrrrk."

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

"Vi and Donovan both have your number."

"Okay. Lex?"

"Yes. Clark?"

"I love you."

"Have fun, Clark. AndÖthe 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 employeesí voices, remembered how happy Clark had sounded, and discovered that while his life wasnít perfect at the moment, it was--good.

He could count on one hand how many times heíd had that thought before.

Chapter Twenty-Five

"Itís a weekend, Clark."

"Itís three days, Lex." Met U was having its annual Pre-U Orientation for incoming freshmen. It wasnít mandatory, and Clark didnít see why he had to go. He wasnít going to be living on campus and with a baby, he wasnít going to have time to join any campus organizations. AndÖ "Besides, Iím not sure if Iím enrolling for the fall semester."

Lex was in bed, the head lifted to a reasonable sixty-degree angle. "Iím sorry. Iím not sure I heard you correctly."

"You heard me," Clark muttered. He sighed when Lex continued to stare at him expectantly. "Iím thinking about not enrolling this fall. The babyís due at the beginning of the semester. Iíll get so far behind, I wonít catch up, and what will that do to my grade-point average?" Sounded reasonable to him.

"It wonít do anything to your G.P.A., because you wonít fall behind, because youíre not going to miss any classes."

"Lex, we donít know what kind of labor youíre going to have. It could go on for days."

"Now I know why you werenít on the pep squad, Clark."

Clark sat gingerly on the edge of the bed. Lex had gone into "growth mode" the night before and still had residual dizziness. It was the first time it had happened since the encounter with the meteor rocks and while it was good in that it showed the baby was back to normal, it had been particularly rough on Lex. Vi had not only had to give him an infusion of blood, but had also attached a glucose IV. It was still up in the air if the IV was going to become a permanent bedside resident because Lex seemed to be losing the nutrition battle.

"Let me do this, Lex. Let me be there for you through this. Iím not an idiot. Iíll go to summer school and still graduate on time, even if I do sit out the fall semester."

"No. I donít want you sitting around watching me get fat and sick. Itís bad enough thatís how I spend my days. The thought of youÖ This is your time to shine, Clark. You can shrug off all this Smallville baggage and be who you are at Met U. No one will know that you were a foundling; that you werenít allowed to play with other kids until you learned how to be gentle with them. No one will look at you twice because you do math really well, or because you donít play sports. I wonít be the reason why youíre a semester behind your class. I wonít be the reason why you miss out on the experience of being on a college campus for the first time, being nervous right along with your fellow classmates. I wonít be the reason why your father starts treating me like a leper again because his scholarship-winning son lost the scholarship."

"Dad wonít--"

"He likes me now, Clark. I donít know if itís because I was so pathetic in that fucking hole, or because he realizes this is his grandchild Iím carrying, or because he finally sees how much I care about you. No matter the reason, I donít want to lose his respect. He came to see me while I was in the hospital. He asked--he asked me to call him Jonathan. That means a lot to me. I donít--I donít want to go back to where we were."

Clark reached for Lexís hand. He studied the pale blue lines lying beneath the thin, translucent skin. He knew how much his fatherís respect meant to Lex, probably because Lex figured heíd never get it from Lionel. Even if he didnít go to school in the fall, his dad wouldnít take it out on Lex because Clark knew Lex had earned Jonathanís respect, and that wasnít going to go away because of a decision Clark himself made. But in Lexís mind, respect and love, well, they were conditional. "Okay. Iíll go to college in the fall. But that doesnít mean I have to go to the pre-orientation."

Cool fingers closed around Clarkís. "Iíll be fine here. Itís not like Iíll be alone. And if something happens, you have your phone. Itíll be like your outing to Adventure World."

Lex sounded so eager, so excited. Clark couldnít break his heart by not going. But it was getting tiring living Lexís missed youth for him. "Yeah, okay," he agreed.

"Hey," Lex said softly, getting his attention. "I know Iím being a bit of an autocrat. But tell me honestly, if it wasnít for this," he patted his noticeably bigger stomach, "youíd be excited about the orientation session, wouldnít you? And the trip to the amusement park and maybe even the Spring Formal, they would have appealed to you, too, right?"

Clark could do nothing but nod. He and Pete had been talking about hitting Adventure World after graduation since last year. The Spring Formal? Maybe not exactly that, and maybe not with Chloe, but yeah, it wasnít out of the realm of possibility. And Pre-U Orientation? Heíd been psyched about that since heíd gotten his letter of acceptance.

"I made a promise to you," Lex continued, "one you never heard. After our first time, after I realized I couldnít give you up, I vowed never to let us get in the way of you, Clark."

"Iím not exactly living a normal life, Lex."

"Which is why you need all the Ďnormalí you can get. I see great things in your future, but thereís going to be a steep price to pay for them. At more than one point, itís going to be the good memories of your past that will keep you going forward, keep you hanging on. I want you to have enough of those memories, so many that you never run out of them."

Clark shivered at Lexís tone. "Adding clairvoyance to your bag of mind tricks?"

"No. Just speaking from experience. I sometimes wish I had more pleasant memories, more places to visit when I need to get lost in happy thoughts. I have the times spent with my mother, PamÖ College gave me a couple of moments. You--you have given me the most. I just want to give something back."

"You have. You do. Everyday."

"Then let me have this. Let me give you this--freedom to do what you want to do, to go without guilt, without worry."

"I said okay, Lex."

"But you were just agreeing for my benefit. Now I want you to agree for yours."

Clark shook his head and smiled. "Youíre not an autocrat--youíre a despot."

"Same thing, except for the semantics--inaccurate connotations from a semi-illiterate populace."

"Lex, you ever wonder why people hate Luthors?"

He had the grace to look abashed. "Before we lose sight of the point, you havenít done as I asked."

"Ordered."

Lex sighed. "Are you going to your pre-orientation, Clark?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because my lord and master has so ordered," Clark said, giving Lex a cheeky smile. "And because I want to go." The smile turned into a full Clark Kent grin. "College, Lex. Me, at college!"

Lex grinned with him. "Piece of advice--donít do anything I would do."

"Because you were a bad, bad man, right?"

"íWere?í" Lex played affronted. "I have you know Iím still a bad, bad man." Then he shook his head. "Of course, back in those days I wasnít mainlining glucose or popping mega-vitamins. Iím old, Clark."

"Youíre not old--just pregnant," Clark said, leaning forward to give Lex a peck on the cheek to show it wasnít meant to be an insult. "And if pregnant women were as sexy as you, they would be centerfolds."

"Actually, on the internet--"

Clark kissed him to shut him up.

Later at the farm, after his parents had been so happy and excited about their little boy going to college pre-orientation, Clark knew Lex had been right to nudge him into going. He told him so when he returned to the mansion to tell Lex goodnight.

"Sometimes it pays to listen to the voice of experience," Lex said smugly.

Clark nodded. "Iím learning that more and more each day," he said solemnly as he curled up on top of the covers next to Lex. He had a later curfew now that school was over, and he could stay until Lex fell asleep. "Lex, if I could have picked anyone in the world to fall in love with, it wouldnít have been you. Male. Luthor. Too complicated here," he touched Lexís head, "and here." He touched the center of Lexís chest.

"Clark." He looked into Lexís eyes and saw sadness, but there was complete understanding there as well.

His finger rubbed across Lexís lips, stopping him from saying whatever it was he wanted to say. "But it wasnít my choice, Lex. Something, someone else chose for me. It told me that while Lana and Chloe fit the image of what I should want, you were the one that I needed, that you were the one who would fix the broken and empty places inside me, who would make me whole."

"Well, we know it wasnít your dad," Lex said, his laugh vibrating into Clark.

Clark grinned. "No, it definitely wasnít him. But it was someone who obviously cares for me because you are perfect for me, Lex. No, I wouldnít have chosen you--and I would have been miserable until I had."

"Assuming you would have eventually," Lex said dryly.

"Destiny, Lex. I marked you as mine when I was three years old, remember?"

"Precocious."

"Just like our childís going to be."

"Heaven help us."

"It already has."

Breathing was in unison as one drifted to sleep and the other just drifted.

*****

Sometimes Lex wondered why he did the things he did. Like sending Clark off to Metropolis for three days while he remained in Smallville bored and housebound. Sure, Clark had given him a toy to play with--the metal tablet that Jonathan had taken out of the spacecraft before it had closed. It had the same glyphs that the spaceship bore near the key indentation. Clark thought heíd have fun trying to decipher it. But Lex knew the sample was too small. There was no way he could decrypt either piece without more glyphs/letters.

What he wanted to do was go back into his lab, maybe run his own blood and compare "before and after" shots. He was curious as to how the creature was changing him. And a sample of Clarkís blood to analyze would leave him just as jelly-boned as that blowjob heíd had in Hong Kong during Spring Break of one of his college years. Hadnít been able to move his legs for at least an hour; good thing it hadnít been his legs she wanted him to move when she decided a little reciprocation was in order. He smiled at the memory.

But a sample of Clarkís blood would probably require exposure to the meteor rock and there was no way in hell he was going through that again. Pain he could handle; Lionel had seen to that. No, it wasnít the pain he feared, but death. Heíd figured heíd died when the meteors first came to earth, and heíd figured heíd did it once again when Clark had saved him from the river. But figuring and knowing were two different things. It was on record, on file, how many times heíd stopped breathing, how many times his heart had stopped beating, how many times his EEG had flat-lined. Clinically dead, over and over again. It scared the shit out of him. There were nights when his dreams forced him awake, and he would lay there in the darkness too frightened to sleep and too ashamed to tell anyone. On those nights he wondered about what Clark had said, how he was certain that it was Lexís sheer will that kept him alive. Maybe the first two times, butÖ

It was the baby this time. The baby wanted to live, and although it was responsible for the failure of Lexís body, it had also been the key to its survival. Another reason why he wanted to run tests on his own blood. What did one call a mutated mutant? But when the baby--he had to concede that it was a baby now, so like Clark in its reaction to the meteor rock-- left his body, then what? Would he revert to the mutant he had been, or something moreÖor perhaps less? Earlier in the pregnancy heíd thought heíd made peace with idea of not surviving the birth, but that was before all the dying. Not that he remembered any of it. There had been no drama of out-of-body-experiences or waking up in a void. The only proof he had of dying was the medical reports and the awe of the doctors as they explained it to him. Still, he really didnít want to die again.

And the thoughts of it were killing him.

He looked up when a knock sounded on the door. He was in his office, supposedly looking up cryptology programs on the internet, and not obsessing about something he had no control over. "Come in."

"Sir," Donovan said and picked up the remote to the television.

Sirens, yelling, scenes of water dousing flames. "The Smallville Sheriffís Office is completely destroyed," a reporter said. "We have one of the deputies here with us now. What can you tell us, Deputy?"

"Iíd gone out to get lunch. When I was coming back, there was this woman standing in front of the building. She was yelling, but I didnít listen. People always complaining about something, you know. Just as I step inside, the building rocked like an earthquake had hit. I ran back out and watched from the alley as the building shook and shook, and finally just caved in on itself. I was heading to see if I could help anybody out, but there was an explosion--the gas line, I think. I donít think--God, help me, I donít think there are any survivors."

The man started crying and the screen filled with his teary face before cutting back to the collapsed building.

"Make sure the State Police have been alerted," Lex ordered as he pulled out his cell phone. He cursed when he got Clarkís voicemail. Damn it. Clark was probably in some seminar or something and the instructor had told the audience to cut off their cell phones, and Clark, being Jonathan Kentís son, had obediently obeyed. He hung up without leaving a message.

The phone on his desk rang. He looked at the blinking extension light. Front gate security. Oh, shit. He picked up the landline with one hand, while redialing Clark on his cell phone in the other. "Yes?"

"A woman just knocked down the gates, sir. I--no!" Click.

Lex didnít waste time trying to call the guardhouse back. "Security has been breached. Donovan, get everyone to the basement. One of the center rooms."

"Sir?" The house rocked ominously.

"The basement now, Donovan!" He keyed in a text message to Clark: Mutant. Mansion.

"Lex Luthor!"

The voice traveled through the house from outside. Great. Never a random mutant attack. No, they all knew him by name. Fucking hell. "Sir, are you--"

"What the hell are you still doing here, Donovan? Canít you fucking follow orders?" Lex growled, searching his desk for his gun. He didnít have time for this shit. Hadnít the man seen the sheriffís office? Couldnít he add one plus one in this fucking town? Then again Donovan had still been in Metropolis during the worst of the mutant attacks. Heíd only sent for him after heíd had to relocate the Palmers. "Get to the basement. Count the staff and make sure everyoneís there. If anyone comes back upstairs before I, or some suitable official, tells you to, that person will be fired without question. Now go." Ah, there it was. For all the good it was going to do him against a meteor mutant. Duh, Lex. He threw the gun back into the drawer and wondered how fast Clark could run from Metropolis. Once he got the message. Swallowing hard, he tugged his zippered jogging jacket into place and strolled toward the front door. The house rumbled beneath his feet, and he winced as he heard glass shatter.

There was a woman standing in front of his house. She didnít look happy. She also looked familiar. An employeeís wife maybe? "Iím Lex Luthor," he called, arrogantly leaning against the jamb of his front door.

The woman opened her mouth and the house shifted. Sonic waves? Someone had been reading comic books.

"I said Iím Lex Luthor. Explain yourself, madam." You better have read the message and are hot-footing it here, Clark. No one around to see you except me and Ms. Mutant.

"You killed my boyfriend, you bastard!"

"Who?" he asked. The only person heíd ever outright killed was Nixon, but if this was related to LuthorCorp, well, the numbers grew exponentially.

"Canít keep your victims straight?"

Lex shrugged. As long as she was talking, she wasnít screaming the house down.

"You attacked him with a golf club!"

Golf club? Lexís eyes widened, then narrowed. "Youíre talking about that meter maid."

"Harold wasnít a meter maid. He was a deputy! Ticketing cars is a very vital part of Smallville security."

Lex thought it best to keep his scoffing to himself. ButÖ "I hit his car, not him."

"He committed suicide because he was scared of you!"

Lex straightened. Now he knew who she was. The idiot on that talk show right before Clarkís graduation. "I didnít hit him nor did I threaten him. If he was scared, if he committed suicide, it was because of his own inadequacies."

She opened her mouth and the panes in the door rattled. Clark Jr. also seemed a bit upset at the sound Lex couldnít hear. He crammed his hands in his pockets and surreptitiously rubbed his abdomen. "Iím fully staffed. Thereís no reason perfect strangers have to die just because youíre mad at me." And, Clark, you better be killing stalks of wheat and corn racing back here.

"I canít kill you without a building. Nothing to fall down and split your head open."

What a lovely visual. "Are you sure you want to kill me?" he asked as he remembered what sheíd said on the talk show.

"Yes."

"But that wonít get you married. You kill me, and youíre still an old maid."

"And if I donít kill you?"

"We can be married."

"Why would I want to marry you? Youíre bald-headed, fat, and kinda sissy-looking."

And youíre a greasy-haired bitch from a trailer park who couldnít do better than a chicken shit meter maid. He took a deep breath. "Iím also rich."

"So what? You think Iím one of those sluts whoíd sleep with anything just for the money. Honey, you ainít got enough money for me to touch you!"

Lex took a step toward her, wanting to make sure she could understand every single word when he put her in her place. However, the baby stopped him, squirming in panic as he neared the woman. Meteor rock poisoning. Shit. He took a step back. "Nevertheless, if you marry me you wonít be an old maid," he said again, emphasizing the word "old."

"I guess I could always close my eyes and think of Harold."

Why had he put the gun back? Maybe shooting her wouldnít stop her, but just pumping the bullets into her would have made his day. "Iím dying. It wouldnít be for long anyway."

She nodded as if it was starting to appeal to her. "Could I have a big wedding? I want all my cousins in it and my daddy giving me away. And I want doves, lots of doves."

Lex shuddered. "Sure. Anything you want."

She stared at him. "Why? Why would you marry me?"

"Iím trying to save my life."

"You said you were dying anyway."

God, why couldnít the meteor rock dull their thinking? "I donít want to die alone."

"You have a houseful of servants."

He sought an explanation she might buy. "Itíll piss my dad off."

"Your dad?" She stiffened. "No way in hell Iím having that man as a father-in-law. Ainít a faster ticket to hell than dealing with that man." Lex couldnít disagree. "No, youíre just going to have to die, so get back in that house so I can get on with it."

Heíd overplayed his hand. Damnit. "Why donít I go to the garage instead?" he offered, gesturing toward the stand-alone building just to the back of the house. Come on, Clark. Iím running out of time here. "It wouldnít be fair for everyone to die."

She nodded. "Go on, then."

He started moving slowly toward the garage.

"If you donít move faster, Iím going to knock down the house and the garage," she warned.

"I told you Iím dying. I canít move any faster." The house shook and a stone smashed to the driveway. He quickened his step. Far too soon he was at the garage. Still no sign of Clark.

"Go on."

With a hopeless backwards glance, he walked inside.

Chapter Twenty-Six

"So, you got your dorm assignment yet, Kent?"

Clark shook his head at Josh Logan, one of his fellow almost-freshmen. Josh was from Iowa, and theyíd been paired together during pre-orientation because he was a "K" and Josh was an "L". They had just sat through the presentation, Living With Strangers: Dorm Life/Dorm Strife. If even half of the presentation was true, Clark was glad he wasnít staying in the dorms--especially not with all his secrets. "I wonít be living on campus. Iím going to be staying with--family." Speaking ofÖ He pulled out his cell phone to cut it back on. That was when he saw the text message.

"You okay, Kent?"

He shook his head. "I have to go. Family emergency. Tell Jim." Jim was student advisor responsible for their group. He was supposed to know where they were at all times.

"Tell Jim what?" Josh yelled.

Clark didnít stop to answer him. Instead, he went around the building in human speed, then switched to his own best. The fields between Metropolis and Smallville were blurs that barely registered as he ran to save Lex. Where had the mutant come from? There hadnít been an attack in so long that he thought, heíd hoped, it was all over with, that there was a time limit or something on when a mutation could go bad. But no, theyíd just been waiting on him to leave town, and leave Lex undefended.

He skidded to a stop at the gate to Luthor Manor. It was off its hinges and the guardhouse was leveled. He scanned the debris with his x-ray vision and saw a skeleton. Itís skull was crushed. Knowing there wasnít anything he could do, he raced ahead to the house--which was, thank God, still standing. The mutant. She was near what had been the garage. Lexís poor cars. Better than poor Lex.

"Um, whatever youíre doing, you need to stop," Clark called out.

The woman turned, her long hair whipping with the movement. "Who are you?"

"Somebody whoís going to stop you."

She moved faster than he expected. A freight train flattened him, then attached itself to his hair and banged his head again and again against the hard ground. He felt a lethargy creep through his body and knew she had green rock somewhere in her system. The longer she had him pinned, the weaker heíd become. Grabbing pudgy wrists, he bent his knees, and kicked out. She sailed through the air, somersaulted and landed on her feet.

Clark stood quickly, his energy restored the instant she was out of range. "We donít have to do this," he said as they stared across the expanse of expertly manicured lawn. "I can get you help. Lex--"

"The only thing Lex can help with is pushing up daisies," she sneered.

Clark froze. "What?" Lex was safe in the mansion, right?

The mutant jerked a thumb in the direction of the demolished garage. "He was worried about his staff. Didnít want them hurt. Damn decent of a Luthor. Too bad I had to kill him."

"No!" He started for the garage, but the mutant hit him from behind. She was tenacious, clinging so closely that he couldnít get in a good, solid punch. His hands reached out, seeking something to hit her with, but the gardening staff was way too thorough to allow a rock or a branch to mar the yard. Didnít she know he didnít have time for this? Lex wasÖLex was waiting on him to rescue him, because Lex couldnít beÖ Lex didnít want to die, therefore Lex wasnít dead. But he could be hurt. Like the last time. Like when Lex had rescued him despite the stupid meteor rock. If Lex could do it, so could he.

He pinned her to the ground. She reached up and shoved fake fingernails toward his eyes. He pushed off of her and away. She followed. He super-speeded to the edge of the estate. The land was left natural there as a way to showcase just how well the rest of the lawn looked. Clark grabbed a small, but solid tree and ripped it out of the ground. Closing his eyes to avoid the dirt flying from the roots, he swung the tree like a bat. Although never allowed to play baseball, he figured the subsequent thunk would have been good enough for a home run. When he opened his eyes and saw the body sailing through the air, he was certain of it.

He only watched long enough to see that she didnít get up when she hit the ground. He zipped to the garage and scanned the ruins. A skeleton. Things blurred as he removed pieces of cars and pieces of garage. When he saw clearly again, a dented Humvee was in front of him. As he reached to rip off the front door, he heard a voice say, "I thought ours was always a sort of Ďback doorí relationship, Clark."

Snorting at the horrible humor, he removed the back door and helped a side-lying Lex slide out into his arms. He carried him over the debris and gently laid him down on the ground.

"I think Iím going to get a fleet of those vehicles," Lex said as Clark examined him.

"Every color," Clark agreed.

"WhereísÖ" Lexís voice drifted off as he sat up and scanned the area.

Clark angled his head. "Over there."

"Alive?"

Clark shrugged. He helped Lex to his feet and pulled him into an embrace. "When she told me you were in the garage, I just wanted her out of the way so I could get to you."

Lex patted his shoulder. "You did good. Now itís my turn."

"Huh?"

"Weíll go make sure she isnít a danger anymore, then youíre heading back to Metropolis and Iím handling spin control," Lex said as he tugged his jacket into place and purposely marched toward the downed mutant.

"Huh?" Clark repeated as he trailed behind Lex.

"Clark, you canít be here. Everyone in town knows youíre in Metropolis for the weekend. Your parents were very proud of you."

"But--"

"But what? How did you take her down? Your fists?"

He shook his head. "I used a tree."

"A tree? Good. Hard to explain knuckle-shaped bruises."

"Lex?"

"Yes, Clark?"

"I canít leave you."

Lex stopped and turned around. "Of course you can. I just explained why you canít be here. I didnít go to all the trouble of sending my staff into the basement and threatening to fire them if they even peeked outside just for you to show up and get caught anyway."

"You--you planned for me to rescue you?"

"Of course. Iíd hoped youíd make it before my poor cars were destroyed, but in war there are always sacrifices."

His jaw dangling, he watched Lex continue toward the mutant.

"Clark, sheís alive. I need a roll of duct tape. There should be some--"

Clark ran to the garage, grabbed a roll, and was back before Lex finished the sentence.

"Thank you." Not a bit of awe or fear. Clark was impressedÖand grateful. "Whereís the tree and its original location?" Lex ripped off a piece of tape and put it over the womanís mouth. He then shoved her over and bound her hands and feet. "We need to put her and the tree near the original spot. Iíll say she ripped the tree out of the ground because I made her angry and somehow she ended up knocking herself out. A really bad plot, but this is Smallville and anything goes. Go ahead and take her, then get the tree. Iíll make it to the spot by myself."

Clark obeyed, placing the tree over the body according to Lexís precise directions. Lex stood back, frowned and walked around a bit.

"Well, thatís as good as weíre going to get." He pulled out his cell phone and dialed the State Police. "This is Lex Luthor. Whatever took out the Smallville Sheriffís Department is currently unconscious on my estate after demolishing my garage--"

"And the guardhouse," Clark whispered. "The guardís dead."

"And the guardhouse at my front gate. Iím unsure as to the status of my guard. Youíre already on your way to Smallville? Helicopter? Very well." He clicked the phone closed. "Ten minutes. You better head out. Donít want them to see you streaking across the fields."

Clark got a rush when he ran full out. He wondered if Lex got the same rush running his brain at that speed. "What about you?" he asked belatedly. "Youíre in seclusion or whatever. How will you explain--" He pointed to Lexís belly.

"Okay. You see a fat man. Is the first thing that comes to mind that heís pregnant?" Clark shook his head. "Iíll drop some careful hints about my medication causing glandular swelling. As I said, itís Smallville. No one questions much around here. But I will insist no pictures. Iíll be fine. Now, go."

"Lex--"

"Go. Iíll see you in about three hours, okay?"

"Not if I drive like you."

Lex laughed, and Clarkís heart finally slowed down to a normal beat. "See you in two hours then."

Clark eyed the mutant one last time to make sure she wasnít a danger to Lex, then took off for Metropolis. Checking that he was free of wheat chaff and corn silk, he went to see his advisor, Jim.

"Clark! After Josh told me how you ran out of here, I heard about what happened in Smallville. I was worried when I saw your truck was still parked outside, but Josh said you had family in the city, and I figured you went there."

Clark nodded. It was easy when they made up the lies for you. "I have to go home now."

"Some of the officers were family?"

"My dad went to school with several of the deputies."

Jim gave him a sympathetic smile. "Then heíll want you with him. Just in case you had to leave, I got you one of the packages the school sends to freshmen who canít make pre-orientation." He picked up a stuffed manila envelope. "Thereís a video, brochures, etc. Sorry you canít stay the whole weekend."

"Me, too." They shook hands.

Clark grabbed his things, said goodbye to the few acquaintances heíd made, and headed the truck towards the highway.

He made it back to Smallville in two hours, seven minutes.

*****

Lex had no one to blame but himself.

The State Police had arrived and taken the mutant off his hands. Heíd spun his story to the most sympathetic-looking of the two officers whoíd stayed behind for the "facts," and sent the other to tell his staff that it was safe to come out of hiding. The other soon returned, two-way radio in hand.

"Bunch of reporters at the gate," he said.

Lex panicked. There wasnít another word for it. He panicked because he was big and fat and he didnít want a picture of a big, fat Lex Luthor on the airways or in print. Afterwards, he was very humbled by the depth and breadth of his vanity, but at that point, he just wanted to get away from the cameras. So, he played his "I donít feel well" card.

"Shall we continue this inside, gentlemen? I have a personal nurse on duty."

Before the sentence was finished, the men had practically carried him inside. As they shoved him into a chair and yelled for the nurse, he wondered just how bad he was looking, or how close theyíd come to a lawsuit in another case. Vi came running in, Donovan close on her heels. He knew both of them were pissed at him for ordering them downstairs while going out to confront a known killer on his own, and he concluded that their rush to get him stripped and in bed was payback for his previous action.

So yes, you see, he mused bitterly, the reason why he was confined to bed and wired to a half dozen machines, with Jonathan and Martha Kent sitting anxiously across from him, Donovan lurking in the corner, and Vi tutting around his head noting this result or that was his own stupid vanity. Just for that, he wasnít going to wear purple for at least a week.

"Donovan, will you go check to make sure the guardís family is being taken care of?" Donovan nodded and left. "Vi, will you call the hospital and see how the survivors from the sheriffís office are doing? If they need anything--specialists, whatever, tell them LexCorp will fund it."

"Of course. Keep an eye on him for me, Mrs. Kent?"

"Certainly."

Lex rolled his eyes as Vi left. "I was twenty-four a few weeks ago, not four."

"Hush, Lex," Martha said, pulling her chair closer to the bed. "Clark called and told us what really happened. You could have been seriously injured."

"I knew Clark would come. I just had to stall long enough and manage to keep the mansion in one piece. I donít think I did too badly," he said defensively.

"But you didnít have to do it by yourself, son. You have an entire staff," Jonathan said.

So a staff was okay to have, as long as you put them between you and danger. Well, that was nice to know. "You donít get it, either one of you."

"Donít get what, Lex?" Martha asked gently.

"I knew Clark would come. I couldnít take the risk that someone else would see what he could do."

"Oh," they said in unison.

He looked at them in disbelief. "I would like to thank your family for restoring my faith. For a while I assumed there was no God, but the sheer fact that Clarkís origins and special abilities are still well-hidden despite your apparent inability to protect those secrets has to be an act of divine intervention."

Jonathan bristled. "Did a good enough job to fool you."

"I disagree. All you did was call attention to the fact that you were hiding something. I didnít dig any deeper because I didnít want to offend Clark."

"I suppose you could have done better?"

"I am doing better, Jonathan."

"Boys," Martha cautioned.

"No, Martha, let him tell us how much better he can do because he has money."

"Money is not the issue."

"Then what is?"

"Doing everything within your power to protect him."

Jonathan was furious. "Are you trying to tell me we havenít?"

"Iím not trying to do anything; I am telling you that you havenít," Lex said flatly.

"You self-righteous-- You have no idea what weíve done to protect him."

"I know what you havenít done. You havenít gotten rid of the ship. You havenít found the key. And you havenít taught him to lie worth two cents."

"Sorry I wasnít as good at that as your father was," Jonathan shot back.

"Lionel has his faults; being less than excellent in his teachings is not one of them."

Jonathan snorted. "Guess there is something we agree on. But I resent your implication that we havenít done all we could to protect Clark."

"Within reason," Lex muttered.

"What?"

"I said youíve done all you could to protect Clark within reason. Thatís a stipulation, Jonathan, a condition."

"Our love for Clark doesnít have conditions," Martha said firmly.

"Would you kill for Clark?"

"If it came down to Clark or--"

"There was no Ďifí in the question. You find out someoneís a threat to Clark. What do you do?" Lex shook his head as Martha and Jonathan shared a perplexed look. "Itís not a trick question."

Jonathan narrowed his lips. "Whatís your answer?"

"Eliminate the threat."

The words were said in unison by Lex and by Clark, who stood in the doorway.

Martha smiled and reached out for her son. Jonathan just looked at Clark in surprise. "Son, you condone this?"

A shrug. "Itís not a matter of condoning it, Dad. All Lex expects me to do is accept it, and I do. Just as I accept there are things you and Mom wonít do for me."

"Clark, we--"

"Itís okay, Mom. There are things I wouldnít want you to do. I donít want Lex to do them either, but Lex is Lex."

"Thanks for making me sound like a hopeless cause, Clark." Lex had been glad to see Clark, but his arrival during the middle of an argument with Jonathan didnít exactly make Lex look like a dutiful ersatz son-in-law.

Clark grinned. "I wouldnít exactly call you hopeless." He sobered and looked at all the juiced up equipment. "Were you hurt this afternoon and didnít tell me?"

"Just a case of overacting," Lex said quickly. "I was tired of answering questions and pulled the Ďtiredí card. Forgot how seriously Vi takes her job."

"Good for her because you take too many chances for us to just believe you when you say youíre fine."

"Calling me a liar?"

"Yes." Clark perched on the edge of the bed and reached out to feel Lexís forehead. "Thanks for watching him, Mom and Dad, but now I need to talk with him alone."

Martha nodded. "Of course. Since we werenít expecting you home until Sunday, donít worry about your chores or anything. But we wouldnít mind hearing about how it went at Met U at some point."

"Iíll be home in the morning. Thereís something I need to talk to you guys about, too."

Lex frowned. Clark was sounding way too serious. Had something happened in Metropolis or on the way back to Smallville? Shit. Had someone seen him? "Clark?"

"Iím going to walk my parents down to the car."

Martha kissed his cheek and told him sheíd see him tomorrow. Jonathan patted his shoulder and said that even though he hadnít been physically hurt, stress was bad for him and the baby. He then ordered Lex to get some rest. Lex gave him a confident smile, which disappeared the moment they were out of the room.

He fretted until Clark came back. "I told Vi I would keep an eye on your numbers. She wonít disturb us until itís time for your late snack."

"Whatís going on, Clark?"

Clark climbed onto the bed. Lex automatically wrapped his arm around him and pulled him close. Instead of talking, Clark snuggled, his fingers grasping Lexís pajama top.

"Youíre scaring me," Lex said as his fingers combed tenderly through Clarkís soft locks.

"Fear is hearing that woman say you were in what was left of the garage."

Lex understood the gripping fingers. "Fear is being in a cave and thinking yourself the only survivor."

"Fear is being on a helicopter and hearing Vi curse because the one you love doesnít have a heartbeat. Fear is sitting by that same personís bedside wondering if heís going to wake up and if he does, will there be damage to the most beautiful part of him. Fear is knowing that you were an asshole during the last conversation you had with him."

Lex closed his eyes. Theyíd never spoken of the fight that preceded the fall into the sinkhole. "I never wanted to hurt you. I was trying to help us both."

"I know that, Lex. I knew it then, butÖ The mention of labs and experiments is a trigger for me, like Pavlovís whistle to his dogs. Youíre the scientist. You know how long it takes to break conditioning. My parents thought they were helping me by teaching me to be scared of stuff like that. But they were wrong."

Lex placed a finger across Clarkís lips. "Donít. Your parents did what they thought was best. I had no business berating them as I did."

Clark snickered. "Yeah, what happened to wanting to be on Dadís good side?" He lifted his head and rested his chin in his palm, his eyes looking directly into Lexís. "I wasnít surprised you confronted them. The way they do thingsÖ You donít trust them to protect me. You consider them a threat."

"No! You donít think I would--"

"Eliminate them?" Clark smiled. "No, I donít. You love me too much for that. You even love them." He took a deep breath and Lex saw something peculiar in Clarkís eyes. "But there is a threat that I do need you to eliminate for me."

"Anything."

"Smallville."

"You want me to eliminate Smallville?"

Clark rolled his eyes. "I want you to leave Smallville. Itís too dangerous. Meteor rock and meteor mutants. We were moving to Metropolis in a couple of months anyway so youíd be closer to the hospital."

"We were moving to Metropolis because of your college career. Sure, I could head to Metropolis now, but I donít want to leave you behind."

"We could say I was working for you. I could be, like, your paid companion or something."

"More like Ďor something,í" Lex muttered. He shook his head. "People would easily believe I would pay to have you as a friend, but no way would they give any credence to the idea of you or your parents allowing me to buy you."

"Youíre the admitted better liar--you come up with something."

"How about Ďitís August, and Clark starts college in a weekí?"

Clark sat all the way up. "Iím serious about this, Lex. I want us out of Smallville now."

"I canít take you from your parents. Theyíre counting on having you around this summer. Itís going to be hard enough watching you leave later."

"Theyíll deal," Clark mumbled as he picked at Lexís blanket.

"Why donít we discuss this after your birthday?"

"I donít have to be here for my birthday, Lex. Itís never been a Ďbigí day. Besides, itís not real. It was just convenient for the birth certificate."

Lex looked at him curiously. "Why all the hype over my birthday then?"

"Because one day itís going to be a national holiday," Clark said, grinning. "People around the country will be taking their kids to the park or just lazing around because itís Lex Luthor Day, and everyone will have the day off to celebrate the wonder of that perfect man."

Lex laughed. "And I thought I dreamed big. Still, I think you should be here with your parents and your friends. You wonít see them for a long time, Clark. You guys need this summer to cement your bonds."

"Lex, stop worrying about me and put some energy into worrying about yourself!" Clark leapt off the bed and started pacing the room. "Youíre not safe here, Lex, andÖand itís really, really scaring me. I donít like being scared."

Lex sighed, deeply conflicted. On one hand, he knew Clark should spend the summer in Smallville. He was close to his parents, close to his friends, and a separation shouldnít be rushed. But Lex didnít like the idea of Clark being scared either. About going off to college, yes, but not about something like this. Not about something Lex could change. He looked up as Clark paused beside the bed, his wonderful eyes darkened with fear, with sadness. "So, who gets to tell Donovan he has a week to pack up this place and open the penthouse?" Lex asked, his top lip quirking upward.

Clark grinned. "Iíll do it, and he doesnít have a week. Weíll be in Metropolis Sunday for your exam. We might as well stay."

"Sunday! Clark, thatís less than two days away. We canít possibly--"

Clark shushed him with a kiss. "Youíre a Luthor. Anythingís possible. We can take Cook with us, right?" He bounced off the bed and headed for the door. "Her food is only second to Momís."

"What about your parents, Clark?"

"Thirty minutes away by helicopter, less than that by foot. Besides, thereís room for them at the penthouse, right?"

"Of course, but--" He shut up because Clark was gone, off to tell the staff that their lord and master was ordering them to move to Metropolis in less than forty-eight hours.

Lex wondered how many of them knew that the lord and master of Luthor manor was a Kent.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Clark nodded as the radio finally solved the mystery that had been plaguing him for the past two weeks. It was sheer chance; the only reason heíd been listening to the radio instead of a CD was because he needed the frequent traffic reports to navigate. Trying to get out of Metropolis on a Friday afternoon required traffic reports, plus vigilance, quick reflexes, and a full tank of gas. Not that he was really eager to leave the city. He was surprisingly happy living in the penthouse and taking classes at the university. To pacify his parents, satisfy Lex, and give the nosy people of Smallville an excuse for his sudden departure, Clark had enrolled in Met Uís Freshmen Forward, a program designed to give freshmen a head start in college if they needed remedial courses to "come up to par" with their fellow classmen, wanted to shorten their college experience for monetary or personal reasons, or merely wanted to get used to university life before the official fall rush. He personally was taking Freshman English, which would free him to take a higher level English class like journalism or something next semester; Calculus II, which heíd placed into; and Classical History, because he knew Lex would enjoy refuting everything his instructor taught him.

The mystery had nothing to do with his classes and everything to do with Lex. Thereíd been something different about Lex ever since the move, a subtle change in his "buzz." Vi said it was probably just a pregnancy mood thing, but Clark didnít agree, and it bothered him that he couldnít figure it out. It was only as he listened to the two deejays that it had become clear to him. Apparently Lexís return to the city wasnít a big secret, and the deejays, after making several uncomplimentary jokes about Smallville, got around to the point they wanted to make--that they were glad that Lex was back where he belonged. In a roundabout way they said Lex Luthor was an asshole, but he was their asshole and the city hadnít been the same without him. That was when Clark realized Lex was different in Metropolis because he was relaxed in the city. He was cautious in Smallville, aware of what people were thinking about him. In Metropolis, he didnít care because the people didnít care. He didnít have to impress them or appease them; he only had to be Lex.

In that moment, Clark officially adopted Metropolis as home. Smallville, of course, would always be home, too, but home in that nostalgic way as in "where you grew up." Metropolis would be the site of his and Lexís destiny, the place where they could just be who they were. His dad would say that there was nothing special about Metropolis, that it was sheer apathy that made the citizens so accepting, but Clark didnít care. He knew how precious acceptance was to Lex, how he pretended that the way people in Smallville automatically shied away from him didnít hurtÖ

He picked up the cell phone from the passengerís seat.

"Your ass better be on its way to Smallville," he got instead of the usual "hello."

"And if it isnít?" he asked, grinning at the greeting.

"Iíll send Geoffrey after you, and since you like and respect him, and you wouldnít want him to lose his jobÖ"

Clark laughed. "As if youíd fire Geoffrey."

"I wouldnít have to fire him; heíd quit because heíd consider himself washed up if he couldnít handle a Ďgoodí teenager like you."

Clark thought about it and agreed. "Doesnít matter because Iím passing Exit 115 at the moment. Halfway there."

"Shouldnít you be concentrating on traffic and not a phone call?"

"Well, Iím not on a bridge so I should be good for a couple of miles."

"Ha ha. How were classes today?"

The question he got everyday. And it was never a throwaway question. "If you hadnít made me leave from campus, we could be having a good time discussing Dr. Rheinís comments on the Peloponnesian conflict."

"And it would have been midnight before you got home."

"I could have left in the morning."

"ClarkÖ" Lex drawled.

Clark could hear the rest of the argument although Lex was quiet. Weíve discussed this, Clark. You need to go home, see your parents, see your friends. They miss you and you miss them. Blah, blah, blah. For someone turning eighteen tomorrow, Clark thought, he was sure being treated like a child. "Iím starting to understand why you rebelled so hard against your father," he joked weakly. More silence. Damn it. Lex was just trying to make sure he didnít have the number of regrets that Lex himself had. The problem was that Lex was trying too hard. "So did you buy me a cheap phone or are you just not speaking to me?"

"Iíve been pushing, havenít I?"

Clark glanced at the speedometer and realized Lex wasnít the only one pushing. He eased back to a respectable speed. "Yes."

"And youíve let me."

Clark nodded, although he knew Lex couldnít see him. Lex had a point.

"You still feel guilty about that fight we had over my research."

There was that, but more, which Lex probably didnít want to know. Clark let Lex push because he knew Lex needed to control something and since Clarkís actions had taken away most of his choicesÖ "Why are we getting into this now?"

"Maybe because youíre in the middle of doing something Iíve pushed you into doing?"

Lexís soft sigh tore into him. It was bad enough they were apart, but now Lex was not only alone, but sad. Because of his big mouth. He had to make it better. "What did you get me?" he asked quickly. Lex liked buying him presents.

"Huh?"

"What did you get me for my birthday?" he asked slowly, teasingly.

"Clark, Iím currently unemployed and in ill health, not to mention I just got you a state of the art truck. What makes you think I got you anything?"

Clark started to apologize. Lex had more important things to worry about than buying him-- He laughed. Lex had money even his father didnít know anything about, and not getting Clark anything for his eighteenth birthday? Wasnít going to happen. "You almost had me, Lex. But not quite. So, what did you get me?"

He was rewarded by a chuckle. "Youíll find out when you get back on Sunday."

"But thatís a whole day after my birthday."

"Good things come to those who wait."

Clark snickered. "You sound like my dad."

"Thatís not what you said our first night in Metropolis."

Clark blushed. The staff lived on the floor below, Vi had gone to see her daughter, and Lex, despite the grueling and very invasive examination heíd been subjected to earlier in the day, had been in a very inventive mood. Fun had been had by all. "Keep talking like that and it will be our only night in Metropolis. My dad and sex are a very bad mix."

"Iím sure thatís not what your mom says."

"Lex, I think you just made me want to give up sex forever."

"Pity. I had plans for your return."

"Yeah?" The return Ďyeahí was so hot, it made Clark want to stop the truck and race back to the penthouse. "You know this is my first time."

"For what?"

"Phone sex."

"We are not--Clark, we are not having phone sex, and certainly not when youíre driving--I donít care how special you are!"

"This isnít phone sex?"

"No. When we have phone sex, youíll definitely know it--and youíll want your hands wrapped around something other than a steering wheel."

"Oh. Can we have phone sex when I get to the farm?"

"No!"

Clark smirked at the panic in Lexís voice. It was so much easier to play Lex when the man couldnít see his face or read his eyes. "Come on, Lex. I can sit in the kitchen and--"

"And I can hang up on you. Game over, Clark. You took it one step too far mentioning your motherís kitchen," Lex said gleefully. "Next topic of conversation please."

"So, what are you getting me for my birthday?"

***

Clark was grinning when he got out of the truck. Lex hadnít told him a thing, but that hadnít been the point anyway. The point had been to lift Lexís spirits, and heíd done just that. "Mom," he called as she stepped out of the house. He swung her around in the air until she squealed.

"Clark Jerome Kent! Put me down!" She smiled, letting him know she wasnít upset. "Let me have a look at you."

"Itís only been two weeks, Mom," he said as he obediently stepped back and let her give him a once-over.

"Shh. Just stand there and look pretty."

Clark shook his head. "Should have known not to leave you and Dad alone for too long. Youíre starting to sound just like him."

"And thatís a bad thing, son?"

Clark pivoted and saw his dad walking across the yard. "Not a bad thing at all, Dad." He gave him a cautious hug, then relaxed when the hug was returned. Although he knew Jonathan had come to grips with not only Lex, but Lexís relationship with Clark, he also knew the "living together in Metropolis" situation was taking a bit longer to settle.

"You look good, son. College life seems to agree with you."

"It does, Dad. Although summer classes are accelerated, Iím handling them okay. Lex is a great tutor, although I know he must have annoyed the heck out of most of his professors."

"How are Lex and the baby?" Martha asked, as if she hadnít talked to her boys just yesterday.

"Theyíre fine. I felt the baby move the other night."

"You didnít tell me that!" Martha chided him. "Heís what? About twenty-six weeks along?"

"Yeah. Weíre expecting a growth cycle soon. Kinda why I wasnít so eager about coming home. Lex is pretty sick when that happens."

"Still having to take glucose intravenously?"

Clark nodded. "The doctors put shunts in his arms and upped the number of liters last Sunday. He needs the extra calories and thereís only so much he can eat in a day." He frowned. "Heís still losing body fat, and he never had that much to begin with. Thereís, like, nothing between his skin and his bones, especially in the spots where thereís no muscle. SometimesÖ sometimes I think heís just slowly melting away."

"You both just have to hang on in there," Jonathan said. "Heís going into the third trimester, right? Not much longer."

Clark nodded. "And as you told me, heís no quitter. We spend most of our evenings out on the terrace--weíre so high up we donít have to worry about cameras and even the smog only climbs so high. The penthouse is really the top two floors. The staff stays on the lower floor and me, Lex, and Vi are on the upper one." He got his bag out of the truck as he talked. "The room for you two is right beside mine--"

"Yours? I thought--" Jonathan looked puzzled.

"Lexís bed is pretty crowded, Dad, since heís usually hooked up to one machine or another at night." He stomped into the house and called over his shoulder, "Itís about more than just sex, you know."

Martha came up behind him as he slumped into a chair at the kitchen table. "I donít think thatís what your father meant."

Clark closed his eyes. "I know. Iím sorry, Dad. Iím just--uneasy leaving Lex. I didnít want to come here. Not that I didnít want to see you guys, but you could have come to the penthouse."

"Why are you here then?" Martha asked curiously, pouring them all a glass of lemonade.

"Because coming home on the weekend to spend time with family and friends is what Lex considers to be normal, and heís bound and determined that my life be normal. Frankly, I think he watched too much television when he was a kid. He wouldnít know normal if it bit him on the butt."

"You need to talk to him, honey."

Clark shook his head. "Lex thinks heís doing this totally for my benefit, but itís for his, too. He has such little control left in his own life, heís controlling mine instead."

"All the more reason to talk to him," Jonathan declared.

Clark gave a sad smile. "Itís like that O. Henry story, you know, the one where the wife sells her hair to buy a watch chain for her husband and the husband sells his watch to buy her a comb. Weíre both trying to do the right thing for each other, and itís just ending up--wrong."

"Clark, if youíre this unhappy--"

"Mom, Lex playing puppet master with my life isnít whatís making me unhappy. Itís the reason why heís playing it thatís causing me to melt down at the kitchen table like when I was eight."

A hand stroked through his hair. "You said Lex was doing it because heíd lost active control of his own life."

"Thatís one of the reasons," Clark said shakily. "The other one is that he wants to make sure I have you guys and my friends toÖhelp me if--if he doesnít make it."

"Oh, baby."

His momís arms wrapped tightly around him, and he could feel his fatherís firm grasp on his shoulder. "So thatís the real reason why Iím here even though I donít want to be. Iím here because Lex is right--I am going to need you if I lose Lex."

"Heís already survived so much, son."

Clark looked up at his dad. "The baby probably had a lot to do with that. Without the babyÖ We just donít know how much his mutated system can handle or what the birth is going to do to him. I think he can survive it, but I just donít know."

"My moneyís on Lex."

"Mine, too, Dad."

"But itís better to be prepared for the worst. You know weíre here for you, no matter what."

"I know."

Martha let go and sat down beside Clark. "So, what are you going to do, sweetheart?"

"Exactly what Lex told me to do. Pete told me to call him when I got in, and weíre going to hook up with Chloe, maybe hang out at the Talon."

"They can come over tomorrow, have a bit of your birthday cake."

"Thanks, Mom." Clark stood, grabbed his bag, and headed up the stairs, determined to make the best of the weekend. For Lex.

And for himself.

*****

Lex looked up at the blood raining from the sky. "What is this?"

"Your victims."

He looked at the old woman standing next to him. Cassandra Carver. "Youíre dead."

"You killed me."

"All I wanted--"

"All you wanted was to see a future so terrible that I died rather than experience it any longer. You are a monster, Lex Luthor."

"My father--"

"Is nothing compared to you. You are true evil."

"No."

"Clark should have let you die in the river, let your bloated carcass float to the surface and become feed to the scavengers."

Lex rolled his eyes. "Thatís a bit over the top, isnít it?"

"True. The time for your death was long past at that moment. You should have been strangled by the cord of your motherís womb."

ThatÖhurt. "What? Nothing about my mother having an abortion?"

"The wire hanger completing that act would have been blessed by many."

Lex shivered and tried to wake himself up. Heíd never had any problem distinguishing the dream world from reality. But no matter how hard he tried, Cassandra nor the blood now soaking his white suit disappeared. "Why should I believe anything you show me?" he asked, stalling for time as he tried to figure out how to get out of the dream. "You showed Clark all those graves and I know he would not be responsible for so many deaths."

"Youíre right. Heís not the responsible party. Two graves werenít shown: his and yours. You have blinded him to your true nature. He cannot see the evil in you and therefore puts it in himself. You should be congratulated for destroying the indestructible. Even an alien has no defense against the taint of your touch."

Lex turned around, desperately searching for an exit. Heíd heard enough. "I love Clark."

Cassandra laughed. "As you loved your mother and Pamela and poor, sweet Julian--whom you killed before he had a chance to be consecrated to his maker? That baby burns in hell because your touch killed it so soon."

Lex flinched. He didnít believe in hell and certainly didnít believe Julian was there. ButÖ Fuck, he had to get out of this nightmare.

"You are an insidious cancer. You invade your victimsí hearts and entangle the tissue in tendrils of lies and deceit until the fragile organs can no longer function. Amanda thought you her savior. Little did she know that the biggest viper in the pit sheíd fallen into was the one who called himself her friend. Anything for your friends, Lex? Including forcing them to take their own lives?"

"Shut up!" He picked a direction and started walking.

"Ah, this is the true Lex Luthor, treading across the bones of those in his path."

He looked down and saw the trail was indeed made of human bones. What the hell had been in that last bag of glucose? "You are just in my head," he muttered as he turned to face the woman on his heels. "By the way, I wouldnít even be caught dead in a white suit."

"But itís not white now, is it?"

He worried a sopping red cuff and struggled to remember this was only his imagination. "I am not evil, and the only person Iíve killed is Roger Nixon and he deserved to die!"

"And what of him?"

He knew he shouldnít follow her finger, knew it was going to be something he didnít want to see, but he did it anyway. The body was as familiar to him as his own. "Clark!" He knelt beside him, the body as cold and as still as it had been in the sinkhole. "He wasnít dead then, and heís not now," he said to convince himself.

"Before, the meteor rock merely shut his body down. Now, there is no way back for him. His defilement is complete and nothing remains. Press upon his chest."

Lex did so, not just because she ordered it, but because he was searching for a heartbeat. But instead of finding a sign of life, his hand plunged through the skin and into--nothing. Clark was just a desiccated husk. No heartbeat, because there was no heart. "What have you done?" he whispered.

"Iíve done nothing. You have subsumed him. In a profane mockery of the act of love, you have pumped him full of your poison, and now have sucked him dry as a spider does to a fly."

Lex shook his head slowly as he stroked the remains of Clarkís chest. "No. I wouldnít. Heís the only good thing I have left in my life."

"Nothing good will ever survive you, Lex Luthor. Even the little good that your son inherited from Clark could not save him from you. Would you like to see the bones sucked dry to the marrow by that vile hole that you call a mouth?"

Lex closed his eyes and bowed his head. "I just want to wake up. Please just let me wake up," he pleaded.

"Lex."

He opened his eyes to see Clark peering down at him. He glanced around quickly and saw the living room of the penthouse where heíd been waiting for Clark to return from Smallville. Awake. Finally. He looked back at Clark and felt his stomach roil. "Help me to the bathroom!"

Even with Clarkís speed, they barely made it before Lex was throwing up last weekís meal. Afterwards, he leaned back against Clark, shivering with sweat and remembered nightmares.

"Itís okay," Clark murmured. "Hang on for just a sec." He stood and Lex heard water running. Clark returned and pressed a glass against his lips. "Whereís Vi?"

He rinsed and spat into the toilet before sagging against Clark again. "I told her she could leave. You were on your way, and I wanted to give you your birthday present in private."

"We knew this was coming. I shouldnít have left you."

Lex sat up quickly, wincing when his head protested. "Knew what?" he asked worriedly. Had Clark seen Cassandra, too?

"That a growth cycle was coming."

Not something in the glucose then. Just his resident alien invader expanding its territory. He laughed. His afternoon plans had included another kind of alien invader. So much for the lube he carried in his pocket.

"Iím going to put you to bed and call Vi."

He curled up in the arms that wrapped around him and bore him to the bedroom. "I bought you a telescope. Itís set up on the terrace."

"Like the one in the loft?" Clark asked dutifully as he helped Lex undress.

"No. Better. Youíll be able to see much, much more."

"It sounds great. I canít wait to use it." Clark reached into the drawer for Lexís pajamas and started back toward the bed.

Lex shivered when he saw what was in Clarkís hand. "Not the red ones."

Clark shrugged and exchanged them for a light blue pair. He started to button the pajama top, looked around the room, and stopped. Lex sighed. The reason why he wasnít wearing t-shirts to bed anymore was because the button-down tops allowed easy access for connecting him to the monitors.

Clark eased Lex beneath the covers. "Iím going to call Vi now."

Lex put his hand on Clarkís arm. "I bought you a telescope because I wanted you to know that I accept all of you--the man that youíve become here on Earth and the alien that comes from out there. I wanted you to know that you are more human than Iíll ever be, no matter what you discover about yourself or where you came from."

Clark sat heavily on the edge of the bed. "All Iíve ever wanted is acceptance, and I find it every moment Iím with you. The telescope wasnít needed. But thank you. After I call Vi, Iím going to climb in beside you and tell you all about my weekend."

"Your weekend with your family."

"My weekend with part of my family," Clark corrected.

Lex watched him leave the room, knowing Clark wanted privacy when he told Vi about what heíd found when he got home. Lex had been so far gone into the nightmare that he had no idea when Clark had arrived, what he had witnessed, what he might have overheard Lex mumbling. But Lex knew what he himself had witnessed and what heíd heard. The images refused to be forgotten and the wordsÖ The wire hanger that wouldíve completed that act would have been blessed by many.

Lex closed his eyes and tried to convince himself he wasnít in that number.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Clark sat in the Student Union staring at the big screen TV. But what he was actually seeing was the scene that had haunted him through his morning classes: Lex, naked and surrounded by broken glass, screaming for Clark to let him go.

It had been a rough couple of days. The babyís growing period had lasted longer than usual and had left Lex weak and confined to bed. This morning Lex had been allowed to get up, and the first thing he did was head for the shower. Clark had gone to his room to get dressed for class. There had been a yell, then the sound of glass breaking. Because Vi was there, he could only move so fast, and by the time heíd wrenched open the bathroom door, Lex had succeeded in breaking almost everything in the room. The mirror was shattered, as well as all the bulbs in the track lighting above the mirror. Heíd grabbed the towel bar from Lex, but that hadnít stopped Lex; he took his suddenly empty hand and swept everything from the marble counters.

Clark wrapped his arms around Lex, lifting him from harmís way as bottles of cologne and bath salts smashed against hard marble tile. "Get out of here, Vi," heíd called to the woman he could see reflected behind him in a million pieces of fractured glass. Heíd have enough difficulty keeping Lex from getting cut; he didnít want to worry about Vi. "I can handle this. Please shut the door behind you." He heard the click of the door and focused solely on the twisting figure in his arms who was determined to get free and wreak more havoc. "What is it? Whatís wrong with you?" heíd hissed, struggling not to hurt Lex and keep him safe at the same time.

Lex sagged as the fight left him. "Look at me," he whispered.

Clark cautiously put him down and stepped back. Lex was--Lex was enormous. Heíd gone from looking like heíd swallowed a watermelon to looking like heíd swallowed one of those huge, blue ribbon-winning, "damn, what kind of fertilizer did they use," pumpkins at the State Fair. Lexí fair skin was distressingly thin, and there were angry red marks vertically striping his belly. Clark reached out to make sure they werenít bleeding.

"Stretch marks."

"Do they hurt?"

Lex gazed down at himself. "More than youíll ever know."

Clark was out of his league and knew it. "Theyíll fade, right? Iíve seen the commercials for creams and lotions and--"

"Iím so sick of this," Lex said as if Clark wasnít talking. "Iím sick of not recognizing myself. Iím sick of shunts and IVs and blood samples and fucking forcing down food I donít want. Iím sick of being sick and being held hostage in this godforsaken place. Iím sick of Vi andÖ" Lex shook his head.

"And me," Clark finished for him. "Youíre sick of me?"

"Iím sick of you looking at me in pity or sympathy or sorrow or whatever the hell it is. I got enough of those looks after the meteors took my hair. My mother, PamÖthey tried and eventually they succeeded, but that first timeÖwhen they didnít know I was looking, I saw it, the same thing I see in your face." Lex gazed at his multiple reflections and stroked his belly with obvious distaste. Clark noticed that along with the red stripes, a network of bluish veins mottled the pale, distended skin. Lex was translucent, and Clark was shaken by the thought that his friend, his lover, was slowly leaving him. "I always thought dying young wasnít such a bad idea because at least then Iíd still look good. But Iím dying young and Iím hideous. Life having one final laugh at my fucking expense. Iím sick of that, too."

Not hideous, but fragile. Clark thought back to an experiment his class had done. Third grade? Second? An egg balanced on its end. The entire class had watched, knowing that at some point it was going to tip over and crack. A puff of air, a shake of the table, and suddenly egg would ooze everywhere.

He shuddered and reached for a bath towel, hoping that if Lex was covered up, heíd snap out of whatever this was, that they both would. "Come on, Lex. Letís get this wrapped around you and get out of here."

"I disgust you, donít I? Thatís why you want me to cover myself."

"No, Lex. But youíre making yourself--"

"You used to get hard just looking at me. Are you hard now, Clark?"

"Thereís a lot of glass here, Lex." Broken yolk bleeding into clear albumen.

"If I asked you to fuck me now, could you?"

Goo creeping across the table to thread to the floor. "Vi is waiting just on the other side of the door."

Lex glanced at him and gave a smirk. "Donít need X-ray vision to the see the answer to my question." He turned back to the remains of the mirror. "Iíve never been handsome. Striking is the best I could ever be, and I had to work hard at that, to cover up for my lack of hair. Dad has lots of hair."

Pieces of shell lay on the table, glistening, sticky, just as fragile as that which had fallen, just as useless. Clark shivered and decided the situation wasnít going to get any better. He wrapped the towel around Lex, swept him up into his arms, and carried him to the bed.

"Is he cut anywhere?"

Clark shook his head at Viís question. "He has stretch marks. I told him they would fade."

"Of course they will. I got them when I was pregnant, too. Weíll start rubbing them with cocoa butter, Lex," she said as she checked his pulse. "The massage will feel nice."

Lex just looked at the clock. "Youíre going to be late for class if you donít hurry, Clark."

"I donít--"

"Donít make me feel worse by skipping class."

Which left Clark with no option but to go to class. Heíd checked between morning classes and found out Lex was sleeping. Now he was hesitating to make the call again. He didnít know what to say to make Lex feel better. He didnít know how to help Lex. Being eighteen wasnít giving him any more answers than being seventeen had. Maybe he should have taken a psychology class. Um, Professor, my boyfriend is pregnant and feeling like life has fucked him over, which pretty much it has. What should I do?

That would certainly make him stand out in the class, wouldnít it?

Shaking his head at his thoughts, he jerked as his cell phone trilled. "Lex?"

"Well, that answers my question."

It was Vi. "What question?" he asked with a sinking feeling.

"You, uh, wouldnít happen to know where Lex is, would you?"

"Sleeping in his bed is probably not the answer, is it?" He sighed and rubbed his hand across his eyes purely because the last time he had such a big headache was when his X-ray vision came online.

"I donít know how he did it, but he got out of the building without anyone knowing about it."

Clark wasnít surprised. Lex had been sneaking out of places for years. What did surprise him was that Lex had gone out at all, in danger of exposing his "hideous" self to the public. What was Lex thinking? Was Lex thinking at all? "Iím on it, Vi. Iíll call if I find him."

He shouldered his backpack and headed for the parking lot. Lex had promised he wouldnít leave so he didnít have to race to the airport. That just left the entire metro area to search. No big deal. Wasnít like he had anything better to do. Just classÖand a few minutes where he didnít have to worry about how heíd completely fucked up his and Lexís lives.

Hmm. He knew what he wanted to do with his life. He was going to become a counselor, and he was going to make sure that a whole generation of boys would not have sex without a condom. He was going to tell them their dicks would fall off if they didnít wear a condom. In fact, they were going to have to bring written permission from their wives to have sex without condoms--and only for procreation. Yeah, that was it. He could go on talk shows and write bestsellers about condom use. Heck, heíd run for president on the condom ticket!

Like his dad would even let him leave the house if he tried.

Stuffing Condom President in his mental attic along side fireman (because he could never explain how he got trapped but didnít get burned), farmer (because, thank God, even his dad didnít think heíd make a good farmer and yuck, getting up every morning at the crack of dawn for the rest of his life?), and comic book hero (because, um, yeah, that was before he found out he really did have superpowers), Clark concentrated on finding Lex. But apparently his subconscious was already on the case because he found himself two blocks away from the cemetery, which made sense. Lex wasnít running away; heíd promised not to. He was just--hurting and looking for a little peace-- which visiting his mother seemed to bring him.

Another reason why their new family should stay in Metropolis. But maybe a house instead of the penthouse. The baby deserved a yard to run in and maybe a dog. A dog would be good, wouldnít it?

He parked the truck and scanned the area. Lex sat under a tree away from, but in direct sight of, his motherís memorial. He wore his usual drawstring pants and a hooded sweatshirt--hood on and zipped, with dark shades and headphones. A Walkman rested on his ample belly. He looked like an overweight college student taking a break.

Clark made a quick call to Vi, then walked over and leaned against the tree.

"Sometimes the genie escapes the bottle," Lex said in acknowledgment of Clarkís presence.

"Are you the genie and the penthouse the bottle, or are you talking about the guy who scared the shit out of me this morning, which would make you the bottle?"

Lex shrugged. "Perhaps both."

"Are you okay?"

"IímÖmaintaining. Itís the best Iím capable of at this moment."

Clark could relate. "You could have left a note. Or turned on your cell phone. Vi was frantic."

Lex stared at his motherís grave. "Come home for lunch tomorrow. My lawyer will be there with papers for you to sign now that youíre eighteen."

"Lex--"

"I need to know itís done."

Clark closed his eyes and nodded. "Will it help you sleep at night?"

"According to the research, itís usual for pregnancy to cause weird dreams."

"The way your heartbeat races I donít think Ďweirdí is the word for them. Maybe you should ask for something to help you sleep."

Lex gave a rueful smile. "Someone once said a conscience is like a baby--it has to go to sleep before you can. I have a colicky conscience, Clark."

"So if I hold you, rub your belly, and take you for long car rides, youíll be able to sleep?" Clark teased.

"Been surfing the net for how-to baby tips?"

Clark squatted down beside Lex. "And while I do that, Iíll whisper to your conscience that it needs to settle down, that thereís nothing to fret over, that youíre doing just fine according to both the laws of man and the laws of nature."

"Cassandra Carver doesnít think so."

A chill crawled along Clarkís spine. "My parents think she was just a mixed up old lady."

Shaded lenses focused on him. "What do you think?"

Clark couldnít lie; heíd based too many of his own fears on Cassandraís visions. ButÖ "I think you arenít the same Lex Luthor Cassandra met. Youíve changed--" Lex snorted and rubbed his stomach. Clark rolled his eyes. "More than that, you nut. Cassandra met you in the early days, when your dad still had a strong hold on you."

"When I wasnít your lover."

"When you werenít sure if you could love or be loved. You arenít that same person now, are you?" Clark asked worriedly.

"No, Iím not."

Clark grinned before quickly sobering. "Then whatever Cassandra is telling you is wrong. Youíre alive and have changed. Sheís dead and canít change. Donít have faith in the words of the dead; they donít know the whole story. They donít know whatís come Ďafter.í"

"Howíd you get so smart?"

"Alien intellect," he quipped, offering Lex a hand up. "It told me to surround myself with the best minds on the planet. I know you think I love you for your body, but thatís just--what do they say?--thatís just window-dressing. So, if youíd given me a minute to answer your question this morning, I would have said yes. I could have fucked you then."

"Even with my stomach looking like a badly inked atlas?" Clark nodded and Lex shook his head. "I knew all along your shy demeanor hid a wealth of kink." He took Clarkís hand and Clark eased him up, making sure to do most of the work. Lex rubbed the small of his back.

Clark reached out to rub as well. "You know, I think we have some massage oil at the penthouse."

"Really?" Lex asked in feigned disbelief. "Why would we have something like that laying around?"

"I have no idea. But I think between the two of us we can think of reasons to use it on occasion." Clark tried to keep a straight face but failed.

"Of course weíre speaking as if Vi is going to leave me alone anytime soon," Lex said as they slowly walked toward the truck.

"If she wires you up to a dozen monitors, I canít blame her."

"No sympathy vote here, huh?"

Clark used his strength to hide the fact of how hard he had to stretch the seatbelt to fit it around Lex. No use in starting that up again. "None. If you hadnít made your promise to me, I might have gotten scared, too."

Lex touched his face when he moved to close the door. "íZealous, yet modest; innocent, though free; Patient of toil, serene amidst alarms; Inflexible in faith, invincible in arms.í1 How I hope your inflexibility in faith does not betray you."

"You wonít betray me."

"Just remember your promise."

Clark gave him a quick kiss and closed the door. "You worry too much. Youíre going to get gray hairs."

"Oh, the horror," Lex quipped.

"It is," Clark said as he slid behind the wheel. "Just think, youíll take our baby to the park and theyíll think youíre his grandpa. And when they see us together, theyíll think youíre my dad, or worse, some old perv with a handsome, young boy toy."

"And thatíll be because of all the nonexistent white hair, and not because of the lustful gleam in my eye or the tent in my pants?"

"Viagra." Lex laughed so hard Clark got scared. He reached out and squeezed Lexís hand. "Hey, take it easy."

Lex gasped out a final chuckle. "Sorry. I know it wasnít that funny, but it just felt good to laugh."

"You donít do it often enough." Clark headed back toward the penthouse.

"I know. ButÖI want the baby to hear laughter, not the stuff I was spewing out this morning."

"You know there is nothing hideous about you, right? I mean, there are porn sites all over the internet that feature pregnant women, so itís not just because I love you."

"Am I going to have to NetNanny my computer? For shame, Clark Jerome Kent! What would your mother think?" Lex scolded with a sly grin.

"Probably the same thing sheíd think if she saw your VHS, DVD, and print collection."

"You seem to enjoy them."

Clark blushed and went back to his main point. "Besides, youíre the one who hinted about what I might find on the internet. Pregnancy is sexy, Lex."

"A wealth of kink," Lex repeated. "Maybe I should question some of Jonathanís farm animals."

"Eww, Lex."

"Maybe there was a reason you liked hanging around the barn at night."

"If you werenít pregnant, Iíd make you walk home."

"Maybe I should moo when you fuck me."

"Blocks of waddling, Lex."

"Oh, Bessie," he said, panting heavily, "Oh, Bessie, I just want to squeeze your teats and drown myself in your juices."

"I will stop this truck and put you out," Clark threatened, his eyes shining with amusement.

"Well, since the mall is across the street, I wonít be too angry."

"Yeah, right. You hate the mall."

"Not the whole mall. In factÖ"

Five minutes later, Clark found himself in the mall buying a Cinnabon four-pack. Ten minutes later, he was driving toward the penthouse, trying to concentrate on traffic as he sucked Lexís sugary fingers.

"You bought extra sauce," Lex said as he reclaimed his fingers to pinch off another piece of bun.

"Was that wrong?"

"Just thinking about what I could pour it on later."

The wheel jerked and Clark squirmed. "Donít you ever call me kinky again."

Lex shrugged. "Itís you and Vi who are always on me to increase my caloric intake."

"Oh, the suffering you do for me," Clark drawled dryly. He felt Lex tense. Oh, shit. "Thatís not what I meant--"

Lex shook his head and pointed. Their building was directly ahead. A limo was parked in front. Shit. Lionel. "I can keep driving."

The relaxed, teasing passenger was gone. "No. As you can see, his spy network is flawless. Heíll find me anywhere. A delay will just piss him off needlessly."

Spy network? "He knows you went missing."

"No other reason heíd be here."

"ButÖ Where was this network when you were in the hospital? He never came to visit or--"

"He sent a gift."

"Oh." Clark waved at the security guard and parked in the underground lot. "Why didnít you tell me?"

"They were hiking boots. Italian. Custom made."

A very good spy network. Clark followed Lex to the elevator. "I was wrong." Lex lifted an eyebrow. "You donít waddle." He should since his center of gravity was way off. But he didnít. He walked--like Lex Luthor always walked. Sexy as hell.

"Ah. And here I thought maybe it was the ducks I needed to question instead of the cows."

"The coma did nothing to un-warp your mind."

Lex was still cackling evilly when they were deposited at the penthouse. He took the hood off his head and pocketed the shades. Donovan opened the door as they approached. "How long has he been here?" he asked his butler.

"Twenty minutes."

Lex nodded and continued inside. "Dad, what a surprise. I wasnít expecting visitors."

"I would think that by now, even you should have learned to expect the unexpected." Lionel pointedly looked at Lexís stomach.

"Actually that was one of the first bits of knowledge I learned at your knee, Dad. What can I do for you today, other than not scare the general populace with my extreme girth?"

"A hostile takeover that I donít want to appear as being hostile."

"Trying to improve your image? Iím impressed."

"Making useless enemies is a sign of poor management," Lionel said, watching Lex closely as he unzipped his jacket.

Lex saw his stare. "Go ahead and say whatever it is youíre thinking, Dad, and then we can move on."

Lionel blinked. "You carry like your mother. Iíll be in the study when youíre ready to conduct business. Your nurse is waiting to serve you lunch." He turned on his heels and left the room.

Luthors. Clark knew heíd never understand them. From the stunned look on Lexís face, his lover was in total agreement.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Lex shut down his laptop with one hand while massaging his temple with the other. The headache that had started yesterday evening had not improved with sleep and had only increased in intensity as he tried to work. Maybe he needed glasses.

He took a long drink from a bottle of water and stared out the window, the strong mid-August sun tamed by the tempered and tinted glass. Summer had just a little over a month left in its existence. As far as seasons went, summer hadnít been too bad. After his meltdown over the stretch marks, heíd held up quite well. There had been some minor growth periods, but nothing like the one that left him Hindenburg-sized. Of course, sitting and standing were two actions he was never going to take for granted again; having an alien lover with super-strength came in handy when a crane couldnít be located.

The summer, in fact, had been boring, and Lex had enjoyed every minute of it. The Kents had come up for the Fourth of July celebration, and theyíd watched the cityís fireworks display from the comfort of the patio. Heíd been treated to Jonathanís wicked sense of humor, and Martha had fed him continuously--which wasnít that difficult because heíd been ravenous since that big growth period. Heíd actually forgiven Lionel for three--no, five years of sins against him when the cooking team from his favorite Beijing restaurant had showed up at the penthouse to create a weekend-long sumptuous feast. If they showed up again, he might even be tempted to remove some of the pins in the Lionel voodoo doll he had hidden in his desk drawer.

Ah, the pleasures you could order from the internet.

"You look like you could use a nap."

Lex smiled at Vi. "I was thinking the same thing. I was just getting ready to call the staff, figuring that their combined strength could get me out of this chair."

Vi laughed. "When I was in college, I worked in a nursing home. One orientation session was nicknamed, ĎHow to Work with Wide-loads.í I think I can manage to get you to your feet without bodily harm to either of us. Give me your hand."

Lex shrugged. Clark had had a two-week break between the end of summer classes and the beginning of the fall semester. Moving from place to place had been as simple as a "Clark, help me up." He reached out. Vi took his hand and frowned.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Your hand is warm. May I?" She reached out and laid the back of her hand against his forehead. "Your temperature seems elevated. How do you feel?"

"I have a headache."

"A nagging headache or a ĎJesus, Joseph, and Maryí kind of headache?"

He wanted to roll his eyes, but winced instead. "The first kind."

"For how long?"

"Started yesterday."

"And you didnít say anything?"

He shrugged again. "It wasnít all that painful. Iíve had worse." Besides, it was Clarkís first day of classes. If heíd mentioned the headache, there was no way heíd gone to the campus.

Vi tsked at him, got him up, and after a minute to recover from a flash of vertigo, he made it to the bedroom and sank joyously onto the bed. Before he could even move to get comfortable, Vi stuck a digital thermometer into his ear.

"Bad?" he asked when she frowned.

She shook her head. "Merely Ďnot good.í Iím going to give you some Tylenol which should help with the fever and your headache."

"Thank you." He swallowed the pills and slept.

*****

He woke, fuzzy-headed and feeling like something was wrong. A familiar hand stroked his cheek. "Clark, youíre home already?" he asked, turning his head toward the touch.

"Itís after five, Lex."

"Oh." He could hear voices outside the room. "Whatís going on?"

"Weíre getting ready to take you to the hospital."

Clark looked so solemn and scared, Lex figured reassurance was in order. "Iíll be okay. Fevers are no big deal. Well, maybe for freaks like you and me, but the doctors, theyíre used to them. Theyíll have it under control soon."

Clark gave a small smile. "Youíre a Luthor; youíve bought the best damn doctors available."

"Damn straight." Although Clark tried to look like the teasing had eased his apprehension, Lex could see how it still lurked in his eyes. Something bad was wrong. "What is it? I feel like shit, but am I sicker than I think? Are we having this conversation or is this just some kind of fever-induced hallucination? Why are you looking like your whole world is ending?" he demanded.

That brought a real smile to Clarkís face. "Youíre such a drama queen, Lex. Iím real. The conversation is real."

"Then why are your eyes causing me to uncharacteristically panic?"

Clark sat gingerly on the bed. "They canít figure out whatís wrong with you. Thatís why theyíre taking you to the hospital. And thatís why Iím scared."

Lex nodded, not too fevered to follow Clarkís thoughts. At eight months into the pregnancy, Clark couldnít leave his head stuck in the sand. Mutant or not, there was a good possibility that a life would be exchanged for a life--Clark would gain a child and lose a lover. He winced at the fear on Clarkís face. Heíd done him no favors by going along with Clarkís daft "you won't die unless you allow it" belief. Life and death didnít work that way. He shouldíve spent the time preparing Clark for the inevitableÖfor life without him. Now it was too late. "How were your classes today?"

Clark appeared taken aback by the mundane question, then relaxed into the safety of casual conversation. Lex fell asleep listening to the quirks of a pony-tailed professor of History.

*****

Lex woke off and on during the next few hours, barely conscious enough to know he was being moved or stuck or turned over to his side. When he finally found the energy to rouse completely, Clark was dozing in a chair beside his bed. So beautiful. Loving Clark Kent was a blessing and a bitch--a blessing in that someone had actually loved Lex Luthor and a bitch in that it was all going to end soon. Not long enough. Maybe even forever wouldnít have been, but three yearsÖ There wasnít an expletive explicit enough to convey the unfairness of that.

Lexís eyes went to the door as it opened. Clark jerked awake. It was Dr. Kingsley. Lex knew instantly it wasnít good news.

"Lex, Iím glad youíre awake," Kingsley said, and Lex felt Clark look at him in surprise.

"Do you know whatís wrong?" Lex asked, reaching out for Clarkís hand. Neither he nor Clark needed all the medical bullshit Kingsley liked to spout if not cut off quickly.

"Your white count is off the scale."

Lex blinked. "I have an infection?"

"Yes--the baby."

"Explain."

"Your body is rejecting the pseudo-uterus and its contents."

Give the man a fucking "A" for brevity with that one, Lex thought dryly. Ranked right up there with, "Heís pregnant."

"Rejecting it? Why now?" Clark asked. "Heís been pregnant for eight months!"

Kingsley shrugged. "Despite the advanced technology at our fingertips, there are many things we still donít know about the human body, Clark. One of them is why all pregnancies arenít rejected. The baby possesses genes from both parents, and is therefore genetically different the mother. This means that there is the potential for rejection of the baby's tissues by the mother during pregnancy if her--or his, in this case, immune system becomes activated against them, just as he would react to other grafts or transplants. For reasons unknown to us, most pregnancies progress without evidence of a rejection process. If we knew how the baby achieved this, then organ transplantation and the transfer of other genetically different grafts would become easier to achieve."

"That still doesnít explain why itís happening now," Clark insisted.

"What weíre pretty sure of is that a successful pregnancy somehow either suppresses the motherís immune system or tricks it into believing thereís nothing foreign in the body for nine months. Lex, your immune system is superior to most. The medical team is of the opinion that your immune system has been struggling against the corruption all along and is now winning the fight."

Lex gave a disdainful snort. He wasnít winning shit. The little beast had decided that it was now viable without him so it was going about shedding excess baggage. Damn, it was going to make a hell of a Luthor. Too bad he wasnít going to be around to watch it and Lionel go at it. Thank God the Kents were involved; he shuddered to think of the misery that would affect the world if Lionel were to raise the spawn.

"Öthat is in contact with the maternal blood becomes coated with fibrinoid, a fibrous material which might prevent immune cells from the mother's blood coming into direct contact with fetal tissues - a form of disguise," Kingsley was saying, and although Lex had advanced degrees in biochemistry, he just wasnít up to following the complex crap the doctor was spouting.

Apparently, neither was Clark. "But you can fix this, right?" he asked, interrupting Kingsley.

The doctor launched into a report on modern day fever treatment, but Lexís mind filled in what Kingsley wasnít saying. Like, "Sure, we can keep him living the few weeks he has left. After all, heís going to bleed to death at the birth anyway." The non-technical, in plain English truth was that no matter what the doctors did, no matter whether the parasite burrowed, clawed, or punched its way out of him, he wasnít going to survive. Fuck it. Might as well have them cut it out so his corpse wouldnít be too messy. Didnít want a gaping wound hidden beneath the deep purple shirt heíd chosen to be buried in. Deep purple shirt, black Armani suit. And if the mortician added blush to his cheeks he was going to come back and haunt the shit out of the man.

Maybe cremation was the way to go. No ogling. No false tears. He shook his head. Clark needed the closure of a wake, a funeral, a grave he could visit. Maybe he and the parasite--no, the baby, Clarkís baby--would make annual pilgrimages like heíd done to Lillianís grave. That would be nice.

The solution was obvious. A C-section-like procedure. As soon as possible before he started looking sick. But would his body still be huge? No matter. The bottom of the casket would be closed. Wonder if Victoria would have the audacity to show her duplicitous face. Or the rest of hisÖcastoffs. Damn. He needed to make a list of his exes. So Clark could keep them away from their son. He could see Victoria trying to screw all three generations.

He blinked and realized he was surrounded by silence. He glanced around the room and only saw Clark sitting at his side. "Kingsley left?"

Clark nodded. "A while ago. You just sorta fazed out on us. Dr. Kingsley said it was because of the fever."

Lex snorted. "Fever, hell; I was just bored." Clark rolled his eyes. "Are your parents here?"

Clark nodded. "Vi sent the helicopter for them."

Emergency Executive Order Two: get the Kents to Clark as soon as possible. Emergency Executive Order One: get Clark. "I want to talk to them. Why donít you go get some coffee and food?"

"You donít want me here." A statement. "Fine. I donít think I want to hear what youíre going to say to them anyway." He stood, walked to the door, and told the nurse to get his parents. "Iíll be back in half an hour."

"Clark."

He turned and gave a half-smile. "Donít sell me short after all this time, Lex."

Clark knew and wasnít going to try to talk him out of it. It was a relief. He nodded and the door closed. A minute later, it opened.

"Lex, sweetheart." Martha bent over and kissed his cheek.

"Lex." A rough hand gently squeezed his shoulder.

"Martha, Jonathan. Iím sorry about the preemptory summons."

"Hush, son. Being here for you and Clark is part of our jobs as parents. Youíll learn that soon enough," Jonathan said with a smile.

Lex tried to return the smile but couldnít bring himself to lie like that to his almost in-laws. "I wanted to talk to you, to make sure you understand that Clark and the baby are being taken care of. Clark will be given immediate guardianship of the child, and eventually he will be able to adopt it. Iíve made sure that there is no way Lionel can contest any of it, and if he tries, well, thatís been taken care of, too. The penthouse and half my assets are already in Clarkís name. The paperwork was taken care of shortly after his birthday. The rest will revert to him upon my death."

"Lex," Martha began, but stopped when Lex raised his hand.

"Viís cousin has consented to be the babyís nurse. The rest of the staff has been given the option of staying on or leaving. All, Iím happy to report, have agreed to work for Clark. So he should have no problem keeping up in school or starting his career when the time comes. My only concern is that you wonít allow him to use his wealth in the appropriate manner."

"By appropriate manner, you mean?"

"To give his life ease, Jonathan. Heís going to be a single fatherÖat least for a while." Lex winced, knowing it should give him peace of mind that Clark would eventually find someone else to share his life with. But it hurt too much at the moment. "He shouldnít be penalized or punished for that. Itís not like he knew he could impregnate me. It was an accident, fate."

"So you want him to become a spoiled brat like--" Jonathan stopped suddenly.

Lex took a deep breath and willed the world to stop shimmering. Maybe he should have taken a nap before tackling the Kents. "Thereís no way Clark could ever end up like me. You raised him for fifteen years. Thatís not going to go away simply because he has a generous bank account."

"But what about your child?"

"The child will have you, Martha, and Clark as guides. He may end up a little spoiled, but thatís not what all the rebelling was about in my teens. It had nothing to do with not getting what I wanted when I wanted it or thinking that the world owed me obeisance because of my name or my familyís money. I admit I was a brat, but I wasnít that shallow, I hope. My reasoning, perhaps flawed, was deeper than that, and basically, I was emotionally screwed up. Still am, actually." He rubbed at his temples, a low-level headache threatening to become more. "Thereís nothing wrong with spoiling a child as long as there are healthy doses of love mixed in. Once my mother died, the mix went bad. It wonít with this time." He rested a hand atop the mound of his stomach. The child would be an angel, with maybe just a hint of an imp showing up every now and again. A giggler whoíd stand up to bullies, bring home every stray he ran across, and whine about how much homework he had, even though he could finish it in an hour. Heíd be shy around strangers, talkative with friends, and heíd roll his eyes when Clark inevitably gave him "the talk." Heíd--

A hand touched his and he looked up into Clarkís eyes. His parents were nowhere to be seen. "Did it again?" he asked with a sigh. He was tired of talking to people one minute and losing whole afternoons the next.

"Itís the fever and the medication."

A wet cloth slid across his cheek. It felt so good, he moaned. But he had something he needed to say. "Clark, I need you to listen to me, because I donít know how long I have before I drift off again."

"Okay." The soothing cloth continued swiping him.

"I donít want to die." There was a brief pause in movement, then the damp cloth continued. "But Iím not afraid of it either. I wanted to be great, and I am. Iím doing something no one else will ever be able to do. Iím giving you your firstborn child. No matter who--who you settle with after Iím gone, no matter how many more children you have, Iím giving you your first. And we already know heís going to be as special as you. Maybe the world wonít know where this gift came from, but heíll make his mark upon this planet--just as you will. Mine. Both of you."

"Always."

"I want to go home, Clark. I want to spend the next two or three days with you. ThenÖ" Cool lips touched his forehead. "If there was any other way--" The lips covered his own, silencing him.

The last thing Lex remembered from that conversation was, "Iíll tell Dr. Kingsley."

*****

"That feels so good." Lex wiggled his toes in appreciation as Clark bathed them.

"Youíve always had sensitive toes. The first time I sucked them, you almost came, which is odd considering your stamina when I blow you."

"My cock is used to stimulation. My toesÖshit," he hissed as his big toe disappeared into Clarkís mouth.

"Should I--" Clark said as he licked the creases of each individual toe, "--be jealous--of your--pedicurist?"

"Only if youíre jealous of my proctologist."

Clark sank his teeth into the ball of Lexís foot in answer. Despite the excess weight, Lex raised three inches off the bed. Clark laughed and reached for the slit in Lexís pajamas while his tongue dipped into the arch of the foot.

*****

"Are you sure about this? I--"

Lex looked at the knees resting at either side of his head and the cock and balls inches above his mouth. Fever be damned.

He swallowed.

*****

He didnít know he was crying until he heard Clark murmuring that it was okay, that his father was wrong and boys should cry if they wanted.

*****

"Clark," he whispered against the solid, naked chest his head rested upon.

"Yeah?"

"Tomorrow."

"Okay."

*****

"Itís a boy, isnít it?" Lex asked as Clark stared at his exposed belly. There was just the hint of sunrise in the sky outside the window. The shade was up because Lex wanted to see the last day of the world dawn.

"Yeah, which is good because neither of us knows anything about raising a girl."

"Speak for yourself."

Clark broke off his concentrated stare to roll his eyes. "What do you know about raising a girl?"

"Absolutely nothing. Which is how much I know about raising a boy, as well."

"Oh." Clark went back to staring. "How did you know it was a boy?"

"Cassandra told me."

"Lex," Clark gently chided.

"Does he have all his fingers and toes?"

Clark counted aloud to twenty.

"Can you see any details or just his skeleton?"

"I--" Clark stopped.

"What is it?" Lex asked anxiously.

"Somethingís different."

"What?"

"The walls of the womb seem thinner, like maybe itís not getting as much blood."

Lex blinked, a sharp, blinding thought flashing in his brain. "Tell me about the network of veins. Is it as tightly weaved?"

"No. It seemsÖdissolved? Around the edges."

Lex laughed. Then started coughing. He could hear Clark yelling for Vi, and he tried to stop--laughing and coughing--butÖ Finally, he calmed down enough to smile at Clark. "Weíve all been idiots. Iím not dying. Iím in labor."

*****

"Clark," Lex said as the sedative dripped into his arm. The medical team had wholeheartedly accepted the idea that the fever was triggering the separation of the womb from his body. They had started monitoring the situation and now, at sunset, they had declared the detachment complete enough that a breach of the "uterus" would pose no danger. The team was scrubbing, a neonatal unit was parked in the O.R., and history was about to happen. "If something goes wrong--"

"It wonít. Dr. Kingsley says itíll be almost like a normal Caesarian."

Lex wanted to say that if something happened, Clark was to save the baby. But knowing the entity soon to be known as Clarkís little boy, it would save itself. So-- "I love you."

"I love you, too. Now, go to sleep."

"Okay."

*****

Lex hated waking up from anesthesia. His mouth was dry, his stomach upset, and he hated the fuzzy feeling in his head. "Ugh," he managed to say.

"Open up." An ice chip slipped between his lips, and he opened his eyes to see Clark grinning at him.

"Seven pounds, eleven ounces. You should see him, Lex. Heís gorgeous. Just like his daddy."

"Seven eleven, huh? Our first family vacation will be to Vegas," Lex rasped. He tried to move up in the bed and grimaced.

"How do you feel?" Clark asked as he effortlessly lifted Lex to a more comfortable position.

"Like I was cut open, disemboweled, and stapled back together."

Clark snorted. "Sounds about right."

He glanced around the room. "So whereís our little miracle?"

"Up in the nursery. Mom and Dad are with him. I can go get him. AndÖ"

"And?"

Clark grinned. "Itís a surprise--something you have to see for yourself. Iíll be back, but it might take a while. Clearance from the nurses, wrestling him from Mom, assuring Dad I wonít drop himÖ"

Lex gave a tired smile. "You fight menacing, murderous meteor mutants without breaking a sweat, yet youíre frightened of the most benign of humans--parents and medical staff. Come here, and Iíll bestow upon you the kiss of power. Guaranteed to make them cower before you."

Clark bent down obediently and let Lex brush against his lips. Then he stood straight with his hands on his hips. "Yes, I feel powerful now," he intoned, deepening his voice. "I shall defeat mine enemies and return with our son." With a wink, he strode manfully toward the door.

Lex laughed and watched him leave. Heíd just closed his eyes when the door opened again. "Forget something, Mr. Superhero?"

No answer. He opened his eyes. It wasnít Clark. "Oh, Dad, itís you."

*****

Martha had had years of parenthood to learn patience, but darn it, this was her grandchild and she wanted to see the three of them together. So she ignored Jonathanís warning to let the new family bond in privacy and went to Lexís room. She tapped on the door and pushed it open. Clark stood at the window, pointing out things to his son nestled in his arms. Lexís bed was empty.

"Whereís Lex?" she asked. "Itís too soon for him to be up walking around."

"Heís gone," Clark said, not turning around.

"Gone? They took him for tests?"

"No."

"What do you mean, Ďnoí? Clark, turn around and tell me whatís going on," she demanded edgily.

That was when she saw the tears on Clarkís cheeks. Juggling the baby into one arm, he held out a scrap of paper. "Heís gone, along with his things. He left us, Mom."

"ButÖ" She glanced at the paper. There were just three words, written in Lexís deliberate script: Remember your promise. "I donít--I donít understand," she whispered.

"Heís a Luthor; weíre not supposed to," Clark sighed. With that, he turned back toward the window.

Martha sat on the bed and tried for her sonís and grandsonís sakes not to break.

Chapter Thirty

"Clark?" Martha called as she started up the stairs to the loft.

"Just looking for my old copy of Strunk and Whiteís. No use in paying for a new copy of The Elements of Style when my high school copy is packed up in here somewhere," Clark answered, indicating the boxes in front of him. "Andyís not looking for me, is he?"

"At the moment both he and your father have forgotten your existence. Theyíre playing with the fire engine Pete gave him. I just wanted to check on you. I know how difficult this day is for you."

Clark shrugged. Difficult didnít seem to accurately describe the anniversary of the day his world became both whole and broken. Two years ago, Andy was born and Lex had left. Heíd cried several times that day and never did figure out which tears were of joy and which ones were of sorrow. By the time the tears dried and the shock receded far enough that he could actually feel, he was going to class by day and getting lessons in fatherhood by night. He had to give Lex credit; he hadnít left him to fend for himself. A penthouse, servants, a platinum card with no limit, and a bank account large enough to support a small country.

Son of a bitch.

"Iím okay, Mom. Having Andy around keeps me from dwelling on the past for too long."

She gave him a sad smile. "Maybe you should dwell on it for a while. This isnít good for you."

He sighed. "This" was his refusal to talk about Lex leaving him. He knew his mother wanted him to talk about it, analyze it, pick it apart until he could deal with it and get on with his life. But he couldnít. Two years later and it still hurt too much to think about, much less discuss over cookies and lemonade.

Thrown away again.

That was what he didnít want to think about. At least, unlike his birth parents, Lex hadnít thrown him away by himself. No, this time he had a son to distract him, to keep him focused and grounded. A mercy he wasnít sure Lex realized heíd granted.

"Iím coping. No drug or alcohol abuse. No hiding out at the penthouse or becoming the campus slut. Iím a responsible parent, Mom. I go to school, then come home."

"But when do you live, Clark? Yes, youíre a parent, but youíre also a person, an individual with your own needs. Iíve begged you to leave Andy here for a weekend or even a week--"

"Andy is my life. I donít need anything else."

"A very big responsibility for a two-year-old."

"I have you and Dad, Pete and Chloe. Itís enough."

"Is it?" Before he could formulate a reply, she quietly headed back down the steps.

Clark plopped down on the stale-smelling sofa, the loft abandoned except when he came home. Why couldnít his mother understand that he didnít want to think about it, that he didnít want to find a way of "living" without Lex. Because if he did that, he might have to break his promise to Lex; he might really begin to hate him.

Even though he didn't want to go, his mother's words forced him back to that unexamined period of his life. After heíd gotten through the initial shock of Lex being gone, he started wondering why Lex was gone. Lex wanted to see the baby. Lex had given him the kiss of power. Those werenít the actions of someone ready to bolt. Besides, heíd just been literally gutted. Nothing should have been dire enough to motivate him out of bed so soon. So, Clark had concluded Lex hadnít left on his own.

Because of his close relationship with Lexís medical team, Clark had learned Lexís release had been instigated by Lionel, that Lex in fact had left with Lionel. Lexís leaving was beginning to make sense. Lionel. The sadistic son of a bitch was up to something. While spending as much time with Andy as he could, Clark hunted for Lexís "prison." Heíd been stunned to learn Lionel and Lex were in Japan. Shit. There went the big rescue scene. Sure, he could run fast--but over an ocean? Wasnít going to happen.

Hold on, Lex, heíd whispered every night as he tried to get Andy settled in before catching a plane. Then, on his way home from buying a Japanese language guide, heíd spotted the cover of the Inquisitor. Lex, arm casually tossed across the shoulders of a beautiful, leggy, Asian woman. Lex, leaning in to whisper in her ear--or maybe nip it. Lex, his fingers skimming the swell of her nearly exposed breasts. LUTHOR HEIR HEALTHY AND ON THE PROWL, the headline screamed.

Clark bought the paper. And all the others that came after it. Parties and premieres. Clubs. Lionel back in Metropolis. Lex still in Asia. Korea. Vietnam. Tibet. China. Smiling for the paparazzi. Giving interviews in business magazines. Securing agricultural /manufacturing companies and partnerships for LuthorCorp; technical ones for LexCorp. Rumored engagements, trysts, affairs. Clark kept the magazines in his nightstand. Sometimes after getting up to give Andy his two a.m. feeding, heíd go back to his room and stare at the pictures, his fingers leaving blurred smudges on some of the glossier ones. He thought Lex looked thin, but that could just be in comparison to the last time he saw Lex. He also thought that Lex looked pale, but the flashes on professional cameras were really bright.

His dad theorized that Lex was scared, scared of the love he felt for Clark and Andy. He said heíd seen it on Lexís face in the sinkhole, had heard it in his voice during that telephone call.

Clark, knowing Lexís background, could believe there was some truth in his father's theory.

His mom thought Lex was somehow trying to regain his manhood after giving birth, that heíd lost his sense of self and was trying to find it. In the crotches of women. She hadnít added that last part, but he knew what she was thinking.

Clark figured Lex was a big enough asshole for that to be true, too.

Pete agreed with Martha, and for once, sort of sympathized with a Luthor.

Oh, yeah. Telling Pete hadnít been in his plans. But when had telling Pete anything been planned?

Pete had stayed at the penthouse during the annual Kent State vs. Met U football weekend. Heíd drooled over the plasma TV, hogged the PlayStation, emptied the fridge, and got waterlogged in the Jacuzzi. He hadnít really paid much attention to Andy until they returned to the apartment after the game.

"Wait till next year," he said as Clark opened the door. "Weíll whup your asses but good. If it hadnít been for your quarterback--"

"Oh, Clark," Trina had interrupted. "Youíre just in time to give Andy his bottle, if you want."

"You bet! Figure out if you want to go out or order in dinner, Pete. Iíll be back in a few." Heíd followed Trina into the nursery.

When he came out, Pete was sprawled in Lexís favorite leather chair, a bottle of beer dangling in one hand. Clark had forgotten about the beer Lex had bought for Jonathan for the Fourth of July. "Decide what you want for dinner?"

"Before I answer that, I have a question for you, Clark."

"Yeah?"

"Why are you living here acting like Luthorís bitch? Taking care of his kid, keeping his household orderly," heíd sneered.

"Andyís mine."

Clark hadnít meant to say it, but, damn, it felt good to say it to someone. He was glad Pete knew he was an alien as he superspeeded to save the hardwood floor from beer and glass.

"You knocked some girl up? Fuck, I didnít even know you werenít still a virgin. You been holding out on me or what?"

Clark shrugged.

"So why is the kid a Luthor? You introduced him as Andy Luthor."

"Because he is one." Pete blinked, trying to figure out what Clark was saying but coming up blank. "I am Lexís bitch. And together we made a baby."

"Nooo." Pete leapt out of the chair. "Youíre my boy, Clark, not some-- What the fuck did he do to you! Itís like--what do they call it? Stockholm Syndrome. He attacked you and made you think you liked it, right? He always did eye you like you were a piece of prime meat. But we can fix this. They have deprogrammers and everything. Or was it some new kind of meteor rock? Like the red, but different. Probably purple, and he--"

"Stop it, Pete." Clark sat in the chair Pete had vacated. "Lex hasnít brainwashed me or hypnotized me, or poisoned me with meteor rock. I--I fell in love. Itís as simple as that."

"No, man, he did something. He seduced you, didnít he? Always making you the center of his attention, showing up at the Talon for no other reason than to see you. Itís no wonder you fell for that bullshit. Your parents have kept you pretty well isolated, and Luthor is rich and smooth and used to getting everything he wants." Pete stopped his wild pacing and knelt in front of Clark. "We need to call the cops. What he did--it was rape, Clark, and--"

"It wasnít rape, Pete. It was nowhere near being rape. And if you mention the cops again, we arenít going to be friends. Understand?"

Pete sat back on his heels. "Well, then, weíll tell your parents and--"

"They already know."

"And Luthorís still alive?"

Clark gave a weak chuckle. "Yeah."

Pete pondered that for a long moment. "ButÖbut what about Lana?"

"At first, it was just a reaction to her meteorite necklace. Iím the idiot who thought weak-kneed equaled love. Later, it was just my way of trying to be normal. Aliens didnít do normal things like fall for the town princess, so if I didÖ"

"It meant you werenít an alien," Pete murmured softly.

"Or so I told myself," Clark finished dryly. "But I got tired of pretending to be who I wasnít, Pete. I--I took the initiative with Lex. I seduced him, without even telling him what it was he was sleeping with."

"Of course you didnít tell him that! Why did he need to know that? He got what he wanted. What difference did your--your origin make?"

"Andy."

"Oh, right. You had a baby." Pete frowned. "When did you have a baby? You werenít pregnant when we graduated."

"I never was."

"But--" Peteís eyes widened. "Luthor? Oh, shit, that whole being sick thing. He was pregnant?" Clark nodded. Pete started laughing.

"Donít. He really was sick. We werenít sure he would survive."

Pete quickly sobered. "Damn. I can only imagine how he-- That had to be a hell of a mindfuck. Think Iíd go out and dip my wand in as many bushes that I could afterwards, too. Thatís what heís doing, right? Heard there wasnít an Oriental pussy he hadnít--" Clark glared, and Pete realized what he was saying. "Shit. Sorry about that, Clark. I mean, if you love himÖ"

"I do. But youíre right. He was traumatized by this mess and heísÖI donít know. Iíve tried to think of it as little as possible."

"Did he--did he lead you to believe he loved you, too?" Clark nodded sadly. "Maybe he just has to get this out of his system, you know?"

Clarkís jaw dropped to the floor. "Youíre defending Lex Luthor?"

"No! Itís just--he had a baby, Clark. If thereís anything to tie your balls in a knot, I just think thatíll do it."

Balls in a knot. Heíd like to do that to Lex after two years of being ignored. A phone call, a letter, hell, even a fucking postcard with "Having fun. Wish you were here," scrawled in the familiar handwriting would be appreciated. But Lex hadnít tried to contact him not even once.

The radio deejays thought it was such a huge joke. Just last week one of the morning drive time shows had done a whole riff over Lex in Asia.

"Japan sent us Godzilla and we sent them Lex Luthor. Who got the better end of the deal?"

"Well, I think itís safe to say Lex has the better 'end'," the female half of the duo replied.

"Margo, you slut! Iím talking money-wise. LuthorCorp is making big deals across the wide, wide ocean."

"From what I heard, Lex is a 'big' deal himself," she quipped.

Clark had cut the radio off. But he couldnít cut off his mind. Was everything Lex had said to him a lie? Was their love a lie? No. Andy was proof that there had been something between them. But it hadnít been enough, had it?

The press knew about the baby--a new Luthor couldnít be hidden--but they surprisingly left the story alone. Apparently, fathering a child by surrogate because you thought you were dying wasnít a story they were willing to touch. Or Lex and/or Lionel had made sure of Clarkís and Andyís privacy by whatever means Luthors usually used. What really surprised Clark was that Lionel hadnít tried anything, not even an accidental meeting at the park or during one of Andyís checkups. Was Lex and Lionel so much alike that both could just erase the memory of a little boyís existence?

A giggle and a "shh" brought him out of his reverie. His dad and Andy were sneaking into the barn. Guess it was time for the birthday celebration to begin.

Of course when he looked at it that way, he thought as he prepared to make his son squeal by doing his own sneaking, it was Lexís loss and not his.

*****

"Sleep?"

Clark nodded as he came down the stairs. "Out five minutes after his head hit the pillow. The farm always tires him out. So much to see, so much to get into," he added with a shake of his head. Andy would have personally explored every square acre if the adults had let him.

"He needs space to run around in, son. The penthouse is very nice but itís not a proper home for an active little boy," Jonathan said for what seemed to be the fiftieth time.

"I need to be in Metropolis for college, Dad, and I want Andy with me." At first, his parents had pushed to be the ones to raise Andy, but Clark had insisted that his son live with him.

"What about one of those ranch homes in the suburbs? You could buy one or maybe have one built."

Clark was still getting used to his dad actually wanting him to spend money. It was--unsettling. "Iíll think about it, Dad."

Jonathan nodded. "Make sure you check out the school districts first. Or the private schools in the area. Be a shame if he has to ride around for an hour just to get to school."

Clark wondered if a pod had joined the spaceship in the cellar.

"You boys want another piece of birthday cake?" Martha offered. "Iím going to wrap up the rest of it for you to take back with you tomorrow, Clark. UnlessÖ"

"I want Andy back into his normal routine before classes start, Mom. If I donít--" Clark froze, his mouth left hanging open. Then he stood and walked over to the door. Being August, it was still fairly light outside despite the time. But it wasnít the light that propelled Clark to the door. It was the sound of a high performance engine.

"Clark?"

He sighed. "Anyone around here hit the lottery?" he asked hopefully.

His parents exchanged a glance. "No, son. Why?"

He listened a second longer, then turn to face them, his face somber. "If none of our neighbors can afford a Lamborghini, then Iíd have to say that Lex Luthor has returned to Smallville."

The car pulled into the yard a minute later, dust settling on the shiny black exterior.

"Stay in the house with Andy," Clark said as he pushed open the screen door.

"Keep a cool head, son," Jonathan advised.

Clark nodded. A cool head. Yeah, he could handle that. It was the other parts of his body he had to keep cool, he thought, as the sleek figure in black stepped out of the car, whipping off shades and sticking them in his pocket.

"Clark."

At least he didnít have the audacity to smile. "Lex. Slumming in North America for the weekend?"

Dark-ringed eyes settled on his face before darting off to focus on the yard. "Iím back for good, Clark."

"Like your cars foreign, but your women domestic?"

Lex snorted. "I see youíve been reading the Inquisitor."

"Youíre very photogenic. But you already knew that."

Lex sighed and crammed his hands in his pockets. "You know how misleading the press can be."

"Yeah, so Iíve heard."

Silence.

"The farm looks good."

"An inflow of cash from a rich son will do that. No matter how tainted the money."

Lex stilled. "Tainted?"

Clark shrugged. "What is the term for the money spent to settle the account with oneís castoff whore?"

"Clark! You donít think--"

Clark didnít know what he thought. Which was maybe why he should have thought before Lex returned. When was he going to learn to listen to his mother? "Why are you here, Lex?"

"To give you this." He pulled a small box out of his pocket.

Clark took the box and shoved it into his own pocket. "Iíll give it to my son when he wakes up."

"Itís for both of you."

"Where shall we send the thank-you note?"

"Iíll be at the castle."

Clark nodded and watched him get back into the car. "So, you really are home for good?"

Lex gave a sad smile. "Not yet, but Iím working on it."

Clark managed to watch the car disappear before his legs gave out and he crashed to the steps of the porch. Damn. Heíd rather face another pit of meteor rock than to go through that again. He took a deep breath and tried to stop the shaking that seemed to have gripped his hands.

"Clark?"

"Dad."

"Heís gone?"

"To the castle."

"Did heÖdid he explain?"

Clark shook his head. "He stopped by to give Andy and me a gift." He yanked the smashed box out of his pocket and tossed it on the porch. "As if he could walk out on us and walk in two years later with a fuck--with a gift and everything would be okay. He canít buy our love, Dad. It doesnít work like that."

Jonathan shrugged. "Maybe heís not trying to buy love, son; maybe heís trying to give it."

"Too little too late," Clark replied bitterly.

"Why donít you open it and see?"

"Why donít you?" He shoved the box in his fatherís direction.

Jonathan bent down and retrieved the box. Clark didnít pay much attention to what he was doing until he heard a gasp. He rolled his eyes. Lex had probably bought some big jewel to impress the country hicks.

"Son, you better take a look at this."

Clark snorted. "I donít--"

"Take a look at it, Clark."

Not willing to argue with his dad over something so minor, he took the box and looked at its contents. Nestled in a bed of white cotton was a metallic disk. He tipped it over and into his hand fell--

--the key to his spaceship.

Chapter Thirty-One

Lex tossed back the brandy and savored the long burn. Physical pain versus emotional pain. No contest. Heíd rather be attacked by a meteor mutant than go through that conversation with Clark again.

It could have been worse. He knew that. Clark could have crispy-fried him with his laser vision. Or he could have punted him to the mansion like it was fourth down and ten miles. Or Jonathan could have greeted him with his trusty shotgun.

And he didnít even want to consider what Martha could have done to him.

No, it hadnít been a total disaster. But it was by no means a success.

"What is the term for the money spent to settle the account with oneís castoff whore?"

"Oh, Clark," he moaned aloud as he refilled his glass. "If anyoneís a whore, itís me."

He wasnít worried about speaking aloud. He was alone in the mansion, having had time only to contact an agency to air the house and remove the top layer of dust.

Time.

Thirty-six hours ago, heíd been in a Tokyo suite, swigging champagne with his assistant.

"He signed. I canít believe he signed," Martin Chow was saying over and over again between sips of champagne. "How the fuck did you do that? Wu hates Americans. You had exactly a zero chance of making that deal, yet you fucking pulled it off. The marketís not going to believe this when it hits the streets in the morning. You spend a week in China and pull off the impossible. What the hell did you do? Suck his cock? Let him fuck you? What?"

Lex rolled his eyes. "Wu doesnít swing that way."

"Hell, when it comes to a good blow job, we all swing that way."

"You know itís a good thing I left you here in Tokyo. Youíre the kind of American that soured Wu on us in the first place," Lex said flatly. "We talked. My proposal had merits and was presented in an honorable fashion. Wu was simply impressed." And Wu had a half-American daughter, fathered during the chaotic student rebellion at Tian'anmen Square. He and the girlís mother had only exchanged first names, but Wu had found out hers and about the pregnancy. Knowing heíd be disowned if his family found out about an illegitimate child, Wu had tried to forget that he had a child somewhere. It hadnít worked. Lex quietly and discreetly gathered the information Wu wanted to know. It had been distressingly easy to find out everything about a fourteen-year-oldís life through the internet. Someone really needed to put a stop to that.

Chow shook his head. "I donít understand it. Yeah, sure you speak Mandarin better than I do, and yeah, you have that Ďrespect your eldersí thing down pat, butÖ"

"But Iím still an oddity. Maybe thatís what Wu likes about me. Maybe he likes collecting oddities. Or maybe my head reminds him of Buddhaís stomach," Lex said with a brief smile. "Let it go, Chow. We have the deal. And Iím headed back to the good olí US of A."

Chowís narrow eyes widened as far as they could. "Why? Youíre kicking ass all over us humbled Orientals. Iím sure thereís some pissant little country around here you havenít put under the Double L aegis yet." Double L--easier, according to his assistant, than all the syllables LexCorp and LuthorCorp required.

Lex smirked. "Iíve accomplished what I set out to accomplish. It might seem profitable to be greedy, but in the end, the profit and the sacrifice do not balance."

Chow snickered. "Sounds like something my grandfather might say. Maybe you have been over here too long."

Lex had quirked an eyebrow, downed his champagne, packed his bags, and headed to the Great State of Kansas. Jetlagged, he hadnít spent a lot of time in Metropolis, merely enough to have a rather enlightening discussion with his father and to discover that Clark and his son were in Smallville. Bypassing the mansion, he'd gone directly to the farm. Maybe not his brightest idea.

Filling his glass again and taking the entire decanter with him, he sat on one of the leather sofas and waited for the alcohol to take effect. Despite his exhaustion, his mind was still moving too fast for him to rest. He desired numbness, oblivion.

Instead, he got a jean-covered groin.

He raised his head to see Clark standing over him, fist extending toward him. For the first time since theyíd met, Lex flinched. Clark took a step back and opened his hand. The metal key glinted in the light.

"Where did you get this?"

"From my father."

Clark gave a soft gasp. "He found it?"

Lex gave a bitter chuckle. "Only if your definition of Ďfindí includes the verbs buy, barter, burgle, blackmail, bribe, and browbeat."

Clark sprawled on the opposite sofa, and Lex could see how heíd matured into his body. The coltish lack of coordination was gone, replaced by an ease, a familiarity with long limbs and dense muscles. The boy was gone, only traces of him left in gestures, the tilt of his head, the length of his sighs.

"Iím not going to like this, am I?"

Lex shrugged and held out the decanter he was close to crushing. "Brandy?"

Clark took both the decanter and Lexís glass. Draining the small amount left in the glass, he placed both items on the table behind his sofa. "When you get alliterative, youíve had enough," he said with a remembered smile. "When was the last time you ate?"

Lex struggled with the question, then gave up. "Hard to say when one has crossed a number of time zones." Or hasnít slept in days.

"No wonder you look like the living dead."

"You donít."

Clark stilled and whatever fondness he had for Lex seemed to leave. "I canít afford to fall apart. I have a child to take care of."

Fuck. Ethanol and exhaustion were not a good mix. He used to know that. How the hell had he gotten through the conversation with his father. Oh, yeah. No alcohol because he knew he had to drive to Smallville. And he knew better than to confront Lionel no less than completely sober. Why had he known all that in Metropolis and forgotten it all in Smallville? Damn place still had too many meteorites.

"Lex, youíre out of it. This discussion has waited two years. It can wait until youíve had enough sleep."

"So, another two years then?" Lex remarked bitterly.

"If youíre going for the pity angle, donít. You donít deserve my pity."

"And if you werenít worried about the implications of my gift, you wouldnít be here, right? Iím surprised you opened it so soon."

"I didnít; my dad did."

That stung. He was being terribly sensitive tonight. How long had that brandy been sitting around? "Just ask me what you want, Clark. This is probably as honest as Iím going to get."

"Does your father know what it was he had?"

"Yes."

Clark looked shocked. "No doubts?"

"Nixon and Hamilton filled him in very well."

"Shit," Clark hissed. "How do you know all this? Why did he give the key to you?"

Lex laughed. "Give? My father gives me nothing. I earned that fucking key, not to mention all the files, video, and photographs. Youíre not very careful. I warned you about that."

"Yeah, you warned me about everybody but you," Clark retorted.

"I didnít warn you about me because I figured Iíd be dead." He hated Clark had taken the brandy from him.

"You broke my heart."

"Yeah, well, anything for a friend, remember?" Lex closed his eyes. He could hear the pain in Clarkís very breath, and he shuddered, regretting he was the source of that pain.

"Forget the word games and biting remarks, Lex. Just tell me what happened two years ago. I went to get our baby and when I got back, you were gone. I just need to know why so I can get on with my life. Will you do that for me? Will you just tell me why?"

Lex kept his eyes closed. "After you left, Dad came in. He walked over to the bed and held the key out."

"I plan to leave a legacy behind, Lex. Either I will be known as the man who ruled with his faithful son beside him, or Iíll be remembered as the man who provided proof that aliens exist."

Lex chuckled and glanced down at the tube inserted in the back of his hand. "Sure youíre not on the same medication I am, Dad?"

"Would you like to see the photographs? Read Hamiltonís reports? Watch Nixonís revealing videos? The ones that I possessed before his unfortunate demise?"

Lex winced, not just because he was trying to sit up, but because he knew exactly what his father was capable of. "What do you want?"

Lionel smirked. "I thought I made that clear--you or the annals of science."

"Why?"

"Because I weary of your lack of ambition. You have the potential for greatness, but not the will. Something needs to be done."

Lex shook his head. "And you think this is it? You are a fool, old man."

"Even the lofty, moral Daily Planet will have to cover the story of ĎAliens Among Us--In Search of Breeding Stock?í"

"Fuck you, Dad!"

"Unlike you, Iím more particular about what I fuck, so no thank you, son."

Lexís head swam as he sat up, hissing as his bare feet touched the cold floor. "I think Iím going to need a wheelchair to get out of here."

Lionel nodded. "I take it that I have your answer."

"Yes, you son of a bitch. But just remember what they say about getting what you ask for."

"Why did you leave with him?" Clark interrupted angrily. "Youíd just come out of surgery. You were in no condition to be moved. You could have told him that and bought us some time."

"Time to do what, Clark?" Lex asked, totally enervated.

"We could have called his bluff."

Lexís eyes flashed open. "There was no bluff, Clark. Lionel would have done exactly as he stated. You know that. And, sure, there would have been a lot of scoffing when he released the information, but what would have happened when they got their hands on you?"

"We could have run."

"With a newborn?"

"You could have told me what was going on."

"Would you have let me go?"

"You could have at least said goodbye," Clark whispered.

"Then I wouldnít have been able to leave."

Silence. "Why are you back now? If Lionel Luthor was dead, Iím sure I would have heard about it."

"Lionel may be alive, but everything belongs to me now."

"A coup?"

"Thanks to my efforts, LuthorCorp acquired several Asian partnerships and contracts that will equal a full quarter of its total profits."

"You did that in two years?"

"I did that in two years."

"And Lionel was so impressed that he gave you the company?" Clarkís disbelief was obvious.

"Each deal has a hidden codicil that, in laymanís terms, states that the contract is only good while I retain ties with LuthorCorp. If I go, the contracts go. LuthorCorp will never be able to survive a hit like that."

Clark laughed. "Lionel was pissed, wasnít he?"

Lex, suddenly feeling confined, stood and slowly paced to his desk. If only his life was as clean and neat. "Actually, he told me he was proud of me, that I had finally become the man he knew I could be."

"Um, that's kind of fucked up, Lex. I mean, you take your dad's company and he's proud of you."

"You knew my family was fucked up when you met me, Clark."

"True. How--how did you manage these deals, Lex?" Clark asked hesitantly.

"By any means necessary." Clark didnít say anything. Lex examined the remaining contents of the bar.

"So are you the new president of LuthorCorp?"

Lex shook his head. "This wasnít about the company, Clark."

"But you have the advantage."

"And I got what I wanted. LuthorCorp has huge piles of dubious crap that need to be shoveled out before I assume leadership--which I will at some point in time. But LuthorCorp is not ready for me, and I donít want it until it is."

"With Lionel running it, it may never be."

"Oddly enough, now that Iíve earned his respect, heís much more--compliant to my suggestions. He trusts me."

Clark walked over to the desk and perched on the corner. "So now what? With us, I mean."

Lex shrugged. "For the first time in a long while, that is up to us. But let me make one thing clear, I know what I want. Iíve been fighting for it for two years and although Iíve won one battle, I know the war is not over."

"I donít want to be at war with you. But itís not just about us anymore."

Lex nodded. "You have a son."

Clark stared at him blankly. "We have a son, Lex." He paused, eyes narrowing speculatively. "You didnít have us watched while you were gone? No photos, video?"

"Iím not that masochistic."

Clark took a deep breath. "Come on," he said and started toward the door.

Lex started to ask where they were going, but shrugged and followed when he realized he really didnít care.

*****

Clark removed the child car seat deftly, smiling wistfully as he remembered how long itíd taken him to learn how to do it properly. The instructions hadnít really helped, so finally heíd gone to a "car seat clinic" held by the Metropolis Red Cross. From the crowd, he realized he wasnít quite the idiot he figured he was. After moving the seat, he stood back to let Lex get in. As he walked around the truck, he was struck by another memory--how heíd had to stretch the seatbelt around Lex after heíd made the getaway to his motherís grave.

Good memories of Lex. Did he want more of them? Sure, but at what price? Lionel was the bad guy in the picture, but Lex didnít seem inclined to get away from him. What happened the next time Lionel yanked Lexís chain? Andy didnít need that kind of instability. Maybe it would be best if there was a distance maintained between Andy and Lex. Maybe it would be better for all concerned if Lexís relationship with his son be like a divorced parentís--a summer here, a weekend there. But maybe Andy deserved a second full-time parent.

And maybe he deserved a full-time lover.

But all those tabloid pictures.

Lexís admission of getting the deals by any means necessary.

If he asked, he had no doubt Lex would tell him.

Did he want to ask?

Did he want to know?

Could he know and forgive? Or was it better not knowing, yet forgiving anyway?

He was going to FORGIVE him?

Clark sighed. Of course, he was going to forgive Lex. That had been decided as soon as Lex mentioned Lionelís devious hand in the separation. Or maybe before. The more he thought about it, the more he realized heíd forgiven Lex back in a hospital room two years ago. Lex was not an impulsive man; he always had a reason. Therefore, heíd had a reason for walking out on his lover and his son. Clark had known this and accepted it every time heíd stashed away another magazine, every time heíd told Andy about the one whoíd given birth to him, every time he slept on his side of the bed, a hand stroking the cool linens of the other half.

"Should I get out?"

Clark looked at the still yellow farmhouse and nodded. Walking next to Lex, he felt the man hesitate when a silhouetted couple appeared in the doorway. Clark shook his head sadly. Maybe Lex would eventually accept that real love was unconditional. Maybe that was something a son could teach his father. "Come on, Lex," he said encouragingly.

At the door, Jonathan patted Lex on the shoulder. "Welcome back, son."

Martha wasnít quite as formal as she threw her arms around him. "We missed you, Lex," she whispered in his ear.

Lexís eyes widened in shock, then narrowed in confusion. Clark squeezed his upper arm and led him up the stairs. While they climbed he could hear his parents whispering. "Heís too thin." "Has he slept since he left?"

Clark tuned them out and opened his bedroom door. A nightlight glowed from an outlet, but he knew it wasnít enough light to allow Lex to see what Clark wanted him to see. He reached for the light switch on the wall.

"Donít wake him," Lex whispered quickly.

"An earthquake couldnít wake him once heís asleep," Clark replied easily. "Heís like a light bulb--either heís off or heís on, no in-between." Light flooded the bedroom. Andy didnít twitch.

Lex stiffened. Clark could hear his heartbeat pound and his breath quicken. He placed a hand firmly against Lexís back, just in case the man collapsed. "This was the surprise I had for you. As soon as I saw the red fuzz after the nurses cleaned him up, I knew he was just as much your son as he was mine."

Lex swayed, his eyes never leaving the tiny figure clad in white pajamas decorated with purple bears. Red curls crowned the delicate head. His skin was fair with a light sprinkling of freckles.

"Alexander Joseph Luthor, Iíd like you to meet Lysander Kent Luthor." Lysander was a Spartan naval commander in the Peloponnesian War and then a statesman, setting up Spartan government in Athens. Then he got a little over-ambitious and was assassinated. Clark figured if Lex could learn lessons from his namesake, Andy would, too. "He has your eyes as well."

Lex turned and left the room. Clark followed more slowly, turning off the light and leaving the door ajar behind him. Downstairs, his parents looked at him questioningly. He gave what he hoped was a reassuring smile, and went out into the yard where Lex was leaning against the truck.

"I thought--" Lex began as Clark mirrored his stance. "I didnít know he was mine."

"You thought you were just an incubator, convenient growth media like agar in a biology lab. I know. Mom told me. But even though my semen has both eggs and sperm, I didnít fertilize my own egg. You did, Lex. If I was the suspicious type, Iíd ask if I was the only alien youíd been sleeping with." Clark smiled and nudged Lex with a shoulder.

"Is he--is he like you?"

"He pulled over a full flowerpot taller than he is. Got covered in dirt from head to toe." Clark snickered at the remembered image. "Hasnít pulled over anything since. So, he may have the beginnings of my strength, but heís already a lot smarter."

"Heís a Luthor," Lex quipped, a smirk curling his lips for the first time since his return.

"Heís also inherited your love of purple."

"My sense of aesthetics," Lex corrected.

"He has red hair, Lex. Purple is not a good color."

"Heíll grow into it. Itís already darker than mine was at his age." Lex drew up straight. "I hate my father."

"No, you donít."

"He kept me from my son for two years!"

"And if you werenít who you are, it would have been longer. But youíre back now."

"Iím going to kill him."

Clark shook his head and cupped Lexís chin so he could stare into his eyes. "No, youíre not. Youíre going to concentrate on getting to know your child and getting to know me again."

"If he threatens either one of you again, I canít be held responsible for what happens," Lex argued.

Stubborn. Sexy. Clark kissed him, lightly at first, then deepening. Past frustration, past longing, past desire merging into something punishing before easing into something remembered and cherished. "Donít leave me again," he begged when the kiss broke. "I donít care how you handle any threat in the future, just donít leave me, Lex."

"I wonít," Lex promised as they sank to their knees in the shadow of the truck. "Never again, Clark. Never."

The August ground was warm, the grass soft as he lowered Lex onto it, his own body resting possessively on his slim loverís. He lost himself in sensation until he heard Lexís soft chuckle against his ear. "What?" he asked indulgently.

"Mansion, Clark. Bed. Sheets. Lube. Condoms. Not that I donít appreciate the romance of doing it under the stars."

"I seem to recall an enjoyable time in a labyrinth."

"Space blanket. Lube. Condoms."

"The loft."

"Lube? Condoms?"

Clark frowned. He hadnít even been able to find his book. ButÖ "Maybe?"

Lex shook his head, then grinned. "Found some interesting condoms in Japan. Decorated with anime characters."

Clark rolled his eyes. "Toy condoms?"

"One hundred percent real. I take my condoms seriously, remember? Theyíre catching on in the teen market, so I bought the company."

Lex sounded motivated. Like maybe he was contemplating movie promotions with his new product. Like McDonaldís did with its Happy Meals. Or maybe the packets could be collectibles like Pokemon cards. Wouldn't parents be pleased--not. But if anyone could pull it off, it would be Lex. Hell, maybe Lex would become the Condom President. Clark snorted and rolled to his feet. He helped Lex up and angled his head toward the house. "I have to go tell my parents to watch Andy."

"Okay."

"Weíll come back for him in the morning," Clark said, then mentally changed it to later in the day. Despite the flush of desire, Lex still looked completely drained. His warrior needed rest. And lots of love.

Lex smiled. "I'm looking forward to meeting my son. I just hope..."

""You're not Lionel, Lex. The two of you will be fine." Clark grinned and gave him a quick kiss. "The three of us will be fine. We're a family, Papa, so get used to it."

Lex's nose wrinkled at the bridge. "Papa? I don't look like a papa, Clark."

"Well, I'm already daddy, so you're papa--unless you want to be mama?"

"Papa it is," Lex said as if it was his idea.

Clark laughed and headed toward the house.

"Clark?"

He stopped and turned around. "Yeah, Lex?"

"I love you. And Andy."

"I know, Lex. I think I've known that my entire life."

Clark continued on toward the house, glancing up at the stars as he walked. Somewhere out there was the place he'd come from. But he didn't have to search those pinpoints of light for his home. It was just a few yards before him and a few yards behind him. And tomorrow, it would all come together.

Chance had brought he and Lex together, first in a ravished field and second in a muddy river. Chance had created Andy out of clandestine love and frenzied desire. Chance had forced them to stand apart so they could stand together.

Now it was time to show the world just what chance had forged.

Epilogue

Lex looked at the bowed red head sitting next to him. It was Andyís fifth birthday and they were headed to Smallville for the annual celebration in the Lamborghini, also known as the "zoom-zoom" car. There should have been constant chatter, a few giggles, and a worldview so utterly different from his own he would marvel that such a person had grown inside of him. Instead, there was silence and a nervous fiddling with a Warrior Angel action figure. Theyíd finally made the comic book into an animated series and Andy was an instant fan. The two of them faithfully watched it every Saturday morning and starting in September, it was going to come on weekday afternoons. Andy had told him to have it taped so they could watch it together when he got home from work.

"You mad at me?" Lex finally ventured to ask.

Andy shook his head, then glanced over at his father. "Should I be?"

Lex grinned and shook his head. The boy was a Luthor through and through. "I was just wondering why youíre pouting."

"Iím not pouting."

"So why is your bottom lip messing up my upholstery?"

Andy rolled his eyes, but there was a hint of a smile on his face now. "Youíre so silly, Papa."

"If I wasnít driving, Iíd show you silly, son. But your daddy would kill me if I--"

"I miss Daddy," Andy murmured.

Lex gripped the steering wheel, angry at his stupidity. Of course Andy would be missing Clark really badly on his birthday. It was just that heíd been trying so hard not to miss Clark himself that heíd totally overlooked Andyís expected reaction.

He was never going to get this "father" thing right. Good thing theyíd be with Jonathan soon.

"I miss him, too, Andy. But you know why he had to go, right? And that heíll be back as soon as he can?"

"He had to go because it was Ďportant."

Lex nodded, wishing--not for the first time--that heíd never given Clark that damn key to the spaceship. It wasnít that he wasnít happy for Clark, learning about his heritage and why he could do the things he could do. And it came in handy when Clark developed new powers and expanded the limits to his old ones. But the ship-slash-artificial intelligence had decided it was time to take Clark to God-knew-where to learn stuff he couldnít learn in front of humans. Heíd been gone eleven months, eighteen days and--Lex checked his watch--thirteen hours.

"I had to be away after you were born, Andy, and Daddy had to take care of you by himself until I came back. Now Daddy is gone, and Iím here to take care of you until he returns. One day youíre going to be gone, and then Daddy and I will have to take care of each other until you come back to us."

Andy shook his head. "Iím never leaving you and Daddy."

Lex laughed. "Iíll remind you of that when you want to go off someplace far away for college." Then he sobered. "You know Daddy is okay, wherever he is."

"I know."

"And weíre okay, too, right?" He and Andy were a bit too alike in temperament at times, and Clark had spent many an hour playing mediator, which shamed Lex now that he looked back on it. But when Clark left, he and Andy learned to compromise. Well, he had learned to compromise, and Andy had learned he didnít have his papa completely wrapped around his finger.

"I start real school next week," Andy said proudly.

"Yes, you do."

"And Saturday youíre taking me shopping for my school list?"

"Yes." Trina had volunteered to take Andy shopping. Martha had volunteered. Jonathan, Geoffrey, Cook, and a number of Andyís playmatesí mothers had volunteered, but Lex had remained adamant. Andy would shop for his school supplies with the only parent he had at the moment.

Heíd been in Zen therapy for weeks in preparation.

"And Iím getting a Warrior Angel backpack?"

Lex nodded. Martha had already purchased it for Andyís birthday. Which was good because on the late news last night there had been an altercation at a local store because there were only a few left. Lex had lifted the phone to call the Japanese distributor before remembering Marthaís gift.

He settled back in the car as Andy started a long, convoluted conversation that mentioned his friends, Warrior Angel, some dog and squirrel escapade in the park, and what he wanted for his sixth birthday. Once upon a time, Lex thought as Andy narrated his latest bath-time adventure, heíd cruised down the highways with the sound system cranked high, rich boy angst blasting his ears. Now what kept him company was a small boyís musings at an inconsistent volume since it was usually a mixture of excited squeals, low-grade whines, and conversational monologues.

Which proved without a shadow of a doubt that music was in the ear of the listener because he couldnít remember the last time heíd purchased a CD.

"When do you think Daddy will come home?"

"I honestly donít know, Andy, but I know it will be as soon as he can. He misses us the same as we miss him. He wonít stay away a minute longer than he has to."

Andy sighed.

Lex reached out and ran his hand through the dark red curls. He might have gotten the color from Lex, but the texture was all Clark. He remembered the first time heíd run his hand through the mop of hair.

Clark had perched his two-year-old son on his hip and faced his lover. "Andy, this is your papa."

Andy hadnít looked impressed. "Whatís a papa?"

"Another daddy."

Well, that had been the wrong answer. "Why I need another one?" Andy asked in alarm. "Where you going, Daddy?"

Clark had kissed the top of Andyís head. "Nowhere, son. Itís just--you know how I have Grammy and Granddad? Well, youíre going to have me and your papa."

"Like Lisaís mama?"

Lisa, Lex learned later, was in Andyís playgroup. "Yes, like Lisa. She has a mama and a daddy."

"And I have a papa and a daddy?"

Clark nodded and Andy looked solemnly at Lex, cocking his head slightly as if he were evaluating the form in front of him. All the while, Lex stayed very still, silently afraid he wasnít going to pass inspection and Andy was going to tell Clark to take him to the papa store and get his money back.

But Andy must have seen something in the eyes that were identical to his own, because heíd reached out both hands to Lex, demanding to be taken and held. He put both arms around Lexís neck and said simply, "You smell good."

It might have lacked the drama of an Oprah episode, but it had been good enough for Lex.

"Who loves you, Andy?" Lex asked, his fingers still carding his sonís silky strands. He needed a haircut before school started.

Andy answered automatically, beginning the routine his parents had taught him right after he found out he had two parents. "You and Daddy."

"And how much do we love you?"

"As wide as the ocean--" Lex ducked the hand that flew out as Andy demonstrated how wide that was, "--and as high as the sky."

"How long will you be loved?"

"Forever and ever."

"Why is that?"

"Because you love me un-con-di-tion-al-ly."

Yay for teaching words phonetically. Clark had been adamant about adding that word even though Andy had trouble with it. "And what does that mean?"

"No matter what."

"Youíre a good son," Lex praised. Andy beamed, then pouted--deliberately. "What?" Lex asked cautiously.

"Can we zoom-zoom now?"

Lex checked the mirrors and with a grin, complied.

*****

"He misses Clark."

"So do you," Martha said as she finished icing the cake. "And Jonathan and I, as well. But youíre doing a remarkable job with Andy, so if you think heís suffering, let me assure you heís not. Itís very good that he feels comfortable enough with you to tell you when heís hurting."

Lex nodded. "I was never comfortable with that. Mom wasÖfragile. Her health was never the best. And Dad, well, you know Dad."

"How about now?"

"I talk to Clark." He looked at Martha sheepishly. "Sometimes," he corrected.

"You boys ever going to be together long enough to grow comfortable together?"

Lex stiffened, his back straight and muscles taut. "I didnít try to talk him out of this, Martha. He needs to know who he is."

"Heís a man with a family."

"Who can take care of themselves while heís away. I wonít have him feeling guilty when he comes back. He already feels guilty enough about being an alien." Lex decided to change the topic since heíd already gotten into it with Jonathan about the same thing. Yes, Clark had a responsibility to his family, but he also had one to himself. He often wondered the things Martha could have accomplished if she hadnít settled for being a housewife. "Whatís so fascinating in the barn?" Jonathan had hauled his grandson in there as soon as the car stopped.

"Kittens. And donít worry. Jonathan is going to tell Andy they are barn cats so he canít take one home since he doesnít have a barn."

Lex shrugged. "Let me know when theyíre ready to be weaned. Goldie could probably use the company." Goldie was the golden retriever theyíd gotten when the country house was finished. Lex had wanted a more imaginative name but was outvoted 2 to 1.

"Youíre spoiling that boy."

Lex grinned. "Definitely."

"So, you wonít mind if Jonathan and I got him a little more than we said we were for his birthday?" Martha asked with a grin of her own.

"Uh-oh. I better have Geoffrey bring the limo so Andy can haul back all his loot."

"Well, if youíre going to do that, why donít we do his school shopping now, too?"

"Why does everyone think Iím incompetent? They give out a list, Martha. I buy the things on the list. How hard can it be?"

"Especially with me running block for you."

Lex spun toward the door. "Clark!" He should have known Clark would make it back for Andyís birthday.

A nanosecond later they were in each otherís arms and while they didnít quite resemble that famous World War II photo of the soldier being enthusiastically welcomed home, it was close enough. Only a discreet throat-clearing parted them.

"Hi, Mom!" Clark walked over and lifted Martha off the floor.

"Put me down, Clark, and let me look at you."

He obeyed, and Lex looked at him along with Martha. Clark hadnít gotten taller--thank goodness--but he had filled out. His shoulders were broader, his face more chiseled. His entire body was just more, and Lex wondered if heíd have a chance to see the more for himself before Clark had to leave again.

"Whereís Dad and Birthday Boy?"

"Kittens in the barn," Lex answered. "Knowing our son, heís probably negotiating how many he can take home with him."

"Um, that would be your son," Clark replied, throwing an arm around Lexís shoulder. "Yellow sun or not, Kryptonian genes are no match for Luthor ones."

Lex snorted. "I could have told you that." As the A.I. had taught Clark his history, Clark had passed it on to Lex. Lex had been humbled by how such an advanced planet had managed to blow itself up without preserving at least a portion of its population. Definitely something he would be sure to remember. "Andy!" Lex called loudly as they stepped into the yard.

"Yes, Papa?" A tiny head poked out of the barn door. Then a grin broke out over his face. "Daddy!" Andy started to run, then looked at Lex. When Lex nodded, Andy moved so fast that he was in Clarkís arms before the rest of them could blink.

Martha and Jonathan looked at Lex in amazement. "Itís new," he replied to their unasked question. He and Andy had discussed it, and Andy knew he could only move that fast if he got permission from one of his parents. His grandparents probably werenít going to like that, but he still disagreed with how they had raised Clark to fear his differences. He wanted Andy to be cautious but not frightened or ashamed--of himself or his daddy.

Many hours later, he and Clark walked hand in hand across the Kent fields. Andy had finally wound down enough to sleep and Jonathan and Martha had insisted that the two men take advantage of the situation. Clarkís parents probably thought they were up at the mansion wiping out nearly a year of celibacy, but Lex found that just having Clark with him was enough. Clark seemed to agree.

"So when do you have to go back?"

"Never. Well, not never never, because the A.I.ís computer system is way beyond anything around here so Iíll--"

Lex touched Clarkís lips to quiet him. "Schoolís out?"

"Schoolís out," Clark answered with a grin. "Gonna give me a graduation present?"

"How fast can you--" Before Lex finished, they were at the mansion, in bed, and very naked.

Lex was pleased to note that having more Clark was a very good thing.

*****

Lex laughed. He couldnít help himself. In fact, he howled and disgraced the Luthor name, but-- "Could the colors have been any brighter, Clark?" he gasped as he eyed the form-fitting Spandex-like suit stretched over Clarkís body. His laughter died off into the occasional chuckle as his own body started to notice how well the suit fit.

Clark pouted and rubbed his hand across the big red and yellow House of El symbol on his chest. "Itís part of the glamour."

Lex nodded. A witchís appearance altering spell, also known as a glamour. The suit was similar. It altered Clarkís appearance so that no one who didnít already know couldnít figure out the new superhero was actually Clark Kent. Handy since Clark was so set on helping the helpless, butÖ "I suppose it could have been worse, neon green or orange, maybe. But the red panties are definitely a fashion hazard."

"Youíre damaging my ego here, Lex."

Lex gave in and wrapped his arms around Clarkís neck. "Iím sorry, my sweet significant other. If you need to express yourself by wearing cerise panties over bright blue tights, know that you have my complete support and understanding."

"Gee, thanks."

Lex snorted delicately and patted the big red S--House of El symbol, his ass. Looked more like the Alexander breastplate at the Luthor museum than some alien symbol. "Unconditional love, remember? And the red boots are kinda hot."

Clark laughed and swept Lex up into his arms like a hapless maiden. "Remember when we first met and you asked if I believed a man could fly?"

Lex nodded. "And you gave me that lame ass reply about a plane."

"And you told me you had flown over Smallville while you were dead, soaring through the clouds with nothing but air beneath you. How would you like to do that while youíre alive, Lex? Open the window."

Lex unlatched the large window, and they floated outside. He looked down the two stories to the ground and reaffirmed his grip on Clark.

"Scared?"

Lex looked into the eyes that were just a tad bluer than he was used to, but still so very, very familiar, and answered with his heart exposed to the humid night air. "Not as long as Iím with you."

They soared high into the darkness, sharing laughter and kisses and promises of a future, of a destiny, of a fate that would outlast time itself.

THE END


1James Beattie (1735Ė1803), The Minstrel. Book i. Stanza 11.(back to story)

Comments? Dayspring


Back to Time and Chance Homepage

Back to Dayspring's Desires