A/N: Thanks very much, FiveForFighting09, sayrae3times, Miss Kryptonite, cHoCoLaTe-cHiHuAhUa, and Lady Kal-El Lover for the encouraging feedback! Sayrae3times, I hope I updated in time for you to see this.
And now, the conclusion:
Something hard and cold pressed against his cheek. Lex groaned, eyes firmly shut, and extended an arm, struggling to rise onto an elbow. The pain shooting through his shoulder sent him back to the floor, gasping for breath.
"Are you OK?"
There was something deliciously familiar about that voice. Lex would have it in a second. Memories of comfort, of smiles, and of gentle fingers caressing his scalp, mixed incongruously with nightmares of green hellfire, but the nightmares melted away as a warm palm touched his forehead.
His eyelids fluttered open and saw only blackness.
He tried to swallow, but his throat was too dry. "I can't see."
"It's dark. Don't worry—all the lights went out."
A few desperate blinks later, Lex could barely make out a child's body bending over him, its eyes glimmering faintly green in the gloom.
He caught his breath. His plaid-wearing friend had stayed, in spite of the danger. Apparently, self-preservation was not one of his talents. "Get out of here!" Lex ordered, struggling to sit up in spite of the searing pain in his arm and the pounding in his head. "You could be killed!"
"S'Okay. The green stuff's gone."
"Huh." Lex drew a shaky breath, rubbed his forehead to ease the throbbing, and tried to think clearly. That last surge of unexplained power, whatever it was, must have overloaded the museum's electrical system.
His friend's shadowy face bent closer. "How do you feel?"
A hoarse chuckle escaped from Lex's lips. "Like I've just taken one too many trips on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Otherwise, fine."
Lex felt, rather than saw, the child's smile. "You were really brave."
The note of admiration in the boy's voice cut through Lex like a knife. That simple praise, from a boy he barely knew, for some reason shamed him more than his own father's open contempt. "I nearly got us all killed," he snapped. "The last thing I am is a hero."
"Sure you are." Lex cringed at the cheerful reply. "You saved everybody. They were pretty scared; I guess they forgot about you," the boy added.
"But you didn't." Lex blinked a few times in a vain attempt to get a clearer view of the small face hovering over him. It wasn't only because of the gloom; his vision was getting blurry. It was, as Lex was all too aware, a telltale sign of a concussion.
"Were you the one who pushed me, just now?"
Lex thought he saw the boy's shoulders droop slightly. When at last an answer came, it was in an embarrassed whisper. "Yeah. I'm sorry."
"Sorry you saved my life? As understandable as that might be," Lex replied mildly, "I'm still grateful."
He rested his throbbing head on the cold floor tiles with a sigh. "Go find the others," he said, closing his eyes to stop the darkness from swimming around him. "And….thank you."
But the boy stubbornly showed no sign of leaving. "Can you get up? I can help, if you want."
"You don' understan'," Lex stumbled over the words, noting the slurring in his voice and adding it to the list of Very Bad Symptoms. "S'all…it's all….my fault…what happened tonight. All of it."
Great. His head was pounding, his vision was iffy, and now he was babbling confessions to a ten-year-old. Obviously, his fall had shaken his brains more severely than he'd thought.
He couldn't stand to pretend to be a hero to a farm boy. A trusting, warm, courageous, bright, beautiful, and annoyingly obstinate, farm boy.
Lionel would laugh his head off. But right now, Lex didn't care.
"Get out," he muttered, as forcefully as he could. "Please." He paused, expecting to hear the squeak of sneakers walking away on the smooth tiles.
A hand slipped under his arm. "C'mon. It'll be OK."
Too surprised and weary to protest, Lex nodded, and his friend helped him to his feet with surprising ease. Farm living, he reflected, had a lot to recommend it.
Testing his unsteady feet, Lex was forced to lean hard on his young friend's shoulder, and found an unexpected support. He took one or two cautious steps in the direction that seemed most promising, only to be halted by a gentle tugging on his elbow.
"This way," the child corrected. Lex tried to ignore the way his head swam as he abruptly changed directions.
"You can't possibly see your way. It's pitch black."
"Yes, I can. Dad says I've got the best eyesight in Lowell County."
Lex attempted a skeptical snort, but managed only a weakly exhaled breath as he propped himself up again with the boy's supporting shoulder. "Fine. The less-blind leading the dying." He closed his eyes to lessen the dizziness, fighting to stay conscious.
"I'm not blind, and you're not dying," the child assured him, his warm fingers closing over Lex's hand. "Hold tight, and think positive."
Lex really did snort at that, and at the absurd way that cheery voice raised his hopes. "S' tell me," he asked, in an effort to stay lucid, "Why isn't a boy like you a Scout?"
The gentle guidance didn't falter. "They camp out a lot around Smallville. I have, um, allergies."
"Oh." He allowed himself to be pulled forward, trusting without question. It was a unique experience. "Y'know, y'would've made a great Scout."
Lex's voice trailed off weakly, and they walked a minute or two longer in companionable silence. Gradually the sounds of footsteps and soft chatter grew louder, prompting him to risk cracking his eyelids open for a quick glance ahead. At the end of a corridor he could make out a faint light. "The Main Hall," he murmured. "We made it."
Illuminated by the soft glow of flashlights, Lex glimpsed Scouts, chaperones, and museum security swarming around as a couple of Metropolis P.D.'s finest took notes. One of them spotted Lex and came running, shouting something to another officer across the hall.
With a heavy sigh of relief, Lex released the boy's shoulder and sank to the floor gratefully. He felt his eyelids drifting down again.
The sunny young voice was triumphant. "Told you I knew the way."
Lex fell into a soft darkness with those words echoing in his head.
Lex became dimly aware that something was beeping close to his ear, a rapid, regular pattern that Lex thought he recognized. Further away, he heard the faint sounds of an intercom.
He took a deep breath, and was shocked into full consciousness by the sharp smell of antiseptic. Even before he opened his eyes, he realized where he must be.
A nurse in hospital whites was bending over his bed. "He's coming to, Mr. Luthor."
Wires leading to a cluster of noisy monitors jiggled as he moved. Another figure joined the nurse by his bedside: His father, dapper as always in a designer suit, his trademark mane of carefully-styled hair glistening even in the dim light.
It was, unfortunately, too late to fake a relapse, Lex thought regretfully. 'Hi, Dad."
"Welcome back," Lionel said wryly, dismissing the nurse with a curt nod.
After the door closed behind her, Lex frowned up at his father. He had the uncomfortable feeling that he'd forgotten something important. An odd mix of images drifted at the edge of his mind, just out of his reach. "What happened?"
Lionel cocked his head to one side and his eyes crinkled, gleaming with a cynical amusement that Lex knew all too well. "Let's not pretend, shall we?" he scoffed. "Your version of community service was…..stunningly original, to say the least. I'm glad to see that you survived the experience intact."
Pushing down the safety railing, Lionel seated himself on the edge of the bed. Lex inched as far away as possible.
"Seriously, I'm rather impressed. Not only did you manage to avoid serving your sentence, but you're being hailed as a hero." His father leaned closer and lowered his voice to a dramatic whisper. "Just between the two of us, how ever did you manage to pull it off?"
"The community service. The museum," Lex murmured, desperately trying to order the chaotic jumble of elusive memories. He remembered standing in the Main Hall, talking to the curator. He remembered the Scouts, wearing blue and tan, except for one boy who wore plaid. And there was a blinding burst of green sparks.
Or wait, no—they were eyes. A pair of brilliant, emerald eyes.
"How long have I been here?" he asked.
"Almost a full week." His father studied him closely, his expression changing. A note of something that might have been concern entered his voice. "Son, aren't you getting a little too old for these reckless games? I had hoped that a dose of juvenile justice might help you settle down."
Lex's answering smile was carefully neutral. "Still trying to mold me in your image, Dad? Isn't it a little late for that?"
Lionel chuckled indulgently. "I don't need to 'mold' you, son, trust me. You and I are far too much alike as it is."
Lex bit back a denial, and suppressed a shudder. "I'm sorry I didn't do my time like a good little convict, Dad," he replied, smoothly veering the conversation back to its original subject. "But don't worry; I'm sure you'll come up with something even better the next time around. I didn't finish my sentence, after all."
"Oh, but you did," Lionel replied. "Those Scouts can't praise you enough. The curator said she'd be happy to tell the judge that you satisfactorily completed your sentence. Especially," he added, one edge of his mouth curving upward, "since I've agreed to donate enough money to repair and restore the exhibits that were destroyed in the, shall we say, 'unexplained' electrical disaster. For the record, if you don't recall, they were among the most valuable in the museum's collection."
Lex raised his eyebrows, mentally calculating the considerable sum his father must have been forced to lay out, and secretly enjoying the fact that Lionel's own scheme had been the cause of it.
Lionel laughed, clearly following his train of thought. "Hoist on my own petard, eh? True enough. Touche, Lex."
He got to his feet and adjusted the lapels of his suit jacket. "By the way, I hear that one of the Scouts helped you, that night at the museum."
The words jogged loose another stream of images in Lex's mind. Green fire rained on him, and darkness fell. He felt the gentle, warm pressure of a small hand on his, and a friendly voice coaxed him forward, leading him through the gloom, to a light in the distance.
"I'd like to thank the boy properly," Lionel continued. "Do you remember anything about him?"
Lex looked up at his father thoughtfully. He knew all about darkness, he reflected. He'd been trapped in it since he'd been born. And he'd always dreamed of escaping.
Lionel's voice became more insistent. "Do you?"
Lex sighed, and smiled. Yes, he remembered. "He found the way out."
Lex hoped he'd be able to do the same.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed this! cHoCoLaTe-cHiHuAhUa, I don't have any plans for an epilogue as yet, but that might change if the right idea comes along. Stay tuned:)