Chapter Twenty-Five

"It's a weekend, Clark."

"It's three days, Lex." Met U was having its annual Pre-U Orientation for incoming freshmen. It wasn't mandatory, and Clark didn't see why he had to go. He wasn't going to be living on campus and with a baby, he wasn't going to have time to join any campus organizations. And... "Besides, I'm not sure if I'm enrolling for the fall semester."

Lex was in bed, the head lifted to a reasonable sixty-degree angle. "I'm sorry. I'm not sure I heard you correctly."

"You heard me," Clark muttered. He sighed when Lex continued to stare at him expectantly. "I'm thinking about not enrolling this fall. The baby's due at the beginning of the semester. I'll get so far behind, I won't catch up, and what will that do to my grade-point average?" Sounded reasonable to him.

"It won't do anything to your G.P.A., because you won't fall behind, because you're not going to miss any classes."

"Lex, we don't know what kind of labor you're going to have. It could go on for days."

"Now I know why you weren't 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. I'm not an idiot. I'll go to summer school and still graduate on time, even if I do sit out the fall semester."

"No. I don't want you sitting around watching me get fat and sick. It's bad enough that's how I spend my days. The thought of you... 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 weren't 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 don't play sports. I won't be the reason why you're a semester behind your class. I won't 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 won't be the reason why your father starts treating me like a leper again because his scholarship-winning son lost the scholarship."

"Dad won't--"

"He likes me now, Clark. I don't know if it's because I was so pathetic in that fucking hole, or because he realizes this is his grandchild I'm carrying, or because he finally sees how much I care about you. No matter the reason, I don't 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 don't--I don't want to go back to where we were."

Clark reached for Lex's hand. He studied the pale blue lines lying beneath the thin, translucent skin. He knew how much his father's respect meant to Lex, probably because Lex figured he'd never get it from Lionel. Even if he didn't go to school in the fall, his dad wouldn't take it out on Lex because Clark knew Lex had earned Jonathan's respect, and that wasn't going to go away because of a decision Clark himself made. But in Lex's mind, respect and love, well, they were conditional. "Okay. I'll go to college in the fall. But that doesn't mean I have to go to the pre-orientation."

Cool fingers closed around Clark's. "I'll be fine here. It's not like I'll be alone. And if something happens, you have your phone. It'll be like your outing to Adventure World."

Lex sounded so eager, so excited. Clark couldn't break his heart by not going. But it was getting tiring living Lex's missed youth for him. "Yeah, okay," he agreed.

"Hey," Lex said softly, getting his attention. "I know I'm being a bit of an autocrat. But tell me honestly, if it wasn't for this," he patted his noticeably bigger stomach, "you'd be excited about the orientation session, wouldn't 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 wasn't out of the realm of possibility. And Pre-U Orientation? He'd been psyched about that since he'd 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 couldn't give you up, I vowed never to let us get in the way of you, Clark."

"I'm not exactly living a normal life, Lex."

"Which is why you need all the normal' you can get. I see great things in your future, but there's going to be a steep price to pay for them. At more than one point, it's 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 Lex's 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, Pam... 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. "You're not an autocrat--you're 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 haven't 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--don't do anything I would do."

"Because you were a bad, bad man, right?"

"'Were?'" Lex played affronted. "I have you know I'm still a bad, bad man." Then he shook his head. "Of course, back in those days I wasn't mainlining glucose or popping mega-vitamins. I'm old, Clark."

"You're not old--just pregnant," Clark said, leaning forward to give Lex a peck on the cheek to show it wasn't 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. "I'm 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 wouldn't have been you. Male. Luthor. Too complicated here," he touched Lex's head, "and here." He touched the center of Lex's chest.

"Clark." He looked into Lex's eyes and saw sadness, but there was complete understanding there as well.

His finger rubbed across Lex's lips, stopping him from saying whatever it was he wanted to say. "But it wasn't 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 wasn't your dad," Lex said, his laugh vibrating into Clark.

Clark grinned. "No, it definitely wasn't him. But it was someone who obviously cares for me because you are perfect for me, Lex. No, I wouldn't 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 child's 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 he'd 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 Clark's blood to analyze would leave him just as jelly-boned as that blowjob he'd had in Hong Kong during Spring Break of one of his college years. Hadn't been able to move his legs for at least an hour; good thing it hadn't 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 Clark's 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 wasn't the pain he feared, but death. He'd figured he'd died when the meteors first came to earth, and he'd figured he'd 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 he'd 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 Lex's sheer will that kept him alive. Maybe the first two times, but...

It was the baby this time. The baby wanted to live, and although it was responsible for the failure of Lex's 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 more...or perhaps less? Earlier in the pregnancy he'd thought he'd 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 didn't 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 Sheriff's Office is completely destroyed," a reporter said. "We have one of the deputies here with us now. What can you tell us, Deputy?"

"I'd 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 didn't 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 don't think--God, help me, I don't 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 Clark's 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 Kent's 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 didn't 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? Can't you fucking follow orders?" Lex growled, searching his desk for his gun. He didn't have time for this shit. Hadn't the man seen the sheriff's office? Couldn't he add one plus one in this fucking town? Then again Donovan had still been in Metropolis during the worst of the mutant attacks. He'd only sent for him after he'd had to relocate the Palmers. "Get to the basement. Count the staff and make sure everyone's 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 didn't look happy. She also looked familiar. An employee's wife maybe? "I'm 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 I'm 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 he'd ever outright killed was Nixon, but if this was related to LuthorCorp, well, the numbers grew exponentially.

"Can't keep your victims straight?"

Lex shrugged. As long as she was talking, she wasn't screaming the house down.

"You attacked him with a golf club!"

Golf club? Lex's eyes widened, then narrowed. "You're talking about that meter maid."

"Harold wasn't 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. But... "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 Clark's graduation. "I didn't 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 couldn't hear. He crammed his hands in his pockets and surreptitiously rubbed his abdomen. "I'm fully staffed. There's no reason perfect strangers have to die just because you're mad at me." And, Clark, you better be killing stalks of wheat and corn racing back here.

"I can't 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 she'd said on the talk show.

"Yes."

"But that won't get you married. You kill me, and you're still an old maid."

"And if I don't kill you?"

"We can be married."

"Why would I want to marry you? You're bald-headed, fat, and kinda sissy-looking."

And you're a greasy-haired bitch from a trailer park who couldn't do better than a chicken shit meter maid. He took a deep breath. "I'm also rich."

"So what? You think I'm one of those sluts who'd sleep with anything just for the money. Honey, you ain't 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 won't 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 wouldn't stop her, but just pumping the bullets into her would have made his day. "I'm dying. It wouldn't 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?"

"I'm trying to save my life."

"You said you were dying anyway."

God, why couldn't the meteor rock dull their thinking? "I don't want to die alone."

"You have a houseful of servants."

He sought an explanation she might buy. "It'll piss my dad off."

"Your dad?" She stiffened. "No way in hell I'm having that man as a father-in-law. Ain't a faster ticket to hell than dealing with that man." Lex couldn't disagree. "No, you're just going to have to die, so get back in that house so I can get on with it."

He'd overplayed his hand. Damnit. "Why don't I go to the garage instead?" he offered, gesturing toward the stand-alone building just to the back of the house. Come on, Clark. I'm running out of time here. "It wouldn't be fair for everyone to die."

She nodded. "Go on, then."

He started moving slowly toward the garage.

"If you don't move faster, I'm going to knock down the house and the garage," she warned.

"I told you I'm dying. I can't 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 they'd 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 wasn't staying in the dorms--especially not with all his secrets. "I won't be living on campus. I'm going to be staying with--family." Speaking of... 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 didn't 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 hadn't been an attack in so long that he thought, he'd hoped, it was all over with, that there was a time limit or something on when a mutation could go bad. But no, they'd 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. It's skull was crushed. Knowing there wasn't 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. Lex's poor cars. Better than poor Lex.

"Um, whatever you're doing, you need to stop," Clark called out.

The woman turned, her long hair whipping with the movement. "Who are you?"

"Somebody who's 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 he'd 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 don't 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. Didn't 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 couldn't 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. Didn't she know he didn't have time for this? Lex was...Lex was waiting on him to rescue him, because Lex couldn't be... Lex didn't want to die, therefore Lex wasn't 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 didn't 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 back door' 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 I'm going to get a fleet of those vehicles," Lex said as Clark examined him.

"Every color," Clark agreed.

"Where's..." Lex's 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 it's my turn."

"Huh?"

"We'll go make sure she isn't a danger anymore, then you're heading back to Metropolis and I'm 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 can't be here. Everyone in town knows you're 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 can't leave you."

Lex stopped and turned around. "Of course you can. I just explained why you can't be here. I didn't 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. I'd hoped you'd 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, she's 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 impressed...and grateful. "Where's the tree and its original location?" Lex ripped off a piece of tape and put it over the woman's mouth. He then shoved her over and bound her hands and feet. "We need to put her and the tree near the original spot. I'll 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. I'll make it to the spot by myself."

Clark obeyed, placing the tree over the body according to Lex's precise directions. Lex stood back, frowned and walked around a bit.

"Well, that's as good as we're going to get." He pulled out his cell phone and dialed the State Police. "This is Lex Luthor. Whatever took out the Smallville Sheriff's Department is currently unconscious on my estate after demolishing my garage--"

"And the guardhouse," Clark whispered. "The guard's dead."

"And the guardhouse at my front gate. I'm unsure as to the status of my guard. You're already on your way to Smallville? Helicopter? Very well." He clicked the phone closed. "Ten minutes. You better head out. Don't 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. "You're in seclusion or whatever. How will you explain--" He pointed to Lex's belly.

"Okay. You see a fat man. Is the first thing that comes to mind that he's pregnant?" Clark shook his head. "I'll drop some careful hints about my medication causing glandular swelling. As I said, it's Smallville. No one questions much around here. But I will insist no pictures. I'll be fine. Now, go."

"Lex--"

"Go. I'll see you in about three hours, okay?"

"Not if I drive like you."

Lex laughed, and Clark's 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 wasn't 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 he'll want you with him. Just in case you had to leave, I got you one of the packages the school sends to freshmen who can't make pre-orientation." He picked up a stuffed manila envelope. "There's a video, brochures, etc. Sorry you can't stay the whole weekend."

"Me, too." They shook hands.

Clark grabbed his things, said goodbye to the few acquaintances he'd 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. He'd spun his story to the most sympathetic-looking of the two officers who'd 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 wasn't another word for it. He panicked because he was big and fat and he didn't 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 don't 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 they'd 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 wasn't going to wear purple for at least a week.

"Donovan, will you go check to make sure the guard's family is being taken care of?" Donovan nodded and left. "Vi, will you call the hospital and see how the survivors from the sheriff's 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 don't think I did too badly," he said defensively.

"But you didn't 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 don't get it, either one of you."

"Don't get what, Lex?" Martha asked gently.

"I knew Clark would come. I couldn't 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 Clark's 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 didn't dig any deeper because I didn't 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 haven't?"

"I'm not trying to do anything; I am telling you that you haven't," Lex said flatly.

"You self-righteous-- You have no idea what we've done to protect him."

"I know what you haven't done. You haven't gotten rid of the ship. You haven't found the key. And you haven't taught him to lie worth two cents."

"Sorry I wasn't 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 haven't done all we could to protect Clark."

"Within reason," Lex muttered.

"What?"

"I said you've done all you could to protect Clark within reason. That's a stipulation, Jonathan, a condition."

"Our love for Clark doesn't have conditions," Martha said firmly.

"Would you kill for Clark?"

"If it came down to Clark or--"

"There was no if' in the question. You find out someone's a threat to Clark. What do you do?" Lex shook his head as Martha and Jonathan shared a perplexed look. "It's not a trick question."

Jonathan narrowed his lips. "What's 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. "It's 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 won't do for me."

"Clark, we--"

"It's okay, Mom. There are things I wouldn't want you to do. I don't 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 didn't exactly make Lex look like a dutiful ersatz son-in-law.

Clark grinned. "I wouldn't exactly call you hopeless." He sobered and looked at all the juiced up equipment. "Were you hurt this afternoon and didn't tell me?"

"Just a case of overacting," Lex said quickly. "I was tired of answering questions and pulled the tired' 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 you're fine."

"Calling me a liar?"

"Yes." Clark perched on the edge of the bed and reached out to feel Lex's forehead. "Thanks for watching him, Mom and Dad, but now I need to talk with him alone."

Martha nodded. "Of course. Since we weren't expecting you home until Sunday, don't worry about your chores or anything. But we wouldn't mind hearing about how it went at Met U at some point."

"I'll be home in the morning. There's 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?"

"I'm going to walk my parents down to the car."

Martha kissed his cheek and told him she'd see him tomorrow. Jonathan patted his shoulder and said that even though he hadn't 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 won't disturb us until it's time for your late snack."

"What's 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 Lex's pajama top.

"You're scaring me," Lex said as his fingers combed tenderly through Clark's 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 doesn't have a heartbeat. Fear is sitting by that same person's bedside wondering if he's 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. They'd 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, but... The mention of labs and experiments is a trigger for me, like Pavlov's whistle to his dogs. You're 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 Clark's lips. "Don't. 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 Dad's good side?" He lifted his head and rested his chin in his palm, his eyes looking directly into Lex's. "I wasn't surprised you confronted them. The way they do things... You don't trust them to protect me. You consider them a threat."

"No! You don't think I would--"

"Eliminate them?" Clark smiled. "No, I don't. You love me too much for that. You even love them." He took a deep breath and Lex saw something peculiar in Clark's 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. It's too dangerous. Meteor rock and meteor mutants. We were moving to Metropolis in a couple of months anyway so you'd be closer to the hospital."

"We were moving to Metropolis because of your college career. Sure, I could head to Metropolis now, but I don't want to leave you behind."

"We could say I was working for you. I could be, like, your paid companion or something."

"More like or something,'" 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."

"You're the admitted better liar--you come up with something."

"How about it's August, and Clark starts college in a week'?"

Clark sat all the way up. "I'm serious about this, Lex. I want us out of Smallville now."

"I can't take you from your parents. They're counting on having you around this summer. It's going to be hard enough watching you leave later."

"They'll deal," Clark mumbled as he picked at Lex's blanket.

"Why don't we discuss this after your birthday?"

"I don't have to be here for my birthday, Lex. It's never been a big' day. Besides, it's 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 it's 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 it's 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 won't 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. "You're not safe here, Lex, and...and it's really, really scaring me. I don't 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 shouldn't be rushed. But Lex didn't 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. "I'll do it, and he doesn't have a week. We'll be in Metropolis Sunday for your exam. We might as well stay."

"Sunday! Clark, that's less than two days away. We can't possibly--"

Clark shushed him with a kiss. "You're a Luthor. Anything's possible. We can take Cook with us, right?" He bounced off the bed and headed for the door. "Her food is only second to Mom's."

"What about your parents, Clark?"

"Thirty minutes away by helicopter, less than that by foot. Besides, there's 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 he'd 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 U's 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 he'd 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. There'd 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 didn't agree, and it bothered him that he couldn't figure it out. It was only as he listened to the two deejays that it had become clear to him. Apparently Lex's return to the city wasn't 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 hadn't 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 didn't care because the people didn't care. He didn't 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 Lex's 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 didn't care. He knew how precious acceptance was to Lex, how he pretended that the way people in Smallville automatically shied away from him didn't hurt...

He picked up the cell phone from the passenger's seat.

"Your ass better be on its way to Smallville," he got instead of the usual "hello."

"And if it isn't?" he asked, grinning at the greeting.

"I'll send Geoffrey after you, and since you like and respect him, and you wouldn't want him to lose his job..."

Clark laughed. "As if you'd fire Geoffrey."

"I wouldn't have to fire him; he'd quit because he'd consider himself washed up if he couldn't handle a good' teenager like you."

Clark thought about it and agreed. "Doesn't matter because I'm passing Exit 115 at the moment. Halfway there."

"Shouldn't you be concentrating on traffic and not a phone call?"

"Well, I'm 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 hadn't made me leave from campus, we could be having a good time discussing Dr. Rhein's comments on the Peloponnesian conflict."

"And it would have been midnight before you got home."

"I could have left in the morning."

"Clark..." Lex drawled.

Clark could hear the rest of the argument although Lex was quiet. We've 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. "I'm 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 didn't 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?"

"I've been pushing, haven't I?"

Clark glanced at the speedometer and realized Lex wasn't the only one pushing. He eased back to a respectable speed. "Yes."

"And you've let me."

Clark nodded, although he knew Lex couldn't 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 didn't want to know. Clark let Lex push because he knew Lex needed to control something and since Clark's actions had taken away most of his choices... "Why are we getting into this now?"

"Maybe because you're in the middle of doing something I've pushed you into doing?"

Lex's 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, I'm 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 didn't know anything about, and not getting Clark anything for his eighteenth birthday? Wasn't going to happen. "You almost had me, Lex. But not quite. So, what did you get me?"

He was rewarded by a chuckle. "You'll find out when you get back on Sunday."

"But that's a whole day after my birthday."

"Good things come to those who wait."

Clark snickered. "You sound like my dad."

"That's 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 he'd 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."

"I'm sure that's 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 yeah' 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 you're driving--I don't care how special you are!"

"This isn't phone sex?"

"No. When we have phone sex, you'll definitely know it--and you'll 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 Lex's voice. It was so much easier to play Lex when the man couldn't 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 mother's 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 hadn't told him a thing, but that hadn't been the point anyway. The point had been to lift Lex's spirits, and he'd 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 wasn't upset. "Let me have a look at you."

"It's 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. You're starting to sound just like him."

"And that's 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 Lex's 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, I'm 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 hadn't talked to her boys just yesterday.

"They're fine. I felt the baby move the other night."

"You didn't tell me that!" Martha chided him. "He's what? About twenty-six weeks along?"

"Yeah. We're expecting a growth cycle soon. Kinda why I wasn't 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 there's only so much he can eat in a day." He frowned. "He's still losing body fat, and he never had that much to begin with. There's, like, nothing between his skin and his bones, especially in the spots where there's no muscle. Sometimes... sometimes I think he's just slowly melting away."

"You both just have to hang on in there," Jonathan said. "He's going into the third trimester, right? Not much longer."

Clark nodded. "And as you told me, he's no quitter. We spend most of our evenings out on the terrace--we're so high up we don't 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.

"Lex's bed is pretty crowded, Dad, since he's usually hooked up to one machine or another at night." He stomped into the house and called over his shoulder, "It's about more than just sex, you know."

Martha came up behind him as he slumped into a chair at the kitchen table. "I don't think that's what your father meant."

Clark closed his eyes. "I know. I'm sorry, Dad. I'm just--uneasy leaving Lex. I didn't want to come here. Not that I didn't 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 he's bound and determined that my life be normal. Frankly, I think he watched too much television when he was a kid. He wouldn't know normal if it bit him on the butt."

"You need to talk to him, honey."

Clark shook his head. "Lex thinks he's doing this totally for my benefit, but it's for his, too. He has such little control left in his own life, he's controlling mine instead."

"All the more reason to talk to him," Jonathan declared.

Clark gave a sad smile. "It's 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. We're both trying to do the right thing for each other, and it's just ending up--wrong."

"Clark, if you're this unhappy--"

"Mom, Lex playing puppet master with my life isn't what's making me unhappy. It's the reason why he's playing it that's 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 he'd lost active control of his own life."

"That's one of the reasons," Clark said shakily. "The other one is that he wants to make sure I have you guys and my friends to...help me if--if he doesn't make it."

"Oh, baby."

His mom's arms wrapped tightly around him, and he could feel his father's firm grasp on his shoulder. "So that's the real reason why I'm here even though I don't want to be. I'm here because Lex is right--I am going to need you if I lose Lex."

"He's already survived so much, son."

Clark looked up at his dad. "The baby probably had a lot to do with that. Without the baby... We just don't 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 don't know."

"My money's on Lex."

"Mine, too, Dad."

"But it's better to be prepared for the worst. You know we're 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 we're 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. "You're 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. "That's a bit over the top, isn't it?"

"True. The time for your death was long past at that moment. You should have been strangled by the cord of your mother's womb."

That...hurt. "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. He'd 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."

"You're right. He's not the responsible party. Two graves weren't 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. He'd 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 didn't believe in hell and certainly didn't believe Julian was there. But... Fuck, he had to get out of this nightmare.

"You are an insidious cancer. You invade your victims' 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 she'd 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 wouldn't even be caught dead in a white suit."

"But it's 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 I've killed is Roger Nixon and he deserved to die!"

"And what of him?"

He knew he shouldn't follow her finger, knew it was going to be something he didn't 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 wasn't dead then, and he's 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.

"I've 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 Clark's chest. "No. I wouldn't. He's 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 he'd 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 Clark's speed, they barely made it before Lex was throwing up last week's meal. Afterwards, he leaned back against Clark, shivering with sweat and remembered nightmares.

"It's 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. "Where's 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 shouldn't 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.

"I'm 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. It's set up on the terrace."

"Like the one in the loft?" Clark asked dutifully as he helped Lex undress.

"No. Better. You'll be able to see much, much more."

"It sounds great. I can't wait to use it." Clark reached into the drawer for Lex's pajamas and started back toward the bed.

Lex shivered when he saw what was in Clark's 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 wasn't 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. "I'm going to call Vi now."

Lex put his hand on Clark's arm. "I bought you a telescope because I wanted you to know that I accept all of you--the man that you've become here on Earth and the alien that comes from out there. I wanted you to know that you are more human than I'll ever be, no matter what you discover about yourself or where you came from."

Clark sat heavily on the edge of the bed. "All I've ever wanted is acceptance, and I find it every moment I'm with you. The telescope wasn't needed. But thank you. After I call Vi, I'm 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 he'd 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 he'd heard. The images refused to be forgotten and the words... The wire hanger that would've completed that act would have been blessed by many.

Lex closed his eyes and tried to convince himself he wasn't 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 baby's 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 he'd 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. He'd grabbed the towel bar from Lex, but that hadn't stopped Lex; he took his suddenly empty hand and swept everything from the marble counters.

Clark wrapped his arms around Lex, lifting him from harm's way as bottles of cologne and bath salts smashed against hard marble tile. "Get out of here, Vi," he'd called to the woman he could see reflected behind him in a million pieces of fractured glass. He'd have enough difficulty keeping Lex from getting cut; he didn't 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? What's wrong with you?" he'd 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. He'd gone from looking like he'd swallowed a watermelon to looking like he'd swallowed one of those huge, blue ribbon-winning, "damn, what kind of fertilizer did they use," pumpkins at the State Fair. Lex' fair skin was distressingly thin, and there were angry red marks vertically striping his belly. Clark reached out to make sure they weren't bleeding.

"Stretch marks."

"Do they hurt?"

Lex gazed down at himself. "More than you'll ever know."

Clark was out of his league and knew it. "They'll fade, right? I've seen the commercials for creams and lotions and--"

"I'm so sick of this," Lex said as if Clark wasn't talking. "I'm sick of not recognizing myself. I'm sick of shunts and IVs and blood samples and fucking forcing down food I don't want. I'm sick of being sick and being held hostage in this godforsaken place. I'm sick of Vi and..." Lex shook his head.

"And me," Clark finished for him. "You're sick of me?"

"I'm 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, Pam...they tried and eventually they succeeded, but that first time...when they didn't 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 wasn't such a bad idea because at least then I'd still look good. But I'm dying young and I'm hideous. Life having one final laugh at my fucking expense. I'm 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, he'd snap out of whatever this was, that they both would. "Come on, Lex. Let's get this wrapped around you and get out of here."

"I disgust you, don't I? That's why you want me to cover myself."

"No, Lex. But you're making yourself--"

"You used to get hard just looking at me. Are you hard now, Clark?"

"There's 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. "Don't need X-ray vision to the see the answer to my question." He turned back to the remains of the mirror. "I've 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 wasn't 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 Vi's question. "He has stretch marks. I told him they would fade."

"Of course they will. I got them when I was pregnant, too. We'll 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. "You're going to be late for class if you don't hurry, Clark."

"I don't--"

"Don't make me feel worse by skipping class."

Which left Clark with no option but to go to class. He'd checked between morning classes and found out Lex was sleeping. Now he was hesitating to make the call again. He didn't know what to say to make Lex feel better. He didn't know how to help Lex. Being eighteen wasn't 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, wouldn't 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, wouldn't 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 don't know how he did it, but he got out of the building without anyone knowing about it."

Clark wasn't 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? "I'm on it, Vi. I'll call if I find him."

He shouldered his backpack and headed for the parking lot. Lex had promised he wouldn't leave so he didn't have to race to the airport. That just left the entire metro area to search. No big deal. Wasn't like he had anything better to do. Just class...and a few minutes where he didn't have to worry about how he'd completely fucked up his and Lex's 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 didn't 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, he'd 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 didn't get burned), farmer (because, thank God, even his dad didn't think he'd 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 wasn't running away; he'd 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, wouldn't it?

He parked the truck and scanned the area. Lex sat under a tree away from, but in direct sight of, his mother's 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 Clark's 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?"

"I'm...maintaining. It's the best I'm 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 mother's grave. "Come home for lunch tomorrow. My lawyer will be there with papers for you to sign now that you're eighteen."

"Lex--"

"I need to know it's done."

Clark closed his eyes and nodded. "Will it help you sleep at night?"

"According to the research, it's usual for pregnancy to cause weird dreams."

"The way your heartbeat races I don't think weird' 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, you'll 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, I'll whisper to your conscience that it needs to settle down, that there's nothing to fret over, that you're doing just fine according to both the laws of man and the laws of nature."

"Cassandra Carver doesn't think so."

A chill crawled along Clark's spine. "My parents think she was just a mixed up old lady."

Shaded lenses focused on him. "What do you think?"

Clark couldn't lie; he'd based too many of his own fears on Cassandra's visions. But... "I think you aren't the same Lex Luthor Cassandra met. You've 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 wasn't your lover."

"When you weren't sure if you could love or be loved. You aren't that same person now, are you?" Clark asked worriedly.

"No, I'm not."

Clark grinned before quickly sobering. "Then whatever Cassandra is telling you is wrong. You're alive and have changed. She's dead and can't change. Don't have faith in the words of the dead; they don't know the whole story. They don't know what's come after.'"

"How'd 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 that's just--what do they say?--that's just window-dressing. So, if you'd 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 Clark's 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 we're 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 can't 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 hadn't made your promise to me, I might have gotten scared, too."

Lex touched his face when he moved to close the door. "'Zealous, yet modest; innocent, though free; Patient of toil, serene amidst alarms; Inflexible in faith, invincible in arms.'1 How I hope your inflexibility in faith does not betray you."

"You won't betray me."

"Just remember your promise."

Clark gave him a quick kiss and closed the door. "You worry too much. You're going to get gray hairs."

"Oh, the horror," Lex quipped.

"It is," Clark said as he slid behind the wheel. "Just think, you'll take our baby to the park and they'll think you're his grandpa. And when they see us together, they'll think you're my dad, or worse, some old perv with a handsome, young boy toy."

"And that'll 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 Lex's hand. "Hey, take it easy."

Lex gasped out a final chuckle. "Sorry. I know it wasn't that funny, but it just felt good to laugh."

"You don't do it often enough." Clark headed back toward the penthouse.

"I know. But...I 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 it's 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 she'd 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, you're 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 Jonathan's farm animals."

"Eww, Lex."

"Maybe there was a reason you liked hanging around the barn at night."

"If you weren't pregnant, I'd 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 won't be too angry."

"Yeah, right. You hate the mall."

"Not the whole mall. In fact..."

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 Lex's 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. "Don't you ever call me kinky again."

Lex shrugged. "It's 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. "That's 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. He'll find me anywhere. A delay will just piss him off needlessly."

Spy network? "He knows you went missing."

"No other reason he'd be here."

"But... 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 didn't 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 don't waddle." He should since his center of gravity was way off. But he didn't. 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 wasn't expecting visitors."

"I would think that by now, even you should have learned to expect the unexpected." Lionel pointedly looked at Lex's 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 don't want to appear as being hostile."

"Trying to improve your image? I'm 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 you're thinking, Dad, and then we can move on."

Lionel blinked. "You carry like your mother. I'll be in the study when you're ready to conduct business. Your nurse is waiting to serve you lunch." He turned on his heels and left the room.

Luthors. Clark knew he'd never understand them. From the stunned look on Lex's 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 hadn't been too bad. After his meltdown over the stretch marks, he'd 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 couldn't 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 they'd watched the city's fireworks display from the comfort of the patio. He'd been treated to Jonathan's wicked sense of humor, and Martha had fed him continuously--which wasn't that difficult because he'd been ravenous since that big growth period. He'd 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, How to Work with Wide-loads.' 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 Jesus, Joseph, and Mary' kind of headache?"

He wanted to roll his eyes, but winced instead. "The first kind."

"For how long?"

"Started yesterday."

"And you didn't say anything?"

He shrugged again. "It wasn't all that painful. I've had worse." Besides, it was Clark's first day of classes. If he'd mentioned the headache, there was no way he'd 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 not good.' I'm 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, you're home already?" he asked, turning his head toward the touch.

"It's after five, Lex."

"Oh." He could hear voices outside the room. "What's going on?"

"We're getting ready to take you to the hospital."

Clark looked so solemn and scared, Lex figured reassurance was in order. "I'll be okay. Fevers are no big deal. Well, maybe for freaks like you and me, but the doctors, they're used to them. They'll have it under control soon."

Clark gave a small smile. "You're a Luthor; you've 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 Clark's face. "You're such a drama queen, Lex. I'm real. The conversation is real."

"Then why are your eyes causing me to uncharacteristically panic?"

Clark sat gingerly on the bed. "They can't figure out what's wrong with you. That's why they're taking you to the hospital. And that's why I'm scared."

Lex nodded, not too fevered to follow Clark's thoughts. At eight months into the pregnancy, Clark couldn't 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 Clark's face. He'd done him no favors by going along with Clark's daft "you won't die unless you allow it" belief. Life and death didn't work that way. He should've spent the time preparing Clark for the inevitable...for 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 wouldn't have been, but three years... There wasn't an expletive explicit enough to convey the unfairness of that.

Lex's eyes went to the door as it opened. Clark jerked awake. It was Dr. Kingsley. Lex knew instantly it wasn't good news.

"Lex, I'm glad you're awake," Kingsley said, and Lex felt Clark look at him in surprise.

"Do you know what's wrong?" Lex asked, reaching out for Clark's 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, "He's pregnant."

"Rejecting it? Why now?" Clark asked. "He's been pregnant for eight months!"

Kingsley shrugged. "Despite the advanced technology at our fingertips, there are many things we still don't know about the human body, Clark. One of them is why all pregnancies aren't 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 doesn't explain why it's happening now," Clark insisted.

"What we're pretty sure of is that a successful pregnancy somehow either suppresses the mother's immune system or tricks it into believing there's 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 wasn't 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 wasn't 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.

"...that 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 wasn't 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 Lex's mind filled in what Kingsley wasn't saying. Like, "Sure, we can keep him living the few weeks he has left. After all, he's 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 wasn't going to survive. Fuck it. Might as well have them cut it out so his corpse wouldn't be too messy. Didn't want a gaping wound hidden beneath the deep purple shirt he'd 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, Clark's baby--would make annual pilgrimages like he'd done to Lillian's 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 his...castoffs. 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 don't you go get some coffee and food?"

"You don't want me here." A statement. "Fine. I don't think I want to hear what you're going to say to them anyway." He stood, walked to the door, and told the nurse to get his parents. "I'll be back in half an hour."

"Clark."

He turned and gave a half-smile. "Don't sell me short after all this time, Lex."

Clark knew and wasn't 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. I'm sorry about the preemptory summons."

"Hush, son. Being here for you and Clark is part of our jobs as parents. You'll learn that soon enough," Jonathan said with a smile.

Lex tried to return the smile but couldn't 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. I've made sure that there is no way Lionel can contest any of it, and if he tries, well, that's been taken care of, too. The penthouse and half my assets are already in Clark's 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.

"Vi's cousin has consented to be the baby's nurse. The rest of the staff has been given the option of staying on or leaving. All, I'm 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 won't allow him to use his wealth in the appropriate manner."

"By appropriate manner, you mean?"

"To give his life ease, Jonathan. He's going to be a single father...at 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 shouldn't be penalized or punished for that. It's 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. "There's no way Clark could ever end up like me. You raised him for fifteen years. That's 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 that's 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 family's money. I admit I was a brat, but I wasn't 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. "There's 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 won't 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 who'd 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. He'd be shy around strangers, talkative with friends, and he'd roll his eyes when Clark inevitably gave him "the talk." He'd--

A hand touched his and he looked up into Clark's 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.

"It's 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 don't know how long I have before I drift off again."

"Okay." The soothing cloth continued swiping him.

"I don't want to die." There was a brief pause in movement, then the damp cloth continued. "But I'm not afraid of it either. I wanted to be great, and I am. I'm doing something no one else will ever be able to do. I'm giving you your firstborn child. No matter who--who you settle with after I'm gone, no matter how many more children you have, I'm giving you your first. And we already know he's going to be as special as you. Maybe the world won't know where this gift came from, but he'll 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. Then..." 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, "I'll tell Dr. Kingsley."

*****

"That feels so good." Lex wiggled his toes in appreciation as Clark bathed them.

"You've 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 toes...shit," he hissed as his big toe disappeared into Clark's mouth.

"Should I--" Clark said as he licked the creases of each individual toe, "--be jealous--of your--pedicurist?"

"Only if you're jealous of my proctologist."

Clark sank his teeth into the ball of Lex's foot in answer. Despite the excess weight, Lex raised three inches off the bed. Clark laughed and reached for the slit in Lex's 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 didn't 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."

*****

"It's a boy, isn't 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.

"Something's different."

"What?"

"The walls of the womb seem thinner, like maybe it's 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 seems...dissolved? Around the edges."

Lex laughed. Then started coughing. He could hear Clark yelling for Vi, and he tried to stop--laughing and coughing--but... Finally, he calmed down enough to smile at Clark. "We've all been idiots. I'm not dying. I'm 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 won't. Dr. Kingsley says it'll 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 Clark's 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. He's 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 where's our little miracle?"

"Up in the nursery. Mom and Dad are with him. I can go get him. And..."

"And?"

Clark grinned. "It's a surprise--something you have to see for yourself. I'll be back, but it might take a while. Clearance from the nurses, wrestling him from Mom, assuring Dad I won't drop him..."

Lex gave a tired smile. "You fight menacing, murderous meteor mutants without breaking a sweat, yet you're frightened of the most benign of humans--parents and medical staff. Come here, and I'll 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. He'd just closed his eyes when the door opened again. "Forget something, Mr. Superhero?"

No answer. He opened his eyes. It wasn't Clark. "Oh, Dad, it's 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 Jonathan's warning to let the new family bond in privacy and went to Lex's 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. Lex's bed was empty.

"Where's Lex?" she asked. "It's too soon for him to be up walking around."

"He's gone," Clark said, not turning around.

"Gone? They took him for tests?"

"No."

"What do you mean, no'? Clark, turn around and tell me what's going on," she demanded edgily.

That was when she saw the tears on Clark's cheeks. Juggling the baby into one arm, he held out a scrap of paper. "He's gone, along with his things. He left us, Mom."

"But..." She glanced at the paper. There were just three words, written in Lex's deliberate script: Remember your promise. "I don't--I don't understand," she whispered.

"He's a Luthor; we're not supposed to," Clark sighed. With that, he turned back toward the window.

Martha sat on the bed and tried for her son's and grandson's 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 White's. 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. "Andy's not looking for me, is he?"

"At the moment both he and your father have forgotten your existence. They're 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 didn't 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. He'd 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 hadn't 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.

"I'm 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 isn't 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 couldn't. 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 didn't want to think about. At least, unlike his birth parents, Lex hadn't thrown him away by himself. No, this time he had a son to distract him, to keep him focused and grounded. A mercy he wasn't sure Lex realized he'd granted.

"I'm coping. No drug or alcohol abuse. No hiding out at the penthouse or becoming the campus slut. I'm a responsible parent, Mom. I go to school, then come home."

"But when do you live, Clark? Yes, you're a parent, but you're also a person, an individual with your own needs. I've begged you to leave Andy here for a weekend or even a week--"

"Andy is my life. I don't need anything else."

"A very big responsibility for a two-year-old."

"I have you and Dad, Pete and Chloe. It's 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 couldn't his mother understand that he didn't want to think about it, that he didn't 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 he'd 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 weren't the actions of someone ready to bolt. Besides, he'd just been literally gutted. Nothing should have been dire enough to motivate him out of bed so soon. So, Clark had concluded Lex hadn't left on his own.

Because of his close relationship with Lex's medical team, Clark had learned Lex's release had been instigated by Lionel, that Lex in fact had left with Lionel. Lex's 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 Lex's "prison." He'd 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? Wasn't going to happen.

Hold on, Lex, he'd 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, he'd 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, he'd 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 he'd seen it on Lex's face in the sinkhole, had heard it in his voice during that telephone call.

Clark, knowing Lex's 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 he'd lost his sense of self and was trying to find it. In the crotches of women. She hadn't 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 hadn't 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. He'd drooled over the plasma TV, hogged the PlayStation, emptied the fridge, and got waterlogged in the Jacuzzi. He hadn't 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. "We'll whup your asses but good. If it hadn't been for your quarterback--"

"Oh, Clark," Trina had interrupted. "You're 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. I'll be back in a few." He'd followed Trina into the nursery.

When he came out, Pete was sprawled in Lex's 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 Luthor's bitch? Taking care of his kid, keeping his household orderly," he'd sneered.

"Andy's mine."

Clark hadn't 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 didn't even know you weren't 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 Lex's bitch. And together we made a baby."

"Nooo." Pete leapt out of the chair. "You're my boy, Clark, not some-- What the fuck did he do to you! It's 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 hasn't brainwashed me or hypnotized me, or poisoned me with meteor rock. I--I fell in love. It's as simple as that."

"No, man, he did something. He seduced you, didn't he? Always making you the center of his attention, showing up at the Talon for no other reason than to see you. It's 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 wasn't rape, Pete. It was nowhere near being rape. And if you mention the cops again, we aren't going to be friends. Understand?"

Pete sat back on his heels. "Well, then, we'll tell your parents and--"

"They already know."

"And Luthor's still alive?"

Clark gave a weak chuckle. "Yeah."

Pete pondered that for a long moment. "But...but what about Lana?"

"At first, it was just a reaction to her meteorite necklace. I'm the idiot who thought weak-kneed equaled love. Later, it was just my way of trying to be normal. Aliens didn't do normal things like fall for the town princess, so if I did..."

"It meant you weren't an alien," Pete murmured softly.

"Or so I told myself," Clark finished dryly. "But I got tired of pretending to be who I wasn't, 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 didn't 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 weren't pregnant when we graduated."

"I never was."

"But--" Pete's eyes widened. "Luthor? Oh, shit, that whole being sick thing. He was pregnant?" Clark nodded. Pete started laughing.

"Don't. He really was sick. We weren't sure he would survive."

Pete quickly sobered. "Damn. I can only imagine how he-- That had to be a hell of a mindfuck. Think I'd go out and dip my wand in as many bushes that I could afterwards, too. That's what he's doing, right? Heard there wasn't an Oriental pussy he hadn't--" Clark glared, and Pete realized what he was saying. "Shit. Sorry about that, Clark. I mean, if you love him..."

"I do. But you're right. He was traumatized by this mess and he's...I don't know. I've 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?"

Clark's jaw dropped to the floor. "You're defending Lex Luthor?"

"No! It's just--he had a baby, Clark. If there's anything to tie your balls in a knot, I just think that'll do it."

Balls in a knot. He'd 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 hadn't 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 it's safe to say Lex has the better 'end'," the female half of the duo replied.

"Margo, you slut! I'm 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 couldn't 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 hadn't been enough, had it?

The press knew about the baby--a new Luthor couldn't be hidden--but they surprisingly left the story alone. Apparently, fathering a child by surrogate because you thought you were dying wasn't a story they were willing to touch. Or Lex and/or Lionel had made sure of Clark's and Andy's privacy by whatever means Luthors usually used. What really surprised Clark was that Lionel hadn't tried anything, not even an accidental meeting at the park or during one of Andy's checkups. Was Lex and Lionel so much alike that both could just erase the memory of a little boy's 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 Lex's 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 it's 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. "I'll 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. "I'm going to wrap up the rest of it for you to take back with you tomorrow, Clark. Unless..."

"I want Andy back into his normal routine before classes start, Mom. If I don't--" 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 wasn't 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 I'd 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 didn't 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. "I'm back for good, Clark."

"Like your cars foreign, but your women domestic?"

Lex snorted. "I see you've been reading the Inquisitor."

"You're 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 I've 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 one's castoff whore?"

"Clark! You don't think--"

Clark didn't 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. "I'll give it to my son when he wakes up."

"It's for both of you."

"Where shall we send the thank-you note?"

"I'll 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 I'm 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. He'd 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."

"He's gone?"

"To the castle."

"Did he...did 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 can't buy our love, Dad. It doesn't work like that."

Jonathan shrugged. "Maybe he's not trying to buy love, son; maybe he's trying to give it."

"Too little too late," Clark replied bitterly.

"Why don't you open it and see?"

"Why don't you?" He shoved the box in his father's direction.

Jonathan bent down and retrieved the box. Clark didn't 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 don't--"

"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. He'd 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 didn't even want to consider what Martha could have done to him.

No, it hadn't 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 one's castoff whore?"

"Oh, Clark," he moaned aloud as he refilled his glass. "If anyone's a whore, it's me."

He wasn't 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, he'd been in a Tokyo suite, swigging champagne with his assistant.

"He signed. I can't 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 market's 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 doesn't swing that way."

"Hell, when it comes to a good blow job, we all swing that way."

"You know it's a good thing I left you here in Tokyo. You're 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 girl's mother had only exchanged first names, but Wu had found out hers and about the pregnancy. Knowing he'd be disowned if his family found out about an illegitimate child, Wu had tried to forget that he had a child somewhere. It hadn't 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-old's life through the internet. Someone really needed to put a stop to that.

Chow shook his head. "I don't understand it. Yeah, sure you speak Mandarin better than I do, and yeah, you have that respect your elders' thing down pat, but..."

"But I'm still an oddity. Maybe that's what Wu likes about me. Maybe he likes collecting oddities. Or maybe my head reminds him of Buddha's stomach," Lex said with a brief smile. "Let it go, Chow. We have the deal. And I'm headed back to the good ol' US of A."

Chow's narrow eyes widened as far as they could. "Why? You're kicking ass all over us humbled Orientals. I'm sure there's some pissant little country around here you haven't put under the Double L aegis yet." Double L--easier, according to his assistant, than all the syllables LexCorp and LuthorCorp required.

Lex smirked. "I've 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 hadn't 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 they'd 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 find' includes the verbs buy, barter, burgle, blackmail, bribe, and browbeat."

Clark sprawled on the opposite sofa, and Lex could see how he'd 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.

"I'm 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 Lex's glass. Draining the small amount left in the glass, he placed both items on the table behind his sofa. "When you get alliterative, you've 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 hasn't slept in days.

"No wonder you look like the living dead."

"You don't."

Clark stilled and whatever fondness he had for Lex seemed to leave. "I can't 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, you're out of it. This discussion has waited two years. It can wait until you've had enough sleep."

"So, another two years then?" Lex remarked bitterly.

"If you're going for the pity angle, don't. You don't deserve my pity."

"And if you weren't worried about the implications of my gift, you wouldn't be here, right? I'm surprised you opened it so soon."

"I didn't; 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 I'm 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. You're not very careful. I warned you about that."

"Yeah, you warned me about everybody but you," Clark retorted.

"I didn't warn you about me because I figured I'd 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 Clark's 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 I'll 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 you're not on the same medication I am, Dad?"

"Would you like to see the photographs? Read Hamilton's reports? Watch Nixon's 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 Aliens Among Us--In Search of Breeding Stock?'"

"Fuck you, Dad!"

"Unlike you, I'm more particular about what I fuck, so no thank you, son."

Lex's head swam as he sat up, hissing as his bare feet touched the cold floor. "I think I'm 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. "You'd 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."

Lex's 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 wouldn't have been able to leave."

Silence. "Why are you back now? If Lionel Luthor was dead, I'm 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?" Clark's disbelief was obvious.

"Each deal has a hidden codicil that, in layman's 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, wasn't 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 didn't say anything. Lex examined the remaining contents of the bar.

"So are you the new president of LuthorCorp?"

Lex shook his head. "This wasn't 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 don't want it until it is."

"With Lionel running it, it may never be."

"Oddly enough, now that I've earned his respect, he's 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. I've been fighting for it for two years and although I've won one battle, I know the war is not over."

"I don't want to be at war with you. But it's 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 didn't have us watched while you were gone? No photos, video?"

"I'm 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 didn't care.

*****

Clark removed the child car seat deftly, smiling wistfully as he remembered how long it'd taken him to learn how to do it properly. The instructions hadn't really helped, so finally he'd gone to a "car seat clinic" held by the Metropolis Red Cross. From the crowd, he realized he wasn't 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 he'd had to stretch the seatbelt around Lex after he'd made the getaway to his mother's 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 didn't seem inclined to get away from him. What happened the next time Lionel yanked Lex's chain? Andy didn't 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 Lex's relationship with his son be like a divorced parent's--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.

Lex's 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 Lionel's devious hand in the separation. Or maybe before. The more he thought about it, the more he realized he'd forgiven Lex back in a hospital room two years ago. Lex was not an impulsive man; he always had a reason. Therefore, he'd had a reason for walking out on his lover and his son. Clark had known this and accepted it every time he'd stashed away another magazine, every time he'd told Andy about the one who'd 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 wasn't quite as formal as she threw her arms around him. "We missed you, Lex," she whispered in his ear.

Lex's 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. "He's 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 wasn't enough light to allow Lex to see what Clark wanted him to see. He reached for the light switch on the wall.

"Don't wake him," Lex whispered quickly.

"An earthquake couldn't wake him once he's asleep," Clark replied easily. "He's like a light bulb--either he's off or he's on, no in-between." Light flooded the bedroom. Andy didn't twitch.

Lex stiffened. Clark could hear his heartbeat pound and his breath quicken. He placed a hand firmly against Lex's 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, I'd 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 didn't 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 didn't fertilize my own egg. You did, Lex. If I was the suspicious type, I'd ask if I was the only alien you'd 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. "Hasn't pulled over anything since. So, he may have the beginnings of my strength, but he's already a lot smarter."

"He's a Luthor," Lex quipped, a smirk curling his lips for the first time since his return.

"He's also inherited your love of purple."

"My sense of aesthetics," Lex corrected.

"He has red hair, Lex. Purple is not a good color."

"He'll grow into it. It's already darker than mine was at his age." Lex drew up straight. "I hate my father."

"No, you don't."

"He kept me from my son for two years!"

"And if you weren't who you are, it would have been longer. But you're back now."

"I'm going to kill him."

Clark shook his head and cupped Lex's chin so he could stare into his eyes. "No, you're not. You're going to concentrate on getting to know your child and getting to know me again."

"If he threatens either one of you again, I can't 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. "Don't leave me again," he begged when the kiss broke. "I don't care how you handle any threat in the future, just don't leave me, Lex."

"I won't," 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 lover's. He lost himself in sensation until he heard Lex's soft chuckle against his ear. "What?" he asked indulgently.

"Mansion, Clark. Bed. Sheets. Lube. Condoms. Not that I don't 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 hadn't even been able to find his book. But... "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? They're 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 McDonald's 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."

"We'll 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 Andy's 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. They'd 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 you're pouting."

"I'm 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. "You're so silly, Papa."

"If I wasn't driving, I'd 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 he'd been trying so hard not to miss Clark himself that he'd totally overlooked Andy's expected reaction.

He was never going to get this "father" thing right. Good thing they'd be with Jonathan soon.

"I miss him, too, Andy. But you know why he had to go, right? And that he'll be back as soon as he can?"

"He had to go because it was portant."

Lex nodded, wishing--not for the first time--that he'd never given Clark that damn key to the spaceship. It wasn't that he wasn't 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 couldn't learn in front of humans. He'd 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 I'm here to take care of you until he returns. One day you're 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. "I'm never leaving you and Daddy."

Lex laughed. "I'll 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 we're 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 didn't have his papa completely wrapped around his finger.

"I start real school next week," Andy said proudly.

"Yes, you do."

"And Saturday you're 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 Andy's playmates' mothers had volunteered, but Lex had remained adamant. Andy would shop for his school supplies with the only parent he had at the moment.

He'd been in Zen therapy for weeks in preparation.

"And I'm getting a Warrior Angel backpack?"

Lex nodded. Martha had already purchased it for Andy's 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 Martha's 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, he'd cruised down the highways with the sound system cranked high, rich boy angst blasting his ears. Now what kept him company was a small boy's 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 couldn't remember the last time he'd purchased a CD.

"When do you think Daddy will come home?"

"I honestly don't know, Andy, but I know it will be as soon as he can. He misses us the same as we miss him. He won't 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 he'd 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 hadn't looked impressed. "What's 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 Andy's head. "Nowhere, son. It's just--you know how I have Grammy and Granddad? Well, you're going to have me and your papa."

"Like Lisa's mama?"

Lisa, Lex learned later, was in Andy's 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 wasn't 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 he'd reached out both hands to Lex, demanding to be taken and held. He put both arms around Lex's 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 son's 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."

"You're 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 you're doing a remarkable job with Andy, so if you think he's suffering, let me assure you he's not. It's very good that he feels comfortable enough with you to tell you when he's hurting."

Lex nodded. "I was never comfortable with that. Mom was...fragile. 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 didn't try to talk him out of this, Martha. He needs to know who he is."

"He's a man with a family."

"Who can take care of themselves while he's away. I won't have him feeling guilty when he comes back. He already feels guilty enough about being an alien." Lex decided to change the topic since he'd 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 hadn't settled for being a housewife. "What's so fascinating in the barn?" Jonathan had hauled his grandson in there as soon as the car stopped.

"Kittens. And don't worry. Jonathan is going to tell Andy they are barn cats so he can't take one home since he doesn't have a barn."

Lex shrugged. "Let me know when they're ready to be weaned. Goldie could probably use the company." Goldie was the golden retriever they'd gotten when the country house was finished. Lex had wanted a more imaginative name but was outvoted 2 to 1.

"You're spoiling that boy."

Lex grinned. "Definitely."

"So, you won't 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 you're going to do that, why don't we do his school shopping now, too?"

"Why does everyone think I'm 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 Andy's birthday.

A nanosecond later they were in each other's arms and while they didn't 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 hadn't 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 he'd have a chance to see the more for himself before Clark had to leave again.

"Where's Dad and Birthday Boy?"

"Kittens in the barn," Lex answered. "Knowing our son, he's probably negotiating how many he can take home with him."

"Um, that would be your son," Clark replied, throwing an arm around Lex's 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 Clark's arms before the rest of them could blink.

Martha and Jonathan looked at Lex in amazement. "It's 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 weren't 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. Clark's 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.'s computer system is way beyond anything around here so I'll--"

Lex touched Clark's lips to quiet him. "School's out?"

"School's 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 couldn't 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 Clark's 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. "It's part of the glamour."

Lex nodded. A witch's appearance altering spell, also known as a glamour. The suit was similar. It altered Clark's appearance so that no one who didn't already know couldn't figure out the new superhero was actually Clark Kent. Handy since Clark was so set on helping the helpless, but... "I suppose it could have been worse, neon green or orange, maybe. But the red panties are definitely a fashion hazard."

"You're damaging my ego here, Lex."

Lex gave in and wrapped his arms around Clark's neck. "I'm 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 you're 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 I'm 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 (17351803), The Minstrel. Book i. Stanza 11.