Alexander likes eggs and toast and orange juice for breakfast.
Tess cooks for him. She dismissed most of the staff the day she brought Alexander home, unwilling to risk even the most innocuous witnesses until she could come up with a plausible cover story--and, preferably, any supporting documentation her story might require.
She's still working on both.
In the meantime, she cooks. While she stands at the stovetop scrambling eggs, Alexander sits quietly at the table, his slippered feet dangling beneath his chair, kicking absently at nothing. He reads the Daily Planet while he waits, his index finger running along under each line of type, keeping his place.
The first morning, Tess was too caught up in the surreal domesticity of it all, and didn't think to question his choice of reading material. It's on the second morning that she wonders what parts of a newspaper with barely half a page of comics could possibly interest a child; turning from the frying pan, she finds him absorbed in the financial section, reading everything, skipping nothing, leaning down to give the stock reports close study.
When he looks up--suddenly, directly at her, catching her staring--the look in his big, child's eyes is startlingly adult. But all he says is, "Something's burning, Tess."
She has to start the eggs again.
Alexander has nightmares.
Tess does, as well, sometimes. She dreams of fire, flames on her skin, a weight of heat that burns icy before the flashover, before there's nothing but screaming, flaying pain.
She can't imagine what Alexander dreams about.
One night, she's rescued from a burning dream by the quiet sound of her bedroom door opening and closing, the shuffle of small feet across the floor, the dip of her mattress and careful movement of blankets as Alexander clambers up and tucks himself in next to her. It's not the first time he's sought her out for midnight safety; she turns to watch him lay his head on the pillow, pale skin and eyes catching the moonlight through the window. "Bad dream?"
He nods solemnly, and sighs.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"I was in a metal box, and it was filling up with water, and I couldn't breathe, and I was trapped," he says, his little voice reedy in the nighttime silence. Reedy, but steady. "And the water was dirty. And there was something coming for me."
His round face is inches from hers; in the purplish circles under his eyes, the wrinkle in his brow, the slight tremble in his chin, Tess can see his every emotion, wholly unguarded. In moments like this, there's so little of the man she knew visible in the boy; if she's not careful, she could forget who--what--she's really looking at.
Freeing her hand from beneath the blankets, she smooths the fringe of hair from his forehead. "It's just a dream, Alexander."
"I know." He relaxes somewhat under her petting. His eyes drift closed. "Anyway, I've dreamt worse."
One day, Alexander begins to lose his hair.
"It's all right," he says calmly, watching Tess finger the red tufts scattered on his pillow. "The creator programmed it to fall out." It's just a matter of fact for him, something expected and natural and barely worth the explanation; Tess looks down, trying to conceal her dismay. "Only--"
He breaks off quickly, but Tess heard the catch in his voice. She looks up; his expression is troubled. "Only what?" Under her scrutiny, he drops his gaze, his silence growing deeper. Managing her own alarm, she reaches up and cups his cheek in her palm, raising his head gently until she can see his eyes again. "Alexander, what is it?"
"Only--" His hands fidget with the hem of the blanket while some internal battle wages; Tess sees it reflected in his wide, anxious eyes. "Only it's not supposed to happen until I'm nine," he says finally, and he sounds like he's announcing the end of the world. Tess doesn't understand his distress until he adds, hushed and tearful, "Does this mean I'm a bad one?"
Alexander doesn't explore the castle.
At first, Tess thinks it's because he's too used to living the circumscribed life of the lab to think of going anywhere on his own. The first few days, he stays where she puts him--his bedroom, the kitchen, the office--until she tells him it's time to go somewhere else, at which point he slips his hand into hers and follows her lead like a docile puppy. The first morning she goes to collect him for breakfast and finds his bedroom empty, she panics, only to discover him two minutes later already in the kitchen, standing on his toes to reach the juice pitcher in the refrigerator.
Even after he starts directing himself, he still doesn't wander, and Tess thinks maybe he just doesn't want to explore. Such a lack of curiosity isn't at all like Lex, and she decides--cautiously--to take Alexander's self-containment as an encouraging sign.
Late one rainy night, long after putting Alexander to bed, Tess is on the mezzanine in the office--rereading her file of research on the public face of Cadmus Labs under Luthor ownership--when her study is interrupted by a noise from below: a muffled click she places immediately as the door to the hidden compartment under the bookshelves being released. Alarmed, wondering at once how she hadn't heard an intruder enter the room and who could know how to access the compartment, she leans forward in her chair as quietly as she can and peers over the railing.
It's Alexander. As she watches, he reaches into the compartment--her first thought is that she hasn't used that compartment in years, there's nothing in it--and removes something. A piece of paper, maybe. Confusion mingling with growing dread she doesn't want to acknowledge, Tess risks sliding to the edge of her chair, almost leaving the shadows, trying to see more.
It's a picture; a photograph. She can only see a corner of it over Alexander's shoulder, but she's seen it before and knows it well: an official LuthorCorp publicity still, years old, of Lionel Luthor, all tailored suit and mane of hair and a smile combining haughty with hungry.
Alexander stands very still for a long moment, just looking at it. Tess wishes she could see more of his face; the fraction visible to her might as well be expressionless.
She put the last log on the fire over an hour ago, and it's since burned down to embers. But when Alexander touches the corner of the page-sized picture to the remaining glow, it takes only a moment for flames to begin licking up the side, curling and blackening the image of Lionel, consuming the photo.
When there's nothing left but greasy ashes, Alexander steps back from the fireplace, brushing his fingers absently on his pyjama legs. He stares into the flames as they die; then he shivers, his whole body jolting as if from a shock, and he turns and darts away, socked feet silent on the hardwood floor.
Alone again, Tess realises her hands are clenched so tightly on the armrests of her chair that she's leaving nail marks in the leather. She forces herself to relax her grip, forces herself to think calmly--and, thinking calmly, she finally understands why Alexander doesn't explore the castle.
He doesn't need to.
Conversation with Alexander develops an edge.
"Why did you bring me here?" he asks one afternoon, looking up from his sprawling model of some ancient battlefield to fix Tess with an inquisitive gaze.
She looks back steadily, her fingers paused over her laptop keyboard. "I wasn't about to leave you at Cadmus, Alexander. It was dangerous for you there." It's a truthful answer, if not a whole one.
"But this is Smallville," he replies, frowning. When she remains silent, unsure what he's driving at and unsure what to say, he adds, "It's bad here."
Tendrils of the same dread she felt the night he burned Lionel's photograph begin twining through her. "Why do you say that?"
"Things happen here. Bad things." He speaks earnestly, but there's an odd blankness behind his intensity, a disconnect. Of course there is, Tess thinks: there's no way he can know these things for himself. "There's poison all over, in the land and the food and even in the people. It makes them bad...bad people." He stops. A scowl twists his face. "Clark."
Everything inside her seizes. Just for a moment, just until she forces herself to breathe, to blink, to fix her face into as guileless an expression as she's capable of and ask, as if he hadn't just dropped a live grenade between them, "What do you know about Clark, Alexander?"
"Clark is dangerous," he spits immediately--but still, with that strange sense of distance. He glares, not at Tess, but into space, unfocused; his hands, holding two toy warriors, close tightly around them, his knuckles going white. "We can't trust him. He'll betray us." Then, all at once, he seems to bridge the gap between himself and whatever was whispering in his head; suddenly, utterly present, he looks right at Tess and asks, "Why? What do you know about Clark?"
"Alexander was the recipient of a full engrammatic transfer." Doctor Hamilton indicates the screen where a map of Alexander's brain rotates slowly, lit up with coloured outlines and pathways. "During gestation."
Tess shoots him a look of disbelief; he simply arches an eyebrow. "Why transfer everything at once?" she asks, forgoing the utterly useless questions of how Lex and his scientists even managed to achieve such a thing. "Why do it so early?"
Hamilton shrugs. "In case something happened later on to prevent further transfers?" Turning from the screen, he leans around Tess to pick up a folder from the desk and hand it to her; she opens it and skims through the materials Watchtower recovered and reconstituted from the wreckage of Cadmus as he explains. "As the human brain matures, it becomes more and more capable of accessing and processing information. Memory engrams--or traces--implanted at the very beginning of the brain's development, are stored in the clone's unconscious until his brain reaches a certain point of maturity. Each trace has a different maturation point, depending on what the memory contains and when the brain--possibly even the mind--has matured sufficiently to be able to handle it. When the brain reaches those points, the trace behaves like a regular latent memory: it surfaces into the conscious mind and becomes, for all intents and purposes, a genuine memory. The clone's as well as Lex's."
Tess looks up from the file, stricken. "Then Alexander could know everything. He could have all of Lex's memories--everything that happened to him, everything he knew, right up until he died."
"Potentially...yes." Hamilton offers a humourless half-smile. "He just doesn't know it yet."
When she finds Alexander curled up on the floor, clutching his head and whimpering as blood oozes steadily from his nose, Tess thinks it might be for the best.