Lex, half-crouched, waited for the door to open. He heard movement and some soft banging about on the other side of it, and he was going to be ready.
He was still feeling a little woozy from whatever his kidnapper had used on him in the parking lot to knock him out, but whoever it was was going to regret not tying him up before throwing him in here, wherever 'here' was. The smooth, curved metallic, all-white walls taunted him. So did the nearly-seamless door.
The door opened, and Lex launched himself forward.
Then he tried to backpedal quickly, or at least arrest his forward motion, as he recognized Clark -- trust Clark to have found him, come to save the day once again!
And while Lex wasn't able to stop in time, Clark... didn't put out his hands to catch him and help him stop. He just pitched forward.
Lex got tangled up in Clark and they both went down, backwards, back into the room.
Lex realized something was really wrong, because Clark wasn't much more than dead weight on top of him. He shoved at Clark and managed to get out from under him with some effort, then partially rolled him over.
"Clark?" he asked, pawing at him, his fingers fumbling as he tried to turn Clark's face towards him. He cursed himself, because his vision swam again and he realized that the tranquilizer wasn't completely out of his system yet.
But all Clark did was let out a low groan, and while his eyes fluttered, they weren't focusing properly.
"L-lex?" Clark said. Lex saw him try to move, but he didn't manage to do much more than twitch randomly. He wasn't breathing properly, either. "D-don't feel so... good..."
Lex's hands skimmed down over the back of Clark's neck, and then he felt the puncture wound. He leaned over Clark a little more and felt dizzy for a moment, before his eyes refocused and he saw the ugly spiderwebbing green-and-grey-black mark where Clark had been injected with something.
"AAAH!" Lex yelled as something slammed into the back of his own neck -- and slid in. He choked at the sickening sensation pooling outward from the impact and tried to reach around with both hands to remove whatever it was, but felt a foot in his back and was sharply shoved forward off of it before he could grasp it. He collapsed on top of Clark, shaking, as the strength went out of his limbs again.
"N-nnngkkk..." Lex groaned, trying to command his arms to move under him, and push himself upwards. He tried, and failed, collapsing over Clark and sliding sideways as his muscles started to go limp -- again -- oh god, I've been drugged again -- but then a strong hand roughly grabbed him between his shoulder and his neck and hauled him off of Clark, tossed him idly backwards, down onto the cold, flat floor next to his friend.
Lex's head bounced off the floor, hard, and his vision swam again, and it took an effort to stay conscious and refocus on the madman above him. Sh-should've known better, he thought. Got distracted by Clark. Forgot... what I was trying to do... escape... Lex was afraid it might be his very last mistake, and not because he'd be leading a perfect life from now on...
"Ah, good, awake are you? That's good. You're very strong, very healthy. A good test subject," the man in the white coat grinned down at him, at them both. "And so fortuitous -- two good specimens. Much better than just one!"
"Wh-what. What do you want?" Lex croaked out, then gave a full-body shudder as whatever he'd been injected with hit his major bloodstream. "Nnn--ahhh-gkk!" All his muscles tensed and he went into a full body spasm. Everything went grey and black and red, then grey again as reality -- slowly, too slowly --seeped back in.
He lay there panting, consciousness slipping in and out, and missed most of the man's ranting. Something about Lex having an excellent immune system, extremely... adaptive? Being able to survive... something?... when others wouldn't?... Lex wasn't sure.
"P-please. You. Don't have to do this. I... I could... find other... other -- nnn!" Lex spasmed again, painfully. "--o-other sub-jects!" Lex tried, not caring what Clark heard, not caring what anyone might think, just so long as he could get this man to stop. Even if he might be able to survive whatever the hell this was, he didn't think Clark could. Clark looked sick, almost yellow-green pale, and was laboring to breathe. Lex had to get him the hell out of here. Even if it was just Clark, Clark could go for help, he could...
"No no, you can't, you see? You really can't. They won't survive. None of them survived. The ones from here did much better, though. The younger ones. The, hmmm, what did that girl call them -- freaks? -- yes, they did much better. But you, why, you're perfectly suited for this! You have the right mutation. The perfect mutation. I checked, you see," the madman crooned, crouching down in front of Lex, staring at him like a collector watching a moth on a pin writhing about without the benefit of soothing chloroform.
"That one, well, he can be the control," the man said, waving at Clark, disinterested, before standing and brushing his pants legs smooth. "It really ought to work much better this time, though. You've both had the focus injection, which is really the trick, I think. The treatment on its own just wasn't enough. Need to get it from the inside as well as out, yes, yes," he mumbled absently, turning to leave. He continued muttering to himself as he walked out, and the door slammed shut behind him.
"No. No, oh god." He was locked in, again. They were locked in, and Clark was sick. Horribly sick. He needed help. They needed rescuing. Would anyone be coming for them? Clark had come for him. Surely, surely someone would come for Clark. Because he'd been tracking that man, looking for Lex, and that man was insane. They needed to get out, before things got worse.
Lex didn't want to know how things could get worse.
Lex tried to push himself up again. And again. He finally managed to roll over. It took three tries. He almost made it to his feet when a full-body shudder hit him again, and he came to drooling on the floor, face right in front of Clark's. If possible, Clark looked even worse than before, his expression drawn in pain. Damnit, I need to do something!
Lex started to struggle upright again, collapsed again, and lay there panting for awhile, staring at the ceiling. He groaned slightly and lay there panting for the moment, on the verge of just collapsing and giving up, at least for a little while. He knew how futile it was to get the door open from this side from earlier attempts when he'd first woken after the original sophoric had worn off. "Clark?" he asked, tired as hell. He got no response. "...Clark?" he asked again, turning his head to the side. No response, not even a flicker of motion. Getting concerned now, Lex turned over with some effort and reached out a hand towards Clark's cheek. And that was when he finally realized exactly what dire straits his friend was in, and his eyes widened in horror, because...
Clark was barely breathing now; his eyes were only half-open, completely unfocused and dull. Clark gave a spasming cough and seemed to collapse a little into himself. For a moment he stopped breathing. Then took another shallow gasping breath. Then stopped.
And Lex had a instant of clarity, as a few of that madman's words began to make sense.
None of them survived.
He can be the control.
Panic drove Lex to his feet. He staggered upright, fell against the door and pounded at it, clawed at the edges, everything he'd done before to no effect, but he had to try, had to do something.
He heard a low humming start, and it didn't quite register at first. Then it grew louder, and he glanced up.
Then he finally realized what he was standing in.
Radiation chamber. They were inside a radiation chamber. One not rated for humans.
An older one, without any of the proper safeties to shut it off if a person was stuck inside.
Freaks. Radiation. Oh god. It hit Lex in a flash.
"No, no, you can't do this!" Lex yelled, pounding on the sides with a desperation born of sheer terror. "You have to let us out! We're not meteor freaks! You c-can't irradiate us with meteor rock! You don't know what you're doing! We'll mutate into psychotic m-monsters or die! LET US OUT!!!" he screamed.
The hum turned into a whine and a pink-red light diffused the entire chamber.
Clark started screaming bloody murder, jack-knifing and spasming on the floor.
Lex felt like something had hit him from all sides, pressure constricting his lungs. It washed over him, tingling, and his first shock-driven thought was, why is Clark screaming? This isn't so bad...
Then whatever was in his veins started to burn, set him on fire, like he was melting from the inside out.
He would have screamed, if he could have taken in a breath to do so.
Lex was aware of an absence of pain.
It came in waves. The molten fire dying down.
He groaned softly.
He could feel dead weight. Those were limbs. He rememered what those were.
He shuddered, and coughed, and didn't move, because things still hurt, even if they didn't HURT like that anymore.
He became aware that he was crying, tears dripping down the sides of his face.
He had no idea how long he'd been exposed to the radiation. How long he'd been in here, with...
"Cl-cl--kkk," he groaned.
He couldn't move.
He couldn't see Clark. He was facing the wrong way.
He heard the door open. There was a door.
He still couldn't move.
He heard voices, more than one, but couldn't make them out properly. Rescue, at last? Please, please...
"Cl-cl-ark..." he said again.
He felt someone touch his forehead. Cold, cold touch.
"H-help. Him. Cl-ark... he..."
Blessed darkness finally took him.
He awoke again on a bed.
The ceiling looked like one he'd seen before.
He could turn his head. He saw an IV line.
He was in a hospital.
...Clark didn't like hospitals.
"C-Clark?" he croaked out.
He turned his head left, right. All he could see was equipment, the IV stand, the bed he was on. White curtains, surrounding the bed.
He tried to move.
Pushed himself upwards, through the screaming pain.
It wasn't a bad pain though. It was a pain he knew. Muscle pain. Normal pain. Achey, not bad. Not like...
He shuddered and doubled over. Nausea crippled him for a moment.
He managed to lean over the left side of his bed before throwing up.
Some of it was green. A lot of it was red. That probably wasn't good.
He spat, and groaned a little, then levered himself upright to a seated position again. A red curtain seemed to fall across his vision for a moment as he did it, but his vision cleared again as he dipped backwards before he struggled fully upright.
He started methodically removing leads and IV lines.
He wavered, then used his hands, arms to push himself over to the right side of the bed. Legs dangled. He pushed further.
His feet hit the floor and everything felt odd and off-balance. He caught himself on the bedrail, managed to half-drag, half-pull himself upright again.
He was shivering, swaying from side-to-side, and on the verge of collapsing. But he was upright, no matter how unsteadily, when the white curtain got shoved aside.
He turned his head and saw Chloe and Pete staring at him.
He promptly said, "Where's Clark?"
"...Clark?" said Chloe.
"Yes, Clark!" As she continued to stare at him blankly, Lex lost his temper. "You know, Clark? Six-foot-two brunette, sometimes works on a farm, usually-saves-me-instead-of-whatever the-hell-happened-this-time Clark? Who works with you at the Torch? Ring any bells?" he gritted out, irate. He coughed, hacked, spat more blood at the floor, and his throat complained a little less; he absently rubbed at it. "He got himself captured and thrown in the radiation chamber with me. Where is he? Is he... is he ok?" As much as someone irradiated with meteor rock could be? The madman hadn't sounded like he'd really thought Clark would be. He'd picked Lex especially, but Clark...
God, he had better be ok. ...Fuck, don't cry in front of them! I will not cry, he told himself, but thoughts were easier than keeping the burning in his eyes under control, because the sound of Clark's screaming was still echoing loudly in his memory...
"Clark was in the chamber with you?" Pete repeated slowly.
"...Lex?" Chloe asked tentatively.
"What?" Lex asked irately.
They both stared at him some more, looking shocked. Then they glanced at each other.
Fucking useless! Lex mentally wrote them off.
"Fine, I'll find him myself," Lex snarled, taking a step away from the hospital bed. ...And he stumbled and almost went down, except that Chloe moved forward quickly under one arm.
And that felt really weird. ...Maybe because he'd never been caught like that before. People usually just watched him fall and laughed at him afterwards.
Lex leaned on Chloe heavily and got his feet under him again. Red swam partially in front of his vision and he cursed softly, lifting a hand to his left eye to rub at it uselessly.
And his hand met a soft thick curtain.
"What the hell?" he said roughly, startled, twitching and tilting his head back.
The red moved.
He fingered at it. Felt something soft. Grabbed ahold of it, and moved it to the side. Back and forth.
"Wh--" Lex shivered. "What the hell is going on?" he said uncertainly, following the strands farther up. He had hair? Attached to his head? Long hair?
"Uh, well, you're kind of... a girl," Pete said, looking at him askance.
Lex stared at him, uncomprehending.
"You didn't notice?" Chloe said, looking somewhat intrigued.
"I--" Lex glanced down at her, then let go of his hair -- his hair!?! He looked down at himself and slid a hand down his chest and felt -- yes, breasts. Definitely breasts. Small, but there.
And then he realized why it had felt so weird when he'd stumbled and his legs had tangled. What he'd felt while Chloe had held still and acted as his support.
...Or what he hadn't felt down there, rather.
Lex went dead-pale.
"You've got to be fucking kidding me," he said, strained.
"Welcome to the world of estrogen?" Chloe said with a satirical smile and a glint in her eye.
And lead bands closed around Lex's chest and cinched down a few notches.
I'm having a panic attack, Lex thought abstractly as he started to gasp for breath. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to tell himself it was ok, even though it really wasn't, tried to calm himself down, slow his heart rate, tried to focus on regulating his lungs, his air intake.
Then Lex's throat spasmed and constricted and he discovered that he really couldn't breathe -- wasn't actually getting any oxygen in -- and that was when Lex realized that it wasn't a panic attack at all.
His eyes snapped wide-open, bugging out a little, and he started grasping at his throat.
Chloe helped lower him to the floor, looking concerned, but Lex couldn't get the words out. He didn't have enough air to--
About the time he started greying out, he saw something like comprehension flash across Chloe's face, and the next thing he was aware of was being curled up on the floor and his thigh hurting like fuck-all.
"Sorry," Chloe said. "Epi-pen," she said, showing the spent device to him. He saw the drawers above her half-open, looking rummaged through. "I didn't realize what was happening at first. I should've guessed you'd probably get your asthma back, along with the hair."
"Wh-- Asth-ma?" he wheezed. He vaguely remembered someone telling him that once, but he couldn't actually remember anything from before the meteor shower. He vaguely remembered dropping something during the shower, though. After running from the man tied up on the cross. ...Had it been an inhaler?
"Uh, yeah. It's in your medical file," she said. Then she reached up and grabbed the inhaler that Pete offered to her. She handed it over to Lex. "You should probably keep this with you, just in case.
"Oh-kay," Lex said, curling it in his fingers and pulling it in to his chest. Lex didn't remember seeing Pete leave the room or come back. He wonderd how long he'd been out, before deciding that maybe he didn't really care. because, fuck, asthma. In a town full of pollenated plants and smelly, furred-and-feathered livestock.
He lay there on the cold, hard linoleum floor for awhile, shivering, until the epinephrine finished its work, then slowly pushed himself up.
"Fuck. My leg still hurts," Lex complained, rubbing at the offending throbbing thigh.
Pete laughed slightly, then stopped, grimaced, and looked away, crossing his arms.
Lex took a deep breath, then another, then tried asking again. "Chloe, where is Clark? Or whomever was found in the radiation chamber with me?"
"I, uh, I really don't think--"
"Chloe, I'm not asking again," Lex said, his voice hard. He got to his feet again, with far less difficulty than he'd had the first time. He didn't feel nearly as unsteady on his feet now, knowing that his center of gravity had changed -- possibly being better able to compensate for it now that he knew the reason why. Or perhaps it was some helpful remnant effect from the adrenaline shot. He shoved the inhaler in a pants pocket, and frowned as he realized that his clothes didn't fit quite the same anymore. It was probably only a subtle difference visually, but Lex was slowly becoming more and more aware of every bit of himself that felt -- that was -- just a little bit... off.
"It's not that, Lex, it's just-- he -- she -- doesn't really look much like Clark. I mean," Chloe tried to explain, dogging his steps as he staggered out of the hospital room and into the hallway, "You still look kind of like yourself, but he--"
"Where, Chloe?" he grated out, looking down on her. If the little reporter-in-training had known where his bed was, she'd know where the other victim -- Clark -- was as well.
Chloe actually gulped. "Ok, ok, just..." She started off down the hallway, slow enough for Lex to follow. Pete took up the rear, frowning.
"You shouldn't have dragged him into this," Pete accused from behind.
"I didn't!" Lex spat back over his shoulder, inobtrusively trailing one hand along the wall for balance as he walked. "I got grabbed off the Fertilizer Plant parking lot coming back from lunch. I was abducted, drugged, and tossed in that room by some maniacal mad-scientist lunatic, and I still have no fucking clue what the hell is going on, except that the bastard irradiated us with something that was likely related to the meteor rock phenomenon! I don't even know how Clark knew I was missing," he ended, massaging his left temple with the base of his palm. He had a headache going, and he wasn't sure if it had just started recently, or if he'd only just noticed now.
"Lex, if you got grabbed around one, then you were missing for two hours before Clark went looking," Chloe supplied. "Clark said you were supposed to meet him that afternoon at the mansion, and he couldn't raise you on your cellphone. He ran off after I tracked down the GPS on your car, but that was a dead-end at the Luthorcorp parking lot. I tried the GPS on your phone next, but it took awhile for me to get my hands on that information. Clark was frantic by then, and ran off after the signal right away. --I couldn't get him to wait," she said, sounding pained. "I turned my back for one second and-- you know how he is." She scrubbed at her face, sounding like she was trying not to cry.
Lex grimaced, because he did know what Clark was like. It wasn't Chloe's fault that Clark ran headlong into things with only the least bit of provocation. If Chloe found the information, Clark would have gotten it out of her, and the fact that the high school reporter had been the one to trace him, rather than his father, spoke ill of what Lionel's response must have been at the time -- or lack of one. Shit. Had his dad actually thought Lex had been playing hooky from work? Lex might not have liked his exile here, but that didn't mean he wasn't taking the job seriously. He'd been doing his utmost best, and then some.
"...How long were we missing?" Lex said slowly, trying for something neutral.
"A little less than six hours after that," Chloe said. "Not that we knew that," Chloe complained. "Clark called me before he went into that old abandoned warehouse, and I called the police, but when they got there and found you two... well," she glanced back at Pete, "Pete and I thought Clark had ran off again, still looking for you."
"We were hoping you would wake up and shed some light on whatever was going on, though, because one of the cops mentioned that you'd said Clark's name when you were found," Chloe added. "So I guess you did that..." she ended with a weak smile.
Lex snorted softly. "His parents must be frantic," he said.
"Yeah, well, he's been missing overnight and it's been twelve hours with no word, so, yeah, they're through the roof, all right," Pete said, glaring at Lex. "They're pretty much watching the clock to put in the missing person's notice and start a town-wide manhunt."
"...And you haven't called to tell them to get over here yet, because...?" Lex shot back, eyes narrowing.
Pete glared at him, opened his mouth for a comeback, then his eyes went wide as what Lex had said actually made it through the boy's thick skull. Lex watched dourly as Pete went for his cellphone, cursing under his breath as he dialed.
Chloe stopped in front of a door and Lex came to a halt as well. Pete bumped into his back, not paying attention, and nearly bowled Lex over. Lex grabbed at the wall and righted himself, then glared back over his shoulder. Pete was too engrossed in his phone call with the Kents to respond, or even care, apparently, so Lex just grimaced and opened the door, stepping inside.
Chloe stayed by the doorway and wrapped her arms around herself. Lex looked back at her inquisitively, and she just looked away and quietly said, "I already saw her... him... so..."
Lex had a sinking feeling.
He forced himself to walk further in, treading soft and careful in the lowlit room. He pushed back the curtain and stepped close to the bed.
Lex couldn't help his harsh intake of breath.
Clark was emaciated.
He looked like a chemo patient gone wrong. Too much radiation. His hair looked like it was about to start coming out in clumps.
And Lex would know that sort of thing, having seen his mother go through exactly that during one of her failed cancer treatments.
Or, more accurately, Clark looked like the chemo patient of a deranged mind who had ignored all safety protocols, just to see what would happen -- Clark could have been a torture victim of the Holocaust, if the Nazi 'doctors' had ever tried testing radiation on people.
Clark was skeletal, pale, his usually golden skin looking sallow, a yellow hue that had more to do with illness than health, and it was taut over what little muscle he had left on him. His eyes were sunken in his face, with dark bruised-looking circles under them. His lips were cracked in a way that smacked of dehydration, and patches of his skin looked almost burned in places.
Chloe was right -- Clark didn't look anything like himself.
Lex stepped a little closer, uneasily, and then he saw what he hadn't seen before.
Clark was... short.
Lex looked him up and down, and visually measured him against the hospital bedframe. He's lost at least a foot in height, Lex realized faintly. And, with a second once-over, Lex realized that it wasn't just his height -- his whole skeletal structure looked like it had shifted. His shoulders were no longer so broad, his hips a little wider; his bones themselves looked thinner...
Emaciated, horribly ill, and sweating heavily... but underneath the mask of pain and chemical torture, despite it all, Clark was a beautiful woman. It took Lex's breath away.
If Lex hadn't known walking in that this was Clark... would he have recognized him? As it was, he was tempted to turn around and ask if Chloe was sure that this really was the person they'd found in the chamber lying next to him.
But she was wearing Clark's clothes, as loose and ill-fitting as they were on her now, just as Lex was still wearing his.
Lex carefully sat down on the edge of the bed, avoiding the IV lines stuck in her arm, and carefully raised a hand. He gently smoothed a lock of sweat-soaked hair off of her brow.
"Mmmnn," she groaned softly, stirring.
"...Clark?" Lex asked gently.
She muttered something unintelligible.
"Clark?" Lex asked again. He heard Chloe stir by the doorway.
"...Lex?" Green eyes, dull and unfocused, opened just a little, then slid shut again, and it was enough. It was Clark. Lex knew those eyes -- always would, ever since he'd stared up into them at the riverbank. Lex slid his fingers lightly across Clark's brow, and Clark sighed softly and shifted on the bed again, relaxing a little under his touch.
"...Where?" Clark asked quietly.
"We're safe," Lex said. "We're out."
"S'good," Clark said, almost murmuring to himself. Then he blinked his eyes open a little more and turned his head towards Lex's voice.
"You ok?" Clark asked, not really seeing him well in the dim lighting.
Lex smiled. Oh yes, definitely Clark. "I'm fine, Clark," Lex said soothingly. After all, he was alive; Clark was alive. He would have killed for that certainty a few hours ago. It was enough, for now.
"Mmmm," Clark said, his eyes drifting shut. He sighed deeply out, then drew a longer, more relaxed breath, and fell back to sleep.
Lex sighed himself, then slowly slid off the edge of the bed and stood up again. He walked to the door and out, ignoring Chloe's long stare as he shut the door behind him.
"Don't bother him with questions. He needs to rest," Lex told her. And then he walked away. It was more than a little hard for him to do, but he knew it was necessary. His first priority was to track down that madman and make sure that the bastard couldn't hurt him, or Clark, ever again.
Lex was in the middle of bullying the hospital staff into letting him go without practically OD'ing him on iodine pills for the radiation, and bullying the police into returning his things which had been collected at the warehouse scene -- because the madman had apparently tossed his pockets and stripped him of his mother's watch while he was unconscious before throwing him in the chamber, not wanting any electronics or anything metal to possibly interfere with his so-called "test" -- when Lionel waltzed right up to his side.
Oh, fuck, not now! Lex thought. "I'm busy, dad, can't it wait?!" he spat out, thoroughly annoyed.
"Really, son, has acting insolently ever improved any situation you've been in?"
Lex was about to make another comeback when he realized that everyone in the waiting area had stopped what they were doing and was staring at him.
"What?" Lex said to the room at large. Unfortunately, no-one seemed willing to clue him in.
So instead, he settled for glaring suspiciously up at Lionel. "Oh, god, fine -- what did you do this time?" Lex said, because fuck it if Lionel was going to threaten to fire half the plant again just because Lex hadn't shown up for work when he'd been half-comatose in a hospital bed -- he had better things to worry about right now.
"What did I do?" Lionel said in mild amusement, his lips lifting upwards in a smile.
"Ugh, would you please just--"
"...Did he just call you son?" the sheriff asked, looking confused.
"Of course he did! I'm--" and then Lex blanked out for a moment as he realized that he'd been involved in an argument -- two arguments -- for the last twenty minutes with several people, and not once had his name actually come up.
"Oh, for gods sake," Lex groaned, pinching his nose, and remembering that he looked like a girl right then. Sort of. And had hair now.
"Please excuse my son," Lionel said smoothly, addressing the masses at large. "He's been... involved... in an odd situation, and he's in a bit of an ill-temper over it right now," he said with a slight grin.
"...If you even think about making a PMS joke, dad, so help me god--"
"Lex, son," Lionel said, planting a hand on Lex's shoulder, "Walk with me."
Lex let himself be steered away from the group.
"Why are you here, dad, and what do you want?" Lex sighed, wishing he could just go home, hide under the covers of his bed, and collapse for an age.
"Now, Lex, really, that's hardly a polite way to greet--"
"How did you even know it was me?" Lex cut in. "Or perhaps that's a stupid question -- was that madman working for you?" Lex asked darkly.
"No, Lex, he wasn't," Lionel said with a sour tone. "Pity, that. It seemed he was a bit of a genius, though more than a little unstable."
" 'Genius', my--" Lex started out griping, then his thought process came to a screeching halt. "...what do you mean, 'was'?" he said slowly, feeling like he'd been broadsided. Oh, no.
"Dad, you didn't...!" Lex pleaded desperately.
"He was dead when we caught up with him," Lionel scoffed, waving a hand. "When the police got the tip from the Sullivan girl, I sent my own people on his trail, of course. Apparently he'd thought his 'treatment' so successful he couldn't wait to try it on himself." Lionel pulled a face. "The fool."
Lex blindly found a chair and sat down hard.
Lionel tugged at his sleeve cuffs and continued. "He kept rather meticulous notes on his theories and tests... and various experimental subjects..." Lionel eyed Lex from above.
"What was it really supposed to do?" Lex asked quietly, sholders slumped, staring at nothing. He felt drained.
"It was supposed to be a transgender operation, using a viral vector. A full change, every cell converted from XY to XX."
"Bind the healthy cells with the right DNA change using the virus to modify the base pairs, and kill the old ones that didn't convert with radiation." Lex knew the basics of viral therapy from his biochem coursework in college, but so far as he knew, none had been known to be largely successful, let alone FDA approved. He'd never heard of one coupled with any sort of radiation 'treatment' that couldn't be properly directed to only impact the 'right' sort of cells, which he assumed was what the bastard had been attempting. Really, I can't imagine why...
"Yes. The additional radiation was supposed to help destroy any cells and organs that should no longer be there, it seems," Lionel continued. "His notes were less than clear on how he'd thought the new organs and such were supposed to 'spontaneously' grow, and how the surrounding tissues would heal properly."
"Please tell me that there's a reverse treatment plan he'd been working on," Lex said quietly.
"Well, son, the man had no interest in being a man anymore, so it shouldn't surprise you what the answer to that would be."
Lex hung his head, holding it heavily in his hands as he closed his eyes in mental pain so acute it began to cause him a headache. No cure? No chance to... A feeling of hopelessless began to set in.
"I spoke with your doctors on the phone on the way here. It seems that your immune system is in flux right now, trying to handle the shock to your system."
"...My system?" Lex said weakly, looking up at Lionel. "This isn't my body. Not really."
"Your system," Lionel repeated, adamantly. "It's similar to what we saw happen to you after you had been exposed to the radiation in the meteor shower. They think that you'll stabilize in a few days, maybe a week or two at the outside."
"...Stabilize?!?" Lex yelped, shooting to his feet. "I don't want to stabilize!" he hissed, fists clenched at his sides. "I want my body back!"
"This isn't the first time you've changed, Lex. I doubt it'll be the last," Lionel said wearily.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?!" Lex said, stepping into Lionel's personal space.
Lionel looked down on him blandly. "It means, son, that you didn't use to be like you were before, either."
Lex stood there and stared up at his father, appalled.
Lionel sighed wearily and explained in too-patient tones, "You were a short, slightly chubby boy, Lex. You had asthma. And hair." Lex twitched at the mention of asthma; Lionel noticed his reaction and paused briefly before continuing. "And then you became a thin, rather pale, bald stork of a child, and quite obstinate, to boot. ...And now you are female," he snorted, giving Lex a cursory glance up and down. "And I don't doubt that, sooner or later, you will want to go through with whatever reversal LuthorCorp can come up with from his notes. And then you will have changed, yet again."
Lex rocked back on his heels slightly like he'd been punched in the gut.
"I..." he breathed out in shock.
"So, son, there is only one question that remains." Lionel smiled sharply, and then suddenly grabbed Lex's shoulders hard, and pulled Lex towards him.
"Ow! --What?!? Let go!" Lex yelped, as Lionel's fingers dug in hard. He tried to grapple with his father, and found himself weaker than usual, though whether it was from the gender change itself or the lingering aftereffects of the procedure that had made him that way, Lex couldn't tell. Lionel sneered at him, and Lex punched out. But all that caused Lionel to do was let go of his shoulders and grab his arms, instead.
"Fuck. You!" Lex spat out, trying to twist away, pull out of his hold, and failing miserably. Then he stopped fighting, stood there panting, glared up at his father defiantly, and deliberately stilled for a moment.
Then he fisted his hands in Lionel's shirt, drew back a leg, and kneed his father in the groin as hard as he possibly could.
Lionel let go and doubled over, wheezing.
"Serves you right, you bastard," Lex spat back, massaging the worst of his aches in his forearm and shoulder. I'm going to have bruises, damn it. "When I say let go of me, you fucking--" The he stopped as he realized that those wheezing sounds Lionel was making were actually a pained chuckling sound.
Lionel slowly straightened, grinning, and began to give out a wheezing laugh.
What the hell--?
"Good to know you've still got some fight left in you, son," Lionel said, sounding almost proud. He chuckled again, then slowly and a little stiffly turned to go. "I expect you to be at work in an hour, after you've had a chance to clean yourself up," he tossed back over his shoulder at Lex, walking away with only the slightest hitch in his step.
Lex stared after him, stunned. "You can't be serious." And Lionel kept walking away. "You can't be serious!" he yelled after him, then half-walked, half-jogged after his father to catch up.
"I am perfectly serious," Lionel said. "You're fine. You're up and walking and arguing and fighting." And Lionel didn't seem to see any problem with this at all.
"I can't go to work like this!" Lex said.
"Of course not, you need to clean up first," Linel patiently repeated, stopping at the elevator door and hitting the button to call the car.
"Not that!" Lex yelped. "I'm a girl!"
Lex ground his teeth, feeling like he was on the verge of a Lionel-induced apoplectic fit.
"How the hell am I supposed to explain this?!" Lex demanded, gesturing at himself.
"Why would you need to explain anything?" Lionel replied cooly, with zero concern. "After the meteor shower, I never did."
Lex dumbly watched him waltz into the elevator and hit the button for the ground floor. "And it's not like you look much different now than you usually do," Lionel added. "You could quite possibly hide the differences with a good well-tailored suit and a shave, if you felt so inclined," Lionel offered with a shark's grin, running a hand through his hair, as the doors slammed shut.
Lex stared at the doors for a few long moments, then turned and walked away, rubbing his face with his hands.
"He's out of his fucking mind," Lex muttered to himself.
Then he looked up at all the people who had been listening in on their not-so-private exchange.
"What the hell are you all staring at?!?" Lex spat out, glaring and throwing his arms wide.
And a lot of people quickly found someplace else they needed to be.
Except for those few poor hospital nurses and policemen who still had business with one Jane Doe, a.k.a. Lex Luthor.
"Now," Lex growled as he stalked forward, fists clenched, back towards the little group of people who had been making his life difficult lately, "Where were we?"
Chloe looked up from her seat in the hallway at the unsure voice. "Mrs. Kent!" she exclaimed, startled. She elbowed Pete, who glanced up, and they both stood up as they caught sight of Mrs. Kent, with Mr. Kent trailing behind. Chloe realized that they didn't look nearly as worried, or distraught, as she'd expected, and that could only mean...
"Um..." Chloe felt pretty unsure, and glanced at Pete next to her. "I don't know exactly what Pete told you on the phone, but..."
"Clark's in the hospital, and very sick; yes, we know," Martha said hurriedly. "Is this his room?" she asked, opening the door.
"Well, yes, but--" she glanced at Pete, frowning, "It's not just--!"
"Pete told us that Clark... that he's... a girl now?" Mr. Kent said, laying a hand on Chloe's shoulder gently.
"Yes, but it's not that simple," Chloe tried to explain, biting her lip. "Clark hasn't really been awake yet, exactly, and he might not know that he's a girl, yet. Lex was confused when he woke up and--"
"Lex?" Jonathan straightened. "What do the Luthors have to do with this?" he asked in a dangerous tone.
But before they could get any further, they heard a stifled shriek from Clark's room.
Jonathan rushed in, with Pete close behind. Chloe lagged a bit, more than a little afraid of what she would see.
Martha was standing over Clark's bed with a hand over her mouth, chest heaving, and at first Chloe thought she was crying.
But then Mrs. Kent turned around, and when Chloe saw the high color in her cheeks, she realized that she wasn't sad or scared -- she was mad.
"Is this some kind of joke?" she said angrily, striding over to Chloe and Pete. "Where is my son?!"
"Wh-what? That... that is Clark, Mrs. Kent..." Chloe said shakily, backing up a step.
"That is not my son," she said with a shake of her head. "Boy or girl, you think I don't know my own son?"
"I... I..." Chloe stuttered, backing up further. She'd never seen Mrs. Kent upset, and she felt a little panicked because she didn't know what to do--
"Lex said it was him," Pete cut in, taking the heat off Chloe. "Maybe he was lying," he said, putting up his hands and backing off as Mrs. Kent turned on him.
But Jonathan edged closer to the bed, slowly, frowning down at the girl resting there.
"...Clark?" he asked carefully, a little unsure.
"Jonathan, come away from there," Mrs. Kent said quietly from the doorway.
Mr. Kent glanced back at the doorway and almost moved away. But he glanced down again, and something made him pause. "Clark. Can you hear me?" he said, in a normal tone.
"Clark," Jonathan repeated sternly. "Wake up."
The girl twitched a little, restlessly, and her eyes fluttered as she sighed a breath out... unhappily?
" 'M awake. Jus' five more min...z..." she muttered, turning her head to the side.
Chloe looked up at Mrs. Kent and saw her pale.
"No, not five more minutes, Clark," Mr. Kent said calmly but firmly, sitting down on the side of the bed. "Now."
Clark sighed and turned his/her head towards her father, and blinked open her eyes. "Da-ad, what...?" Then s/he blinked again and glanced around, and seemed to realize where s/he was.
"Oh. Um." S/he looked a bit sheepish. "...Grounded?"
"What do you think, son?"
Clark sighed. "Sorry..."
"Sorry isn't good enough. Do you have any idea how worried your mother and I have been?"
Clark looked a little more pained and her arms twitched. She grimaced and managed to raise an arm and flopped it over her eyes. "Didn't mean to. Mess up." She choked down a sob. "I really messed up."
"Clark?" Jonathan asked quietly. "What do you mean?"
"I... I got caught." She shivered. "That guy, he... he did something, and I couldn't move. I... I think he injected me with-- with meteor rock, dad," Clark said, her breath hitching.
Mrs. Kent's hands flew up to her mouth, her eyes wide. She started forward.
Chloe felt sick.
"And Lex was there, but I couldn't help him. I... he was scared, and started yelling, but I couldn't even move. I... it hurt, a lot, and... and then it didn't and Lex said it was ok? That... that we were both safe? I... I don't know what he did," Clark said slowly, unsure, as she pulled his arm away, uncovering her eyes and looking up at her father. "I... I'm not sure he's really ok, dad," she said, voice shaking. "He... he sounded kind of weird..."
Mr. Kent seemed to take a deep breath and hold on to something internally. Finally, he said, "If Lex said he's all right, then he's all right. You just worry about yourself, son. Ok?"
"But--!" Clark protested weakly.
"...Clark?" Mrs. Kent said, shakily.
"Mom?" s/he said, glancing over at the doorway and seeing Mrs. Kent for the first time. And then Clark picked up on her worry and uncertainty and got worried, too. "What... what's wrong?" She started to struggle upright.
"Just take it easy, Clark, all right?" Mr. Kent said, laying a hand on her shoulder and gently pushing him back down.
Clark fell back with a thump, and looked up at her dad shockily, really surprised for some reason.
"You've been gone all night, Clark, that's why we got so worried," Mr. Kent said, and Chloe wondered when they were going to clue Clark in to the fact that s/he wasn't so very much a 'he' anymore, and how sick s/he really was -- the hospital staff had sounded surprised that Clark hadn't died yet. She'd overheard some of the less couth ones taking bets earlier...
"All... night?" S/he looked confused, then panicked. "All night!? It's morning!? But I-- I've got that history exam first period!!" Her eyes snapped wide open and s/he somehow pushed himself to a seated position, then looked really dizzy and even more ill, clenching her teeth and hissing out a painful breath.
"Oh! Oh, Clark--!" Mrs. Kent said, moving forward, starting to cry.
Chloe grimaced a little and inched her way out the door. She didn't want to be there for the revelatory part. She didn't think she could handle seeing Clark cry just then. Pete followed along her escape route shortly thereafter.
"Man, that's gotta hurt. His own mother not recognizing him?" Pete said, shaking his head. Chloe was suddenly very glad that he hadn't heard what she had. And she decided then and there to keep her mouth shut. Either Clark would be ok, or... she, he wouldn't. Mourning him before he was gone, rather than enjoying the time they had left with him, would be too horrible.
"Very harsh. And I think he was too out of it to tell, so let's not be the ones to enlighten him, ok?" Chloe said, giving Pete a look.
Pete glanced up at her, then the lightbulb went on. "Oh, yeah. Definitely. No idea what I was just talking about. --What were we talking about, again?" he said innocently.
"Hey, what are friends for, right?"
Chloe gave him a thin, wavery smile.
When the doctors didn't want to let Clark go, Jonathan let Martha handle it.
She needed someone to take her anger and pain out on, after all. Might as well be useful.
Clark kept slipping in and out of consciousness on him, and he realized that Chloe was right -- Clark had no idea what had happened to him, yet.
Jonathan hoped that he could keep it that way just a little longer, until Clark was feeling better, looking a little more well. Because Jonathan had to keep thinking that Clark would get better, despite what the doctors were implying...
"Is there anything that you can do for him here that we can't do at home?" Martha insisted. "Because if I'm understanding you correctly, you seem to think he's already dead."
"Ma'am, nobody survives that kind of radiation exposure." Then the young doctor seemed to pause and mentally edit himself. "All right, maybe that Luthor kid is up and walking around, but, Christ, we're talking Hiroshima-levels of exposure. They're going to be walking, and maybe talking the next few days, but after that..."
"Well, somebody thinks that they'll be fine, or you wouldn't have my boy on iodide for the radiation," Martha insisted.
"It's just standard procedure," the doctor sighed. "We didn't know how badly exposed they'd been when they first came in."
"Well then, just give me the damn iodine pills and let me take my son home to die in peace where he can be comfortable," Martha said coldly. And Jonathan had to wince at that, because he knew she was just making things difficult for the man on purpose, when she thought she knew better.
Jonathan glanced down and was very glad that Clark was not conscious to be hearing all this right now.
Chloe and Pete had left for school, so Clark's friends were also spared hearing this and worrying, at least. Chloe had apparently come to the hospital bright and early, just in case they'd woken up, in the hopes that she could get an interview and an early start on trying to track Clark down.
The doctor looked grim, but he finally approached the bed and undid Clark from all the tubes and wires. Seeing those things in and on Clark's skin, and that IV needle sliding out just so easy-as-you-please... it made Jonathan's skin itch at the wrongness of it.
Jonathan was again grateful that Clark seemed so out of it. If Clark had woken up with his full faculties and looked down, if he'd seen himself all wired up and stuck into tubes and truly understood where he was and what state he was in... Jonathan knew that Clark had nightmares about doctors and hospitals from time to time. What was worse was that Jon knew that his and Martha's warnings were part of the reason why Clark had them, and it killed him that he couldn't soothe those fears away because, well, Clark had a right to be afraid. It wasn't an idle worry.
"Did you take any blood samples?" Jon asked.
"No," the doctor frowned, "but--"
"Good," he said.
"That's not... look, I probably should--"
"No. We're his parents, and we're telling you no. We're taking him home," Martha said, bodily standing in front of the doctor and crossing her arms.
The doctor muttered something less than kind under his breath, but when Jonathan started to rouse Clark and try to help him up onto his feet, the man stopped him.
"Look, let me get you a wheelchair for her--"
"Him," Martha corrected ascerbically.
"...him." The doctor grimaced. "It's the least I can do, along with the prescription for the iodine, and maybe some painkillers to make it easier on the kid," the doctor said, with a glare back at Martha.
His wife returned the glare with a stony gaze of her own.
Jon sighed and thanked him.
Jon realized with some concern that Clark hadn't really been fully conscious as they'd gotten him into the wheelchair. He prayed that his son would be all right, once they got him home. He'd been exposed to meteor rock before, but never so much, and it had never taken so long for him to recover before.
He pushed Clark's chair over to the nursing station, trailing Martha, who was engrossed in conversation with the nursing staff and trying to take care of Clark's paperwork. Part of the thing that was apparently taking so long was establishing Clark's identity, and arguing over his gender status on the forms.
He glanced over his shoulder as another flash of red hair drew his eye, and caught sight of a younger redhead arguing animatedly with a couple of police officers. Jon watched as a third younger officer approached, holding two bags. The woman turned her head to glance at him, then caught sight of the bag, and gestured at it. The bag was tentatively proferred and the woman snatched it from him, looking unbelievably annoyed with the man, who in turn looked more than a little uncomfortable. Even the sheriff looked a little off-put by the woman.
Who...? Jon thought, frowning, because Ethan generally didn't take shit from anyone, as a rule.
He watched the woman rifle through the bag as she continued talking, and pocket a cellphone, money clip, keychain, and a few other assorted odds-and-ends. She drew a watch from the bag and absently handed the empty bag back to the sheriff's deputy, expecting him to being waiting there to take it... and he was and did.
That one's a bit privileged, Jon thought sourly. She's used to having people wait on her hand and foot, I bet. She might seem a fair enough form, under the misfitted clothing, but her attitude certainly left a lot to be desired. ...Though Jon supposed that it could be blamed on whatever was wrong with her, he realized as he watched her with a critical eye as she carefully put on the watch. Something was obviously making her ill; she didn't look well at all... Actually, she seemed a bit of an odd duck in general. Jonathan hadn't met a woman alive who didn't carry a purse, and the woman didn't seem to have had one in her belongings...
Then the woman pointed at the second bag and turned, gesturing down the hallway from which he and his family had just come. But when the woman's eyes flicked over and caught sight of him, she froze like a deer in headlights.
Jonathan met her stare with a puzzled frown, raising his eyebrows slightly. She looked nervous, glanced between Clark and Jonathan, then turned and said something hurried to the deputy, and gestured at Jon himself, before crossing her arms and turning away from them again. Jon watched her continue whatever discussion she'd been having earlier, with a little less animation in her gestures and significantly muted tones.
Jon cocked his head and got a sneaking suspicion.
When the deputy approached him and asked, "Er, you Clark Kent's father?" glancing down at his son-turned-daughter, Jon couldn't help but give the deputy a bit of a long look and sigh as he nodded. He took the bag from the young man and retrieved Clark's house keys and wallet for him.
"Wasn't another cellphone at the scene, sorry," the deputy said, but Jonathan just shook his head.
"Clark doesn't have one."
"Oh, right. Right!" the man said, looking relieved. He fumbled with the empty bag a bit, then turned and walked back to his superior officers... and Lex... as slowly as possible.
Jonathan sighed. He could hardly blame the man. ...And he should've known. That bright red, curly hair, all falling down in long flowing, probably horribly-tangled waves, plus that personality... Jon shook his head and wondered absently if the boy would go home and shave it all off directly; he seemed distracted and irritated by it, the way he kept swiping and batting at it intermittently.
And Lex kept stealing glances back at Clark. Guilt-ridden ones. And then twitching his gaze away whenever he realized Jonathan was noticing him doing it.
Jonathan didn't quite know how to feel about the whole thing, honestly. At first, it had sounded like Clark had just gotten caught up in whatever mess Luthor had tangled himself up in again, but looking at the woman-boy now, Jonathan realized that that wasn't quite the case. Clark had 'failed' to 'save' Lex, and it was clear that whatever had happened to them, had happened to the both of them.
Damn, Jonathan thought. I don't want to feel sorry for the boy.
Lex finally finished his conversation with the police and they moved away. Jonathan noted that they did not approach either himself or Clark. Lex lingered for a moment, and Jonathan walked over quickly, leaving Clark with Martha, his son in safe enough hands for the moment.
Lex turned back to them right as Jonathan came to a halt behind him, and the boy looked startled, his head tipping upwards and eyes widening. He recovered quickly, though.
"Mr. Kent!" he said in a slightly rough tone that was higher-pitched than normal. "I, ah..." Jon watched him swallow, then say, "I've spoken with the police. I answered all of their questions; they have as full a description of the events that occurred as they're likely to get from anyone. They shouldn't need to bother-- to speak with Clark about it."
Jonathan stared down at him. Up close, he looked like an absolute wreck, and -- yes -- he was definitely female now, if less different himself than Clark had become. And that sent a very ill thought through Jonathan's head.
"I, ah, I'm very sorry for what occurred. I had no idea--" Lex said, paling. It didn't escape Jon that the young woman looked like he expected Jonathan to strike him.
So, it seemed the Luthor boy wasn't nearly as in control over his reactions in this changed version of himself as he was as a young man. ...Unless the entire situation had shaken him a bit more than Jon could have guessed at. He supposed waking up a woman could unsettle any sort of man.
"Are you all right?" Jonathan finally asked, gruffly, crossing his arms.
Lex stared up at him blankly with wide eyes. He didn't seem to understand what Jonathan was asking, or trying to ask.
Jonathan sighed, and repeated patiently, "Lex, are you--"
"I'm fine," Lex said, slipping his hands into his pockets, then wincing slightly as one hand contacted something. "Apparently have asthma now, but I'm fine," he muttered.
"Like before?" Jonathan asked.
Lex's head shot up in shock and he rocked back a little on his heels. "Wh-- How did you--?!" Then his eyes narrowed and he searched Jonathan's face sharply. "Did Chloe say something?" he asked, almost suspiciously.
Jonathan frowned down at him. He couldn't think of why Luthor would get so defensive about something so trivial. "Chloe? About what?"
Lex stared at him for awhile, then shook his head slightly. He glanced down at the floor, looking a little confused and off-put. "Nothing. It seems the hair comes with asthma," he said, frowning at a strand of it that had slipped down in front of his vision, tugging at it lightly.
"Hmm. You reckon the reverse is true?" When Lex glanced up at him with a frown, Jonathan added, "You going to shave it all off? Doesn't look like you like it, much."
"It's annoying," Lex blurted out, then looked startled with himself at having admitted it out loud.
"Noticed that you thought that from across the hallway," Jonathan said with no little amusement. "You keep swiping at it," he explained at the young woman's glare.
"I do n--" Lex bit the inside of his cheek as he realized he was doing just that right then. He dropped his hands and shoved them in his pockets again, looking belligerent, and determined not to do it again. Then he looked about as happy as a wet cat as he shook his head, turning away a little too fast, and a huge cascade of his hair fell across his shoulder back into his vision again.
Jonathan had to stifle a laugh. He doubted he would find it well-received.
Lex must've picked up on it though, because Jonathan got himself yet another glare from the boy.
"Clark's going to be fine," Jonathan offered. "We're going to take him home to get some proper rest. I assume someone's coming from the mansion to pick you up so you can do the same?" he tried again.
"No, I'm going in to work," he said, sounding a little angry, not meeting Jonathan's gaze.
Jonathan stared down at the boy. "Lex, I doubt even Lionel would demand that you go in when you're this sick--" Jonathan started reasonably.
"I'm not sick, I'm a girl," he muttered. "Apparently that's not a disease, I hear tell," he added sarcastically.
"You may be 'a girl', but you are sick."
"I'm. Fine." Lex gritted out.
"Have you looked in a mirror lately?" he asked, because Lex really did look like hell. Jon was surprised that the boy was even up and walking around. He might not be as badly off as Clark, for whatever reason, but he still looked like death half-warmed-over.
"Why the hell do you care, anyway?" Lex spat out, glaring up at Jonathan, meeting his eyes in a clear, direct challenge. He looked like he was ready to throw a punch or two to punctuate it.
Jonathan uncrossed his arms and looked down on Lex balefully. "Well, Lex," he drawled, "It seems my son found fit to try and help you out of something pretty damn dangerous." He watched Lex flinch, but not back down. "The way I see it, I figure that if he's that worried about you, then maybe I ought to take an interest in you while he's not well enough to do it himself. It's the least I can do for him, considering he nearly got himself killed over it. Be a damn shame to see that effort wasted."
Lex looked like he'd been punched in the gut by the end of it. He dropped his gaze first, and after awhile, quietly said, "He is going to be ok, isn't he?"
"How do you know?" Lex said, glancing up, his eyes looking a little wet. And he realized that the boy really was worried about his son, the way Lex's gaze was searching his, in a desperate hope that Jonathan wasn't just saying things that he didn't mean, or didn't know for sure.
He held Lex's eyes for long enough to let the boy know that he knew Clark would recover, then said slowly, "Well, Lex. If there's one thing I know about my son, it's that Clark's too damn stubborn to die leaving a history exam undone that he's actually studied for."
Lex blinked up at him, relief floodig his features, and then as Jon's words impacted he looked a little shocked... and then he glanced down and got a tiny smile. "Yeah. That world history exam today, right?"
"...You know about that?"
"I helped him study for it. He had a lot of questions about the War of Roses."
"I thought you were more interested in all that old Greek and Roman stuff?" Jon asked, raising an eyebrow or two.
Lex glanced up, and Jonathan added sourly, "Clark may have mentioned it sometime." More than once.
At that, Lex grinned a little. "You've got something against European history?" he asked sweetly.
And that innocent tone with that expression on that body was more than a little discomfiting. And Jon knew a trick question when he heard one.
"Might be I just take exception about hearing about Trojan Horses every time Martha tries to trick Clark into eating peas."
And when the boy laughed, Jonathan thought he might have an inkling of what Clark might see in him, after all.
But Lex calmed pretty quickly, and looked uncomfortable again -- shoving his hands into his pockets again, and Jonathan was getting a sense of the gesture -- it was an indication of when Lex had something he badly wanted to know, but was trying to divert close attention from being taken too seriously on about. "Why are you being so..." he grimaced, "...nice?"
"You think I'm being nice?"
"Well, you're not... acting the way you usually do," Lex said, trying to be politic about it.
"Neither are you, Lex."
Lex gave him a look. "I've been acting horribly today," he put out there.
"I'd rather be dealing with a man himself, then some pretty false front he puts on as a show for others," Jonathan stated bluntly.
"...So you'd like it better if I acted horribly more often? Because I can do that," Lex said with a long, almost calculating look.
"Quit acting like some meek little kiss-ass that we both know you aren't and be honest, and we'll see," Jonathan said, feeling amused. "You can't hardly do worse than you have been," he pointed out.
"...And if I decided to curse up a storm at you sometime?" Lex prodded, obviously testing.
Jonathan crossed his arms again. "Then you'll be the one to have to deal with Martha if she overheard you." He nearly laughed at the look that crossed Lex's face then. Clearly his wife had a fan. "I used to have a few 'hands helping me out on the farm. I know what usually goes through young men's minds when the womenfolk aren't around."
Lex had the grace to wince, and in such a way that Jonathan knew that Lex knew exactly what he was talking about, and that had something in him sitting up and taking notice. Huh. And damn, but now Jonathan wanted to know how he knew how life on a farm usually went, because that wasn't the sort of thing a boy could learn second-hand. Interested in a Luthor. Hell, Clark is never gonna let me hear the end of this one, if he finds out. I'll be forever listening to "Lex did this" and "Lex did that" stories, god help me. ...So he'd better not let Clark find out then.
Lex glanced away, his eyes lighted on a clock, and he sucked in a hissed intake of breath. "I've got to go."
"And why are you in such an all-blasted hurry?" Jonathan frowned, following him a little ways.
"Work," came the one-word answer.
Jonathan caught up to him in a hurry, then clapped a hand down on his shoulder to keep him from running off.
Lex, startled, nearly threw him off, glancing back at him. He visibly calmed himself and tugged at Jonathan's hand. Jon let go.
"Look, my father is not nearly so... reasonable as you seem to be about... all this," he gestured down at himself. "So--"
"He told you to go in today?"
"Yes," Lex said impatiently, starting to move away, but keeping his eyes on Jonathan, probably to try and keep from getting captured by a restraining hand again.
"Did he get a good look at you?"
"Yes," Lex repeated, even less patiently.
Uncaring bastard, Jonathan thought. He couldn't believe it. Not even Lionel was that heartless. "Go home."
"Was planning on it. Need to get cleaned up first before going in," Lex muttered absently, and Jonathan just couldn't take it.
He reached forward and grabbed Lex's arm, and Lex jerked, startled. But before the boy could lash out, which he seemed to be gearing up to do, Jonathan had pulled the small pill bottle from his coat pocket and shoved it into Lex's hands.
"What--" Lex stopped looking like he was bracing for a fight, and instead looked confused all over again.
"Iodine pills. Doctors gave them to us for the radiation for Clark. Since you're in such an all-fire hurry, I figure we have more time to get another prescription than you do," Jonathan huffed. Because nobody seemed to be looking after the young man-now-woman, let alone himself. Clark would've done it, probably, if he'd been conscious just then.
Lex looked down at them sourly, and then held them out, trying to hand them back, almost offended at Jonathan's offer. "I can buy my own--"
"You think I can't afford it?" Jonathan said with a dangerous glare, and Lex backed down, looking startled again. Instead, he glanced down at the pill container uneasily, seemed o come to a decision, then slid it in a pocket before glancing back up at Jonathan and nodding sharply once. ...And then he glared at his hair again as it dropped over one eye completely. He spun on his heel and walked away as quickly as he could, swiping the hair back over his shoulder in an imperious gesture.
And by the time Jonathan was done being shocked with himself for his actions, Lex was too far away for Jonathan to chase down again.
Jonathan, in a bit of a foul mood now -- not that that was a new thing for him, when it came to Luthors; why couldn't he leave well enough alone? -- turned and walked back over to his own family. It looked as though Martha had nearly finished her heated 'discussion' with the nurses. Jonathan flagged down another nurse, and had another filled bottle of pills in his hands before Martha was ready to go.
Jonathan wheeled Clark out into the bright sunlight and over to the truck.
He didn't notice at first, but when Clark started groaning and twitching, he stopped pushing him and looked down.
"Clark?" he asked concerned, coming around the side.
Martha knelt down and pressed a hand against Clark's forehead. He was sweating buckets now, far worse than he'd been in his room.
Clark's eyes fluttered open, and a look of horrible pain crossed his face. He doubled over, spasming, and pitched forward out of the wheelchair.
"Jonathan!" Martha gasped, as they both tried to slow his fall.
And then Clark began making horrible noises.
Jonathan shoved Martha away and pulled Clark up from the ground a bit, just enough before he--
...and he held Clark as he vomited up dark green and red and black. Far too much red and black -- too much blood mixed in with the green meteor rock.
"Oh, my baby, my poor baby," Martha stuttered lowly, stroking the side of Clark's head.
Finally, after an age, Clark was giving dry heaves, and he collapsed. Jonathan drew his son up against his side and just held him.
"I... I..." Clark croaked, a little more awake now -- because, hell, who could stay asleep through something like that? -- " 'M sorry, dad," he cried, sounding tense and miserable. " 'M sorry. Made a mess, I..."
"Don't you worry, son. You need to get that... that junk out of your system, you do it however you can. Your body knows best. You just don't worry," he repeated, stroking Clark's hair gently.
" 'M sorry..." his son said more quietly, subdued and sagging against him now that he knew he wasn't in trouble.
"Shh, Clark," Jonathan repeated, hugging him close, like he had when he'd been younger, littler.
Clark gave out a shuddering sigh and slowly relaxed in his arms. And at that Jonathan was more than a little startled. It was then he finally realized how much pain his son had been in, now that Jonathan was seeing the pinched look in him fading.
Martha quietly helped clean him up. Jonathan gave up using the wheelchair and just lifted Clark in his arms. He was much smaller now. Small again. Frgile, almost, thought lord knew that Jon and Martha knew the truth and lies of that, by now. He carried his son to the truck, and Martha opened it and helped get him inside.
Jonathan couldn't help but notice how much better Clark looked now, having gotten that mass of meteor rock out of his system. He was looking better and better with each passing minute, and his breathing was evening out, getting deeper and stronger.
Jonathan heaved a deep relieved sigh, sharing a look with his wife.
Then he got in the truck and drove them home.
No-one noticed the overworked, underpaid janitor ('custodial services understudy') who saw the skeletal-looking girl make a mess on the asphalt by the ambulance loading bay and, grumbling, mixed up and then tossed a few buckets of bleach-water solution on it to sanitize it and wash it away into the sewer drains.
A certain blonde-haired high-school reporter, however, tracked him down later and interviewed him on what he'd seen.
Lex decided that whoever had invented the bra needed to be shot.
Clearly it had been a woman, because a man would make it easy to get into one, as well as out of it!
(And while Lex had a lot of experience in getting women out of bras by this point, it had taken a lot of practice. So, case-in-point, there.)
He'd put in the order to his tailor for new clothing that was tailored for a woman approximately his size, and not worried about trying to hide it. If his own staff threw him out of the plant, not recognizing him... well, so be it. His father could battle it out with them if he so desired, but in the meantime Lex would be perfectly happy getting himself some well-deserved rest in his own, fluffy, really comfortable, bed, that was practically calling him like a siren...
The man had delivered (he should, being paid what he was), but the contents themselves were a bit byzantine. He'd almost tossed out the panties, before deciding that burning them might be better, because, well, lace. Except then he'd tried his normal underwear -- both boxers and briefs -- and neither fit him fit properly under the pants he'd been sent, and when in a fit of pique -- adamant that the tailor must have been screwing with him and that nothing would work with the pants he'd been given -- he'd actually tried the damn things on, and he'd found to his everlasting horror that they'd actually been comfortable and that had just been fucking mortifying because now he had to back down on it and he was going to be wearing fucking lace underthings to work...
But... The. Damn. Bra. Good god. He could not for the life of him... Was this perhaps why it took women three hours to get ready to go anyplace? If so -- and Lex was seriously not discounting that as a possibility at the moment -- Lex resolved to quit the fertilizer business immediately and go into women's underwear-making. Females everywhere would laud his genius and probably elect him for some sort of award. He could completely remove any stain from the Luthor name by this one act, and probably proactively clear a few future besmirgings of the Luthor name as well.
After twenty minutes, he threw the offending item down onto the bathroom floor in disgust, wrapped a towel around his shoulders (because at least his socks and pants hadn't been much of a problem, even if the lower half of underwear had been a bit of a psychological one), and Lex decided to try one last, horribly desperate measure.
He walked (stomped) out of his suite, hailed down the good Mrs. Palmer, his matronly housekeeper, and asked (begged) her to please help him with just this one thing.
And, five minutes later, after following the instructions she orated to him through his closed bathroom door, he had The Damn Bra on, and felt like a complete idiot, because four of those minutes had involved walking back to his room.
He kindly but weakly thanked her, and finished adding the shirt -- blouse, though why it had a different name, he couldn't fathom -- over top of the Damn thing.
He still resolved to open an underwear-making business at first opportunity, though.
At least he wasn't expected to wear high heels. He got low-flats instead. Apparently women of his stature didn't have to put up with that crap if they didn't want to.
The shower had cleaned him up a bit, but Mr. Kent had been right in his earlier (what Lex had assumed was a smart-ass comment but, in actuality, completely fair) assessment. Looking in his mirror, in his well-lit bathroom, Lex saw a very ill-looking individual. He really should probably be staying home today, if he knew what was good for him.
His hair was totally unmanageable, though, and even worse, he didn't have the time or the proper tools to deal with it.
He turned to exit, even had laid a hand on the doorknob, when something in the reflected image caught his eye. He did a double-take, then slid a hand up to finger his collar -- oh god, not more frills! -- and bared his teeth at this final offense.
He raged in silence, pacing the floor like a caged animal, because he couldn't very well exit without the proper attire, as his housekeeper was waiting on the other side of the door. For all he knew, if he exited wearing only the towel about his shoulders, she might want to check the fit of the Damn Thing! And, god help him, he would never survive that sort of indignity. (Not to mention that he'd have the rest of the staff snickering behind his back about lace until the end of time -- servants, after all, gossiped. Always.)
He pressed his hands against his forehead and tried to think.
Then he glanced over at his shirt -- the shirt he'd been wearing before. It was a bit... stained with sweat and blood and... well, it wasn't all that bad, really... just a bit disheveled-looking...
And it had fit, still. Earlier. Sort of.
He undid the buttons at the sleeves and all down the front, slid out of the offensive blouse, and tossed it over a towel rack. He scooped up the previously-discarded shirt and shoved his arms into the sleeves.
He shuddered slightly at the feel of it against his clean skin, but he endured it. After all, he'd been wearing it only an hour or so earlier.
It was only after getting it on and looking himself over in the mirror that he realized that he looked completely unpresentable in it. It was too dirty, and sent completely the wrong message about his state and status after the kidnapping and subsequent hospitalization.
Also, it being a fitted shirt, it also seemed to emphasize his breasts, being that they did not fit and were straining against the material in the region of his chest.
Looking down, he realized with no small horror that, in fact, the material was so tight that one could actually tell that the bra he was wearing was-- well, it didn't have lace like the other unmentionables he refused to name, but it was far too feminine-shaped and cut in its own right, and one could discern this, as it outlined every damn curve--
He pulled at the buttons with shaking fingers, and nearly ripped the shirt off and away from him. He glared down at it as he smushed it together into a ball, before turning and hurling it against the wall of the shower. It impacted, and then fell to the smooth porcelain base of the tub with a damp thump.
Lex braced both hands against the counter of the sink and stared down into the basin. He was shivering. He closed his eyes, slowly curled his fingers into fists, and leaned forward heavily, trying to ignore the feeling of being trapped.
He was still shivering.
He stepped back abruptly, turned, and grabbed a slightly damp towel he'd used earlier. He rubbed himself down, removing the slightly sticky feel of the residue from his shirt.
He wrapped the towel around his arms, shawl-like, as before.
He slowly curled his fingers into the soft cotton.
He jumped at a gentle knocking at the bathroom door. "Are you all right, sir?" he heard.
"I'm fine," Lex replied after clearing his throat quietly, swallowing hard.
Silence. One of the patiently-waiting variety. Damn.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, and then looked over again at the thrice-damned blouse, oh-so-subtly feminine. His eyes narrowed and he straightened.
If only he'd been able to find some scissors earlier. He could have dealt with this easily. Certainly, cutting the collar straight would have left him with a highly unprofessional look -- all the loose threads and missing stitching -- but he could have -- would have -- done it... if not for the unbelievable absence of every damn pair of scissors on the premises. He'd thought there ought to have been some in the library, or even his study. At least one pair in the entire damn mansion.
He would have cut a great deal more than that collar, if he had.
He glared at the collar some more, and wished for laser eyebeams like Warrior Angel for the umpteenth time. (Not wanting them for the express purpose of cutting down Luthorcorp board members or the usual group of feeble-minded, giggly, simpering, pandering, or all-around idiotic hangers-on that tended to bore him was, admittedly, a new and somewhat novel use of eye-laser empowerment that he had not imagined previously.)
...Playing devil's advocate on a lark, he reminded himself that hadn't noticed that there was something wrong with the collar before when he'd first been putting it on. Perhaps it wasn't as blatantly obvious as all that.
And he had managed the bra, hadn't he?
And the... underthings...
It was just a little bit frilly. (At least it wasn't lacey.)
Women wore this sort of thing all the time. (No -- worse, actually.)
He had shirts in his closet that were worse than this, when it came to frilly-ruffles and such. (Even if they were technically of a masculine cut.)
Hell. Who am I trying to fool?
He gritted his teeth and put the god-damned blouse back on.
He stared at himself in the mirror.
This blouse that had been given to him was, at least, both of a heavy enough material and cut loosely enough that one couldn't see every outline of The Damn Bra, of which the less was said the better. In fact, the front of the blouse seemed to fall outright smooth down his slightly-sloped chest -- and, well, the less that was protruding there, the better. He could also button it right up to the top of his neck. He hadn't been able to do so quite properly with his shirt, and it had left him feeling slightly... naked... in the throat region.
If not for the damn collar...
...which his hair almost hid it as it was...
When he exited the bathroom, and Mrs. Palmer didn't say a word about the collar -- instead offering to help him with his hair, with a teary-eyed look, Lex just knew then and there that 1) he was an idiot for fixating on the collar, when everyone would clearly be far too busy staring at his hair, instead, and 2) there wasn't anything salveageable about the mess at all. He was even more convinced when he declined her offer and informed her of his decision to hack it down to a manageable length at earliest opportunity, and she sounded so horribly sad and consoling about the whole thing.
He managed to mostly towel the Wavey Curls Of Doom dry, popped a few iodine pills (in retrospect, they were a good idea all around), grabbed a bag lunch, and got out of the mansion before noon. And, quite frankly, as far as Lex was concerned, that was the best his father was going to get out of him today.
To his amazement, no-one at the plant challenged him or his presence. Apparently word had gotten around somehow, and everyone at the plant seemed to recognize him on sight. (Probably from the Blazing Red Hair. Which kept getting in his way. He swore it could not possibly have been this bad when he'd been younger, even if he couldn't remember it to properly compare.)
Then again, it was Smallville. Maybe men turning into women was seen as more of a been-there-done-that, when up against fat-sucking vampires, heat-sucking football jocks, and shapeshifting teenage girls.
Lex nearly tripped over his own feet going up a flight of stairs at that last one.
He had to stop and sit down for a moment and remember how to breathe. Oh god, it is a been-there-done-that! Because Tina Greer could go through a complete body change, not just female to male, but female-herself to male-looking-like-Lex, and not just once! In a way, what she could do at will whenever she wanted was like a super-set of what had been forced upon him and Clark, that their bodies had been locked into.
And she was alive and in Belle Reeve, locked away and perfectly healthy. (Well, except for the psychosis, but that was largely incidental.)
Lex was going to need to find a way to get her to cooperate with the research Lionel had said he was going to be instigating. Somehow, maybe there was a link...
Thoughts and new possibilities whirling through his mind, Lex managed to make it to his office without further mishap, but he knew he wasn't going to be able to focus very well on his work that day. So, he decided on a tour of the plant to start, to review the current status of the improvements he'd been implementing to try and streamline the work flow, and hoped that Gabe could find him something a little less brain-intensive for the latter-half of the day after that.
Gabe Sullivan hadn't thought that the film badge dosimeters, which the younger Mr. Luthor had insisted every employee start wearing, were anything but a waste of funds better spent elsewhere. He'd thought it patently ridiculous that Mr. Luthor had believed what that lunatic, who'd held his daughter and her school class hostage in the plant, had said: that Level 3 existed, and that they'd been playing with dangerous levels of radioactive meteor rock there. It was patently ridiculous -- as if the meteor rock was really radioactive! If it had been, the EPA would've declared the entire town a hazard and evacuated them to clean the community up, as well as the surrounding countryside. Even his daughter's newspaper articles never made that claim about the rocks.
But when Gabe's radiation badge reading started to change colors over the course of the day, working at Mr. Luthor's side, he began to worry.
When Mr. Luthor himself started sweating horribly and stagered into a restroom, and Gabe found himself taking care of him-- her in a nearby toilet stall, he mused that he'd never imagined that his job would ever entail holding a boss' hair during work hours. He'd never thought of the younger Mr. Luthor as frail, or a bit of a coal canary before, but if they'd been exposed to something, he didn't doubt that the younger Mr. Luthor would be affected more badly, and sooner, than he himself ever would be.
He first became worried when Mr. Luthor started throwing up something bright green, along with what looked like blood. He became more than a little alarmed when Mr. Luthor then tried to calm him down by saying that 'it wasn't as bad as it had been this morning', and that 'he felt much better now.'
Gabe left the young plant manager to tidy up a bit on his own and flagged down a co-worker. He exchanged radiation badges, and told the man to grab a few other folks and some active electronic dosimeters and retrace their path, just in case. If there was some radiation 'leak' coming from somewhere, then somebody had a lot of explaning to do, because they didn't deal in that sort of thing, here. He also resolved to keep a very close eye on Mr. Luthor for the rest of the day.
But his badge didn't seem to change for the rest of the day as he stuck by Mr. Luthor's side, who might profess that he was feeling much better, but really looked like he ought to be flat on his back at home. (Of course, no-one was going to stand up to the elder Mr. Luthor's orders, least of all his son, and sadly everyone knew better than to suggest such a thing.) When his workers reported back that they'd found nothing along their route, Gabe had to simply shrug it off.
When he got home that night and found out from his daughter that whatever had occurred that had turned Mr. Luthor female hadn't been the normal town weirdness, but something else entirely involving a radiation treatment, the hairs on the nape of his neck nearly stood on end.
Dear god, he thought, horrified.
Well, Gabe knew what to do about this, at least. He was increasing the security presence both at the gates and on the parking lot the very next day. He wasn't about to put himself back in a position that would have him worrying whether his boss would be abducted at an inopportune time, let alone turn up again radioactive the very next day.
Jonathan found himself more and more relieved every time Clark needed to get up from bed and throw up in the bathroom again.
After the third time, which looked to be the last, Clark ended up wandering downstairs and collapsing on the couch, curled up in a patch of sunlight, breathing easily, no longer sweating, and almost smiling in what Jonathan reckoned was blessed relief.
At dinner, Clark was actually able to get up himself and feed himself. He didn't seem much more capable than shoveling food into his mouth, though, and not really much aware of where he was -- except home -- and how much or what he was eating -- three times what he usually did, and pretty much the entire house -- but he was up and walking around and eating, and his color had improved immensely.
Neither Jonathan or Martha begrudged him the food, though. At one point Jon even tried to pitch in, making pancakes while Martha was putting together peanut-butter sandwiches in-between chopping up another large bowl of salad, and when he finally stopped and sleepily curled up in his own bed, he looked a good sight less drawn and less skeletal than he had before.
"I think I'll go to the store first-thing in the morning and restock the kitchen, Martha."
His wife nodded to him. "I'll pull up the rest of the winter garden -- it's nearly done producing, anyway."
If they could keep Clark eating like this, he ought to be back to himself -- well, healthy, at least -- in no time.
Assuming we can keep him from feeling even more guilty about eating that much more than he usually does, and keep up his appetite.
Neither of them had really thought through much about what to do about gently breaking the news to him that he was a girl. They were too focused on getting him back to looking and feeling well, and still too used to thinking of him as a boy, despite evidence to the contrary.
At least, Jonathan was. Martha was keenly aware of it, but in a bit of denial, though Jonathan didn't quite realize it at the time...
Martha was frantic the next morning when Jonathan returned from his grocery trip.
She'd just checked in on their son a few minutes ago, seen him still asleep. She'd quietly left some clothing for him that might fit, and had gone outside to pull up some of the turnips.
When she'd gotten back inside, she'd puttered around in the kitchen for a bit, then gone upstairs to peek in on Clark again, but she found herself greeted by an empty bed.
Clark was gone.
Lex was in a foul mood the next morning, not having slept well. His hair was causing him issues, not least of which was that it was a wreck, he couldn't handle it properly, and he'd been too tired the previous night to find some scissors and hack away at it.
He hadn't liked his hair before, but this was damn ridiculous.
So he glowered as he went through his shower -- using the vaguely floral-scented shampoo and conditioner that Mrs. Palmer had all-but-thrust upon him the previous evening before bed. He glowered at himself in the mirror as he got the comb -- a similarly forced 'gift' -- stuck in his hair twelve times before giving up -- his hair was effectively one huge mess of tangled snarls that he was certain he would never get out. He glowered perhaps a little less when he slid into his favorite high-speed convertible... but then was sent glowering again as he realized that the wind most decidedly did not feel the same now, nor gave him the exhilirating rush he was used to -- because rather than merely gliding across his face and over his head like a tactile adrenaline rush, it instead sent his damnable hair whipping around his face, and that fucking hurt.
He'd actually had to make a decision between putting the top up or driving slow.
He skidded to a halt once he hit Main Street, parked in a huff, and stomped into the Beanery, at least wanting an honest-to-god good cup of coffee this morning. He knew he wasn't going to get one, but he was damn well going to try and hold out high hopes anyway, until they were dashed after their latest attempt at brown sludge hit his lips -- lord help him, but if someone ever offered to build him a decent coffee shop in this backwater town, he'd fund the entire damn thing for one good cup a day, that's all he'd ever ask! -- but as he stomped by one set of partially occupied tables, just at the side of center of the shop, he spun and did a double-take.
"Clark?" he asked, barely recognizing his friend. The difference of just one day -- he didn't look sick anymore, thank god!
"Mmm?" Clark said around a mouthful of what looked to be a peanut butter sandwich. --At least, Lex surmised as much, given the loaf of bread and open jar of peanut butter (with knife-stuck-in) sitting on the table next to a half-drained jug of milk. He watched Clark blink up at him, swallow his mouthful, and then lift the milk and take a good swallow straight from the jug one-handed, all without letting go of the half-a-sandwich he was clutching.
"Hey, Lex," Clark said thickly, then took another swallow of milk. "So, um... hair?" he said, tilting his head.
Lex sighed heavily and glanced away. He started when his usual nervous gesture -- running a hand over his head -- encountered said hair. He glowered a bit upwards at it, blew out a breath, and all but fell onto one of the spindly and highly uncomfortable high-backed wood-and-metal chairs next to Clark.
"Yes, hair. Apparently I can have an excellent immune system and no asthma or hair, or asthma and hair. Apparently both walk where none fear to tread," he ended with a sigh, propping his head up with a fist, and a bad-mannered elbow on the table.
Clark snickered. "It's not that bad."
"It is that bad! Look at this!" Lex complained, grasping a chunk of still slightly-soggy hair in one hand and moving it upwards. The rest of his mass of hair followed. "It's a complete mess!"
Clark eyed his hair critically. "You want some help with that?"
"Do you have a pair of scissors? Or a razor?" Lex said, huffing, letting go of the mass of hair and feeling it swing down like a weighty pendulum behind him.
"Lex! You shouldn't just cut it all off!" Clark protested.
Lex blinked, then gave him Clark a disbelieving look. "Why not?"
"Because if you just shave it all off, you'll have to do it a bunch of times, and it'll probably itch coming back in."
Lex blinked at him, and felt a little horrified at the notion. His scalp shouldn't itch!
"Cutting it too short would probably be bad, too, because then it might fall into your eyes and face and you wouldn't be able to pull it out of the way," Clark added, scrunching up his face and giving Lex's hair a critical look.
Lex knew he must've pulled a look just then, because a few female school-aged teens giggled at him as they walked by towards the ordering counter.
Lex folded his arms, crossed his legs, somewhat demurely, and said, "Well, then, what would you recommend, Clark?"
...And now it was Clark's turn to look a little taken aback. "Well, um..." He stopped and gave the idea the weight of his full attention for a few moments, then he brightened a bit.
"Just wait here for a sec, ok?" he said, getting up from the table and heading for the drinks counter.
Lex eyed Clark as he walked off. He didn't exactly move like a guy, but he didn't move like a girl, either. He did, however, move like Clark, which was both odd... and not.
He took a deep breath and surveyed the rest of the Beanery. No-one seemed to be paying him the least amount attention, really. He wasn't sure whether to be offended by this or not. Really, was this town so completely insane that men turning into women didn't even hit on anyone's radar?
...Actually, Lex didn't want to know the answer to that, now that he thought about it.
Clark stopped at the counter and flagged down a waitress who he seemed to know, or at least was comfortable being friendly with. He leaned against the coffee bar and chatted her up. She lowered her tray to her hip, frowning slightly, but when Clark motioned a hand towards Lex and then back at himself, she glanced over, her eyebrows rose as she looked at Lex, and then she turned and smiled at Clark brightly, nodding as she gave her response.
And then he watched as she handed off her tray to another server with what looked like a faster rundown of an explanation, and another exchange of smiles.
The girl disappeared into the back for a moment as Clark waited patiently. Then she returned and handed over a few small items, which Clark took up in his hands, with a grin and what was obviously a 'thank you'.
Lex waited until Clark had returned to their table, then said without preamble, "You're wearing a skirt."
Clark glanced down at the one-tone long green skirt and said, "Yeah, mom laid it out for me this morning, and I don't think any of my pants will fit," with a shrug.
"Is it..." Lex gave him an uncertain look.
"Weird? Kinda, I guess. It's all... open and flow-y, really different than jeans," Clark said, wrinkling his nose. "But it's got a stretchy waist, and it fits, and I've gotta wear something to school, so..." he trailed off, shrugging as he pulled his chair around the side behind Lex and sat down. "At least it's long?"
Lex turned around and slung an arm over the back on his chair, facing Clark. "You know, I could--" he started, about to suggest a shopping trip for pants that would fit him and other less-obviously-female-looking-ish items -- after all, it was Lex's fault that Clark had gotten into this mess, and he doubted the Kents had much in their clothes budget for this sort of thing -- when he realized Clark was frowning at him furiously.
"Ah, problem?" Lex asked tentatively.
"You've gotta turn around," Clark said.
Lex blinked at him. "Why?"
"Because I can't fix it like that," Clark said firmly.
Lex blinked again, nonplussed, then looked down at what Clark had in his hands: a hairbrush, a comb, and some... hair-fastening tools? A few were circular, like a rubber band, and some just looked like long thin pieces of rope -- or thick thread.
"You-- what?" Lex said intelligently. Sort of.
Clark sighed, set everything but the hairbrush down on the table, and said, "Turn around."
Lex found his elbow lifted and dropped over the chairback without fanfare, and his shoulders abruptly turned so that he was sitting straight-ahead.
He frowned and turned his head to ask--
"No, no moving," Clark said, putting both hands on either side of his head and gently twisting it straight-forward again.
Lex blinked, and said nervously -- while not turning around again -- "Clark, I don't think--"
Lex cringed internally and braced himself for the truly horrific and incredibly futile hair-pulling experience he was about to endure, squeezing his eyes shut.
He heard brushy-snarly sounds from behind him, but no painful yanking.
Lex slowly cracked his eyes open, and tentatively forced himself to relax. And then sat with his hands folded in his lap, and wondered what the hell Clark was doing back there, because he must be doing something, but...
...well, he actually didn't feel any tugging at all.
Lex started to turn his head again, but remembered Clark's earlier warning. He tried to glance about, moving only his eyes, to see what was going on in any reflective surface--
--He managed to partially see what Clark was doing out of the corner of his eye in the reflection in the storefront's window glass, but not much. He did seem to be brushing, at least, and very intent on it, too -- biting his lower lip as he focused entirely on Lex's hair.
"Not that I'm complaining, Clark--" because god knew he wasn't! "--but why does it not hurt?" Lex asked finally.
"I'm holding your hair above where I'm brushing," Clark said. "Tugging is bad."
Yes. Yes, it is, Lex thought. "But aren't you supposed to brush it from the top?"
The brushing noises paused a moment, as Clark paused in his efforts. "You tried to brush it from the top without getting all the bottom stuff unsnarled first?" he said incredulously.
Lex opened his mouth to snap at Clark and tell him off for using that tone of voice on him, except his brain caught up with him first. He remembered some things he'd learned at the ranch in Montanta about knots in rope and where and how to go about the start of untangling things, and...
Lex snapped his mouth shut and felt his cheeks heat.
"Wow. No wonder you had problems," Clark continued, unaware. The brushing sounds resumed.
Five minutes later and Clark had made it up to Lex's skull, and was apologizing every few seconds for the tugs because he couldn't keep from pulling those snarls.
Lex didn't really mind though, because half the time he didn't hit a snarl, and...
And then it was all-clear. Just long stokes, starting at the top of his head, and Lex just sat back and let Clark do it, closing his eyes and revelling in the feeling, because, god, this felt so decadent, so sensual, so...
Clark pulled the hairbrush bristles through his hair with another long stroke, and Lex sighed softly, a gentle smile surfacing to grace his lips as he tilted his head back just a little.
Mmmm, this could go on forever...
Except it didn't.
Lex slowly opened his eyes, trying not to whine, because there really was no good way to ask Clark to just keep going--- ohmygod, Clark's hands were in his hair why?
He started, his eyes widening and shoulders tensing, then slammed his eyes shut and forced himself not to flinch as Clark's fingers ran through his hair again. His fingers curled up in his lap and he tried not to shiver; he really wasn't used to this.
And then Clark's broad palm swept across a huge portion of his head and that was too much! "Clark, what--!?"
"Sorry, gotta get it up. You're hair's too long to just let it hang down loose all day, if you can't brush it yourself; it'll tangle up all over again. I think I can do this right... --Let me know if it feels too tight?"
Lex suddenly realized that Clark's other hand was at the base of his neck, curled up around...
Lex bit his lip and tried not to giggle as Clark pulled his hair back and secured it in a ponytail.
"That feel ok?"
Lex almost nodded before he rememberred he wasn't supposed to move. "Yes."
"Ok, good. I used the strap, ok? You should just be able to untie the bow and unwind it from around the hair."
"Ok," Lex said, and he started to lean forward when he felt a hand on his shoulder again. "Problem?"
"...Still not done?" Lex asked, wondering what could possibly be left to--
"I'm gonna try to braid it. It's still mostly free, sort of -- it'll just snarl from the ponytail down."
Lex glanced back over his shoulder, feeling his hair swing behind him -- and it was a much smoother, sweeping, free-r cascading feeling, now that it wasn't all snarled. Still odd, though. "Do you know how to do that?"
Clark looked a little uncertain, but nodded tentatively. "I've seen dad do it for mom once. I think I remember it right."
"All right, Clark," Lex said after a moment's pause, turning back around.
He blew out a quiet breath as Clark brushed at his hair again, and this time he felt every tug as he did it -- apparently Clark couldn't do everything he needed to do while holding his hair still -- and then an odd constant pressure.
"No, you need to pull your head forward," he heard Clark say as he let his head fall back. Lex felt more than heard a mad scramble, then more brushing and a grumble, and soon enough he had a long braid tossed over his left shoulder with one of the cloth-like rubber bands securely wrapped multiple times around the end. He stroked his fingers over, and through, the very soft-feeling fluffy-looking tuft of hair at the end that was free, and wondered at it -- this is my hair? It was actually kind of... soft. And a little wave-y when not tangled. Huh.
"Everything work out ok?" Lex heard, and he turned his head and glanced up at the waitress from earlier.
"Yup!" Clark said brightly behind him, passing over the brush, comb, and remaining assorted hair-things. "Thanks!"
"No problem," she smiled back. "Happy to help in a hair emergency," she winked at Lex, as she sat down two cups of coffee and three muffins in front of him -- blueberry.
"Oh, uh, yeah, I kind of ordered for you -- hope that's ok," Clark said sheepishly.
Lex shook his head slightly. After fixing his hair, he had no complaints, especially since he always ordered the same thing, and Clark apparently knew his order. Though the order itself was a bit larger than usual...
Well, first things first. "What do I owe you for...?" Lex asked the waitress, gesturing at his hair.
But he only got a laugh in return. "Oh, don't worry about it," she said. "I've got a zillion of those things at home. Besides," she winked, "it's for a good cause."
Lex smiled back tentatively, and instead handed over the payment for his breakfast, along with a generous tip, which he hoped would cover her trouble and replacements, though he had no idea how much they might cost.
He got back a grin and a pat on the shoulder, so he figured it must've been enough.
"So, Clark..." he began, after Clark had moved his chair back around and settled back in with his own breakfast feast of sorts, "Why so much food?"
"Oh. Um," Clark blushed a little. "I've been ravenous since, well, you know," he grimaced. "Haven't you?"
Lex had to stop and think about it, but Clark was right -- he had eaten a great deal more in the past twenty-four hours than usual, and hadn't skipped any meals, besides.
"You think it's a side effect of the process?" Lex asked, taking a sip of his coffee before pulling a bite-sized chunk from his first muffin with his fingers and popping it in his mouth.
"Mmm, maybe. But, I guess I was super-thin, too. Like unhealthy-whatever. I, uh, I kinda... got sick... a lot. And I think I burned a lot off getting better, or something."
Lex turned over the thought in his mind as he quietly ate. Clark had been an ungodly stick-figure mess. It would make sense that his immune system would need food for energy to fix... whatever had been damaged, and heal what needed healing. Not to mention filling him back out again, Lex realized, eyeing Clark with his previous state-of-body in mind, as Clark had looked at the hopsital. That did actually make quite a lot of sense, and, looking at what Clark was eating -- high-energy breads and nuts, and milk with calcium for his bones along with other nutrients -- yes, it was no wonder why Clark was eating what he was, and looking far healthier for it.
"I hope you're not skimping on the meat," Lex added, because he would probably need the iron and animal protein, if he'd had nearly as much blood loss as Lex had had through... 'getting sick'.
"Mmm, not sure I have that much money on me," Clark said. "Probably had a lot last night," he offered.
"You're not sure?" Lex asked, frowning.
Clark shook his head. "I don't remember yesterday really well," he said, making himself up another two sandwiches.
"Then why would you think so?" Lex asked, curious.
"Because I bought this stuff with my allowance money this morning," Clark said around a mouthful of sandwich. "There was, like, no food in the house."
Lex eyebrows raised. "None?" He found that hard to believe.
But Clark just smirked and gave a significant glance down at Lex's placesetting.
Lex looked down and wondered where the hell all three muffins and his coffee had gone off to.
Then he winced slightly and felt his cheeks heat again.
Clark just grinned and offered up a peanut butter sandwich.
Lex, bemused, gingerly took it, and watched Clark grab another gallon of milk from a grocery bag on the floor, unscrew the lid, and refill one of his coffee cups with it.
"How did you get them to let you eat outside food in here?" Lex asked, realizing that nothing on the table was actually something that could be bought from the menu here.
"Oh, I got a cup of hot chocolate and two bagels with cream cheese. The grocery store was out of bagels -- can you believe that?"
Lex smiled at his over his cup of milk... and it soured as he glanced over at the door as he heard a familiar voice and laughter.
Lex finished off the sandwich quickly, and chugged down the milk, because lord knew he wouldn't be able to get anything else down after this.
He tried to look nonchalant and not glare up at the three men who were walking up the aisle, hoping beyond hope that they weren't actually here because... no, damn, they were walking up to their table -- fuck -- but certainly they wouldn't actually recognize...
"Well, look who it is," the blonde decked out in green drawled down at him, looking amused, with malice glittering in his eyes.
"Oliver," Lex said flatly, because it was obvious now that there was no point in denying it -- they already knew he was him. Word must have gotten around somehow, outside town. He turned away slightly to keep from giving Oliver a dark glare -- he knew better than to instigate a fight with the now (mostly) grown-up bully, because, fuck, he had to live here. He didnt want the town to think that he--
"Hey, shit, he really does look just like a girl, now!" Alden piped up, with a snickering laugh from Geoffrey. Lex visibly winced at bad memories.
"Lex doesn't look like a girl..." Clark said uncertainly, frowning up at the trio.
"No, he just is one," Oliver grinned. "Always has been."
Lex gritted his teeth and told hmself it wasn't worth it.
"Uh, noooo," Clark said slowly, like he was talking to a brain-damaged fool. "Lex is a guy. Always has been."
All four of the Excelsior Prep graduates turned to stare at Clark.
"What?" Clark said. He tilted his head at Lex. "Just because you sort of have hair now and, uh, your chest is kinda... less flat..." Clark frowned, like he'd lost track of what he was trying to make a point about. "Anyway, I mean, you still look like you, and you're still a guy," he ended, talking to Lex.
"Lex is a girl," Oliver repeated.
"Hey," Clark protested. "Just because his body's a little more girly now, doesn't mean Lex isn't a guy. He's totally a guy! And so am I!" he ended heatedly, taking a bite out of yet another peanut butter sandwich. He chewed at them while the three older bullies exchanged looks.
Alden started in on him first. "Wait, wait, you're the other guy who got surgery with him!" He started laughing hysterically, nastily.
Clark frowned up at Alden. Then his frown deepened and he slowly set down his sandwich as he looked the other two of them over.
"Damnit, Oliver, just leave him alone, you don't know--" Lex started lowly, almost under his breath to his long-standing tormentor as he slowly stood up, because fuck it if he got Clark caught up in this, too--
"No, no," Oliver said, with a pasted-on smile, brushing Lex aside and taking a step towards Clark. He leaned down over Clark, one hand on the table, and said, "I'm kind of curious. You know, why you did it. What's your type?" he grinned with a totally facetious smile.
Lex's blood ran cold.
"Excuse me?" Clark said calmly.
Lex nearly sucked in a breath at Clark's response, because that didn't sound right. Clark didn't--
"I was just wondering if you'd like to go out sometime," Oliver said smoothly, with his two cohorts looking all innocent behind him, and Lex clenched and unclenched his fists. Fuck but Lex wanted to hurt him, because he knew what Oliver was thinking, because if Clark had gotten a sex-change operation because he was interested in guys -- thank god that wasn't the case -- Oliver was going to-- thinking of-- trying to basically hurt him by--
"No, thank you," Clark said with zero interest, turning back to his milk and downing the rest of the gallon before setting it back down, effectively giving Oliver the cold shoulder.
Oh, hey, Clark knows how to dole out rejection like a pro! Lex laughed weakly to himself because, really, who knew?
Oliver's eyes narrowed, and he straightened. "Oh, sorry, I didn't realize," he drawled, reaching in a pocket. He tossed a few dollar bills down onto the tabletop, with a sneer.
Lex stepped forward and grabbed Oliver by the shoulder, wrenching him back, about to flatten Oliver for the implication--
Clark scooped up the money neatly, folded it between his fingers, and said, "Oh, don't worry," as he stood up, took one step forward, and slid it neatly between Oliver's pants and his belt. "I can pay for my own meals."
Lex's jaw dropped.
Oliver's eyes widened in shock, and then he shrugged off Lex's grip like it was a minor annoyance, took a step forward, and loomed over Clark. Alden and Geoffrey stood at his shoulders, a step away from cornering Lex's young friend.
Clark didn't back down. He just tilted his head back a little and put his hands on his hips.
Lex's brain was jibbering at him incoherently at this point, because Clark didn't get aggressive, he never got aggressive. Also, he was a five-foot-maybe-two-inch-nothing girl right now, and these were three six-foot guys with at least a hundred pounds on him, each, and-- what the fuck, his brain was telling him that the brunette in front of him was really, really hot and it was doing strange uncomfortable warm things to his innards--
"Clark..." Lex said, starting to step forward.
"It's fine Lex, I'm handling this," Clark said calmly without looking away from Oliver.
Oliver tensed his shoulder and neck muscles, as though to move forward, obviously readying for a fight.
Oh god, he was going to be scraping his friend off of the floor--
And then Lex blinked and had to resist the urge to hide, because the person who had said -- commanded -- that? Had been him.
Lex was also a good step forward from where he'd been standing before, at Clark's shoulder, and when had that happened, exactly?
Four sets of eyes turned to look at him. Three were worse-than-unfriendly. One was understanding.
"Really, Lex, it's fine. I've got this."
Lex took a deep breath, about to protest as he stared into Clark's eyes... and instead found himself nodding slightly and backing down, literally taking a step back, because he... couldn't really do anything anyway. Taking on all three of them at once... Clark would still end up in the thick of it, trying to rescue him out of the beatdown of his life. I might as well let Clark try... Lex supposed, thought he still felt more than a little frantic and highly uncomfortable about it...
...especially since Clark seemed to have forgotten that he wasn't six-foot-three and two-hundred-some-odd pounds of strong Kansas farmboy muscle anymore.
Oliver was looking between the two of them, amused for some reason. "Really, Luthor? You're gonna hide behind this little girl?" he grinned. Lex winced, because conversations nearby were starting to die down... where the hell were the police, and why was no-one doing anything about this? They were out in public, for god's sake!
"You really think I'm a girl?" Clark asked casually.
Oliver just laughed at him. Alden said, "Yeah, so?"
"And you're actually thinking about hitting a girl?" Clark didn't quite straighten, exactly. He just dropped his hands to his sides and stood there. And didn't move. He didn't seem the least bit like he was making any sort of physical challenge at all. And he looked totally unconcerned and unthreatened by the three of them, singularly or en masse.
Alden laughed again, but it sounded almost... nervous. Geoffrey looked... a little off-put, maybe confused. Oliver frowned down at him.
"What, you gonna tell me some patriarchical shit about how hitting girls is wrong?" Oliver said, pseudo-reasonably. "I am equal opportunity all the way, kiddo," he smirked, shaking out his hands and making loose fists.
Clark tilted his head slightly and gave him a look like he was the oddest duck in the book. "What, seriously? That's why you think guys don't hit girls?"
Alden's grin was slowly fading and... he started to look... worried. Geoffrey looked like he wanted to back off for some reason.. or run. Which was... interesting. Lex couldn't remember having seen them react that way to anyone before.
Oliver, on the other hand... "Ok, shrimp, I'll bite -- why don't guys hit girls?" he asked, like it was some big joke and he was waiting for the ending.
And Clark stood there, cool as a cucumber, and said, matter-of-factly, like he was explaining how the sun rises in the east: "Guys don't hit girls, because girls always win."
And then he drove a fist into Oliver's solar plexus in a quick rabbit-punch -- no warning at all.
Oliver stood there for a moment, swaying... then he made a squeaking noise, his eyes crossed, and he went down like a sack of potatoes.
Clark stood there, in exactly the same pose as before, and calmly stared the two remaining bullies down, while Oliver lay curled up on the floor, groaning softly.
There was dead silence for awhile, and then Geoffrey cleared his throat carefully, then flinched at the attention.
"Um. Would you mind if we, uh..." His eyes flicked down at Oliver.
"Sure, go ahead," Clark said easily.
And with that... permission?... Alden and Geoffrey each got a good grip under one of Oliver's arms and started to pull him up.
"Oh. And one more thing," Clark said.
They both looked up at him and froze.
"Stay out of my town, ok?"
Alden and Geoffrey paled slightly. They both nodded repeatedly, then dragged Oliver outside with them as fast as they could, without another word.
The door slammed shut.
Conversation resumed in the Beanery, as if it had never stopped.
Clark turned around, grabbed his chair, pulled it close to the table, and sat back down.
Lex glanced between Clark sitting at the table peanut-buttering his bread, and outside through the windows at the threesome who were sorting themselves into a sports car, one still very out of it, and the other two looking frantic as hell. He did this several times, while his brain unsuccessfully tried to process what the hell had just happened.
Clark got down to the serious business of munching down another sandwich.
After awhile, Lex sat down slowly.
It was... a little surreal. Clark had just... for him... and he was just acting... normal like... and...
And Lex had forgotten something rather important.
"Ah, Clark?" Lex said tentatively.
"Mmm?" Clark said with a closed mouth full of peanut butter.
Clark shrugged. He took a swig of milk. "Don't mention it."
Lex felt almost offended at the notion. "But you--"
"No, really. Don't mention it. My parents would kill me if they knew I got in a fight," Clark said, looking up at him, more than a little worried.
Oh. Right. ...Huh. "Okay," said Lex.
Clark relaxed and gave him a smile, then dropped his head and got back to eating.
After awhile, Lex couldn't help but ask.
"So... girls always win?"
"I did not know that."
"Really?" Clark looked up at him, wide-eyed.
Lex nodded once, propping his head up in a fist again.
"Wow," said Clark. He stopped and thought about that for all of two seconds. "You're really lucky," he said, before resuming his chewing.
And that little comment just sent Lex's head spinning all over again.
By the time Lex got himself another two bagels from the coffee bar, he had come to several conclusions:
1) He never wanted to find out what Mrs. Kent, Chloe, and Lana had done (or still did) to earn the continual "girls always win" respect of one Clark Kent. Ever.
2) Excelsior Prep's all-boys program had obviously left him deficient in some areas of knowledge to the point that he truly had little-to-no-idea about the breadth or depth of said deficiencies whatsoever.
3) He was going to take Clark's hard-earned knowledge to heart and, if ever he found himself confronted with an opponent of the female variety in the future, he was going to a) make a full-out no-holds-barred pre-emptive strike first and then b) run like hell in the opposite direction (and possibly, for safety, ask Clark if he could hide behind him or otherwise seek his assistance in such matters, because Clark was clearly far more well-informed in girl-boy issues when it came to open warfare than Lex himself was, apparently).
4) The Beanery's coffee still made sludge look good. (sigh)
He was also resolved to find a way to convince (con) Clark's parents into letting him take Clark jeans shopping in the near-future. No stalwart defender-of-Luthors should ever have to find themselves resigned to walking around town in a weird flappy-feeling skirt.
Lex and Clark chatted about other small, yet significant topics for a bit. It was almost time for high school to begin, and Clark was finishing off the last of his meal and getting ready to go. He'd better ask now, or... "Clark?"
"Are you a meteor freak?"
Clark nearly did a spit-take with a mouthful of milk.
Lex realized that perhaps he could have timed that better, as he watched his young friend manage to swallow and cough a little, before glancing back up and giving him an approximation of The Look.
Well, so far no explosion. That's good, right? Lex steeled himself and asked, just as quietly as before, "Are you sure?"
Clark frowned at him. "Yes."
"How do you know?"
"I just do." Clark balled up the empty bread bag and added, "Why?"
Now it was Lex's turn to feel a little off-balance. "Your behavior earlier seemed... atypical. You weren't aggressive, exactly, but..."
Clark blinked, looked a little blank, then got a rueful half-smile and said, "Oh, that wasn't..." He shook his head slightly. "I just figured that if I look like a girl, and I was gonna get treated like a girl, that maybe I should get at least a few perks of being a girl, you know?"
Lex let out a startled laugh, Clark grinned, and Lex soon found himself grinning right back.
Clark managed to make it through the first half of the day without issue. Nobody really gave him any trouble for being a girl. Either the whole town already knew, or the teachers just weren't aware enough to realize (or simply didn't care) that they had an extra girl in their classes when they should've had a boy.
Given how much he got away with with his abilities over the years, Clark wouldn't be surprised if it was both.
Clark managed to catch Ms. Willis, his history teacher, before homeroom began, and tried to beg her to let him take the test then and there, but she wouldn't have anything for it. He struggled through his first three classes for the day, and tracked her down at lunchtime -- not too hard, as she was on hallway duty that period, thank god. He wasn't exactly sure how he managed it, but he got her to agree to giving him an oral exam as a makeup during his study hall period after lunch, when she was also free. Sure, he wouldn't have a chance to review right before it, and it was probably going to be super hard, but it was better than a zero grade and failing the class.
Clark sighed in relief as he dashed off to the grocery store again, this time to buy a decently-sized lunch -- well, makings for one, anyway -- and then back to the Torch to hide out from the hordes with a little time to spare for eating.
It was only once he walked in the doors and stopped short at seeing Chloe and Pete that he remembered why he'd been almost-but-not-quite avoiding the people he knew all day.
He warily sat down at a desk, hoping he could just eat in silence while they bantered, instead of being subject to a barrage of questions...
"So, are you really Clark?"
...but really, who was he kidding?
"Yes, Chloe," Clark sighed as he unwrapped the lunchmeat he'd bought, and uncapped the mustard.
"Oh yeah? How can we know?" Pete said, pulling over a chair and ganging up on him.
Oh god, they weren't actually serious, were they?
"Yeah, maybe he's a changeling or something, trying to usurp Kent's rightful place?"
"Or his GPA," Pete offered. "Hey, if you are Clark, what's it like being a girl and having boobs? Do they turn you on?"
...What was scary was that Clark still couldn't tell if they were being serious or not.
He untwisty-tied the loaf of bread while watching them both.
"Well?" Chloe demanded.
"Well, what?" Clark asked. Then he got it. Rolling his eyes, and ignoring Pete's question, because it was fricking dumb: "God, seriously? ...I don't know. Wall of Weird? Eighth grade in the barn? It took you three hours to track down Lex's cellphone? Sean Kelvin sucked hardcore and didn't want to chill out?"
Pete groaned at the last one, and Chloe looked taken aback at the mention of the barn, so he hoped that would be the end of it.
"Hey, anybody could know about that stuff -- I mean something only the real Clark Kent would know!" Chloe regrouped.
Clark finished making his stack of sandwiches and said, "Ok, fine. You told the crazy guy who kidnapped Lex all about meteor freaks and their mutations, and that Lex had some super self-healing ability or something, and that's why Lex got kidnapped."
Then he glared at her as he took a bite of his first sandwich.
Chloe looked like he'd slapped her, but, really, she'd had it coming.
"I-- I did not--!"
"Dark hair, late thirties, five-foot-seven, glasses, wore a white lab coat with a grey suit underneath and a yellow tie with blue ducks on it, and was totally super-talkative like a mad scientist out of some dumb B-movie." When Chloe opened her mouth, he added, "And he probably wasn't wearing the white lab coat when he talked to you, 'cause it was all stained and frayed at the edges and even you would've thought he was a nutjob."
Chloe set her jaw. "I didn't know he was going to do that. He just told me who he was and that he was a doctor interested in strange mutations, and wanted to talk to me about my research."
"You told this stuff to a complete stranger!" Clark protested, because, god, how could she not get how wrong and dangerous that was?
Chloe glared right back at him. "He didn't ask anything I haven't told anybody before, and the people have a right to know--"
"God, you aren't even sorry, are you?" Clark realized, aghast. Then he got angry. "Lex could've died, don't you get that?! You told somebody something stupid that you don't even know is true and--!"
"It is true!" Chloe protested.
"What, that Lex can heal from practically everything?"
"Well, he survived, didn't he? He survives everything!"
Clark sat there and just stared. He couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"You... you..." Clark just didn't have the words. He turned to his best, oldest friend since forever. "Pete, can you-- just tell her--"
"What? She's right. And it's not like Luthor doesn't deserve it," Pete snorted. "Kinda funny, actually."
He was not hearing this. He was not-- "Yeah? Is it funny what happened to me, too?" Clark said, sounding strangled even to himself. "Did-- did I deserve it?" I thought I was dying. It hurt so badly--
"For running off after him? Hell yeah. That was stupid to do." Pete said, crossing his arms, leaning back in his chair, and looking belligerent.
Clark went wide-eyed and sucked in a breath, feeling as though his insides had gone cold, because that had hurt. Almost worse than--
"You should've waited and let the police handle it," Chloe said. "We told you to wait!" she said, sounding accusatory, her voice shaking.
Clark felt starbursts of pain behind his eyes, and had to remember to breathe. He was nearly vibrating with rage.
"Some friends you are," he choked out, grabbing up his sandwiches and stomping out, close to tears.
"I'm not Clark, I'm just some imposter who wants his GPA, remember?!" he screamed back over his shoulder, slamming the doors shut behind him. He stomped down the hallway, heading for the cafeteria because, well, god, he was doing better with the rest of the student population than his own so-called 'friends' so far today, so why the hell not?
It was near the end of lunch at that point, so he was able to find a mostly empty table and sit apart from the stragglers, far enough away that nobody tried to strike up a conversation. Nobody bothered him. He sat down with his sandwiches and got through them pretty quickly, what with no interruptions and all.
He laid his head down for awhile, and then he opened his eyes, panting a little and sweating lightly. He felt thirsty. Really thirsty.
He stood up, swaying slightly before he got his footing. He wiped a little sweat from his forehead, suddenly feeling really tired.
He headed for the boys bathroom and didn't think twice about going in.
He ducked his head sideways under the faucet and opened it up, full-cold.
He drank and drank, and finally he felt full.
He sighed and straightened, and then felt a weird pressure all above his eyes.
And then he sneezed, hard, into the sink, so hard he bent over.
He sneezed again. Multiple times.
Ugh. His head felt weird. He coughed once or twice, then spat.
Red and green goo. Mostly green goo. Ew.
--Oh god, EW!
He flailed for the paper towel dispenser at the wall and blew his nose.
He was through about half the roll before he was done.
He cleaned up the sink really carefully, and threw out all the paper towels, shoving them far down in the bin and covering them with more.
He washed his hands and face, and then his hands again, and sighed when he was through because... weirdly, his head felt lighter. A lot lighter. Like it had been full of... heavy fog, or lead, or something like that, maybe? And his thoughts were.... sharper. Clearer, almost.
Oh wow, it wasn't missing a day of classes, Clark realized as he mentally reviewed the stuff from his earlier classes that day. It was me.
Well, he felt a lot better now. ...Maybe the history exam wouldn't go so completely horribly, if he was lucky?
Clark sighed, ran his hands over his face, and turned to go.
He nearly ran into one of the senior linebackers coming in.
The guy looked startled as hell, backing up a step before glancing at him and then around at the room, then glared down at him and growled, "What the hell, man? Boys bathroom!"
"Uh, yeah," said Clark.
The guy stopped short in his tirade, blinked down at him and said, "Wait, you Kent?"
Clark nodded tentatively with the beginnings of a frown, wondering if Whitney had put out a hit on him or something.
"Oh. Dude, use the girl's bathroom." And he moved around Clark towards one of the urinals.
"What? --I can't go in there!"
"Sure you can," the guy said rolling his eyes as he unzipped.
"But -- they might be-- I don't know, naked in there or something!"
"That's the locker room, dummy," the linebacker said none-too-patiently. "Stay out of there if you don't want to get trashed by the girls. Or their boyfriends," he added meaningfully as he glanced over at Clark, who was still freaking out at the idea of either, or both, or any of it at all. "Dude, seriously. OUT!"
Clark got out.
Clark sighed and impatiently waited out his time in the cafeteria, counting down the seconds until his make-up history exam. ...At least he had a window seat. The sun felt nice.
He propped his chin on a hand and his eyes slowly drifted shut. Then they flicked back open as he realized exactly what he'd done that morning in front of Lex.
Oh shit. He nearly broke out into a cold sweat. I picked a fight with somebody. An actual fight. Three somebodies. And won. And Lex watched me do it. He wasn't supposed to do stuff like that for a reason. That stuff got him noticed, and a fight could too easily go wrong. If one of them had managed to land a hit...
He hadn't really cared or thought much about that at the time, though. ...Maybe I can blame it on the stuff in my head? After all, it had looked like he'd still had a lot of that gunk left in his system.
In retrospect, though, Lex hadn't gotten angry that Clark had basically taken on his fight for him. In fact, Lex hadn't seemed to mind -- he'd seemed almost relieved, afterwards. --And he'd promised not to tell, so it would probably be ok, because who else would tell on him to his parents? And the sun did feel really nice...
He was almost drifting off to sleep with his head cushioned in his arms, when he felt a hand roughly grab his shoulder and yank him back.
"Wh--!" Clark protested,
"CLARK JEROME KENT!"
Clark craned his neck around and looked up before freezing in sheer overwhelming horror.
"Mom?!?" he choked. "Wh- whaaaat are you doing here?" his voice ended in a squeak.
Oh god, his mom looked ready to kill somebody, and his dad was there too, standing a couple steps behind her.
oh god, oh god, the Beanery, oh god was all Clark could think.
"You are supposed to be at home in bed, young man! You are sick!" his mom nearly screamed at him, shaking him by the shoulder and dragging him upright. "Do you have any idea how worried we were?"
Clark blanked out for a couple seconds, then realized they don't know about that and then wait a minute "--I'm fine, mom, really, I-- you put out the clothes for me, remem--"
"Don't backtalk me, young man! MARCH!!" she yelled, dragging him along like a wayward little kid.
Clark realized that everybody was staring, and and only had about two seconds of panic and self-loathing about how he was gonna be the school pariah, literally the bottom of the social food chain -- no, below that, even, did they have subzero popularity? because he was going to have that -- for what his mother was doing to him right now. Yeah, about two seconds of wanting to die and get swallowed up by the earth right then and there, before he remembered something considered even more important in his household.
"Mom, oh god, no! I barely got Ms. Willis to let me retake the history exam! I can't leave yet!" he begged. If he didn't take the test, he might fail history, and failing history with an 'F' didn't just fuck up his GPA -- getting an 'F' in any class meant he might have to retake the entire year!
Clark dug in his heels and squirmed, trying to get out of his mother's iron grip, which she just ended up transferring to his wrist.
As his mother bodily dragged him from the cafeteria, Clark, frantic, grabbed the doorframe and resolved not to let go -- superstrength abilities coming to light be damned.
"Let go, Clark!" she yelled at him, pulling him hard.
"No, oh god, mom, I'm fine, will you please listen--!"
"Martha," his dad said, catching up on the approach and holding his hands up, "Maybe we should just--"
"--Don't you tell me to calm down, Jonathan Kent!" she said with an angry glare, yanking at Clark again.
"...Is there a problem here?" a familiar voice said.
Oh thank god, Clark thought, because nobody messed with old Ms. Willis.
...Then again, nobody messed with his mom, either.
Somehow, Ms. Willis talked his mom into letting him take the oral history exam before they took him home.
Clark was nervous as hell at trying to answer questions with both his parents in the room, one glowering and looking really not pleased with him at all, but somehow he managed to survive it.
He only really started panicking about what the entire school had witnessed in the cafeteria once they were in the truck driving home, with his mom ranting at him for leaving without saying anything -- which was crazy, because she'd been the one to leave the clothes on his bed, hadn't she? -- and still being too ill to go anywhere or do anything -- which was totally untrue and she would know that if she'd just look at him for two seconds -- and how he was grounded for a month for sneaking or wandering off like that -- she couldn't seem to make up her mind as to which he'd done.
Clark almost -- almost -- asked her why she'd left him alone in the first place, rather than staying glued at his side all the time, if she was really all that worried about him. But that would have been mean and hurtful, so he didn't, even though he himself was seriously hurting because of what she was saying and had already done. It really wasn't right, though; she was being totally unfair about everything. What was so bad about wanting to go to school when he was well?
His mom didn't even stick around to help his "poor invalid self" get out of the truck -- she just went straight indoors.
"I'm fine," Clark grumbled to his dad.
"But you weren't yesterday," his dad said with a sigh. "You don't want people thinking--"
"Lex was fine today, too," Clark said, quiet but heatedly. "It would've been weird if I hadn't been ok," he said adamantly.
His dad frowned at him, but didn't say anything for awhile as he turned off the engine and stepped down from the truck onto the grass-and-gravel driveway. "Son, I don't think I like you comparing yourself to Lex Luthor," he said as he silid the seat forward so Clark could get out of the back.
"Would you rather I was like that crazy scientist guy and died instead?" Clark said, knowing that was unfair. "Or any of his other 'subjects' who died, too? Because those are the only other guys to compare to." When his dad looked up at him with a mixture of surprise and consternation, Clark added lowly, "I ran into Lex at the Beanery. He filled me in a little bit on some of the missing pieces during breakfast this morning."
"You get enough to eat?" his dad asked as Clark slid out of the backseat and he slammed the truck door shut.
Clark started slightly and his shoulders dropped a little -- he'd been expecting a putdown or disparaging comment or, well, something from his dad on his meeting up with Lex. Huh.
Instead of pushing it by bringing it up, Clark just nodded. "I hit the grocery store for stuff for breakfast, and again for lunch." He paused. "I've been eating a lot more than usual --but so has Lex, so..." Clark shrugged but still felt a little guilty -- he knew he wasn't supposed to let people know how much he ate usually, because it was another thing that might get noticed. Yet another anomaly.
His dad patted him on the shoulder consolingly, same as always. "You don't worry about that son, you just get better first, all right?"
"I am dad, really," Clark said, looking up at him and trying to let him know without words that he was, now.
His dad took a good look at him, then gave him a more relaxed smile and said, "You sure, son?"
Clark smile back, and was about to nod and reiterate, except then he remembered. "Um." He sighed and winced a little instead. "Well, I would have said I thought so this morning, too, but..." and then Clark proceeded to tell his dad what had happened in the bathroom that afternoon.
"Hm," his dad said. "Well, you do seem pretty healthy now, mostly back to your old self again, but I think you should still take those iodine pills. Just in case."
"And school?" Clark asked anxiously, because mom had been talking about pulling him from his classes for two whole weeks in the truck.
His dad scratched the back of his neck. "Well, your mother wants you on strict bed rest. I say we give it to her and you stay in your room all day."
"But Dad! I--!"
"And I'll keep an eye on you so she knows you aren't getting out," his dad overrode him.
Clark stopped, then started to smile at the look his dad was giving him. "You know she's never gonna believe that I snuck out without you knowing about it."
"I don't know any such thing, and I will disavow all knowledge," his dad said piously, but they both knew otherwise -- if Clark got caught, they'd both be in hot water, and then some.
"Thanks, dad," Clark said around a lump in his throat, hugging him.
His dad hugged him back, then clapped him on the back and drew away. "C'mon now, let's get inside before your mother has another conniption," he sighed.
Clark made a face, and his dad quietly laughed and tussled his hair a bit for it, but they both hurried for the porch.