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The Comfort of Adversity

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“Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not without comforts and hopes.” – Francis Bacon

***

Lex had been dialing the number for the Kent Farm for the fourth time that afternoon when the proximity detector on the roof went off. He waved off Mercy, slipped the remote control and a .45 with Kryptonite slugs (just in case) into his pocket and all but ran up the stairs. The small Zen garden on the southwest corner of the roof was looking decidedly un-Zen at the moment. The koi in the pond darted about in frantic alarm as flashing white and red lights heralded the arrival of one of his most dangerous enemies.

Along with his son.

Lex slowly removed the remote from his pocket and turned off the alarm. That caught Conner’s attention, and the younger Kryptonian stepped forward to meet him and even let Lex indulge himself with a hug and lengthy inspection, including a full analysis of why Conner needed a haircut. Throughout this universal parent-child reunion ritual, Clark hovered in the background, in full Superman regalia, and didn’t so much as look at them.

“H-He’s been like this…” Conner offered nervously, readjusting the duffel bag slung over his shoulder.

Lex nodded absently and approached Clark. “I’ve been trying to contact you all afternoon,” he informed his old friend cum greatest enemy cum uncomfortable ally in a vain effort to spare their son further life trauma. “I couldn’t get any answer at the farm, and the phone company insists that your cell number is no longer functional.”

“Live Wire,” Clark said numbly in response to that last part. “I’ll give you the new number.”

“Why don’t you come inside first?” Lex suggested.

Conner looked more than eager to follow that suggestion and slung his bag more comfortably over his shoulder before heading for the stairs down to the penthouse. Although, technically, Conner was wearing the shirt that constituted his ‘costume’, so Lex supposed he was actually Superboy at the moment. Such distinctions generally annoyed him, but he felt the need to make the effort, given the present circumstances.

Clark didn’t waver from where he’d landed on the roof mere minutes before and seemed oblivious to everything Lex had said. With a tired sigh, Lex rested his good hand against the small of Clark’s back and guided him towards the stairs. The touch seemed to spark something back to life inside Clark, and he moved willingly if not enthusiastically.

“I know it’s a lot to ask,” Clark began in a low voice, like their son didn’t have perfectly serviceable superhearing, “but can you keep Conner until…”

“As long as you need,” Lex agreed instantly. He’d never been able to figure out why Clark seemed to think that taking in his own son was a burden. He was tempted to make a snide remark about Clark forgetting to bring along half the Justice League and an armored car division in order to monitor all of Lex’s interactions with Conner, but given the circumstances that would probably be in bad taste.

“I-I probably should have gone to Lois…” Clark sounded lost.

“I’m glad you didn’t.”

“But I just couldn’t face her…”

“I don’t blame you. I can never stand that woman,” Lex offered lightly.

Clark glared at him, which was the closest Clark had been to himself thus far. Lex considered that a hopeful sign.

“My condolences,” Lex added more seriously. “Martha was a wonderful woman. She was always kind to me, even when I probably didn’t deserve it.”

Clark gulped, and his breath seemed to catch in his Adam’s apple for a moment before he released it. “She was old.” The way he said it made it all too clear that he wasn’t even half convinced of what he was saying. “It was her time.”

“At least she died peacefully, and at home.” It was a ridiculous platitude, of course, but Lex was willing to offer up platitudes all evening, if Clark wanted. Of course, it wouldn’t help at all. Lex remembered that well enough from his own childhood. Nothing could help, really. And, if the pain faded over the years, it never went away entirely.

“Conner found her,” Clark said darkly.

Lex froze at that.

“Sh-She was in the living room, on the couch, and Conner came home from school, and…” Clark closed his eyes and looked away, fighting back emotion. “He hasn’t said anything. H-He had to call 911 and did chest compressions and… He thinks he broke one of her ribs. I told him that she was gone and he didn’t make things worse, but if you could rattle off some medical statistics to him…” Clark swallowed, long and ragged. “I think he’d believe it, coming from you.”

“Of course. Anything I can do.” A sense of dread had filled Lex at Clark’s report. There wasn’t often anything they agreed on, but this one thing was absolute: I wish I had found her instead.

“He’s acting like he’s fine,” Clark went on. “But… He’s always afraid that I’ll see him as weak…” Clark sounded so helpless when he said it because, really, Clark would’ve loved to have been the one that Conner leaned on. But it really was well nigh impossible to show vulnerability to Superman.

“Ironic,” Lex agreed simply. “I’ll talk to him.”

Clark nodded from where they’d come to a halt at the top of the staircase. Lex could hear voices from the penthouse below: Mercy and Conner. Of course, Mercy had been appraised of Martha Kent’s demise and would know to be on her best behavior. She would also undoubtedly attend to the dozens of little details necessary to make Conner’s stay more pleasant. Lex was grateful for that just then, because he had his hands more than full with Clark.

“When’s the funeral?” Lex asked casually, halting their downwards procession. Clark seemed reluctant to take another step and was looking up at the stars above.

“I… I haven’t thought about it.” There was a hitch in Clark’s voice now, like he was about to break.

“Would you like me to—?”

Clark was nodding vigorously before Lex could even finish his offer. Of the two of them, Lex was far more qualified to orchestrate formal events like funerals. “She’s got friends in Smallville, and a plot next to dad, and…”

“I’ll have it taken care of,” Lex promised. “What about the farm? And Conner and school?”

A long, agonized sound that was as close to a sob as Lex had ever heard from Clark, and then an angry: “I don’t know, all right?” Clark was wiping the back of his hands over his eyes, and Lex reached out to touch his shoulder, and was batted away with a force that knocked him clear across the stairwell. “Just…don’t!” Clark exclaimed angrily.

“I’m sorry.” Lex held his hands up before him, making it perfectly clear that he wouldn’t try that again. “Why don’t you come inside, and we can—”

“I don’t want to come inside!” Clark was fully in angry, self-indulgent mode at the moment, and was acting like quite the brat. Not that Lex could blame him.

“What do you want?”

“I want…” A deep half-sob. “I want everything to stop reminding me of her! I want this whole damn planet to stop closing in on me, and…” Clark’s eyes met Lex’s fully for the first time since he’d arrived, and Lex read the intent there all too well.

He took one step forward to try to stop Clark, but then there was the equivalent to a sonic boom around him, and when he rose from the steps where he’d fallen due to the impact of Clark’s thunderous take-off, he could just barely make out the wink of Clark’s form as he flew up into the stars and as far away from his adopted home as he could get.

Lex let out a deep sigh and processed all that had happened. “Just terrific,” he announced to no one in particular.

***

When Lex finally arrived downstairs, he discovered that Conner had set himself up on the couch of the recreation room and was flipping through channels, with the muting on, at what had to be superhuman speed. His duffel bag was absent, so Lex assumed that Mercy had taken Conner’s things to his room.

Conner had only actually spent the night in his room at the penthouse on about half a dozen occasions, but Lex always kept it reserved for Conner just in case. After all, he had plenty of spare guest rooms, and letting Conner know that he was a permanent and welcome fixture in Lex’s life was of paramount importance. It was always reassuring to Lex, in the weeks between the visits Clark allowed them, to wander into Conner’s room and see a book here, a picture there, a pile of clutter in the corner. All constant reminders that, yes, Conner really did exist and was his son.

“Where’s Clark?” Conner inflicted the words with that casual, disinterested tone that teenagers only used when they cared very deeply about the answer and didn’t want to show it.

“Most likely? Smashing up the Asteroid Belt,” Lex offered smoothly, buzzing for Mercy and settling down in the armchair beside the couch. He still hadn’t had time to change after work and loosened his tie slowly and methodically as he watched Conner pretend supreme indifference while staring at the 200-inch TV screen, eyes glazed and unfocused.

“Great. There’s nothing like being ditched by Superman,” he grumbled. Conner’s abilities had increased dramatically over the past year, yet he was still very much bound to Earth and its supply of oxygen.

“Believe me, I know all too well,” Lex agreed, more than a little annoyed at Clark. Although at least Clark had had the sense to get Conner someplace safe before he ran off to have his breakdown…

“Sir?” Mercy poked her head in. She’d been in the middle of her nightly work-out routine when the alarm had gone off, and was still wearing her karategi, black belt fastened tightly about the waist of the flawlessly white karate uniform.

“Can you call the governor and inform him that a family matter has come up?” Lex always asked, even when he could order. It was just polite.

“Sorry to mess up your plans,” Conner muttered under his breath, staring down at the remote desolately.

“Not an issue. It was just a museum gallery opening.”

“With the governor?”

“Yes.” Conner seemed more interested in this than in the television. Perhaps it might be a good idea to encourage him. “We can go together, if you’d like. I just assumed…” He let the offer trail off.

Conner looked at the muted television screen before him. He’d eventually ended up on what looked like a Japanese soap opera. “It’s better than sitting around here, right?”

“It’ll be boring,” Lex warned.

“More boring than the Carlisles’ party last Christmas?”

Lex scowled. “Nothing could be more boring than that.”

Conner gave him a lopsided grin that always reminded Lex horribly of Clark’s. “So let’s go.”

***

Somehow, Lex had become the ‘cool’ parent. Clark fretted and fussed and imparted words of wisdom that his father had once imparted to him, so naturally whenever Conner had anything weighing on his mind, he went straight to Lex.

It was the same illogic teenagers had been using since the dawn of time.

This strange twist of fate had begun from almost the moment that Conner and Lex had met. It had taken two years of hard negotiation with Clark to actually arrange a meeting. Clark, somehow, had gotten the bizarre notion into his head that Lex would try to sway Conner to his side for the purpose of taking over the world. Completely baffling.

Lex’s first dozen or so efforts at broaching the subject had been met with Superman’s stony stare. So, naturally, he’d taken to shooting at Superman with Kryptonite lasers every time he flew by until he was finally clipped and forced to crash-land on the roof of LexCorp Towers, where Lex proceeded to brandish legal documents in front of Clark’s face and very calmly make his case. Lex still wasn’t sure whether Clark eventually agreed because Lex had convinced him of his point, or whether he just didn’t want to be shot at anymore. In any case, Lex got what he wanted, just like always.

Lex had, of course, considered the possibility of using Conner to try to take over the world, up until that very first meeting. Clark had insisted they meet on the rooftop of the Fairmont Building since Lex didn’t have any Kryptonite lasers there. Lex could have set up Kryptonite lasers there in mere hours, so Clark’s paranoia really just made them all more uncomfortable since the roof of LexCorp Towers was much more pleasant. Clark had also insisted that Lex was only allowed to bring Mercy, and Superman and Mercy had stared each other down, both looking equally capable of setting each other on fire with merely a scowl, even though Mercy was only human.

Under those auspicious circumstances, Lex had first met his son. Within five minutes, he knew that he couldn’t brainwash Conner. Five more, and he was suddenly completely appalled by the notion of using Conner for any nefarious purposes. Then, Clark had said something self-important, and Lex had snapped back at him, and Conner had given Lex this secretive, amused little smile while simultaneously looking downright awed that Lex had had no compunctions about knocking Superman off his high-horse.

That had been their first meeting.

By their second meeting, Lex had already been dubbed ‘cool’ probably solely by virtue of the fact that he wasn’t Clark. Conner babbled about anything and everything, from all the people who annoyed him at Smallville High to how Clark still treated him like some sort of weird clone rather than an actual son. “A clone,” Lex had corrected, “is an exact genetic duplicate of its parent. As your DNA is a cross between Clark’s and my own, you are technically not a clone.” And Conner had rolled his eyes, like Lex Luthor wasn’t one of the five scariest people on the planet or something.

After their third meeting, even Clark had had to concede that Conner and Lex seemed instinctually compelled to like each other. “Maybe I should make you give Conner the sex talk,” he’d said smugly, which was smart-assed as all hell but was the most acceptance Lex could really ever hope to get out of Clark.

“Clark still thinks I’m a virgin,” Conner had confided in Lex during their fourth meeting, which finally had occurred in LexCorp Towers and thus was safely behind sound-proofing where Clark couldn’t hear. “He’s really weird about shit like that. So don’t tell him, okay?” Like there was ever any danger of Lex telling Clark that. Instead, he’d just grinned and offered Conner a few useful tips from his own misspent youth. Mostly, they involved not marrying sociopaths who were trying to kill you for your money.

By meeting five, the rapport had been entirely solidified: “Just in case it’s somehow inheritable, I feel obliged to inform you that I’m bisexual,” Lex had offered, because if Conner was having similar difficulties, heaven only knew he couldn’t go to Clark about them. “Cool, but I’m pretty sure I’m straight,” Conner had shrugged, “which I guess proves that it isn’t genetic, since Clark is totally in the closet.” Lex and Conner had shared a wicked grin at Clark when he came to pick Conner up, which had apparently been alarming enough for Clark to get that frantic look in his eyes and demand “What?”

So, in conclusion, Lex and Conner had talked about anything and everything. Good and evil, sex and love, Smallville and Metropolis – all were common topics of conversation. Lex saw no reason why life and death shouldn’t be added to the list.

Which was why it was so disconcerting how quiet Conner was as Mercy drove them to the opening. Conner had switched into one of the tuxes Lex had bought for him after that weekend when Lex really just couldn’t get out of the Waverly banquet and Conner had begged Lex that anything was better than spending yet another Saturday in Smallville. Conner had learned to rue that decision; Lex had already known the event would cause his brain to curdle from sheer boredom. Yet still Conner agreed to do all sorts of horrendously tedious things with Lex. It was touching, in a way.

Tonight, however, Martha’s death weighed heavily on Conner’s shoulders. Lex could see it in the way that Conner seemed to stare vacantly out the car window, watching the flashing lights – white and gold for the streetlamps, red and white on the cars, blue and green and pink and all other colors in neon above the shop windows – without really seeing anything.

“We won’t have to stay long,” Lex said into the silence of the rear of the limo.

Conner didn’t even seem to hear him. He was definitely not his usual mischievous and high-spirited self that evening.

“I’m sure it will be deathly dull anyway. Although at least it’s in a museum.”

That, really was the perfect opening for Conner to make some smart-assed remark about how Lex was such a nerd that he actually thought museums were fun. Conner passed up the opportunity and continued to watch Metropolis zoom by.

Lex was considering seriously worrying when Mercy pulled up in front of the museum. “We’re here,” he offered softly.

Conner looked up, nodded, and stepped out into the crisp night air.

***

Lex had been right; the gallery opening was boring. The Lillian Luthor Memorial Fund had provided nearly a quarter of the funding for the new Pacific Island gallery, however, so he felt obliged to at least cursorily inspect the tiki masks mounted along one wall.

Conner had stayed at his side through the first round of introductions and then had disappeared around series of glass cases featuring native ceremonial costumes. One thing Lex was permanently grateful for was how easy it was to deal with Conner in public. Frankly, Lex didn’t know how the Kents had managed with Clark all those years, heaping lies on top of lies. It certainly accounted for plenty of Clark’s neuroses.

But the strange and bizarre story of Conner’s ‘birth’, his abilities, and his genetic donors had been public knowledge from day one. As a result, no one batted at eyelash at the fact that Lex had a son who was clearly Superboy and who, 90% of the time, was seen in the company of Superman or the Teen Titans, rather than with Lex. The only deception surrounding Conner was that he attended Smallville High disguised by the facial distortions provided by the Fortress’ AI under the pseudonym Conner Kent, which necessitated him being referred to by his Kryptonian name Kon in public. And even Clark managed that one just fine, although only (Lex was convinced) because Kon was short for Conner, and Clark could stop himself mid-word. For someone who’d worked all his life at maintaining dual identities, Clark was mind-bogglingly shitty at it.

Lex was trying his best to turn his thoughts away from Clark, however, since he was growing more and more irate at Clark’s sudden disappearing act right when Conner needed him most, and if he didn’t calm himself down, he was liable to snap at the thirtieth or so patron at the opening who sidled up to him and asked whether he was planning on running for governor next term. It was well known that Bradley was retiring after the next election and that Lex would have his backing, should he choose to run.

Under normal circumstances, Lex enjoyed the political sphere and all it trappings, and would have taken advantage of this occasion to get a feel for his constituents. He was faced with unusual popularity at the moment, given that he’d finally beaten All American Insurance in court over their rising premiums and refusal to insure against Superman-related damage. Since LexCorp was the largest land-holder in Metropolis, it had just been common sense to contest the issue, especially since smaller businesses were getting so gouged on insurance that they couldn’t afford the lengthy court battles necessary. Even the Planet had backed Lex on the issue (likely, Lex suspected, because they’d taken the second highest amount of damage in the Superman/Bizzaro battle last September, right behind LexCorp). Now that Lex had won, for the first time since Superman’s arrival in Metropolis, insurance rates weren’t the highest in the country (thank you, Gotham), rent rates were actually dropping, and family businesses were showing profit margins.

Contrary to every single other time Lex had done something beneficial, the people loved him for it this time. So all the signs were ripe for his candidacy.

Tonight, however, the timing was all off.

He mingled with purpose over to the costume display, seeking out Conner. It took him less than five minutes to realize that his son had wandered off somewhere. Mercy was currently deflecting Senator Ryan, and he gave her a nod before ducking out into the Native American gallery next to the new exhibit. Mercy looked vaguely cross, but then he was very used to Mercy looking vaguely cross; she’d get over it.

He was able to follow Conner simply by going through the only doors that weren’t blocked off by metal security gates. The catering staff required access to more rooms than were officially open for the event, and thus Lex’s path led him out through the rest of the Native American exhibits. These galleries were only dimly lit, and the red from the ‘EXIT’ signs reflected off of glass cases and the shiny, round eyes of countless totem masks. A girl in a maroon catering uniform who couldn’t have been more than eighteen gave him an odd look before stepping to the side with a large tray of hors d’oeurves to let him pass. After all, he was Lex Luthor, and the ordinary rules didn’t apply to him. He went through the door the girl had come from, and found himself in the hallway leading to the Great Painters gallery.

He finally found Conner, sitting in the middle of the cold marble floor, arms wrapped around his knees, and looking very small.

“We could leave, if you’d like.”

Conner didn’t sound surprised to hear Lex’s voice, but then that was what superhearing was for, Lex supposed. “This painting is fugly,” he announced of the frame opposite where he was sitting.

Lex studied the landscape with a practiced eye. “I’ve never been fond of Gauguin.”

Conner made a face. “He sucks.”

Lex snickered at that and looked around to make sure they were alone before lowering himself to sit next to Conner on the floor. “He does, but don’t let anyone know I told you that,” he whispered conspiratorially.

Conner managed a half-grin, half-grimace at that.

Lex sighed. “Maybe it was a mistake bringing you here…”

“No.” Conner shook his head. “It’s better than just sitting at home. And I’ve learned the answer to the all-important question: ‘Are you planning on running for governor next term, Mr. Luthor?’”

“Trust me,” Lex assured him with an amused little smile, “if I ever do plan to run, I’ll consult you and not Mindy Thorpe.”

Conner looked at him, surprised. “Seriously?”

“Of course.” Lex’s tone made it clear that any doubt was simply preposterous. “You’re family. I couldn’t run without your approval.” It was true, actually. Ever since his own mother’s death, Lex had had relatives but never family. Conner was the first to fit the role in far too long, and Lex wasn’t about to do a thing to jeopardize that.

Conner sniffed lightly and rested his head on his knee. “Clark doesn’t feel that way,” he complained. “I’m just some lab experiment he has to watch over because I’ve got dangerous powers or whatever.”

The list of petty grievances Lex had over the way that Clark was raising their son required a 12-page cross-index. However, this point was probably the one that infuriated him the most. “Clark grew up in a very conservative environment. It didn’t exactly prepare him for how to raise his child with another man.”

“Grandma didn’t have a problem with me,” Conner insisted sullenly.

“Your grandmother had already raised an adopted alien when she met you. You could hardly be any stranger than that.” Lex paused, carefully weighing how much to tell Conner. “Clark… Clark never felt half as welcome as your grandmother made him. I’m sure he never felt as if he truly belonged. He treats you in the same way, albeit subconsciously. He doesn’t mean it.”

“Yeah,” Conner grumbled. “Great. And now Grandma’s gone, and I’m screwed.”

Ah, to be sixteen and self-absorbed once again… “You’re not screwed,” Lex assured him. “You have Clark, and you have me.”

“Clark ditched me, and when he gets back, he’ll never let me stay with you. You’re supposed to be an evil influence or something. He’ll probably make me stay with the Rosses.” The way Conner said ‘Rosses’, it sounded like the end of the world.

“You will not stay with the Rosses,” Lex insisted; he had a similar opinion of that particular family. “I’ll make sure to inform Clark that that simply isn’t an option.”

“Thanks,” Conner sniffed, and then more quietly. “So what is going to happen to me?”

Lex sighed and leaned back. His mechanical right hand made an unnatural clicking sound on the marble floor tiles. “Clark didn’t want to discuss it yet, but we’ll work something out. Why, what do you want? Do you want to stay at Smallville High?”

“Not really.” Conner was picking at the rubber on the sole of his dress shoe now, and looking quite supremely sullen. “I don’t have any friends there, anyway. And I hate the stupid AI disguise.”

“You need the disguise,” Lex insisted. “Going to school as Superboy would significantly detract from your learning environment.”

“Yeah. ‘Learning’,” Conner agreed sarcastically.

“You could transfer to a school in Metropolis, however,” Lex added thoughtfully. “You’d have to stay with either Clark or myself, of course…”

Conner looked hopeful at this, before his expression fell. “Knowing my luck, Clark will probably want to make me take care of the farm, and I’ll get stuck with that and Smallville High.” He managed to remove a strip of rubber from the sole of his very expensive shoes and was now fiddling with it. Lex decided not make a point of Conner’s needless destruction of expensive property; clearly, it was something he’d inherited from Clark and therefore not his fault.

“If Clark wants the damn farm, he can take care of it himself,” Lex said decisively. “You’re moving to Metropolis. I’ll start looking into private schools tomorrow.”

Conner’s expression perked up. “Clark’s never going to agree to that…” he began wistfully.

“I won’t give him any choice.”

Conner quirked an eyebrow at him.

“I do control the largest supply of Kryptonite on the planet,” Lex reminded him.

“Great. You two can kill each other over what school I’m going to.” Conner’s tone was far more upbeat than his words, however.

“Conner, if we didn’t kill each other before you were born, we’re hardly going to manage it now,” Lex informed him breezily.

Conner’s eyes flicked down to Lex’s artificial hand.

“Merely a flesh wound,” Lex teased.

Conner snorted. “You’d probably have started wearing that stupid ring on your left hand if I hadn’t showed up,” he concluded.

Lex felt no need to inform Conner that that, in fact, had been his contingency plan. At the time, hostilities between himself and Clark had escalated to the point where going without the ring had been out of the question. Then, Conner had been thrown into their lives, and everything had been turned upside-down. Some day, Lex would have to thank Conner for saving his dominant hand. He’d just have to make sure Conner wasn’t actively laughing at him at the time.

“Unless your appreciation for Gauguin is improving,” Lex began, and Conner’s face made it all too clear that it wasn’t, “let’s get something to eat.”

“Spicy Thai?”

“Spicy Thai, it is.”

***

The aptly named ‘Spicy Thai’ was a tiny place on Belmont and 23rd that was well below Lex’s price range. However, Spicy Thai served Thai food so spicy that even Lex and Conner, both connoisseurs of all things hot, downed at least three glasses of water with their meal.

Clark, whose taste for fine cuisine began and ended with all-American bland, hated Spicy Thai, so eating food so hot that steam threatened to come out of their ears had always been a way to escape Clark when he decided to be overly oppressive during the monthly visits he granted the two of them. Thus, Spicy Thai had become something of a private ritual, something that Conner and Lex shared alone.

Conner took a huge gulp of ice water after swallowing a heaping chopstickful of the peanut chicken, before eyeing Lex with something like nervousness. That was unusual for Conner who, despite having been raised by superheroes who decried Lex’s misdeeds from the highest parapets, had never really been all that intimidated by Lex. Lex had always found that unaccountably reassuring.

“What?” he asked. Eloquence deteriorated to nothing when one’s eyes were watering from the broccoli beef.

“What made you change your mind?” Conner finally asked carefully, weighing each word as if it were a potential mistake.

“How do you mean?”

“I mean…” Conner studied his plate, swirling the rice around with his chopsticks. “What finally made you decide that you, y’know…” An inarticulate shrug. “Wanted me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I always wanted you; it merely took me a while to process the fact that you did, in fact, exist.”

“Two years?” Conner retorted bitterly. “Don’t lie to me. I hate that.”

“And they say it’s not genetic…” Lex sighed wistfully.

Conner gave him an odd look.

Lex took a deep breath and set down his chopsticks neatly on the side of his plate. “Conner,” he began seriously, “I was completely unaware of what Cadmus Labs was involved in until the day the Planet published that exposé. I found out that you were my son the same day the rest of the world did.” He carefully resumed eating; one could never be too cautious with the peanut chicken. “I’m guilty of many things, Conner. Lying to you is not one of them.”

Conner met his eyes, which was always very surreal because, while Conner looked like Clark in almost every other regard, he had Lex’s eyes. Staring down his son was always like looking into an oddly distorted mirror.

Realization that Lex was telling the truth flashed across Conner’s face before he ducked his head and returned to his food. “What took you so long, then?”

“By the time I knew about you, Clark and the Justice League had already ferried you away to safety. Which, I suppose, was just as well. If I’d found you first, I’d have undoubtedly taken you for myself.”

“And that would’ve been a bad thing?”

“It would not necessarily have been in your best interests,” Lex corrected. “Everything turned out well enough, as it happened. It did take me quite a while to convince Clark that I had legitimate reason to request visitation rights with my own son, beyond some misguided attempt at world domination.”

Conner snorted. “Yeah, because one of my secret powers is the ability to command the vast land resources of Asia.”

“True, but that scheme just wasn’t viable without a financial monopoly in western Europe.”

Conner laughed at that.

Lex smiled back, peaceably. “I take it you’re reassured then? Because I’m fairly certain I suck at this.”

Conner snorted. “You’re better than Clark.”

“That’s not saying much. Speaking of which, Clark wanted me to try to convince you that there was nothing you could have done about your grandmother.”

“And?” Conner looked at him curiously.

“And I’m quite certain that you’ve inherited Clark’s bizarre penchant for blaming yourself for everything, so I’ll spare you the platitude.”

“You’re way better than Clark,” Conner amended.

“I take my victories where I can get them these days.”

Conner gulped. “You’re not going to start talking about that insurance company you beat up again, are you?”

Lex did laugh at that.

***

The next day, of course, disaster struck.

If Lex had believed in some kind of divine presence that governed human lives, right around now he’d be convinced that it was out to get him. The disaster struck in the form of a bank robbery turned hostage crisis at the Third Metropolis. Lex had found out about it roughly around the same time the police did, in the same way:

It seemed that Clark had taken the opportunity to drop his Justice League com. unit into Conner’s bag, prior to taking off to galaxies unknown. Lex and Conner had discovered this fact when a sudden staticy screech began emitting from the bag at exactly 12:26 PM. The sound of the feedback had all but incapacitated Conner, and Lex’s ears had been ringing as well when he’d finally retrieved the transmitter and brought it up to the roof, where the sound-proofing and security measures he’d taken against covert surveillance no longer prevented the communicator from carrying out its mission.

Batman had been less than enthused to get Lex instead of Superman when the static cleared up. There was undoubtedly some sort of multifaceted plan to get the device back from him, even as he spoke. That was disappointing, really, because the device was quite fascinating: clearly alien-tech, with the ability to transmit directly into its possessor’s cerebral cortex so that no one else was capable of overhearing the conversation. LexCorp’s tech division could certainly benefit from a detailed study of the device’s inner workings, if the Justice League didn’t manage to steal it back from him first. He’d had Mercy set the perimeter defenses to watch for all members of the League, just in case.

Of course, Conner had insisted that he could help with the hostage crisis, even though Lex had politely informed the League that Superman wasn’t available and that they’d need to send someone else over to deal with the matter. Lex had told Conner, in no uncertain terms, that he was forbidden from interfering. Conner had countered that this was his job, and Lex was evil anyway so Conner didn’t have to do what he said. Lex had reminded Conner that he was emotional and liable to make a mistake. Conner had retorted by asking what say Lex had in the matter, anyway. Lex had finally concluded with the less than eloquent, yet nonetheless incontrovertible: “Because I’m your father, and I say so.”

Conner had, regrettably, insisted that he take back Clark’s com. so he could hear what was happening. He’d also taken to stomping around the penthouse so damn loudly that there was no way Lex could forget, even for a second, that he had a pissed off teenager in the apartment. Around one o’clock in the afternoon, Batman and the Green Lantern had diffused the situation, and Conner had returned to sulking in front to the television.

Lex, on the other hand, had waited for the invasion to begin.

Sure enough, five minutes after the hostage situation had been resolved, Lex got a call from security downstairs. Apparently, the UPS lady (yeah, right) had snuck past the security desk when a certain redheaded young man had suddenly and oh-so-coincidentally ‘passed out’ in the lobby. The ‘UPS lady’ had been spotted last by a security camera in the stairwell on the fortieth floor and was still at large.

With a weary sigh, he informed Grace at the front desk to have the ‘passed out’ Jimmy Olsen brought right on up to his corporate office. Really, it was only a matter of time before Lois joined them.

Lex had few genuine pleasures in life, but terrorizing members of the Planet’s staff was one of them. Mercy and Hope dragged a kicking Jimmy in by his elbows and sat him down in the wooden chair facing Lex’s desk.

Lex rather loved his desk. It was all sleek, modern planes and glossy black finish. It seemed to loom like some sort of menacing beast, and Lex had chosen it for the intimidation factor he had when seated behind it.

Jimmy Olsen looked pretty damn intimidated.

Lex hadn’t bothered with the glove over his artificial hand that morning, which just added to the whole Evil Mastermind ambience. Jimmy crouched down low in the chair, glancing nervously over his shoulders to confirm that Mercy and Hope were still there, all while the servos in Lex’s artificial hand whirred menacingly as he shut down the computer screen before him. Lex’s hand actually could (and did, most times) operate perfectly quietly, but he could move it in a way to create plenty of unnatural sounds when he wanted to. He’d found that doing so tended to freak out most people.

“Mr. Olsen,” he finally looked up after a too long pause, like Jimmy was the most insignificant of disturbances in his otherwise smooth day. “We’re just waiting on Ms. Lane, then?”

Jimmy gulped, and his eyes shifted around furtively but, to his credit, he didn’t give his partner away. It was no matter, of course.

“You’re not going to get away with this, Luthor,” he finally bit out nervously.

Lex sighed. There were any of a dozen legitimate complaints that the Planet could have against LexCorp this time, but Lex was willing to bet his entire stock portfolio that this was about… “Get away with what?” He held out his hands magnanimously, and watched Jimmy’s eyes flick nervously to the artificial right one.

“Whatever you’ve done to Superman!” Jimmy spat with conviction. Bingo.

Lex smiled his evilest, most enigmatic smile. And he’d been evil for a pretty long time, so it was a damned evil smile, if he did say so himself. Jimmy gulped. At that moment Lex’s phone rang, and he immediately answered it like it was the most vital call he’d ever taken; he’d instructed Charity to put through any yokel who could figure out LexCorp’s extension numbers, since one always looked more nefarious when one was receiving mysterious phone calls every few minutes. Indeed, Jimmy began to squirm.

Mr. Luthor? This is Happy Trails Funeral Home.

He couldn’t have planned this better if he’d tried. “I trust the casket is ready?” he offered calmly. Clark was going to kill him for this, but the reaction was totally worth it.

Jimmy’s eyes widened, and a terrified bead of sweat formed on his forehead.

All the arrangements are perfectly in order,” the nice woman on the other end of the phone informed him helpfully. “The expense of the service you’ve chosen does exceed the package that Mrs. Kent set up with us prior to her death.

“Cost is not an issue. I want everything to run as smoothly as possible.”

Jimmy was fidgeting, eyes gone frantic like a caged animal.

Behind him, Mercy was trying not to crack up. Nothing in Mercy’s expression indicated that she was about to crack up, but Mercy’s sense of humor was identical to his own in every way despite their disparate upbringings, and therefore Lex could conclude that Mercy was about to crack up because he was about to crack up.

He was less sure about Hope. He’d never really gotten Hope.

You have my assurances, Mr. Luthor,” the woman at the funeral home said confidently, before her tone softened. “And, please, offer my condolences to Clark and Conner.” Because, of course, Smallville was just inbred enough that everyone knew the Kents. Hell, this woman probably knew him even after he’d been out of that place for over a decade now.

“Thank you. I’m most pleased.”

The woman hung up to continue her work.

“Have the body bags brought up to my office immediately,” he said into the dead line before he hung up.

Jimmy let out a horrified squeak.

Lex was 90% sure he saw the left side of Mercy’s mouth twitch into an almost-smile. At that point, Charity called in to report that the fire alarm had just gone off on the floor below. “Lois will just be a minute, then,” Lex informed Jimmy with his most unreadable expression.

Sure enough, three and a half minutes later, Lois burst into his office, wielding the fire axe she’d stolen. Mercy disarmed and disabled her in ten seconds flat and sat her, kicking and screaming, into the chair beside Jimmy.

“You’ll never get away with this, Luthor!” Lois exclaimed defiantly.

“Is there an echo in here?” Lex asked Mercy, politely.

“There seems to be, sir,” Mercy agreed, holding Lois’ arms forcibly down.

“Perry White knows we’re here!” Lois insisted, eyes shooting daggers at Lex.

“Excellent,” Lex agreed. “Then he’s complicit in this act of breaking and entering?” He hit the intercom. “Did we get that on tape, Charity?”

“Yes, sir.”

Lois, never one to be deterred, soldiered on. “We know what you’re up to. And, if anything happens to us, the whole world will know.”

Lex got up from his desk chair and headed to the sidebar to his right. He carefully selected a snifter, examined the glass in the afternoon sunlight for a moment, and then filled it with brandy. “And what, exactly, will the whole world know?” he inquired disinterestedly.

“We’ve got the phone records,” Lois insisted. “Superman’s been missing for two days now, and the emergency call that was made to him this afternoon went straight to you. When the city finds out what you’ve done to him…” She struggled uselessly against Mercy’s grip.

“Ah.” Lex took a sip of the brandy. It was a bit early to drink yet, but he liked to watch the color in the light. That, and it made for an excellent dramatic flourish. “So, I take it Superman is never allowed to take a personal day?”

Lois snorted, like his statement was the most ridiculous thing she’d ever heard. “And, while we’re at it, I’ll bet all those banned chemicals being shipped to the 84th Street warehouse are for just another ‘military contract’.”

“There’s no need for sarcasm.” Lex made a mental note to move the 84th Street facility to somewhere less conspicuous. “Superman merely isn’t available today. Given that he works tirelessly to defend this city out of nothing but the goodness of his heart, I hardly think it’s unreasonable for the city to give him the day off.”

“I don’t know where you’re holding him.” Lois glanced surreptitiously around his office like Superman might be chained to a rack in the corner. And wouldn’t that make for an interesting conversation piece. “But you’ll never beat him, Luthor. Never.”

Lex sighed wearily. If there was anything he hated more than being caught at things he had done, it was being accused of things he hadn’t. He’d anticipated that such accusations were inevitable if Clark chose to stay away too long, but he’d thought he’d get more than one day’s reprieve. He supposed it was a mark of the high-quality investigative reporting team at the Planet. “Look,” he set down his brandy glass and leaned forward with both his hands on his desk, “Ms. Lane.” Jimmy looked far more intimidated than Lois did. “Nothing has happened to Kal-El, beyond a small family emergency. I’m sure he’d take it most kindly if the Daily Planet let him deal with this very personal matter on his own time.”

Lois rolled her eyes. “I don’t even know where to begin to tell you what’s wrong with that excuse.”

“Yet, somehow, I’m convinced you’ll do so anyway.” Lex gave her a tight, irritated smile.

“First of all: Superman’s planet? Kind of blew up. So I’m not seeing how it’s even physically possible for him to have a family emergency. Second, even in the unlikely event that something did come up, you’d be the last person to know about Superman’s ‘very personal matters’.”

“And?” Lex could feel his artificial hand digging into his desk, undoubtedly creating a very ugly handprint in the polished wood finish.

“And, finally, your breath stinks,” she informed him with a self-satisfied smirk.

It took every bit of self-control that Lex had spent a lifetime mastering to refrain from ordering Mercy to snap Lois’ neck then and there. He’d actually come up with seven ways of disposing of her body, such that her remains would never be found, before he finally calmed himself down enough to remove his artificial hand from the desktop it had partially crushed and give Mercy a warning look. She looked hopelessly disappointed that she wouldn’t get to strangle Lois with her bare hands.

“Get them out of here,” Lex snapped angrily, gesturing to Hope. Really, it was pointless to try to reason with the slanderous harpy.

The reason he’d reined in his homicidal impulses took that moment to poke his head inside the door. “Hey, Dad?” Conner froze when he saw Lex’s ‘guests’. “Oh. Hi, Lois. Jimmy.”

Jimmy made some frantic movements with his eyeballs that Lex figured was supposed to be Morse Code for SOS. Lois frowned, as if suddenly realizing that maybe Lex did have to a reason to know about certain of Superman’s family matters. It was astonishing, really, how good Clark’s friends were at completely blocking out the fact that Lex was Conner’s father as well.

“Kon,” Lex sighed with relief. He hadn’t realized just how tired he was until he saw a friendly face. “Come on in.”

Conner looked around curiously, finally freezing on Jimmy when he noticed the photographer’s bizarre flailing. “Are you having a seizure or something?” he asked helpfully.

“I believe he’s trying to inform you that I’ve murdered Kal-El with my death ray and the two of them are next. He’s hoping I haven’t brainwashed you into obeying my every evil whim.” Okay, so that had come out a little bit pissy. Lex figured he had a right to be annoyed, however.

Conner blinked at them in surprise. “Dad…er, Other Dad took off to have a breakdown because Grandma died,” he informed Lois seriously. “Everything’s cool. Right?” He looked to Lex.

Lois’ jaw drop when she realized that Lex had actually been telling the truth was almost worth the whole annoying interlude.

“Right,” Lex agreed, snapping for Mercy and Hope to remove the pair of Planet reporters from his sight. “I would press charges but, as you can see, I have important family matters that take precedence.” Lois grimaced, and he turned back to Conner. “What brings you here?”

“Oh.” Conner shook his head at Jimmy’s intense scrutiny, like he was trying to determine whether Conner had a mind-control parasite inserted into his brain. How Jimmy would’ve been able to tell such a thing by squinting at Conner lopsided was beyond Lex, but that didn’t stop him. “Batman just landed on the roof. I told him what’s up. He wants to know when Dad’s getting back.”

Lex felt a headache coming on. “If Kal had been kind of enough to provide me with a flight itinerary before he flew off, I would gladly let him know.”

“Hey, don’t snap at me!” Conner insisted defensively.

“I’m still looking into the 84th Street warehouse!” Lois shouted at him as she was dragged from his office. Apparently, the woman didn’t care whether she was being led to or away from danger; she kicked and screamed both ways.

So, naturally, that was the moment that Lex finally broke down.

***

The only ‘benefit’, if it could be called such, to breaking down in the middle of his office was that Conner had finally broken down too.

Charity, who’d been the only security left by that point, had bustled them both off into the private elevator at the back of his office, so that no one saw them. The elevator had direct access to the penthouse, and once Lex arrived back home, he couldn’t imagine why he’d ever thought it would be a good idea to go down to work today.

They’d ended up in Conner’s room, Conner on the bed and Lex with his head in his hands in the desk chair, and Charity had brought in juice and toast like they were a couple of lost kids. Of Lex’s assistants, he’d always suspected that Charity was the most aptly named.

Informing Lex that Mercy would take his place and play CEO for the rest of the afternoon, Charity left them alone to their grief. Lex really needed to give her a raise. Mercy, too. And Hope and Grace, while he was at it. But not that Constance chick; Lex secretly suspected that Mercy had only hired Constance because of her name, because she was quite inferior to all his other assistants.

“I don’t even know why I’m crying,” he finally said, sniffing his nose dry and fully processing the tray of juice and toast for the first time. “She never even liked me.”

“Grandma liked everyone,” Conner corrected him, shoulders still shaking.

It was good to see Conner letting out his emotions. He was like Lex in that he tended to repress and use his wits as a shield. Lex could count on one hand the number of times he’d let himself really cry, and he could only hope that Conner would learn to relax more and be the better for it.

He reached out for a slice of toast, perfectly buttered. “Not really. She tolerated me at best, was always polite. But I could always tell that she wished I would go away and leave her family in peace.”

“You are family,” Conner insisted.

“To you…” Lex sighed. “Never to her. There was a time when I would’ve given anything to—” He cut himself off mid-sentence. Dear God, now he was getting downright maudlin, and sentimental to boot. Soon, he’d have to bring out the world’s tiniest violin to play for himself.

“What?” Conner asked curiously, curling onto his side so that he could see Lex better. His hair was a hopeless mass of tangled curls, and his nose was still red. Sans the hair problem, Lex undoubtedly looked the same.

“Nothing,” Lex shook it off. There was no point in dwelling on the past. Conner might welcome him into the fold, and he could grieve for Conner’s loss, but he himself had no right to mourn Martha Kent. It was the same strange feeling he’d had at Jonathan’s funeral all those years ago, like he didn’t quite belong, even when he’d been willing to take on his share of the burden.

“Is this about when you and Clark knew each other, y’know, before?”

Clark had chosen to keep Conner largely ignorant of the days when the two of them had been friends, and Lex had respected Clark’s wishes enough not to go out of his way to divulge that part of his life. Frankly, he didn’t like to think about his Smallville years. They depressed him horribly now. He couldn’t imagine how he’d ever been that naïve…

“Yes.” And now he was openly defying Clark, but Conner was family, and he wouldn’t lie to family. That had actually been a rather thorny decision for him to make after Clark had finally allowed the two of them to meet. But, in the end, Lex had decided to tell Conner the truth about anything he dared to ask. If Lex’s own son wanted to destroy him, then Lex figured he would have well and truly deserved whatever he got. Thus far he hadn’t regretted that decision.

“What happened back then?” Conner seemed to have calmed now and was eyeing the juice with measured longing. “I mean, you two obviously know each other really well.”

Too well for simple enemies, wasn’t spoken but clearly implied. Conner had always been very intuitive, picking up on subtle cues. Obviously a trait he’d picked up from Lex, since heaven knew Clark could miss a freight train even after it had bounced off his invulnerable chest.

“We were friends,” Lex said after a long pause, studying the toast in his hand. “And then we weren’t anymore.”

“Why not?” Conner sniffed slightly, rubbing at his eyes half-heartedly.

“Philosophical differences,” Lex answered simply.

“Philosophical differences? That’s a stupid reason to fight.”

Lex let out a wry laugh at that. “That’s the only reason to fight. All of human history, that’s all anyone has fought over. Religion, philosophy…” That wasn’t entirely accurate, of course – there was also money – but Lex was feeling in a strangely existential mood at the moment.

“You’re not going to lecture me on Sun Tzu, are you?” Conner asked warily.

“That depends. How good is your history class?”

“Fine,” Conner insisted hurriedly. “We’re learning about World War II, like sane people.”

“Ah,” Lex sighed and leaned back in the chair. Sunlight was just beginning to tinge the drapes a deep orange. “World War II, the worst thing that ever happened to humanity…”

“And to think that some people want to compare you to Hitler,” Conner snorted.

Lex frowned. “Have you been talking to Brainiac?”

“He really doesn’t like you.”

“The feeling is more than mutual. And besides, he’s evil so you shouldn’t listen to him, anyway.”

Conner gave him a Look.

“I’m different.”

The Look turned a shade more incredulous.

“It’s all relative.” Lex took a moment to compose his thoughts. “And that’s the true problem with World War II…”

“And now you’re totally going to tell me why,” Conner accused, the pure dread in his voice of any child about to get a lengthy lecture.

“The real problem with World War II,” Lex concluded, “was that it was so purely black and white. There was evil and good, and for the most part, that’s incontrovertible.”

“And that’s bad?” Conner really should have known better than to ask by now.

“It’s bad because it validates people like Clark, gives them justification to put everything into black and white. It’s just not a healthy or mature worldview.”

“And you would know,” Conner commented skeptically.

Lex sighed. “Maybe I don’t know. Maybe that’s why I’m evil.” He waved his good hand in the air lazily, watching his half eaten toast catch the evening light. “I prefer to call it a philosophical difference.”

“You have evil labs,” Conner accused. “I’ve seen them.”

Well, this was certainly new. They usually stayed as far away from Lex’s dubious reputation as they could during their monthly visits. “I do,” he agreed. “I love my labs. Wouldn’t give them up for all the world. But I wouldn’t call them evil, per se.”

“I’ve seen them,” Conner repeated, sounding slightly angrily.

Lex waved that off dismissively. “You’ve seen the bad. A lot of good comes out of those labs, too. The two aren’t really separable.”

“Government labs don’t seem to have any difficulty separating the two,” Conner countered.

Lex laughed. “That’s highly debatable.”

“They don’t do human testing.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Everyone does human testing. Most just do less revolutionary experiments in the first place. Really, you should see the things that cosmetic companies do, and then try to tell me that I’m evil.”

“Making fun of the problem won’t make it go away.”

Damn. Where had the kid gotten that sharp mind of his? Oh…right. “No, but it’ll make me feel better.”

Conner glared at him like he was being insufferable on purpose which, in all honesty, he was. “Seriously, Dad, why do you do it?”

“First,” Lex began, “those ‘evil labs’ help a lot of people.” He raised his artificial hand and watched the fingers move as smoothly, liquidly, as any human flesh. “I’m not the only one to benefit from our medical advances. And, also, I’ve borne my fair share of that human experimentation.”

Conner bit his lip nervously at that.

“Second,” Lex continued with a lofty air, “I do run an international, multi-billion dollar company, with one of the most diverse portfolios of any corporation on this planet. Innovation and experimentation are vital to continued growth.” Conner opened his mouth to protest. “And, before you object, that growth means tens of thousands of jobs for people all over the world. It means that people can buy homes, feed their families, provide for their futures. Clark wants to bring down LexCorp, but he never thinks of the effect that would truly have on Metropolis. On the world,” he added as an afterthought.

“Now you’re totally full of shit.” Usually Lex enjoyed the fact that Conner was very astute; right now it just made his life difficult.

“Fine,” he agreed. “And third is a very long and unpleasant story involving my father that I’m sure you don’t want to hear, either.”

“Well, I’m pretty much stuck here until Clark gets back,” Conner muttered, sounding somewhat apologetic. “It’s not like there’s anything better to do…” Conner was giving him a curious look. Conner always seemed fascinated by stories about Lionel; Lex supposed it was like watching their own family’s personal train wreck.

With a sigh, he settled back into a past he really would rather have forgotten. “When I was your age,” Lex began wearily, “I began college at Princeton. My father had always made sure to bump me ahead grades whenever he could. I think he found my entire growing up process impossibly tedious.”

“Nice,” Conner muttered sarcastically.

If Lex didn’t know how horribly it embarrassed Conner, he would have kissed him for his continued, unwavering hatred of Lionel. “Indeed,” he agreed instead. “But I’d been planning for this eventuality. I played up the role of the spoiled rich brat and did all the drugs I could think of. My grades were exceptional without my really trying, of course, which was enough to pacify Dad. I pretended not to care about the academics, but in secret I made sure to do extraordinarily well in chemistry and biology. With all the other classes, I skipped horrendously and only attended on the days there were tests to ace. But I never missed a chemistry class. Even Dad didn’t detect that there was a pattern to my absences.” Lex sighed in fond memory. “I always loved chemistry…”

“You do realize that you’re losing any cool points you might have had, by the minute?” Conner was rolling his eyes.

“I’m amazed I had any to begin with,” Lex retorted. “In any case, the plan was simple. I graduated in three years, Just Like Daddy Wanted, and then I returned to Metropolis, seemingly a dilettante, but secretly with the most impressive recommendations in biochemistry that one could get from Princeton. Amidst a bawdy public spectacle of alcohol and debauchery, I covertly applied to the University of Metropolis’ graduate program and was, of course, accepted.”

“Of course,” Conner agreed with a half-smile.

“I never told my father. I was still a teenager back then, and hopelessly naïve. I think I actually believed that he wouldn’t find out. And he didn’t for a whole semester.”

“But then he did.”

“And, within a week, the University had me expelled for synthesizing illegal drugs and distributing them on campus,” Lex concluded.

“Which, of course, you were innocent of,” Conner added skeptically.

“No, I was horribly guilty. But the fact that my father accompanied the police raid of the room I kept on campus was something of a giveaway that it wasn’t a routine bust.”

“Your dad was a total ass. What did he have against you going to school, anyway?”

“It simply wasn’t in His Plan for my life. A mere scientist wasn’t ambitious enough for his only legitimate heir.” Lex considered for a moment. “That was his official excuse, anyway. Privately, I really do believe that he just liked making me miserable. There was…something wrong with my father. He wasn’t just a ‘total ass’. It was more than that. I look at you, and it causes me actual pain to think of ever hurting you—”

Conner made a face like he always did at the ‘mushy stuff’.

“—But my father really did thrive on watching me suffer.” Lex shook his head. “I’ve bandied the word ‘sociopath’ about in my head for some years now. But I suppose I’ll never really know the truth…”

“Your family is officially fucked up,” Conner informed him.

Lex snorted at that. “And to think: You haven’t even heard about all the assassination attempts yet.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Conner’s eyes widened.

“Unfortunately not. But I was always informed, after the fact, that it was ‘for my own good’.”

Seriously fucked up,” Conner amended.

“So now you can agree that Clark was somewhat justified in keeping you from meeting me those two years. He didn’t want me to fuck you up, too. Frankly, I had similar worries.”

“And now you don’t?”

“I trust your judgment. If you say I’m not hopelessly ruining your life, then I believe you.”

Conner looked strangely touched by this, but in that macho teenage way where he couldn’t actually express his feelings. Lex could tell, though, and that was good enough for him.

“Anyway, the point of the story is that I always wanted my own lab, and I never got it. So now the least I can do is create the sort of labs I would have loved to work in.” He laid his head back on the headrest and watched the last rays of sun fade away. “When I was a young man, I’d have given anything to work in a place like LexCorp Labs. Really, the drought-resistant seedlings alone could have taken up my whole life. But then there’s the biotech and the robotics and…” He sighed wistfully.

Conner’s eyes narrowed critically. “So, basically, you’re a hopeless nerd with no moral center.”

“Exactly,” Lex agreed with a laugh.

Conner considered that for a moment. “Okay,” he finally agreed. “I can work with that.”

There was a certain scheming tone to his voice that Lex recognized all too well from his own more Machiavellian moments. “Don’t even think about it.”

“What?” Conner blinked at him innocently.

“Clark and I are never going to reconcile.” The glint of surprise in Conner’s eyes let Lex know that he’d hit the nail on the head. “It’s simply never going to happen.”

“Because of philosophical differences?” Conner sounded less than convinced.

“Because,” Lex corrected wearily, “any sort of reconciliation that would last would require that I cede to demands that I will never give in to and that Clark accept demands that he would never give in to. It’s impossible.”

“But you’ve thought about it.”

Well, obviously he had. “I’m well aware of the differences that separate us. Clark isn’t even that far along. About these sorts of things, he can be quite…” He waved his good hand in the air, searching for the right word. “Oblivious.”

Conner frowned for a moment, and then Lex saw a series of realizations pass through his eyes, alarmingly fast and startling. “Oh my God!” Conner exclaimed in sudden surprise, jerking up. “You’re in love with him, aren’t you?”

And that was just downright uncanny. Lex froze, eyes wide, breath caught in his throat. He’d spent years and years agonizing over the fact that his feelings for Clark had to be written plainly across his face for all to see, but no one had ever figured it out before. No one had ever understood him well enough…

“That’s what this is all about?” Conner didn’t need Lex to confirm his suspicions; Lex’s reaction had undoubtedly been enough.

It took Lex only a moment to compose himself. “No, it really is about philosophical differences. However,” he added thoughtfully, “I doubt there’s ever been a conflict in all of human history that wasn’t worsened by the addition of unresolved sexual tension.”

“Okay: TMI.” Conner ran one hand through his hair, trying to process. “Have you ever told him that…?” He let the question trail off.

“When I first took independent control of the Smallville Fertilizer Factory under the original LexCorp,” Lex answered by way of anecdote, “I published employee hiring guidelines with the standard boilerplate: equal opportunity employer, will not discriminate based upon race, age, gender, sexual orientation, et cetera.”

Conner nodded for him to continue.

“That last one caused a special meeting of the town council, there was so much public outrage. Eventually Clark’s father took me aside and informed me very kindly that, while he was perfectly aware that ‘those people’ existed and that he certainly opposed discrimination of any sort, Smallville was a nice, family community and really didn’t need to be reminded that there might be homosexuals in their midst.”

“What did you do?”

Lex laughed. “I took out the clause. At the time I was horribly eager for Jonathan Kent’s approval for reasons which I’m sure you’ll agree were thoroughly ironic in this case.”

Conner just nodded numbly.

“That was the community Clark grew up in. Jonathan was a good man, if narrow-minded, and Clark always looked up to him.” Lex sighed. “So, no. I never told Clark.”

“Yeah…” Conner breathed, brow furrowed. “Wow. You’ve got a story for everything, don’t you?”

“I’ve led a very eventful life. I hope I’m not boring you?”

“Nah.” Conner shook his head. “At first it was weird. But then I just accepted the fact that you know everything about everything. And now it’s kind of cool.”

Lex suddenly wished that Clark were present for the thoroughly immature reason that he felt the impulse to shout out ‘Nyah, nyah! You may be Superman, but I’m the one our son thinks is infallible!’ Clearly, it had been a very trying day, and he was in danger of losing it again.

“Hey, Dad?”

“Yes?” Lex asked tiredly.

“Am I still grounded?”

Lex sighed and rubbed a hand over his eyes. Artificial fingers on artificial eyelashes: at this rate by the time he was sixty he’d be completely inhuman. “You were never grounded, Conner. I just don’t want you jumping into dangerous situations when you’re distracted.”

“Can I go for a quick fly, then?” Conner asked hopefully. “I just want to clear my head.”

Lex wished that he were capable of going for a ‘quick fly’ at that moment, too. It would probably do him some good. “I don’t see the harm.”

“Thanks, Dad.” Conner got up off of the bed, and his hand brushed Lex’s shoulder casually in a gesture that was the closest to comfort his teenage son could probably bear to give him without embarrassing himself.

Lex watched Conner take off into the fading twilight, before he came to the most brilliant conclusion of his life to that date:

It was time to get completely and thoroughly drunk.

***

The problem with getting drunk was that it really didn’t turn Lex’s brain off; it just turned his thoughts in directions that he wouldn’t normally go.

Like his long-held drunken theory that Clark was kind of really gay.

This theory, of course, serviced Lex’s own wishes and desires and, as such, was inherently suspect from a purely scientific standpoint. However, even stone cold sober Lex had to admit that the theory had its merits.

The first point of evidence in the theory’s favor was Lana Lang. Now, Lana was a perfectly beautiful woman. Lex could admit that and had even partaken of that at one time. However, the fact that Clark had been supposedly ‘in love’ with her throughout all his youth, yet had never even spoken to her prior to his freshman year, despite their being neighbors, spoke volumes. There was shyness, and then there was worship from afar because, in all honesty, Clark had never wanted to get too close.

Their ‘relationship’ over the years further proved Lex’s point. Years and years of beating around the bush, with only a rare kiss, followed by months of careful distance… Well, it simply wasn’t normal. No relationship ever had been as un-physical as Clark and Lana’s had been. It was as if the two of them had been in love with the idea of being in love, but the physical reality just never worked out.

And, once they finally had gotten over the physical thing long enough to have sex, they’d fled even further from each other. Clark claimed to fear hurting the women he dated, but no man in the world was only able to have sex once and then enforce abstinence throughout the rest of his life. For a while Lex had wondered whether Kryptonian male sexuality was just that different from human.

But there was a far simpler explanation: Clark had gotten a taste of heterosexual sex with Lana, he hadn’t enjoyed it, and that terrified him.

Which led quite naturally to Lois Lane, the least sexual woman that Clark could possibly have latched himself onto. Not that Lois didn’t have a healthy sex life with people who weren’t Clark, but Clark simply had no chance with Lois. He might as well not exist to her, which allowed him to maintain his illusion that he was thoroughly in love without having to face the nitty-gritty of how that ‘love’ would physically manifest. What better for Clark’s celibacy that to worship a woman who was all but married to her work?

Of course, Superman was a different story. Superman could have had Lois at any time over the past decade, yet he’d never chosen to press his suit. Oh so conveniently, Superman had the advantage that he could justify his lack of interest under the larger than life persona he’d created for himself: sex was below Superman.

It was all very telling.

Either that, or Lex was thinking himself into wishful circles.

He’d just begun on his second decanter of brandy when a picture of the current object of his fascination appeared on the television screen. Of course Lois couldn’t sit on a story out of respect for a man (well, Kryptonian) who’d saved her life on countless occasions. The public, naturally, had to be informed of every dirty little detail of their lives.

Frankly, Lex wondered at Clark’s fixation on Lois. Even as an untouchable ideal, she was horribly shrill and prying. Clark had always hated it when Lex dug into his personal life, so why did Clark tolerate Lois?

Or, even worse, did Lois remind Clark of Lex in her dogged determination, and that was why he’d chosen her as the supposed object of his affections? If that were the case, Lex was horribly offended and would have to refuse Clark on that hypothetical day when he finally dropped to his knees and begged Lex to fuck him.

Well… He’d refuse once. Maybe. After he’d satiated his own desires half a dozen or so times first.

Lex turned on the volume for Channel 6, the Planet’s partner for slander when just libel wouldn’t do, to discover that ‘Superman Takes Day Off’ was apparently headline news. Lois Lane’s tact seemed to be at an all-time low. Of course, given that the story involved him, Superman, and Superboy, he wasn’t surprised. She’d been practically salivating when she’d left his office, after all.

He wasn’t being raked through the coals as he usually was any time a Planet affiliate mentioned him, however. It was always best to be grateful for the little things.

Rather the panicky red banner assured the denizens of Metropolis that Batman had informed Channel 6 reporters (Lex took a moment to wince in sympathy for Bruce) that the Green Lantern would be checking by until Superman returned. Because, of course, the city couldn’t function normally if there wasn’t some idiot wearing brightly colored tights, flying through the sky.

Lex gritted his teeth and knocked back another glass of brandy. This was exactly the sort of thing he was always warning Clark about: It simply wasn’t good for humanity to just sit back and let superheroes take care of everything. ‘The American Way’ had been independence and ingenuity just as long as it hadn’t had Superman to act as its daddy and do everything for it. Now, ‘the American Way’ seemed to be perpetual laziness and screaming ‘Superman, help!’ any time something went awry.

I’ll just be so grateful when Superman gets back,” your average soccer mom on the street was saying into the camera near what appeared to be 49th and Grand. “I don’t feel safe now, you know?

Ah, yes. This was what Superman’s careful attentions had turned humanity into: a gaggle of fearful children. Lex turned off the television in disgust. This was exactly the reason he could never really get into philanthropy. As an ideal, he had no objection to helping those in need, but in actual practice people were just so perennially disappointing.

It was even more problematic for Clark. Because, practically speaking, Clark had set himself up as a sort of god. Clark was unpretentious enough that Lex knew that it had been entirely unintentional, but it had happened nonetheless. If Lex’s suspicions were remotely true, Clark was trapped in an unsolvable conundrum. Metropolis, liberal and forward-thinking as it was, wasn’t ready for a gay superhero. And it certainly wasn’t ready for a gay god.

Clark had confined himself to a web of lies so tightly interwoven that even he couldn’t escape. Lex hadn’t been kidding when he’d told Conner that reconciliation between the two of them was impossible. Lex only wished he could stop dwelling on just how hopeless it all was…

Because, as a corollary to his ‘Clark is gay’ theory, was the conviction that Clark was in love with him, too.

The corollary rested on shakier ground that the actual theory, and mostly was based upon the fact that there really weren’t any other viable options in Clark’s life.

Except Jimmy Olsen, his brain chimed in, right on cue.

Shut up, brain, he snapped reflexively. He downed another glass of brandy to help facilitate the process.

Because, really, that option was just…stupid! He was smarter and more confident and better looking and had known Clark far longer and just… Jimmy Olsen was not an option.

So, back to how Clark was in love with him… Well, he really didn’t have any evidence for that one, per se. It was just a process for elimination. Because: Seriously? Jimmy Olsen?

There was also the fact that, no matter what anyone else said, Lex had always known that he and Clark were connected. It had begun that day on the bridge, all those years ago, when Clark had breathed life into him. He’d awoken after that accident, reborn, with Clark’s face smiling down at him. It had been the most genuinely spiritually moving event of his life, and he refused to believe that it meant nothing.

In that moment, he’d known Clark like he’d never known anyone before or since. Clark’s hands and breath and smile were like the sun itself, and Lex had felt warm inside, in a way that was thoroughly indescribable. It hadn’t even been entirely sexual. Rather, in that moment he’d known that he and Clark belonged together, that he’d finally found his perfect complement.

They were, quite simply put, destined.

Lex had always had his own funny views of destiny. He believed in it only insomuch as men forged their own destinies, worked toward the culmination of their own being. When Lex had first met Clark, he’d never been more excited by the idea of pursuing his own destiny.

The moment was fleeting, of course, but it was absolutely perfect. The only truly honest moment he and Clark had ever shared. Because, of course, then he’d asked about the crash, and Clark had lied as he always did. But that one moment…

It had been everything to him. It was simply impossible that Clark hadn’t felt the same thing. Lex didn’t consider himself an optimist most days, but even he refused to believe that the universe could be that cruel.

***

When Lex awoke in the middle of the night, he was in his bed rather than passed out on the couch like he’d remembered. That meant that someone had moved him. Conner, most likely. The only other option was Mercy and, weight differentials aside, when faced with the choice of dragging Lex to bed or letting him spend the night on the couch and develop a horrible crink in his neck so that she could make smart-assed and thoroughly unsympathetic remarks over breakfast, Mercy would undoubtedly select the latter. She’d just never been big on coddling.

Lex rolled over onto his left side with a muffled protest. He was, most definitely, hung-over. It wasn’t a predicament he often suffered from, thanks to his meteor-enhanced healing. In fact, it took a rather impressive effort to get himself drunk in the first place these days. In principle, it was good to know that he was still physically capable of accomplishing both; in practice, his head hurt like hell.

“You’re awake?”

The voice alerted him to a third option he hadn’t considered: Clark was back. “You’re back,” he muttered. Oh, just brilliant. He was certainly at his finest this evening. “What time is it?”

“1AM.” Well, at least that wasn’t too pathetic, then.

“Where’s Conner?”

“Asleep in his room,” Clark answered, sitting down lightly on the edge of the bed. His cape twisted in a way that looked horribly uncomfortable, but he didn’t seem to mind.

“Batman and that Lane woman called for you. Thanks for leaving me to take care of our grieving son, the media, and the Justice League all by myself.” A pause. “Jerk.” And, joy of all joys, it seemed that he was still just a bit drunk.

The quirk of Clark’s lips caught the moonlight shining in through the full windows along the far wall. “Sorry.” Because, of course, Clark had to apologize for everything. “Thank you.”

Clark got up and walked over to the windows to close the drapes while Lex tried to process the fact that Clark had actually thanked him. He was pretty sure that he’d be having difficulty with the concept, even if he’d been sober.

And then, as he watched, Clark reached up and unfastened his cape, draping it over Lex’s desk chair. Lex felt the sound of surprise die in his suddenly dry throat when Clark continued the process, stripping the skin-tight costume off of his body until he was entirely nude. Lex could have cursed Clark in that moment for closing the blinds; he could only make out the dim outline of Clark’s form as he approached the bed.

“Can I…” Clark’s voice sounded nervous and young in a way that it hadn’t since he’d left Smallville for good. “Can I spend the night here? I don’t really want to be alone anymore.”

Oh, please, Lex, can I crawl naked into your bed with my godlike physique? Like that wasn’t the most rhetorical question in the universe. Lex just managed to nod numbly.

Then Lex could see muscles rippling and felt the mattress dip and shift as Clark crawled beneath the covers and over to where Lex lay dazed and helpless by this turn of events. And Clark just didn’t lie down beside Lex: he curled up nice and close, his cheek brushing Lex’s shoulder with every exhalation of breath, their warmth mingling together and pulling them closer like some sort of irresistible magnetic force.

It was around that time that Lex realized that Clark had undressed him before putting him to bed. He’d been complaining for years that Superman was always rumpling his suits; Clark had certainly picked a lovely time to start paying attention. The hard, smooth flesh of Clark’s chest pressed erotically against his own skin. A caress of silk where Clark’s thigh splayed over his waist made him aware that at least he still had his boxer-briefs, which was more than Clark was sporting at the moment.

It was intensely sensual, yet oddly not entirely sexual. His hand came up to run lazily up and down Clark’s spine, and Clark’s body rocked and shivered with the motion of Lex’s hand, a content little “mmm” escaping his lips. But all their touching felt so much more like comfort than arousal.

Lex was just a bit too drunk to process it all.

“Are you all right?” he finally asked, his lips mere inches from Clark’s forehead.

“Don’t wanna talk about it,” Clark grumbled, curling his hand possessively around Lex’s waist and pulling him closer.

They were – dear God! – just cuddling, it seemed.

Strangely enough, Lex found himself not entirely adverse to the idea. Possibly because his alcohol consumption had made anything more quite the gambit. And there was just something relaxing about the feel of Clark’s breath against his throat, the steady, reassuring pulse of Clark’s heartbeat beneath the pads of his fingertips.

Clark reached over and took Lex’s artificial hand in his own, and Lex could sense the pressure of Clark’s fingers through the wires and fiber optics and servos, feel the mechanical connections that had been wired to his brain, but he couldn’t feel the warmth, the completeness that should come from this simple touch. It was the first time the bionics had felt completely inadequate, rather than like a medical miracle.

“’S okay,” Clark mumbled against his shoulder before bringing Lex’s false hand to his lips and pressing a gentle kiss across the knuckles.

And that time, Lex felt. Not just the simulation of feeling his right hand had held for so long, but real feeling that came from emotion rather than mere contact.

Clark’s lips felt like forgiveness and salvation, and maybe even a promise for more.

Lex’s last thought, before the warm breathing rhythm of lazy, entangled limbs carried his conscious mind away once more, was that this had to be a dream. Why Lex had been granted a nightly reprieve from the nightmares of insects and rotting death bubbling up from beneath his skin was beyond him. But he wasn’t about to look this gift horse of wondrous perfection in the mouth.

***

When Lex awoke the next morning, he was alone. The letdown after what, sober, he was now confident had been a dream was enough to make him swear off liquor for the rest of his life. At least the hangover was cured now. Thank God for childhood Kryptonite-related traumas.

He’d just begun a serious debate with himself over whether he really wanted to get out of bed that morning, when the bathroom door opened, and his world was turned on its head for the second time in the past six or so hours.

Last night, apparently, hadn’t been entirely a dream, because there was Clark standing before him, fresh from the shower, with nothing but a white Egyptian cotton towel monogrammed with royal purple ‘L.L.’ wrapped around his waist.

Lex watched in something akin to a lustful stunned stupor as sun-kissed skin stretched and flexed over taut muscles and Clark let out a long yawn.

“’Morning,” Clark offered sleepily when he was done preening before slipping back into bed beside Lex. A momentary shifting beneath the blankets, and then Clark retrieved the towel and tossed it carelessly onto the desk chair on top of his costume. Which meant that, once again, Clark was naked in his bed.

Clearly, Lex had died and, through some supremely ironic miscalculation, ended up in heaven. There was no other explanation.

“Sleep well?” Clark’s lips were quirked into a mischievous little smile that Lex hadn’t seen directed at him since before his first marriage.

Lex’s mind was reeling at all the implications. “Fine, thank you. You?” Standard politeness gave him time to think, and he finally grasped upon the obvious answer: grief had driven Clark completely mad.

“Wonderful.” Clark propped his head up on one elbow as he studied Lex’s bare chest. “Your bed’s a lot comfier than Ceres.”

“You did head for the Asteroid Belt, then.” It was really almost impossible to hold a rational conversation while naked in bed with Clark, Lex was discovering. Not that he objected, really.

“Warmer, too,” Clark added, his eyes darkening as he leaned in to brush his hand down the side of Lex’s face.

Lex’s knee-jerk reaction, still present after spending a quarter of a century under his father’s diabolical care, was to pull away from the touch.

Clark seemed to understand and just smiled softly in that warm, wonderful way that reminded Lex of his old friend, rather than the untouchable icon Superman had become. “I missed you,” he added, voice deep and rough. “You and Conner, but especially you…”

Lex’s brain may have short-circuited at the way Clark was inching ever closer, but even so he was able to recognize that something was seriously amiss. He sat up abruptly, putting a halt to Clark’s slow seduction, and fixed Clark with a critical expression. “Are you sure you’re feeling well?” he asked in the most neutral voice he could manage.

Clark’s smile darkened several shades at that. “No, not really.” He sighed and collapsed back against the pillows, staring up at the ceiling. “I mean, my mom just died.”

“I noticed,” Lex commented wryly.

Clark shut his eyes. “I wanted to get away, as far as I could…so far that I couldn’t hear a thing, just the emptiness of space…”

Lex relaxed marginally. It was unusual for Clark to be talking about himself this much (that was strictly Lex’s department), but Lex took it as a good sign.

“But then,” Clark continued, his voice low and almost hypnotic, “I realized that that wasn’t what I wanted at all.”

“Oh?”

“It was so quiet, and I felt so alone. And I suddenly realized that that was what I was running away from in the first place. Mom is gone, and…” He choked up slightly.

Lex lay back down next to him, and Clark took the invitation for what it was and rested his head on Lex’s shoulder. The last time Lex had seen Clark physical like this had been ages ago back in Smallville. Clark had never felt any compunction about touching back then, and Lex had been forced to endure any number of hugs, back pats, and sessions as Clark’s pillow when they’d watched movies together. He’d surprised himself back then by not minding; it still surprised him even now.

“The world loves Superman,” Clark concluded sadly, “but Mom was the only person who just loved me, unconditionally and without question.”

Lex’s throat felt tight at that thought. He remembered that from when his own mother had died: the one person in the world guaranteed to love him was gone, and he might never find another. He hadn’t until… “Conner loves you,” Lex reminded him.

“That’s why I came back,” Clark agreed lazily. “Mom’s gone, and Dad… Hell, Perry had heart surgery last year, and Lois won’t quit smoking, and…”

“People die,” Lex said simply. “That’s what we do.”

“Which is why I don’t have any time to waste,” Clark concluded. “Mom died knowing how much I loved her. Th-The last time we talked I teased her that she’d outlive us all, bustling about in that kitchen, even though she’d been getting weaker for years, and she made me cherry pie, and I told her about my work at the Planet and all the people I’d saved that week, and she told me she was proud of me, and I hugged her and told her I loved her.”

Lex contemplated him thoughtfully for a moment, as well. “Those were actually the last words I told my mother, as well.” And, God, he’d never told anyone this, but Clark had always made him want to lay his soul bare. He’d thought he’d learned long ago that trusting Clark with his secrets only led to pain and rejection. “I wasn’t there when she died, but at least I told her…”

“It matters,” Clark agreed. “After they’re gone…”

Lex’s hand reached out tentatively to touch Clark’s hair. Clark, unlike him, didn’t flinch away.

“And the way I figure it,” Clark concluded, “if anything happens… Conner knows that I’ll always love him. And Perry and Lois and Jimmy all understand. But…”

“But?” Clark had no idea how impossibly sexy he was just then, open and vulnerable and naked. The blanket had pooled around his waist, taking the towel’s place, and he was almost irresistible…

“If you died tomorrow…”

Lex snorted, because Clark had always been hopelessly oblivious to the fact that he could, in fact, die too, no matter how many times Lex had come close to proving that very deadly point.

Clark leaned in, eyes a darker green than Lex had ever seen them. “…You’d die thinking that I hate you. And I don’t hate you, Lex.”

Ah, so that was what this was about. Loss had driven Clark into a state of mind where he was determined to ‘carpe diem’ and damn the consequences. It was a brief moment of near insanity that many people suffered after someone close to them had passed on. In other words, Clark wasn’t quite himself and would regret this, if not tomorrow, then soon.

“I don’t hate you…” Clark repeated in a whisper.

Lex resisted the urge to counter with, You will soon. “I’m aware of that,” he said instead.

“But you don’t know,” Clark insisted, leaning in closer so that Lex could feel an impossibly hot exhalation of breath against his lips.

Now, back when they’d first met, Lex had gotten quite a lot of practice at controlling his libido. This was because Clark had had the unfortunate habit of leaning too far over the pool table, ass waggling suggestively at Lex, and asking, “Does this look lined up right to you?” The only reasonable to response to such a question would have been to curl his body right around Clark’s back ‘helpfully,’ kiss him senseless, and then proceed to show him how to really ‘line up’ right. Clark really had been a hopeless, if completely oblivious, cocktease, and Lex’s self-control had been tried and tested.

The reason he’d kept control of himself back then was that he’d actually wanted to do right by Clark. They had been friends, first and foremost, and Lex had valued that almost as much as his cock had valued visions of bare, tanned farmboy flesh during his nightly (and many times tri-nightly) masturbation sessions. As a result, Clark had always been in the companion category, rather than just a cheap fuck. Not that Lex thought the two were mutually exclusive, but Clark was so much younger, and the law had been the law, and Lex hadn’t wanted to hurt Clark. He’d been foolishly convinced back then that he could do the noble thing and wait until Clark was out of high school.

Heaven help him, Lex had actually been a gentleman with Clark.

Of course, then Clark had suddenly declared, weeks after his eighteenth birthday, that he didn’t like Lex anymore and didn’t want to be friends. It was something for which Lex still hadn’t forgiven him and possibly never would.

What it all amounted to now, however, was that Lex had done the right thing before and lost his chance. So now he simply didn’t give a damn. Let Clark hate himself tomorrow; Lex had waited years only to have all his hopes dashed. He wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice. And, if that made him evil, then so be it. He’d grown wearily accustomed to that label long ago…

Clark’s mouth was warm and wet and slightly minty. Clark let out a little yelp of surprise when Lex kissed him, and it gave Lex the opportunity to delve deep inside, to taste and plunder and possess.

He’d almost convinced himself that Clark had still been ignorant of how his behavior could have been construed as sexual when he felt Clark’s tongue moving against his, tentatively like Clark had absolutely no idea what he was doing and was going with the flow. Clark let out a groan when Lex’s left hand tangled in his hair, pulling him in deeper, which let Lex know only too well that, while this might be new to Clark, he was definitely enjoying the experience.

Lex felt more concrete evidence of Clark’s enjoyment against his thigh when he rolled them over, covering Clark’s body with his own, so that he could touch every bit of exposed skin all at once. Clark went willingly, compliantly, and there was a heady power in that. He had Superman writhing beneath him, placid and submissive, helpless to his every whim.

Clark’s lips and fingers had turned frantic now, and he was touching Lex everywhere he could. Despite Clark’s lack of finesse, Lex was quite enjoying the attentions. There was something to be said for driving one’s partner so mad with lust that they randomly ended up caressing a shoulder blade simply because they couldn’t get enough.

Lex insinuated himself between Clark’s thighs, and Clark’s body started to buck beneath him, desperate for friction. Their cocks slid against each other through the silk of Lex’s boxers for one impossibly wonderful second, before:

“Hey, Da—Oh, Jesus! Gross! Get a room, you guys!”

The door slammed shut behind Conner, and Lex could hear the trauma in the gagging noises Conner was making out in the hallway. “Technically,” he shouted in the direction of the door, “we did get a room. My bedroom, in fact.” Walking in on Lex in flagrante delicto with another man was no excuse for sloppy vocabulary choices, after all.

Gross!” Conner shouted back. “You’re old!”

Beneath Lex, Clark snickered. “Are you actually debating semantics?” he demanded with an amused grin. “Way to kill the mood, Lex.”

With a frustrated sigh, Lex rolled off of Clark, pulled one of the pillows over onto his face, and swore eloquently and at great length. There was just no way he could take advantage of Clark while their son was listening. The cursing turned more colorful and possibly polylingual; Lex wasn’t really paying too much attention to what he was saying.

Because, once again, he’d had the perfect opportunity and missed it.

***

Breakfast was a thoroughly unreal experience in that Clark couldn’t seem to stop blushing and Conner refused to look at either of them. Mercy, who was mixing together her usual toxic-looking combination of high energy ingredients in the blender, couldn’t stop snickering. Like Mercy’s cracking up, Mercy’s snickering showed no outward visual signs, but Lex could tell she was doing it and was glowering at her accordingly.

“The funeral’s set for two o’clock this Saturday,” Lex announced because someone had to break the ice. It was a grim reminder of why they were all there, but a nice distraction from this morning’s indiscretions.

“Mom wanted tu—”

“Tulips, yes,” Lex interrupted Clark. “I have discussed all of Martha’s wishes with the funeral home.” He took a sip of his coffee and studied Clark intently. “What do you two plan on doing after the funeral?”

Clark pondered that for a moment, still studiously avoiding looking Lex in the eye. “I still have to deal with all Mom’s things. Maybe a garage sale.”

Lex would’ve suggested a more lucrative option, such as an estate auction, if he’d believed that Martha had anything of value. As it was, he just nodded in agreement.

“And then I’ll have to make arrangements for Conner…” Clark thought about that for a moment. “Hey, do you think the Rosses would—?”

“No!” Conner exclaimed in horror.

“Absolutely not,” Lex snapped at the same time.

Clark blinked at them in disbelief. “Really?” He sounded surprised. “Because I always got the impression that they’d be really helpful with—”

“The objection is not that the Rosses might refuse,” Lex enlightened Clark, “but rather that our son stringently opposes that course of action.”

“What’s wrong with the Rosses?” Clark looked at Conner.

Conner glared at Clark.

Clark looked at Lex.

Lex glared at Clark, too.

Clark looked unnerved; he probably wasn’t used to dealing with Lex in stereo. “Okay, I get the message. No staying with the Rosses.” A thoughtful pause. “I suppose I could stay down at the farm and fly in to work…”

“Might I suggest,” Lex began carefully, setting his coffee mug down neatly on the napkin in front of him, “that Conner really need not stay in Smallville.”

“I could live in Metropolis,” Conner chimed in hopefully. “It’d be more convenient for everybody, and they wouldn’t make me go apple-picking and cow-milking in biology class.”

Lex all but choked at that.

Sensing a weak point for parent manipulation, Conner quickly added in, “And I don’t think our teacher believes in evolution, either.”

“Conner!” Clark glared at him. “You know that’s not true.”

“And our health teacher said that Satan invented birth-control!” Conner added helpfully.

“Clark…” Lex began dangerously.

“He’s making it up, Lex. Jeez.” Clark rolled his eyes at him.

“In any case, inventive lying is a sign of academic dissatisfaction,” Lex concluded.

“And you would know,” Clark grumbled.

Which, really, was just the pot calling the kettle black, but Lex let it pass. “When Conner mentioned this to me, I took the liberty of looking into schools in Metropolis. There are several that look both discreet and adequate academically.”

Conner gulped at that. “When you say ‘adequate,’ does that mean that everyone there talks like a freak like you?”

“I cannot imagine whence you derived that assessment.” And, yeah, Lex was doing it on purpose now.

Conner’s eyes had gone wide, though.

“Knock that off.” Clark elbowed Lex lightly in the side in a gesture so indicative of their Smallville years that it completely startled Lex away from his point. Then, Clark turned back to Conner, his voice sounding downright hurt. “Why didn’t you tell me about this, Conner?”

“You flew off before I even had the chance!” Conner lashed out in the snottiest tone imaginable.

It always rather astounded Lex how much better behaved Conner was around him. Clark loved Conner unquestionably, but something about Clark always made Conner act out, like he had something to prove. Of course, that was understandable given that Clark was Superman, after all, and was consistently dropping off his responsibilities to Conner on others. If Lex had had to guess, given their respective upbringings, he would always have thought that Clark would be the one most comfortable with the fatherly role. The fact that it had turned out quite the opposite was curious.

“I-I didn’t…” Clark offered helplessly in the face of Conner’s sudden anger.

It was time for Lex to step in. “Conner merely thought I’d be more amenable to the change in venue. And I do have better contacts to get him into the best schools.”

Conner had that smug smile on his face that he always did when Lex was on his side.

Clark sighed with defeat. He’d never really been a match for the two of them put together. “I’ll want to look into these ‘schools’ too,” he insisted.

“Of course,” Lex agreed smoothly. It was always best to take baby steps around Clark.

“I’ll consider it. But then, what’ll happen to the farm? Dad always—”

“Clark?” Lex interrupted him with a vicious little smile.

“Yeah?”

“If you’re not going to cave in to your father’s bizarre legacy and run that place by yourself, in no way am I going to allow you to force our son to do so in your stead.” He fingered the knife beside his plate deliberately. “Am I making myself perfectly clear?”

Clark rolled his eyes. “Fine, whatever. But I still have to figure out what to do with the place.”

“I could always—” Lex began.

“You are not buying Dad’s farm,” Clark informed him with a glare.

Lex let out a sigh of exasperation. “I never even wanted the place. You people were all so damn paranoid…” He rubbed at his temple, trying to ease the frustration away.

“I suppose I could always rent it out,” Clark commented thoughtfully. “I wonder if the Rosses would be interested…”

Conner made a face.

Lex gave Clark a tight-lipped smile. “That’s fine.” Heaven only knew why the Kents had such a lofty opinion of the Rosses, but Lex really didn’t want to deal with Clark’s particular brand of insanity at that moment.

His lack of caustic remarks earned him a sly little smile after breakfast, and Clark sidled up next to him at the counter to whisper in his ear, “We can pick up where we left off, tonight…”

At that point, Conner let out a thunderous “EWWWWWW!” and went on a rant about trauma and therapy and how they were never, ever allowed to flirt in his presence again.

Lex took that as his cue to flee down to his office. Mercy preceded him into the elevator and hit the down button. As Lex watched the floors descend, he could’ve sworn he saw her reflection in the brass making kissy faces at him. However, when he turned to look, she was as calm and composed as ever.

He seriously considered docking her pay.

Just because.

***

The problem with Clark’s little promise was that one day was a very long time, and something was bound to come along and ruin everything in the meantime. Lex had long ago accepted this axiom, and thus wasn’t even overly put off when Doctor Kieger called him in a fuss over the 84th Street facility that they really had to move before Lois fully sunk her claws in.

Doctor Kieger was a funny little man with glasses so thick he might as well have worn his microscopes on his eyes and a head almost as bald as Lex’s save for a tiny wisp at the exact crown of his head and the large curly masses that protruded from his ears. It wasn’t often that Lex could say this but, folliclely speaking, he’d gotten a better deal than Doctor Kieger. Artificially implanted lashes and brows were nothing compared with the safety of knowing that his ears would never look like that.

Doctor Kieger also had certain requirements that made his facilities a general pain to run. Specifically, he was allergic to everything except, apparently, the city in which he’d grown up. Thus, Kieger’s lab could never be moved overseas (Kieger’s throat had swollen up to the size of a melon after fifteen minutes in the Taipei labs) or even elsewhere within the United States (there was this feature known as ‘fresh air’ beyond the smog and city-scent of Metropolis that caused Kieger to break out instantly into hives).

Under any other circumstances, Lex wouldn’t have felt Doctor Kieger was worth the effort. However, in addition to being Lex’s top geneticist, Kieger was also uniquely skilled among all of Lex’s scientists in that he actually got how Lex ran things. For the most part, Kieger could be trusted to run his labs discreetly and completely unsupervised, and he only called Lex in when it was absolutely necessary to do so. The man’s intuition about Lex’s wishes was downright uncanny and such a lovely departure from most of Lex’s other scientists who often had absolutely no practical logic whatsoever when removed from a laboratory environment.

It was like Doctor Kieger was perfectly adapted to the evolutionary niche of running LexCorp’s covert labs within Metropolis. Miraculous, really.

“We can’t move Project Fleming,” Doctor Kieger informed him right off. The man was never one to beat around the bush; it was another reason Lex liked him.

“Lois Lane is aware of the latest chemical shipment,” Lex informed him tersely. “You have no choice.”

“The drug-resistant bacteria are still in a state of accelerated cellular mitosis. If they’re moved now, I can’t guarantee containment. We can’t move them.”

Lex felt a headache coming on. “What do you need, Doctor?”

“There are two options: Either we destroy all the samples and lose two months worth of work, or we don’t move the project at all.”

Neither were appealing options. Most of Lex’s other doctors would’ve been afraid to come to him with such bad news. Of course, it was better that he knew now rather than two months later when he discovered the set-back after the fact. “What about Project Thebes?”

“We’re set to move tonight. Hopefully, Superman will still be out of town.”

“He’s back already,” Lex informed him.

Kieger swore. “I can try to rush in the armored trucks from Jefferson City, but we might have to push the timetable back to tomorrow morning.”

Lex considered this thoughtfully for a moment. “No,” he began carefully, “you can push the time table up to this afternoon.”

“Mister Luthor, we can’t get the trucks—”

“You won’t need the armor,” Lex concluded, growing ever more fond of his plan the more he thought about it. “And you won’t need the cover of night, either.”

“Sir?” Kieger sounded confused.

“Prepare a press presentation on Project Fleming.” Lex smirked to himself. “We, Doctor, are going to create a media circus.”

***

“I don’t know what you’re up to, Luthor, but I’m going to find out.” Lois took his proffered hand and shook it politely for the sake of all those present and not privy to their little exchange.

“Why, Ms. Lane, I thought you’d be pleased. You’ve bested me at my own game and forced me to go public with our latest developments,” he countered with his most enigmatic smile.

Lois snorted in a way that made her sound very much like a horse. “I’ve got two words for that: Bull. Shit.”

“And here I’d hoped you could be gracious in your victory.” Okay, so he was laying it on a little thick, but he’d never seen Lois this visibly flustered before. He made a mental note to ‘confess’ more often.

Mercy hovered in the background, looking more than a little wired at the presence of all the reporters. Lex made another mental note to refrain from docking her pay for laughing at him in the elevator this morning; exposing her to this many members of the press was rather akin to exposing a starved attack dog to a t-bone steak and then ordering it not to eat. It was just cruel and unusual.

Among those invited to his little impromptu press conference were reporters from both the Planet and Inquisitor, as well as Channels 2, 5, and 6 News. A FOX News van had crashed the party as well, and Lex had been feeling magnanimous and let them stay.

The official press release had, of course, been brief and to the point: LexCorp had designed a process, developed under the name Project Fleming, that could adapt antibiotics at the same speed that drug-resistant bacteria mutated, essentially putting an end to that particular potential threat. Penicillin A and B had already been developed which were effective against all current known drug-resistant strains. The project had, of course, been named after the original discoverer of Penicillin, which seemed to be Channel 5’s favorite sound bite, if the blonde to his left with the shrill-sounding voice and the camera in her face was any indication.

Of course, Lex would have liked to have waited another six months to make his announcement. Specifically, that would have given him the time to thoroughly patent the process before Doctor Kieger published in any medical journals. As it was, Lex’s lawyers were rushing like mad, and LexCorp would soon be swamped by demands from the scientific and medical communities, demanding proof that he’d achieved what he’d claimed. But, then, he was used to LexCorp being swamped by some group or other. It would make his life annoying for some time, but was well worth it to cover up Project Fleming’s sister project.

Lex had long ago learned that an excellent way to counteract his critics was to operate one very legitimate project and one highly dubious side project out of the same lab. That way when some reporter (Lois) complained about the controversial part (death rays), Lex could always cite the legitimate sister project (improved military tank armor) in order to maintain his public image. It worked frighteningly well.

In this case, however, it was absolutely imperative that the press not even hear whisper of the Project Thebes. Hence, after the news reporters had been given their sound bites, Lex and Doctor Kieger had invited the members of the printed press for a private tour of the facility. This would give the news vans outside time to grow bored and then dash off whenever Clark heard someone scream for a bus to wait or a kitten crying in a tree, and ‘Superman Is Back On The Job’ became the day’s second big headline. Among those vans fleeing the scene would be one very inauspicious tan van with the name of a seldom-viewed Metropolis cable-access news channel painted on the side. And, of course, inside that van was the entirety of Project Thebes, in the one place no one would think to look for it: right in front of their eyes.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, if you’ll follow me?” Doctor Kieger was bright and smiling and so very good at what he did.

Lex nodded for Hope to stay with the tour group (and, implied, make sure that one Lois Lane also stayed with the aforementioned group) while he and Mercy peeled away from the festivities and made their way to the car parked out back. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t personally oversee the relocation of a project, but this was Project Thebes. And, while it was hardly the most illegal pet project he had running at the moment, it was by far his favorite, the one he was most personally invested in.

The first problem with Lex’s plan was that waiting for Clark to get off his ass and do something as Superman was very long and boring. Mercy, in the driver’s seat, was hardly a talkative companion.

“This will work,” Lex commented neutrally about fifteen minutes in, after he’d responded to all his e-mail on his palm pilot.

Mercy made an inarticulate grunting sound that might have been an affirmative or a negative. Depending on how his entire venture turned out, she would later undoubtedly claim that it was whichever was most accurate, in retrospect.

Which, given the second problem with Lex’s plan, was likely to be the negative.

The second problem was that, somewhere along the line, Lex’s name had gotten on the list of supervillains that circled around the metahuman community. Specifically, his name was at the top of that list. Most days, Lex blamed the Justice League, but ultimately he figured that it was really his own fault for trying to kill Superman so often that even Clark, when faced with the question, inevitably listed Lex as his arch-nemesis. The arch-nemesis of the most powerful member of the Justice League was bound to be number one on quite a lot of supervillain lists.

The side-effect of being the Justice League’s official Number One Enemy was that every single yokel who thought him- or herself a supervillain tried to bug Lex at some point or another. It wasn’t enough, these days, that members of the Justice League buzzed his building at night or ran random inspections on all his foreign facilities Just Because. No, now his own kind had taken to annoying him just as much, wanting to form pointless alliances to kill superheroes Lex had barely even heard of or trying to bum off illegal merchandise on him that was so vastly inferior to LexCorp’s own products that Lex wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.

The thing was that most so-called ‘supervillains’ fell into three categories (as Conner had nicely summarized for him during their monthly visit two months back): crazy, stupid, or really fucking scary.

Lex fell into the third category, which was the only category he really considered worthy of existing. Deranged lunatics wearing potted plants on their heads and demanding that all the citizens paint blue mustaches on their faces or the city would be flooded with rotting fish were hardly adequate to the name ‘supervillain.’ Frankly, most supervillains annoyed Lex beyond words, yet as globalization increased, Lex found it regrettably necessary to work with the mangy lot of which he had, unwillingly, been named king.

Sometimes, it worked out all right.

Other times, it meant that the goddamn Joker, easily the most irritating human being on the planet, did really stupid shit around Lex because it was ‘funny.’

Lex hated the Joker.

He hated him when, suddenly, the comparative quiet of the street burst into a cacophony caused by what seemed to be a swarm of mechanized flying noisemakers.

He hated him even more when all the fire hydrants exploded in unison, spraying what appeared to be bright purple paint on everyone, but what clearly was not just paint, given that everyone hit with the substance immediately began breaking out into crazed Joker laughs and turning berserk, trashing everything in sight.

And he hated him most of all when, as the dénouement, a pair of rockets shot up into the sky from an unpretentious-looking Ford Escort parked down the street and then exploded high in the sky above, the fireworks spelling out the words “SURPRISE, LEXIEKINS!”

Lex’s left eye twitched.

“Shall I have him murdered, sir?” Mercy suggested, looking equally furious. Her right index finger reached out and calmly flicked the red switch on the dashboard, isolating their air supply from the contaminated air outside.

It would be a rhetorical murder, of course, since Lex really couldn’t afford to make an enemy of the Joker. But the idea was still delightfully appealing. “Preferably slowly and painfully,” he hissed. Somewhere, distantly, he could hear teeth grinding. It took him a minute to realize that they were his own. “Move. Now.” It was close to the worse circumstance possible for the transport, but if they didn’t clear the area now, the CDC and Homeland Security and the FBI and whoever God knew else would cordon off the area and be digging through Project Thebes come nightfall.

Mercy tapped her earpiece, giving the van the signal to run. Thankfully, the van was secured from contamination as well. They were just rounding the corner when Superman landed.

In fact, Clark landed directly in front of their car, and it was only Mercy’s quick reflexes and finely-tuned brakes that kept Clark from demolishing yet another of Lex’s vehicles.

For one moment, Clark’s eyes widened and he gaped at Lex in surprise, lips soundlessly forming the words ‘what the hell?’ And, then, a shout from above drew Clark’s attention back to the gang of rioting maniacs, and he took off again with a ‘whoosh’ and a warning glare.

Mercy and Lex exchanged a look, before Lex craned his neck around to confirm that, yes indeed, the second airborne crusader was his son. “Wait a minute!” he shouted after them, irrationally since the car was soundproofed. “Is Conner immune to Joker Gas?”

“I’m sure he’s fine, sir,” Mercy offered mildly. “Kal-El is immune, and your system neutralizes the effects within minutes. Even if he didn’t inherit it, the Teen Titans inoculate regularly.”

“Turn the car around. Now!”

Mercy hit the gas but didn’t turn, and they fled the scene mere instants before the police arrived.

Lex blinked at her in stunned disbelief. “Y-You…”

“I made an executive decision,” she explained.

“To disobey a direct order?”

Mercy rolled her eyes. “You were fretting, Lex.”

“I was not!”

Mercy gave him a look. “You so were.”

***

At that point, it became a race against time that Lex was doomed to lose. The fact that the rioters were all innocent civilians would slow Superman down; he’d have to find a way to calm them before the police could adequately control the situation and administer antidotes. Lex figured they had ten to fifteen minutes, tops, before Clark came after them.

That completely ruled out his initial plan to have Project Thebes relocated to the medical facility on 9th Street. Even the secret subbasement facilities under LexCorp Towers were too far to risk.

In fact, the only other secure property he owned in the area was just south, at 91st and Concord, down by the Suicide Slums. It was more of a safe-house than an actual laboratory facility, and only Security Level 2: lead-lining, but no sound-proofing, no Kryptonite stockpiles, and no full-time security. Hardly an ideal solution, but the only chance they had.

Traffic was abhorrent due to the incident at his warehouse, and they arrived at the safe-house twelve and a half minutes later. Lex swore and gestured for his two men from the van to hurry with the unloading. Mercy gave him a look, a sigh, and then handed him her weapon and went to help, taking a boxful of medical reports from the back of the van.

The three of them had actually made an impressive dent in the van’s holdings when Superman landed in front of Lex, looking decidedly furious. Lex studied Mercy’s Beretta in his hands for a few careful moments, debating whether or not to open fire. The gun was loaded with LexCorp’s special blend of metahuman shot: lead for mutants, silver for the undead, and a solid Kryptonite core (half green for Superman, and half blue for Bizarro). It would be highly effective if Clark didn’t superspeed out of the way.

Then Conner landed, and the whole question was moot. He was already on the fence about shooting Clark; he certainly wasn’t going to shoot his own son. There was something about that that just felt deeply counterproductive.

“What the hell are you up to, Lex?” Clark glared at him, arms folded over his chest and cape flapping in a wind that seemed to exist solely for the purposes of making Superman’s cape look consistently heroic. He looked over to the van and the safe-house, but of course both were lead-lined.

Lex sighed wearily and put down the gun. He wouldn’t put up a physical fight, but then that arena wasn’t really his forte, and hell if he was going to give up this easily. “I do run a multi-national corporation,” he reminded Clark snippily. “And I own this building. You have no right to object to my overseeing the movement of LexCorp property.”

“And all those people you put in the hospital back on 84th?” Clark demanded in his haughtiest voice.

Lex just glared at him, crossing his own arms defensively. “That was the Joker, and you know it.”

“You’re working with him,” Clark accused.

“No, not particularly at the moment. He just likes to annoy me. Maybe he was jealous that Batman stopped by Metropolis yesterday. How the hell am I supposed to make any sense out of that madman’s actions?” Lex hadn’t really meant to sound as angry as he did, but Clark was starting to look a bit sheepish. Maybe he actually could talk Clark out of…

“What’s in the van?” Clark demanded.

Damn. “Just certain documents that I wouldn’t want madmen – or their roving hordes – destroying,” Lex said tightly.

Clark gave him a look, which Lex tried to meet with his blankest expression. For a moment, it looked like Clark would actually believe him, especially at Conner’s uncomfortable “Dad?” in the background, but then Clark got that bull-headed determined look on his face, and Lex knew it was all over. “Then you won’t mind me looking inside?” he concluded.

“That’s private LexCorp property,” Lex retorted.

Clark made for the van with long, confident strides.

Lex’s finger itched to go for the gun. “So help me God, Kal-El, I will sue you for property damage!” he snapped angrily, following after Clark. He caught him right by the rear doors to the van. From the doorway to the safe-house, his two men watched curiously. Mercy pushed past them, a determined, homicidal look on her face, but then Conner stepped in front of her and she wavered for a moment. She had standing orders to take down all self-proclaimed vigilantes, of which Superboy certainly was one; she also had standing orders to protect Conner from harm. Lex called her off with a quick shake of his head, ending her internal dilemma, and caught Clark’s wrist on the door handle. “Clark,” he hissed in a low voice, so that no one else could hear, “don’t. Not here, not now.” It was as close to begging as he was ever going to get.

Clark’s eyes narrowed at him and for a moment seemed to heat up dangerously, before he said angrily, “Thanks for trying to use my mom’s death for a cover, Lex.”

The anger in those words was so cold, so deep, that Lex let his hand fall from Clark’s arm, taken aback. “That was never my—” he began, but then Clark flung the van doors open, ripping the metal off the hinges (completely unnecessarily, and Lex would demand financial compensation, just because), and all was lost.

“What the…?” Clark’s eyes widened in disbelief. Because, of course, they hadn’t had a chance to move out most of the embryonic samples yet (not that Clark wouldn’t check the safe-house next, anyway), and Clark had been there three years ago, at Cadmus Labs. He knew what he was looking at, even if he couldn’t fully believe it yet.

Conner, who was watching Clark’s face from where he and Mercy still awkwardly faced off, noticed the shock and took a step toward them.

“Lex, what on earth…?” Clark went on, and then it was as if a fury seized over him, and he was suddenly ripping into the box of files nearest to the doors, spilling them all over, x-raying it all at once. “How could you?!” he turned ferociously on Lex, fists clenched and eyes blazing.

Despite a decade-plus of animosity between them, Lex could count on one hand the number of times he’d been genuinely afraid of Clark. Clark was always just so contained and self-controlled. Predictable, and Lex counted on that far more than he really should.

At that moment, Lex seriously feared that Clark would blow him to pieces with nothing but a look. He took a shaky step back – for all that would do – and ended up tripping over in his own feet in an atypically graceless gesture.

The terror must have shown through on his face because Clark’s rage turned from red-hot to icy-cold. Lex stared into the face of complete and utter hatred for a moment, before Conner finally reached them and looked inside the van as well.

“What…?” And where Clark had turned angry, Conner sounded lost, agonized, and that struck deeper somehow, left Lex feeling breathless and at a loss.

Clark was still looking at him with that vacant expression, Superman’s expression, so very different from the secretive smile he’d given Lex that morning. Some small part of Lex triumphed at that look, because he’d been vindicated after all: he’d known Clark’s goodwill couldn’t last, and he’d been right, yet again. But, really, he couldn’t be happy, not at how ugly Clark’s words had turned.

“What were you thinking, Lex?” And his voice was so arrogant that it brought Lex’s own anger to the fore. “Were you going to recreate Conner, but this time make sure you’d brainwashed him before I could save him? Or were you going to replace him? Create another Superboy, and make the two of them fight it out. Would you do that? Replace your own son, our son?”

“How many times do I have to tell you,” Lex warned him, “that I am not my father?” He rose too calmly, too carefully to his feet, and even he didn’t know what form the explosion would take until the next words had left his mouth. “And what makes you think,” he said in a voice so icy it chilled even him, “that if I were ever to have another child, I’d want him with you?”

It was a calculated risk, actually, a blow that could only strike if all his theories about Clark and Clark’s real feelings for him were accurate. But, sure enough, Clark flinched back as if he’d been hit, hard. Suddenly, Clark didn’t look angry anymore; he just looked like he was in pain.

Lex just gave him an evil little smile, because a part of him couldn’t help but enjoy the fact that he could hurt Clark back like this.

And then, because Clark was Clark, twin bursts of heat flared out and took the van up in a fiery blaze. Clark glanced behind him, and Lex’s men had time to run for it, before the safe-house was up in flames as well. A final hate-filled glare, and then Clark was off for the stratosphere, a swirling vortex of wind left in his wake.

Lex managed not to fall down this time.

For a second, Conner hesitated, looking at Lex with confused, conflicted eyes, and then he was off after Clark, and Lex was – as usual – very, very alone.

“Shall I call the fire department, sir?” Mercy asked very mildly.

Lex glanced at the remains of Project Thebes. “You’d better.”

***

When Lex arrived back at the penthouse, Clark and Conner had cleared out. Not that Clark had ever settled much in, but Conner’s room was stripped bare of all personal possessions, save for the dress clothes Lex had bought him for formal occasions. Lex figured that if Conner would no longer be visiting him, he’d get little use out of the clothes, anyway.

“Doctor Kieger kept copies of all the documentation,” Mercy announced from the doorway, cell pressed against her ear as she listened to Kieger’s report, “but it will take up to eight months to replace all the chemicals. Not to mention the difficulties in acquiring certain genetic samples.”

Lex had handed his phone off to Mercy immediately after the fire department had arrived. In his current state, he couldn’t trust himself not to nuke Australia or something else equally pointless and destructive. But even Mercy was being cautious with him, not mentioning the names of his very absent family. Under normal circumstances, it would have annoyed him. Now, he was just grateful that she was humoring him this once.

“Fortunately,” Mercy went on, “it seems as though the fire obliterated all the evidence that could have been used against LexCorp. I’ll make sure that Taylor”—their mole in the fire department—“keeps an eye on the situation.”

He didn’t answer her, just stalked out of Conner’s room and into the recreation room. She followed him, silent and cautious, phone still pressed to her ear as she made the arrangements with her usual efficiency. Lex reached for the brandy, which had been refilled in his absence – the greatest benefit of being him at the moment.

“All in all, sir,” Mercy watched him knock back the first glass with slitted eyes, “the damage was much less than our worst projections.”

“It’s the best we could have hoped for,” Lex agreed, speaking for the first time since Clark and Conner had gone.

Mercy quirked an eyebrow in surprise.

“You can go now, Mercy. I plan to get completely drunk.”

Mercy left.

***

A month passed.

In the end, he hadn’t been invited to Martha’s funeral, of course. The very nice lady from the funeral home had called, though, to let him know that everything had gone beautifully, and it had been a wonderful memorial service for an even more wonderful woman. There was nothing like that reminder to make Lex feel really bad about the timing of this latest rift between himself and Clark. But, really, Lex would’ve put it off if Lois hadn’t stuck her nose in, as per usual, and ruined everything.

However, Clark and Conner would survive. Of that, he was quite confident. They’d managed two whole years before he’d insinuated himself back into their lives; they could do it again easily.

His own life had returned to normal remarkably quickly. Penicillin A had been run through stringent (and highly dangerous, to tell the truth) testing over the last month, and Doctor Kieger had published all their lab results in his usual timely manner. Already his lawyers were drafting the work to begin with FDA approval, now that all patent rights had been sorted to his liking.

His candidacy for governor, which he still hadn’t technically decided on, was running smoothly. His press conference on Project Fleming had been an astounding success with the exception of (you guessed it) the Daily Planet. Lex had released the details of the process to the scientific and medical community at large, but only Lois, in an article co-written by none other than one Clark Kent, had concluded that Lex had had no choice since he’d gone public with the creation of the antibiotic in the first place. He’d still be able to monopolize the pharmaceutical market on the first round of drug-resistant antibiotics, which would make LexCorp millions until something nasty like bubonic plague decided to mutate again. But, for the most part, the media was on his side, largely because the Joker had clearly been against him, and anyone who was the ‘enemy’ of that madman had to be a friend, comparatively speaking.

He, alas, had had to inform Mercy not to murder the Joker, simply because it would be bad business. If he started knocking off Gotham supervillains, they would all gang up on him, and he couldn’t afford that at the moment because – Jesus Christ! – there were a lot of them. Also, Batman would get pissy. And, although Lex wasn’t sure why that was required, he did know that if someone else’s archenemy ever managed to knock him off, Superman had better get damn pissy in response.

Fortunately, two weeks earlier, Batman and the Joker had tangled for the eight millionth or so time, and the Joker was back in Arkham now…for all of two months before he broke out again, no doubt. Secretly, Lex wished that Bruce would finally lose whatever tenuous hold he still had on his sanity and strangle that irritating clown before he could decide to play another ‘prank’ on Lex. Preferably on national television so that Lex could watch live, then TiVo the event and watch again and again.

Doctor Kieger, brilliantly competent man that he was, had gotten Project Thebes almost organized again in their new location outside Granville. The site was about two hours from Metropolis, so Kieger was blowing his nose constantly, but he could commute back into Metropolis at night. Lex had been forced to compromise because Superman knew that Lex wouldn’t let the project drop and had been patrolling the city with unusual rigor of late.

Already, Clark had torn apart two industrial warehouses, one robotics factory (legit) and one chemical treatment plant (highly illegal, although thankfully Clark wasn’t aware of the particular regulation that Lex had been violating there and hadn’t even known to report it), three pharmaceutical labs, and a gene resequencing lab that Clark had realized was illegal and had required quite a lot of frantic cleaning up so that it didn’t end up in any of the papers. Except the Planet. With Lois and Clark’s byline.

The one place Clark wasn’t harassing was, strangely enough, LexCorp Towers. Lex had gone a solid month without Superman buzzing by his window at 2AM out of pure petty spite. In fact, Lex hadn’t seen Clark at all since that day. He hadn’t seen Conner, either.

In the long run, that was probably just as well.

All of that left Lex’s life perfectly normal once again. It was seven o’clock on Saturday morning, and Lex was sipping his coffee and watching Mercy mix her usual insane assortment of fruits and vegetables into the blender. There were quite a lot of carrots, tomatoes, and pineapple today, but Lex had faith that, like every other day, the mixture would inevitably turn a sickly puke-green once Mercy hit the on-switch. Mercy’s silent presence as his constant shadow and her bizarre choice of breakfast ‘foods’ was the one dependable thing in his life, never changing, never questioning.

Lex rather thought that some day he might have to marry Mercy, except every time he mentioned the idea out loud, she immediately called his favorite male escort service and ordered a tall, tanned, muscular brunet with wide green eyes and the best innocent farm boy act money could buy. Lex was starting to suspect that maybe Mercy had kind of figured out why his orders concerning Superman never make any logical sense from one minute to the next. She dealt with it all with admirable aplomb, as usual.

“Are you planning to go in to the office today?” Mercy asked politely, pouring the now toxic-green liquid into a glass. It was a rhetorical question, but one Mercy asked every weekend, nonetheless.

“Just for the morning, I think,” he responded mildly. Translation: I’ve managed to schedule meetings straight through ‘til seven o’clock.

“I’ll adjust the security schedule accordingly,” she agreed. Translation: Hope is sweeping your office for bugs and explosives, as we speak.

He and Mercy led very strange lives, he reflected. It only made sense that they’d develop little rituals to make everything seem a bit less insane.

He was about to ask the next obligatory, yet highly unnecessary question – “I hope this won’t interfere with any plans you might have made?” – when the proximity detector on the roof suddenly started blaring.

Mercy froze for one moment, gazed longingly at the revolting glass in her hand, and then left it on the table and pulled out her gun, running for the roof. Lex braced himself. He was pretty sure he didn’t want to talk to Clark again…well, ever.

However, ten seconds later, the missiles had yet to be launched and he hadn’t heard a single robot fire upon the intruder. Somewhat alarmed that all his defenses could have been deactivated this quickly, he opened the emergency panel hidden behind the sink and was procuring a rifle for himself when Mercy buzzed him on the intercom.

It’s your son.

That caused Lex to think for a moment. It was possible that Conner had finally given up on him and had come to take him away to wherever the Teen Titans shuffled off the arrests they’d made. On the other hand, Lex had decided long ago that if Conner ever came to take him in, he wouldn’t put up a fight. It was a lot easier in principle than in practice, of course.

“I’ll be right up,” he informed Mercy via the intercom, leaving the gun and heading upstairs. He met Mercy on her way down.

“I’ll reschedule your 8:15.”

“Better clear the whole morning.”

Knowing Mercy, she’d have the common sense to clear his whole day. Family situations, while not necessarily time-consuming in and of themselves, almost always led to extreme drunkenness for the remainder of the day.

He stepped out onto the roof, and the day didn’t look any less foreboding outside than in. Dark billowing clouds covered the city and, to the south, he could see rain coming down like slanted graphite lines drawn down from the cumulus above. The clouds directly above LexCorp Towers were still white, but they’d break soon enough, once the front came through.

The koi were jumping in the pond, looking as electrified as the atmosphere, flashing white and silver in the light. The grey of the sky made the green of the bushes stand out as a sharp, shocking verdant, like it was the only color left in all the world.

Conner sat on the small wooden bridge that crossed the north end of the pond where it narrowed to a little inlet, looking down at it all. He was wearing jeans and a black t-shirt with the logo of some rock band emblazoned across the front (Lex was forced to admit that he was now, officially, no longer cool enough to know which one) and a bulky red backpack beside him. Not official business, then. Curious.

He didn’t look up when Lex approached. Curiouser, although perhaps not entirely unexpected.

“Conner,” Lex offered blandly, keeping his hands casually in the pockets of his suit pants. It just didn’t feel right to reach out to his son, not now that he hated Lex just as much as Clark did.

“Dad.” Conner’s voice was just as carefully neutral, but at least he hadn’t turned to calling Lex ‘Luthor’ like everyone else did.

“Does Clark know you’re here?” Lex asked carefully.

Conner shrugged. “Sort of…”

Lex raised an eyebrow. “Sort of?”

“Well… He said I could see you the first Saturday of every month, right?” he offered sheepishly.

Lex sighed wearily. “That was before—”

“Yeah, I know,” Conner cut him off. “He’s really pissed at you about that, you know?”

“I can imagine. And he’ll be even more pissed off when he realizes you’ve come to see me. Speaking of which, I didn’t expect you today.” He left off the ‘or ever’ since he didn’t want to sound too pathetic.

Conner gave him a curious look. “You’re evil; I’ve always known that. And, hey, it could have been worse. At least people weren’t dying or anything.”

Lex studied him, almost expecting Conner to sprout a second head all of a sudden. It wouldn’t be any less extraordinary than that statement.

“What?” Conner blinked at him innocently, like nothing absolutely incredible was happening.

“You,” Lex began carefully, his throat feeling strangely dry, cracked, like his voice was about to break, “don’t hate me?”

“You’re my dad,” Conner retorted, as if that were the stupidest thought in the world.

There were a hundred arguments against that, a thousand. Hell, pretty much every anecdote he had about Lionel proved Conner wrong. But Lex felt himself suddenly unable to contradict Conner, because even though he knew that Conner should be wrong, something about what he’d said felt so very right, and before Lex knew what he was doing, he’d wrapped Conner up in a thoroughly embarrassing display of paternal affection and was muttering idiotic things like “I love you” and “I’d never hurt you.” And, even more frightening, Lex never wanted to stop.

Conner, being sixteen, could only put up with this for so long before he started squirming. “Okay, okay, I get it. Knock it off.” Lex kissed the top of Conner’s head. “If I say that I hate you, will that make you stop?”

Lex finally managed to restrain himself with a shaking laugh. “Who’s going to see us?” he asked curiously, trying and completely failing to keep all of the emotion out of his voice. “The koi?”

“Satellites,” Conner countered wisely.

Lex laughed. “I think you’ve inherited Clark’s paranoia.”

Clark’s paranoia?” Conner raised a skeptical eyebrow in a gesture that looked so very much like Lex’s own that Lex had that sudden realization that Conner was his all over again, and: damn! When had it started raining? “He’s not the one with the alarms on his roof.”

Lex rubbed the wetness away from his eyes, and then realized that it was just on his face and that was even worse. Conner was kind enough not to mention what a complete loser he was being. “No, but have you ever tried to break into the Fortress of Solitude?”

Conner’s sheepish expression let Lex know that Conner knew exactly what he meant.

“You’ll also notice that he instantly jumped to the conclusion that I was trying to kill you when he found Project Thebes.”

Conner rolled his eyes. “Clark thinks that everything is trying to kill me. I swear, if the milk goes sour, it’s a conspiracy by the dairy industry to make me sick.”

“I rest my case.”

“But you better not have been trying to kill me with all that Cadmus Labs shit.” Conner’s eyes narrowed.

Lex sighed and looked up at the sky. It was darkening steadily. “Perhaps we should have this conversation inside.”

“I want it out here,” Conner insisted stubbornly, crossing his arms over his chest. And, oh, that just made him look so much like Clark, which in turn made something inside Lex ache, because he hadn’t even realized how much he’d missed Clark – or Conner – until that moment. Even when they were being infuriating.

“Fine, here,” Lex conceded. It felt like he’d somehow, miraculously, just won the biggest war of his life, even though he’d been sure he’d lost long ago. Small battles were of no consequence, in comparison. “Do you know the story of Cadmus?”

“They cloned me.” Lex opened his mouth to protest. “Fine, fine, they illegally recombined DNA, blah-blah-blah, ‘clone’ is so much easier to say!” Conner looked annoyed before getting back to the point with a shrug. “Rumor has it your dad was behind it. Something retarded about creating a super-heir for himself.”

Lex snickered at that. “Poor Dad… He never did figure out that no one could meet his expectations.” He let out a wistful sigh. “But that’s not what I meant. I was referring to the historo-mythological Cadmus.”

Conner’s eyes widened in sudden, horrified terror. “Oh no,” he breathed. “He’s not Greek, is he?”

“Of course he’s Greek,” Lex chided him. “The etymological roots of the word clearly belong to the—”

“Oh, God no! No linguistics!”

“Fine. Back to the Greek mythology.”

“Hey, here’s an idea: why don’t we talk about the tax code? The tax code is so much fun, right?” Conner offered up in desperation.

“Really, Conner,” Lex said sternly, “this is for your own edification.”

Conner let out a defeated little whimper. Lex tried to remember if he’d been nearly this much of a brat when he was this age; the answer was undoubtedly yes. Clark had been just as bad, he could dimly recall. Hadn’t that been the age Clark had been when Lex had admitted that he knew what happened that day on the bridge, and Clark had thought that throwing a whiny hissy fit to end all other hissy fits would just make Lex forget?

“As I was saying,” Lex began, “Cadmus was the son of the Phoenician king Agenor. He made a pilgrimage to the Delphic Oracle, which advised him that a white cow would guide him to Boeotia, where he would found a great city.”

Conner gurgled in a thoroughly distressed manner.

“Cadmus did as the Oracle instructed, only to find a dragon waiting at the spring there. He slew the dragon, but not after it had eaten all of his companions. Left with no more men to build his city, Cadmus sought guidance from Athena, who told him to take the dragon’s teeth and sow them into the ground.”

“Does this story have a point?” Conner whined.

“I’m getting to that,” Lex insisted huffily.

“I think I’ve changed my mind,” Conner said thoughtfully. “I think I do hate you, after all…”

“From the teeth, sprung up an army of soldiers, but they immediately rushed at Cadmus. Athena advised him again, to throw a rock amongst the soldiers, and the confusion caused them to fight amongst themselves instead.”

“Yeah, because throwing rocks is just so awful.” Conner rolled his eyes.

“That’s hardly the point.” Lex continued on breezily. “All but five of the soldiers were killed, and those five worked with Cadmus to build his new city, which became Thebes.”

“And?”

“And that’s it. Cadmus was the source, but Thebes was the real treasure that continued throughout the ages.”

Conner sighed. “So, the reason that you named Project Thebes after Cadmus Labs is that you’re a total dork?”

“Like there was ever any doubt,” Lex agreed. “And also because you are quite possibly the greatest miracle I have ever beheld, and I could hardly refrain from sharing that miracle with the world. The genetic recombination done to create you was simply astonishing. Not only to combine two male gametes, but also to combine two different species? If fertility clinics had even a fraction of that ability…” He trailed off, not sure what to say next, because the possibilities were almost endless.

“So Cadmus Labs was pretty much nerd-flavored Kryptonite,” Conner summarized. “I can kind of see that. But I’m not buying the whole ‘good of mankind’ spiel, so you’d better tell me why you really want that research.”

Lex glared at Conner.

Conner smiled beatifically back, that full, overly sunny smile that Clark had. There was something wrong about seeing that familiar smile being used so sarcastically but then, Lex figured, if he had a smile like that, he would hardly be able to resist all the lovely sarcastic uses.

“Fine,” he finally agreed, eyes looking warily up at the stormy skies above. “Have you ever thought about having a brother or sister, Conner?”

The question seemed to catch Conner off guard. “That’s…just not possible.” Then realization struck. “Unless…”

Lex smirked at him. “I probably would’ve never thought of being a father, or even dreamed that I’d enjoy it, but…” He shrugged. “You’ve rather sold me on the whole idea. It also occurs to me that some day, you might want a child of your own. Given how unlikely it is that you’ll find a half-human, half-Kryptonian who was genetically recombined in an identical manner to yourself, it seems logical that the Cadmus research might be the only possible way for you to have a son of your own some day. Not that,” Lex added pointedly, “I still won’t kill you if I find out you’re not using contraception properly.”

Da-a-ad,” Conner whined, “eww!”

“Of course, you’d react like that. I certainly didn’t want any children when I was your age, either. But siblings…” Lex leaned forward thoughtfully. “Siblings are very possible…”

Conner gulped, considering that over very carefully. “How were you going to get the samples of Clark’s DNA?”

Lex turned to look at him in surprise.

“Oh, please, Dad!” Conner rolled his eyes. “You wouldn’t even need a lab if you wanted a kid with anyone but Clark. I mean, how many Kryptonian men are there running around?” He made a face. “Unless you’ve got a thing for Zod…”

Lex made a face, too. “I hate Zod.”

“You hate, like, every supervillain there is. You should just switch sides. It would save you a lot of trouble,” Conner concluded.

Lex suddenly felt very tired. “You’re not going to be able to reform me, Conner…”

“Why not?” Conner demanded. “I mean, yeah, your worldview is a little fucked up—”

“I beg your pardon?”

“C’mon, Dad. Even you have to admit that things aren’t all the murky shades of grey you think they are. I mean, you know when you fuck up; you just don’t care.”

“I just know what will piss Clark off,” Lex corrected defensively.

“And, yeah, Clark’s kind of fucked up, too. Because it’s not all black and white…”

“Thank you.”

“…But it’s maybe slightly grayish black and white. Which means that you’re still doing fucked up stuff that you know is bad,” Conner concluded. “Clark has pretty much concluded that you do it because you hate him, but then he’s kind of an idiot about these things…”

“I don’t hate Clark,” Lex agreed softly, nostalgically.

“So there’s got to be some other reason you do all that stuff.”

“I told you the reasons behind Project Thebes,” Lex insisted.

“Yeah,” Conner agreed. “But what about the death rays? I mean, seriously, Dad?”

Well, really, there was no explanation for the death rays, other than: “They’re death rays!”

Conner snorted. “See, I still think it’s more uncontrolled nerdiness than active evil. Which is totally curable, by the way. I mean, there’s good nerdiness, too. Like that whole antibiotics thing you did. That was cool.”

“Conner,” Lex said patiently, “I’m not going to rework LexCorp’s entire corporate agenda according to what you do – or don’t – think is ‘cool’.”

“Not rework,” Conner insisted, “just slightly tinker with.”

Lex sighed heavenward. “Please tell me I was never this hopelessly optimistic.”

“Like, say, you could call Clark up and apologize,” Conner suggested.

“Ah,” Lex nodded wisely, “now you reveal the objective of this well-crafted little plan of yours. How many times have I told you: Clark and I are never going to work things out between us.”

“I don’t see why not,” Conner insisted. “I mean, you two seemed pretty cozy that morning.” He winced when he said it, like the visual memory caused him active nausea.

“We weren’t even doing anything,” Lex insisted defensively.

“Hey, I do you the courtesy of putting a tie on my door. It’s not like you don’t have a million of the things.” Suddenly, Conner froze, looking downright horrified at what he’d just said.

“Conner, I know what you do in there,” Lex informed him with a hint of amusement.

“Uh…er…right.” Conner was actually blushing, which was really quite odd since he’d come to Lex for sex tips numerous times in the past. “Anyway, I’m still traumatized, and it’s pretty clear that Clark likes you. He’s totally convinced that you planned to out the whole Cadmus—”

“Thebes.”

“—Thebes thing that day just to grind the knife in.”

“No.” Lex rested his chin on one upraised knee and watched the koi swirl and dive beneath them. “That was just the extremely cursed bad timing that follows me around like a plague. I blame Lois; she was about to investigate the 84th Street facility, and I had no choice to move. That, and have I mentioned lately that I hate the Joker? Maybe he and Lois are working together…” It was a ridiculous idea, of course, but the image of the two of them killing each other over a misbegotten alliance was quite appealing.

“Yeah, because none of this is your fault.” Conner was looking at him like he was an idiot again.

“Of course it was.”

“And you’re still not going to apologize to Clark?”

He blew up my project!” Lex retorted. “It’ll take us six more months to replace all the work he destroyed.”

Conner looked at him like he was insane. “You’re trying it again?” he asked in disbelief.

“If I stopped everything just because Clark had moral objections, LexCorp would have gone bankrupt within months.”

“Okay…” Conner shook his head. “Maybe you two are even more fucked up than I thought.” A thoughtful pause, and then, “Fuck.”

Lex tentatively rested a hand on Conner’s shoulder. “I’ve been trying to tell you,” he offered gently. “Clark and I just don’t get along. We’ve been playing nice for your benefit, but it was doomed to deteriorate sooner or later. It always does.”

“Because you pull stupid shit like this.”

Lex snorted. “Clark pulls his own fair share of stupid shit. If anything had happened in that bedroom, do you honestly think that Clark’s lingering homophobia wouldn’t have sent him running and screaming that afternoon? I just gave him a very convenient excuse to cut and run.”

Conner rested his head on Lex’s shoulder, and when he finally spoke, he sounded convinced. “He loves you, y’know? He doesn’t admit it, but I can tell…”

“I know,” Lex agreed. “I’ve known for a long time. You don’t hate someone that much if you didn’t once expect something so much better from them.”

“So, what did you expect from Clark, then?” Conner asked curiously.

Lex managed to shrug without jostling Conner’s comforting weight. “Friendship,” he finally answered. “Acceptance. Trust.”

“Not world domination?” Conner joked.

“That would just have been an added bonus.”

Conner was frowning now, watching the fish. “That doesn’t sound like too much to ask.”

“It is of Clark.”

“So you’re just giving up?”

“Conner,” Lex sighed, “this is a battle I lost years ago. There’s no point in fighting it any longer.”

“But you still love him, right?” Conner’s eyes had turned wide and pitiful, like he needed reassurance. “Even when you do bad shit?”

Lex hesitated for a moment. He didn’t really enjoy this topic of conversation, and it seemed to be Conner’s new favorite. In fact, he’d never said the words out loud before, and there was an irrational fear that doing so would make them real in a way such that Lex would no longer be able to pretend that they weren’t there. On the other hand, it was Conner asking, so…

“I love Clark,” he admitted.

The wind of the storm picked up all around them, and a flash of lightning cracked across the sky, far too close.

“I’ve always loved Clark, and I always will. I’ll still be in love with him the day that one of us finally manages to kill the other, if you really want to know the truth.” Lex shrugged. “It’s colossally stupid of me, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Conner just smiled, smugly and a bit wickedly.

And then Lex heard his name, almost nothing more than a whisper on the wind behind him, and he jerked around in sudden surprise to find that the first gust of the storm had covered the sound of Clark’s landing.

The two of them stared at each other for a minute, both mouths agape, and then the universe decided to lend in a helping hand, and it began to downpour.

***

Lex still wasn’t sure how it was possible to be completely drenched after only standing out in the rain in a stunned stupor for not more than a minute and then being quickly caught up in Clark’s arms and superspeeded inside. Nevertheless, that minute or so had done things to his suit that, when he had it replaced, would undoubtedly make Giancarlo fall to his knees sobbing.

Clark had released him instantly once they’d fled into the living room at lightning speed, almost as if touching Lex had burned him. There had been a few minutes of uncomfortable dripping before, on some sort of universal psychic communication, they’d dispersed to three of Lex’s bathrooms to dry off. He’d had Mercy, who seemed horribly amused by this latest turn of events, bring dry clothes for Clark and Conner.

He’d been staring at himself in the bathroom mirror for a few minutes now, still rubbing the towel over his head even though he’d dried himself ages ago. In the distance, he could hear Clark and Conner’s voices, kept low but rising in anger, and he knew he was stalling.

It wasn’t often that Lex felt cowardice. In fact, he suspected that his sudden confidence after the meteor shower might have had a bit of Kryptonite help; he’d just been stronger, more powerful and more indestructible in every way after that day. But right now he was completely terrified because, really, it wasn’t every day that he accidentally told someone he was in love with them. A declaration like that required planning and careful consideration of all the consequences and quite a lot of assurances that it wouldn’t backfire and…

Oh, God… He was panicking.

He took a long, deep breath and met his eyes in the mirror. He just wasn’t used to seeing himself this agitated. But if he stayed much longer, then Clark would know that he was stalling, and showing weakness right now could only make matters worse.

Fortified, at least in that decision, Lex finally left the bathroom, grabbed his black silk robe from his casual-wear closet, and fastened the ties tightly around his waist.

In the hallway, Conner’s voice was even louder. He seemed to be berating Clark for being a “dumbass” and a “cold, insensitive bastard” and suggesting that Clark do some very salacious things with Lex (behind closed doors where Conner couldn’t hear them, of course). Clark seemed to be sputtering in disbelief. Just as Lex walked in, Clark managed to recover himself long enough to demand, “And what’s all this I hear about ties and doors?”

Conner gulped. “Yeah, um… About that…”

“Yeah!” Clark put his hand on his hips. “About that!” He turned to look at Lex. “And you knew that Conner was…was…” He seemed unable to actually say the word.

“Fornicating?” Lex offered glibly.

Clark’s face flamed bright red. “He’s only sixteen! And you were supposed to give him the sex talk!”

“I did,” Lex agreed and went for the brandy until Conner gave him a warning look and shook his head. Lex stopped mid-gesture. “And, as you so eloquently put it, he’s sixteen. I’m not sure whether Kryptonian hormones are stunted at that age or not but, whatever the case, most sixteen-year-olds find sex very appealing.”

“That doesn’t make it right,” Clark insisted.

Lex felt a headache coming on. “Clark,” he said seriously, “not everyone is as deathly afraid of sex as you are. You do realize that there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, right?”

Clark opened his mouth like he was about to say something, and then carefully shut it. He blushed again, though, just for good measure, and looked away from Lex. “We are talking about this when we get home,” he informed Conner sternly.

Lex could see the terrified whites of Conner’s eyes. Given Clark’s ‘good old-fashioned family values’ morality, he imagined that he’d dread that conversation just as much. “As long as we’re making requests,” he interrupted, “might I suggest we discuss how the two of you were bugging me?”

Clark’s expression turned alarmed. “Lex, you know I would never—”

“No,” Lex agreed, “but he would. Would you care to explain yourself, Conner?”

“You were being stupid,” Conner insisted sullenly.

“So you…what? I presume this involved those communication devices the Justice League hands out like party favors.”

“He somehow rigged mine so that I couldn’t turn it off and was hearing everything you said,” Clark agreed. “And I was busy stopping a bank robbery in Switzerland at the time, by the way.” Clark glared at Conner.

“Er…sorry about that.”

“Because, of course, you feel sorry for interfering with Superman’s duties but not about broadcasting my personal secrets to my arch-nemesis,” Lex cut in angrily.

Conner looked supremely unintimidated by Lex’s anger. “You were being really stupid,” he repeated. “Both of you.” He glanced at Clark. “You were moping about the apartment, complaining how Lex was being all misguided on purpose just because he knew it would hurt you. And you,” he turned back to Lex, “were making epic speeches about how depressingly impossible it would be for Clark to ever want to be with you. And you two were never going to just talk to each other, heaven forbid.”

“So you decided to resort to manipulation and deceit,” Lex concluded.

Conner shrugged. “It was for the greater good.”

Clark looked half-horrified and half-proud. Lex was confident that his own expression was identical, but that he was impressed by exactly the things that terrified Clark, and vice-versa. Oh yes, Conner was so very much their son…

“That’s…not the way you go about something like this, Conner,” Clark offered in that patient, condescending tone.

“Points for innovation and execution,” Lex retorted. “Although I’m not sure the effect is the one you wanted to achieve…”

Clark glared at Lex for that.

Lex glared back.

“He so gets this from you,” Clark accused. “He wasn’t like this before I let him start visiting you.”

“What the hell?” Conner cut in. “I so was. Remember how I got Andy Cooper kicked off of the football team? And then there was that time with Bill Ross when—”

Conner,” Clark warned him. “Enough.”

Lex raised an eyebrow at the last. Conner gave him a mischievous grin that let Lex know that he’d find out all about that incident the next time they had a chance to chat.

“Go to your room,” Clark ordered.

“Why?” Conner demanded.

“Eavesdropping, lying—”

Lex coughed pointedly and got an angry look from Clark.

“—And some other stuff I’ll think of later.”

“Keeping me up on the roof when it was about to downpour and thus ruining a fifteen-hundred dollar suit?” Lex suggested helpfully.

Conner gave Lex a betrayed look, like Lex was supposed to defend him or something. “Your stupid sound-proofing would’ve ruined my plan if we’d gone inside,” he insisted.

“Yeah, and that,” Clark agreed with Lex. “In any case, you’re so grounded. So go to your room.”

Conner muttered, shoved his hands into his pockets, and stomped off to his room sullenly. “This is totally why I never tell you anything…” he offered in parting.

“How on earth,” Clark sighed wearily, “did I end up being the mean parent?”

“Because you know how to punish him without scarring him for life,” Lex answered easily. “And was that really necessary?”

Clark rolled his eyes at Lex exactly the way Conner always did. “You are such a push-over,” he accused. “You’re totally going to turn him evil by the time he’s thirty.” There was no weight to the accusation, though, like Clark was just frustrated and letting off steam.

Lex took it as such and let it go. “I presume you sent him off because you wanted to discuss something in private?” He reached for the brandy again.

And suddenly Clark was just there, hand on Lex’s wrist, stopping him. Really, Clark’s powers were beginning to be incredibly annoying. “No more alcohol,” Clark insisted.

Lex sighed. “I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be sober for this.”

“Yeah, well I want you to,” Clark countered.

“And why on earth should I—?”

Clark came up with a rather profound answer to Lex’s question, cutting him off mid-sentence. Clark’s answer involved their lips devouring each other, Clark’s body tight and hot, rubbing all over Lex’s, and Lex’s hands placed firmly on Clark’s ass, digging into perfectly muscled curves.

It really wasn’t the sort of answer Lex could argue with.

***

“Mmm, Clark?”

It was rather difficult to speak when one had an alien with the most perfect cocksucking mouth in the galaxy sucking on your lower lip. There were times Lex didn’t even know why he bothered to try. His only excuse was that he’d always been permanently, hopelessly curious. Really, there were days he considered it miraculous that he’d never shot himself in the foot, just because he had to know what it was like. This was quickly falling into that category.

“Clark…” he sighed again.

“No talking,” Clark grumbled, clearly aware of the fact that Lex was about to make everything a hundred times more complicated than it needed to be.

And Clark’s request made so much sense, except:

“Aren’t you supposed to hate me right now?”

Clark gasped against Lex’s lips, breathing hard and heavy. “Conner was right; you are being really stupid.” And he began trailing kisses down Lex’s neck, his body dipping and undulating as he went.

“I’m confused,” Lex admitted, using his hands’ prime position to pull Clark’s hips up hard against his own, grinding their cocks together through sweatpants and silk robe.

“What’s there to be confused about?” One of Clark’s hands found its way inside his robe, and the heavy weight of Clark’s palm traced his chest slowly downward.

“Excellent point,” he conceded. “Conner…” He felt the need to point out.

“You worry too much,” Clark concluded. “He’s grounded, remember? Can’t leave his room.”

“Ulterior motives?” Lex’s mouth closed over Clark’s collarbone and bit hard enough to elicit a moan.

“And you say I’m not devious enough…” Clark grinned, although his grip on Lex suddenly tightened, there was a dizzying rush, and when Lex opened his eyes again, they were safely in his bedroom, door shut.

“Show off.”

Clark gave him a little shove, and he fell back onto the bed in a lazy sprawl, robe wide open and not covering much of anything, least of all his straining erection.

Clark stood above him and looked just stunned by this turn of events. His lips were thick and wet from kisses (invulnerability, Lex’s ass…perhaps literally, in this case), he was panting for breath, and the white button-up shirt he’d changed into after the rain had mysteriously become unbuttoned. Clark suddenly seemed to notice this last fact, and Lex blinked up at him innocently. There were times he was so good, it impressed even him.

Standing there, disheveled, breathless, half ravished, Clark looked like a tanned god, and the most enticing part of it all was that Clark still didn’t realize what he did to Lex. Rather, he was fixing Lex with a look that expressed all too well that Clark thought Lex was the gorgeous one. The difference was Lex knew how good he looked.

He shifted his hips slightly on the mattress, causing the robe to slip around and off his body entirely. Clark followed the movement, rapt in attention. Clark’s eyes looked almost inhumanly green in that moment, as though they were glowing.

“If you blow me up with your heat vision,” Lex said with a calmness that he certainly didn’t feel, “I will sue you.”

Clark gulped and blinked. “Lex…” he whimpered helplessly.

“You might try losing the clothes,” Lex suggested, voice husky. The sweatpants still covered the parts of Clark that he really wanted to see. “And then joining me.”

Clark, in typical Clark fashion, immediately tripped over his own feet. Lex snickered to himself as he lay back on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, and listened to the rustling and cursing sounds from the floor. And then Clark emerged, in a slow crawl that stretched each muscle to its fullest extent, finely toned steel flexing under sun-kissed skin. Lex watched the play of light across Clark’s torso, abs, and then – with only a hesitant pause – Clark’s cock came into his view for the first time, long and hard, curving against Clark’s belly.

Goofy grin on his face, Clark crawled up the bed until he was beside Lex, before blushing bright red. “Hi.”

“Hmm,” Lex agreed contentedly, sitting half up so that he could join Clark in a slow, lazy meeting of lips. Tongues and teeth gradually came out to play before Clark moaned, and Lex pressed the advantage, pushing his tongue deep inside Clark’s mouth.

They pulled away for a brief moment.

“Tell me something first,” Lex requested softly, running his good hand through Clark’s hair.

Clark all but purred in response. “What?”

“Tell me you’re not attracted to Jimmy Olsen.”

Clark gave him a look like he was crazy. “Hell, no!”

Lex sighed. “Thank God…”

Clark bit his lip, fluttered his eyelashes shyly, and then looked up at Lex anxiously. “What about you and Mercy?”

Lex let out a bark of laughter. “You have got to be kidding me.” It was somewhat reassuring, really, that they’d both been worrying about the most idiotic things.

Clark laughed too, and then they were kissing again, and all else was forgotten.

From there, it really wasn’t very hard for their bodies to twist together in a tangled mass, cocks rubbing for friction against whatever they could reach. Clark was making strangled little sounds, like he was about to die, and Lex decided to take pity on him and forced Clark back onto the bed so that he could actually do this properly.

“I would tie you down,” Lex commented in a voice that sounded breathless and raw even to his own ears, and he guided Clark’s hands up to the headboard, “but I doubt you’d even notice. So I’ll just have to trust you not to move.” His eyes met Clark’s pointedly.

“Oh, God!” Clark exclaimed. That was the problem with not having sex enough; when it actually happened, one inevitably turned braindead.

“Your promise,” Lex demanded, lips brushing Clark’s once more for a liquid, seductive kiss.

“Y-Yes.” Clark swallowed when Lex’s mouth moved down the side of his throat. “I promise.” And his hands tangled in the sheets by the head of the bed, as immobile as Lex had demanded.

Lex took a moment to study the body splayed out before him. Clark’s chest was heaving, slick with sweat, his legs fallen open wantonly, and his cock straining upward, brushing frantically across Lex’s abs in search of some sort of rhythm. Pretty much every fantasy Lex had had since he was twenty-one had featured this exact image, but the reality was so much sweeter.

Clark had begun whimpering, desperate for more, even if he didn’t know more of what he wanted exactly, before Lex carefully leaned in to explore. Propping himself up on the mattress with his prosthetic hand, he pressed his left hand down onto Clark’s shoulder in a reminder, before his mouth began to play. He brushed his lips down the line of a collarbone, tongue flicking out to taste the sweat that pooled at the center of Clark’s chest, salty and hot, and finally placing a wet, opened-mouthed kiss over one dark nipple that caused Clark to buck clear off the bed. Lex almost fell off, but for the fact that his body was mostly sprawled over Clark’s.

“Clark,” he chuckled slightly to himself, “you’re hovering.”

“Huh?” Clark blinked down at him, confused. And then he suddenly realized that he was, indeed, about six inches off the bed. “Oops. Sorry.” He fell back down to the mattress with a satisfying thump. “Don’t stop…”

“Yes, I’d gathered.” Lex was still horribly amused by that particular effect; he’d never literally made a lover weightless before. His mouth moved lower, teeth scraping across tight stomach muscles and feeling Clark’s heartbeat flutter with anticipation at the direction his mouth was headed.

He teased Clark mercilessly, moving to the paler flesh of Clark’s thighs first, licking and sucking until Clark was a whimpering mess beneath him, his eyes fallen shut with agony/ecstasy and his lips pursed, forming silent little pleas.

And then he wasn’t silent any more: “Please, please, please…”

Lex had always known he could make Superman beg. His own cock twitched at the sound, and he rubbed it carefully against the silk of the sheets, careful to provide just enough friction to take the edge off but not so much that he lost control himself.

Clark’s increasingly frantic cries were finally rewarded, and Lex’s lips closed around the head of Clark’s cock, spreading the wetness he found there with swirling, deliberate licks. Clark’s hips shook, but he didn’t buck, and Lex leaned in further, taking Clark fully into his mouth, cheeks tight for friction and moving up and down carefully for a few strokes.

Clark let out an exquisite-sounding sigh and lolled back on the bed, hips rocking lightly with the movements of Lex’s mouth, head turned to one side and eyelids closed. Lex watched his face before slowly pulling back and demanding, “Look at me.”

Clark didn’t react at first, but the lack of warm mouth around him caught his attention quickly enough. “Huh?”

“Look at me,” Lex repeated.

Clark managed to frown. “Are you always this bossy during sex?”

“Always,” Lex assured him. “I know what I want. I know what you want, too.”

Clark just nodded numbly at that.

Lex took that for agreement and returned to his task. This time his and Clark’s eyes met and locked as Lex wrapped his lips around the head of Clark’s cock and sucked him in deeper than he had yet. Clark’s mouth fell open, and his eyes darkened until they were almost black. He kept looking, however.

Lex turned his attention to making Clark come hard and fast. He wasn’t sure how long he could trust Clark to be this compliant, and he wanted Clark to see this, have it burned into his memory forever. The tip of Clark’s cock brushed his throat, but Lex had learned how to deal with that long ago, swallowing, taking every inch of Clark into his mouth, down his throat.

Clark had obviously never experienced anything like this, and Lex heard something rip where Clark’s hands were still over his head at the headboard. This was one act of destruction that Lex felt should be strongly encouraged.

He pulled back so that he could swirl his tongue around Clark’s sensitive head, and it only took three more shallow pulls before Clark was coming with a strangled cry. Lex’s hands pressed down hard on Clark’s hips which, of course, should have been entirely useless, but Clark’s shakes and tremors almost felt weak – defeated – as he spilled down Lex’s throat.

Lex swallowed it all, kissing and licking patiently as Clark came down, muscles relaxed and liquid, onto the bed. He was pleased to note that Clark’s cock was already stirring with interest once more; it really would be a shame if Superman didn’t have better stamina than that.

With one parting lick – a promise that, even if it took another fifteen years, he’d find a way to ravish Clark again – Lex crawled up Clark’s body in a deliberate slinking motion until they were side by side once more.

Clark just blinked at him dazedly for a moment, grinning like an idiot, before asking, “My turn?”

“That would only be polite,” Lex sighed wistfully, his lips covering Clark’s with a hunger that he’d kept largely restrained until now. If he’d refused to lose to Clark in all their battles over the years, he certainly wasn’t going to lose to Clark in sex. That was clearly his domain.

Of course, he’d expected Clark to fight him on this, tooth and nail. He was quite taken aback when Clark did the opposite.

Rather than tackling Lex back onto the bed and doing wicked things to him, Clark twisted them slightly so that they were on their sides, facing each other, and then tentatively reached out to touch Lex’s chest. It was a ghosting touch, at first, no more than that of a gust of wind, and there was something about the strongest being on the planet caressing him that gently that was more erotic than anything Lex had ever conceived of.

The movement of Clark’s fingers continued to be so very shy, even as he moved lower, tracing the line of Lex’s hipbone down until…

“Fuck, yes!” Lex’s head fell back on the pillows, eyes squeezed shut tight, and Clark’s lips brushed his ear.

“I have no idea what I’m doing,” Clark admitted nervously. “So you’ll tell me if—?”

Again,” Lex insisted vehemently.

Clark, thankfully, did it again. His hand wrapped around Lex almost too gently, so that Lex was surrounded more by impossible warmth than actual flesh. If one could fuck the sun, this is what Lex imagined it must feel like.

Clearly, Clark was trying to kill him with lust.

“More…” he choked out, voice breaking.

Clark’s hand became a solid conduit of pressure all around him, moving slowly up and down, relentless and just perfect. “Like this?” Clark’s lips were everywhere now, and Lex couldn’t tell if it was due to his powers or whether he was so lost in sensation that he couldn’t keep track of Clark’s movements anymore.

“Y-Yes…” Lex’s voice was shaking, and this was still oh-so-innocent, nothing more than sweet kisses and caresses and Clark’s hand wrapped around his cock, pulling slowly.

“God, Lex, you feel incredible…” Clark’s awed voice was breathing directly against his ear in hot, tantalizing caresses.

Lex moaned and laughed at the same time. Because, honestly, he felt incredible? Did Clark have absolutely no idea what his hand was doing to him? Lex caught Clark’s jaw with his good hand, held those perfect lips in place while he plundered them, thrusting wildly into Clark’s ever-tightening fist all the while.

“I…I want to…” Why on earth Clark was the one babbling during this was beyond Lex, although it probably had quite a lot to do with the fact that Lex had lost all faculty for human speech. Well, almost all faculty…

Anything,” Lex promised.

And then Clark’s hand and body were gone, and Lex let out a little whimper of protest, opening his eyes to discover that Clark was propped up over him, panting hard, looking at Lex all over like he didn’t know where to begin.

It was just so rare to see Clark hesitant or unsure these days. The Superman persona left no room for doubt, and most days Lex could see no sign of the Clark that had once called him ‘best friend.’ But this… This brought his Clark back, and Lex had the sudden, irrational urge to do whatever it took to keep him from transforming back into the cold, judgmental Superman.

“I think we might have waited too long,” Clark laughed sheepishly. “I want to… God, I can’t even decide!”

Lex was faced with a similar conundrum. Over a fifteen years of fantasies compressed into almost paralyzed inaction: Superman on his knees in surrender as Lex took everything he wanted from behind; Clark apologetic and conciliatory lying back on his desk at the Planet and spreading his legs wide; a younger Clark – brighter and more playful – sneaking into the banquet for Lex’s latest merger and pressing Lex against the wall with promises that all his dallying with Lois had just been experimentation gone wrong; even further back to Clark’s graduation where the second meteor shower never happened and Clark had come to the mansion to whisper all of his secrets into Lex’s ear in reconciliation before they proceeded to completely demolish the pool table in their desire for each other; and then those nights back when Clark had smiled at him like he was everything, and they stayed up late in the barn watching the stars until Clark finally dropped to his knees and slowly unzipped Lex’s pants; until finally they were back to the bridge at their first meeting, and this time Clark’s mouth didn’t just give him life but kissed him again and again in pleasure that they’d finally found each other.

“Y-Your mouth…” In the end, that was the most important. Domination over Superman was nothing compared to every fantasy he’d had about those full, red lips.

“God, yes…” Clark breathed, like he’d just reached the same conclusion.

And then Clark’s large, hot hands were on his hips, and those succulent lips closed around Lex’s cock, and Lex thought that this was it: Clark was finally going to kill him through pleasure.

He couldn’t tear his eyes away, watching the way Clark’s mouth wrapped around him, sucking and pulling and – oh, God – moaning. He knew in that moment that nothing would ever be the same between them. The image of Clark’s lips around him would be forever burned into his retinas, the heat of Clark’s mouth branded into his skin, Clark’s palms tattooed against his inner thighs. None of it would ever leave him, and things would just have to be different for them. Not even Lex knew whether they’d be better or much, much worse…

“God…Clark…” he breathed instead, because there was nothing else now except Clark and pleasure.

Clark was sloppy, unrefined, but the way he looked up at Lex from under long lashes, so fucking demure, was the most carnal thing Lex had ever seen. Everything about Clark – the confidence and coyness, his resistance and compliance, his eyes and tongue and cock and body – was an aphrodisiac, and Lex swore, head flung back, as he came hard, and it was so…

“Good, good, good, good…”

A hiss and a sudden break of clarity, like the eye of a hurricane, and then:

Clark!”

And he was lost.

***

‘Content’ was not a word Lex often used. Everything he wanted – all his whims, desires, and fancies – had always been his for the taking. He coerced and conquered and manipulated, and he was Lex Fucking Luthor, so he always won. He had everything any reasonable person could ever want, and it was never enough. He was never content.

Except at that moment, when he awoke, sticky, sweaty and stiff, to find Clark’s cumbersome weight pressing him down into the mattress and Clark’s lips only inches from his ear, snoring loudly. It was quite possibly the most uncomfortable position Lex had ever slept in.

He didn’t even bother shifting Clark’s weight off of him before he fell back to sleep.

***

“Lex?”

Lex’s second awakening, clearly in the late morning if the light from behind the drapes was taken into consideration, brought with it the return to sanity. “Clark.” Lex opened his eyes to find Clark staring down at him, smiling. The smile wavered for a moment at how suddenly and completely Lex had woken up, before making a hasty return.

“’Morning.” Clark’s lips caught his for a quick, wet kiss.

Lex returned the gesture, but didn’t endeavor to prolong it. When Clark pulled away, he took the opportunity to announce, “We need to negotiate.”

Clark’s face paled at that, and he gulped audibly, Adam’s apple bobbing in a mesmerizing way. “W-Why?” he asked nervously, eyes wide and almost scared. “What’ve I done now?”

Clark was half-teasing him, of course; Lex was notorious for being the most dangerous negotiator on the planet. He’d made the CEO of Exxon-Mobile break down into tears on three separate occasions. Hell, even Bruce Wayne had a twelve-point system set up to avoid ever having to deal with Lex directly. When Batman was wary of your negotiating skills, then you knew you were seriously hardcore.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Clark,” Lex said, trying to put Clark at ease. “Last night significantly redefined our relationship. We’ll have to rework all our treaties and alliances to incorporate the new—”

Clark, in one last desperate effort, ground his hips down onto Lex’s and kissed him hard.

Lex allowed the kiss for a few moments and then pulled away. “Exactly my point,” he went on. “The first order of business should, I believe, be a temporary cease-fire – or should that be ‘cease-sex’? – while we work out a schedule and itinerary.”

“Lex,” Clark said, his tone kind and almost indulgent, “I’ve made my decision. I don’t want to be alone anymore. You love me, and I love you. That’s all that really matters. Writing our own personal Treaty of Versailles really isn’t necessary.” And the worst thing was that Clark really was still that naïve.

“Oh?” Lex moved to sit up, and Clark pulled back so that they were both seated on the bed, facing each other warily. “Then, I suppose, you no longer have any objections to my work on Project Thebes?” He smiled with false politeness. “Or, really, any of a dozen or so projects LexCorp is working on at this very moment.”

Clark frowned at that before reaching out and resting his hand on the sheet above Lex’s thigh. “Lex, you have to give all that stuff up.”

Lex snorted and carefully removed Clark’s hand. “I’m not just going to ‘give it up’,” he retorted. “I would have thought all of our interactions over the last decade would have taught you that. And did we not declare a cease-sex?” He narrowed his eyes at where Clark’s hand was inching over in the direction of his foot.

You decided that, not me,” Clark retorted. “And there is no reason for you to keep pulling all that illegal crap!”

Clark said ‘crap’; for Clark, that meant that he was downright furious.

“Then,” Lex concluded, “when I say there’s no reason for you to be Superman, you should just give that up as well.” He crossed his arms over his chest, although the effect was probably lost due to the fact that he was naked. At least the sheet concealed his least diplomatic bits, for the time being.

Clark scowled at him, his body language shifting abruptly from playful and conciliatory to defensive. “That’s different. I’m saving people’s lives.”

“You’re turning humanity into a bunch of dependant invalids!” Lex retorted. “Not to mention the fact that you could lose it and destroy the entire planet—”

“I would never do that!” Clark cut him off, yelling now. “And why on earth are we even having this argument again?”

“Because,” Lex retorted, voice suddenly deadly calm, “if you’re going to bring your grievances against me into this conversation, then it’s only fair that I should reciprocate.”

“What?” Clark demanded. “Is this your way of sending me away? ‘Thanks for the blowjob, Clark. Here, have a Kryptonite bullet in your chest on the way out’?” Clark’s eyes were all but smoldering with rage.

Actually, it was quite attractive. Lex tried to ignore that. “No,” he corrected mildly, “it’s simply my way of pointing out that we have quite a lot of issues—”

Clark snorted at the understatement in that word.

“—And that we’re never going to get anywhere if you’re not willing to concede that I have terms, as well,” Lex concluded.

Clark blinked at him. “Wait, let me get this straight: You’re the supervillain, and you’re telling me that I need to change?”

“I’m telling you,” Lex tried very hard to keep the anger from his voice, but it still came out rather like a growl, “that we both have to change. And, as long as you refuse to listen to me, we won’t get anywhere.”

Clark looked stunned by that for a moment. And, then: “You’re willing to change?” It came out almost impossibly hopeful.

“I’m willing to arrive at a compromise, yes,” Lex agreed with a grimace.

Another pregnant pause. “Why?” Clark finally asked.

Lex leaned back against the headboard and sighed. “Last night changed things,” he repeated. “If we don’t come to an arrangement now, we will destroy each other.”

“But—” Clark began.

Lex cut him off. “No matter what else I might feel, a part of me still hates you quite a lot.” Clark looked rather like Lex had slapped him. “And a part of you hates me too. Don’t bother denying it.”

Clark looked sheepish at that. “Conner…” he offered up hopefully.

“This country is all but overpopulated with parents of messy divorces who will claim that loving their children isn’t enough to hold any kind of relationship together,” Lex concluded.

Clark actually seemed to think about that, bringing one knee up from the tangle of bedclothes around his waist and resting his chin on it as he considered what Lex had said very carefully.

Lex gave him his moment’s respite and tried not to think too much about how absolutely stunning Clark looked like that, naked, in total disarray, and so very intent.

Finally, Clark very carefully opened his mouth and said, “You have to stop with the Cadmus Labs experiments.” The negotiations had officially begun.

“Not that. I have far too much invested in that project. Pick something else.”

“Lex…” Clark warned.

“Project Thebes,” Lex informed him with narrowed eyes, “is a safety net to guarantee that, if anything should ever – heaven forbid – go wrong with Conner’s genetic make-up, I’ll have the resources to cure him.”

“That wasn’t one of the reasons you gave on the roof,” Clark accused.

“Those are valid as well. I didn’t want to reveal to Conner how much I worry about the genetics involved in his creation.”

“So you lied?”

“Not at all. Everything I told him was true.”

“You just left some things out,” Clark glared at him. “Have you ever heard the term ‘sin of omission’?”

“Do you really want to start that line of accusations again?” Lex asked, eyebrow arched.

Clark just shook his head, conceding the point. “Fine, not the Cadmus thing. Then, give up…” He thought for a moment. “Death rays.”

Lex blinked. “I don’t…”

“Come on, Lex. There is no way you can justify building death rays. Other than…”

“But they’re so…cool.”

Clark glared at him.

Lex glared back.

“Lex…”

In the end, Lex really didn’t have an argument there. “Fine.” He considered for a moment. “Those projects will take a while to disband…”

“How long?” Clark gave him a suspicious look.

“A six-month time-table to phase out the fiscal support and reassign the laboratory staffs.” Lex continued to think. “And, really, it all depends on how you define ‘death ray’.”

“Lex, you’re been a supervillain for how many years now? You know what counts as a death ray and what doesn’t.”

“It’s like pornography in that, is it?”

“Exactly.” Clark’s lips were in danger of quirking into a smile at that for the first time since the conversation had turned serious.

“What about military contracts?” Lex asked curiously. “Some of those could fall into the ‘death ray’ category…”

“Unbelievable,” Clark sighed.

“What?”

Already you’re trying to weasel out of this!”

“Well, it’s a valid point!”

“Do you have to make everything complicated?” Clark demanded.

“Everything is complicated! Especially with us.”

Clark took a long, deep breath. “Okay.”

“Okay, what?”

“Okay, I finally agree that you’re right: We are going to need very long, drawn-out negotiations about this.”

Lex could feel his entire body relax. “It’s about damn time…”

Clark scootched across the mattress until he was sitting right beside Lex, their thighs brushing. The heat from his body was like some kind of narcotic, making Lex feel confused and hazy and relaxed all at the same time. “We’ll just have to start out slowly, then,” Clark murmured, the vibrations of his words rumbling through his chest and then, through the contact of their skin, into Lex’s. “How about this? I’ll give you your six months to get rid of all the death rays.”

“What about military projects?” Lex persisted.

If you’re offered any legitimate military contracts for anything resembling a death ray,” Clark said it skeptically, like he honestly believed that the US military wouldn’t want any such weapon, “then you have to tell me first before you agree.”

“No secret death rays, then?” Lex concluded.

“Exactly.” Clark’s lips were on his cheek now, moving downward.

“And what do I get in exchange?” Lex demanded.

Clark lifted up the sheet so that he could see Lex’s erection and licked his lips.

“I’ve already got that,” Lex pointed out.

“Yeah, but you’ll get it sooner if our first round of negotiations is already over.” Clark fluttered his eyelashes in a way that was almost coy.

“Clark, I’m hardly going to make concessions just because you’re an exceptional cocksucker,” Lex said a bit defensively. After all, hadn’t he very clearly made the point that he had legitimate grievances, as well?

“All right,” Clark agreed, kissing him again. “What do you want?”

The question was meant to be loaded; Lex chose to take it otherwise. “No more raids on LexCorp facilities.”

“Lex…” Clark looked at him like he was asking for the whole world.

“Do you have any idea how much you’ve cost me in property damage, in the last year alone?” he asked rhetorically.

“Well, yeah, because you were doing crazy, illegal experiments!” Clark retorted.

“Would you rather that I asked that you not fly around the city wearing that ludicrous costume?” Lex countered.

“People depend on me,” Clark shot back. “Which is why I destroy your labs and fly around in the ‘ludicrous costume’.”

“Destroying my labs doesn’t ‘help’ anyone,” Lex insisted. “It’s pointless vandalism.”

“Tell that to the people you’re experimenting on.”

“They’re well-compensated.”

Lex!”

Lex was already quite tired of hearing his name inflected with that particular disapproving tone. Why was he agreeing to any of this, again?

Just then, Clark’s thigh accidentally rubbed against his.

Oh, yeah. That was why. God, his father had been right; he was too emotional…

Clark took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and was muttering some mantra under his breath. When he looked at Lex again, he seemed to have calmed. “How about this?” he said carefully. “In the spirit of compromise, I won’t cause any property damage to any of your facilities, unless I find out that you’re hurting people there.” A pause. “Or, if there’s some city-wide crisis and it happens by accident. I mean, your property is kind of everywhere. It’s hard to avoid while having a drag-out fight with Metallo in the middle of downtown Metropolis.”

“Conceded.” After all, there was very little Clark could do about that last point.

“And anything Clark Kent does against LexCorp is fair game.”

“So long as he didn’t find out about it while Superman,” Lex insisted.

“Oh, be reasonable, Lex!”

“I am being reasonable. Turning Superman to a life of corporate espionage is hardly my goal.”

“But Superman can still stop by and yell at you when I figure out what the hell you’re doing this time?”

“Of course.” Lex’s lips quirked into a seductive little smile. “I’ve never tried to stop your infamous little visits, Clark. Surely, you’ve noticed that the weapons system is never armed when you drop by?”

Clark gulped, and his eyes darkened. “I’ve noticed.”

“Are we in agreement, then?” Lex asked huskily. “For now, I mean. We should set a date – maybe some time late next week? – for round two of our little treaty.”

“Whenever you want,” Clark agreed. “Just…”

“Yes?”

“Can you fuck me? Like, right now?”

Those were terms Lex was more than willing to agree to.

***

“Sound-proofing, my ass!” Conner exclaimed later that day at lunch. Lex and Clark had entirely missed breakfast, due to their rather intense negotiations.

Clark blushed horribly at Conner’s comment. “I thought I told you to stay in your room.” Parental authority was a weapon of last resort.

“I did stay in my room,” Conner insisted, making a face.

“The enhanced damping is designed to prevent conversations inside the building from being detectable outside,” Lex commented thoughtfully. “Between the rooms inside, sound is only muffled a tenth of that…”

“You need more sound-proofing,” Conner repeated. “I’m traumatized for life!”

Mercy coughed pointedly. “It might, er…be a good idea, sir,” she offered before taking a bite of her tofu, red bell-pepper, and sprout sandwich on no-additives whole wheat bread.

Lex gulped, whether at Mercy’s choice in lunch or that fact that, apparently, she could hear them all the way down in the north wing of the penthouse. “Can you arrange for Ryerson to have all the rooms sound-proofed?” he asked, voice sounding slightly hoarse.

“Gladly.” She took a sip of her high-protein shake before turning away to talk into her cell phone.

“Thank God!” Conner sighed. “Now I just need years and years of therapy…” He grumbled under his breath.

Clark blushed even more and stared down at his very normal BLT with extra mayo, as if consuming his lunch required every last one of Superman’s abilities.

Lex’s hand snuck under the table to brush against Clark’s thigh.

Clark, subtle as always, practically jumped out of his seat in surprise before giving Lex that goofy grin.

Conner choked on a Dorito.

“Need any help?” Lex offered lightly as Conner continued hacking.

“I’m fine!” Conner insisted hastily, looking anywhere but at them. Slowly, his coughing fit subsided.

Mercy, having returned from her phone call, glanced suspiciously at Conner’s chips. “It’s undoubtedly all those preservatives,” she informed him with a superior air, brandishing her own bag of unsalted, baked carrot chips.

Everyone paled in horror.

“So,” Lex finally said nervously, “now that that’s all settled.” He turned back to Clark. “Can I assume that the two of you will be spending the rest of the weekend?”

Conner, all trauma aside, looked hopeful at that.

Clark, blushing aside, seemed to be debating whether or not it was a good idea.

“Until you sign your new lease, I imagine your old apartment is quite cramped. And LexCorp Towers is closer to Metropolis Southwest, anyway,” Lex commented casually. “Not the choice I would have made, by the way. But if you had to go with a public high school, at least Southwest has an excellent International Baccalaureate Program.”

Clark glared at him. “I didn’t tell you about any of that. And neither did Conner.”

“True.”

“You’re spying on me again?” Clark just sounded weary.

“You just did the same to me.”

“That wasn’t my fault,” Clark insisted sullenly.

“But you blame me for being invested in my own son’s future?” Lex left the question very open.

“This is so going into round two of negotiations,” Clark grumbled.

“Perfectly within the parameters of our agreement,” Lex responded evenly, meeting Clark’s eyes determinedly.

Conner watched their back-and-forth warily, as if preparing for a fight to break out any second. All the time, Lex’s hand never left Clark’s thigh. Mercy took her bag of carrot chips and wandered off, completely unconcerned.

“We’re going to kill each other within a week, aren’t we?” Clark sound so weary and so resigned.

Conner snorted. “I bet two days; Mercy said five.”

“Mercy’s faith in me seems to be increasing,” Lex commented blandly.

Clark sighed and looked at them both. “How can you two be joking about this?”

Conner took a sip of his Pepsi and shrugged. “It’ll be fine. I mean, I’m pretty much living, breathing proof that it’s possible for the two of you to coexist. It’s not even all that confusing most of the time. Mostly I just listen to both of you and tell you when you’re being stupid.”

Really, it was quite a profound statement.

Clark still looked unsure, but of course he hadn’t been overthinking these matters for years. Clark was more of a doer than a thinker, when it came down to it. Countless heroic incidents from their youths came to Lex’s mind, where Clark had jumped right in and only considered the consequences of displaying his powers after the fact.

However, on this matter, he was more than willing to speak Clark’s language. Fingers tangling in Clark’s hair, he leaned in and kissed him slowly, cleanly yet passionately. After a moment’s pause, Clark seemed to understand and kissed him back for a few glorious seconds.

Conner did them the favor of not screaming out his trauma to the world, for once.

“All right,” Clark agreed lazily, licking his lips as he slowly pulled back, eyes still heavily lidded.

Lex was confident he’d have to do quite a lot of coaxing over the next few months, but then he supposed Clark would be doing the same. “So you’ll be here when I come back from the office?” he asked softly.

Clark blinked at that. “Lex, it’s Sunday.”

“So?”

“You’re not ditching us to go to work,” Conner concluded.

“Oh?” Lex raised an eyebrow. “Then what am I doing?”

“Well, I’m not sitting around the penthouse bored after you people”—oh, good, here it came; Lex was starting to worry—“traumatized me!” Conner crossed his arms over his chest.

Clark and Lex exchanged a look.

“Museum?” Lex suggested.

“State Fair?” Clark said simultaneously.

Conner stared at them both like they were circus freaks or something. “Okay, you both suck. You so belong together.”

The words were clearly meant to be innocent. Lex suspected he was a pervert for even thinking of the alternate meaning. Of course, given Clark’s blush, he obviously went there, too.

“Okay: EW!” Conner made a face and got up. “I’m the traumatized one, so I say where we’re going. Baseball? Is that going to start World War III?”

Clark and Lex considered it.

“Sounds like fun!”

“I’ll call ahead to inform Enrique that we’ll be using my box.”

“Plus,” Clark added with a wicked smile, “you’d look really cute in a baseball cap, Lex.”

Lex tried really hard to spontaneously develop his own heat vision and blow Clark up. It didn’t work. “I’ve changed my mind. I hate you, and I want to be enemies again.”

Clark just grinned. Infuriating man.

Conner whistled jauntily and headed for the front door.

In the other room, Mercy was rearranging their entire security complement for the outing.

Lex sighed. Really, it was a better outcome than he ever could’ve imagined.

Epilogue

 

“What on earth were you thinking, Lex? Have you lost your mind?”

“For Christ’s sake! It’s just a zoning violation! Is everything a moral crisis of faith with you?”

“It’s a zoning violation involving illegal alien bio-tech in a residential neighborhood!”

“There are safety protocols! And it’s a contract with NASA, so you can hardly complain it’s illegal!”

“It is the way you do it!”

“You think everything is illegal!”

The sounds of shouting were followed by a thunderous splash.

And then: “Oh, real mature, Lex! I can see how well those anger management classes are working. Again!”

Conner sighed, pulled off his headphones, and gave Lena a knowing look where she sat on the floor, playing with her building blocks. “They’re so meant to be together,” he informed his little sister conspiratorially.

Lena giggled, brushing a long lock of dark auburn hair out of her face and then, using her TK, placed the last block at the top of her makeshift castle.

Across the penthouse, which still needed more sound-proofing, the yells had taken on quite a different cadence. Conner shuddered and put his headphones back on, returning to his video game.

All was normal in the Kent-Luthor home once more.

Except for the suitcase full of Clark’s belongings that had been thrown into the koi pond during Lex’s latest fit of pique.

Later that afternoon, Lex asked curiously why Clark’s things were still sinking slowly into the pond’s murky depths.

Mercy raised one eyebrow. “Because you haven’t gone in and fished them out yet.” A sarcastic pause. “Sir.”

“Fine. Then have someone else take care of it,” Lex insisted. “I can always buy Clark more clothes…”

Mercy rolled her eyes, called Hope, and made her deal with it.

Hope called Charity.

Charity called Grace.

And Grace called Constance, who was still incompetent because she really had only been hired for her name and thus completely dropped the ball.

That evening, the koi were still happily munching away at Clark’s flannel, and Clark was glaring daggers at Lex because of it.

Conner finally rolled his eyes, went in, and cleaned up the mess himself.

“See?” Lex concluded, arm wrapped around Clark’s waist. “It all works out.”

Lena just giggled and clapped.